Monday, August 31, 2015

Christopher Mannino, Sword of Deaths

AUTHOR: Christopher Mannino
BOOK TITLE:  Sword of Deaths (The Scythe Wielder’s Secret: Book Two)
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Please tell us about yourself. 
            I am a high school theatre teacher, who primarily writes in the summers. I’m lucky enough to pursue all of my greatest passions: theatre, writing, and teaching, at a professional level.  I grew up in rural Massachusetts, and now live with my wife outside of Washington, DC. The Scythe Wielder’s Secret is my first published series, and was largely inspired by my graduate work at Oxford. In the future, I plan to branch into other genres, and have already started the novel which will come after this series is completed.

Please tell us your latest news.
            Sword of Deaths releases at the end of August in both print and eBook. This is the second novel in The Scythe Wielder’s Secret, which is a trilogy. I am roughly half-way through the final novel, which I hope will release sometime next year. 
            I am also thrilled to announce original artworks inspired by the books are now on sale on my website, and at conventions I attend. My cousin, Jennifer Eldreth, loved the books, and has started created wonderful pieces based on them. I’ve taken the art and turned them into matted prints. 

Are you a full-time writer or part-time, and how do you organize your writing time?
            (Laughs and rolls eyes). This is honestly a terrible challenge for me. I write part-time, and teach a lot. As the theatre teacher of a school with a massive theatre program, I’m usually the first teacher to arrive in the morning, and the last one to leave, late at night. A typical school day, including after-school rehearsals, is twelve hours long. My principal once asked when I find to write, and I replied (only half-jokingly) that I don’t sleep. My largest blocks of writing time occur during summer vacations, when not teaching part-time at a local children’s theatre. However, even during the school year, I find time every week to get some words down, and need to continuously juggle time for marketing and promotion.

When and why did you begin writing?
            My first serious attempt at writing started in 1998. I was a freshman in college, and decided to write a fantasy novel. I’d been an avid reader for as long as I can remember, and a dreamer for even longer than that. I had stories I really wanted to share, images and characters I just wanted to explore in a written setting.  It took me ten years to write my first novel, which I eventually shelved. It remains unpublished, but gave me a lot of the drive to write in future years. Later, when I started School of Deaths, I remembered some of the imagery from that first attempt, and it helped me write.

What inspired you to write your first book?
            In 2011, I finished my graduate degree with a semester abroad at Oxford. One of my personal goals was at least once a week, to journey somewhere I’d never been before. I’d visited England several times before that trip, so constantly wanted to see new things.
            On one such excursion, I became stranded in Tintagel, the supposed birthplace of King Arthur. Tintagel is an ancient castle ruin on the coast of Cornwall. It is a beautiful place, one I’d wanted to visit. When I arrived, I discovered the tourist office had closed (for budget cuts), and couldn’t find a hostel or hotel. I went pub to pub asking if I could stay the night. I hadn’t plan for it to be a multiple-day trip, but found only a bus a day traveled from Exeter, and I had no car.
            I visited the castle my first day, after finding a pub right near the historic sight. I slept very little over the noisy bar, and the next morning departed before dawn. I crawled out onto Barras Nose, a long promontory with no paths or railings. It was dark, and the winds were howling at about 40 miles per hour, and I often had to drop to a crawl to avoid getting blown right into the sea. I watched the sun rise from those cliffs, listening to the crash of the waves beneath me. I felt utterly alone, attacked from every direction by fierce winds. I imagined a character being completely isolated, attacked from every direction, and yet feeling happy. That is how Susan and the story of The Scythe Wielder’s Secret first came into being.

What are your thoughts about promotion?
            Every time I advanced in the publishing world I thought the current phase was the hardest. Drafting was the hardest, until I finished, and then editing was hard. Well, nothing in publishing is harder than marketing. The publishing industry today has fewer bookstores than ever, overall lower numbers of readers, and yet 2000 books published each week, mostly by self-published authors. The field is completely flooded with books, and getting attention is a constant struggle. 
            My biggest pushes recently have been through live events, such as conventions, and I will continue to market that way as well as other avenues. I have a yearly marketing plan, which I follow. I am active on social media, have used many paid marketing options, and will continue to keep researching marketing techniques. My biggest frustration with marketing is the amount of time it takes, which is time away from writing.

What was the toughest criticism given to you? What was the biggest compliment? Did those change how or what you did in your next novel?
            One of the critics of School of Deaths complained that for a fantasy novel, the main characters all had boring names, while many of the older characters had more interesting ones. My three main characters are Susan, Will, and Frank. I hadn’t even thought about it, and none of my editors or beta readers had mentioned this detail, but I found myself agreeing with the critic. In Sword of Deaths I added a section explaining how older Deaths select a name. It’s a minor detail that doesn’t change the series much, but was in response to criticism.
            The biggest compliment I got from the novel was at AwesomeCon, a convention I attend selling books. The convention was three days, and on the final day a woman came to my booth with a broad smile. She’d bought my book the day before and had spent all night reading it, and then came the next day with a ton of questions about what to expect in the second book. I didn’t answer most of her questions, not wanting to give spoilers, but it was still a great compliment.

