INTERVIEW WITH ROBERT TRESKILARD
April 24, 2015
Bond: At what age did you realize you wanted to write? And if I may ask, what was the first creative thing you remember writing?
I realized around age 9 that I enjoyed creative writing, and my first story was called “Space Mouse”, inspired by Beverly Cleary’s THE MOUSE AND THE MOTORCYCLE. Storytelling merged with my interest in art, however, and soon I was creating my own superhero comic books.
Bond: …and now you’re creating the artwork for your own book covers, right? Tell us more about the art and graphic design for your book covers (right down to crafting the sword for the cover prop?).
Actually, I haven't done the artwork for my own novels, and although I have submitted ideas to my publisher, they haven't been used. Overall, though, I'm pleased with the way their covers have turned out ... very bold images with rich colors (I think Robert's being overly modest here; I'm convinced that his 'ideas' have contributed hugely to these covers). And though the sword on the cover is mine, yes, I ended up having to purchase the iron part of the blade because my forge is too small to heat treat a blade that long. I did design and bronze cast the guard & pommel, though, as this is my estimate of what a 5th century Excalibur might have looked like.
Bond: Zondervon has a great deal in you. I don’t know any other author who has the degree of artistic ability you have to help create such fine covers. Back to another question about your writing. Which authors have had the strongest influences on your writing?
Tolkien and Lewis are first of course, as I read them in my early teens, but later I added Andre Norton, Heinlein, Stephen R. Donaldson, Michael Moorcock, and George R. R. Martin, among others. These were all read during the years around my conversion to Christ, and my imagination was being baptized as well as blossoming, so to speak, as I submitted that area over to God. Eventually I turned to Lawhead, Peretti, Bodie Thoene, Sutcliffe, Walter Wangerin Jr., Lloyd Alexander, and many others. Stephen Lawhead, though, more than any other, has brought me deeply into the Celtic past and inspired me to write my own version of the Arthurian legend.
Bond: For the next question, what’s your view on e-books and the new publishing revolution?
All I can say is that it was fairly inevitable—everything is being digitized, so why not books? The real changes will be demographic, I think, as these younger generations grow up without the strong preference for physical books like we have, and this will cause a tipping point where the economics of printing won’t make sense as a standard way of publishing. We’re talking probably 20 to 30 years out, but it will come. Print books will always be around, though, but they will be more of a novelty, and that will be a sad day.
Bond: How would you finish the following sentence? At the end of my life, I want people to remember me and my writing as…?
I’d have to separate those two. Those that know me personally will have a different view than those that only knew me through my writing. For those that have known me personally, I would hope to be remembered for my kindness, generosity, and wisdom (gained through the hard knocks of life). For those that have enjoyed my writing, I would hope to be remembered as someone who provided entertaining tales that gave the reader hope and courage to trust God no matter what is thrown at them.
Bond: If you could have dinner with three people, living or dead, who would they be? And, knowing you, I must also ask the follow-up question of what would you have for dinner?
Ooh, that is a hard one, and I think I’m going to have to bend the question a bit and make it three meals, not three people.
For the first, I would like have a meal with Lewis and Tolkien, but not just them, but rather with the entire Inklings, because it is there, amongst friends, that I think that they would be relaxed and I could observe and know them better. Maybe this comes from that fact that I’m more of an observer than a socialite, and I think that if any of them had to sit down with just me it would probably be an awkward affair with a lot of silverware clinking and not much meaningful talk.
The second would have to be St. Gildas the Wise, for it is the bane of every Arthurian author, researcher, and aficionado that this man wrote so little when he knew so much! Born the year that Arthur’s last battle on Mount Badon occurred, he would be able to settle once and for all the great questions that have caused so much ink to be spilled about Arthur and the time period.
The third would have to be a meal with Rich Mullins and Keith Green—two flawed, humble, and prophetic musicians who have both influenced my own walk greatly, both taken home in their youth.
And about what to eat with these men of history? I think I would let them choose their favorite foods, and thereby learn that much more about them and their culture.
Bond: If you had to choose one place to live other than St. Louis, where would it be? Britain, Scotland, France, Switzerland, or _________? Or would you create your own world to live in?
I would probably live somewhere in the British Isles … perhaps Cornwall where my ancestors came from and the nexus of my novels … perhaps Scotland … perhaps the mountains of Wales … perhaps beautiful Cumbria … perhaps Ireland.
Bond: Do you have a favorite piece of writing (novel, non-fiction book, short-story, article, poem, or ? that your immersed in and you’d be willing to tell us about?
