Author Interview: Jay Willis

Biography

My goal as an author is to create an engaging and fun body of work to sustain a generation through their life as readers of Fantasy: from intelligent chapter books to sprawling epics.

From an early age, I was fascinated by story-telling and wrote my first books in grade school by hand using typing paper packets stapled together for me by my mother. An avid Dungeons & Dragons role-player, growing up in the 80’s obsessed with Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark, my reading and writing interests have always skewed toward the fantasy and science-fiction genres.

I am a graduate of both Capital University and Capital University Law School.  I’ve been a licensed attorney for more than 25 years. I’m a former Judge and now work as an Assistant Prosecutor.

I live in southern Ohio with my wife and two children who are now grown and in different stages of college. I love both tabletop games and role-playing games. I’ve played video games since the Atari 2600, I’m a recovering World of Warcraft player, and my two current video game obsessions are Fallout 76 and Elden Ring.

Share a little bit about your book, Dream of the Sphere, and the Sphere Saga.

Dream of the Sphere is the intricate first entry in the expansive The Sphere Saga epic fantasy series. If you like gargantuan conflicts, jaw-dropping twists, and deep explorations of humanity’s beliefs, you’ll love this hard-hitting tale.

Here’s the book description for Dream of the Sphere:

Three thousand years of tradition torn asunder. When the truth comes out, will a hero emerge to pick up the pieces?

Dashira Eisenheart takes ultimate comfort in her community. So she’s thrilled when her brother ascends to the coveted order chosen to protect the world from safely sealed-away, millennia-old, dangerous magic. But her faith in her beloved parents’ loyalty cracks after she spies her mother sneaking about town to meet with the enemy.

Striving to stay focused on her own academic studies, Dashira becomes caught in family tensions that soon reach a boiling point. And as her father’s Brotherhood and her mother’s rebel group head toward a cataclysmic clash, the young seeker finds herself trapped by conflicting choices.

Will she face her fears and accept her role in a grand destiny?

At its core, the Sphere Saga examines the implications of The Conflagration in the world of Legacia which resulted from a clash between The Three, Axamar Sulvastra, Lornai val’Adoral, and Vrom Krazstar. The best of friends, the worst of enemies, The Three, the most brilliant and powerful mages in history, nearly destroyed Legacia, and after the near-apocalyptic event humanity decided to eschew Magic and prevent such a catastrophe from recurring. Over the course of three-thousand years of attempting to suppress Magic, the society forged by the survivors becomes a rigid theocracy stifled by fear. The denizens of the city of Kaharna have unwittingly locked themselves away into a pattern of stagnation trapped in their dependence upon the Sphere to keep Magic contained and untouchable. Ultimately, in Legacia Magic is Life and the people find their very existence in peril unless they find a way to restore Magic in their world.

You also have one book in a series entitled The Arcana Chronicles. Tell us about that book and series.

After I wrote the initial draft of Dream of the Sphere I struggled to pull it together and polish it into what I wanted it to become. I took some online writing courses with Dave Farland after that and started working on craft. With Dave’s help I started to realize my writing skills weren’t quite where I needed them to be to pull off my Sphere Saga so I left those books behind for a while.

At the 2015 Writer’s Symposium at Gen Con I spent a few days with Dave Farland in classes in-person and developed the story that became Blood is Thicker than Magic, a Middle Grade/Teen Urban Fantasy, which became my first full-scale published novel. I wanted to write a story geared to encourage young men to read that was full of wonder, something veering in a different direction from Harry Potter and the Percy Jackson books.

In addition to writing adult fantasy you write children’s books. Tell us about those.

I wrote the original Blacktooth the Pirate stories for my kids because I was getting sick of Princess Stories. I even had those first two stories printed into a book form so my wife and I could read them to the kids. Blacktooth’s Treasure Chest eventually became the first book I actually published. With Blacktooth I wanted something silly and fun that would make a kid want to read while introducing them to the wonderful world of Fantasy.

What drew you into writing in the two different areas of fantasy and children’s books? Which do you prefer?

