Welcome to another Indie Interview. Today’s author is Jeffrey Kohanek, the author of The Runes of Issalia series. Jeffrey grew up in rural Minnesota where comic books sparked his imagination, inspiring fantasies of heroes with super-powers saving the day. His tastes later evolved to fantasy epics featuring unlikely heroes overcoming impossible odds to save worlds born from the writer’s imagination.
Now residing in southern California, Jeff uses that imagination to weave tales of engaging characters caught in fantastic plots to inspire young adults and the child within us all.
Hi, Jeffrey. Welcome to Read A Lot.
Q: Had you always planned on becoming a published author?
Not at all. Since I was quite young, I had a creative nature, resulting in artistic endeavours that include me even creating my own comic books. Also possessing an aptitude for math, I found my teenage-self guided toward a career in Engineering.
A degree and a few working years later, I realised that Engineering offers little in the way of creativity, so I took MBA courses and became a Product Manager. This sufficed for two decades, enabling me to utilise my creativity to solve consumer problems with innovative new products. However, I eventually realised that the characters inside me longed to have a voice.
Recalling how much I enjoyed creative writing in college, I decided to capture the ideas bouncing about my head and form them into a story. As the characters came to life within the pages, I found myself addicted, realising my true calling as an author.
Q: What inspired you to write The Runes of Issalia?
The series is the culmination of ideas spurred by decades of reading fantasy novels. Magic is typically a key component to fantasy and that’s where my story began.
I had an idea for a magic system that was unlike any I had read. Within this world I conceived, runes hold an intrinsic meaning. We call the force that pulls object toward earth gravity because someone named it that. Imagine that there is a symbol, or rune, that represents gravity’s true name, and you found a book that depicts this symbol and others.
Now imagine yourself as a rare individual who has an inherent ability to collect raw energy and charge these runes with power. The result depends on the rune used and on the person’s capacity to collect energy. How the magic is utilised depends on the user’s creativity. That’s where things become really exciting.
Combining this magic with a world that has a long and deep history was critical to the plot. The government in the story is a continent-wide Empire that controls church and state, creating a cult-like mentality and providing an inordinate amount of control over citizens’ lives. As a dystopian society, the government, and the secrets they keep are core elements of the overarching plot line.
Q: What made you choose this genre?
I’ve loved reading epic fantasy since I first opened The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe in fourth grade. Decades of experiencing fantastical worlds created by masters in the genre made it an easy choice for me. I love the idea of creating an entire world from nothing, including the economy, politics, ecology, geography, people, and of course, the magic.
Q: What is the series about?
All citizens of the Issalian Empire are assigned a rune at birth, designating their position in society and defining their vocation for life. Being among the 1% who live without such a rune, Brock, the protagonist, ranks below the lowest rung of society and he is treated like an outcast.
A tragic event encourages him to risk his life and obtain a fake rune. His bold nature and desire to do something important with his life cause him to choose the rune of the ruling class, the Ministry.
Under a false identity, he enters a school where society’s elite are trained in magic, science, and combat. There, he begins to uncover secrets held by the Ministry, including a lost magic, buried and forgotten for centuries.
As the first book in the series, I classify The Buried Symbol as an origin story. It pulls the reader into this new world as they share in Brock’s rise from nothing. It was written with the intent that the reader is constantly discovering something new about the world, the school, the government, and about Brock’s amazing new abilities.
It’s the perfect entry point for those who aren’t hard-core fantasy readers while hitting on some of the most desired tropes of Coming-of-Age fantasy enthusiasts. Readers will find that books two and three are more traditional epic fantasy, with multiple POVs, quests, monsters, more extensive magic, and an epic final battle. All three are fast-paced for the genre, with action, adventure, mystery, or romance occurring in every chapter.
Q: Do you find it easier to write with a schedule or with no time restrictions?
I try to set goals for myself, but since I work a day job and have a family, I try to keep them realistic. Accordingly, I try to average 1,000 words a day with 500 being my minimum.
Q: Can you choose a favourite character from your books?
I fell in love with Master Nindlerod, a kooky Engineering instructor at the school. I loved him so much that I wrote him into later books, giving him a significant role in final book of the series.
Q: Was there ever a point while you were writing when you wanted to give up?
Editing. The Buried Symbol was the first book I had ever written and I underestimated how much editing goes into a 100,000 word novel.
Q: What is the worst part of the writing process for you?
Editing again. However, editing is SO important, it’s worth it for the end result.
Q: How much of your stories do you plan, or do you make them up as you go along?
I outline my novels before I begin writing. In fact, I had a very rough outline for the entire series when I started writing book one to ensure that I planted the right seeds in early on so they would bloom later.
Rather than being strict with the outlines, I tend to use them as a plan, reminding me of key events and details required to properly execute the plot or grow the characters. How chapters unfold is undetermined until I actually write them. In fact, I often find that the characters write me in directions I hadn’t intended to go.
Q: Do you have a favourite piece of writing advice?
Get an editor. They will not only make your books better, but they will make you a better writer. Before you send your book anywhere, get an editor.
Q: Where can people learn more about your books?
Q: What have you learned since you started writing?
I’ve discovered that being an author is my true passion. I intend to grow my career as an author and am hopeful I can switch to full-time in a few years.
Q: What’s next for you?
I’m currently writing a prequel to The Runes of Issalia series, set 400 years in the past. It’s the story of a girl who plays an integral role in key historic events that are referenced in the main series.
Think of it as a Forrest Gump-type tale set in a fantasy world, providing readers with insight about what really happened during those historic events. I know that fans of the Runes series will love it and I believe it will help to introduce new reader