I’d like to welcome Coyote & Lauren to Infinite Pathways today to chat about their book Order of the Four Sons and other authorly interests..
These two residents of Kansas City both have an affinity for composing poetry as well as writing fiction.
Coyote has been writing most of his life, and alternately entertained and terrified his children by telling them stories late at night. Now that they are older, he enjoys entertaining and terrifying adults as well.
Lauren is a multi-genre author writing fiction for both adults and young adults. She is the recipient of the Gerard Manley Hopkins Award for poetry and a fellowship from Rockhurst University for fiction. Currently, she is working on Books V-VI of The Order of the Four Sons as well as a new horror trilogy.
Thanks for coming!
Thank you for having us! It’s great to be here—virtually.
A co-authorship is a rare entity. How did the story for your book, and realistically the series to come, blossom?
Coyote: The story first started as an independent movie project. Lauren was the head writer for the movie, which centered on secret societies, ancient evils, and a desperate battle for humanity. I came onto the project later, first as an extra and stage hand, and later as a member of the writing team. We found much to our surprise and delight that we worked well together. There were some times when we weren’t quite able to do what we wanted with the story, because of the type of movie that the director / producer wanted to make, but we still had fun creating. After the project dissolved, we decided to take our ideas, flesh them out in directions that we had been wishing we could take them in the movie, and turn them into books. The result is O4S.
Lauren: The Order of the Four Sons actually began life as a screenplay. Back in 2005, some friends of mine hooked me up with a local director who was in search of a screenwriter. He wanted to make a horror film in Excelsior Springs. So we did it, and not only did I conceive of what is now the O4S-verse, I got to play a small part. (I also got to help scout locations, build sets, and hold a boom mike. It was a very small production.) The movie was filmed over the summer and then…well, nothing. It never got edited into an appreciable product. I retained the rights to the script. The main characters are based loosely on the actors who played them. While filming, I met this nice guy named Coyote who was an extra. (He played an eretic.) He was also a writer. After the movie wrapped, we kept in touch. One day, about a year later, he called me up and said, “Why don’t we make that script into a series?”
We’ve been writing together ever since. I don’t think either of us had any idea of what we were getting ourselves into.
What sort of challenges and obstacles did you face while working as a team on this project? Is there anything you’ll do differently for book two?
Coyote: Currently, Books I through IV are already written, and in fact Book II will be out next month. Book I was probably our most challenging, I think, because we were still establishing our lines of communication into what they are today. Book I was also when we were first fleshing out the O4S universe as a whole, including how magic worked, the limitations of different powers, history, etc. We actually spent a great deal of time on Book I, not just writing but planning and world-building. But once that was done, we had the framework for all the other books.
Book II presented different challenges, because of different characters being on different worlds simultaneously. But we were working on the skeleton of Book II while we were writing Book I, and sketching Books III and IV while writing Book II, and so on. So the process has been a continuous one with minimal transitions in our work, because the series represents a single story arc divided among six books and four worlds.
Lauren: I agree with most of what Coyote said. When he says “establishing our lines of communication,” he means we learned to stop being polite and just straight-up tell each other, “No, you can’t say it like that, it sounds stupid.” I would also like to clarify that we have now been writing together for ten years. For me, the greatest challenges have been the things that all authors face—finding time to actually sit down and do it, despite the pressures and demands of life. We’ve pretty much always met at least once a week, usually on Fridays, and put in at least eight hours of work. But we’ve done that over a ten year period, which means we’ve gone through some pretty heavy stuff together—moves, job changes, school, family problems, divorce, funerals, surgeries, you name it. More than once, we’ve gotten the laptop out and done some writing in a hospital waiting room. But we’re best friends as well as co-authors, which, I think, is what has really made this possible.
As Coyote said, we’re done with Books I-IV. We’re working on Books V and VI, the final books of the series, and I’m finding it to be the hardest of the series to date. Maybe it’s just because I’m not ready to say goodbye.
Who is your favourite character in the novel and why?
Coyote: If we’re talking about Book I, probably JD Garnett. We quoted him the most to one another while working on the book, and even jested about someday having WWJDD bracelets sold as merchandise for the books. Colonel Garnett is blustery, eccentric, honest, and absolutely honorable, and as loyal a friend as you could ever have. He is also a true warrior, and a hero in the truest sense: he would lay down his life in an instant to protect the innocent. He also has a style all his own, which is better experienced than summarized. But all of the main characters are pretty stellar. In Book II, you get to find out more about all the characters from Book I, including Alyssa, who is another favorite for reasons later revealed.
I could wax poetical about our other characters for pages, but I’m forcing myself to stop here.
Lauren: Pretty much what he said. Though Murphy is eminently quotable, too—not just in Book I, but throughout the series. I also love Alyssa, but my all-time favorite characters from the series do not really grace our pages until Book III.
