It’s time for another edition of Writer’s Ramble! Today we welcome Stephen Zimmer, an award-winning author and filmmaker based in Lexington Kentucky. His work includes the cross-genre Rising Dawn Saga, the epic fantasy Fires in Eden series, the sword and sorcery Dark Sun Sawn Trilogy, featuring Rayden Valkyrie, and the Hellscapes and Chronicles of Ave short story collections
Me: Sword & sorcery, how do you go about writing a story with familiar tropes and make the story unique?
SZ: A genre always has some defining attributes, or characteristics, that are woven into the fabric of a given story. The unique aspects are driven by the kinds of characters, settings, and plot elements that a writer brings to the table. At this point, there really isn’t anything entirely new under the sun, so to speak, but a writer’s challenge is to put their own voice into the work and find ways to put some twists on things familiar to a genre.
My focus with Heart of a Lion was showing a part of Rayden Valkyrie’s journey, and in the process introducing her to readers and showing them who she is and what drives her. Her individual story is at the core of what gives this tale in the sword and sorcery genre a unique flavor. Ultimately, her story reflects timeless concepts that I feel anyone can relate to, and this personal connection really has the ability to bring the story home for a reader.
Me: In your world is magic a common deal or an arcane power of great importance? Is it harder to write one sort over the other, do you think?
SZ: In Heart of a Lion, the world depicted has magic that is not entirely uncommon, but not quite as prevalent as it is in my epic fantasy Fires in Eden series. There are supernatural elements, sorcerers and witches, and other things involving magical components, but these things are not attained easily or commonly by those populating the world that Rayden dwells in.
I don’t think it is harder to write a world awash with magic than it is to have one with a more arcane power aspect. The challenge is making that magic believable, and staying consistent to whatever rules govern it. The art of having magic remain more subtle or arcane, or staying rule-consistent in a setting with prevalent magic, each have special considerations and challenges of their own.
Me: Are there certain expectations you feel you have to abide by? For example, would readers balk if Dark Elves ran a monastery, or Orcs were vegetarians?
SZ: I don’t think you have to abide by any rules. And that’s something I love about one of my favorite characters as a reader, namely Drizzt Do’Urden, the Dark Elf from R.A. Salvatore’s great books. Here you have everything being turned on its head with the use of a dark elf who has a noble heart and good conscience.
Without getting too deep into it or revealing any major spoilers, my readers are seeing interesting things being done with my Trogen warriors in the Fires in Eden series, as when they are first encountered they appear more primal, more barbarian, fearsome of appearance (and animalistic even) but as the story evolves you begin to learn more about them and much more takes shape. I think this is where a writer can have great fun, taking various kinds of imagery and turning things on their heads. The reader should never find it too easy to guess if something that appears monstrous might not ultimately be good in nature, or something attractive, and even beautiful, might be evil at heart.
Me: Do you identify with any of the characters more than others?
SZ: Most definitely. There are two in particular; Julian in the Fires in Eden series, and Rayden Valkyrie, from Heart of a Lion. With Julian, the background and the kind of inner journey he is on in the series has a lot of relevancy to some of the big challenges of my own life. With Rayden, it is more about the kind of honor code and moral focus that guide her actions. She also has a background with things that I can relate to, but the code that she embraces contains the kinds of things that I embrace and use to fight forward in my own world.
Me: Which character did you find hardest to write and why?
SZ: A character like the Unifier in the Fires in Eden series is a challenge, because you have to convey a being of great power without the character becoming two-dimensional or losing potency in fleshing his characteristics out. He has to be very real while also maintaining a presence that conveys tremendous power and even some mystery. It’s a very fine line to walk. Not making him too “human” but not making him too much of an archetype/caricature either. It’s something I have to give a lot of thought to in the scenes that feature him in those novels.
You can connect with Stephen on his website or at any of the social media platforms listed below: