Trust: A Rowan Gant Investigation
TWPT: You've just recently released your latest book called Perfect Trust. What's Rowan Gant up to in this latest book?
MR: I don't want to give too much away, of course, but those who have been following the series know that Rowan has been through some fairly rough times-- especially in Never Burn A Witch. He is, to say the least, not exactly stable. <Grin>. Because of this, when he ends up literally sleepwalking into another murder investigation, he's more that a bit rattled by it. In truth, he ends up questioning his own sanity. What I was really wanting to accomplish was to illustrate that Rowan is just a human being, and even though he is a practicing Witch, with some very practiced psychic abilities, he still stumbles and falls. If I didn't go this route, Rowan would have ended up being painted almost as a superhero, and I certainly don't want that impression running about. He's just an average guy with some above average abilities, that aren't necessarily within his control. I wanted to show that he has foibles, problems, and questions himself. From the reactions I've received, I think I might have gotten the point across. :-)
TWPT: For those readers who might not be familiar with the Rowan Gant series perhaps you could explain the premise of the series and briefly what ground you've covered so far.
MR: Rowan Gant is your average, everyday independent computer consultand who just happens to be Pagan. His particular path is fairly nondescript eclectic Wiccan. I, myself, am what you might term as a fam-trad old school eclectic kitchen witch with some wiccan leanings, and the majority of the explanations of Wicca and its related symbology comes from my own teachings. I'm throwing that out there because there are a few things that are particular to my path which have been included and some readers may see them and say, "What? That's not how I learned it." That's cool, but it's how I learned it. I've really only had one person point at me and say, "You're wrong," and I simply reminded her that being different doesn't make one wrong. ;-) But, enough editorializing-- Rowan is your average guy. Yes, he has managed to cultivate some fairly well developed psychic abilities, though even he doesn't realize just how intense until he accidentally becomes involved in a murder investigation at the behest of his friend, a St. Louis City Homicide Detective named Ben Storm.
In the first tome, Harm None, Ben approaches Rowan for some information when a pentacle inscribed in blood is discovered at a grisly murder scene. Rowan recognizes the words inscribed with it, and quickly deduces that this is not an isolated incident. He also recognizes that the killer is either not actually Pagan, or is a Pagan/Witch who has gone well left of center. Because his knowledge of alternative religion is crucial to tracking down a suspect, Rowan is brought into the investigation as a consultant. True to his original perception, the body count starts to rise and I'll leave it to your imagination from there.
The second installment, Never Burn A Witch, picks up a few months after the end of Harm None. Rowan is still in pretty good shape, but the things he saw-- and experienced-- in the previous investigation took a mental toll, which he has yet to repay in full. Once again, Ben approaches him about an investigation, this time involving a far different symbol-- the monogram of Christ. The blatant evidence from the crime scene, along with the torturous injuries on the corpse tip Rowan off to the fact that someone is re-enacting the Witch Trials and executions of the 15th century. Our mild mannered Witch becomes embroiled in a desperate race against time to find a serial killer who is hunting the Pagan population of St. Louis, and before long, becomes a target himself.
I should mention that Rowan does not go this alone. He has a spunky, red-headed Irish-American wife named Felicity, who is an accomplished Witch in her own right. There is also his friend, Detective Ben Storm, a female FBI agent with something to prove, and a somewhat fatherly St. Louis County Homicide Detective named Carl Deckert. Each of these characters has their own story to tell, and not only support Rowan, but weave their "humaness" throughout the stories.
