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Epic Chronicles: An Interview with Michael DeMers, author of Young Vandar

Michael DeMers 1

I grew up in East Grand Forks, Minnesota, during the 1950s and 60s. Beginning work at the tender age of ten hoeing potatoes during the summer, my free time was spent playing sports and going to fantasy movies with neighbors. Surrounded by books at home, I spent hours immersed in the writings of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, Fritz Lieber, and Michael Moorcock. At that time, I developed the character of Vandar. Later a student of judo and archery, I also became a geography professor, traveling in the US and abroad. On retirement in 2021, I let Vandar’s early life unfold by participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and writing the first 50,300 words of Young Vandar.

You can buy Young Vandar here.

Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.

Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

I envision a series of ten novels that slowly expose the growth of my main character over his life. As such, Young Vandar seemed a natural title for the first in this series.

How did it feel when you first saw your book cover? Or when you first held your book in your hands?

Ronaldo Alves requested some examples for the cover design. Having long been a fan of the art of Frank Frazetta, I sent 10 selections I thought captured his work and asked Ronaldo to provide his own interpretation of those based on Vandar’s story. I specifically asked him to make the face indistinct so that the reader could envision it for themselves. When I first got the 3 options I was frankly blown away with the quality and the degree to which he captured the essence of Vandar. I honestly do not think I could have asked for better at any price. I posted the three options on Facebook for my friends to vote for which they liked best and 83% chose the design I actually preferred and which is now the final version. My only worry was that the quality of my writing would not be able to match the quality of the book cover.

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

I remember as a young first-grader writing tiny scribblings in a miniature book; I guess emulating the writing process. Perhaps that was a foreshadowing of things to come. I read a great deal of fiction in elementary school but moved to poetry and natural and physical science in the later grades as there seemed little fiction of interest to me in those years. In my freshman year I happened to see a copy of Merriam C. Cooper’s King Kong at a store and thought it would be interesting to see how the book compared to the 1930’s movie. I began reading it that summer while at the lake and I was hooked. It turned out that many of Edgar Rice Burrough’s books, particularly Tarzan novels, were already in my home and I read all of them. Because I had saved some money during the summers I started frequenting the local bookstore. There I discovered not only more Tarzan novels, but the Pelucidar series, Martian series, Lunar series, and much more. Other fantasy author’s works, particularly Robert E. Howard’s Conan series published by Lancer Books and demonstrating the artwork of Frank Frazetta caught my eye, and I started on a whole new adventure of reading this genre as well as science fiction. As I read, I began imagining my own character. Vandar evolved over many years and I wrote short clips, poems, and ideas as they came to me. I guess I had always had in the back of my mind that I had some stories that I just had to tell. After retirement, I took the NaNoWriMo plunge, eventually wrote the first draft of Young Vandar and began looking for a publisher. Fortunately, I ran across an ad from Atmosphere Press and was intrigued by their publishing model. After sending the manuscript in through their online portal, I expected the traditional month’s-long response time, but within a few weeks was contacted by Kyle McCord. His encouragement and his understanding of my work convinced me that I had made the right choice of second profession and publisher.

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

I have taught junior high school earth science, high school biology, chemistry, physics, and physical science, and after getting my doctorate I have taught a vast array of physical and human geography courses and geographic information systems (GIS) courses at Mankato State University in Minnesota, North Texas State University, Ohio State University, and most recently at New Mexico State University.

What was the most rewarding/meaningful part of publishing your book?

A ten-year-old reader (a rather bright young man) told me he loved Young Vandar. I said, “Really?” I was obviously pleased, as this was my first ever novel. He replied, “Oh yes. It is better than Lord of the Rings.” Now that is some recommendation. And it confirmed the comparison of my work to that of J.R.R. Tolkien that an adult manuscript reader made a few months earlier. To even have my name used in the same sentence as Tolkien was incredibly rewarding, not to mention encouraging.

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

Carl Orff: “Carmina Burana”

Edvard Grieg: “In the Hall of the Mountain King”

Richard Wagner: “Flight of the Valkyries”

Richard Wagner: “Das Rheingold – Entry of the Gods Into Valhalla”

John Williams: “Olympic Fanfare”

Aaron Copland: “Fanfare for the Common Man”

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

I have heard this a few times and I really hope I hear it more often: “I can’t wait to read the next book so I can find out what happens to Vandar and his comrades.” I am writing to entertain. For the reader to want more means I have struck the right nerve.

What new writing projects are you currently working on? Or, other projects that are not writing?

Have written about 65,000 words of about 95,000 words for the second in the series of Vandar books. The working title is Vandar in the Land of Dragons. Each novel is meant to teach Vandar a lesson. In Young Vandar the lesson is to not be so naive. In this second book, Vandar must learn the important difference between vengeance and justice.

How was working with Atmosphere Press? What would you tell other writers who want to publish?

My entire experience with Atmosphere Press has been nothing short of inspirational. It began when I had a very lengthy call from Kyle McCord after submitting my manuscript. He told me that he had given it to six of his colleagues to read and they all wanted it. Kyle and I had read the same stuff growing up so he understood the genre really well. Alex Kale was amazingly prompt and responsive during the production phase as was the production editor, Erin Larson-Burnett. The story review by Albert Liau was especially helpful and I appreciated that he pointed out the manuscript’s positive and negative aspects. I have already recognized the superior cover design work by Ronaldo Alves that draws viewers to my book like a magnet. Since its publication, I have had the pleasure of working with Evan Courtright to design a truly amazing website and am in constant communication with Cameron Finch who keeps me up to date with all things related to my book as well as other Atmosphere Press activities. Finally, I salute Dr. Nick Courtright who sets the tone for a company that has made me feel like a family member, not a client. It is by far the best business experience I have ever had. I look forward to a continuing relationship with Atmosphere Press.

You can buy Young Vandar here.

Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.

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