2017 Fantasy Extravaganza - Alex R. Kahler

We're almost at the end of the fantasy feature, and today I'm happy to introduce the only male author I interviewed this time around (male authors in YA aren't as common as female ones, I've found).  His newest novel isn't out until November but it's already gotten some fantastic blurbs from a myriad of top-billed authors, and it features a queer main character!  Please help me in welcoming Alex R. Kahler, talking about the forthcoming Runebinder.

The Interview;

Once Upon A Teen Reader: This isn't usually a question I ask, but seeing as the book seems like it could be plucked straight from the headlines to some extent I'm curious where the idea for the book came from?

Alex Kahler: Honestly, it kind of scares me how apt the book is for the current climate. Especially because I came up with the idea almost a dozen years ago. In the beginning, the idea came from some lunch table conversations about not-so-evil necromancers and magical powers. The first few drafts were full-on high fantasy, with inns and horses and archaic English. Somewhere along the line, that switched over to urban fantasy. I think, as I got older, I got more interested in imagining the effects of magic on the real world, and what humans would do if given this amazing power, rather than creating an alternate reality. Now especially, the ideas of corruption and resistance (even when the future feels grim) are more poignant than ever.

OUATR: Magic, and the whole magic system really, is so vital to fantasy novels.  How did you go about creating yours, and were there any real-world influences?

AK: I've always been interested in the elemental systems in magic. Earth, Water, Fire, Air, Spirit. When I began writing, I was knee-deep in exploring neo-paganism and the like, and one aspect that truly resonated was the idea that we hold all of these base elements within us. Research on the chakras--energy centers within the body--then made me ask...if we could use this energy to manipulate the outer world, what would we do with it? How would it change us? And if we used too much, what would it do to our body? Thus, the Spheres of magic were born. And, with them, the Howls--creatures spawned from when the Spheres stop exuding magic, and begin consuming it.

OUATR: It's not unusual in fantasy novels for the world to be secretly falling apart, or on the brink of doing so, but this is the first book and the world is basically gone.  Why did you decide to start your series out like that, giving it more of an apocalyptic feel, instead of working your way towards it throughout a series?

AK: The honest answer? It just felt right. But as I explored the book through rewrites and edits, I realized that what interested me wasn't the destruction of civilization, but the fight to get it back. I wanted to level the playing field. And moreover, I felt that post-apocalypse showed more about the core of humanity. When we're stripped of everything around us, what makes us human? What makes us move forward?

OUATR: Seeing as civilization in your novel has pretty much ended and monsters roam around, I think it's safe to say that this is a dark fantasy novel.  What made you choose to include those dark elements, and was there ever a line for what you or your publisher considered "too dark" for YA?

AK: Oddly enough, I don't think there has ever been a moment where an editor said "this is too much". I've honestly pulled myself back a few times, because there's a lot of pain and anger that the protagonist feels, and when he unleashes it, things get...bloody. If anything, I'd say it's more broody than dark. As for why I chose to include the darker elements? Well, because they're there in the real world. Even though there's magic and monsters, the real darkness comes from normal human beings. Magic just amplifies it.

OUART: Speaking of the world, is it one of your own creation, or is it actually Earth as we know it, just after society has fallen?  If it's a world of your own creation, how did you go about shaping that, and was it based off of anywhere in particular?  If it's Earth what made you keep the setting "real" in the sense that it's at least recognizable in some aspects?

AK: It's definitely set in the real world. Most of this book takes place in the Midwest. Partly because I'm from there, and partly because there's something so...open and empty about it. It was an ambiance that lent itself to the overall mood of the story. That said, magic destroyed everything, so landscapes are largely unrecognizable--lakes flooded, cities toppled, roads turned to rubble. Civilization as we know it is over, but there are still traces humanity holds onto.

OUATR: Necromancers, those who can raise and/or control the dead aren't super common in YA but there are a few stories that do feature them.  Some of the other things in the story (Howls and the Kin for example) seem to be original.  Can you tell us a little about those original creatures and how you came up with them?

AK: It all ties in with the magic system. The Howls are what happens when humans are drained of a certain elemental magic (by necromancers). So it became a question of figuring out what the elements related to within the body, and what the body would crave if that was taken away. It also lent a certain mindset to the monsters, as many of the elements have emotional or intellectual ties. So you have sex-starved incubii craving human heat, sadistic bloodlings who want to inflict as much emotional damage they can while bleeding you dry...that sort of thing. It was fun, because the blueprints of those sorts of monsters have always existed, but the magic system gave me a new way to interpret them. It also means that all the monsters and villains are still resolutely human. There's no passing things off to an Ultimate Evil. As for the Kin, they're the original Howls--6 of the strongest, most sadistic monsters out there. And when the story begins, they have humanity under their thumbs.

