Author Interview: Mike Allen, Black Fire Concerto

‘A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to receive a copy of The Black Fire Concerto from it’s author Mike Allen.  My review is here and if you like dark fantasy and horror this could be for you.  Cheekily I chucked out there that the author might like to let me have an interview and surprisingly (for me more than anyone) he agreed!  Well, there’s a first (and probably last) time for everything.  More information about Mike here and here.

Hi Mike.  Welcome to my blog and thanks for agreeing to take part.

Thank you for asking me!

One of the most common pieces of advice for would-be writers is to write from experience.  Given that you write about horror/fantasy just how realistic is this advice?

You know, there is something to it, but I would rephrase this as “Let your experiences fuel what you write.” For every claim that you have to live a few decades of life before you can write well, I can show you a writer half my age who has crafted beauty and terror out of what they know. That said, I do think that my background as a crime reporter allows me to add some additional weight to the happenings whenever I write horror in a modern setting. But even once you get into realms of pure imagination, your experiences still help. I have never played a harp, been a prisoner of a cannibal cult or ridden a horse made of fire and straw, but I can think about what experiences I’ve had that might approach those things, and extrapolate.

I’m always interested in the magic contained in any fantasy and the ways in which authors come up with new ways to make it ‘work’.  How did you come up with the idea for the magic in the story and the use of music to act as a means of ‘performing’ magic.

The magic in The Black Fire Concerto grew more from gut instinct than careful planning, something that’s true of much of my writing of late. It’s rooted in the decision to make Olyssa, my main heroine, a musician. I’m not able to pinpoint what drove that inspiration – I can only tell you that originally she was a gunslinger, and the idea that she was also a musician arrived as part and parcel of her first adventure with Erzelle. My mind sometimes works like that, provides me with characters, settings and plot in a near-complete package. It made sense to me in a poetic way that creating magic with musical notes could work like weaving, if you assume the power of each note builds and lingers and creates something durable even after the sound has changed or faded, and the more complicated the weave the more elaborate and powerful the spell. That principle guided how the magic developed through the rest of the novel.

I was intrigued about the characters.  Are any of these based on characters you know?  Do you have a favourite and how did you reach the decision to make Erzelle such a young protagonist?

Olyssa is my personal favorite – she is the novel’s reason for being. She actually is inspired by a friend of mine, a fantastic author and editor who takes absolutely no guff from anyone. (In Olyssa, I’ve exaggerated that trait to lethal extremes, and though at times her actions skirt some uncomfortable moral territory, they also make her really fun to write.) I’ve gotten a lot of great reader feedback about my fox-man, Reneer, who is also fun to write, but who isn’t based on anyone in particular, other than maybe the persona I would adopt if I were running a trickster in a role-play game. The arc of the novel belongs to Erzelle, and her odyssey was challenging and rewarding to craft – though just as Olyssa turned out to be a musician with no premeditation on my part, I never pondered what age Erzelle should be. In my mind she was always 12 years old when the story started.

You’ve written quite a lot of short stories.  Did you enjoy the experience of writing a more in-depth piece?  How did the experience compare to your previous writing?

Technically The Black Fire Concerto is my second novel, but it’s the first to see print. The first one took me five years to write, while The Black Fire Concerto was written and revised in a period of about five (non-consecutive) months. It’s hard to truly compare between stories, because for me, each story wants to be written in its own way.  I have short stories published that took me longer to write than  Black Fire Concerto did. Technically this novel was a commissioned piece, which made all the circumstances unique. What’s definitely true is that when I wrote Black Fire Concerto, it was the first time I ever took a “glued to the keyboard, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead, no stops for any reason” approach to a first draft of that length. (By contrast, I usually draft my short stories and poems longhand in a steno pad before typing them into a computer file.) It was grueling and when I finished I didn’t even fully comprehend what I had written – I could only hope that my instincts for how to tell a story guided me true. Here I have to give a universe of credit to my editor, Claire Cooney, who was able to look over 200-some pages of raw dreaming and say, you steered in the right direction the whole time, but these are all the places where you left the path. I had terrific beta readers, too. 

Hopefully there will be a follow up to the Black Fire Concerto, can you give us any idea where this might lead in the future??

Oh, I have plenty of ideas. There’s a huge, drastically altered world to explore, some major unresolved story threads to pick up, new characters to meet. There’s no publishing deal lined up for a sequel – at least not yet – so I’m reluctant to spill too much. Someday soon we’ll have to go back to Fabelford, obviously. And despite Olyssa’s best efforts there’s still oodles of sorcerer enclaves out there in the wilderness, preying on innocents. I’ve only hinted at  what the Storms are, what they can do, what it might take to stop them. But the scene etched most vividly in my mind at the moment involves Olyssa, Reneer, and a simple folk dance.

Quick fire questions:

• Favourite author: Sorry, this has changed over the years. Right now I don’t have one favorite. See below.

• Most influential author: Over the years: Edgar Allan Poe, J.R.R. Tolkien, H.P. Lovecraft, Susan Cooper, Ursula K. Le Guin, Clive Barker, Harlan Ellison, Laird Barron. And there’s so many more.

• Last book that you read: Jagannath: Stories by Karin Tidbeck

• Next book you’re gagging to read: I just ordered Joe Hill’s NOS4a2, Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane, R.S. Belcher’s The Six Gun Tarot.

• Last film that you watched (and did you enjoy it): The Unborn, a dybbuk possession film. Definitely not destined to be a classic, but entertaining in a completely brainless way.

• Next ‘must see’ film for you: Nothing coming up is a gotta-see movie for me, though I’ll definitely catch the next Hobbit. And Terry Gilliam’s next movie, The Zero Theorem.

• Who you would interview if you could choose anybody (fictional included): This is funny, as I interview people for a living (my most recent big name interview was with Yoko Ono.) My dream interview would be with Stanley Kubrick. If you stick to living people, Gilliam would do.

• What would be your first question to the above character: Tell me about the movies you want to make but haven’t yet.

• If you could go anyway in the world, universe or fictional world where would it be: An alternate version of Rome where I could study the Sistine Chapel ceiling for as long as I wanted.

And, a quote for your edification.  This sentence popped up fairly early in the story and frankly I read it and then went back and read it again!  Check it out:

‘In keeping with tradition, the once-human creature intended for the main course had been prepared so that its head remained uncooked. Its throat and tongue removed, it grimaced as the Chef approached.’

I’m glad you like this … morsel. (wicked grin)

Check out The Black Fire Concerto – you know you want to.


5 Responses to “Author Interview: Mike Allen, Black Fire Concerto”

  1. Redhead

    great interview! I have Black Fire Concerto sitting on my coffee table, and it’s going to be picked up very, very soon.

    • lynnsbooks

      Ah well, that’s my first ever interview so, basically I don’t really know what I’m doing! I think this would be good if it turned into a sort of series where you follow the characters around as they go round the country experiencing all sorts of weird and wonderful things!
      Lynn 😀

  2. TBM

    Excellent and how cool that you did an interview. I hope it isn’t your last interview. I loved the quickfire questions. How fun. I could picture you shouting the question and watching him come up with an answer on the spot. Great job.

    • lynnsbooks

      I know, my first ever interview! Hey, I know – I could interview you – just quick fire questions and do a little mini intro for your book?? Let me know.

      Lynn 😀

  3. Let me tell you about a place | Just Book Reading

    […] also asked Mike a few questions […]

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