Welcome back, everyone, for the 16th installment of my Atomic Interview series. If you’re new to the Anxiety, pull up a chair and join us for a bit. There’s plenty of good interviews with some really talented creative folks and a movie review or 800 to keep you interested. This time around, I’m joined by Mike Philips, author of the recently released THE WORLD BELOW. Our interview will start after the official book synopsis:
THE WORLD BELOW by Mike Phillips
In ancient times, magical creatures inhabited the earth. They lived on mountaintops, in trees, at the bottom of lakes and rivers. But that was long ago, before the human race declared war on the creatures they feared and hated. Now the enchanted peoples are all but gone. Those few that remain fear being stretched out on an examination table in some secret, governmental facility. The only place they can hide from the ever increasing number of satellites and smart phones is in the World Below.
Mitch Hardy is going through a hard time in his life. In his early twenties, he was working his way through college when he suffered an accident that left him flat broke and physically deformed. When Mitch decides to make a fresh start in a new town, things start looking up. He finds a place to live, a decent job, good friends. He even meets a nice girl. Unknown to Mitch, his new girlfriend is one of the Elder Race, what some call the Faerie Folk. Mitch doesn’t know that Elizabeth is looking for a father she never knew. The key to finding him is somehow tied up with the mysterious Blade of Caro. Desperate, she steals the Blade from its protector, the despotic ruler of the World Below, the Dragon of Worms, Baron Finkbeiner. When Elizabeth is kidnapped by the Baron, Mitch is pulled into a world or magic and monsters he never imagined.
Mark Bousquet: Thanks for joining me, Mike. One of the aspects of THE WORLD BELOW that I’m drawn to is how we have both the main character and the “world below” at ebbs in their history. Mitch Hardy is seeking a new start in life after a horrible accident, and the fantastical creatures that used to inhabit the Earth have mostly gone away. Is there something about people at “the bottom” that attracts you, as a writer?
Mike: Hi Mark, Thanks for having me. It is an honor to talk to you and your guests about my new book, THE WORLD BELOW. Just a fair warning to your readers before we begin. You seemed to be able to ask the right questions in the right way and this interview turned out to be one of the most in-depth pieces I’ve ever done. I found myself explaining a lot more about the background and motivations than never made it into the book. Though minor, there are a few spoilers to look out for.
In THE WORLD BELOW, the mundane world we live in blends with a world of magic and mystery. Now, few of us have ever seen a unicorn or a troll or even an elf on the way to the local hardware store. So if we are to believe that the creatures of folklore once existed, where did they all go? What happened to them?
Those questions are the background to THE WORLD BELOW. In the book, the World Below is a physical place. From folklore we hear about the Other Lands or the Worlds Beyond or whatever term you want to use for the alternate dimensions in which the Fearie Folk live. The World Below is not one of these, however. It is a refugee camp, a series of tunnels and caverns that were built over centuries to hide what remains of the enchanted creatures and keep them safe from humanity.
That’s where Mitch Hardy comes in. Down on his luck, Mitch was putting himself through college when he suffered an accident at work. Wanting to start a new life, he moves to a new town. But he has no luck finding a job. He has very little real work experience and his deformities from the accident are an instant turn off.
As a writer, this is a great place to start a story. Mitch has nothing to lose. He’s trying to get an education, meet new people, make a life. When he stumbles upon the World Below, we get to experience everything through him, discover all the wonder and magic. For a writer it really is about the journey, that’s what makes THE WORLD BELOW so much fun.
Mark: Who is Mitch Hardy? How did he get to where he is at the start of WORLD BELOW, and how does he fact the challenges and opportunities presented to him in your novel?
Mike: Mitch is a good hearted person. He’s had a rough beginning to his life, but nothing too tragic or far out of the experience of the typical mid-western twenty-something. He grew up in a small, industrial town. There’s a library and a movie theatre and a whopping three traffic lights. In his early teens, his parents divorced and his father remarried and moved out of state. That left Mitch and his mother to try to make it on their own. Because he didn’t want to make things any more difficult for his mother, he studied hard and stayed out of trouble.
By the time he got into high school, Mitch was bigger than most. That sort of physical strength brings with it a certain level of respect, but he only threw his weight around to protect his friends. His mother passed when he was a senior. He finished out the year with honors, graduating at the top of his class and earning a free ride at the local community college. In a small town, everyone knows everyone else’s business and his story was well known, so he got lucky finding a decent job at the local foundry.
That is where we join Mitch. He’s not an epic hero. He’s not the chosen one. He’s not destined to save the world. He’s just a regular guy. He is physically powerful, due to working hard not working out, but that doesn’t define him. The most important aspect of Mitch as a hero is that he can sympathize with the struggles others face. Deep in his soul, he wants to help them.
Mark: Mitch’s girlfriend, Lady Elizabeth, is a faerie. Can you talk about the quest she’s on to find her father?
Mike: The adversarial nature of the Faerie Folk is as legendary as they are. Since you never see a Minotaur standing in line at Walmart, I supposed that at some time in history the Faerie Folk must have had a war to end all wars. In THE WORLD BELOW, humans saw this war as the Inquisition. It was a time when magical beings of all types were hunted down and killed. Many of those magical creatures that escaped the slaughter travelled to the New World, America, and started a new life.
Lady Elizabeth’s Father, the Lord Amasa, was the leader of one of the most powerful fractions in this Faerie war to end all wars, but he was ultimately the loser. Captured by his arch rival, Amasa was locked away in a magical realm from which there is no hope of escape. The key to this is somehow tied up with the fabled Blade of Caro, but exactly how is a story for another time.
