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Dennis L. McKiernan

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Dennis L. McKiernan   Dennis L. McKiernan is the bestselling author most known for his high fantasy Mithgar series (The Iron Tower, The Silver Call, Hel's Crucible, etc.) and his "Once Upon" faery series (Once Upon... a Summer Day, a Spring Morn, an Autumn Eve, and a Dreadful Time). Dennis served in the U.S. Air Force and received a B.S. in electrical engineering from the University of Missouri and an M.S. from Duke University.

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This episode originally aired on 01/14/2010 with the following authors:
Note: The following interview has been transcribed from The Author Hour radio show. Please excuse any typos, spelling and gramatical errors.

Interview with Dennis L. McKiernan

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Matthew Peterson: Youíre listening to The Author Hour: Your Guide to Fantastic Fiction, which can be found at Iím your host, Matthew Peterson, author of Paraworld Zero.

Iíve been getting quite a lot of questions about our house fire, so I thought Iíd give you all a quick update on that. Itís been over six months now since our house was destroyed, with little or no progress in sight. But Iím happy to say that we just learned that our insurance company has finally agreed to give us the money we need to rebuild our house. Itíll still take another 6 months to build, but at least weíre on our way... Finally. Now, letís get back to the show.

My next guest is Dennis L McKiernan, most known for his high fantasy Mithgar series as well as his Faery Series. I met Dennis a couple years while we both spoke on a panel together at a convention. Welcome to the show Dennis.

Dennis L. McKiernan: Glad to be here.

Matthew Peterson: Now I wanted to go back in time to 1977. You were riding your motorcycle . . .

Dennis L. McKiernan: Thatís correct.

Matthew Peterson: and you . . . a car hit you.

Dennis L. McKiernan: That is correct.

Matthew Peterson: And so during your recovery, you began to write a sequel to J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings? Or at least that was the idea?

Dennis L. McKiernan: Yeah, that was the idea. I needed something to stay sane while they put me in a cast that went from my armpits over my toes.

Matthew Peterson: Oh, man.

Dennis L. McKiernan: And so I essentially decided, ďWell, what am I going to do to stay sane?Ē And Iíd had an idea about The Lord of the Rings sequel, and I wondered why J.R.R. Tolkien had not ever written this particular sequel. And so I decided, well, just for my own self Iíd write it. I didnít have any idea that I was going to even come close to publishing it. All I was trying to do was to stay sane.

Matthew Peterson: And you tried to get permission from the Tolkien . . . and they said, ďNo, no, we donít want a sequel.Ē

Dennis L. McKiernan: Well, actually, Doubleday Books tried to get permission.

Matthew Peterson: Oh, okay.

Dennis L. McKiernan: From the Tolkien Estate. And the Tolkien Estate essentially decided they didnít want anyone to write a sequel, especially some unknown author who was laying flat on his back in a cast.

Matthew Peterson: [laughs] In a cast, yeah. So what did you do with that story?

Dennis L. McKiernan: Well, the Doubleday folks really liked that story and so they told me, ďFile off the serial numbers and make it your own.Ē

Matthew Peterson: Ahh.

Dennis L. McKiernan: And I said, ďMy goodness, you know that Iíd used Middle Earth as my geography. Iíd used Middle Earth characters as my characters and so... Iíll think about it.Ē So I did think about it for, oh, about six months and I came up with a new history and a new background to essentially tell the same story. And so I wrote that revised version. I shipped it off to Doubleday. Whenever you send something off to Doubleday, or any publisher, itís like throwing it off the edge of a cliff. And you just wait for it to hit bottom and an echo comes back to say something.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

Dennis L. McKiernan: So anyway, during that interim while I was waiting, I decided that that background history would make a good story unto itself and so thatís . . . I started writing that. Doubleday got in touch with me and they said, ďWe like what youíve done with this story.Ē And they gave me a publication date. And I said, ďWell, wait a minute. The story that Iím currently working on occurs in history 231 years prior to the story you have in your hand. Let me finish it and if you like it, then letís publish them in the right order.Ē And so my editor was silent for a moment and finally he came back to me and he said, ďDennis, youíre the only writer I know who has ever said, ĎDonít publish my story.íĒ

Matthew Peterson: [laughs] And what was the name of the very first one?

Dennis L. McKiernan: Well, the very first one, the story that I had written as a sequel, was called The Gimli Path. And when I revised it, it was called The Brigga Path.

Matthew Peterson: The Brigga Path, okay.

Dennis L. McKiernan: And then when I wrote the prequel to The Brigga Path, I essentially called that The Iron Tower.

Matthew Peterson: The Iron Tower . . . and I think that is the novel that youíre most famous for.

Dennis L. McKiernan: Probably. After they published The Iron Tower and The Silver Call, they took my Iron Tower story and turned it into a trilogy and they took my Brigga Path and turned it into a duology, which was called The Silver Call. Then basically they asked me to write another story and so I said, ďOkay, Iíll think about doing that.Ē I came up with an idea and it was completely . . . this is when I broke away from being a Tolkien clone--and it was called Dragondoom. And thatís one of the stories that most people, when they get in touch with me, say thatís their favorite, instead of the Iron Tower.

Matthew Peterson: Oh, okay. Youíve written quite a lot of books... quite a lot in the Mithgar series as well, which I think the latest one was the City of Jade.

Dennis L. McKiernan: Thatís correct.

Matthew Peterson: And I know thatís in paperback now. What can we expect with the Mithgar series in the future?

Dennis L. McKiernan: Well, right now Iím writing another Mithgar story. And Iím struggling with it because itís a kind of story that I have to think about a long time, just to essentially figure out how to tell the story so that it remains interesting all the way through.

