The Three Feathers – Interview with author Stefan Bolz

The Three Feathers – eBook76 Featured Book

The Three Feathers I recently had the opportunity to work on a new first novel, “The Three Feathers” by Stefan Bolz. As I gathered the information for the eBook and Print book projects, I became interested in the book and wanted to know more about it. Stefan has graciously accepted an invitation to be interviewed about his novel, and have it be featured on the eBook76.com website.

Donnie: As I was formatting this book for eBook and Print versions, I read bits and pieces of the story as I was working on it. The story seems very intriguing in concept, so I want to know more!

First off, I see that the main character, Joshua Aylong, is a… Rooster. Can you give me the scoop on how this character – and his name came to be?

Stefan: Donnie, thanks so much for having me here in this forum. It will be a pleasure to answer your questions. In the beginning stages of working on the synopsis for the story, one of the sentences that came up was, “This is not your usual fable.” I can say the same for the process of how the story came about. It was most unusual. From its conception, the early stages, how it developed and how it ended, I felt much more like a scribe than an author, discovering something already there rather than creating something new.

Joshua’s story came about while I played in a sandbox. Yes, a sandbox. Four boards surrounding a large pile of sand. It happened during a counselling session. I had been going for a couple of years, eventually ‘graduated’ and afterwards saw Julie, my therapist, on occasion. She’s not a therapist in the usual sense. She works a lot with children, is very intuitive and can get to the heart of whatever is bothering you pretty quickly. That one fateful time, Julie asked me if I wanted to use the sandbox. This is generally a very interesting process, besides being a very effective tool: In Julie’s office is a large shelf with hundreds of figurines on it – from plastic palm trees to cars, toy soldiers, rocks, helicopters, clam shells, and many many more. There might even be a a small Darth Vader action figure if I remember correctly.

The task is to grab some of the figurines and objects, without thinking much about it, and placing them inside the sandbox. Once that’s complete, you step back and look at the scene. From there, it’s astounding how much you can usually find out about what is going on in your life. I had great sessions in the past and always took a lot from it. Not this time. It made no sense at all. All I could say to Julie was that this might make a nice story one day. There was a rooster, a wolf, a war horse, a Pegasus, a frog, and a dragon. And there were three feathers stuck in something that may or may not have looked like the beginnings of a cave.

Usually the sessions stay with me for days. Again, not this one. I forgot all about it almost immediately afterwards. A few days later I decided to write it down, mainly for my own records (I have done that and still do it with every session). So I sat down at the computer one morning and wrote, again without much thought, “Once upon a time there was a rooster who lived on the eastern shore… His name was Joshua Aylong…”. Next time I looked up from my keyboard, I was at the end of chapter one. I knew there was something there. What I didn’t know was the scope of what I had discovered. The name ‘Joshua’ just came to me while I wrote. His last name ‘Aylong’ came from the word ‘longing’. I felt a longing in him. And his longing was the spark that started the journey.

Sorry for the very long winded answer to your short and to-the-point question.

Donnie: That’s a fascinating answer, Stefan. Is this book written as a “story for all ages,” or is there a specific market that you were aiming for?

Stefan: I never really had any intentions with the story. At least I’m not aware of one. I had no plan initially, no road map other than a couple of images, nor did I think about a specific age group. But I do remember thinking that it might be helpful for people who are on their own journey through life and who realize at some point that whatever is in front of them each day can’t possibly be everything there is. There must be more. That was Joshua’s motivation for the journey, instilled by the dream he had. That is who I thought would be my reader: someone who has asked the question, even if only once: “Can this possibly be everything there is or is there more to life than what’s in front of me each day.” And, quoting Joseph Campbell, what happens after one answers ‘the call to adventure’.

Donnie: Finding a commonality among potential readers is always difficult, but it sounds like you have found that link that all readers share at some point in their lives.

I see that most – if not all, of your characters are non-human, and can communicate through their thoughts. Can you give us a list of the main characters and a bit about them?

