Los Angeles publishing house, Pendraig Publishing is releasing its first young adult fiction title, The Demon’s Apprentice, by Ben Reeder on July 31, 2011. Pendraig, a pagan-centered publishing house, which got its start publishing non-fiction books in 2009, broke into fiction in 2010 with the works of Raymond Buckland and S.P. Hendrick. Peter Paddon, publisher, says, “We are looking forward to providing young adults with stories that, while fantasy, are connected with real historical practices and traditions.”
Author Ben Reeder shines a new light on the young adult urban fantasy scene with The Demon’s Apprentice. The book, the first in a planned series of six, centers around unlikely hero Chance Fortunato, a 15-year-old who has every reason not to get out of bed in the morning, yet somehow finds the courage to fight for what matters: family, faith, and friendship. Reeder, a native Texan, now living in Springfield, Missouri, discusses his writing and his debut novel with joltleft.com’s Laura Davis:
Davis: What’s your earliest memory of writing for someone else?
Reeder: The first time I wrote anything for someone else to read was in high school. I wrote these really cheesy post-apocalyptic action stories for my friends. That was the first time I got the kind of feedback that made me want to write more, when my friends would give me those painstakingly hand-written pages back with notes on them that said, “More!”
Davis: What authors inspired you then? How about now?
Reeder: I have to laugh at the difference and similarities between those two lists. Back in South Texas in the mid ‘80’s, my writing influences were a mixed bag. Tolkien was my first big influence, to the point that I read the Lord of the Rings trilogy every year during junior high. Steven King, Isaac Asimov, and H. Beam Palmer were among my other “classical” influences, but I also read Robert E. Howard, Frank Herbert, and Arthur C. Clarke. However, I was also reading a lot of action novels back then: Don Pendleton, Richard Austin, Warren Murphy, Richard Sapir. . .all those cheesy, high-caliber “men’s action” stories.
Now, my bookshelf is more narrowed. Jim Butcher and Kim Harrison are my two biggest influences for the Chance Fortunato stories. In fact, it was when I read my first Jim Butcher story, Dead Beat, that I decided I really had a shot at being published. I’m still a fan of Tolkien and the classics, but it’s been years since I read anything involving detailed descriptions of handguns or the effects of bullets on the anatomy of bad guys.
Davis: What do you like to do when you’re not reading and writing?
Reeder: I’m a gamer from way back. Old school table-top role playing games, and live-action fantasy games. So, if I’m not bouncing dice on a table, I’m out in the woods with 20 or so of my closest friends, trying to hit them with padded sticks.
Davis: What inspired you to write The Demon’s Apprentice?
Reeder: The Demon’s Apprentice came out of a character origin I did for a character in a game. But once I finished it, I realized that I’d stumbled onto a story I’d been wanting to write for years, about an apprentice mage and what it was like to learn magick. And then Chance threatened to kick my ass if I didn’t write the story.
He chuckles fondly.
Davis: At what point did Chance go from being an idea to an entity in your mind?
Reeder: When he surprised me in the middle of a scene I was writing and took it in a direction I hadn’t expected. Here was this kid who had just escaped years of literal Hell, faced with his mother for the first time in years, wondering if she’ll want him. He surprised me by crying when she hugged him. I hadn’t expected that and it floored me. I was sitting there, looking at my monitor at the words I’d just written, and I felt like I was intruding on a friend’s private moment. That was when Chance came to life for me.
Davis: Do you identify with Chance personally?
Reeder: That’s a question with a very complicated answer. While I haven’t experienced the things Chance has, I come from a past that has some parallels. Chance is the kid I wish I could have been like at fifteen, with the strength of character and sense of purpose I didn’t have then. Writing Chance is like re-imagining parts of my own past, the way I wish I had the first time. So, in a way, Chance has become like a champion for me, and for other kids who run into the same thing. I wish I’d known someone like him in high school.
Davis: What was your favorite section of the story to write?
Reeder: About midway through, there are a lot of revelations that happen: when Chance meets his new mentor, Dr. Corwyn for the first time, and when he finally figures out what is going on with Alexis and Brad and their friends. There is so much going on in those pages. Certain characters are very vulnerable there, and this is where Chance really starts to become a hero. His friendship with Lucas and Wanda is cemented there, and he starts to see just how much he has in common with the girl he thought he was supposed to hate. Several of my favorite lines in the book are spoken in that section. When I wrote it, I felt almost like I was channeling Joss Whedon’s and Jim Butcher’s muses.
Davis: Young Adult urban fantasy is a crowded market. What makes The Demon’s Apprentice stand out?
Reeder: Well, the biggest thing is that I think Chance is one of the most damaged characters out there. He’s suffered from years of abuse at the hands of a demon, and he’s still a good guy at heart. I think he’s one of the few male bad asses who also cries.
None of the characters in The Demon’s Apprentice is “chosen.” Chance is just a kid who got handed a really rotten deal and turned things around. He doesn’t come from a special bloodline, he isn’t secretly a prince from some supernatural race, and he’s far from the most powerful or talented mageling out there.
Davis: Do you have any writing rituals?
Reeder: I really only have one “ritual,” and that is that I always carry a notebook and a pen with me. Other than that, I try not to make my writing too dependent on a specific set of circumstances. I prefer writing with at lest one set of messenger apps going, though, so I can throw lines and scenes at my friends and see if they stick. I try to keep the TV off, but I keep either Pandora or Playlist running for mood music.
Most of The Demon’s Apprentice was written with my cat, Musaba, perched on my left arm. He practically grew up with the book, from tiny orange kitten to ten pound orange furball. That’s more of a ritual for Musaba than for me. He knows that when the biggest cat in the house (me) sits down in front of the glowing thing, it’s time for him to curl up and get a nap.
Davis: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given as a writer?
Reeder: In many different ways, from several different writers, the best piece of advice I’ve been given is very simple: never give up, and always read other writers’ work. Persistence is the difference between a published author and a frustrated writer.
Davis: What do you most hope readers will take away from reading The Demon’s Apprentice?
Reeder: For teen readers, my wish is that they take away a sense of how to be an everyday hero, how to be empowered in a world that tries to force them into specific molds. For a lot of teens, life can be really hard; I want Chance to be their champion, their voice.
For adult readers, there are a lot of take-aways. Mostly, I’d like them to be able to see the world through a teen’s eyes for a while; I would like to take them back to that part of their life, to the idealism that being an adult seems to wear away, and to the optimism that seems to fade as we mature.
When all is said and done, I want people to enjoy a good story and maybe find a little bit of the hero within themselves.
The Demon’s Apprentice will be available from Pendraig Publishing beginning July 31, 2011. Readers can purchase copies in paper and Kindle format at amazon.com, and in paper and Nook format at bn.com.