Author Interview – James A Hillebrecht - The Paladin Trilogy
Jim Hillebrecht has been a writer for almost thirty five years. He has produced almost a dozen books within this time which ranges between techno-thrillers, paranormal drama and fantasy.
People have met James’s Trilogy with much liking judging from comments that range between “very exciting to must add this author on your favourite list.” It’s always an honour for me to host published authors, especially those who are met by society with awe.
Welcome to the blog today James from sunny South Africa. The festive season is about to hit off with just over 5 five days to go. James’s work is the perfect relax read for these times.
James. I was extremely humbled by your short author note on your blog. Can you share this intimate view with the rest of our readers?
Creative writing, at its heart, is the sharing of emotional experiences between the writer and the reader, using the characters as the vehicles for those emotions. Our literature is rich in emotions like hate, vengeance, love, lust, anger, and joy, but in my experience, we tend to shy away from the heroic. Or rather, we escalate it to the extra-human level of a Conan or an Indiana Jones, a special trait that raises them above common humanity. But I believe the heroic resides within all of us, something that goes beyond simple courage which is the tool for heroism, much as knowledge is the tool for wisdom.
The main character of the books is Darius, a Paladin who is a holy warrior quested to confront great evil whenever it is unleashed upon the world. But it is not the task of the Paladin to single-handedly destroy this evil. As Darius’ mentor explains to him in the 1st chapter of the 1st book, “Did you think that you and my other sons were only to hack and slay? No, you were to be the examples for Mankind, the proof that there was a better way than the paths of darkness, the heroes that might stir men’s' souls to valour.” This is the very heart of the entire Trilogy, that when danger and intrigue and confusion begin to sway people into compromising with that evil, it is Darius who helps them to find the hero within themselves.
Can you tell our readers what made you start writing?
I think I have always been interested in story-telling, and it seems to be a natural outlet for a restless imagination. The Trilogy, however, has a very different root. I began playing the fantasy role-playing game (RPG) Dungeons and Dragons back in the Summer of 1978 with a group of close friends, and we are still involved in campaigning in the same world today. In 1989, I took an informal college course on how to get published, and while the curriculum was a fairly standard introduction to query letters, the instructor did assign one fascinating project: compose a query letter for the project you will never write. At the time, I was writing “serious” fiction, and the idea of working on a sword-and-sorcery fantasy was the furthest thing from my mind. So I wrote the query letter, and I fell in love with the idea. The first book of the Trilogy, A Rage in the Heavens, was the result.
Interestingly, the book initially could not find an audience, at least partially because it was the first book of an unfinished Trilogy. My agent at the time was not accustomed to handling fantasy, and after about a year of collecting rejection letters, I finally put it up on the shelf. Then, around 2002, my eldest Daughter, Barbara, pulled down the manuscript, read it, and insisted that I complete the other two books. And the Paladin Trilogy came to fruition.
Do you have a specific genre you are writing for?
The Paladin Trilogy is a sword-and-sorcery, high fantasy work that is grounded in the rich heritage of Lord of the Rings and the various RPG systems. I was hoping to hit that ideal middle-ground between adults and teen-agers, and while the books appear to have been very well received by the adult audience, the teen-aged response seems to be mixed. The relentless action of the books attracts some, but the political intrigue and the complex characters appear to be a bit much for others.
The Paladin trilogy consists of three novels. Can you tell our readers a bit more about them?
The first book, A Rage in the Heavens, was written in the early 90s, and by its nature, it is a simpler story, the tale of an aging fighter called out of a well-earned retirement to confront a barbarian invasion that is led by an unstoppable titan known as the Juggernaut. But unknown to him, his teen-aged Daughter, Shannon, has also heard a distant call, and she follows in his footsteps to where the war rages.
