R.A. McCandless has been a writer both professionally and creatively for over two decades. He was born under a wandering star that led to a degree in Communication and English with a focus on creative writing. He’s the author of the urban fantasy TEARS OF HEAVEN winner of the 2014 Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Preditors & Editors Reader’s Poll and a 2015 EPIC eBook finalist, HELL BECOMES HER and THE CLOCKWORK DETECTIVE. His shorts have appeared in IN SHAMBLES (with Kevin J. Anderson) NINE HEROES, and GEARS, GADGETS AND STEAM. He continues to research and write historical and genre fiction, battle sprinklers, and play with his three boys.
RobRoy, thank you for agreeing to this interview. We are discovering more published writers have degrees in Communication and English, like yourself, or a related field of study. Do you think it is important for authors to receive formal education or training before releasing their novels? How has your study of language and the expression thereof assisted in your writing journey?
Education-schmeducation, am I right?
There’s not one clear path to becoming a writer. I mean Andy Weir studied computer science and worked as a programmer, but he doesn’t have a degree. On the other hand, George R.R. Martin has an MS, and Patrick Rothfuss has an MA! But that said, I think the common thread is an interest in a good story, well told. For me, that meant listening to the music that was in words and drawing them together to create cohesive themes. I love how some writers, like Elizabeth Lynn and Victor LaValle are so lyrical in their narratives. I work hard to create that same clever turn of phrase in my own works.
The first book in the Flames of Perdition series, Tears of Heaven, is an urban fantasy with some unique twists in how readers might perceive the Nephilim (half human/half angel) as well as demons and angels. Tell us a bit about the plot and what inspired you to write this story.
People always think that they want to meet an angel, but they really shouldn’t. Especially in the Christian Bible, angels are scary, otherworldly creatures who are like Heaven’s own terminators. If they’re given a mission, they execute it, without pity, fear or remorse. Humans, on the other hand, well, we suffer from those emotions and all the others all the time. How we feel and how we deal with our feelings makes us who we are. Mixing an angel and a human into a Nephilim made for an interesting mix of supernatural benefits and mortal failings, but also the reverse. How would you contain something like that? What would that kind of half-life be like? That’s what I wanted to explore with Del and Marrin, two Nephilim who work for the Throne, hunting down rogue demons and banishing them back to hell.
Hell Becomes Her is the continuation of the Flames of Perdition series. Of course, readers recognized Del as a strong female character in the first story, but you upped the ante in this book. What traits are necessary to classify a character as a strong female in literature? Can you offer a couple of examples of what hardships you presented to exhibit these traits in your main character?
Del is a hero as much for facing bad guys as how she faces them. As much for winning, as she is for what she’s willing to sacrifice for others. It isn’t just the victories, but really, how she handles all her struggles. There are easy paths and hard paths, and no real guide on how to navigate them, or which ones will have the best outcomes. A hero isn’t someone who is simply stronger, faster, with a specialized skill set—that’s overly simplistic. There is real inner strength that everyone uses to overcome the challenges in their lives. Del both a larger-than-life character who remains relatable in her daily struggles. Sure, she fights demons, and angels with a grudge, but she’s also a parent, a friend, a lover. She struggles with all those relationships, and balancing them in a world that is at best chaotic, and always dangerous.
I do not think I have read an interview with you where you have not shared how significant your children and family are to you. I am curious how the value of familial relationships, or any relationships, are included in your books. Is it important for you to express this devotion in your written works?
Friends are extremely important to me. I didn’t have a lot of friends growing up, so when I found people I could relate to, hang out with, be myself around—that was a huge impact. One of my first attempts at writing a fantasy novel was themed on friendship. My family, that investment of time and effort and emotion, has played a large role in who I’ve become as a writer. Hopefully, that came through in Hell Becomes Her because that story was all about having, keeping, and growing relationships. I mean, it’s also about fighting bad guys and saving the day, but the reasons why we keep fighting are in the people all around us.
I think it is safe to say that you actively work to better yourself and your writing, trying to understand all perspectives of any issue before forming an opinion. Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction and your approach to writing it?
I wished that I’d spring high school graduation a fully-formed writer, ready to take on the world and rake in all that sweet, sweet cash. That did not happen. The best, strongest, and most lasting lesson I’ve learned as a writer so far was from my first editor, Shawn Howen. She made a comment to me that if the reader doesn’t understand something, that’s the writer’s fault. At first, I wanted to argue with her. After all, I’m an ARTIST! Not everyone is going to understand me, and certainly not my art! But then I realized that wasn’t the business I was in. Sure, I’m creating art. What I’m also doing, what all writers are doing, is trying to get the story out of my head and into the mind of the reader. If that’s the goal, then smoothing over any areas where a reader might stumble isn’t just worthwhile, it’s a necessity. Some authors might say they only write stories for themselves, and that’s great. I’m not that guy. I tell stories for other people to enjoy and realizing that has made all the difference in how I write.
You have your first book in a steampunk series, The Constable of Aqualinne, coming soon, with your cover revealed only days ago. What should readers expect from this series, specifically the first book, The Clockwork Detective?
Everything that’s steampunk and more. Airships, clockworks, corsets, goggles, lots of leather straps and buckles, and of course gears that serve aesthetic purposes only! Aubrey Hartmann came out of the army with a pocketful of medals, a missing leg, and a chance to rise to glory. She’s got the look of a hero, right out of the storybooks, and a mind that sees to the heart of things. When she’s assigned to a small backwater town assisting a local constable with a murder investigation, she uncovers more than anyone suspected. The murder might just be the first shot in a new Fairy-Human war that could tear Aubrey’s world apart!
What can we expect from you in 2019? Anything more you would like to add?
This has already been a very exciting year and will continue to be full. We re-released Tears of Heaven in late 2018, and Hell Becomes Her is now available again in ebook and print versions. The launch of The Clockwork Detective is going to be big this spring. Aubrey Hartmann’s world is so much fun to visit, and I can’t wait to get back there to work on her next adventure. Company of the Damned will finish off The Flames of Perdition series, although there will be a side novel for Del’s friend Jane Ivey in Sins of the Throne.
It has been a pleasure, RobRoy! Please tell us where fans can find you online or in the upcoming year at events.
Thanks, Joshua, I’ve enjoyed our time together. Following are my author links: