I was very lucky to meet and spend some time with Gus several times. A few years ago at Rainbow Con in Florida he gave me two little figures of his characters he’d made that I still have on the shelf above my desk.
Thank you, Gus for taking time to talk to our readers today. Buy and social media links for Gus are later in this post. First let’s learn a bit about Gus and his book, Calling and Cull.
Whose hand will orchestrate the change in the world?
The decade-long war with Johmatra is over, but peace hangs by a thread in Garith’s kingdom. Yarrow, isolated in his island realm, refuses to abide by the treaty or to follow the dictates of the priestesses. Others—Octavian Rose among them—are uneasy with the growing military power of the temples, and the mage island of Espero remains a tenuous ally. Garith knows his people cannot weather another conflict, and that infighting will leave their lands vulnerable to further invasion. The arrival of a Johmatran ambassador with his own agenda calls everyone’s loyalties into question.
Sides will be chosen, and the consequences of those choices will have repercussions no one can foresee. Even among the turmoil, Yarrow is determined to have his vengeance against the thirteen goddesses and heal the world’s magic. But how far will he go, and what lines is he willing to cross? As unlikely alliances are forged and enemies are revealed, Prince Thane seems to be the key to forgotten knowledge that will shape the future—and some will do whatever it takes to control him.
Elizabeth: Wow, that sounds exciting. I adore the cover as well. Gus, would you tell us something about your genre?
Gus: On the most basic level, this series falls under the umbrella of High Fantasy—it takes place in a pre-industrialized world, and there is magic. However, I’ve always liked mixing bits of other genres, and while a major conflict in the series involves magic and who should be allowed to wield it, it’s also very much a political thriller as well as an exploration of military strategy. The technology of the period plays an important part in the progression of events, and its evolution grants major advantages to certain parties. Naval warfare in particular plays a huge role in the outcome of many conflicts. Another departure is the characters. Some are more idealistic than others, and though some favor morality and the good of the whole over personal gain, there are really no heroes and no villains—just a group of people who all think they are doing the right thing and just don’t agree on what the right thing is.
Elizabeth: Would you tell us about Calling and Cull?
Gus: Calling and Cull is the fifth book in the Blessed Epoch series, so it’s a continuation of the overall story. Each book contains plotlines that will be concluded in that book, as well as plotlines that pertain to the main arc. It’s hard to say much without giving away spoilers, but since the titles always give a hint to the major themes in each book, I can say this one explores characters’ senses of identity and purpose, both those assigned to them but fate and society and those they have chosen for themselves. Many of the characters are forced to redefine those roles, and it is easier for some than others. Cull is pretty self-explanatory.
Elizabeth: How do you define “diversity” in your writing, and how you explored it in this book?
Gus: When I decided to write a fantasy series, I knew I wanted a variety of races and societies, but that I didn’t want to use elves, dwarves, or anything like that. Nothing against them, but I wanted to create cultures that would be free of the expectations those classic races carry with them. One of the most fun parts of working on this series has been the creation of the races and societies, and the clash of cultures has been an important and ongoing conflict. The period portrayed in the series is a time of exploration for the people of this world, and certain discoveries have made trade and travel much easier. As a result, societies that have been insular and isolated are very quickly faced with people whose values are difficult for them to understand. Racism and xenophobia are explored, though the most opportunistic of the characters see how other cultures can be exploited. Others, particularly the mages of Espero, are consummate scholars whose goal is to understand and categorize everything. Blessed Epoch is, among many other things, a story of different people realizing they will need to find a way to share their world. Some embrace the idea of unity and acceptance; some resist it fiercely.
Elizabeth: Calling and Cull is being published through DSP Publications, Dreamspinner Press’s imprint for genre novels that don’t necessarily focus on or even contain romance. Tell us about the relationship in Calling and Cull and why it doesn’t fit the accepted definition of Romance in the M/M genre.
Gus: There’s a very pragmatic aspect to sex and romantic unions in the series. There are many reasons characters choose to become involved with other characters. Love/lust is one of them, and anyone who has read the previous books will know some of the characters are almost fanatically devoted to each other. But marriage is also used to seal alliances, and in some cultures, bloodlines are very important. Some characters are not above using their sexuality to achieve their goals. One of my races, the Emiri, has no real taboos about sex—it’s something to do for fun with anyone—of either gender—who is willing. These people do not make commitments based on sexual exclusivity, and the idea of that is pretty incomprehensible to them. Children trace their lineage only through the maternal side, and they are raised by groups of friends who choose to live together. This is a point of contention for some of the other cultures in the world. The main romance “rule” broken in the series is that many of the relationships aren’t static—that is to say, people meeting and falling in love isn’t often the end of the dynamic between those characters. Circumstances force some of them to reevaluate their situations, and some of these relationships survive, but others don’t. Since there isn’t a central couple, but dozens of characters, all of their situations and personalities are different. Not all of them get a fairy-tale romance (or a romance at all) because I feel that would go against the tone of realism and flux that I’m after.
Elizabeth: Lightening Round! Get ready and Go! What do you do for fun? Do you have a pet who supervises your writing?
Gus:My favorite thing to do for fun is go to the beach, which I do at least a few times a week. I don’t think I will ever lose my sense of awe over the ocean, and my love of the sea is very apparent in this series. It (she) is almost a character, has a name, and is a central aspect of at least one of the cultures.
I have three cats: an old Maine Coon named Merlin, a small female tuxedo cat named Charles, and a black cat named Spooky. One day I WILL have a red fox.
Elizabeth: What sort of research did you need to do?
Gus: So much naval research. The history of ship-building, accounts of naval battles, accounts of what it’s like to sail through a major storm, shipwrecks, etc. Wound and injury research. Poisons. Explosives and their evolutions through history. Weapons developments and how and why they came about. Accounts of battles, military strategy. Genetic disorders.
Elizabeth: And because everyone likes to talk about what they’re doing the old standby: What projects are you working on now and what is coming next from you?
Gus: Well, I need to finish this series! I envision it as two trilogies with Cairn and Covenant as a sort of keystone between them. It’s kind of a delicate balancing act, because I need each book to feel satisfying, and then for each trilogy to feel concluded, all while fitting into the overall story. So two more books to go! I want to eventually write a sort of prequel about Sai, one of my favorite characters.
I hope to finish a sequel to Fox-Hat and Neko before the end of the year. Fox-Hat and Neko was the “summer” story in that series, and this one will be the autumn installation, so it’ll be a little darker with themes of harvesting what has been sown and reflecting on things as they reach their end. It also explores the concept of fate in the Asian sense of it. I can’t say a lot more without ruining it, but where Fox-Hat and Neko is set in the warm, tropical seaside of Kansai, this one is set in the mountains of Aomori Prefecture, in a rural farming community in decline.
Elizabeth: I promised linky things and Gus helped me out by providing them.
Gus’s Bio: August Li is an author and artist. He’s a lover of cats, foxes, books, video games, Asian ball-joint dolls, and all forms of creative expression. All of his extra time and money go toward traveling and exploring as much of the world as possible.
Elizabeth: That’s a wrap for this week. Thank you for joining us today and don’t forget to like our Facebook page, join our Facebook group, and check out our web page, psst on the group page we give a book away every week.
Up next is the ever fascinating Mickie B. Ashling. She will be joining us on September 7, 2016 with another of her great historical fiction books.
As always, thank you for joining us and we hope you had a good time. Come back often and please check out the other posts here on The Novel Approach. Lisa and her merry band of reviewers and bloggers do a fabulous job of bringing us new and exciting book information every single day! I’ve said this before but I’m saying it again, this is such a lovely, easy to navigate and read blog.