Lady Elizabeth was only a child when the war was taking place, but within her there is a burning desire to free her father no matter the cost. She learns that the Blade of Caro is in the possession of Baron Finkbeiner, the despotic ruler of the World Below, and successfully steals the Blade. But she is unable to make it work. The key to freeing her father remains a secret. To keep the Blade of Caro safe as she tries to figure it all out, Lady Elizabeth entrusts it to Mitch. That is where our story picks up in THE WORLD BELOW.
Mark: What is it about Mitch that attracts her? What role does he play in Lady Elizabeth’s quest?
Mike: Mitch and Elizabeth meet at an underground club. They are chatting outside, and getting along rather well, when Baron Finkbeiner’s flunkies show up. Not wanting to reveal herself to the other humans around them, Elizabeth doesn’t use her magic against them. Mitch, of course, comes to the rescue. They escape the Baron’s thugs and end up hanging out together for the rest of the night. It turns out to be a great first date for both of them.
The quest Lady Elizabeth is only part of the larger story of how Mitch becomes the king of the goblins. His love for her drives him to places he might never go, making unlikely friends along the way. Ultimately, her quest becomes his quest as their lives entwine and their love for each other grows.
Mark: How does Mitch’s new relationship with the World Below compare to that of Jason Hume, the sorcerer?
Mike: At the beginning of THE WORLD BELOW, we are introduced to Baron Finkbeiner as he enlists the aid of Jason Hume in recovering the Blade of Caro. The Baron has taken Hume’s sister hostage, imprisoning her in a crystal ball. Cheesy, I know, and Hume thinks so too. The Baron is old school in the most profound way, however, and thinks things must be done in a certain way or not at all.
Hume agrees to help the Baron, but he is already angling for a better deal. For the right price, he would have done it anyway. Hume has always scorned the World Below and its inhabitants. Like Lady Elizabeth, he is by all appearances human, but when he looks at the enchanted creatures, all he sees are ways to increase his wealth and power.
Mark: Can you describe the role of goblins in the book? They appear to be caught between Lady Elizabeth on one side and the Baron on the other.
Mike: The goblins were a lot of fun to write. I’m glad you asked about them. In THE WORLD BELOW, goblins are small, sort of toadyish in appearance. They are only about knee high. They have the ability to glamour humans, so they often blend into the background as stray animals, though alley cats are by far their favorite. They are wicked, untrustworthy creatures, but loyal to their friends.
Goblins are shunned by many of the other inhabitants of the World Below, so they are outsiders even there. They owe allegiance to Lord Amasa, but that is ancient history. Lady Elizabeth has dealings with goblins, but they don’t behave as her subjects. They help her out only if there is something in it for them.
What brings the goblins into the story is an act of kindness. Mitch rescues the goblin Puttygut from a rainstorm and feeds him dinner. Later on, Mitch is attacked by the Gooch, a pan-dimensional being that is the scourge of all magical creatures. Puttygut and his crew of goblins have been keeping their eye on Mitch and come to his rescue. Having lived under the evil Finkbeiner for centuries, the goblins then agree to help Mitch rescue Elizabeth and liberate the World Below.
Mark: Is this your first novel? Where does this writing fit into your overall bibliography? Are there plans for additional books or is this a stand-alone novel?
Mike: My first novel was REIGN OF THE NIGHTMARE PRINCE. It is a fantasy novel about a young shaman fighting to save his people from an enemy from another planet. THE WORLD BELOW is first in an open ended series. Right now, I have outlines written for five books, but depending on how things go, there may be more. The characters and situations are so much fun to write, the thought of ending things at this time is the farthest thing from my mind. The second book in the series is nearly complete. I am finishing up the end right now, as a matter of fact. The publisher and I are hoping to have things wrapped up for release in 2014.
Mark: For readers who are not familiar with your work, what kind of reader is going to gravitate towards THE WORLD BELOW?
Mike: Fantasy and science fiction readers will be interested in the book. There is romance and comedy, suspense, with lots of action and adventure. We call it an Urban Fantasy or Dark Fantasy, but anyone who is interested in imaginative story telling would like THE WORLD BELOW.
Mark: What’s next for you?
Mike: My third book is scheduled for release in December of 2013, so it’s right around the corner. The book is a departure from my fantasy work, a science fiction novel set in the far future. The title is DAWN OF AGES. Look for it next month.
Mark: Where can people find you online?
Mike: Find me at mikephillipsfantasy.com. I’d love to hear from your readers.
Mark: That should do it. Thanks, Mike.
MIKE: Thanks for having me as your guest. It was great. I hope your readers check out THE WORLD BELOW. Take care, Mike.
And that’s it for the latest Atomic Interview! Thanks to Mike for joining me, and remember, if you like an author’s work, there’s nothing you can do to help spread the word better than leaving them a review at your bookseller of choice!
When he’s not talking to other writers, Mark Bousquet is doing some writing himself. He is the author of multiple novels and collections, including the horror novel The Haunting of Kraken Moor, Gunfighter Gothic, Stuffed Animals for Hire, Dreamer’s Syndrome, Harpsichord and the Wormhole Witches, and Adventures of the Five. He has also published a review collection entitled Marvel Comics on Film, which covers every cinematic and TV movie based on a superhero from the House of Ideas. A complete listing of all his work can be found at his Amazon author page.