Normally I write up a little bio for these interviews, but the one J.V. Hilliard sent me was so much fun, I’m just pasting it in as is. Take this as a fun example of a “non-standard” (read: non-boring) author bio.
Born of steel, fire, and black wind, J.V. Hilliard was raised as a highlander in the foothills of a once-great mountain chain on the confluence of the three mighty rivers that forged his realm’s wealth and power for generations.
His father, a peasant twerg, toiled away in industries of honest labor and instilled in him a work ethic that would shape his destiny. His mother, a local healer, cared for his elders and his warrior uncle, who helped to raise him during his formative years. His genius brother, whose wizardly prowess allowed him to master the art of the abacus and his own quill, trained with him for battles on fields of green and sheets of ice.
Hilliard’s earliest education took place in his warrior uncle’s tower, where he learned his first words. His uncle helped him to learn the basics of life—and, most importantly, creative writing.
Hilliard’s training and education readied him to lift a quill that would scribe the tale of the realm of Warminster, filled with brave knights, harrowing adventure, and legendary struggles. He lives in the city of silver cups, hypocycloids, and golden triangles with his wife, a ranger of the diamond. They built their castle not far into the countryside, guarded by his own two horsehounds, Thor and MacLeod, and resides there to this day.
Philip Athans: Define “fantasy” in 25 words or less.
J.V. Hilliard: “One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them, one ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them.”
Athans: Define “science fiction” in 25 words or less.
Hilliard: “No, I am your father. Space, the final frontier. Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so. I’m sorry Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
Athans: What was your introduction to the fantasy genre, and what work of fantasy influenced you to start creating your own fantasy world?
Hilliard: In elementary school I was read The Hobbit by Tolkien in one of my English classes and the story opened my eyes to the fantasy world (and genre) in general. That Christmas I received my own copy of The Hobbit from my uncle—and the basic box set of TSR’s Dungeons & Dragons game.
My family started playing the game and from that time on, my love of all things sword and sorcery grew. Over the years, I started to memorialize certain characters, campaigns, and unforgettable moments from my time as a player character and as a dungeon master in small, campaign-specific diaries. This collection of adventures and stories became the basis for many of the protagonists and villains in The Last Keeper—and make up various parts of the realm of Warminster.
Athans: What was it about Dungeons & Dragons that most influenced the book, and what, beyond D&D, inspires your writing?
Hilliard: Shared experiences from my various Dungeons & Dragons campaigns have always been at the heart of my work. If you are a TTRPGer, I’m sure you get this. Playing D&D with friends and family scattered through several decades really generated a lot of ideas that I could mesh into The Last Keeper, but also allowed me to go off script and away from D&D, creating unique monsters like the Antlered Man.
The D&D modules of the Ravenloft series and The Vault of the Drow were player and DM favorites and inspired many fun nights and memories, including the creation of one of the villains in The Last Keeper, Incanus Dru’Waith.
Lastly, politics runs deep through The Last Keeper and the other books in the series to follow, and I have generated ideas for several plot lines from my professional life in Washington, DC, as a lobbyist.
Athans: How did your professional time as a lobbyist in DC, or any other real experiences, influence or inspire parts of The Last Keeper?
Hilliard: During my career, I have spent much of my time in DC working with tech and defense related companies. As a defense and budget lobbyist on the Hill and working with the Pentagon, I’ve seen some sci-fi projects spring to life in front of my own eyes and eventually be adopted for use by our government.
The concept for the scholar city of Abacus in the Last Keeper was partially borne from my experience watching the best companies and the newest tech being tested and adopted by our military. The High Aldin, the military school in Abacus, is in some ways a fantasy version of the Pentagon.
Watching elected officials and their staffs maneuver to “horse trade” and get bills passed (or stopped) provided me the opportunity to take real life scenarios and bake them into the fantasy world of the realm of Warminster. But don’t ask which real life personalities inspired some of the characters…
Athans: When you first started writing, where did you go to learn your craft? Did you read books on writing, did you pursue a degree with writing in mind?
