Interview: D. H. Willison

Arvia: Heart of the Sky: Interview with D. H. Willison

Today it’s my pleasure to host D. H. Willison, author of Arvia: Heart of the Sky which is the third book in the Tales of Arvia series, as part of a blog tour hosted by Dave at TheWriteReads On Tour.

This interview is posted as part of the Wyrd & Wonder Month hosted by amazing ladies, check out all the content on Twitter!

Wyrd and Wonder Month 2023. Artwork by Tithi Luadthong.
Artwork by Tithi Luadthong
Meet the Author
D. H. Willison

D. H. Willison is a reader, writer, game enthusiast and developer, engineer, and history buff. He’s lived or worked in over a dozen countries, learning different cultures, viewpoints, and attitudes, which have influenced his writing, contributing to one of his major themes: alternate and creative conflict resolution. The same situations can be viewed by different cultures quite differently. Sometimes it leads to conflict, sometimes to hilarity. Both make for a great story.

He’s also never missed a chance to visit historic sites, from castle dungeons, to catacombs, to the holds of tall ships, to the tunnels of the Maginot Line. It might be considered research, except for the minor fact that his tales are all set on the whimsical and terrifying world of Arvia. Where giant mythic monsters are often more easily overcome with empathy than explosions.

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About the Book
Arvia: Heart of the Sky by D. H. Willison

It takes great courage to stand against a ferocious mythic monster.

It takes far greater to stand WITH one who’s at her most vulnerable.

Tremors rock the land. Wild magic and creatures from the abyss ravage a formerly bountiful forest, while a creeping magic ailment spreads among the harpies. A fragile peace between harpy and human teeters on the brink.

Darin and Rinloh, oddest couple in all the land. They must become the oddest of heroes to save the land.

Heart of the Sky. A charming blend of whimsy, terror, and a lot of heart.

Interview
Welcome to the Asylum, D. H.! Take a seat by the fire, have a glass of beverage of your choice and tell us something about yourself that’s not in your bio!

I love the outdoors—especially anything involving water, and once took a sabbatical to live in a ratty apartment on the Caribbean island of Bonaire where I could go windsurfing or diving every single day. There’s something so refreshing and liberating about windsurfing—with just the wind rather than any sort of motor to move you along. It was fun and satisfying living without so many of the modern conveniences we take for granted, and I saw so many interesting sea creatures in that time.

Wow, that sounds amazing! I bet it was a great time.
What inspires your writing? Do you listen to music, stare into the fire, listen to the whispering of the wind, make deals with the Devil?

Quite often it’s nature. Whether a walk in the woods, staring at the waves, or listening to a storm. Large portions of my stories take place in the wilderness, and I like to include little details about the sights and sounds, but often it’s nothing specific, just the fact that being in nature washes all the modern baggage out of my mind, and inspires some new way of thinking about my story. Of course if you know of a place where mythical creatures actually roam, that would be even better, I’m sure. *Impatient glare* Well, do you? 

Um…sorry, I’m out of ideas 😬
What was the most inspirational place you’ve visited? Did it inspire any of your work? How did that experience affect you personally?

It’s funny, SFF readers may be used to strange locations and alien landscapes, but there are places right here on Earth that are truly amazing. One such place became a key location and inspiration for the cover art of Heart of the Sky. There’s a section of coast on the island of Bonaire so incredibly hostile to life that when I first saw it, I thought it was the surface of the moon. It’s an unusual type of rock that wind and waves erode into a lattice of razor sharp edges and spines. You’d cut up your feet if you tried to walk barefoot, and probably need to go to the hospital if you fell on it. Wind and salt spray keep anything from growing over much of it, and it’s littered with little fragments of shell and bone from creatures blown ashore by powerful waves and strong winds. There’s also the equatorial sun that feels like it’s piercing into your skin with little needles. And yet, it’s beautiful as well. The surrounding ocean practically glows in the most amazing blue green, and the sea spray and clouds are such an intense white you could stare for hours and still not believe it.

And topping it off? There’s even the ruins of a lighthouse to the far north. Which is in rough shape compared to the one described in the book and depicted on the cover. Sorry to say, humans just don’t have the craftsmanship of elves.

This place looks absolutely stunning! That color of the sea, holy shit!
Which character of your series do you identify with the most and why? Who would you like to live with in an asylum?

Honestly many of my characters are the classic fish out of water types—people thrown into something where they are way over their heads. Which is something I can relate to. But I suppose if forced to choose, it would be one of the more monstrous characters for their unique viewpoints. Just hope the asylum has high ceilings, most of them are pretty tall!

