The Author of Roland’s Path talks about fantasy, life as a country cop, and why every author should get hit on the head now and then.
Q) Tell us a little bit about Roland’s Path and its main characters.
A) Roland’s Path is a swords/sorcery genre adventure that introduces the reader to a new fantasy world in global strife. The two main characters, Roland and Eldryn, are based on RPG characters that I and a friend started playing in 1996. Roland’s Path is the first book in an overall story arc that will likely go for at least another 14 books. Roland’s Path is the ground floor of that story. It gives readers a chance to get to know the characters in their youth and see how their mistakes and their triumphs over time affect their choices and their lives. Most overall arcs use flash backs or limited narratives to describe a character’s past, however, our story gives the reader a chance to grow with the character.
The story begins with Roland as a teenager in a remote town with only preconceptions of what the world around him is like. As Roland’s journey progresses, the reader learns about the world as he does. Roland’s good friend, Eldryn often represents a flip side of the coin. While he is much like Roland in many ways, he is very different from him in others. Early on, Roland is shamed and feels that he owes an act of redemption to his father, whom he idolizes as well as resents. I think this story will touch a nerve with anyone that experienced that common conflict with a parent during the time of becoming an adult.
Q) Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.
RJ Hanson, author of the sword and sorcery spectacular Roland’s Path
A) I grew up in the country and went to school in a small town. Most people strive to be in the top ten percent of their class. I was the top ten percent of mine. I started college (the TAMS program) at 16. I found out then that I was not nearly as smart as I thought I was. I spent a few years wondering what I wanted to do with my life when I decided to try law enforcement. I started working as a jailer in 1996 and have been in the business ever since. I’m currently a lieutenant in C.I.D. (Criminal Investigation Division) and specialize in crimes against persons. If I ever figure out what I want to do when I grow up, I’ll let you know. My wife, Michelle, and I started our own ranch in 2005 and have a small herd of a little over thirty beefmaster and brangus cattle. I wrote Roland’s Path in 2002 and in 2018 my daughter/editor, Kaity, encouraged me to actually do something with it. So, here we are.
Q) You have a very distinctive background as a law enforcement officer. While Roland’s Path is not a mystery in the traditional sense or a procedural, I am curious if there were things from that background you were able to bring to the story and, if so, what?
A) The main aspect of my experiences that contribute to the book are how violence is perceived and its effects on the personality and outlook of those whose lives it touches. Some people become jaded by it, some crushed with shame, and some find that they enjoy it. Others work very hard to keep a moral perspective about the use of violence, the need for violence, and the aftermath of seriously hurting someone or being seriously hurt themselves.
An aspect of that experience comes through in Roland and Eldryn’s outlook. They have been trained since their earliest memories to fight for what is right and just. Lt. Col. Dave Grossman has written a few books and done a lot of research on what makes cops and soldiers choose to do what they do and how it affects them. Because of my chosen profession, I know firsthand how that outlook can make you different from those around you or create an emotional distance that can be hard to overcome.
These aspects of characters’ personalities becomes even more apparent in Roland’s Vow, book II of this series, which we hope to have available by the beginning of August.
Furthermore, if you’re going to write about how it feels to be knocked out, it helps to have actually been knocked out on a few occasions.
Q) After considering your options, you chose to self-publish. What are some of the factors that informed that decision? And what have been some of the challenges and rewards of that path?
A) In ’02, when I first wrote the book, I looked into having it published but most of those in the business suggested professional editing which cost a great deal more than I was willing to spend at the time. Last year Kaity, my daughter/editor, and I discussed her editing the book for me for a percentage of net profits (if there ever are any). So, we made an agreement and the process began. It was a wonderful decision! Kaity has discovered a new talent she didn’t realize she possessed. Our collaboration on story, setting, and characters has been a truly joyous work and we have learned so much about each other in the process. Communication between father and daughter was a little daunting at first, though. Our relationship had to change, as it should as children become adults, from ‘father telling daughter’ to ‘father asking daughter.’ We had to learn how to disagree without arguing. It was a great transformation of our relationship.
As far as author copies are concerned, Amazon has a pretty good set up in what they call a print on demand system. You can order one book or five hundred without changing the per unit cost. At one time, to self-publish one had to make a minimum order of several thousand books which is a huge investment. We also get to control our timeline and release dates. The only deadlines we have to concern ourselves with are the ones we set. My wife, Michelle, also found it to be a nice surprise when she discovered our first release date was set up for our anniversary, March 22nd.
Q) One thing I really enjoyed about Roland’s Pathis the well-defined mental universe the characters inhabit. The values, preconceptions, and priorities of their society are very clear, including the texts that lay down those precepts. Talk to me about that aspect of your world-building.
