Getting Mystical: An Interview with Author Jason Denzel + MYSTIC GIVEAWAY!
***The giveaway is now over, thank you to everyone who entered!***
As you’d recall, last week I reviewed the charming coming-of-age fantasy novel Mystic, and as promised today we have a fantastic interview with author Jason Denzel as well as a giveaway opportunity. Jason was kind enough to stop by and chat about his new book, his writing, and loads more. He’s a great guy and I had so much fun doing this interview so I hope you’ll enjoy reading his answers as much as I enjoyed asking the questions!
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Hi Jason, welcome to the BiblioSanctum and thank you so much for the interview!
Jason: You’re welcome and thank you for having me. I’m delighted to be a part of this!
First of all, huge congratulations on Mystic, your debut fantasy novel! Can you start by giving us a brief rundown of the book and what prospective readers can expect?
Jason: Mystic is a fantasy novel about a low-born teenager who defies law and tradition by seeking to become an apprentice to a reclusive Mystic. She’s a person who knows her calling and has the rare opportunity to chase it. The heart of the book is about a student trying to find a mentor, and learning to find self worth. While this is certainly an epic fantasy novel, I’ve intentionally kept the stakes on the smaller scale. This is a story about a young girl proving her worthiness. You won’t find marching armies or global cataclysms. (But those might come later in the sequels!) In many ways, Mystic is more similar thematically to The Hunger Games than say, Lord of the Rings.
In your novel, the Myst is described as “the underlying energy that lives at the heart of the universe” and has its roots in nature. What was the creative process behind the wonderful idea for this source of magic?
Jason: There’s a trend in the fantasy genre these days to include “hard” magic systems where magical powers are predictable, scientific, and follow a strict set of rules. These limits and parameters are explained over the course of the book, and very often documented in an appendix or other supplemental material. They’re a lot of fun, and often give the reader a great way to understand the author’s fictional world better. With the Myst, I wanted to present something more nebulous. The characters in the story are young and new to the magic of their world, so they don’t understand how the Myst works. It’s unpredictable, and can’t be defined in a textbook manner. In many ways I modeled the Myst to be like the Force from Star Wars. It simply existed, and only true Masters really understood it.
In the Mystic world, everything arises from the Myst: life, the world, and even one’s thoughts and emotions. It’s the pervasive fabric from which everything is made. Because of this, I wanted the Myst to be a reflection of each individual. Everyone taps into and “uses” that fabric in a different way.
Your protagonist Pomella loves to sing, and her music and songs are an important part of who she is. What does music mean for you and does it play a role in your life?
Jason: I love music, and like many of us, I’m always listening to the radio or iTunes. I believe music is a higher form of expression, and for me, it helps bridge my mind to the collective unconscious of our world and society. Which, I suppose is a flowery way of saying that it helps get my muse going.
I frequently drive long distances, and I’ll typically listen to several full albums or a long mix playlist. Often, I’ll get so lost in the energy of the piece that they’ll inspire story ideas, which I’ll dictate as notes.
My phone is loaded with a pretty wide range of music, everything from Eminem to Enya. I listen to a lot of cinematic soundtracks, too, especially when writing.
Speaking of music, I really like how the book is peppered with songs here and there. Whenever a character sings you often include the song lyrics, which is just lovely and some are even downright hilarious (Boom-bung Dog-ding!) What’s your approach to writing these verses?
Jason: Every creative project I’ve worked on, each main character, and each song that appears in Mystic have one or more “theme songs.” Often these songs are ones I hear on the radio. They might not make a lot of sense to anybody but me, but when I hear that song, boom, I’m right there with the character, the project, or the moment.
For the songs in the book, the inspiring songs I mentioned above offer me a starting point to know the pace and energy of what I wanted my character to sing. Once I have that in mind, I craft the lyrics around the theme. I try to imagine what it would sound like if it were sung to the tune of the inspiring song.
For example, there’s a song Pomella sings in the later part of the book that was inspired by Loreena McKennitt’s Penelope’s Song. The lyrics don’t match exactly, of course, but you can see where the inspiration came from. That song really resonated with me while I wrote the book, so I wanted to tip my hat to its influence. That’s an example where the inspiring song and the result in the book are fairly close. Others are very different, but somehow, in my mind, they still link up.
Boom-Bung might be the one exception to the rule. I have no idea what that the heck that song would actually sound like. It was a lot of fun to write it though. Maybe a fan will produce a musical version of it someday, and if so, I’d love to hear it.
While reading, I noticed that there were frequent allusions to themes from legend and folklore, but you also apply your own touches to make them unique. Were you inspired by any particular sources when you created the world of Mystic?
Jason: This is a great example of how Robert Jordan’s influence comes through in my writing. His books were such a huge influence in my life. While his writing style and mine are very different, I definitely identify with the way he weaved our real-world myths into his own.
With Mystic, I wanted to invoke a sense that their world is right beside ours. That even though the island of Moth exists only on the printed pages and in the reader’s mind, it could be our next door neighbor.
Specifically, I wanted Moth to have a heavy dose of Irish and Celtic influences. And at the same time, I wanted the culture of the Mystics to resonate with the spiritual practices of India and southeast Asia.
Ultimately, one of the central themes of the entire Mystic trilogy is to explore the master-apprentice dynamic, and so I’ve done a lot of research on how various cultures look at that relationship. Guru yoga is a treasure trove of influence for me.
What was the greatest challenge for you when writing Mystic?
Jason: I hope this doesn’t scare people off, but Mystic was the first novel I ever completed, so the biggest challenge was simply finishing it! I’d done plenty of other writing, including some screenplays, some shorts stories, and another unfinished novel. As a first time writer, I had to learn the hard lessons of how to stay focused and keep writing, even when the initial excitement of the project wore off and you’re facing the middle act.
