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I want to thank Emily for her time and this wonderful interview. The questions were fun and I enjoyed answering them in kind.
You can find the original interview on her Baking Up Goodreads site.
Good morning, everyone. I am so excited to introduce you to a dear friend of mine who just so happens to be an author. Mark Bradford, an independent fiction and non-fiction author has become a close friend of mine after reading and reviewing his The Sword and the Sunflower series. I’ve chatted with Bradford a little more formally for this interview, so y’all can learn a little bit more about his books, writing process, and, of course, his favorite baked goods.
Before we dive in, let me tell you a little bit about the first installment in his series that we will be focusing on today.
A father who lost his heart, a traveler who lost his love, and a girl who lost everything. In a world turned upside down, a grieving father seeks a job one last time, to assassinate a man he’s never met. His agreement is not what it seems, and what he finds changes him forever. This fantasy adventure explores the aftermath of such a catastrophe, in a new world distant yet familiar to us. It questions duty, family and challenges beliefs – all through the eyes of three strangers that have no business coming together. Each one impacts the life of the other, in ways they could not have known. A prophecy or just a poem?
What does your writing process look like?
If I am writing nonfiction, then it starts with a concept I need to have an answer to. Some of my nonfiction is so esoteric that there really isn’t much research out there and I’m trailblazing. But I start with the concept and expand on it. My job is to create the hierarchy properly—Is this a chapter or just a subheading in some other chapter? Etc. That expands into other things. Since I always have a podcast I have a huge body of work to draw from and reference.
If I’m writing fiction, then it’s different. The Sword and the Sunflower trilogy was a LOT of walking and whiteboarding, and documentation, and worldbuilding documentation that was for my eyes only. People don’t realize that if you’re going to write a proper fantasy there is a lot of stuff that you have to keep straight. The more you have, the more concrete it is, the more consistent it is the better the story is going to be. So for those books if I ever needed to think through something I got up and took a walk in that cemetery. There was a day in the winter when it was 5 degrees Fahrenheit here with a windchill of -12 degrees and I took two walks that day.
When did you know you had a story to tell with The Sword and The Sunflower?
I’m very aware of the exact moment actually. After completing my fourth nonfiction I took a walk in a cemetery near my house. I had an unusually open and clear mind—no noise or thoughts which is highly unusual for me, the overthinker. I heard voices. It was a conversation between two people and it was clear that it was the end of a story. I was fascinated and told my mind “Go on…” It was short but powerful. But it made me a little sad because I thought it would make such an epic movie—a movie I’d never get to see. So then I started to create a poem, and suddenly I found myself running home. I needed to write this down. I sat down and in five minutes wrote a poem—a medieval one that was sort of sing-songy. I looked at it when I was done and thought “Oh. This is an outline of a book. I have to write this.”
How long did it take you to write The Sword and the Sunflower?
I think it was three months. When I tell people that they feel it is shockingly short. The book is 400 pages after all. But I had a poem to go off of. I wrote every chance I had, and since it was my fifth book (though my first fiction) I learned a few things as a writer:
- The number of ‘words per day’ is meaningless if that’s the only measurement. Meaning, that you don’t push yourself and then beat yourself up because you didn’t hit a word goal. Creativity doesn’t work like that.
- You keep writing as long as you feel like you are ‘in the zone’ that day. Sometimes I wrote in two separate sessions on the same day, sometimes I skipped a day (or two) because my brain hadn’t formulated it properly yet
- Writing isn’t just typing. You are writing when you are falling asleep and hearing conversations, or asking questions about the plot or characters, or playing through different scenarios.
Who is your favorite character in this series and why?
Oh, don’t make me choose. Anastazja is such a fascinating character. She is so very young when everything happens and she is thrust into a harsh world. She has such a character arc in both books. Her growth is phenomenal but she always remains the same person at her core. A good person. Stojan and Dagmar are also my favorites. I could go on about them but you only asked for one.
Can you talk a little bit about creating magic systems and world-building?
I can talk too much about that. HA. A pet peeve of mine is when someone creates a magic system but pays no attention to the ramifications on people and society through the years. They create these situations that might sound interesting, but don’t think that if this has been going on for years, decades, or millenia there would be outcomes that would change everything. If wizards can teleport, materialize something from nothing, turn invisible, or create magic items, how has that affected commerce, society, and the progression of technology? Humans have greed and a lust for power, they want to use whatever is available. They are also lazy, by default.
The Sword and the Sunflower happens 1,000 years in the future. It’s a medieval stable society with little memory of our time other than knowing that we had this technology that they lost (referred to as tec). It’s easy to write something like that as most of it hints as to what is really going on. But you have to have a base that you work from and you have to have consistency.