I want to write Fantasy in various forms. Specifically, I hope to engage my readers from an early age sharing my lifelong love of Fantasy. We all need some magic in our lives. I don’t write down to kids in my Children’s and Middle Grade books. The stories may not be as involved and complex but they still inspire that sense of wonder we all desperately need and crave. Worldbuilding and intriguing characters are still important to kids.

Ultimately, if I had to choose, Epic Fantasy is my passion. I love storytelling and the multifaceted layers I can explore in Epic Fantasy are what I enjoy most about writing.

Your profile on Amazon says you have been a lawyer for 25 years. How does a lawyer get into publishing novels?

I’ve loved storytelling since I was very young. From making up stories with my Star Wars action figures to actually starting to write and illustrate stories on my own then moving into playing Dungeons & Dragons and creating characters and adventures in that setting I’ve always wanted to write.

Throughout college as a History and Political Science major on the path to Law School I wrote a LOT of academic papers. After my first year of Law School I managed to take an entire summer off and spent most of it writing to save my brain from the ravages of that brutal First Year. Writing preserved and salvaged what was left of my sanity.

Writing took a backseat while establishing my career as an attorney and I didn’t do much storytelling until my kids were born. As far as full-scale novels, I “won” National Novel Writing Month (NANOWRIMO) back in 2013 and completed an Epic Fantasy novel which will most likely never be publishable. I kept at it and “won” again in 2014 and 2015 with what were the original drafts of my first two Sphere Saga books.

I initially explored traditional publishing and queried agents and editors for a while. After over 100 rejections and no interest I decided it was time to learn about self-publishing and I immersed myself in discovering the intricacies of how to publish my own works and I haven’t looked back.

What is your favorite part of the writing process?

I live for worldbuilding. I enjoy outlining and plotting and all that goes along with putting a fantasy world together. The danger is allowing myself to explore too many rabbit holes and go too far astray into researching obscure topics.

What would you advise your younger self to do differently on the writing journey?

Stop playing World of Warcraft sooner and write more. Most importantly, I wish I would have conquered my unspoken fear of failure and started writing with purpose on a regular basis sooner.

Do you have any essential writing habits or strange writing quirks?

The most useful writing habit I’ve developed is to begin each writing session reading and allowing myself limited revisions through the last bit I worked on to warmup and immerse myself back into the world I’m working in.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I watch a lot of movies, play board games, roleplaying games, and video games. I’ve spent far too much time dying repeatedly in Elden Ring of late.

What does success look like for you as an author?

Publishing the first three books of The Sphere Saga marks success for me. Having even a handful of readers and being able to share my world and the characters that have lived in my imagination for so long is why I write.

Anything additional you want to share with readers?

I am a Contributor on a new non-fiction book releasing May 3, 2022 called Putting the Fact in Fantasy. I have articles about the real world history of magic, the history of the Spanish Inquisition, and the use of Prophets and Religion in Fantasy included. Putting the Fact in Fantasy was edited by Dan Koboldt and will be available on Amazon.

Website: https://www.jayswillis.net

Book Locations: Amazon including Kindle Unlimited

My social media links are:

Facebook
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Excerpt: from Dream of the Sphere-Book One of The Sphere Saga

THE WIND WHISTLED atop the Spire, blowing Dashira’s hair in every direction. She had never been this high up before. The city spread below them, a landscape in miniature, everything except the Sphere, of course.

Standing atop the Spire, alongside Spirelord Benebis, gave her a new perspective on the immensity of the Sphere. Even from this vantage, the Sphere was daunting. It waited below, a steadfast and implacable foe that had churned toward this inevitable conflict for three thousand years.

“We had not counted upon the Brotherhood marshaling well-armed trained forces,” Benebis said, as he watched troops moving below, attempting to break in the front doors to the Spire. “This certainly complicates matters.”

Despite the constant buzz of the wind, Dashira could hear Benebis speaking. She found that more than a little disconcerting. If only she had been able to obtain more details from Mother. Plagued by doubt and uncertainty now, she couldn’t yet fathom how she could be of use in saving Gambor and destroying the Brotherhood.

