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We have an interview today with one of our extremely talented artists, Preston Stone! You'll recognize him from the covers of The Player's Primer and The Storyteller's Atlas as well as many of our other illustrations. Let us know what you think about it in the comments. You can see more of Preston's work on his deviant art profile.
Can you describe your artistic background like how you got started and your training?
When I was in preschool, my parents bought me a drawing table. I must have shown an interest or aptitude for drawing before that, but to be honest I can't recall. Anyway, it was at that time when I first remember devoting a lot of my playtime to drawing. They were terrible drawings in marker. Many of them were comics that made no sense. Nevertheless, I was having fun creating; , and everyone was supportive of my art, so I continued to draw fairly regularly, and it just became a part of who I was. Realistically though, I wasn't working to become a professional artist until college. . . ...I don't even think I began seriously working to improve until my junior year of college. That was sort of the point where I realized I wasn't really that good, and I needed to practice like the greats to be as good as the greats.
What are some of your major artistic influences?
Théodore Géricault's "The Raft of the Medusa" is probably my favorite painting of all time. I tend to really gravitate toward darker, emotionally charged images. At the same time, and this is going to sound really strange as an artistic influence, I really like fluffy cute things. It's like I get hit in the gut by overwhelming joy when I see something adorable. This comes out in my art as much as the darker side does. Left to my own, with no direction, I basically just draw a bunch of images of cute things living in a dark world or with a dark theme.
Most of your work seems to be in fantasy. Are you a gamer yourself, and if so, which ones games are your favorites?
I'm a huge gamer! I played a ton of tabletop RPGs in high school, mainly Dungeons and Dragons, but I really enjoyed Rifts as well due to the awesome pen art and futuristic world.
Video games have been a big part of my life since early childhood when my parents bought a Ssega Ggenesis. It's ironic. I really decided to be some sort of professional artist because of my love for video games, specifically Final Fantasy VII, but now that I am a professional artist, I rarely get time to play because I'm drawing all the time. WThough, when I do have a chance to play games, I spend an unhealthy amount of time playing. My favorite video game of all time is Uncharted 2, but tied for close second are Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VII, and The Last of Us.
The biggest game love of my life, though, has to be Magic: The Gathering. I played a few card games before it, like Pokemon and Dragonball Z/GT, but nothing has hit me like Magic. It's the reason I redirected my art from video games into fantasy illustration. It's the reason and why I did art for Heroes' Tears. My portfolio would have probably been more along the lines of weapon and environment concepts instead of dragon battle scenes without Magic.
What is your favorite type of drawing to do? Do you like single- character profiles, full- scene sketches, or what?
I like doing epic scenes the most, because I like narrative illustration. It's fun to tell a story in one image.
What are some of your favorite illustrations you have done for Heroes’ Tears and why?
The "Back to Back" drawing is probably my favorite. I liked it so much I created a background and a new narrative for it as a personal project and "thank you" to Martin. It'll likely be in my portfolio for a few years.
My favorite creature design is the Phantom. It was one where I was able to just go crazy with the design, and again, add in some kind of narrative to the image. The emotion and personality in that image is really over the top.
What has been the most difficult of the illustrations you've been asked to do and why?
The cover with the ruins (For the Player's Primer) was the most difficult. The amount of information that needed to be in that image was just nuts, not to mention the fact that perspective is by far my weakest skill set. That project was one crazy challenge after another, but I enjoyed every bit of it and am a better artist for taking that the challenge on.
When you get some of these crazy art orders what is your reaction?
Generally, I suit up in full, traditional samurai gear, traditional with the exception of the mask which is a Predator mask. I hold my katana up, looking at the computer monitor, and yell, "You have dishonored my family, and you have dishonored the Shaolin Temple!". I cut the monitor in half using my chi. . . ......then I buy a new monitor and begin drawing.
Okay, my real answer: I just laugh and draw. I have a job to do, darn it!