Stefan: Ok, there is Joshua, the rooster. He has a dream of three feathers somewhere deep inside a mountain and feels compelled to find them. There is Grey, the wolf, who had lost his companion to hunters in the ice forest. He still searches for his lost love knowing in his heart that he can never find her again. And there is Krieg, war horse and last of its kind, who, after having seen the horrors of war many times over, desires peace more than anything. They meet a Pegasus that has been petrified in stone for close to a thousand years. There is Alda, a large turtle, Broga, a peeper frog who is anything but small, and Dragon-of-the-stone whose magnificent dreams reach far beyond time and space. And there is a spirit guide, if you will, the presence of a lioness, whom they discover and who plays a big part in Joshua’s journey. All of the characters have a crucial role, independent of their size. The peeper frog’s function, for example, his destiny if you will, goes far beyond his tiny shape and form. It’s simply magnificent. Those are the good guys. Forgive me for not telling you much of anything about the bad and evil ones. It’s too much fun to discover them in the book. One thing I dare say: Legend talks about ‘dreamers of light’ individuals who, by the very dream they choose to follow, awaken their dark counterpart. The evil in “The Three Feathers” appears in a very different form from what I have read in the past. It is dark and festering and carries with it the seeds of hopelessness, despair and death. I hope whoever reads the book will be as pleasantly surprised by it as I was when I wrote it (is there such a thing as being pleasantly surprised by evil? :-) .

Donnie: While I have not yet had the pleasure to read the entire story, but I have sampled from various sections. And of course now I am more intrigued than ever and want to get back and finish the book! Between my sampling and the description, it seems that Joshua and company are on quite an adventure in a fantasy world. Tell us about the setting for The Three Feathers. What kind of world is it?

Stefan: Since I was in my early twenties, I have been fascinated by the works of a German painter named Hans-Werner Sahm. His paintings have always stirred something in me that I couldn’t quite grasp. It was as if they went straight through and into my soul. That’s the only way I can describe it. Most of his images seem to defy the natural laws as we know them. During the writing of the first chapters I printed out a couple of them just to get inspiration. They stuck with me and as a result, several of the paintings became locations in the story. There is, for example, an image of a valley that has ice on one side and a lush green landscape on the other. Another one has a lake where the water just disappears into a hole in its center. The images reach beyond the regular ‘fantasy’ pictures I have seen. They were so easily integrated into the story that I felt they belonged there. Usually, plot comes from the characters, derives from their actions. In this case part of the plot came from the locales. That was a very cool thing to discover. During the writing process it became clear to me that the land itself was an opposing force working against Joshua and testing his endurance. It was as if the world they were in had its own intention, trying to prevent him from ever reaching his goal.

Donnie: Very interesting, Stefan. I saw some of Hans-Werner Sahm’s work from links in your book. Incredible… (links below)

I’m guessing that you are a fan of the Fantasy genre. Can you tell us which books most influenced you – as a writer, and which books most influenced The Three Feathers?

Stefan: As a fan, my favorite book(s) in the fantasy genre are the Farseer books by Robin Hobb. ‘Assassin’s Apprentice’, ‘Royal Assassin’ and ‘Assassin’s Quest’. I have never read anything so compelling. It is the story of Fitz Chivalry, a six-year-old bastard son to the crown of the Farseer Throne who becomes the assassin to the king. As a writer, Aaron Sorkin is on top of my idol list. His writing is inspiring and devastating at the same time. It is like, “Wow, this is amazing writing,” combined with, “Kill me now. I will never be able to write like this.” Then there are the German fairy tales in the likes of the Brother’s Grimm that, I’m sure in part, snuck into the story as well. Being from Germany, I grew up with them. As kids we pretty much read all of the stories many times over. The book that inspired me most, as a writer and personally, is “A Course In Miracles”, which is a complete spiritual path that is written, in part, in Shakespeare’s iambic pentameters. The language is very musical and soars at times. Not to mention its deep spiritual content and meaning. Interestingly enough, some of the darker parts of The Three Feathers could come right out of A Course In Miracles as it describes the ego dynamics we have adopted in, at times, excruciating detail.

Donnie: I’m somewhat familiar with “A Course in Miracles,” although I have not read it yet. I’ve read a number of other books that reference that one, and it’s in my TBR list. I also know what you mean when you read a gifted writer, and then wonder how you can ever reach that level of skill… You put it perfectly.

You mentioned previously the genesis of the characters in the sandbox. Was it difficult to create a story that adapted itself to animal characters and the limitations of each? For instance, A Rooster, a Wolf and a War Horse are a big part of the story. Did Joshua being a Rooster limit where this story could go and what he could accomplish?