Now, at the risk of being long winded, I'd like to address something here-- I was once told that someone out there in the Pagan Community believed I was doing a disservice by portraying Paganism in conjunction with grisly suspens-thrillers. I even saw a comment on a site one time that said something on the order of, 'this has nothing to do with healing the earth, and peace and love and yadda yadda, I'm not gonna read it.' To that I say, fine. Not a problem. I certainly don't expect everyone out there to love my work and read everything I write. What a boring world that would be-- But, everyone need understand a simple point: These books are fiction. They are for entertainment. They are NOT intended as a teaching tool for your or your coven. The ONLY teaching I expect from them is to educate some non-pagan readers about the realities of Paganism, and I could give you more examples than I care to count of this happening already. Still, the fact remains, they are fiction. Fiction is written to be enjoyed. If these books aren't your cup of tea, by all means, don't read them. I'd hate for you to waste your money on something you don't like. But, if you DO like stories that are on the order of John Sandford meets Patricia Cornwell meets Stephen King in a head on collision, with a bit of real life Paganism thrown in, then you might want to pick these up.
Egads! You said briefly didn't you? <G>
TWPT: With any any ongoing series does it get easier with each new novel to determine where the latest installment will take you?
MR: In some ways yes, in some ways no. The real deal is that as the series increases by one with each passing year, I end up with more and more history to draw from. Character development is as much about history as it is about present and future, so having an established background-- other than the ones in my head-- helps immensely in bringing the characters to life. (Not that they have trouble with that anyway-- they tend to have minds of their own.) When I started the series, I really had only one or two books in mind, but as I wrote Harm None, ideas started to pop into my head, and by the time I was writing Never Burn A Witch, I had a relatively fuzzy idea of where I eventually wanted to end up. With each volume, that destination becomes clearer and clearer, which in turn, brings the road before me into focus. On the flip side, I have to make sure that these don't become repetetive or stale, because if they do, there's no reason to continue.
TWPT: Did Perfect Trust manage to surprise you at times as to its ultimate direction?
MR: Yes, actually it did. I had this clearly defined idea of what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go, and what I wanted to happen. I sat down, started writing, and before I knew it, I was someplace completely different with a road map I'd never seen before. On top of that, the characters ganged up on me and made me go back to the beginning, whereupon they insisted that I throw out several pages and re-write them. Don't get me wrong, the themes and subjects I wanted to address when I started out are still there-- I just got to them via a different path and addressed some other issues along the way.
TWPT: How much control do the character's personalities exert on you the author as to what they will and won't do during the course of one of your books?
MR: Absolute. You've heard the adage, "absolute power corrupts absolutely"? Well, let me tell you, the power has gone to their heads. <LOL> They really dictate what they will and won't do between the pages, and if I try to force them to do something other than what they agree to, what comes out of my fingertips is complete garbage. I know this makes me sound like a poster boy for MPD, but I'm not unique in this. All of us authors are just a bit off kilter. <Grin> Seriously though, I know many fiction authors who are driven by their characters, so I think this is just a normal part of the creative process.
TWPT: Perfect Trust has been out a couple of months now, what kind of reaction has it garnered thus far from your readers?
MR: Perfect Trust has received a tremendous reaction so far. I've received a ton of fan mail from folks who want to tell me how much the like the direction the series is heading, and they all have a tendency to end with, "when is the next one coming out?' <LOL>. I've received several great reviews, and a couple of lukewarm ones which were absolutely hilarious. I did get one email from a fan who felt I'd gone too "commercial" due to the sexual component contained in Perfect Trust (Did someone say SEX? <GRIN>) I'm truly sorry she felt that way, but at the risk of sounding insensitive, I learned long ago that it is impossible for me to please every single person out there. The truth is that I write the same kind of books that I like to read. Fortunately for me, there are quite a few other folks out there who like to read the same things that I do.
Anyway, the short answer to your question is that Perfect Trust has been extremely well received.
TWPT: Were you expecting the book to take off like it has or was this a surprise to you?
MR: You know, I, like several other authors out there, am very anal about the numbers game when it comes to my books. What I mean is that I tend to watch, and even track, sales trends within the genre, and especially my own novels. I was expecting sales to reach a somewhat higher level than each of the previous releases due to the simple fact that my fan base has been constantly growing. It stood to reason that since I have more fans now than I did one year ago, initial sales would be stronger on Perfect Trust than on the previous release, Never Burn A Witch. However, this book came out of the gates like a thoroughbred. I have to admit that I was shocked at how high the initial numbers were-- pleasantly, of course <Grin>. As usual, its success has helped to 'back sell" the previous two titles, which will, in turn, increase the fan base more (hopefully)...Of course, like I said, I'm anal about this kind of stuff, so here I am getting all analytical and technical about it.