This is very much a character-driven story, and we do love these characters so very much. We hope the readers do too.
What was the most difficult scene to write? How were you able to tackle it in the end?
Coyote: I confess, I’m at a bit of a loss on this one. Some scenes were tine-consuming, of course, writing and re-writing until we felt that those rebellious words accurately conveyed what we were imagining. But that’s so much of what writing is anyway, in retrospect no one scene really stands out. At least, not dealing with Book I.
Dealing with any given scene, we’re generally doing one of two things: we’re either talking about it while one of us types, or we’re discussing it before typing. Perhaps that’s just one of the advantages to a partnership like ours, the constant sharing and growing of ideas and inspirations.
Lauren: If we’re talking about Book I, I agree. Keep in mind, it’s been almost eight years since we first wrote it. We did re-writes for the publisher last year, but we knew going in what we were going to change. Likewise with Book II. There have been some scenes in the recent books that were challenging because they were highly emotional, and/or dealt with the death of a character. We tackle these challenges the way we tackle anything in writing—eventually, we just roll up our sleeves and dive in.
What drew you to Fantasy?
Coyote: I have always loved stories, and books have always been friends of mine. I grew up in a house so full of books I usually didn’t need to visit the library to research school papers— all the books I needed were around me. When I was a small child, chapters from JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit were read to me every night. I started telling stories almost as soon as I could talk, and writing them followed a short time afterwards. Science Fiction and Fantasy have been traveling companions all my life, and I have always delighted in collecting, creating, and sharing tales with others.
Lauren: My father taught me to read and write early. My mother is Mexican so I grew up bilingual. I’ve always been an omnivorous reader and have been writing pretty much since I could hold a pen. I am more interested in language and stories than genre. In addition to the O4S series, I have a book of poetry out, as well as literary fiction and children’s books. I hope to write across many more categories before my career is over. My mother used to read fairy tales to me, so in my heart, maybe fairy tales will always be my first and last love. So many genres stem from fairy tales, including fantasy.
Also, I think it’s worth noting that we have classified O4S as “fantasy” because it happens to be the easiest label for it. When you have a story about a group of people traveling to alternate dimensions, the tendency is to call it fantasy. But our books are really a genre mashup—there are elements of horror, sci-fi, speculative fiction, police procedural, psychological thriller, western, fairy tale, and some others all mixed in there.
Can you tell us a bit about your favourite type of scene to write alone and together?
Coyote: Again, you have me at something of a loss. Some types of scenes are more challenging for me, and others are easier, but I don’t really have a favorite. I’m in love with storytelling, and that encompasses a lot of ground.
Lauren: I prefer to write sex scenes alone, for reasons that I should think are obvious. Together, I like to write scenes with either a lot of action (which means we get to act stuff out), or scenes with a lot of snappy dialogue, because we get to do the voices.
What is it that most sets your fantasy world apart from others? What makes it unique or special?
Coyote: One of the things that sets our stories apart, I think, is the characters. In many epic fantasies, such as Lord of the Rings, the characters are changed and even broken by their adventures by the time they’re done, or else strangely unfazed by them as in many of Robert E. Howard’s stories. Our heroes begin, in different ways, as damaged beings. Over time they change, grow, and heal with one another. Several of them experience post-traumatic growth by the time they’re done. There are also settings, such as The Royal Hotel, that are characters in and of themselves.
Lauren: I would agree that the degree to which these stories are character-driven sets them apart from most genre books. Having a large, ensemble cast of characters also means our books are dialogue-heavy, which is uncommon. I also think the way in which we have synthesized a bunch of different genres sets them apart, stylistically, from a lot of books.
Coyote referenced the settings as being like characters, which extends not just to individual places, but to entire worlds. Our books take place across space and time. Book I takes place mostly on Earth, though we leap back and forth from the present day to ancient Egypt, to the 16th century and the 19th century. Book II takes place in a world called Carcosa. Books III-IV are in a different world, and IV-V are in yet another. This allows us to throw our characters into a lot of different and uncomfortable scenarios. It gives us, as authors, the opportunity to explore a lot of social issues.
If you aren’t interested in people, you may not like our work, is what I’m sayin’.
What have you found to be the most challenging aspect of publicizing yourself and your work?
Coyote: Getting exposure. This includes getting recognized, or even glanced at, amidst the background of so many hastily cobbled-together novels that have been cranked out just for the sake of plunking something down, thanks to NaNoWriMo. It includes the major publishers being so rarely interested in new writers. It includes the struggle just to get someone to read something they haven’t already heard of, much less leave a review online.
