Hello everyone and welcome to our latest author interview for the 7th annual Self Published Fantasy Blog Off! I’ve been working on reaching out to each of the authors who have landed in our batch of books for the competition to see if they would be interested in being interviewed or contributing a guest article in an attempt to drum up a little extra excitement for their book and (hopefully) get to know them a bit better.
Today, we are joined by the author of Army of the Cursed, Karim Soliman!
If you want to check out the rest of our SPFBO coverage, be sure to check our SPFBO 7 landing page here. On to the Q&A!
Thank you so much for joining us for this short Q&A! Before we get going, please tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Karim Soliman (obviously), and I’m from Egypt. While I have a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy and a master’s degree in business management, building worlds and messing with my characters’ lives is my real passion. According to the urban myth narrated by my parents, I started “writing” stories when I was five. And no, I’m not talking about this kind of writing.
I want to start things off by asking: what is a great book that you’ve read recently and why should we give it a go?
I’m halfway through Gunmetal Gods by Zamil Akhtar, and so far I can see why it’s currently an SPFBO semi-finalist. The prose is really polished and the world-building is great. If you are into fast-paced grimdark fantasy with a strong Middle-Eastern flavor, you should definitely check it out.
Do you have any hobbies or interests outside of reading/writing? Do you care to elaborate?
I used to play tennis and chess, and afterward, I became obsessed with football (soccer) and strategy computer games. Thanks to marriage and kids, watching Netflix has become my only feasible hobby.
Tell us about your road to writing. What made you want to become an author?
8 years ago, my wife told me about Wattpad, and I must admit, the positive response I got when I posted my stories there re-ignited my old passion. Knowing that I have fans waiting for my weekly updates (chapters) made me commit more time to writing than before, but still it was nothing more than a gratifying hobby.
The turning point was when I was commissioned for a short story I wrote for a promotional campaign on Wattpad. The fact that I could get paid for my “hobby” made me reconsider my goals and take my writing more seriously. I spent the next two years rewriting, editing, and polishing my stories to render them “publishable” until I managed to release my fantasy debut with a small press on Oct 17, 2017.
Writing is a hard and lonely affair in the best of circumstances, but it can be even more so as a self-published author. How do you achieve a good work/life/writing balance?
I’m a short sleeper.
Believe me, it’s a curse, but it helps me allocate enough time to meet my daily word count target. While I admit that my daily word count is nothing impressive, I must say I’m happy with my system for the time being. Publishing a book or two every year is not too bad for someone who still needs his full-time job to pay the bills.
I use a simple Excel sheet I‘ve created to help me set reasonable deadlines and meet them. I guess its idea is pretty clear, but if you are a fellow author who needs more elaboration, feel free to reach out to me.
Is this your first book? If so, what lessons have you learned from writing it? If not, what lessons did you learn from writing earlier books that you brought into this one?
Army of the Cursed is my eighth novel, and definitely, I’ve learned a lot while writing the previous seven books. If there something remarkable about Army of the Cursed, I guess it is the time I spent outlining my characters before writing a single word of the story itself. I wanted to make sure they were flawed, but still, you would connect with and even root for them.
Do you usually write to background noise, music, etc. or do you prefer silence?
Music is an essential element in my writing process, but it comes before the writing itself to set up the mood for the particular scene I’m working on. Sometimes it’s the random soundtrack I’m listening to (especially when I drive) that creates a new scene in my head from scratch.
You may check out my playlist if you feel curious.
Is this your first time entering SPFBO? Why did you decide to enter this book?
Yes, it is my first time, and I’m really excited to join this year’s 300. To me, SPFBO is not just a competition, it’s an amazing community of fellow fantasy writers and reviewers/bloggers/judges, so surely, this is a great opportunity for networking.
As for choosing Army of the Cursed to step into the ring; well, it wasn’t a hard decision at all. Come on, who would ignore such a chance to boost the visibility of his newest release?
What made you want to write in the fantasy genre? Do you write (or plan to write) in any other genres?
It started with an obsession with medieval history and fantasy. Reading about them made me live in my own world with characters of my own creation. Thanks to writing, my world is real now. Nobody can say that I’m hallucinating anymore.
My second favorite genre is sci-fi, and I once wrote a short horror story, but I guess I’m sticking to fantasy for a while.
There are so many roads to releasing a book these days (which is wonderful!). Why did you decide to self-publish?
