Monday, June 30, 2014

Interview with Patrick W. Carr

A Cast of Stones (The Staff and the Sword, #1)A Draw of Kings (The Staff and the Sword #3)The Hero's Lot (The Staff and the Sword, #2)

Today, I'm delighted to welcome a special guest, Patrick W. Carr, the author of the Staff and the Sword trilogy.  'A Cast of Stones', the first book in his trilogy, was a finalist in two categories of the 2014 Christy Awards. Both 'A Cast of Stones' and 'The Hero's Lot' are finalists in the Speculative category of the Carol Awards, which will be announced in September. He's also a High School Maths teacher and father of four sons. Thanks for coming to speak with us today, Patrick.

1) Your main character, Errol Stone, is one of my favourite heroes. His transformation from village drunk to national hero is phenomenal. But if you had to choose just one of his attributes you’d hope readers would take away from the series, which would it be? 

 I loved writing Errol. In more than a few ways, he becomes the man I’d always hoped I would be. I think if we could all display his grit for getting through difficulties without surrendering to despair, we would find that we’re capable of so much more than we ever dreamed. I see the same thing in my classroom. I’m fortunate to teach at an academic magnet, but there are always students who struggle with Geometry. The subject matter is so different from the Algebra => Calculus track. But each year there’s always a few students who capture my heart and it’s never the ones who breeze through the course. It’s those who never quit, who steadfastly refused to surrender despite struggling on every single quiz, test, or project. I admire them so much and they teach me the meaning of grit. That was one of the things I wanted to capture with Errol.

2) You’ve created a vast and complex fantasy world. The kingdom of Illustra is full of unique provinces, and surrounded by equally distinctive foreign nations. Did you take time to map all this out before you ever put pen to paper? If so, how long did it take? 

 I have to confess that I cheated a bit. I’ve had more than a few people complain that I didn’t include a map with the books. I actually had one drawn up, but the publisher thought it looked a bit too much like Europe. In reality, it was Europe. By the time I signed the contract for “A Cast of Stones” I’d already completed the manuscript and in its first incarnation it was written as an alternative history of Europe. So the provinces are very close to Europe’s countries and the surrounding nations are similar as well. With my new book series I’m creating a world from scratch. So one of the things I’ll be doing this summer while school is out is getting some map-making software and putting the ideas down in a publishable form. I hope the readers like it.

(Wow, that may explain why each province and nation seemed reminiscent of places I was familiar with. I'm guessing the Green Isle with its capital, Erinon, might have represented Great Britain and London. Now I wish I could ask another question. Whereabouts on the map was Callowford, the country village where Errol and Liam were born?)  

3) Your cast of characters is extensive and well-rounded. Apart from Errol, can you single out two or three as your personal favourites?

  I have an deep and abiding love for Cruk, Rokha, and Waterson. Every time I brought them into a scene, they had a way of stealing the dialogue with their dry, cynical wit and unencumbered view of life. I can’t tell you how many times I’d be in Starbuck’s and start to cackle when they would say something. They are so funny. And they’re intensely loyal as well, but it’s on their own terms.

(I loved those three too.)

4) The Church of Illustra relies hugely on the casting of lots as a main source of guidance from God (or Deas, as He’s known in the stories). This is a fascinating part of the plot. Can you tell us how you thought of it? 

I was reading a paraphrase version of the Bible and came across a verse that said “God is in the lot.” My mind started to turn that over and like I usually do, I started to play with the idea. What if lots were still in use past the Old Testament? What if the Church depended on them instead of the Holy Spirit to divine God’s will? What would be the limitations, political implications of having access to that much information? By the time I’d asked those questions I knew I had the makings of a very cool story. The challenge then became whether I  could do it justice on the printed page.

(You must be delighted with the result.)

5) I’m glad I was able to read the trilogy straight through without stopping. The series contains plenty of unfolding revelations, keeping us on the edges of our seats. Was it difficult to refrain from giving plot spoilers during those times between the release of each book of the trilogy? 

Horrendously difficult, especially during interviews. I had to keep in mind that a lot of people hadn’t read the first book yet. Even now I get emails asking me to explain some of the allegorical or symbolic references hidden in the story. I always respond, but I ask the recipient not to share it online because I know there are people who are re-reading the series trying to figure those things out for themselves. I wouldn’t want to spoil it for them. In a few years, I’ll probably put a page up on my website with a big “Spoiler Alert” and lay out everything that I placed into the trilogy. A lot of people have picked up quite a bit of it, but so far nobody has gotten it all. I think it makes for a fun read.

6) What was your favourite part of the writing of the trilogy, and what was most difficult? 

My favorite part was framing the characters and then just letting them run away with each scene. So many times they did or said something that caught me completely off-guard and only did I realize later that it was perfectly in character. That’s how life is. Husbands, wives, children, or friends will do something that surprises us, but we look back later and realize we should have seen it coming. The hardest part was keeping the story to the length the publisher required. I signed a contract that said each book would be 135,000 words and managed to come in close to that with the first two books. “A Draw of Kings” was another story. I knew it would be tough given the three different plot lines and I wasn’t wrong. I blew right through the word limit and had to spend three months cutting the manuscript to size. It felt like pulling porcupine needles out of my skin. In the end we settled on 142k, but I would have liked and fifty thousand words even so.

(I can imagine how hard that must have been. I admit I would have liked that story to go on and on.)

Patrick Carr was born on an Air Force base in West Germany at the height of the cold war. He has been told this was not his fault. As an Air Force brat, he experienced a change in locale every three years until his father retired to Tennessee. Patrick saw more of the world on his own through a varied and somewhat eclectic education and work history. He graduated from Georgia Tech in 1984 and has worked as a draftsman at a nuclear plant, did design work for the Air Force, worked for a printing company, and consulted as an engineer. Patrick’s day gig for the last five years has been teaching high school math in Nashville, TN. He currently makes his home in Nashville with his wonderfully patient wife, Mary, and four sons he thinks are amazing: Patrick, Connor, Daniel, and Ethan. Sometime in the future he would like to be a jazz pianist. Patrick thinks writing about himself in the third person is kind of weird.

Here is my review of A Cast of Stones
I've also written reviews of The Hero's Lot and A Draw of Kings but recommend that you don't read these until you finish the book which came before, as they contain plot spoilers from the prior stories. 

Cast of Stones, A (The Staff and the Sword) available from Amazon
 Hero's Lot, The (The Staff and the Sword) available from Amazon
  Draw of Kings, A (The Staff and the Sword) (Volume 3) available from Amazon


  1. Hi Paula and Patrick. A great interview. Fascinating. I've had A Cast of Stones on my To-Read and must bump it up. I love the sound of the trilogy and look forward to enjoying it. I can relate with how hard it is to pull all the threads of a trilogy together in the final book (with a restricted word count). I'm currently writing the third WIP in my trilogy and it's not easy. BTW Patrick - can you recommend any map making software? I would be interested to know which ones you think work best. All the best for your next world-building.

  2. Great interview Paula and Patrick. The books sound fascinating even though this is not a genre I usually read. I think my grandchildren would love these so will definitely recommend them.

  3. I'm another one who has A Cast of Stones on the TBR pile (along with don't-ask-how-many other books). Congratulations on the Christy and Carol nominations!

  4. Great interview. I loved A Cast of Stones and am still looking forward to reading books 2 and 3.

  5. Patrick Carr sounds like a real fun person. Great interview Paula.

  6. Thanks for visiting, everyone. I thought it was a lot of fun talking to him, and learning some of these 'behind the scenes' details in the making of the trilogy :)

  7. Love this series! Looking forward to anything he writes next.