Lauren: Publicizing is a challenge, period. It takes up so much time, energy and, if you have it, money. The e-book and indie author market is so new, it’s really difficult to tell what marketing tactics will work, what won’t, and why. We rely on self-reporting from authors to even get an idea of what to do, and just because it worked for them doesn’t mean it’ll work for you. I think word-of-mouth is still the best marketing tactic for books, regardless of whether they’re print or electronic. The trick is getting your work in front of the right fans at the right time. I feel like a street vendor standing on a corner, hawking my wares, screaming to be heard over all the other people doing the exact same thing. Social media marketing is, of course, cheap and theoretically reaches a large audience. But you have to do it constantly, consistently, to get any traction out of it. It’s exhausting.
I would much rather be writing than plugging my work. But I would like people to read the things I’ve worked so hard on. It’s the hard truth of the writing world today.
Do you have any advice for new authors?
Coyote: Set aside your writing time, and defend it. In any art, be it creative, performing, or martial, you must dedicate time to it, and make it a part of your life. Other people do not have a right to your time the way that you do. This is not to say that there can be no flexibility. But if writing is something you love, and if you’re writing books I would hope that it is, you have a right to it.
That being said, ignore NaNoWriMo. Little good gets cranked out in a month. Do some research, and see how long literature’s great works, along with your favorite novels, took to write. And while you’re at it, read. Rare indeed is the great artist who mastered his or her craft alone in a cave.
Lauren: Write every day, even if it’s just a few lines. Being a writer is like being an athlete. If you want to be good, you have to train constantly. Also, read. Read all the things. Great books, crappy books, blogs, news articles, comic books, anything you can get your hands on. Discover what you like and what you don’t like and why. I am continuously amazed by authors who say they don’t like to read, or they don’t have time for it. What are you doing in this business if you don’t like reading?
What projects are you currently working on and can you reveal or give any juicy hints?
Coyote: Most of my writing time is dedicated to O4S currently. We’re currently working on Books V and VI, which will wrap up the series. Book II: Carcosa is available December 4, and picks up our heroes in the aftermath of the battle of Book I. It is there that they discover, among other things, that the skirmish they have faced is just the start of the final battle with their age-old enemies. While we are not George R.R. Martin, this is still a kind of war, and no one is truly safe. As Lauren mentioned earlier, some of the harder scenes to write take place later in the series when characters we love die.
In addition, I do have another project I am working on, entitled The Faithful of Azash. It is a collection of fantasy horror stories set in an alien world of desert, stone, and blood-stained gods. The stories deal secondarily with the creatures and bizarre landscapes found there, but primarily with what to me is the penultimate source of horror and joy on any world: the people themselves. It is slated to be released under the Kensington Gore banner upon completion.
Lauren: Yes, we are very focused right now on finishing up the O4S series. For juicy hints, in addition to what Coyote said about none of the characters being safe, we both have excerpts available on our blogs for Books I-III. We encourage readers to stop by and have a look.
As for me, I’ve always got a bunch of irons in the fire. In addition to O4S, I’ve signed with Kensington Gore to do a vampire trilogy. On my own, I also have a literary novel and another fantasy novel in the works, plus various and sundry poems and short stories.
How can readers find you online?
Again, Carcosa, The Order of the Four Sons, Book II, comes out December 4th.
Carcosa follows the team — JD, Murphy, Doug and Kate — as they pursue Countess Elizabeth Bathory across the face of a sinister desert planet filled with untold dangers. Director Clayton Grabowski and the Oracle find themselves mired in the political intrigues of the Order’s leadership, while back on Earth, Bill forges an uneasy alliance with a government agent.
As they race to recover the Wand of Deleth, they uncover truths they had never expected about their enemies– and, more importantly, themselves.
It’s been a pleasure chatting with you today. Thank you again for stopping by and sharing your experiences and stories with us.
The pleasure is ours. Thank you for having us!
The Order of the Four Sons, Book I
For centuries, two ancient, magical sects, the Order of the Four Sons of Horus and Starry Wisdom, have battled for possession of the sacred, powerful Staff of Solomon. Whoever possesses the staff can open doors to other dimensions—or rip open the very fabric of existence.
The staff was broken into pieces and scattered across the cosmos.
Now, a member of the Order, Fernando Rios, has disappeared in a small Missouri town.
When a team is sent to investigate, they discover that Rios was close to finding one of the lost segments.
The problem is, he wasn’t the only one.
The Order of the Four Sons by Coyote Kishpaugh and Lauren Scharhag is a classic tale of good versus evil. An epic, magical journey of fantasy and adventure.
Join members of the team, Colonel JD Garnett, novice mage Kate West, Detective Ryan Murphy, scholar Doug Grigori, and field techs Bill Welsh and Cecil Morgan, as they race to stop evil from destroying not just Earth, but a myriad of worlds.
And life as we know it.