A few weeks ago, I opened my email to find a notification that author J. Lawrence would be the featured author of the week in one of my Goodreads groups. As is usual when the moderator posts who is the featured author for that week, I clicked on his author information, including his Goodreads page, Twitter account, and finally checked out his books on Amazon. I saw that the first book in his Di’Ghon series, Inborn, was available for $.99. Deciding to live dangerously, I skipped over downloading the sample and bought the ebook straight out.
At first, I thought I would just dip in, read a few Kindle pages, and dip out. An entire book later, I had not only finished Inborn, but had gone back to pick up Ramphyr as well. A few hours later, I had added both books to the “Read” pile and notched up two more books on my Goodreads goal to read 100 books this year. I also reached out to the author to come on over and talk a little bit about his books.
The first thing that I noticed was that although the plot is fast and packed with action, the world of the Inborn is fully realized and internally consistent. Not to compare Lawrence’s work with others, but to keep one’s narrative motoring ahead at that speed (which I personally love), while still engulfing the reader in just enough world-building to avoid confusion, is a particular talent.
Inborn, the first book of the Sagas of Di’Ghon, takes place in a frozen wilderness called the Anwarian Mountains. Think of a mixture of Antarctica, Iceland, Northern Canada, and the Himalayas. At the base of this vast region sits Ontar, the bulwark to the south. Its walls have never been breached.
If you want to understand what being Inborn is all about, the best place to start is with the dictionary.
Webster says… In·born… adjective \ˈin-ˈbȯrn\ : existing from the time someone is born : natural or instinctive.
Born with it. You start out with it whether you like it or not. You are born to reach a certain height, have a certain eye color, or skin pigmentation. To understand how the term plays a part in the Sagas of Di’Ghon you need to understand what the Di’Ghon is. In the Ancient tongue, Di means ten, and Ghon means current. Ten currents. The Di’Ghon is the active power of creation, separated into ten different strands. Those few who can wield one of the ten strands of the Di’Ghon are called Inborn.
In addition to the vivid world that Lawrence built, his characters are complex, well-drawn, and well-differentiated. They are familiar enough to fantasy fans to be true to the genre, but also different enough from other examples of the genre to be new and fresh. From Thaniel, the reluctant, untrained, yet powerful magic wielder, to Elycia, a magic-wielder in her won right and Thaniel’s “Kiss”, to the icy queen of Ontar who feeds her subjects to the maw of that magic in the interest of the glory of her kingdom, each character has his or her story and it unfolds through all of their flaws and learning experiences. I wondered, among all these characters, which one posed a particular challenge to the writer.
“Keriim is a serial murdering sociopath who delights in the rape and mutilation,” responded Lawrence. “He keeps his victims fingertips in a satchel of preserving salts with him wherever he goes. Every time I ride behind his eyes I need time to recover. Even now, I shake inside just thinking of him. Being forced to experience what he does, his desires, how he thinks is bad enough. Having to write in his Point of View is unnatural. To be honest, I can’t bring myself to write in detail everything I have seen him do.”
As mentioned before, there are aspects of the world that are familiar to fans of the genre — well, almost familiar. For example, there are great, flying beasts known as dras, that are vegetarian, but under certain circumstances eat meat and roast their victims in fire. Then you have ramphyrs, which suck the life from their victims through the teeth in their hands, and turn select victims into their willing slaves.
Lawrence acknowledges that these elements feel “… familiar and different at the same time to me too. In fact, many people ask me where the elves and orcs are. I just smile and tell them to read the Hobbit. Arth is its own world and not a byproduct of someone’s fantasy. Not even mine. It is real. It exists and has been summoning me to tell its story since I was a boy.”
He donned his professor cape and glasses and continued:
As far as similarities go, many of the myths and stories that we have all learned as children have an origin in some truth somewhere. I have come to believe that Arth is that somewhere. Take dragons… There are two things that everyone associates with dragons. Flying and fire. Everybody agrees that if there were dragons, they definitely flew. Like dragons, or pterodactyl, the Dra fly. However, does everyone really think that dragons actually breathed fire? I never bought that. I mean seriously, how is that possible? It isn’t. But the myth had a beginning from some kernel of truth and the fire part is so ingrained in our mind that the first time I saw one I was sure it would spit fire and burn us to a crisp. The truth is close, but makes so much more sense. You see we know that many reptiles poison their prey with fluids they themselves are immune to. Can you say chemical a la mode? We also know that chemical reactions cause fire every day. Brim, the oily substance that drips from their talons that causes fire on flesh. When I saw it work, I immediately put fact to legend and it made sense.
Although both Inborn and Ramphyr stand alone as novels with a beginning, middle, and somewhat of an end, they both end on a mile-high cliffhanger. According to Lawrence, each chapter of the saga connects like an intricate maze of dominoes and his main characters need to stay on their toes if they are going to survive the path.
Lawrence continued: “But if you haven’t caught on yet, there is something larger lurking just ahead. Wherever you are in the series right now, I can guarantee you that you have no idea where it is going.”
(IS Note: Which is why it’s kind of a pain that only the first two are available — get typing, sir!)
I asked Lawrence what were the most challenging aspects of writing the books. He replied that he “… decided long ago that I wanted to tell the story how I received it, from multiple Points of View. Like reality in complex scenarios, many of the characters don’t fully understand what is going on. Maintaining that sense of confusion while keeping the reader informed enough to stay invested is quite a literary tightrope walk.”
Lawrence counts writers such as Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert Jordan, and James Patterson among his influences, although he acknowledges that he learns something every time he reads another author. From the fast pace of the plot, and the timing of the suspense, as well as the rich fantasy world-building, it is clear that he has learned something from the worlds of fantasy, detective novels, and pulp fiction.
Before we signed off, I asked Lawrence if he had anything to add.
“In every decent action movie, you will see scaffolding,” was his slightly mysterious reply. He continued: “It might be a full blown out scene or maybe somebody just walks by some. But it is always there. I think it is some Hollywood insider thing. So, in keeping with that tradition, and in the shameless hope that Hollywood calls, there will be scaffold in every book.”
Well, good luck to Mr. Lawrence! I don’t know about Hollywood, but I will be staying tuned to check out the next book in the Sagas of Di’Ghon. Thanks for stopping by!