Hilliard: I started writing when I was very young. My uncle was paralyzed in the Vietnam War and when he returned home, my mother was his nurse. I practically grew up by his side and the kind of activities he could engage in were limited. But writing was something he could do, and so I started into creative writing and playing Dungeons & Dragons with him as a form of escapism from real life.
I eventually took some creative writing classes in high school and then again in college, but my focus was on government, so I ended up writing every day for a living. However, writing legislation, grants, and speeches tends to be a world away from crafting fiction. In many respects, I had to flip the switch and transition from non-fiction to fiction, so I struggled early with dialogue and story pacing. But I think my professional career prepared me to be a descriptive writer and to make sure the plot lines were buttoned up.
Athans: Do you take detailed notes before and/or during your writing? You said that pieces of the world of Warminster came from previous D&D experiences. Did the bulk of your worldbuilding take place before you began writing, or did most of the world take shape as you were writing?
Hilliard: I am plotter/planner, so I literally have a wall-long whiteboard in my den that has notes, outlines, character arcs and intersections, etc., scrawled upon it. I never start a story or even a chapter without knowing the end and direction it is going, so I tend to write backward, reverse engineering the story to ensure every detail is considered.
Warminster was built over two decades before coming to life in The Last Keeper. I stitched together various Dungeons & Dragons campaigns, short stories, and character memories to weave the tapestry that became the realm of Warminster for Daemus, Addilyn, and Ritter.
Athans: How did you approach the creation of a magic system for The Last Keeper? Did you research historical occult practices, start with a clean slate, or some combination of both?
Hilliard: I did plenty of research on the magic system, borrowing from the basic tenets of Dungeons & Dragons and other tabletop role playing formats for things such as spell casting. However, Warminster is unique, and so must its system of magic be.
For example, you will find the scene in The Last Keeper where Arjun is offered slippery elm bark to chew on to ease his wounds by Katja Seitenwind. Ancient and modern wiccan practices use the same for everyday pain relief. Or the “conjurer’s tongue” is the language of wizards in Warminster, and the conjuring words are adaptations of various real-life languages around the globe. I used forms of Latin, Russian, German, French, Old English, and many Scandinavian dialects for spells.
Athans: What is the one novel every aspiring fantasy author has to read?
Hilliard: Now that is a tough question. There are plenty of great authors and series out there, including Salvatore, Brooks, Weis, Hickman, Sanderson, Paolini, Martin, etc., but they are mostly—if not all—born from the master, J.R.R. Tolkien. Thus, to be fair to the king of epic fantasy, I would ask every aspiring fantasy author to “deep read” the material that makes up the tales of Middle Earth.
Athans: In the spirit of Fight Club, if you could fight one of your characters, who would it be and why? And I won’t ask the same question in the context of your work as a DC lobbyist!
Hilliard: This is an easy one. I would fight Incanus Dru’Waith. He is an assassin, a weapons master and singularly purposed on perfecting his craft (and, of course, a little revenge with the Vermilion elves). But to be the king, you must beat the king, so I would drop the gauntlet in front of Incanus and watch him pick it up and slap me with it before cleaning my clock.
Athans: Where can people go to find out more about you, your writing, and what’s coming up next for you?
Hilliard: The Last Keeper is only the first book in the Warminster series, with the second novel, Vorodin’s Laircurrently in editing with an eye toward a publication date in late Spring or early Summer 2022. The third installment, The Trillias Gambit, will be available nearer the holiday season with book four in production currently. Fans of the series can sign up for my newsletter at www.jvhilliard.com or they can follow me on various social channels at the following coordinates:
Facebook: J. V. Hilliard
And of course, my publisher, Dragon Moon Press, will have continuing updates on the Warminster series.
Thanks, J.V., and I can’t wait for Book 2!
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