Matthew Peterson: Okay.

Dennis L. McKiernan: And Iíve got about a 150 or 170 pages of manuscript so far, which means I probably have another 200-300 pages to go to get to the end. And this has been a difficult story for me to write.

Matthew Peterson: Now with the Mithgar series, for the people listening to the show who are not familiar with the Mithgar series, tell us just a little bit about the Mithgar books.

Dennis L. McKiernan: ĎKay, well, let me see . . . as with many fantasies I have a lot of different races in it--you know, dwarves and elves and humans and people called the hidden ones, and I also have a race of people called Warrows, w-a-r-r-o-w-s. And the Warrows are featured in many of the stories, but not exclusively. Elves are in others stories and so on. Essentially the entire original series, I think it composed of . . . well if you count the trilogy and the duology as three books and two books, it was maybe 15 books all together in that long overarching story.

It wasnít until I got it to about the 5th book that I realized what I was writing about. And it had to do with someone trying to control people versus people having free will. And so basically it was a battle between gods, but it was carried out on Mithgar, a world much like earth because it has a moon and itís got oceans and so forth and forests and so forth and so on--a regular planet-like, earth-like planet. In any case, that series took me 15 books in order to wrap it up. I think itís 15; it might be 13.

Matthew Peterson: [laughs]

Dennis L. McKiernan: [laughs] Itís enough for a . . .

Matthew Peterson: . . . a lot of books.

Dennis L. McKiernan: A lot of books. And so now what Iím dealing with is some stories that happened within that overarching role there that didnít exactly play into the battle between the . . . between good and evil, weíll call it. Instead, itís stories that are fillers. Filling in places in the history of Mithgar that I mention throughout the various Mithgar books that basically I did not tell the stories. And so Iím doing some of that.

Meantime, what Iíve also done is Iíve broken away from Mithgar for sometime in order to write the Faery series. And Iíve written a couple of mysteries that I havenít had published yet. Theyíre still floating around New York City. And during these economic downturn times itís really hard to get an author who has not written in a particular genre before to break into that genre.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. Yeah. I know a lot of times an author might get a pen name just for that different genre.

Dennis L. McKiernan: I do have a different pen name just for that.

Matthew Peterson: Oh, okay. What is your pen name?

Dennis L. McKiernan: Tanner Grant.

Matthew Peterson: Tanner Grant, okay. I wanted to talk to you a little bit about the Faery series. Iím not as familiar with them. Now, I think theyíre completed, right? You have 1, 2, 3, 4, like 5 books?

Dennis L. McKiernan: Five books. I was sitting, talking to my wife one day and I said, ďYou know, Iíve always wanted to tell this story that is East of the Sun and West of the Moon.Ē In the fairy tale books, East of the Sun and West of the Moon is about 10 pages long, maybe 12 pages long. Itís a very short story, like almost all fairy tales are really short stories. And by that I mean not a very big page count. And I said, ďWell, I think, if I remember correctly, this happened once upon a winterís night.Ē And I said, ďOh, thereís my title: Once Upon a Winterís Night.Ē

Matthew Peterson: Once Upon a Winterís Night.

Dennis L. McKiernan: And then I said, ďWell, if I write that, and I want to write some more, how Ďbout Once Upon a Summer Day, Once Upon an Autumn Eve, Once Upon a Spring Morn and weíll cap it off with Once Upon a Dreadful Time.Ē

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

Dennis L. McKiernan: And so that became the ďOnce Upon . . .Ē faery series. The original fairy tale had so much more that could be told in East of the Sun, West of the Moon that had not been told by almost anyone. And so I told a great sweeping romance saga, having to do with this fairy tale, East of the Sun and West of the Moon. [laughs] Incidentally, just about the same time that my book came out, another book came out called East. And it was the same story but completely different.

Matthew Peterson: Oh! Yeah.

Dennis L. McKiernan: But it was based on the same legend or same fairy tale.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah, I know in the movie industry that seems to happen all the time; we got 2 different volcano movies, we got 2 different . . .

Dennis L. McKiernan: Yeah. Two different meteor movies, 2 different asteroid-that-hits-the-earth movies, everything. [laughs]

Matthew Peterson: Yeah, all at the same time.

Dennis L. McKiernan: Yeah.

Matthew Peterson: And I saw the cover of Once Upon a Winterís Night, and I really like it. At least the cover I saw was of someone riding, like a polar bear.

Dennis L. McKiernan: Yeah, it was a polar bear because in the fairy tale the young girl accepts a proposal to go off in a distant land and marry a prince that sheís never seen. And the way that proposal is delivered to her and the way that the girl goes off is by bear. [laughs] The bear brings the proposal and then the bear takes her off to meet the prince.

Matthew Peterson: [laughs] Yeah, well, youíre not going to turn down a polar bear saying, ďGet on my back.Ē

Dennis L. McKiernan: No. Youíre going to do this. [laughs] Basically, you do it.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. Well, that is wonderful. I really enjoyed speaking with you today, Dennis. Iíve been speaking with Dennis L. McKiernan, most known for the Mithgar series and the [ďOnce UponĒ] Faery series. And I hope everyone takes a look at his books. Thanks for being on the show today, Dennis.

Dennis L. McKiernan: Youíre welcome.

Matthew Peterson: Okay, make sure you go to to listen to the bonus questions that didnít make it onto the live show. Donít go away. Iíve still got Diana Pharaoh Francis coming up next.

  Read or Listen to the extra questions that didn't make it onto the live show.  

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