To be honest, I’ve been mostly immersed in music lately … the music of Keith Green, the music of Andrew Peterson, and the soundtrack of the latest Les Misérables.
Keith Green’s music brings me back to my youth, the days of my conversion—and it is good to look back and feel again the freshness of the Spirit.
Andrew Peterson’s music grounds me firmly in the present and how I live my life here and now, with my longing for home and heaven, with my struggles, with the beauty of nature and the hopes for tomorrow. In particular, I listened to him for hours on end while I was tearing my lawnmower’s engine apart and rebuilding it. During that time I concluded that if one wanted to know me, that they needed to know Andrew’s music. It not only expresses the current state of my heart, but it also is making me into who I am and who I want to be.
Now that I am fast approaching 50, Les Misérables, as a story, has got me thinking deeply about the eventual, God-timed end of my own life and how I will be known after I am gone. What is my story? One can aspire to much worse things than to be a forgiven man who loves sacrificially.
Bond: It sounds like I’d better get out some Andrew Peterson music! As a follow-up to that, have you ever found yourself weeping while writing?
Definitely. The suffering and deaths of any of my characters deeply affects me, and if I am not deeply affected, then I’m not in the place I need to be in order to write their story. How can I expect my readers to be moved if I am not?
Spoilers here …
In MERLIN’S BLADE, I wept when writing about Uther’s murder, and also when Owain died.
In MERLIN’S SHADOW, I suffered right along with Merlin as he mourned his own disfigurement, was enslaved, branded, and betrayed.
In MERLIN’S NIGHTMARE, I drank Merlin’s greatest fears to the dregs as he faced the death of his family, the destruction of Britain, and the living embodiment of terror—a werewolf. http://www.KingArthur.org.uk
Bond: Could you comment on the importance of being persistent and having a long term goal in mind in your writing? I know that you wrote and wrote and wrote and had several rejections before you landed such a fine fit between writer and publisher. Advice to young writers who would like to see what they have written in published print some day?
One must not only write persistently, but learn in the process. It does no good for a beginner to keep on writing if they’re (a) not getting advice from others on what is not working and what is not, (b) reading lots and lots of books on the craft of writing, and (c) rewriting, again and again, until they get it right.
For me, I had nothing but rejections for four years, and this was after three years of learning the craft to the point that I foolishly thought I was ready to submit proposals to agents and publishers. I had more work to do, more advice to get, more refining, more rewriting. I was close, but not there.
My advice to any young writer is to avoid the easy route of self-publishing if you can until you become published traditionally. That way you know you’re not jumping the gun and short-circuiting the long, slow process of learning.
Bond: Do you have anything new in the works? Any secret projects?
Yes, I am working on Book 1 of the Pendragon Spiral, tentatively titled “ARTHUR’S BLADE”. This book picks up within an hour of the end of MERLIN’S NIGHTMARE, so there will be a strong continuation between the two series.
Currently this new series is not under contract, but my publisher, Blink YA Books, is looking at it and should have a decision in a month or so.http://www.KingArthur.org.uk
Bond: Share with us a sneak preview, if you are are willing
Happily! I’d like to share the brand new prologue to ARTHUR’S BLADE. This is so new, in fact, that it replaces my previously written prologue, and is not even in my sneak preview which I put online a few months ago. Here it is:
The fortress of Mórgana
The Lyhonesse Peninsula, in southwestern Britain
Spring, in the year of our Lord, 493
Eeta dragged the sheep’s carcass closer to the tunnel as cold sweat trickled down her neck. Just do the job, she wanted to tell herself, and then she could go back home— but there was no home. No family. The raven haired lady named Mórgana had slain them all and burned down their house. If only her da’ had let her go then maybe they’d all still be alive. She could still remember that last dyin’ breath of her sweet mama.
“Faster, you Eirish brat!” Mórgana yelled.
Eeta looked up, tears springing once more from her tired eyes. “I’m doin’ the best I can!”
The lady slashed out with her white-boned knife, and all Eeta knew was the spark of ghostly light, the searing pain on her forehead, and the scream that fled her like a cat clawing its way out of her throat.
“Get up, whelp!”
Eeta curled into a thrashing ball as the pain intensified. She was only fourteen winters old. Why was this happening to her?
“If you do not, I will throw you in without the morsel.”
Climbing to her knees, Eeta placed one hand on the cold hoof of the sheep. Grabbing on, she began to pull at the dead thing, every moment afraid the lady would strike her again. Pulling, yanking, sliding—slowly the sheep moved toward the tunnel’s entrance, and all the while Eeta’s knees burned and bled upon the sharp gravel riddling the floor.
“Now. In there. Alone!”