Another big challenge for me was having to do some major re-writes. I received consistent feedback from many people that a major plot thread I’d built into the book was just not working. I really wanted it to keep the idea, but eventually I realized my peers were right and I had to change it. It didn’t require an entire re-write, but every chapter in the book had to be altered because this side plot was an important part of Pomella’s character. But I survived, and the book is better for it.
I have to say, it was also really cool when I found out from your author bio that you are a filmmaker. Has your work in filmmaking influenced the way you write and tell stories?
Jason: Filmmaking is a collaborative effort. It’s very rare that somebody can make a movie entirely by themselves. The minute you add actors and a crew to the project, you’re allowing their contributions to affect the final product. This is a beautiful thing because so often, the best moments are created by something that was unplanned: the actor changes the line or adds a twist you never imagined when you wrote the scene. Or the cinematographer finds a camera angle that sells an emotion better than how you’d envisioned. Filmmaking taught me to trust other creative people, and let them help you.
Another great lesson from filmmaking I learned is how to keep a tight narrative. Compared to other fantasy novels, Mystic happens to be fairly short. But even in longer books, I feel it’s important to keep the reader engaged by not letting them get bored. That doesn’t mean the story needs to fast-paced, it just means there always needs to be something of interest happening that moves the story forward. When I was learning filmmaking, there was always a heavy emphasis on “start late, and end early,” meaning that each scene should be as tight as possible, and move on as soon as it can. I tried to employ some of those ideas as I write my books.
Finally, as a whole, I’ve been told I have a very cinematic style of writing, which I suppose makes sense. I often frame shots in my mind and I write what the camera sees. As a film director, I’m very concerned with eye line, meaning, a lot of the direction I give actors is where to look. As I revised Mystic, I realized just how much eye movement I describe!
You’re also the founder of Dragonmount.com, which I’m sure is instantly familiar to any Wheel of Time fan reading this interview right now as the leading online community for the series. What, to you, is the best thing about being part of the SFF fandom? Is there a difference in the experience now that you’re on the writer-y side of things?
Jason: Running Dragonmount and being a part of the SFF community has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my life. The website, and its role in fandom have shifted over the years, but what’s consistently been present are the incredible people I’ve met. It never ceases to amaze me how many passionate fans are out there who want to be involved. It’s a joy to go to conventions or book signings and meet people.
To be honest, my experience hasn’t changed a lot since Mystic was bought by my publisher. The Wheel of Time is incredibly popular, which means that Dragonmount.com has a lot of readers and followers. Over the years, fans have gotten to know me through that context. I’ve sat on convention panels, been interviewed, signed books, and gone to events at the publisher’s request. So while I previously hadn’t been the name on the book cover, I’ve had the taste of what it’s like to be involved in that.
That said, as much as Dragonmount and Wheel of Time will always be something close to my heart, there’s a poetic balance in that the series is finally and truly ending at the same time my personal writing career is beginning. I’m looking forward to connecting with people who enjoy my stories, rather than only connecting over somebody else’s.
Tell us a Jason Denzel Fun Fact, or share something about yourself that might surprise readers!
Jason: I like to collect fantasy-inspired artwork. Most of my pieces are what you would expect, filled with dragons, towers, or magic swords. But one of my favorites is what I like to think of as a one-of-a-kind, original Picasso. It’s a check for 2 dollars that was made out to Pablo Picasso, dated 1965. The guy who wrote the check must’ve figured that the famous artist would sign the back in order to endorse it, and therefore the bank would return it to him. It was a cheap way of getting an autograph. Well, Picasso must’ve figured this out, because he crossed out the check (voiding it), then sketched a picture of Mary Poppins, who was all the rage in 1965. He signed the sketch with his famous “Picasso” autograph. My uncle, who was an antique dealer before he passed away, found the check at an estate sale and gifted it to me.
Another fun fact: I’m 6’5’’ and was able to reverse dunk a basketball last time I tried. That was a while ago though, and these days I might throw out my back if I try.
Is Mystic the first book of a planned trilogy? Is there anything about the sequel you can share with us at this point?
Jason: Yes, Mystic is the first of a trilogy. It was conceived that way from the beginning, not because trilogies are the standard thing to do, but because the overall story I was interested in telling just fit beautifully into that format.
I don’t want to spoil too much about the second book, Mystic Dragon, but it takes place seven years after the events of the first, and it opens the world up a lot more. I’m currently knee-deep in working on it, and I’m really excited for people to get their hands on it.
The third book, Mystic Skies, is outlined and ready to go. It’s the kind of book I’ve dreamt about writing for a long time.
Wrapping up, are there any other projects you’re working on currently or have planned for the future that you’d like to tell readers about, either writing or non-writing related?
Jason: The Mystic trilogy is my focus right now. I have a few unrelated short stories that’ll be coming out next year, along with some bonus chapters related to Mystic. These bonus chapters are unpublished stories about Saint Brigid that I plan to make available in different formats. They expand the world and also tie into the main novels eventually.
After Mystic, I’m hoping to write a book (or possibly a series) that blends science-fiction and fantasy. It’s too early to talk about now, but I’m excited about the idea.
And finally, several years ago I crowd-funded a short film that is still in the works. It’s called Spectre, and it’s taken longer than I hoped, but there’s still a team of people actively working on it. There’s a little bit of info on my website, but once the movie is complete, I’ll certainly share more.
On behalf of The BiblioSanctum, I’d like to thank you again for stopping by! Good luck to you on all your future endeavors!
Thank you for inviting me to participate!