Stefan: I didn’t really make any conscious choices during the writing. The process was more like reading a great fantasy story and discovering the world, the characters and what happened in it as I went along. What I realized somewhere in the midst of it was that a good portion of the story is about overcoming limitations. A rooster is very limited in what he can do. Yet Joshua cannot allow himself to be held back by his limitations. Many times in the story he has but one choice: to overcome and push through his limits or die. He has to learn to go far beyond himself. He can’t really fly. He can’t swim, especially not under water but he doesn’t have a choice. In order to find what he is looking for, in order to reach for his destiny he has to go far beyond his limits. And so do the other characters. There are some very beautiful scenes in the book, some of which, I must admit, brought me to tears (together with several of my readers). We all not only believe in our own limits, we live by them. Almost never do we question their truth. Joshua, at one point, screams in utter despair: “Don’t you see, I’m not made to swim under water!” We all do that, I think. “I wasn’t made to be a successful writer. I didn’t even finish college, for God’s sake!” Or whatever our limitations are. I think Joshua shows us that despite it all, we can go far beyond what we think we can do. I believe Joshua’s limitations opened the story up tremendously. If he would have been in the beginning whom and what he ends up becoming, there would have been no journey and therefore no story. Joshua is us in search for this part of ourselves that can do great things despite everything that tells us we can’t.

Donnie: Limitations and flaws are what make characters so endearing. Overcoming those limitations make them powerful.

In the book I read a quote attributed to Joshua Aylong. It reads:

“The goal of the journey is neither the journey itself nor its end. It is but the companions we collect on the way.”

I really like that quote, and it tells me that the main characters in this story grow to love one another. Briefly describe the major relationships that drive this story.

Stefan: Joshua and the wolf, I believe, have the closest friendship. But they all gain something that they did not have in the beginning of the journey. Each of them is alone at the outset of their quest but they end it together as friends. There is a paragraph in the book that sums this theme up very nicely. If you don’t mind, Donnie, I’ll quote it here: “Joshua found himself in awe of the war horse and the wolf and of what they had endured, were still enduring. Is this what friends do? Stay with you until the end? With no question, no complaint and with your safety the sole concern inside their thoughts and hearts? He did not believe it possible that friendship could reach such depths. He was humbled before it. He could not have conceived the riches this brought to him and he could not think of anything he wanted more in his life than this. Even his dream of the three feathers seemed dull in comparison. He thought at that moment that as much as he still wished to find them, if he were to be without his friends, he would not want the feathers, not for any price.”

Donnie: I read that “The Three Feathers” is the first book of an eventual trilogy. When can readers expect the next book?

Stefan: At the pace it’s going I’m thinking sometime in the spring of 2013.

Donnie: The cover art for “The Three Feathers” is striking in my opinion. As a cover designer myself, I’m always curious as to who did the artwork, and how the concept came to be and materialize as such a great cover. What message did you want the cover to convey? Can you tell us a bit about that?

Stefan: My girlfriend, her two girls, and I took a drawing class two years ago. That’s where we met Matt Maley, our teacher. He had worked for Disney and other big companies before opening his own illustration and graphic design shop in the town we live in. I had an idea for the cover that was built around the two eyes of the lioness and the three feathers on the cylinder of stone as described in the story. Without spoiling anything, the feathers are the origin of the journey and the eyes of the lioness its destination. I felt that the eyes should come out of the darkness and speak of danger but also of unquestioned authority. I think Matt totally nailed that. I knew pretty much what I wanted and Matt just got it and went with it. I can see those eyes stare at you across the shelf in a book store… :-)

Donnie: A perfect example of a collaboration between the writer and the cover designer. Kudos to Matt and yourself for such an effective cover image.

Avoiding spoilers, can you give readers an insight into where the other books in the trilogy will be going?