Not far off, a rumbling reverberated, followed by a fiery explosion. Benebis rushed to the opposite side of the Spire, Dashira following. The nearest Spire trailed a pillar of black smoke from its base.

From this height and distance, it was impossible to tell the source of the smoke, or the cause of the damage. Benebis’ face contorted in anguish. Something terrible had happened at that Spire, and he must be able to sense it.

“Take my hand,” he said, reaching out to her. Dashira did as requested. The man’s hand was ice cold, and smooth like polished marble.

“I will explain things later. Prepare yourself Dashira. You are about to witness actions which you may find… disturbing.”

Dashira nodded in response. The Spirelord’s ever-flowing runes ceased their shifting and flared with cobalt brilliance, inundating Dashira’s body with a tingling sensation. Then there was falling and white light.

She gasped.

Blinked.

They stood in a well-lit chamber pulsing with life. Her eyes adjusted, making it difficult to see.

In the center of this circular chamber was an oval-shaped vat carved from a marbled blue and white stone, like nothing she’d ever seen. The massive container held a mercurial liquid emanating a purplish glow. Dashira noticed there were no windows and no doors in this room. There was no visible means of entry, or exit.

“We must move with haste,” Benebis said, before Dashira could spit out any of the myriad questions tumbling through her head.

The Spirelord plunged his hand into the vat, closing his eyes as he did so. A purple vapor formed, rose from the liquid, and a ubiquitous fog permeated the chamber.

“Breathe in and do not fear,” Benebis instructed.

Dashira trusted the man. She did as instructed.

With her first deep inhalation, her body became hazy and indistinct.

Was she floating?

She now understood the smell and taste of purple.

How peculiar?

She exhaled and took yet another breath.

With her second breath, time slowed, and she gained a palpable awareness of everything in the room.

First, she was one with the liquid in the vat, which now bubbled violently, but in slow motion.

Next, her senses expanded, she was one with Benebis. His heart beat in counterpoint to her own. He smiled at her, as if to offer comfort and encouragement.

Time sped up, and her awareness seeped into and through the walls, upward and throughout the entirety of the Spire.

Her lungs burned with need, her breathing rapid, drinking in as much of the vapor as she could hold. Overwhelmed but exhilarated, she could see through over a thousand pairs of eyes, the entire population of the Spire all simultaneously.

Then, it all stopped.

She blinked and gasped for air, as if she had been submerged underwater too long. The purple cloud filling the room was gone, the liquid still, and Dashira panted and was covered in sweat.

Her body tingled.

She peered down at her hands and arms; flecks of purple swam just below the surface, and her skin paled to a lavender shade similar to the vision of Vrom from her dreams.

Benebis touched her on the shoulder. “What I have done is forbidden by our laws, but it is necessary. I need your assistance in defending this Spire. Follow my lead, use your instincts, and do what you know to be right. Take care, however, not to over exert yourself.”

He didn’t explain what he’d done. No explanation was necessary. In the moments of her exposure to the Fonte Arcanum, she knew the name of this chamber now; she had gained some of the powers, as well as knowledge imparted to Spirelords. She understood the secrets held fast within the Spires. Her head spun with the burden of arcane knowledge.

The dots swimming in her skin coalesced into shapes. The glyphs engraved upon their bodies from the inside imbued the Spirelords with permanent magical powers, with energy distilled directly from the pure magical essence contained in the Fonte Arcanum.

“Take my hand once again. We have no time to delay.” Benebis reached out to her once again.

She took his hand, her head spun with this turn of events. If only she had time to think things over. She needed time to access the knowledge she had now been granted.

“It will come to you as needed,” Benebis said, replying to her thought, and they vanished, reappearing in the entryway to the Spire above. The instantaneous travel to another location wasn’t nearly as jarring the second time.

He was right. Now was the time for action. She couldn’t spare the time for contemplation. The Sphere-blessed were dying. Gambor and Mother were in danger.


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