Oh, no worries, we can accommodate anyone quite easily! You have no idea what types of creatures we’ve had so far…
Your new novel, Arvia: Heart of the Sky was released on May 12, 2023. Congrats! If you could launch a release party with your MC(s) present, how would that go down? 

Probably rather badly. Darin is certainly a civilized enough fellow. Rinloh on the other hand… huge, accident-prone, and really exuberant.

Rinloh: “It’s supposed to be a party. I want to try this ‘dancing’ you humans are always babbling about.”

Darin: “Please no.”

Crash!

Rinloh: “Oops.”

I would hope the venue is well-insured.

If you were a character in your series/book, how would you be described? And what would your profession/role be? How long do you think you would survive in that world?

Me? I’m not super bold by nature, so I’d probably venture a hundred paces out of the city, hear an eerie growl, say ‘hell no,’ and head back. Probably become a busboy or dishwasher at a tavern. But hey, who knows? Maybe some drunken patron would drop a map and I’d be tempted again.

Which part of Arvia: Heart of the Sky was the hardest to write, and which was the most satisfactory?

The most difficult was probably some of the interpersonal conflicts, such as the innkeeper kicking one of my MCs when he was down. It made his subsequent picking himself back up much more satisfying, but irl I’m a bit conflict averse, and things like that hurt me to write. The most satisfying for me are always when I can make a humorous scene really work. There’s one chapter in which Darin and Vivian try to convince one of the harpies (who have a tough as nails, warrior culture) to accept medical help for a nasty wound. I suppose you have to read it to get the humor, but they used reverse psychology in describing how painful any treatment would be, and how said harpy could tell the rest of her flock she endured unimaginable agony during the procedure. And with that, I made a gruesome surgery hilarious.

Heart of the Sky is the third book in The Tales of Arvia series. Tell us a bit more about the world. What inspired you in creating it? What is your main message if you have any?

Honestly, I like fantasy worlds that are truly fantastical, and Arvia is an over-the-top world of giant creatures, exotic flora, and a huge variety of characters. Many elements allow me to subvert some of the more mainstream fantasy tropes in my stories. 

I’ve probably taken inspiration from everything from the first fantasy books I read as a child (Oz) to the Myth Series I loved as a teen, to more recent books. And there are probably a few influences I don’t even realize. As far as messages, it mostly has to do with extremes—and the most extreme creatures on Arvia are harpies. In mythology they’re often portrayed as dangerous, evil creatures — sometimes a punishment from the gods for deceitful or unfaithful characters. I take this even further: they’re giant, with an appetite for human flesh—essentially a bad-tempered dragon with feathers. Yet the series revolves around a friendship between a human and a harpy—about him seeing the good in her, and her eventually seeing it for herself. In Arvia: Heart of the Sky I’ve really leaned into this, with the villagers learning to see the flip side of the harpies’ personalities. And what would the positive side of a bad-tempered creature that despises deceitful or unfaithful characters be? Exceptional loyalty toward those who display honesty, courage, and compassion.

In an era where we are ever more pushed into camps of extreme positions, where everyone is either ‘with us’ or ‘against us,’ for me, true victory lies in being able to bridge great chasms, to understand those different than ourselves rather than defeating them in an epic battle.

You have a couple of books behind you, you know. Was it any easier to write than the first? What are the main lessons you’ve learned during self-publishing? What advice would you give to someone thinking about taking this path?

Subsequent books haven’t gotten any easier, but they have gotten better. I’ve participated in author critique groups for many years now, and I guess that’s the main piece of advice I’d give to anyone. Join a real critique group. You’ll learn both by receiving and giving advice. You won’t believe how blind you can be to your own faults. So often I’m critiquing another author’s work saying something like, “This description of the castle is a bit weak because… oh crap, I’m doing the exact same thing in my own story.”

What are your plans for 2023? Any particular events you plan to visit?

I don’t have any events in mind, though it’s been way too long since I’ve been to any sort of ‘con.’ (Normally I find out about them too late.) But I do plan a little travel, and relish any outdoorsy trips I can manage.

While you are locked in here for eternity, we will allow you to invite one visitor (fictional and otherwise) – who would you invite? And no, they can’t help you to escape.

Do you have a big swimming pool? If so, it would be one of the merfolk characters from Arvia such as Loredonna. They’re fun, mysterious, and great conversationalists.

As I said above, we have accommodations for all kinds of creatures. In fact, we have a nice “aquarium” room, which I think will fit for your needs.
Well then, it was a pleasure to have a chat with you! Please allow these nice attendants to escort you out. We hope you’ll enjoy your stay in the Asylum! Any last words? 

*In a hollow voice* …Never again booking the economy Asylum tour package!

*locks door*
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Grab a copy of Arvia: Heart of the Sky or any of the previous books in the Tales of Arvia series by D. H. Willison!

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