Do you ever have writer’s block? If so, how do you get through it?
            I think writer’s block is an illusion. There are times when I’m unfocused, or find it difficult to write. There are times when I don’t know what will happen next. The solution is to simply keep writing. In the absolute worst cases, I’ll write three pages of “I don’t know what to write” before I go back and start re-writing that filler. Turn the internet off, take a walk, listen to inspiring music (Pandora’s “Film Scores” station is a particular favorite), and then just keep writing.

What do you plan for the future?
            Sometime next year, I will release Daughter of Deaths, the final novel in The Scythe Wielder’s Secret. I have grown drastically as an author with each novel I write, and definitely feel that Daughter of Deaths is the strongest thing I’ve ever written thus far. I am immensely proud of how the series concludes.
            Following this series, I plan to write an adult science-fiction thriller, an adult high fantasy novel, and several pieces of historical fiction.  

How can we find you? Website, Facebook, Twitter, blog, etc.?

Tell us about the current book you’re promoting.
            Sword of Deaths is the second novel in The Scythe Wielder’s Secret trilogy. The story continues to explore the World of Deaths, exploring why Susan Sarnio is the first female Death in a world with only men.
            In the second novel, the arc moves to a higher fantasy feel, with more epic situations. At conventions, I’ve told potential readers that the trilogy starts with a Harry Potter “light fantasy” feel, but ends with a more Lord of the Rings “high fantasy” conclusion.
            The back story in the novel is developed much more thoroughly, relating events from two very different time periods. The characters also deepen a great deal. School of Deaths is told from a single Point of View (POV). The second and third novel both use three POVs, which was really fun and really difficult to write. One of the three POVs is non-human, which proved specifically challenging.
            Unlike the first novel, which I wanted to stand alone with the possibility of a series (all of the seeds for the series as a whole are laid in the first book), this novel was written knowing there’d be another after it. In some ways that greatly affected the pacing of the story, and left a lot of room open for how the series would emerge.

What is your experience working or being around children or teens?
            I spend more time with teens than I do with other adults. I teach high school theatre, including six classes and a massive after school program. I interact with roughly 400 students a year, encouraging them and watching them grow and become more mature. I teach part-time over the summers, working with middle schoolers. 

Do you outline before you write?  If not, what’s your initial process?
            Somewhat. Once I received a contract for School of Deaths I immediately revisited my plan for The Scythe Wielder’s Secret. I had some specific ideas in mind, especially around the series’ conclusion and climax, which have not changed at all. 
            For any novel, I generally start with a handwritten (pencil and paper) description of where the story’s going, along with some specific images. I am an image-driven writer. In other words, I might picture something very strongly, but not know how it fits in.           
            Writing a trilogy has its own challenges. I outlined a lot more for Sword of Deaths than I had before, and even more than that for the final novel Daughter of Deaths. My outline changed as I wrote, but I did have a rough idea of where I was going.

What comes first: the plot or characters?
            In my series, the plot definitely came first. The best example is from the first book. In the earliest chapters of the first draft, the protagonist was a boy. I took many of my own experiences and used that to model the story. As I wrote, I wanted to increase their isolation, and ended up changing the concept so she was not only a girl, but the only girl in a world of men.

Which characters were the hardest to develop and why?
            The trickiest character was the eponymous Sword of Deaths, or Grym. Grym is a central figure to the trilogy as a whole, but he’s ancient (over a million years old), and is basically a soul trapped in an ancient scythe. He’s an extremely dark character, at times some of his moments felt more like horror than fantasy. While the first book has dark overtones, this novel definitely moved in a darker direction, and that was challenging.            

What, if anything, bugs you when you read a novel?
            POV inconsistencies really bother me. One of the worst books I read in the past couple of years was JK Rowling’s first adult novel The Casual Vacancy. She’d jump POVs multiple times in a single paragraph, and I just found the entire thing very poorly written.
            Another thing I really hate is not identifying with any characters. Whether in books or in film, if I can’t relate to someone, and cheer them on, I stop reading or watching.

What seven words would you use to describe yourself?

            creative, adventurous, imaginative, passionate, dedicated, artistic, kind  


The Death laughed. He waved his scythe and the world behind her
vanished. Two immense eyes rose behind him, surrounded by leathery
skin. She heard the beating of wings.

“You are weak,” said the Death. “You’re nothing at all,
Suzie. Just a girl.” He laughed again.

“Leave me alone,” shouted Suzie. She walked forward but
stopped as a sharp, shooting pain coursed through her.

“So weak, so worthless.”

“Go away! Leave me alone!”

The man, the strange eyes, and the entire world in front
of her shattered, splitting into fragments of glass. The glass flew
toward her, burying itself in her skin. So much pain.

She looked down. The glass was gone. Markings covered her
hands. The marks crawled upwards, moving onto her neck: strangling

Suzie gasped for air, struggling to breathe. Something
clawed at her throat, pulling her down, ripping her apart.

She exploded into a burst of light.


  1. I agree that marketing is certainly the worst part of writing!

    Nice excerpt!

  2. Thanks for hosting Penny! And thanks Cheryl for visiting.