Welcome back to The Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe, a recurring series here on Tor.com featuring some of our favorite science fiction and fantasy authors! This week we’re joined by Howard Andrew Jones, author of The Desert of Souls and its brand new sequel, The Bones of the Old Ones.
Join us as we cover topics ranging from chocolate, Hannibal, and Harold Lamb to Star Trek fanfic, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and some shining examples of classic villainry....
Please relate one fact about yourself that has never appeared anywhere else in print or on the internet.
I don’t like chocolate. Well, that’s not entirely true. I like really sweet, expensive milk chocolate. But I never crave it, and I don’t like chocolate cake, fudge, candy bars, or donuts or… any other kind of chocolate. As a matter of fact, until I met some kindly medical students who introduced me to German chocolate, I thought I despised all chocolate. It will probably sound strange to the majority of you, but it tastes very bitter and/or waxy to me.
Describe your favorite place to read and/or write?
I’ll read or write just about anywhere, but I guess I have two favorite places. One of them is in my office, which has bookcases on three of four walls, and a really cool desk on the fourth. The other is a comfy chair in our family room. It’s in a corner and there’s a big window to right and left. When the kids get home they run me out of there so they can play piano.
If you could choose your own personal theme music to play every time you enter a room, what would you pick?
What’s your favorite method of procrastination?
This is really silly, but…I can burn hours reading reviews of RPG books or tactical board games that I’ll probably never buy. Or that I’ll buy, but probably never get to use because I’m so busy.
Do you have a favorite underrated, unknown, or under-read author?
Harold Lamb. There’s a whole lot to love about his historical fiction. Pacing, forward momentum, plot resulting from a collision of character motivations, historical accuracy that doesn’t promote itself above the plot, protagonists determined to stand by their word and do the honorable thing no matter the cost, well-motivated villains, characters from other cultures treated as people rather than stereotypes, journeys to strange and fabulous places. Everything you want from the best of fantasy is there except for the magic.
Do you have a favorite word, phrase, or etymology?
I like a quote attributed to Hannibal of Carthage: “I shall find a way or make one.”
What D&D character alignment best describes you first thing in the morning?
Probably chaotic good. Even though I’m groggy and occasionally grumpy, I tip-toe out of the bedroom so the creaky floorboards don’t wake the wife, and I pat the dog’s head if I see her at the bottom of the stairs. If I were chaotic neutral I don’t think I’d care so much about someone else’s feelings, and if I were chaotic evil I’d probably make sure I banged something. I know I’m not lawful of any persuasion because I don’t bother waking at the same time every day….
What was your gateway to SF/Fantasy, as a child or young adult?
The original Star Trek. I’ll never forget my buddy Mike Boone calling me one afternoon when I was in kindergarten. I’d never gotten a phone call before! He wanted to make sure I watched this cool new show he’d found—he’d been telling me about it that day at school. Of course, it wasn’t new (in 1974 it was in rerun), but it was new to us. My dad didn’t object to me flipping the channel over to see Star Trek, and I happened to catch Kirk and Spock beaming down right as the main part of the episode started. It was the coolest thing I’d ever seen on TV, and I was mesmerized. A year or so later my mom was reading The Hobbit to me, which helped on the fantasy side.
What would your patronus/familiar be?
Almost surely a blue-heeler. My favorite dog was a blue heeler/lab mix, and I still miss him.
Name your three favorite fictional villains of all time.
René Belloq from Raiders of the Lost Ark is the best of all the Indiana Jones villains. You get the sense that he once used to be a decent guy, and you even get some occasional flashes of that in his words and from Paul Freeman’s performance. The way Freeman plays it, there are a few moments where you think Belloq might even be having second thoughts. He really helps make the movie.
Goldfinger. No monologuing to Bond for Goldfinger. “No, Mr. Bond! I expect you to die!” (Of course, a little later he reveals his whole scheme to a bunch of gangsters just for the sake of the audience, because he has every one of them murdered immediately afterward—but I didn’t get what a plot cheat that was when I was a kid.)
The Joker, especially as portrayed by Mark Hamill in the Batman animated series. Between the scripts and Hamill’s voice acting the character is at his pinnacle of murderous humor. Anyone who thinks this iteration of the Batman stories is simply a kid’s show is missing out on some great scripting, acting, and animation.
If you were secretly going to write fanfic about any two characters, who would they be?
Well, in junior high and high school I used to write original Star Trek fanfic, so probably Kirk and Spock. I still dig the first Amber series so I bet I could have a lot of fun writing some more, or previous, adventures of Corwin. But I have to write about two characters? Maybe he could have a kid sidekick, or a talking dog. Readers LOVE those.
List three things you’d like our readers to know about you and your work.
I love a good adventure story, but it has to have compelling characters, and they have to go some place interesting on their journey for a good reason. I strive always to keep that in mind when I write.
I love the Arabian Nights, and Lankhmar, and Amber, and Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Sherlock Holmes, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and I think those loves always inform my writing. Comrades in arms who may banter but who stand firm together, desperate situations, challenges from things-man-was-not-meant-to-know, mystery, suspense, a little humor, romance—these are the things I want to see, and try to give my readers.
I dislike cardboard characters, and navel gazing, and meandering plots. I want heroes that my readers will cheer for. Dabir and Asim have their flaws, but they’re good guys, and I was secretly thrilled when one reviewer said she’d like to have them over for dinner. That was exactly the kind of reaction I hope to see from readers of my books.
Howard Jones’s debut historical fantasy novel, The Desert of Souls was widely acclaimed by influential publications like Library Journal, Kirkus, and Publisher’s Weekly, where it was labeled “a splendid flying-carpet ride.” It made Kirkus’s New and Notable list for 2011, and was on both Locus’s Recommended Reading List and the Barnes and Noble Best Fantasy Releases list of 2011. Its sequel, The Bones of the Old Ones, will become available on December 11, 2012. He is hard at work on a third historical fantasy novel about Dabir and Asim as well as a sequel to his Pathfinder Tales novel, Plague of Shadows.