15 July 2016

My Interview with Christopher Mannino, author of Sword of Deaths

I have read the first two books in the Scythe Wielder's Secret series, and I enjoyed them immensely.

I also had a few questions for the author, Christopher Mannino, about the series and about his writing. And Christopher graciously agreed to answer all of my questions. Take it away, Christopher!

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1. Tell us more about yourself!
 
I am all about creativity. I write every day, and my wife (www.RachelMannino.com) is also an author. I teach high school theatre. I sing all the time. I love to travel and wish I could do so more often. I'm a nerd, and enjoy sci-fi, fantasy, and anime. The Scythe Wielder's Secret is my first published series.

2. Let's talk about The Scythe Wielder's Secret. You created a magical world where teenagers train to be the next grim reapers. How did you come up with such a mind-boggling concept?

In 2011, wile finishing my graduate degree at Oxford, I became stranded at Tintagel, a castle ruin on the coast of Cornwall, where some claim King Arthur was born. I walked pub to pub, looking for a place to spend the night. I'm a light sleeper, and staying in a room above a noisy bar didn't lead to a restful night, so at 4am the following morning, I decided to go back to the coast. I walked to the end of Barras Nose, which is a long promontory of stone jutting into the ocean- roughly fifty foot sheer drops of cliff face on either side of a rocky outcropping, only a few yards wide. I crawled, in the dark, clinging to the rocks. Thirty mph winds blew constantly from every direction, and I could have easily died. I made my way to the edge, where I watched the sun rise over the castle ruins and rugged coastline. I was completely alone, and no one knew I was there. I didn't feel in danger, however. I felt a profound sense of beauty. I imagined a character, completely alone and isolated, who didn't feel afraid, but instead took ownership of the situation. 

In the earliest draft, Billy was the main character. I loved the idea of training to be a reaper. I always figured it was ridiculous to have one Death going everywhere- sort of like Santa for souls, why not make it a larger profession? The schooling bit emerged mostly from Oxford itself- which is likely why the first book has a bit of Hogwarts feel to it. I composed a large portion of School of Deaths in Duke Humphrey's Library at the Bodleian, which is the filming site for the Restricted section of the Hogwarts Library (and is just above three other filming sites from the Potter films). As the draft emerged, I changed the story to Susan's perspective, to increase the sense of total isolation. As the trilogy progresses, it moves away from the Potter feel, especially in the third book. However, to pay my respects for the series's origins there is a scene in Tintagel where a soul is reaped in book two, and there is a scene at Oxford in book three. There are a number of small inside references scattered throughout the series. At the beginning of book two (Sword of Deaths), Susan remembers a trip to Bethany Beach DE. Bethany Beach is where my wife and me married, and the date given as Susan's birthday is our anniversary.  


 
 3. I love Susan. She's the kind of female lead that any young girl can look up to and aspire to be like. Where did you get your inspiration for creating such a strong and gutsy character?

Sexism, like any form of discrimination, really bothers me. I've seen a lot of kids bullied an mistreated, and wanted a character who starts off a bit weak, but then finds her strength, and grows to be an amazing role model.  
 
 4. You teach high school theatre and you run theatre productions after school. So you're doing a lot of creative work with teenagers. How do you think your work affects you as a writer?

It's good to write YA when you work with teens every day. I have a real sense of how teens act and talk, and it's invaluable when creating YA fiction.  Particularly in theatre, where I often get to know the kids much better than academic teacher, it's very good to work with the target audience. I really am fortunate enough to pursue both my passions (theatre and writing) professionally.
 
 5. Work happens. Life happens. How do you find the time to write?

Honestly, it isn't easy. I'm the only adult working with a massive school theatre department, meaning I often work 14 hour days, and just two weeks ago my wife and I had our first child, a son. I try to write at least 200 words a day, which isn't much, but adds up. I'm currently drafting my fifth novel, so things have been working so far. Eventually, I hope to write full time. 
 
 6. How do you prepare for a new project? Do you consider yourself a "planner" or a "pantster"?

This has changed over the years. In the past, including with School of Deaths and Sword of Deaths, I'd have a blurb in mind. After I had a rough scenario, I'd create what I'd call an "image outline" which is a series of very specific visual moments that I know will be in the novel, but I don't know exactly where. For example, early in the process of School of Deaths I knew I wanted a door in the middle of a reverse waterfall, but didn't know how that'd fit into the story. Once I have images in mind, I'd then just start at the beginning and write, incorporating the images as I go. 

Now, however, I've started outlining more and more. My current work in progress is part of a six-book series that is already heavily outlined- the outline for this novel alone is twenty pages long, with an additional thirty pages of typed reference notes. So, I've now become much more of a planner.  
 
7. What advise would you give aspiring YA authors?

Never give up, and don't worry about pleasing everyone. Write what the story needs.  
 
 8. In School of Deaths, Susan had to deal with sexism and find her place in the world of Deaths. In Sword of Deaths, she had to try and uncover a conspiracy against said world. What can we expect her try and do in the final instalment, Daughter of Deaths? No spoilers, of course, but is there anything in particular that we should look forward to in the final book?

Daughter of Deaths is definitely my favorite book in the series. It's twice as long as either of the first two books, and about a billion times more complex. It picks up the moment book 2 ends, and really ties the series to a close in an epic way. There are some major twists that I think will surprise people, and this novel is also darker than the rest of the series. A full-scale war between Deaths and Dragons breaks out, and Susan finds herself right in the middle of it. There's also an opportunity to really delve deeper into the hearts of the main characters. The novel covers a longer time span, so there's a lot that happens to everyone. 

9. I've read in an interview Matthew Peters that you want to move away from YA write something  or adults. What are currently working on?

For now, Scythe Wielder's Secret, and YA, are behind me (Daughter of Deaths is done on my end- finishing up final edits with the publisher, but I've already moved on). I'm currently shopping (looking for agents/publishers) an adult science fiction thriller called Pillars and Chaos. Here's the blurb:

After a noted geneticist is crucified in front of the White House, his protegee is thrown into a tangled web of riddles and lies, hoping to uncover the dangerous truth about his research. Strange half-visible towers emerge across the entire world, and a group of scientists threaten to bring nations to their knees. The future of humanity lies encoded in our DNA. Dan Brown meets Michael Crichton in this fast-paced thriller. 

I've also started work on a MAJOR new project, mentioned briefly above, that will be at least six books long, and possibly more. It is an adult epic high fantasy series, and in my opinion, the absolute best thing I've written to date. I am not releasing any more details than that at this time. Even my wife knows very little about this new endeavor.

10. What author/authors have inspired you the most?

Tolkien, Pratchett, Rowling, Gaiman, and Shakespeare.

11. Let's round this interview up with a little thought experiment. If you could live in any fantasy or science fiction Universe, what would it be?

Piccard's Enterprise (Enterprise D) from Star Trek- honestly one of the few really peaceful universes overall (I wouldn't last 10 minutes in Westeros), and I'd use the holodeck to create all the other worlds I want to visit, like Hogwarts, Middle Earth, Moya (from Farscape) and the TARDIS.

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A big, big thanks to Christopher for taking the time to answer my questions.  You can visit his homepage, ChristopherMannino.com for more information about the upcoming events.

Daughter of Deaths - the final book in the epic series comes out this autumn.

In the meantime, you can read my reviews for the first two books,

School of Deaths and Sword of Deaths.  

 

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