The World of Roland’s Path
A) On most weekends for a few hours at time over the course of twenty years I lived in this mental universe. We have played, off and on, the same RPG campaign since 1996. During that time, we worked hard to avoid the classic ‘bad guy’ concept. It always made the game/story more interesting to all involved if the origin of the conflict was from some human idea or emotion that players/readers could identify with.
Furthermore, spoiler alert, some of the ‘good guys’ aren’t nice people, and some of the ‘bad guys’ are actually quite helpful. In some ways it also addresses the problems with labels in society that are part of the world we live in as well as Roland’s. In the real world we are all one bad decision away from a life that we didn’t count on or expect. I try to make this real for Roland and the other characters in his world as well.
Q) Another thing I really enjoyed about Roland’s Pathare the fight sequences which are fast, fun, and very creative yet also detailed. Talk a little bit about your writing process for these (In the interest of full discloser, this is an area of weakness in my writing … so you may consider anything you say immediately borrowed).
A)Between Louis L’Amour and R.A. Salvatore I learned that I really loved a detailed fight scene and learning how the good guy figures out how to win. Their writing helped me to understand what I enjoyed about those scenes. As far as my own writing goes, I’ve had some hand to hand combat training, some martials arts training, and studied fencing. If you throw on top of that some lively times working patrol it mixes together for some basic knowledge of the second oldest profession. I always thought that good fighters fought the same way good chess players play chess. There’s a plan. Sometimes, the plan doesn’t survive contact with the enemy (Tzun Tzu) and you have to adapt on the fly. So, it’s a mixture of proper fighting strategy and dirty tricks, some of which I learned the hard way.
It’s also a part of the pen and paper RPG gaming that I enjoy the most. The planning of an attack and the strategies employed. The system we use has several critical charts that do an excellent job of defining exactly what sort of damage is done to an opponent and that really gives the combat in the game a more realistic feel.
Q) I know that Roland’s Pathis loosely based on a roleplaying campaign. You work is one of the few examples of I seen of that turning out tell well. Will you share with us how you went about transforming a campaign into a cohesive narrative … and what advice you would have for others considering such an undertaking?
A) The overall story arc was actually worked out for me in the playing of the game. Some of the sessions happened twenty years ago and some of it had to do with details of a copyrighted game, so I did have to adapt the highlights I could remember to that of a new world completely of my creation. The main things taken from the original campaign are the personalities of the characters as they organically developed, bad guys and good guys.
Also, for those familiar with a pen and paper RPG, there was the challenge of explaining through actions how a ‘Nat 20’ dice roll or a ‘double open ended roll’ played out. That proved to be a bit of a challenge.
I was blessed in that I gamed with a good group of folks that took their characters seriously. We had a great time, don’t get me wrong. But we all took our characters and how they would react to situations very seriously. We also had some great DM’s/GM’s that understood what makes a game/story great.
Q) What do you consider your greatest asset as a writer?
A) A wife that backs you 100% and is strong enough to tell you when you’re wrong or that your idea sucks while continuing to encourage you.
Q) How will define success for Roland’s Path? Selling 500 copies? A spot on the NYT best seller list?
A) It is a success. I had a nine year old boy read the story and tell me that he loved it. His mom said he didn’t touch any electronics for days until he finished it. There’s another boy, age 10, that I’ve mentored for a couple of years who has struggled with reading. We started reading the book together during our time at school and I gave him a copy of it. Over the course of the next two weeks he finished it on his own and really enjoyed it. There’s actually a character named after him in Roland’s Vow (Book II) that he requested. We made a deal that if I added the character, he would read Book II as well. That, to me, is a success.
Q) Now that you have Roland’s Path under your belt, what advice would you give to someone considering writing their first book?
A) Don’t be afraid to create. Don’t worry what people might think or say. Also this, to quote Louis L’Amour, a writer writes. Continue to write. If you write all day and you think it sucks, well, that’s alright. If it sucks and you hate it tomorrow, you can always throw it away. But keep writing. Furthermore, get a good editor. Find what Stephen King calls an ‘ideal reader.’ Someone you trust that you are willing to listen to. Apparently, some writers (certainly not me) tend to love their own ideas and dismiss the opinions of others. However, you must remember that, if you plan to publish and want others to read your story, you are writing for them too. This was a hard concept for me to swallow but I believe my work improved dramatically when I did.
Readers can find Roland’s Path on Amazon in eBook or paperback. Look for its sequel, Roland’s Vow, in late July or early August. RJ Hanson can be found on FaceBook .