I tried my luck at querying agents until I ended up publishing my debut The Warrior’s Path with a small press. They took care of editing and the cover design (boy, they made me a stunning cover!), but it didn’t work. After I got my rights reverted to me, I decided to self-publish it to be in control of the whole process. I was able to promote my book the way I wanted until it earned a few orange Bestseller tags on Amazon.
Are there any advantages or disadvantages to self-publishing rather than going the route of the traditional or independent presses?
Self-publishing means a higher share of royalties and total control, but it also means less time for writing. When you are an indie, building your fan base and fighting for the visibility of your work could be really exhausting.
Who are your favorite current writers and who are your greatest influences?
I know he has been criticized for not finishing his series, but come on, who would deny how George R. R. Martin has reshaped this genre? I believe I’m not the only one whose work has been influenced by ASOIAF.
There are many current writers that I love their work, but I would read anything for Joe Abercrombie and Mark Lawrence.
What do you think characterizes your writing style?
I enjoy misleading my readers. I would make you think this is just another “secret heir story,” or I would throw an ancient artifact to make you think it would save the day, but in the end, you would realize how useless that artifact was.
What if the day was not meant to be saved in the first place?
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I do a mix of plotting and pantsing. Before I start writing, I set an ending point, and sometimes a few key events. What happens in between is up to my characters, and sometimes they might even change the ending of the story itself.
That said, I did more plotting in Army of the Cursed than I did with any book I wrote before. I had three main characters starting in three different places, so I had to make sure their storylines flow smoothly until they crossed paths with each other.
For those who haven’t read Army of the Cursed, give us the elevator pitch.
The people of Gorania are on the brink of extinction. Crouching at their borders is an army of demon-possessed immortals that will never stop until every Goranian city is wiped off the face of the earth. While all Goranians realize that their doom is just a matter of time, their fate could be resting in the hands of a hapless trio: a mage’s apprentice who relies on her wits rather than magic; a princess who seeks the ultimate weapon against demons, but first, she has to survive the turmoil of civil war; and a warrior whose swordplay could prove more useful against a threat graver than the bandits infesting his village. Would the three unite before it is too late?
Describe your book in 3 adjectives.
Intense, fast-paced, thrilling
What do you think is the overarching theme?
I believe Army of the Cursed is not just about the “Final Battle with the Army of Demons/Undead/Orcs;” you can sense that generational conflict in the background of the plotlines of the young main characters. Leila is smart, Nardine is charismatic, and Halgrim is fearless, but very often they are regarded by their more experienced guardians/mentors/advisors as naïve, arrogant, reckless teenagers. Who would you side with when the two ‘parties’ clash? It depends on the perspective you are going to adopt.
Were there any specific challenges with writing Army of the Cursed? Or, did you find anything to be easier?
Challenges? Making my main characters relatable yet likeable.
Leila, Nardine, and Halgrim are between 16 and 19. I don’t say they are rebels all the time, but sometimes, you will find them impulsive and opinionated. My main challenge was to make you like them, although you might not like all their choices.
Creating the setting was easier this time because I didn’t have to start from scratch. The world of Gorania with its history and factions was already established in the four books of my first series (Tales of Gorania).
If you had to do so in just one or two sentences, how would you describe the plot of Army of the Cursed?
A mage’s apprentice, a princess, and a warrior have to unite to save their people from annihilation by an invincible army of demons.
They say to never judge a book by its cover and maybe that’s true in the philosophical sense, but it certainly happens with books. Can you tell us about the idea behind the cover of Army of the Cursed?
As I was thinking of Army of the Cursed as part of a trilogy, my intention was to feature one of the three main characters on each cover. I chose Nardine for Book 1 because I believed she was the main catalyst of its events. The background behind her depicts a scene in the prologue—the making of the Army of the Cursed.
What can you tell us about what’s coming up next for you?
I’m working on the first draft of Tattered Banners, the sequel to Army of the Cursed. Be ready for more magic, more demons, and more dead bodies before the end of this year.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer a few questions for us! I always enjoy this little peek behind the curtain. Do you have any parting thoughts or comments you’d like to leave for our readers?
Thanks for having me here! I did enjoy this interview.
I have a little message for readers: if you enjoy some author’s work, please let them know. Reviews from happy readers always make our day.
About the Author
Karim Soliman earned his first writing commission through his contribution to the first and last issue of his school magazine. Twenty years later, he earned his next commission from Sony Pictures.
While he holds a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy and a master’s in business administration, Karim finds his groove in building worlds and messing with his characters. His debut The Warrior’s Path was a #1 bestseller on several fantasy subgenres on Amazon.
When Karim is away from writing, he struggles with his insomnia and continues his search for his next favorite dessert.
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