SPFBO 8 Author Spotlight: D.H. Willison with Hazelhearth Hires Heroes

Hello again for another Spotlight and Interview with a Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off Entrant about his entree in SPFBO 8. Today we have D.H. Willison, whose entree, Hazelhearth Hires Heroes, does not quite fit any of the standard genre slots and involves non-violent conflict resolution and alien monsters.

Welcome to Hazelhearth: our picturesque city is nestled in a tranquil corner of the empire. Fitness lovers enjoy vigorous nature walks in the surrounding forest (don’t forget your sword!) Foodies savor rich, robust walnut-based cuisine. Or visit the gnome quarter for a walk on the wild side! Local mines and orchards beckon with plentiful employment opportunities, while workers sleep safe knowing that stout city walls keep mythic monsters at bay. A select few may even be chosen for exciting quest opportunities.

The onslaught of subterranean hordes? Oh, that’s happening miles away. And the elves have it completely under control.

Inquire today at the Hazelhearth board of tourism, employment, and heroics!

Now that you’ve been briefly introduced to Hazelhearth Hires Heroes, onto the questions for the author!

As a Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO) Entrant, you’re not just independently as opposed to traditionally published, but self-published. Can you start by explaining a bit about why you chose that route and how it’s been for you?

I had a few friends in each camp, and so knew a little about the game before I made my decision, but it came down to two things:

A. As a new author, to go trad pub you either need connections in the industry, OR to have a manuscript that exactly follows a specific hot genre + hot tropes and themes. While I could have adjusted the story to fit my trapezoidal-shaped peg precisely into one of the holes sought by trad-pub, I didn’t think I’d actually like my own story after doing that.

B. Speed. The glacial speed of trad pub was a big turn off. Between querying an agent (time one month to one year), then the agent pitching the story (six months to a year), then the publishing time (one to two years), it could easily be three years before I could get into print. OR it could be two or three years and then finding out it doesn’t work for whatever reason.

I don’t know how anyone could be happy making their art into something that’s not art to them in order to publish! And it would be so frustrating to spend three years trying to publish a book have it fall out! I’m glad you chose to self publish.

On a related note, why did you enter the SPFBO contest? A number of people have related that they find it pretty stressful. How do you feel about it so far? Or has it not affected you much?

While I’m immensely proud of how Hazelhearth Hires Heroes turned out, it doesn’t quite fit into one of the standard genre slots, so the contest was a great way to get some extra exposure for it.

And it has been rather stressful! I was traveling during the submission time, and had formatting trouble as well–mobi isn’t my standard format, and various conversion systems gave unpredictable results. A book that looked perfect on Kindle, didn’t have consistent formatting across all readers. So I’m crossing my fingers that it works on the judge’s e-readers. But you’re probably referring to stress about judging the literary merits of the work. There’s always the chance that it won’t mesh with the judge’s personal tastes, but from what I’ve seen, the reviews are very professional, and there’s a lot of great energy around the contest. Like your blog, for example!

The question was meant to be open-ended, and that includes if your concerns were mostly about formatting! And I’m pleased to be a bringer of good energy 😀

Book titles. Why did you choose the title you did for your book? Take this wherever you want; an analysis of how it fits your book (if that’s not a spoiler you’d rather not share); the inspiration for your title; how the title makes you feel. As short or as in-depth as you like.

Funny story, for 90% of the time I was writing it, it was titled Siege of Arania. But at a certain point, I came to the conclusion that it gave too much of an epic/military fantasy vibe, which wasn’t representative of the lighter, wittier tone of the final story. And I hit on Hazelhearth Hires Heroes as a much better fit. Also I love alliteration.

I think that happens not too uncommonly? I know I’ve changed titles 90% in, or even after finishing the write. And I think your title does a good job giving the impression of your book that doesn’t quite fit the typical genres. I hope it helps you find the right readers!

I won’t ask for your favourite scene since I know some people don’t have those (wink wink), but can you share a scene you really like and you just can’t believe how awesome it is every time you go back to re-read it, that you don’t consider to be a spoiler? Alternately, you can share something about a character you really like. Or both, if you want.

Actually, I’ll take both. I love many of my characters, but it’s not the individual characters that make them special, it’s how they interact with each other, how their different backgrounds, world views, and in some cases even species complement each other. They argue and bicker, but always seem to find a way to bridge their differences. And while Hazelhearth Hires Heroes is my most action-oriented novel, it still bears the other hallmark of my work–the value of empathy and emphasis on creative and often non-violent solutions to seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Which brings me to my favorite chapter. My pair of bickering oil and water protagonists, Sam and Lee, are trapped in an old mine, driven further underground by giant flesh-eating beetles, and encounter a horrific looking giant centipede monster in a mushroom cavern. And despite not speaking the same language, they manage to find a diplomatic solution. Also, there is some hilarious banter in that chapter. I love banter.

