Today’s author spotlight has caught up to young adult fantasy writer Christopher Mannino…well cautiously approached with great apprehension. I mean, he carries a scythe and some how I don’t think it’s for harvesting grain! Backing away slowly now…yup the spotlight is ALL YOURS! Without further ado, here’s…the very fierce, Christopher Mannino.
Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I have been reading and daydreaming since childhood. Writing has always been something I’ve wanted to do. I live outside Washington DC, with my wife, who is a romance author, and our 2-month-old son. In addition to writing, I teach high school theatre.
How did you get started on your writing journey?
The Scythe Wielder’s Secret began during a semester abroad, studying at Oxford. I’d previously spent ten years on a novel I since abandoned. It has been five years since I began School of Deaths, and I am currently working on my sixth novel. Finding the time to juggle two full-time jobs and raise an infant has been a challenge, but writing is the greatest passion of my life.
Are there any poets or writers who influence you? How so?
Every writer I’ve ever read influences me at least a little. Philip Pullman has a quote about reading like a butterfly, gathering nectar from every source you encounter (I’m paraphrasing). However, the writers who’ve had the greatest impact on me are Tolkien, Gaiman, and Ken Follett.
Let’s talk about your novel! What is it about?
DAUGHTER OF DEATHS is the final novel in THE SCYTHE WIELDER’S SECRET. The series is about a teenage girl from Maryland who’s forced to become a Death, as in Grim Reaper. Susan is brought to the World of Deaths, where reaping is a profession, and people train for it. However, she is the first female Death in generations, and the only other female was a traitor to the Deaths. Susan fights sexism, finding herself at the center of an ancient war between Deaths and Dragons.
In this final installment, the series moves to its darkest and most epic points. Susan and her friends try to save both the World of Deaths and the Mortal World. The truth about her presence as a reaper is revealed, and the fate of millions rests on her shoulders.
How is the title significant?
Each of the three novels relates to a theme of the series. In SCHOOL OF DEATHS, Susan goes to a school to learn to reap. In SWORD OF DEATHS, she discovers the First Scythe, which is the Deaths’ version of a sword.
Where did inspiration for this come from?
In 2011, I was studying abroad at Oxford. During a side trip, I became stranded in Tintagel, on the coast of Cornwall. I had no car or phone, and no one knew I was there. Tintagel is the supposed birthplace of King Arthur, and is an island boasting an ancient castle right next to a dramatic coastline. I walked pub to pub looking for a place to sleep. I ended up above a noisy pool game, and slept little. The following morning, at 4am, I climbed out onto Barras Nose, a long peninsula of rock about fifty feet above the ocean. Sheer cliffs drop to the seas on either side. I struggled on all fours, fighting fierce winds, until I reached the edge, where I watched the sunrise. I saw no humans or human activity in any direction. Imagining a character who was totally alone, attacked from every side, with their life in danger, I developed the character of Susan.
Tell us a little bit about the characters? What are they like and how did you come up with them?
In addition to Susan, the two main characters are Will and Frank. Both were fun to write. Without too many spoilers, one of them isn’t human, and so writing them involved really diving into what inner power could do, both in a good and bad way.
Who do you think would like your story and what kind of readership are you aiming for?
Most readers who’ve read books one and two have said it’s perfect for Harry Potter fans. I admit that I did much of the initial draft in Duke Humphrey’s Library, which is the filming location for the restricted section of the Hogwarts Library. Living and studying in Oxford really was a bit like going to school with Harry himself. However, as the series progresses, it moves to a much more epic –think LOTR or The Avengers- feel. In general it’s a great story for anyone roughly ten and above, who’s looking for a story about overcoming adversity.
What is the message you are trying to get across in your book?
This is a book that tackles several major issues. It’s an obvious criticism of sexism. In addition, the book deals with issues of racism and bullying. I’ve noticed sexism issues even with books in general- where a female protagonist is rarely younger than 16, and is either the aggressive assassin type or the counter for a man. Susan’s role from start to finish is a comment on what anyone, woman or man, can do, if they ignore what others tell them they should be doing.
What is your writing process like?
My process has changed a lot. Originally I came up with a situation, plus some images that related. This “visual outline” included specific pictures from the story, but I didn’t know how they’d fit in. For example, I knew very early on I wanted a waterfall that flowed upwards, with a giant iron door in the middle. That image eventually developed into the Door to the Hereafter, an important location in the series.
Where did you find your cover artist and what was the process like?
I didn’t realize until I signed my publishing contract, that cover artists don’t read the books they designed. This is true of all cover artists. My publisher assigned me a wonderful artist in Germany, and we communicated over email. After several drafts she came up with a cover I liked. The cover of Daughter of Deaths is my favorite of the series.
How did you go about getting published?
I went the traditional route of querying and trying to survive the slush pile. In the end, two small presses, both traditional publishers, offered me contracts in the same week. I went with MuseItUp, the publisher that looked better of the two.
What were the surprises? Good or bad? If so, what were they?
I thought that once the book was out, I’d be done. Marketing is just as time-consuming as writing. With each book that came out, I felt the workload only increased.
How do you go about promoting your book as a small press author?
One of the frustrating things about small press is that it’s the least understood method of publication. I am not self published, but the distribution of my books is still Print On Demand, which leads many to lump me with self-published authors. I received great editing and a cover through my publisher, which is a traditional press, but because I am not with the “Big Five” I have many of the same stigmas that self-pubbed authors face. Marketing has therefore been an evolving process. One thing I’ve done is reach out to BookTubers (reviewers on YouTube). I also do a lot of local conventions such as AwesomeCon, where I sell my books and spread the word.
Is there something about the whole process you wish someone had told you before? Good or bad?
Patience is the key. The publishing industry is an incredibly slow industry.
What plans do you have for the future of your writing?
I am currently querying a sci fi thriller with agents, and am hoping to break into the Big Five. I am also working on an adult high fantasy series.
What are you social accounts if people want to connect with you?
Since submitting his profile to be featured in my Author Spotlight series, Christopher has been announced as a finalist in a very prestigious awards competition! Come congratulate Christopher on this amazing achievement! Prize nomination is for School of Deaths.