OUATR: Your main character Tenn is gay and while that should be something that's run of the mill, especially in a fantasy world (I mean, if there is magic and monsters I'm not sure why a guy falling in love with a guy would be so outrageous).  Why do you think that's the case, and why was it so important for you to have Tenn be gay?  

AK: I still find it hilarious (read: depressing) that people can swallow monsters and magic and zombies and time travel and dragons, but the moment they're faced with the fact that SOME PEOPLE ARE QUEER they get all defensive or disbelieving. Like, why can't queer characters save the world? What makes THAT so unbelievable or hard to market? Initially, I wrote Tenn to be gay because I'm gay, and I wanted a fantasy novel where the capital-H Hero was like me. And this was, as I said, a dozen years ago--there were ZERO stories out there with queer protagonists. Or even side characters, unless they were going to die of AIDS or heartbreak. But as years went on, the desire to have a queer hero became more political. Everyone told me there wasn't a market. It would turn readers off.
I refuse to believe that, because that mindset basically says people like me aren't important enough to reach out to.
The world is filled with queer, POC, differently-abled, diverse, beautiful people. And we have been listening to cis-white-straight-(often male-bodied) stories our entire lives. It's way past time media saw us as valid humans with valid experiences, rather than outliers whose stories c=should be brushed under the rug. For me, every single story that features a "non-conventional" protagonist opens the door to other diverse voices by proving a market exists, and that reaching these often-overlooked readers is worth more than just the Bottom Line. Authors peddle stories. It's our job to make sure that all stories are heard, even when (especially when) that means opening the door for someone else to speak.

OUATR: You've published several other novels, although all of them seem to fall more under the paranormal and/or mythology genre as opposed to fantasy.  What is it that drew you to fantasy?

AK: I've always loved fantasy. Like, I was the kid with the unicorn sweater at age 8 (thanks Mom) who read Wheel of Time and watched Hocus Pocus and The Craft on repeat. Magic has always been an integral part of my worldview. I guess I've always wanted to believe there's something more than what we see.

OUATR:  What books would you suggest to people who are anxiously awaiting RUNEBINDER?

AK: Well, I've been eagerly awaiting a few sequels. Mostly ONE DARK THRONE by Kendare Blake and GODSGRAVE by Jay Kristoff. So I would highly recommend their prequels (THREE DARK CROWNS and NEVERNIGHT, respectively). I'm also in love with graphic novel THE WICKED AND THE DIVINE and currently devouring DAUGHTER OF THE BURNING CITY by Amanda Foody.

The Book;

Title: Runebinder
Author: Alex R. Kahler
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Series: The Runebinder Chronicles #1
Published: November 14, 2017
Add it on Goodreads

Magic is risen.
When magic returned to the world, it could have saved humanity, but greed and thirst for power caused mankind's downfall instead. Now once-human monsters called Howls prowl abandoned streets, their hunger guided by corrupt necromancers and the all-powerful Kin. Only Hunters have the power to fight back in the unending war, using the same magic that ended civilization in the first place.
But they are losing.
Tenn is a Hunter, resigned to fight even though hope is nearly lost. When he is singled out by a seductive Kin named Tomás and the enigmatic Hunter Jarrett, Tenn realizes he's become a pawn in a bigger game. One that could turn the tides of war. But if his mutinous magic and wayward heart get in the way, his power might not be used in favor of mankind.
If Tenn fails to play his part, it could cost him his friends, his life…and the entire world.
Buy it from B&N | IndieBound | The Book Depository

The Author;

Alex is many things, but first and foremost, he's a Sagittarius. He's taught circus arts in Madrid, drummed with Norse shamans, studied writing in Scotland, and watched the Northern Lights from a hot tub in Iceland...and that's the abbreviated list. He writes fantasy for adults and teens, with special focus on LGBTQ+ characters and immersive mythologies.
Although a nomad at heart, he currently resides in LA.
Mainly because it's such a good travel hub.

Find him on His Website | Twitter

The Giveaway;

Alex has generously donated some swag, and perhaps even an ARC of Runebinder.  Unfortunately, this is just for the US, but I do want to remind international readers that since Alex's book is a featured title should you win you're welcome to pick it as your prize.

US Giveaway

International Giveaway

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