Stefan: Donnie, that part of the story has been the most unexpected to me. The three feathers of Joshua’s dream are not only what pulls him through his ordeal and toward his destination and destiny. They are also ancient symbols of the ones that came before him. Not to reveal too much but, within the myth of the story, in each civilization there is a searcher who stands at the outermost edge of the pendulum reversing the direction back toward its balance point. Have you ever read a book that inspired you so much, you incorporated it into your life? “The Three Feathers” as a book, together with its characters, plays a big part in the life of Aries, a fifteen-year-old girl whose destiny it is to change the direction of her world from hopelessness and despair back to hope. She is “The Fourth Sage”. Her story is set a thousand years in the future from Joshua’s quest, as dystopian sci-fi with fantasy elements in it. There are lots of cool connections between the worlds and the characters. There is a prequel in the works as well which will be set a thousand years before Joshua goes on his journey. It tells the story of the second searcher and of how the world Joshua is in came to be. It has several key characters of Joshua’s journey in it. It promises to be very interesting even though I’m not quite sure where it’s going yet.

Donnie: Now that the first book is out, do you think that it will be easier to write the next book, or will it be harder than the first book?

Stefan: Harder. Much harder. The first book was a gift. A gift from Joshua and his friends to me. The second one will be hard work. At least that’s what I think right now. I hope I’m wrong.

Donnie: There are a lot of steps in getting a book out there for the reading public. How would you describe your publishing journey thus far? Will you do anything differently for the next book?

Stefan: To answer your last question first, I think streamlining everything a bit more, maybe. I had never done this before and it was just basically trial and error. You have to meet the right people (like you :-) to get big chunks of the process out of the way. I spent a lot of time researching and one website brought me to the next and on to others from there. By chance (if there is such a thing) I met Hugh Howey in NYC one evening at one of his meet-ups. He is a very successful indie writer, his book “Wool” has been optioned by Ridley Scott, etc. He has been very helpful just through his example.

Donnie: In my experience, writers tend to be very helpful to other writers. It’s always great to meet other writers and learn from those encounters.

For those who read this who may have written a book, or are working on one, what is the single best piece of advice you can give them?

Stefan: I don’t really know what advice to give. The one piece I got before I began the book was just one sentence: “Stop editing yourself.” I think if you feel that there is an idea, a story, a painting, or a piece of art that just wants to come out, try to get out of the way and let whatever it is, come through you. I know that’s easier said than done. Many times throughout the story I thought to myself, “where in God’s name did this come from and what does it even mean?” Much later on in the story I understood it. If your soul needs to tell a story, just let it. Follow it, like Alice followed the white rabbit. You might be amazed where it leads you. I was.

Donnie: That’s great advice, Stefan. I read a quote that says, “Great books are not written, they are edited,” and I understand that perspective. But as you say, the writer must get the story out first. There is a fine line where the creative act of writing, and the skill of editing reach a perfect balance…

Where can readers and fans learn more about what’s happening in the world of Stefan Bolz? Are you active in social media? Do you blog about your writing and future projects?

Stefan: Joshua’s blog is the best way of staying in touch: www.thethreefeathers.blogspot.com. That’s Joshua’s blog, though. He let’s me write something once in a while, but mostly it’s the characters of the story who have their voices heard there. Also, you can like www.facebook.com/thethreefeathers as there will be updates posted there on a bi-weekly basis.

Donnie: When you are not writing (or publishing or marketing) what kind of activities fill your day? What would a “typical” day look like?

Stefan: Getting the kids to school is a big part of the early hours. Then there is work (I’m a real estate broker). We live in a beautiful area in the Hudson Valley, New York where there are tons of outdoor activities we can do, like hiking, biking, climbing, kayaking and so on. Between that, a black lab named Sophie, a couple of backyard chickens, karate lessons, driving the girls to their softball practice and horseback riding and catching a movie here and there, the writing is literally being squeezed in between those spaces. Thank God for my voice recorder. I drive a lot and strangely enough that’s when a good amount of the story components and scenes come through. My car is my muse, I guess :-) .

Donnie: It’s been a pleasure working with you on your project. It’s obvious that you deeply care about your story and how it is presented to the reading public. I urge everyone to take a look at “The Three Feathers,” sample the book, and hopefully read and enjoy the story you have told. Any final thoughts?

Stefan: Donnie, thanks so much for your help in this. It’s been a pleasure working with you on the layout, ebook formatting and now on this interview. You’ve been a great source of professional knowledge and inspiration throughout. The very best to you and yours.

Donnie: The pleasure is mine, Stefan. Best of luck with “The Three Feathers,” and I sincerely hope that many, many readers will discover it and give it a try. I can’t wait to finish the story myself and explore the characters and world you have created for us.

Here’s a link to the artwork of Hans-Werner Sahm - Fantastic!

 


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