Special Feature: Author Interview with Roberto Calas
by Betsy Dornbusch
Betsy, here. Disclaimer: I met Roberto at a recent convention and we hit it off so well we stayed up until the wee hours talking writing and industry stuff and other topics I may or may not recall. To date I've read all three Scourge books and they're great, so there's that. He also loves England, which I do as well.
Tell us about yourself.
Hi, and thanks very much for the interview. I'm a big fan of Betsy's writing, so it's a thrill to be here. I'm Roberto Calas, and I live in a reality tv show. At least it feels that way. When not traveling to England or being handcuffed and thrown into the back of police cruisers, I write historical fantasy and fantasy novels. Currently I'm working on a fantasy novel about a madman who attempts to impersonate a duke.
I'll focus on The Scourge books because they're the ones I'm reading. ☺ So zombies and knights in medieval England. I'm not sure whether to call it alternate history, fantasy, or just bad ass zombie thriller. How do you genrefy them and where did the idea come from?
Yeah, I think The Scourge stories defy genre in a lot of ways. They read like straight historical fantasy, but have that one huge fantasy element to them. They are paced very fast, have tons of black humor, and an underlying theme of romance. I usually put them in the Historical-Fantasy-Thriller-Humor-Horror-Romance category (couldn't find a way to fit dinosaur erotica into the books, unfortunately. But there's this scene with a horse...)
You've obviously done quite a bit of research for The Scourge books. Maybe more than just reading Wikipedia can you tell us what that process is like?
Yeah, I actually travel to England quite a bit. I've been to just about every place mentioned in those books. And while at those places, I have harassed countless of poor English Heritage and National Trust workers. I've also read countless books about the medieval period in general, and the 14th century in specific. Not to mention the hundreds of guidebooks, pamphlets and flyers that I've picked up over the years. I really wanted The Scourge to be historically accurate in every way possible. It's probably the most historically accurate zombie story every written, at any rate.
Maps and history aside, your characters feel very real to the time. They're knights with varied lives and personalities with bonds forged on Crusade. How much effort did you put in ahead developing them ahead of time or was it more organic?
The protagonist of The Scourge, was Edward Dallingridge (or Dallyngrigg, depending on the source you use), who was a real 14th century knight. He built Bodiam Castle, in Sussex, and was an absolutely fascinating man. He was a brilliant soldier with a fiery temper. A natural leader and a knight who was commended by nearly everyone he served with. Sir Edward made powerful friends and enemies that were just as powerful. Eventually he became a favorite of King Richard II, despite also being a favorite of Richard's enemy, the Earl of Arundel. It's impossible to write about a man like that without getting an amazing character.
His two cohorts, Sir Tristan and Sir Morgan didn't actually take a ton of prep work. They had been rolling around in my head for a bit, so they just kind of grew organically. It helps that they are opposite to one another. That bit of writing advice about creating characters that will butt heads worked beautifully here, I think.
You have two knights who follow Edward almost without question, and their utter neglect of trying to rally to their king struck me. Have you run into any instances when the historical culture and expectations clash with plot or logical motivation?
Yes, often. I think whenever you write anything historical, you face a lot of obstacles. You tend to want to follow historical events exactly as they occurred, and this can box your creativity, which is a really crappy thing to do to creativity. Even if you put little air holes in the box. The best thing to remember is that even historians argue about what really happened. The same even can be interpreted in completely different ways by two different academics. And they'll argue about it like Tristan and Morgan argue about religion. The other thing to remember is that saying about history being written by the winners. In the case of the Middle Ages, history is written by the next-in-line. Kings were notorious for re-writing history to their liking. So, to pick a topical example, Richard III became a bent-over, raving hunchback who all but twirled his mustaches. This, thanks to Henry VII and William Shakespeare.
I guess what I'm saying is that a writer of history should do everything in his or her power to stay true to accepted history, but when history and story clash, story must always win out. That's why we stick those words, "fiction" and "fantasy" after "historical."
What other books and series do you have out?
I have a fantasy trilogy called The Beast of Maug Maurai about a group of soldiers (and two women) who venture into a haunted forest to slay a monster that has been ravaging the countryside. I also have a historical fiction novella called Kingdom of Glass about two knights returning home from the Hundred Years War (that one is set in the Foreworld universe and was commissioned by Kindle Worlds). I also have a historical fiction short story called Wages of Sins that has a direct tie-in with The Scourge.
What projects can readers look for next?
I'm currently working on a new fantasy series. It's about a madman who-as a child-was plucked out of an asylum by a swordmaster looking for free labor. The child grows up to be incredibly ingenious, and a brilliant swordsman. And a thief. He and his ruffian friends decide to rob the caravan of a nobleman who is traveling hundreds of miles to claim his inheritance-a dukedom. But when the nobleman and his entire cavalcade are found dead, our madman protagonist decides to impersonate the duke. If he can carry out the ruse for even just one day, he and his friends can run off with the treasury. But there are complications. Aren't there always?'
Sounds fun! Thanks for talking to Electric Spec!