With our latest Pathfinder Tales novel, Stalking the Beast, about to hit physical and virtual store shelves, we got in touch with author Howard Andrew Jones for a peek inside his technique...
In your own words, what's Stalking the Beast about?
Elyana and Drelm lead a team of professional hunters and woodsmen after a strange monster that’s haunting remote settlements of the River Kingdoms. Before long they realize there may be sinister forces behind the monster’s seemingly random attacks, and not everyone within their group may be who they claim...
Without spoilers, what was your favorite aspect of this novel? What was the most fun part to write?
There are a couple of key action scenes that really please me, and I am proud of the various twists and turns. I think the moment I grew secure with the book was when I introduced the bounty hunter Lisette in chapter three while she was taking down one of her targets. I knew then that I was on to something that would work. I was pleased with the way the whole book turned out in the end, even though that end took a turn the outline hadn’t predicted...
Who's your favorite character and why?
That’s like asking me to choose a favorite child! That said, of the three characters in the book, this time I enjoyed writing the newest of them, Lisette, just a little bit more than writing Elyana and Drelm. Perhaps that’s because she was new to me, or perhaps it was because of her character arc, but her chapters more or less wrote themselves.
We haven't seen Elyana and Drelm since Plague of Shadows—how have the characters changed since then, both in-world and in how you approached writing them?
I know Elyana well enough that slipping into her POV is pretty simple for me. She hasn't changed much in a long while, having settled into her personality some decades ago. Drelm, on the other hand, is more complex, even though he's not as sophisticated as his elven friend, because he's still finding his place in the world. He's still growing and changing.
In the years since we last saw them they have come to depend upon one almost without question, so there are very few of those “what are you doing” moments between them anymore.
One of the point-of-view characters in this book—Lisette—is a gunslinger. What made you decide to include a gunslinger in such a prominent role?
I’d like to say it was a complex choice borne of careful consideration, but the truth is she walked into my subconscious with her personality and gear and her backstory. She virtually insisted upon being in the narrative... so there she is!
What drew you to this particular region of Golarion as the setting for a novel?
I wanted a wilder portion of the world, but I wanted one that wasn’t too far from where Drelm and Elyana had last adventured. The River Kingdoms proved to be exactly what I needed. I loved the idea of a region that wasn’t thoroughly explored or detailed so that I could plop a little settlement into the midst of it and do what I wanted with the place. And I have to admit I was drawn to the evocative setting that its authors had created – I could practically smell the trees and the mist off the river.
What's your favorite part of Golarion that you haven't written about yet?
Sargava. I can’t emphasize that enough. I can barely wait to write some stories set down south in Sargava. I can’t believe there’s been so little written about it already. It’s just rife with possibilities! I think some Pathfinder writers are drawn to populous places, but I prefer writing in less detailed areas so that I have a lot more freedom to make things up. And after a visit to the Hawaiian islands a few years ago I’ve been dying to try my hand at some exciting tropical stories. I’ve been wondering if Paizo would sponsor a trip back to the isles for me. You know, for research purposes.
How did you first get into writing?
I’ve always wanted to tell stories. When I was a little kid I used to draw pictures and my mom kindly wrote down what was happening underneath them (I couldn’t write yet). She once told me she knew I’d end up being an author because the details about the picture were a lot more involved than the pictures themselves... but she might just have been kind, because I was a bad artist. (My son’s tremendous artistic talent comes from my wife, not me.)
Once I started telling stories, I never stopped. Come high school I was writing what’s now called fan fic set in the original Star Trek universe, but with my own characters. I was big into both science fiction and fantasy and I just kept writing, even as the rejection letters flowed in. Gradually the ratio between acceptance and rejections flipped, and then I landed a book deal for some historical fantasy novels through St. Martin’s, which opened the door for writing some Paizo Pathfinder stories. I’ve been here ever since.
Any advice for aspiring writers?
If you’re serious about writing, keep at it. Be open to criticism yet know when to stick to your guns, because not every critique is right. Know what every character wants in the scene before you sit down to write it. Writing only happens if you make it happen. Taking the time for a single page a day equals a novel by year’s end.
What's an interesting bit of trivia that our readers might not know about you?
I actually own horses, which plays into my fiction, and I have a black belt in Shotokan Karate, which almost never does, except that I think knowing how to spar informs the writing of my combat scenes.
Last but not least: if you had only 30 seconds to convince someone to read this particular novel, what would your pitch be?
Elevator Pitch: The 13th Warrior crossed with Aliens! Okay, sort of, but with a wily elven ranger and a valiant half-orc warrior as the leads, joined by a dangerous gunslinger/bounty hunter. You want driving action, compelling characters, life and death choices? Sword-slinging, intrigue, and surprises? Elyana and Drelm will lead you there. If you enjoyed the first novel, everything that you liked is ratcheted up a couple of notches.
Check out Stalking the Beast, available October 30th in paperback or ePub format!
Senior Editor/Fiction Editor