Grasping for the Wind Rotating Header Image

SFFWRTCHT: A Chat With Author James Enge

Known as mild-mannered James M. Pfundstein by day, a Latin, Greek and classics professor, at night, he becomes James Enge, author of legendary tales of the swordsman Morlock. Morlock has featured so far in three novels, with a trilogy on the way from PYR in 2012, and numerous short stories which have appeared in Black Gate, Swords & Dark Magic, Every Day Fiction, Rogue Blades’ Return Of The Sword, and Flashing Swords, amongst others. A frequent panelist at cons on topics such as pulps and swords & sorcery, James Enge can be found at www.jamesenge.com, on Facebook and as @jamesenge on Twitter.


SFFWRTCHT: Let’s start with the day job. You teach classic languages or literature or both?

James Enge: Both languages and literature. Latin language mostly, with a little Greek. And myth and Roman history, too. I do whatever I can to capture the students’ attention. You have to sell clasics pretty hard these days. It’s a good challenge, though. Every college teacher should show that what he’s doing is worth the students’ time.

SFFWRTCHT: Awesome! Who are some of your favorite classical writers?

JE: I like Virgil–The Aeneid is like a fantasy novel in verse, with gods and magic and murder and treachery and all the good stuff. Also Seneca–the same stuff as Virgil, but with extra doses of cannibalism and murder.

SFFWRTCHT: Was it academic boredom, morbid curiosity, or too much spare time which led you to become a writer?

JE: I started as a kid, long before I got into classics. Though I was always into myth.

SFFWRTCHT: What kinds of stories/things did you write as a kid?

JE: Oh, God. Horrible multibook imitations of Tolkien, drenched with Mary Sues, that never ended until I abandoned them.

SFFWRTCHT: How did the Morlock character come into being?

JE: Morlock was a combination of lots of things–Tolkien, Arthurian mythos, Wells. Irritation with favorite writers gets me to write. I thought Wells was unfair to the Morlocks. Maybe they’re not so pretty, but they have a fair claim to being the real human beings of Wells’ far future: they seem to be _hnau_, (to borrow a word from C.S. Lewis) and it’s not clear to me that the empty pretty Eloi are _hnau_. In something like the same way, Tolkien was unfair to Dwarves–always talking them down, in contrast to his favorites, the Elves. Add a catalyst of Arthurian legend to this volatile mix of literary irritation and you get a wonderworking dry drunk named Morlock Ambrosius who las a long-term connection with Dwarves. Anyway, he walked into one of those multibook things I wrote as a teenager and started causing trouble immediately. Although it took a long time for the world to grow around him. And for my storytelling to grow up to him.

SFFWRTCHT: Did you attempt a novel first or start with the short stories?

JE: I started first with novels, failed egregiously with novels, tried stories, and now I’m trying novels again.

SFFWRTCHT: How many short stories have there been and where have they appeared besides Black Gate?

JE: There’s one in Swords & Dark Magic (up for a Shirley Jackson), and Traveller’s Rest (available as a free ebook), one at Every Day Fiction, and a couple in the old Flashing Swords ezine. Now I’m losing track… Rogue Blades reprinted one from Flashing Swords, “The Red Worm’s Way”. I still have the original version up at my website.

SFFWRTCHT: Tell us a little about the character of Morlock. He’s Merlin’s son and the family are wizards? Does he change in the book? It almost seems like everything changes around him instead…

JE: That’s true about Morlock in Blood Of Ambrose. Though he does have an important choice to make in the final section.

SFFWRTCHT: What made you decide it was time to attempt a Morlock book?

JE: After I started selling stories I was interested in the challenge of a novel. I like experiments with storytelling.

SFFWRTCHT: This Crooked Way was quite a contrast to Blood Of Ambrose. Was it intentional taking the story in a surreal direction?

JE: Sort of! But some of the weirder parts in This Crooked Way predate Blood Of Ambrose by years. I wanted BOA to be user-friendly, though.