Once again, the short answer is: I was shocked out of my socks.
TWPT: So what's been going on with the promotional side of Perfect Trust? Have you been out doing the interview and book signing circuit since the release? What's it like meeting the readers who have been making this series so successful?
MR: I have been a little bit of everywhere since Perfect Trust was released at the end of July. My travels have actually been confined to the midwestern corridor, but have expanded greatly over previous years. I've been a featured speaker at three Pagan Pride Day celebrations throughout Kansas and Missouri. I've been to several bookstores and even a book club discussion. It has been absolutely fabulous to meet folks and chat with them. In some instances, even surprising. I was a featured guest at the Joplin, Missouri PPD recently and I happened to come around a corner to find a young lady perusing some of my books which were laid out on a table, along with my mailing list sign up sheet. I said hello to her, and she started telling me how wonderful the books were. Within a few seconds, it became obvious that she didn't know who I was and that she was trying to sell me on purchasing and reading the series. I smiled and picked up a copy of Perfect Trust, opened it to the inside back cover, and held the picture up next to my face. She proceeded to let out an earsplitting scream and hugged me, saying "You're him, you're him!". A few weeks earlier at the KC PPD, a young lady came up to me (being prodded by her mother the entire way) and told me how much she loved my books. She was so nervous I though she was going to collapse-- fortunately, I was able to convince her that I'm just your average Pagan. I just happen to throw words at paper and hope that they stick.
Honestly, these are reactions that I never expected to get, and I have to admit, they make me feel good-- like I'm accomplishing what I set out to do. But, like I said, I'm just a guy who throws words at the paper. I've been lucky, and while I might have some modicum of talent that plays a part, I really owe it all to the folks who read my books and recommend them to others. And getting to meet folks like that is one of the best parts of the job.
TWPT: For those readers who might want to meet you face to face at some point where will you be appearing in the coming months?
MR: Let's see-- in the lovely month of October, I will be appearing in the following places:
4th-6th - Archon 26 Sci-Fi and Fantasy Convention, Collinsville, IL
12th - New Ages-Other Worlds, a great little pagan/metaphysical bookstore in Murphysboro, IL
25th-27th - Salem West's Real Witches Ball in Columbus, OH.
And in November, I will tentatively be at The Goddess and the Moon, another wonderful little shop in Nashville, TN. We just haven't nailed down the exact date yet.
Other than that, my touring will be over with until 2003. I'm already working on the next installment in the Rowan Gant saga and I will need all the time I can get to finish it up before the July '03 release date. For those who may be wondering, book 4 is tentatively titled, The Law Of Three: A Rowan Gant Investigation.
TWPT: As a final question about Perfect Trust, how much of your own spiritual path finds its way into your novels? Is this an intentional effort or do your characters just seem to move in that direction?
MR: Quite a bit. As I mentioned earlier, Rowan's path very closely mimicks my own, although, his Wiccan leanings are much stronger than mine. Still, because of my fam-trad teachings, I tend to write what feels most comfortable for me, and that is going to be heavily connected with my own path. Like Rowan, I myself am a student of various religions, though I will readily admit that there are many out there far more well versed than me. Still, I research different practices, and draw from other paths. Fans of the series thus far will probably start to notice (if they haven't already) that while Rowan and his wife, Felicity, practice together, their paths are not identical by any stretch of the imagination. This is an aspect I am looking forward to exploring in more depth throughout future volumes.
M. R. Sellars Author of The Rowan Gant Investigations:
Never Burn A Witch
The Law Of Three COMING 2003
TWPT: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us. I know just how busy you have been lately so we here at The Times appreciate your extra efforts in regards to these questions. Keep up the good work and we'll be looking for your next book in 2003.