That sounds really neat! The value of empathy and non-violent solutions is something really great to bring, too. And banter can be so fun. (I’m glad you went for both!)

Same sort of thing as with the last question, except this time what about a quote? One to five lines or so, but this isn’t math. You don’t need to count the periods (or question marks, exclamation points, or other sentence-enders).

Here’s an exchange from the ‘trapped in the mine’ chapter, illustrating Sam and Lee’s relationship:

Sam fished around in a knapsack, locating the miner’s kit and removing a luminous pink stick. “This is what we need.”

“Magic chalk?”


“Serious? It really is magic chalk? You know I was just being sarcastic, don’t you?”

“Lee, when have I ever not gotten one of your sarcastic quips?”

“Right. Real magic chalk. So what does it do?”

“It glows in the dark.”

“That’s it?”

“Would you prefer if it lured bloodthirsty demon hordes to the area?”

“I suppose not. But that’s a great idea for my game.”

Fun. Glow-in-the-dark magic chalk. LOL. Chalk can be fun!

Your novel doesn’t quite fit into any of the usual genre categories. Can you explain further? I think this would be a fun topic to explore.

Maybe the more accurate description is that it fits into too many categories. For example, is it dark and gritty or light and whimsical? Kind of both–encounters with dark creepy monsters are juxtiposed with light witty banter. Is it a portal fantasy? Yes, two of the main characters are from Earth–and their reactions to the strange world of Arvia are priceless. Is it fantasy humor? Yes. Ish. There’s some great banter. And the characters find themselves in some truly outlandish situations. But there are serious themes and undertones. Is it litRPG? Maybe sort of reverse-litRPG? One of the characters from Earth is a game designer, and frequently sees things through the lens of ‘this would be a perfect monster for my game.’

LOL. Sounds like a really fun read.

Can you tell us more about your setting? Perhaps explain a bit about how it fits into your too-many-genres and not-quite-the-typical-genres book?

My novels are set on the mythic world of Arvia, a place that subverts many of the typical epic fantasy tropes. Vast forests and jungles teem with mythic monsters, some familiar, such as venom spitting basilisks and flesh-eating harpies, some unique and bizarre–such as the giant carnivorous snails in Hazelhearth Hires Heroes. Oceans conceal massive sea monsters–including merfolk the size of blue whales.

As a fragile human, set way down the food chain, how does one prevail? Gather a massive army and charge into the jungle? Nope, you’re not gonna have an easy time recruiting people for that suicide mission. Train hard and swing a massive magic sword? More likely to annoy rather than kill most creatures. And if you do, congratulations. You now have a giant creature carcass. Good luck dealing with the hordes of scavengers it will attract. Learn to toss magic fireballs and lightning bolts? Pretty much the same result as the ‘swing a huge magic sword’ approach.

So it’s hopeless, right? Not if you turn your thinking on it’s head. Some of the largest and most powerful creatures are sentient. Tell a joke, recount an interesting story, offer them a gift, and maybe they’ll just let you walk right past. Or maybe not. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be an adventure, now would it?

That certainly sounds like an interesting world and a fresh perspective, with a lot of potential!

What are your future authorial plans?

I’m going to continue the events and characters of Finding Your Harpy Place. The upcoming novel is a sweet, heartfelt romance blended with life-and-death adventures on a cold, creepy fantasy world. Note that although I’m really leaning into the romance arc on this one, there is very little sexual content. My work places a strong focus on emotional over physical intimacy. Also, I’m working on a novella which will be free to subscribers. So please subscribe! Unless you don’t like getting free stuff.

All of that sounds interesting! I’m not really a romance reader, though when I am, it’s definitely emotional intimacy (which I do like) that attracts me. I’m sure that will interest others! And I notice you didn’t say what that free novella is about, so if anyone wants to find out, they should take a look at subscribing!

D.H. Willison is a reader, writer, game enthusiast and developer, engineer, and history buff. He’s lived or worked in over a dozen countries, learning different cultures, viewpoints, and attitudes, which have influenced his writing, contributing to one of his major themes: alternate and creative conflict resolution. The same situations can be viewed by different cultures quite differently. Sometimes it leads to conflict, sometimes to hilarity. Both make for a great story.

He’s also never missed a chance to visit historic sites, from castle dungeons, to catacombs, to the holds of tall ships, to the tunnels of the Maginot Line. It might be considered research, except for the minor fact that his tales are all set on the whimsical and terrifying world of Arvia. Where giant mythic monsters are often more easily overcome with empathy than explosions.

Subscribe to his newsletter for art, stories, and humorous articles (some of which are actually intended to be humorous).

You can find D.H. Willison

On his website (this is also where you would subscribe)

On Instagram

On Twitter

On Facebook

And you can get Hazelhearth Hires Heroes

From Amazon

From Barnes & Noble

Or check it out on Goodreads.

Other SPFBO Author and Book Spotlights

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