In the second book, Upon This World of Stone, the simplicity of the first book darkens and complicates as more details become clear. The Juggernaut is a weapon of the Ancient Wars before the birth of Men, and it has been set free by the tyrant of the barbarians after he came into possession of a demonic sceptre that has given him incredible powers. But while the purpose of the tyrant to conquer and pillage is crystal clear, the intent of the demon sceptre is still shrouded in mystery
In the third and final book, Darkness Ascending, the various strings of the story come together in a compelling Gordian Knot as the ancient struggle between the gods begins to emerge once more. Here, Darius’ ability to inspire is put to its final test as the ruthless and cunning thief, Adella, and Darius’ Daughter Shannon find themselves pulled into the final confrontation where the devastating plans of the gods themselves are revealed – and which only they have even a chance counter.
Your favourite character within them? What makes him/her dear to you?
That’s almost like asking a parent which is their favourite child. These characters have been with me for over 20 years, and they are now all old friends. But I have to go with the Paladin Darius and the Thief Adella, because their interaction is a wonderful part of the chemistry of the three books. They come from radically different backgrounds, and their choices have put them on a collision course, especially since Adella wields the evil sword Bloodseeker, the absolute antithesis of Darius’ sword Sarinian. As Darius tells her early on “We are friends the world has cast as foes”, and when they are able to put their differences behind them, they make an extremely effective team, complementing the others’ weaknesses and augmenting each others’ strengths.
The humour and the conflict between them is a fun sub-plot throughout the books, as is the lurking and forbidden romantic tension. It is interesting that when the question is asked “should Adella and Darius end up together?”, the reaction is split perfectly down gender lines. Every woman who has read the books responds with a resounding “Yes!” while male readers inevitably answer with an equally emphatic “No!” I’ve occasionally felt I should have two different endings f I want to keep everyone happy.
On your website you have a link that refers to “The Campaign” can you tell our readers a bit more about it?
“The Campaign” refers to the RPG world that I and my friends have been designing, developing, and evolving for more than 30 years. A role-playing game, simply put, is when players generate characters for a medieval setting, and the game-master designs all the intricacies of that world and then allows the players to adventure in that environment. The current group of characters was introduced in 1981, and we have had some epic playing sessions, many of which will start on a Friday night and end in exhaustion on Sunday afternoon. My earlier contention that the heroic can be found within all of us is sometimes demonstrated by the valour of these characters when standing against an overwhelming evil – some things you simply cannot play act.
People have commented on your rather intriguing covers can you tell us a bit more about the mastermind behind them?
John Blumen and I met in our 9th grade homeroom, and we have been fast friends ever since. John was the silent, watchful artist, and I was a history nut with a real fascination for all things nautical. When there was a school announcement congratulating John on his construction of a model of the USS Constitution, I made a point of seeing it and was astounded not just by the intricate detail of the vessel but by its flawless historical accuracy. I fell in love with his work on the spot, and John, I think, was just relived to find somebody who knew the difference between an American frigate and a Spanish galleon.
Ever since I wrote the first sentence of A Rage in the Heavens, I have dreamed of John designing the covers of the Trilogy. John has developed into a successful commercial artist whose credits include covers for major publishers like Tor and Penguin, but he has always cautioned me that publishers often have their own stable of illustrators and are unlikely to even look at covers from “the author’s friend”. StoryMerchant gave me the freedom to use the illustrator of my choice, and John has done a superb job of creating covers that work both as a thumbnail for e-books and as the full-blown jackets of the paperbacks. It is my heart-felt hope that people will judge my books by their covers.
People have complemented your works by saying it’s intriguing especially to those that like political intrigue, medieval imagery and clever characters how have you dealt with bad reviews?
Well, fortunately, there have been no formal bad reviews to date, but all of my books go through an exhausting series of proof-reads by a loyal following of tireless friends. Everything is on the table with the avowed purpose of helping to lift the work to the next level, whether that be to acceptable to good or to very good. Criticism is a priceless opportunity to improve, and it only becomes a problem if you think your work has reached the pinnacle where no further improvement is possible. I expect and hope that I will never reach that point.
Where can readers find your works and stay in contact?
My web site can be reached at:
You’ll find the Prologue to the first book there which you can read for free in order to get a flavour of the Trilogy. The books themselves are available on Amazon/Kindle as both e-books and large paperbacks.
A Rage in the Heavens
Upon This World of Stone
Plans for the future?