SFFWRTCHT: Blood of Ambrose is more about the young Emperor Lathamar in many ways than Morlock. Each of the books seems to have other main characters although they vary. Did you write them as separate standalones?

JE: Morlock stories sometimes need more than one hero. He doesn’t talk enough! “Eh!” How many times can you type that?! That was one reason. But I try to vary the mix of supporting characters (or alternate main characters). Wolf Age happened because a few people asked about the werewolf in This Crooked Way and I got to thinking. Blood Of Ambrose and This Crooked Way really are standalones. Wolf Age benefits from knowing the others. Maybe changing it up each book is a mistake–people don’t know what to expect.

SFFWRTCHT: The structure of Blood of Ambrose felt loose to me. Almost as if a serious of vignettes with a thinly connected metanarrative. Why that choice?

JE: I wanted to write the kind of story that usually appears in 3 volumes in a single shot. Some people weren’t crazy about it. Not enough scenery and walking? But Sword and Sorcery fans dug it, as a rule.

SFFWRTCHT: What drew you to sword and sorcery?

JE: Fritz Leiber’s sword and sorcery blew me away. It was a different kind of fantasy than Tolkien’s–earthier, wittier, faster.

SFFWRTCHT:  What are the core elements of sword & sorcery?

JE: I’ve quoted this a million times, but my favorite definition of S&S is Joe McCullough’s: “Fantasy with dirt.” It’s a grimier, more personal story of magic and danger. Some people draw a harsh clear line between the different types of fantasy, which I think is crazy: clearly the genres and subgenres blend into each other. But to the extent that the danger (and the benefits from overcoming it) are personal, the story is sword and sorcery. To the extent that the danger (and the benefits) are national or worldwide, the fantasy is epic.

SFFWRTCHT: Speaking of Lieber, who are some of your mentors and influences?

JE: Tolkein, Leiber, Vance, Le Guin, Brackett, Zelazny. Those are the bigs, I think, at least in genre.

SFFWRTCHT: How much outlining, character sketching and prep do you do? Do you plan ahead or let the story unfold?

JE: Some of the series is set in stone, some I make up as I go. The contrasts are fun for me, hopefully for the reader. I always have an outline, but I reserve the right to smash it. The sordid Muse knows what she wants. The longer the story is, the more notes-to-self I usually need to make the parts fit. I always know how the story ends (unless I change it at the last minute).

SFFWRTCHT: Do you have a filing system for notes or do you use Scrivener? Or just wing it?

JE: It’s pretty informal–used to be scribbled on sheets of paper, now it’s a word file with cryptic junk in it.

SFFWRTCHT: How does your knowledge of the classics period, culture, languages and writings infuse your fiction? Or does it?

JE: I steal what I can from myths. There’s a running Morlock=Hercules gag in the books, but it’s blink-and-miss-it.

SFFWRTCHT: Have you written stories with other characters besides Morlock and gang?

JE: I’ve written buckets of fiction with other characters. It hasn’t sold, but I don’t despair.

SFFWRTCHT: James Enge is a nom de plume. Do you have any other noms de plume?

JE: So far I’ve only published as James Enge and James Pfundstein (the latter for classics stuff). “Pfundstein” is just too hard for people to spell. There is a real James Enge, though. I bet he hates my guts.

SFFWRTCHT: Have you thought about self publishing, or are you happy with working through publishers?

JE: I really like Pyr–and I’m not saying that because they pay me. Self-publishing: always an option, but it really might be hard to separate oneself from the crowd of voices crying for attention.

SFFWRTCHT: What projects do you have coming up that we can look forward to?

JE: Upcoming: Next year, probably in summer A Guile Of Dragons. It’s volume 1 of a real and actual trilogy. That’s the next experiment. I started out complaining about trilogies, and then I started thinking about how I’d do it, and then I started doing it.

SFFWRTCHT: The things we get ourselves into with our big mouths.

JE: Yes! Maybe Morlock has the right idea, with those enigmatic grunts.


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the forthcoming space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host ofScience Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.