This is Martin (one of the HT team). We're doing a quick interview with a talented writer that is working with us at Heroes' Tears. James Daniel Ross is hard at work on the very first novel set in our game world. For those of you taking part in the beta test you are familiar with the recent war between the Bronze Dwarves and Fae Elves in the Eastern Forest. He is writing the story of that war and it is going to be a good one.
James, can you give me a quick plot rundown on the upcoming story and where you are right now?
Wow, the novel is substantial. Because of that, there are several concurrent plotlines. The basic outline from the timeline in Heroes' Tears is present, but there are numerous other threads which are woven into the tapestry of the war. There are tales of personal suffering, the tragedy of what befell the elves and the bronze beard dwarves, a love story, and the longest tale actually reaches all the way back to the time of the Lich Kings. .
At this point, I am at the last build. The war is ramping up to a bone shattering crash. Everything will crescendo at the moment the war ends, which is actually a few years before it officially ends, if it has ever indeed ended.
What has been your favorite part of the story so far?
The love story touches me deeply. The story of Lady Farenii the holy woman is subtle but far more poignant and telling. I think the most relatable part is the real attempt that is made so that if you look at it from the dwarf point of view, the dwarves are (mostly) right. If, on the other hand, you look at it from the point of view of the elves, the elves are (mostly) right. This conflict is patterned much like World War I, where every bad decision will frustrate the reader, but these decisions are understandable rather than being illogical or malicious.
It is this level of blindness and self-righteousness that gives the war an organic feel. Yet, all that pales in comparison to the scene where the elves release the Old Spirits of the forest. It requires a sacrifice, a terrible price that must be paid.
Have there been any major challenges in creating your tale?
The greatest challenge, and the greatest joy, is writing in the Heroes' Tears setting. It is so difficult to take on someone else's work and give it the dignity and respect it deserves and then have them respect that in return. There have been many times where I am cruising through the source material and find one more thing (always one more thing) that makes the world special and new; then I want to include it in the novel. Finding those details that separate Heroes' Tears from a run-of-the-mill fantasy world is rewarding.
I first found your work when I read the wonderful I Know Not, the Story of Fox Crow. Can you tell us a little about that?
You are very kind. IKN is, at its roots, a story of redemption. A man wakes up in a castle full of dead people and remembers nothing of who he is. He begins a journey that tells him that he is probably not a great person. Nothing is free in that world and it more closely resembles real medieval unfair-itopia than a feudal western democracy. While the protagonist is pragmatic, deceitful, and bloodthirsty, he is also wonderfully cynical, sharp-tongued, and witty. He's obviously a bastard, but he's just such a charming bastard that the audience roots for him anyway. He learns, but his lessons are painful. He searches for redemption, but he keeps falling into old patterns. It's been a great success.
The publisher has renamed the book I Know Not: The Legacy of Fox Crow, which allows for the next book: The Opus Discordia: The Legacy of Fox Crow. They have the manuscript, and we are just looking for editing and a cover to move forward. They have not given me a release date, but I am praying it is soon.
You've also done The Radiation Angels series, which is a rock solid military sci-fi. I'm an army guy, so I'm normally pretty tough on those kinds of stories, but I liked these a lot. Can you tell us a little about them and about the research you did to make it feel so authentic?
You have no idea how humbled and pleased I am by that praise. I am a cake-eating civilian, and I have nothing but respect for those who serve their country. My day job, for over a decade, was working in a gun store. While there I met and worked for, with, and over, many former and retired military personnel. I spoke with them on a daily basis, absorbing everything they had to offer. In many cases, I plied them after work with alcoholic beverages to loosen their tongues and get the juiciest stories. None of the stories actually got used, funny enough, but it was the general gestalt that made it into the novel.
In the end, I was left with a very different book than IKN. Radiation Angels follows Captain Todd Rook who can be classified as the Last Upright Man. He refuses to compromise on who he is, his sense of right and wrong, and he is willing to take on generals, presidents, and terrorists. The Chimerium Gambit and The Key to Damocles have sat alone for far too long. One day, I will have to revisit that world and add to his adventures and those of his mercenary team.
What other books have you written?
Oh, my. Let me devolve here to elevator pitches to save time.
