Scott Rezer's enthusiasm for writing shines through his answers in our recent interview. His love of history and fantasy, and skillful intertwining of the two, are evident as well.
PDB: Congratulations, Scott, on being the Polka Dot Banner's feature author for the month of January, 2010.
SR: Thanks for the congrats! It truly is an honor to be the newest featured author on the PDB.
PDB: Tell us a little about who you are as a person. How did you become a writer? What are your writing habits like?
SR: Everything I've written so far has something to do with history, which isn't surprising, since my grandmother was a local historian and writer in my hometown. From a young age, she taught me an appreciation for the past by getting me to help with researching deeds for houses she was working on, to place on the Historical Register. By junior high school I was an avid reader, and I wrote my first story for my younger sister. It was a story about a baby elephant in the tradition of Paddington Bear. In the thirty-some years since, I have certainly grown in my passion for history and writing. Unfortunately, you would think that in that time I would have developed an exemplary creative process. That is not the case. My wife would call my writing habits a comedy of errors. Sitting in front of a computer screen does nothing for me until I have written it down first. Give me a piece ofr paper and a pen. And I don't mean a notebook. Small scraps of paper from notepads to napkins to the back of bank withdrawal receipts, or anything else that might be handy, usually end up as my writng medium. We have a rule in my house: nobody throws out anything with my writing on it unless I have crumbled it up. You'd be surprised how many scenes I lost before my wife came up with this simple rule. As for when I write, the best ideas seem to come to me when I'm busy doing other things, like driving home from work, sitting in church, or waiting in line at the grocery store. I try to resist the urge whenever I'm out for a quiet dinner with my wife, but it has been known to happen from time to time. After twenty-five years with me, my wife just rolls her eyes and hands me a scrap of paper. She knows it's not worth arguing. It's easier to just let the obsession pass.
PDB: Who or what inspires you in your writing?
SR: The thing that inspires me most in writing is my passion for learning, and the excitement of sharing that knowledge and love with others. I know it sounds cliche, but it's true. For me, writing is more about the process; it's about creating something that no one has thought of before, or interpreting something in a whole new way and getting others to share in that joy. I love history. Not everyone else does. But if I can find a way to make history come alive, as through an historical fantasy, and have someone enjoy it, then it makes what I have written all the more special. Whenever I finish writing a chapter, I have a couple of people who read my work for me. Hearing the eagerness in their voices when they tell me what they like or don't like about where the story is going inspires me to write even more.
PDB: Please tell our readers a little about The Leper King.
SR: Basically, the book is a coming-of-age novel about a young king, Baldwin of Jerusalem, who is suffering from the early effects of leprosy. Raised in an age when kings ruled by example and the strength of their arms, Baldwin is not content to merely sit back and let others rule his kingdom for him. Determined to take war to the Muslims in defense of his kingdom, he learns that enemies at home threaten to take his crown from him; an enemy called the Order of Sion, a heretical society, has its own plans for the beleaguered kingdom. When an unexpected ally comes to his aid in the person of the immortal saint, Mary Magdalen, Baldwin discovers that not everything can be solved by war or the sword. Sometimes it means letting the enemy have enough rope to hang themselves with their own ambitions. In one of my favorite scenes from the book, Mary reveals to Baldwin his true purpose in coming to the throne.
"It is not God's will for you to prevent Jherusalem from falling into the hands of the Muslims; it is for you to live long enough to frustrate the plans of Sion so that they destroy themselves."
Knowing he has only a short few years to live, Baldwin must come to terms with a life of illness that will only amount to the loss of a kingdom he has sworn to defend, and that it is magic, not the sword, that may well save all those he loves from destruction at the hands of enemies visible and invisible.
PDB: How do you manage to mix historical facts and people with fictional facts, characters, and fantasy, and make it believable and interesting reading?