Eeta looked into the tunnel. Silence. Darkness. Cold. Yet the air had a strange smell to it, like something dead was breathing in … and out.
“Why?” she cried. “What is tha’ place?”
“You are being presented as a servant,” Mórgana said, her black hair long and dank, highlighting the paleness of her skin and the strange white and red torc entwined tightly around her throat. “If you are selected, then you will live. If not, then you will die as soon as another can take your place. Drag it in or I will kill you now.”
A colorless flame filled the lady’s eyes, making Eeta’s breath catch in her throat. Her hope drained away of avoiding the dark tunnel, and so with nothing left, she tightened the cords of her heart and wove within it the courage of her ancestors. Her grandfather had been a chieftain of Erin, and had fought wild bears and slain many enemies. She could do this, couldn’t she?
She stood, trembling, and pulled the sheep into the tunnel until the darkness swallowed her. She tried to listen between each heave, but the blood thumping in her ears hid even the echo of her own sliding, shaky footsteps. Yet her skin felt suddenly cold and the impression of a vast space opened up around her. A gasp escaped her lips and the sound slipped away, dying on the chokingly sweet air.
How far should she go? Two more long pulls and she would run back to the reassuring light of the torches … and Mórgana. But the gravel became slick and she slipped and gouged the back of her knee on a rock, stifling a yell at the throbbing pain.
“Art thou … hurt?” came a deep, menacing voice.
It was above her. Moving. A flap in the darkness. A footfall. Scraping gravel.
“I smell … blood.” said the voice, and there was a sickening sound like the snapping of teeth. It was now blocking her escape.
“Wh-who are ya?” she said, her throat dry and utter dread sinking deeply into every bone, every quivering muscle.
Orange, slitted eyes opened and glowered at her from the darkness. Green flames flicked and rose from the creature’s nostrils amidst curling smoke. The momentary light had revealed clawed limbs holding up a curling body … a lizard … a white dragon!
Eeta screamed, her hands frozen to the hooves of the sheep carcass.
“I am death,” it said. More flame revealed a long forked tongue sliding among its needle sharp teeth. “Art thou, perhaps, supposed to become my new servant?”
She yanked her blood-soaked hands off the sheep and scrambled backward.
The dragon’s face slid closer and its eyes bored into her own. “Art thou … scared of me?”
The courage of her ancestors frayed and ripped, and Eeta found herself shrieking as she curled up into a ball. She was going to be eaten! Run, she told herself, but it was so dark … where? It would catch her.
The rough coils of the dragon curled across her waist, sliding around until she could feel the dragon’s ice-cold breath on her neck—in, out, sniffing. The jaw slid open. She could hear a hiss deep in its throat. So close…
The end of the dragon’s tail coiled around her throat, and she saw by the flickering flames a long orange spike—like a stinger—slide out of the tip, and from the point oozed a black liquid.
“Shall I make thee my new servent—one unlike all those who came before you?” the dragon whispered, its slitted eyes narrowing.
She began to bawl, wheeze, and screech, wanting to call for help, but only mumbling senseless mews.
The stinger hovered over her neck for a moment, and then retracted, the tail uncoiling. “Get thou gone…” the beast said, the stink of its mouth foul. “Whoever chose thee … chose wrong. I shall not have a blubbering fool to serve me. Pride, strength, and fearlessness. These are what I need. From now on I SHALL MAKE MY OWN CHOICE!”
At this it roared, and Eeta’s whole body convulsed with frozen pain. And as she fought to breathe, a dizziness swarmed inside her head like a hive of bees, making the darkness lurch.
The cave, the dragon—they all melted away.
A vision took her.
It was night, with a hazy moon smothered by gray, bulbous clouds. Eeta was kneeling on the shore of a wide expanse of water, and the hushed chirrups of insects and frogs infused a damp peat-smelling fog that covered the deep. She ran her hands anxiously over the moss that was pressed under her shins, and then touched the rushes growing at her side, trying to assess if this was real—until she looked up.
There amidst the fog she beheld a white ship, magnificent of sail, and upon its deck stood three queens crowned with silver circlets, simple and pure. They carried oil lamps that dimly lit the body of someone who lay upon a bier of birch and willow branches.
Together they chanted a lament, their voices carrying over the water, clear but sad:
O woe, alas, we pray and call,
The dark has cast a blackened shawl.
Our light, our light, is dim and small,
And doom has come to one and all…
Bond: Robert! This is so moving. I love the authenticity of your dialogue, your powerful sense of place—soo much amazingly wonderful writing going on in just this short expert. Thanks for sharing it with us! Check out more of what Robert is writing at http://www.KingArthur.org.uk