I wrote Upside Down as a lot of comments were from very curious readers who loved The Sword and the Sunflower and Amira but really wanted to know what happened. So that book tells the tale of 1,000 years. You can’t tell that story in one single book and just have it be an encyclopedic timeline. So instead I wrote it as a series of vignettes that zoomed in to a very personal level that showed the influence of the Saints. It explains quite a bit about how we got to where we are in the other two books.
World-building is a tricky thing. You need to tell the reader what they need to know without info dumping and without telling too little. Tell them just enough, when they need it most. In the beginning of The Sword and the Sunflower all three main characters are in a sort of mental fog due to circumstances, so it’s only fair that the reader feel the same. The confusion the reader is supposed to have in the beginning is intentional, and they are rewarded as the story goes on.
Can you tell us a little bit about what it was like to write about a world that was so vastly changed but still had shreds of what we know the world to be like?
It made sense. It just was. I felt like I was channeling. I have a large framed picture in my office with the pictures of six people on it. I created it a while back when I first started writing. Two of those people—Einstein, and Nikola Tesla both wrote about how they entered a special place in which they ‘received’ a lot of their works and creations. That’s what it felt like writing The Sword and the Sunflower. Like Michelangelo is quoted as saying, “The sculpture is already complete within the rock…” So for me, the story was already there, I just had to write it down for others to enjoy it. Properly.
What are your favorite quotes/moments in The Sword and the Sunflower?
Oh boy. The end of Amira made me cry when I wrote it, and I was in a cafe at the time with tears streaming down my face. It hit me so hard. KInd of embarrassing.
I’m trying not to give spoilers… This is hard… When Stojan and Anastazja are together their different perspectives are just so delicious that you want them to talk all day. Stojan’s stoicism and teaching are somehow always balanced with the utmost affection for Anastazja. Her lack of worldliness never comes off as naivety but instead as a certain purity and confidence.
A lot of my favorite moments don’t have dialogue. They are instead vivid images that have not only visual but emotional impact. I put so much work into trying to translate what I saw, felt, heard, and experienced. A number of reviews talked about how reading this felt like watching a movie—which is exactly what I hoped for.
Can you talk to us a little bit about the found family trope that plays a huge role in this series and any other tropes that you enjoy?
Do you know I didn’t know ‘found family’ was a thing? I have learned a lot about the perspectives of avid readers (and reviewers) like you. I find that to be so powerful. In life, our family all started as strangers. Two total strangers meet, fall in love and that right there is family. In the book, I question what family actually is. Redemption plays a big part as well. A character that has a redemption arc will always feel less deserving of it than the reader thinks they should.
I love how you provide us with a pronunciation guide but then you say that as the reader we have full rights to pronounce things however we want to. Why is giving the power to your readers so important to you?
When you write a book (especially fiction) you put your heart and soul into it and then one day you send it off into the cold world. You cannot be there to care for it, nurture it, and protect it. There are those who just want to find fault, tear things down, and be negative. But then the book finds someone who cares for it, who loves it, who enjoys it, and who protects it. It is like having your child lost in the wilderness and some kind person takes it under their wing. They embrace it and give it the love it deserves, and in return your book gives them what they deserve—to be respected, to be loved, to have a good story with a proper payoff, to make them think, to laugh, to cry.
The pronunciation guide was my way of saying “Here’s how I hear it” but at the same time saying “However you say it is right because it is your child now.”
What authors who write similar stories do you draw inspiration from?
I’m weird about reading though. Every time I get the urge to read I also get the urge to write—and writing always wins. On top of that while I am writing I make sure to never read the works of others because I don’t want anyone else’s voice leaking into mine. So I read surprisingly little fiction. Most of my reading turns out to be factual stuff—astronomy, psychology, science,
How can your readers best support you?
Well, support in the truest sense would be to seek out my books and consume them. Support in a very meaningful way would be for them to, if they enjoy my work, talk about my books, suggest my books to their book clubs, to request my books from their local library. I get such a kick out of being contacted by a book club, just like I get a kick out of chatting with you. As an author, you are in a vacuum a lot. As an indie author, it’s potentially an even bigger vacuum.
What is your favorite baked good to eat while reading, writing, or brainstorming?
Ha, I love this question. I hardly ever eat stuff like that while writing though when I’m at a cafe sometimes I’m naughty and have a chocolate croissant or pumpkin cranberry muffin. Mmm, muffins.
What should we expect to come next for you?
That’s a good question. Since The Sword and the Sunflower trilogy, I released Three Voices, a nonfiction that explains that we have three ways we communicate with ourselves and others, and it was endorsed by a clinical psychologist. Last month I released The Devil’s in the Details, my first novella. It created a bit of a stir.
© 2022 Mark Bradford, Alchemy Publishing.