SR: When I first started writing The Leper King, I planned the story on two levels: the visible (history) and the invisible (fantasy). Let me explain. History is all about who, what, where, and when; the how and why are usually just conjecture on the part of historians. That's where the fantasy portion of the story comes in. Blurring the boundaries between the two levels is really what the story is about. Every person, place, and event in the story I have tried to reproduce as faithfully accurate as I could research. There are no fictional characters in the story. Some have been re-imagined, like the Magdalen or the evil heresiarch, Amalric, but they are still historical persons. Everything that happens "in public" then, is basically true. However, behind the scenes, I have simply tried to explain why and how things came about with a healthy dose of fantasy. For example, it is no mystery that King Baldwin dies of leprosy, or that the Kingdom of Jerusalem eventually falls to the Muslims after his death. It is an historical fact. But how do you make a factual story worth reading when the ending is known? I did this by creating a behind-the-scenes plotline of intrigue and magic that fills in the gaps and keeps the reader guessing about where the story is going. People in the medieval world were very religious, in good ways and bad; they believed in the power of saints and relics, angels and demons, but they also believed in magic and creatures of fantasy. Taking those beliefs to the logical conclusion was just too tempting to ignore.
PDB: What do you hope your readers take away with them from The Leper King?
SR: The thing I hope people take away most is a sense of wonder. One of my favorite quotes about writing is from J.R.R. Tolkien. He wrote,
"Fairy stories were plainly not primarily concerned with possibility, but with desirability. If they awakened desire, satisfying it while often whetting it unbearably, they succeeded."
For me this quote epitomizes everything I hope people find in reading my book. It doesn't matter if the story is true or not. I want people to wish it was true, and want to read more. I've read many fantasy stories where I thought the premise of the story was a bit shaky, but I still enjoyed the read. The number of novels I've read, however, which really grabbed me because I desperately wanted it to be true, is rather small. Those are the books I will cherish forever. It is my hope that some, if not all, readers will take away that kind of wonder from my book.
PDB: Tell us about the sequel, The Gambit Queen, the new book you're currently working on.
SR: The Gambit Queen follows the reign of Queen Sibylla, the Leper's sister, and delves more into the background of Mary Magdalen and her age-old struggle to defeat her ancient enemy, Simon Magus. As for the title, a gambit is a term in chess whereby a particular piece, usually a pawn, is sacrificed for the good of the overall strategy. Sibylla is forced to become queen against her wishes when her son dies, sacrificing the life she envisioned for the good of a greater cause. In so doing, she learns, much like her brother, that sometimes the best thing a ruler can do for their kingdom and their people is not the easiest or the most convenient. Meanwhile, another character is beginning to learn that his role in the affairs of the kingdom extends far beyond his lowly rank of squire. Struggling to comprehend the painful and frightening truth about his heritage, Ernoul, a youth of mixed Arab and Frankish blood, embarks on a journey that will see him rise from squire of Ibelin to the savior of Jerusalem, with the Magdalen's help.
PDB: I know from reading your blog that you firmly believe in connectivity as a tool for marketing. Would you tell our readers a little about that?
SR: Finding new ways to connect to potential readers is very important in this new age of technology. It is no secret that Facebook, Twitter, and other online social networking sites or author sites like the PDB have taken over people's lives. We live in an age where people, including readers, love following what others are doing each and every day. Using that connectivity for marketing is only a natural extension of that phenomenon. Little do people realize, but the author of the best selling novel, The Shack, started out promoting the book using viral networking on Facebook, and it grew into a national craze. At my age, I'm still not all that comfortable at putting myself "out there" in this way, but unless you have a website, a blog, and a fan page on Facebook, you are minimalizing your selling potential as a writer. It might take some time to get the ball rolling, but once you do, you'll be surprised where it will lead. So, get out there and connect in every way you can think of. It is easy to do, and who knows, you might discover that you enjoy it!
PDB: What do you enjoy doing when you're not writing?
SR: When I am not writing (which isn't often, with my writing habits), I enjoy reading, watching movies, and playing video games with my family. My interests in movies and books pretty much run the same, leaning toward mysteries, adventures, historical epics, and what else, fantasy. Of course, with a love of history, I read a lot of nonfiction books, which doubles as research for writing. Two birds with one stone. Having a permanent back injury prevents me from participating in most physical activity, but with the invention of Nintendo's Wii gaming system, I get to enjoy playing sports once more with my teenage son. I recently bowled a perfect game while lying down on the couch. How's that for entertainment!
For those who are interested in learning more about Scott and his books, viewing a video book trailer, or becoming a fan on Facebook, check out his PDB profile for these links and more.