Omni Publishers of NY is pleased to present an interview with The Harrow author Philip Mazza. In the interview we decided to ask some intense questions, questions that some fans have been asking for some time. Like, is this series only three books long? What is the history of this fictional place called the Harrow? What is his inspiration? Here's what he told us.
Warning: There may be spoilers below!
Here's the complete unedited text of our interview Philip Mazza, author of The Harrow series.
Are you surprised by the reaction to your book? Did you think it would sell the way it has?
I suppose so. I never thought of book sales, though. For me, that is something the publisher worries about. My job is to continue to bring the story forward and move it along to a natural conclusion if there can be one. Don’t misunderstand me. I am happy that many people find the book interesting and have enjoyed it. But like I’ve always said - I write for myself.
You mentioned a “natural conclusion.” Is this series a trilogy only?
I really don’t know. I plan on completing two more books because I have committed to doing so. With that said, though, I think there is so much history and so much more that can be told about the Harrow and its inhabitants. At the same time, I have other stories in my mind I would eventually like to tell, stories not about the Harrow. Only time will tell if I can be successful at the others.
In the past you’ve described how you write. Why does it take you so long?
Well, writing is not easy. First, it’s a matter of finding time. Secondly, it’s a matter of form and shape especially when writing an epic fantasy. People have to remember I have a day job and paying the bills requires I work at keeping it. Writing is and has always been a release for me. It took ten years for me to complete the first book and I am more than half-way done with the second. Developing characters and plots-lines, and keeping a certain level of suspense is not easy.
Writing is a labor of love and hate. I love doing it; it is my release. I love creating characters, placing them in situations and seeing what happens. I love the act of creation. But I hate the time it takes and the stitching together that is required to make it all work. The great science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein had four rules for writers and I try to keep to three of them. They are: write, finish what you start, and don’t tinker endlessly with what you’ve written. I try to stick to all three, and when you look at the rules you can see how it is such a time-consuming process especially with the epic fantasy and the detail that is required. What Heinlein calls tinkering, I call stitching. I want to bring readers into my world. I want them to see it, to hear the sounds, to smell the smells. In this way the reader can more easily relate to the story and the characters.
One of my favorite sayings comes from Han Solo in Star Wars. When explaining to Luke Skywalker the detail required for making a jump into hyperspace he says “it ain’t like dusting crops.” The same can be said when writing fiction. It is so different than writing business reports.
We’ve already released an excerpt from your second book and will release more excerpts in the coming months. The reaction to the excerpt was greater than expected. It seems you are introducing more characters and story lines. Why is that? Was this planned?
Nothing is planned! I’ve never written from an outline and refuse to do so. For me, the act of creation is what I truly love about what I am doing. In the first book when I was writing the beginning chapter, I did not even know Erol Carrick or Bombadorn Roundthaler existed! They came to me when I needed them, tugging on my shirt, telling me to write them into the story. It’s a lot of fun!
A great story deals with the human element and the conflicts we face in everyday life. It’s about how we deal with situations and the conflicts, and how we deal with each other. The second book is the further development of the first book and its story. New characters have sprouted because they are required to fulfill the story.
So you write in a linear manner?
Yes. I do not get ahead of myself. I simply place one foot in front of another! (Laughs)
You talk of situations and conflicts. Can you better explain?
We read for enjoyment but also to learn something. Many literary scholars believe that we are predisposed to appreciate works of fiction that encourage us to speculate about other minds, because our brains are structured to attribute goals and intentions to others. This tendency served us well in our prehistoric past: our ancestors were people who could accurately decipher the motivations of other animals and humans, because they tended to reproduce more successfully than those who did not.
Also, where fiction is realistic or deals with realistic themes, it allows the reader to experience or relate to a real life situation but at the same time, since the reader knows that it is fiction, creates a remove. The reader is always safe because the reader knows that it is only a story and none of the horrible or fantastic things are actually happening.
For example, in Shadow in the Flame we see how Glaeynd comes to grips with her family and its predisposition to evil. In the end of From Under Tree we learn of Ras Amon’s dark secret – Amin Tarn. Later in Shadow in the Flame we see how he battles this addiction. We also experience the conflict between Moondancer and the Tura, Mori Mengel. We learn of the emptiness of vengeance. We witness first-hand the struggle the young and beautiful wizard Morna Anya faces with the wizard Argannon. Of course, we learn for the first time the demons that Erol Carrick wrestles with.