The Whispering of Dragons is a mystery novel where a timid, female baker plays Sherlock Holmes and a headstrong mage plays Dr. Watson. They are looking for answers in a magical fantasy city full of corruption, lies and thievery.
The Last Dragoon is a love story that spans one hundred and thirty years. A knight dies in the arms of his princess and then suddenly finds himself awaking in his beloved city a century later, fighting off an invasion of the undead. He discovers the fate of his love, the fate of his family line, and the unbelievable power of the human soul.
Snow and Steel is a gritty war novel following a platoon of men during the siege of Stalingrad in 1942. It is very detailed and true-to life, though the story is fiction. It was written primarily by Joe Cowles. I just came in to fill the German parts.
About to be released is a high fantasy novel: The Secrets of Those Before. It is a world of magic and anthropomorphic animals. They have proud, old civilizations, built on the bones of older civilizations. A dark shadow of these elder, forgotten times has arisen to threaten all the races with total extermination and one tiny Fox seems to hold the key to survival. It should be out by June, 2015.
I am also proud to be in a list of anthologies as long as my arm. You can find them at my author page
We're hoping to release this novel around Thanksgiving 2015 so be on the lookout for it. There is a short segment below. Let us know what you think!
The dwarves had been gone for many days, but the forest was still full of eyes. The bronze bearded folk had spent months in the cold, cutting the rock at the mouth of the pass in strange shapes. Once, it had been nothing but a trail for foot or for one leading a horse. Years of work with pick and hammer had flattened the pass to make a wide mountain road. The rock had been used to build the warehouse city of Smoke on the other side. Rumor had it that at times it became all but a tunnel, only a tiny slice of sky above keeping the path from being underground. It also said they had carved fortresses to lock it from this side when the need arose.
All present thought the need would never arise. Only the dead would walk back to the warehouse city. The elves would stop them here.
The exit to the pass was above the tree line by two bowshots, the gentle slope leading from hard heart of the mountain to dense green of the Great Eastern Forest. The newly created wide road stopped a dozen yards inside the mouth of the pass. The dwarves had foolishly carved a massive series of pillars that blocked their own way, and the elven scouts had watched day after day, shaking their heads at the foolishness of the short
Baynii Riiki sat in the branches of a tall pine, feeling the wind through his short blonde hair, relishing the sweet scent of the sap, and cracking nuts in his strong fingers. The meat of the walnuts helped invigorate him and wash the taste of the hideous glasshouse grown fruits they were issued for rations.
Last night had been a full moon -a murder moon. The glowing orb above passed perfectly behind the Scar, turning the sky a bloody black and red, like rotting blood. All hunkered down and hid from the baleful sign to pass. Yet pass it did with no risen dead to mark its passing. For certain elsewhere there had been some mayhem made worse by the resurrection of the dead as hungry, soulless things.
But today was for forgetting such a chill. Riiki cracked another nut and ate it, sighing at the gap-toothed pass that went nowhere and had no movement to see.
There was a shiver of movement below in the forest, as telling as a trumpet to a fae, and the elf shimmied down to the ground with a grace that nearly defied gravity. His men would have heard it as well, but they had orders to ready bows and stay hidden. He touched his scimitar but straightened when another soldier came from the bush with as much sound as a stag.
Both men were in hardened fiber armor shaped like greenery and blended with the woods. Both Riiki and the newcomer were armed in swords and with bows, both eschewing helmets until more obvious danger was present. Even if he hadn't the long pointed ears and almond eyes, his stealth and equipment would mark the newcomer as an elf. Judging by the chorus of whispered sounds, he had quite a few with him. It was the subtle markings that told Riiki that while he was a junior officer, the chestnut haired elf before him was of far higher rank. Riiki wiped walnut fragments on his pants and saluted.
Riiki shrugged, "Today as yesterday and the day before. The stumps -" as the elves had taken to calling the bronze dwarves, "- stopped carving the bars to their own jail and withdrew. No sign of them since."
"How many are you?"
"Good." The senior smiled, "I'm taking charge, here." He reached out and plucked a fresh walnut from Riiki's curled non-saluting hand. He cracked it and almost groaned as the flavor of the meat hit his tongue. "I am Commander Fialo. Let's gather your men, work up a small permanent encampment and schedule a more rigorous watch on the pass. Lord Leayned believes the stumps are coming this way."
"Sir!" Riiki saluted again.
And then the commander winked, conspiratorially, "Oh, and find someone to get more of these nuts. My men are sick of fruit made of wet paper."
Riiki relaxed, smiling back, "Yes, Sir. How many have come?"
Fialo gestured behind him where many shadows parted from the boles of trees, "Fifty."
Riiki's head drew back sharply, "Fifty? Pardon, sir, but does the Lord know something I do not?"
Fialo 's face pursed, and he shrugged, "Some spy came back from out in the world beyond the forest and swore the dwarves were coming this way like a tide of dirty pigs. We are only the start. More are being drawn from villages all across the south to fortify this area. Our base camp will be the seed of a garrison site."
Riiki nearly laughed, but thought better of it, and simply shook his head. "Sir, nothing has happened here -"
That was as far as he got.
One of his men whistled just like a bird, but the wrong song for the breed. Both elves dissolved into the woods on silent feet, appearing inches from the edges of the forest. Hidden there, they watched in utter confusion as the dwarves built tightly packed temples of wood around the bottom of the pillars, dousing the stuff with oil. They moved surely but frantically, as if racing some undefined enemy. Not only did they do this for the most outer set of pillars, but they could see up the slope of the road that had been carved to the next set of pillars. Elvish eyes could see the set even after that. The scene was repeated.
Despite himself, Riiki whispered, "What are they doing?"
The commander said nothing but watched grimly as the base of each pillar was set afire with the barest touch of a torch. Within seconds, the pillars were blackened, flames roaring around the base of each and leaping hungrily into the air. The elves winced, knowing the terrible power of fire.
Riiki shook his head, "Is it a threat?"
Commander Fialo nodded curtly, "I am certain it is. Those filthy animals are burning our forest in effigy, seeking to demoralize us."
"How do they know we are here?"
Fialo's frown deepened into a bitter fury as he watched the clouds scream toward heaven like mortal curses, "If I were they, I would assume we were everywhere. Nonetheless, let us meet them at their game. Lieutenant, get your men together. After weeks of sitting here watching the hairy things twiddle about, a little movement will be just what they need.
"Approach the effigies, but do not be seen. When they seek to repeat their insult or if you get an advanced party, then fire upon them; five arrows from each soldier should suffice. Then, retreat back here."
Riiki nodded, smiling almost gaily as he moved to carry out the orders. Eleven fae elves slipped from the forest without a breath of sound or stirring of the long grass. Kitted for war, they wore armor that could not be fashioned without the secrets of their race, and steel tempered in dragon's flame that had never been allowed to go out for a thousand years. Yet, they approached their targets quietly, slowly, patiently. They came within a bowshot, and by previous arrangement, continued. They got to half a bowshot, and saw no evidence of the dwarves let alone having been spotted. They continued to one quarter the length that their bows would reach, allowing them easy access into the hearts and minds of their enemies using steel tipped thoughts. It had taken hours, and the log cabins of flame had collapsed into mountains of coals. Yet, even as sharp as the elves were, they could not see the most important details.
They did not know that the fires had been built to create tunnels into the deepest reaches of the flame near the pillar. Maybe, if a smith had been amongst them, he could have told them the lamp effect of air being sucked in the bottom of the fire to jet out the top, and exactly how hot the native stone of the mountains, formed into tall heavy pillars, was becoming. Perhaps that would not even have saved them, for it was a mile up the pass, leveled and beveled into a road fit for even a massive chaernog, that the rest of the execution played out.
It was there that Briaat, mine master and agent of the King, prayed for there to be a legion of elves waiting at the entrance of the pass. Then he swung a massive mattock that knocked a keystone from an impossibly tall, wooden pen. The roar it unleashed was deafening.
Half an hour later and back at the entrance to the pass, the elves waited. These were no short lived fools, and each had been taught the value of patience since birth. Each had stalked dangerous threats in the forest, each dispatched hungry beasts with a heavy heart. Now they waited not with apprehension but something approaching glee. For these were not mindless beasts that sought meat on two legs. These were hideous, thinking animals who's greed had caused suffering in thousands of lives.
Riiki thought of his friend Laiaat, of the scar on his face, of his clipped ears, of the music he would never make again with his mangled hand. His own hand tightened around the grip of his bow as he sat in the grass and his blood roared in his ears.
Then one of his men stood up. Riiki made to hiss at him, but then he felt it too: a shaking in the earth. Then he saw the waving of the grass. Then he understood that the roaring was not inside his ears, but everywhere at once.
A massive, frothy monster made of millions of gallons of captured rainwater appeared at the end of the pass. It churned and blasted past all obstacles, carrying fist-sized rocks, pebbles, and dust before it in an uncaring wave. If this were all that it were armed with, it would be deadly enough, but it hit the three rows of pillars choking off the pass,
The once heated pillars were instantly doused in icy cold mountain rainwater. The rock vented and steamed, bellowed in pain as it snapped at the bases, and the pillars were swept forward and fell as mighty rolling pins that were pushed by the water to roll downhill and into the waiting woods.
Fialo signaled a retreat, but his own feet refused to move. His eyes desired too much to study every second of the deadly beauty raining down upon him. First came the water that stripped the hill of grass and crashed into the vanguard above. Fialo managed to leap into a tree as the wave, diminished by space and time, nonetheless raced below him knee deep, a constant stream of death that snapped the weak off at the base, drowned the small, and pushed the strong into the trees at a bone breaking pace. The next rumble caught his attention, and he dared to look up.
The pillars, freed from the ground, tumbled down the muddy slope. Some spun in the flow like colossal blunt scythes. A few tumbled end over end in terrifying giant stomps. The most deadly were silent, and they rolled perfectly down the slope to smash into the forest and turning the first two dozen yards into a broken field of fallen timber.
The pillars came to a stop, the wave ebbed, and the elven soldiers found Fialo flung from his perch and crushed between three fallen trees. Blood leaked from him at a dozen places, and he coughed it up in thick, black ropes.
His first order was, "Get the vanguard. Find the survivors."
Ten elves exited the forest. The hillside up to the pass had been stripped of all plant life by the scouring fists of water. They sunk ankle deep into the mud, all fleetness robbed from them. They found no survivors. Lieutenant Baynii Riiki, found last, had been in the path of a rolling pillar, and had all of his organs crushed from his feet to his head, ejected in a stream of guts.
Then, they heard the greater doom come upon them.
At the mouth of the pass appeared a massive chaernog. The dwarvish wagon was pulled by three dozen dray slugs. Slowly, inexorably, it was pulled past the mouth of the pass. Another appeared behind it, and another behind that. With the sound of dying heartbeats, huge iron shod shields were extended on muscle powered booms and dropped in strategic locations around the outer shell. Small shapes disengaged the slugs and led them back out of harm's way as the walls of the chaernog seemed to inflate, with outer plates moving to expose new inner plates that ground into position between them. Finally, the whole section of wall dropped from the wagon, and the next began to lift into position. Then the second chaernog dropped the outer plates and started to grow followed by the third.
A bow shot uphill is limited in range, but a bow shot downhill is granted far greater lateral distance. The elves that had been caught in the open, watching in horror as the dwarvish fortress assembled itself, finally remembered this fact as dwarvish bolts began raining around them. Caught in the mud, they could not run. Only one made it back to the maze of broken wood that was the face of the forest.
The final words came to Fialo. Of fifty men, eighteen men remained alive; twelve were wounded. He gave his final order in a hiss, "Runner. To Lord Leayned. Dwarves in the north… Dwarves in the north…"
Then there were seventeen survivors of the Massacre of Smoke Pass. The Dwarf War had begun.