Situations and conflicts allow an author to communicate to a reader a certain concept or philosophy. Readers enjoy reading a parable and find it easier to understand the message.
So an author is a teacher. What is it you are teaching?
Yes, an author is a teacher of sorts. In every good story there is something to be learned about the human element and ourselves. In my books the major themes center on tolerance, the importance of learning from each other and becoming better creatures, of acting on centered values and morals, and of dealing with those of weak spirit and mind.
In the second book there’s a scene that seems to harken back to World War II. Azariel speaks to the En’ Raama in a manner similar to how Hitler spoke to the masses.
Yes. Exactly. The mood in the Harrow is grim. This is similar to the setting that brought Hitler to power. Hitler was a powerful and spellbinding speaker who attracted a wide following of Germans desperate for change. He promised the disenchanted a better life and a new and glorious Germany. The Nazis appealed especially to the unemployed, young people, and members of the lower middle class. Like Hitler, Azariel uses similar conditions to stoke a fire and rise to fire. He tells the En’ Raama that they’ve become a lesser race. Here is where the human condition becomes weak. During such times, we lack resolve, we lack the ability to stand for what is right and just, we throw our values and morals out the window. During such time it is so easy to buy into a dark rhetoric. Thankfully for the En’ Raama Azariel is overthrown by the Shori Orn. Yet, even this act comes with a price. Under the Shor Orn the En’ Raama becomes a neutral entity which has a negative impact on the forces of good. This changes when the Shori Orn suffers a great personal loss.
The question we are often asked is what is the Harrow? Is it strictly a fantasy world? Is it a parallel reality?
(Laughs) The clues are all about you.
What are they?
The Shyjael Tyl in the first book. In the second book we learn about a place called I’il N’dor which is east of the Drueger.
Is that all you’re going to say?
A good tale is like an enormous puzzle. Each piece of the puzzle, by itself, does not seem to make sense; the shape provides a bit of help but the content is but a blur of color and without specific form. It is only until you properly place all the pieces together that you see the whole picture.
Who are your inspirations?
As I’ve noted before, they are Vonnegut and Tolkien.
You do not like George R. R. Martin?
Not especially. There are major differences between the type of storyteller, between Tolkien and Martin. As writers we are all influenced by who we are and the times in which we live. For Tolkien, it was World War II where there was devastation but victory. For Martin, it was Vietnam. Still devastation but not victory. Tolkien is generally recognized as the father of modern fantasy with his epic novels. The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and The Silmarillion are all genre defining masterpieces. On top of creating thousands of years of history and his own mythology, he's also created multiple real languages, making him the best world builder in the history of fiction. Martin is known for political intrigue and character development. He's basically made a living deconstructing classic fantasy and medieval literature. As a result he's popularized the sub-genre of dark low fantasy.
So, each has its own following. For me, in an epic fantasy, good should prevail and in a majestic manner. Tolkien so wonderfully created it.
In my opinion, to compare Martin to Tolkien is not fair to both writers. First off, Tolkien is an inspiration to nearly all modern fantasy authors, Martin included. Tolkien has put the “epic” into fantasy, and set the mold. No one today, if ever, will be able to build the kind of detailed world that he did—and who has the degree and time to create their own language like Tolkien did? He spent decades on this stuff. His knowledge and time spent creating his world is in itself “epic” in scale. Tolkien gave the world a story that people of all types and ages could enjoy over and over through generations.
Martin is a good writer that has produced a solid, gritty, graphic piece of fantasy fiction. Perhaps too graphic for my taste. But A Song of Ice and Fire is a treat in modern fantasy, and is a trend-setter, and that’s about it. Like Twilight is to Paranormal Romance, or like Fifty Shades of Grey is to Erotica, or like Harry Potter is to YA Fantasy; A Song of Ice and Fire is to modern Epic Fantasy. That’s it. It has just become popular. Just because Martin’s works are hugely successful doesn’t make Martin out to be some great, groundbreaking writer of our time who will set the standard for a new genre. There’s no doubt that Martin has and will inspire a lot of new authors, but every great and popular author does that. It’s nothing new.
So let Tolkien be Tolkien, and let Martin be Martin.
Can we let Mazza be Mazza?
In the words of Shaer Thol, “I do what I do and that’s the best I can do.”