I'm excited to welcome my mid-April visiting author, fantasy author Mikko Azul! Mikko's debut novel, Askari, is the first installment of Child of Muralia, an epic fantasy trilogy about a teenage boy with powerful magic, who must overcome the fear and prejudice of his people in order to save them from an evil that threatens to tear his world apart. Askari won a bronze medal in the 2012 Moonbeam Children's Book Awards, which honors "books that inspire our children to read, to learn, and to dream."
To thank you for coming by, Mikko is giving away an electronic copy of Askari to each of three lucky winners! Scroll down to enter to win your very own copy.
Welcome, Mikko! Great to have you here. Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m 45 years old, the parent of four boys, and have the attention span of a gnat. Although I consider myself reasonably intelligent, I’ve never been able to sit still at one thing for very long. I’ve never held a job, lived in one location or had the same friends for an extended period of time, so actually completing a novel was a huge accomplishment for me.
What are three of your favorite things? Three of your least favorite things?
I absolutely love reading; it’s the only thing that will keep me sitting still. I love the creation process of writing, as would be expected. The thing that excites me the most in my life is the chance for a new adventure – throw something new and challenging at me and I’m thrilled. Last year I took up SCUBA diving. This year I’m trying my hand at 5k obstacle courses. My least favorite things include TV, being forced to sit still (like when I’ve inadvertently injured myself on one of my “adventures”) and technology. I’m not savvy enough to fix a computer if it doesn’t behave…I just want to push a button and have it work, otherwise I’m at a loss (and not very pleasant to be around!).
When did you start writing? What inspired you to start writing your own stories?
My love of books began early, at age 7, with The Boxcar Children. I wrote my first “story” that I published with yellow construction paper and bound with red yarn that same year. I’ve been dabbling in story writing ever since, but never really put it all together until recently.
What are some of your favorite words? (Syllabub? Xylophone? Whizbang? Taradiddle?)
I love names, especially names that flow. I love the “L” and “S” sounds, so many of my names will have those sounds. Laurelei, Lania, Cybelle, Askari, etc.
Tell us a little about Askari and the Child of Muralia series. What is it about? How did you get the inspiration for the first book?
When my oldest son became a teenager and we’d already gone through all the Harry Potter books, we were struggling to find literature that would appeal to him without going to the adult section of the bookstore. I had read Eragon and was inspired. I knew I had to create something that teen boys would find interesting: fast-paced action, high stakes, triumph against impossible odds and a character that they could identify with. Askari is the story of a young boy who is filled with contradictions. He is at that crossroads where he’s almost a man and has to make the hard decisions that will define him for the rest of his life. Askari is about how he navigates his way through those early choices and mistakes and how he reconciles himself. He has to grow up a lot on his journey and he doesn’t always do what he should. Because Askari is the first book of a trilogy, the final outcome won’t be revealed until the third book, Shaeli, is completed.
If your writing could have an impact on the lives of your readers (besides entertainment), how would you hope it would impact them?
There are many subtle themes throughout Askari and one of them is about honoring the greatness inside of each of us. I hope that readers can recognize that no matter what race or creed they hail from, there is greatness in all of us that should be recognized and valued. This is especially true for honoring the greatness inside of ourselves, something that we are not taught to do as a society.
Is there a book or a story that has had a profound impact on you at any time in your life? What was it, and how did it impact you?
There are many, from Robin Hood to King Arthur to Peter Pan. However, the stories that had the greatest impact on me were the Arabian Nights and Sinbad the Sailor. I loved the daring adventures and the narrow escapes. Those stories always kept me riveted to the pages.
Why do you choose to write fantasy/adventure stories? Why do you think those types of stories appeal to readers?
For me, fantasy is what I know. It’s what I’ve always read and loved the most. Reading is and always has been an escape for me, so fantasy is the one genre that made the most sense. I try not to take my writing too seriously because, after all, it is fiction that has the sole purpose of giving others an opportunity to escape into a new realm for the pure enjoyment of the adventure.
You’ve created such a complete world, with so many races, creatures, and unusual customs. How do you come up with your ideas? Did you spend a lot of time creating the world before you started writing, or did it emerge as the book developed?
Most of my ideas come from two sources – National Geographic magazine, and travel food shows like Bizarre Foods and No Reservations. I love learning about other cultures and places on our planet and it isn’t a big stretch for much of it to reach the fantastic. I spent the first several years just creating the world – the geography, flora and fauna, then peoples, cultures, social structures, creation mythologies, etc. It wasn’t until the world was largely developed that I truly began with the plot of the story. Things shifted and changed as the storyline required it, but the world was complete first.
Other than your main character, Cedron, do you have a favorite character you’ve created? Which character is it, and why?
I love the minor character of Sarohra the gem cutter. She is a tribute to my favorite Marine Corps drill instructor SSgt. Rohr. Her twinkling brown eyes and sense of humor have stayed with me for decades and I wanted to honor her with a character who could provide support to my main character in her own small way, as the real woman did for me.
What are the hardest types of scenes for you to write?
Romantic scenes are so difficult for me to write that I have almost completely excluded them from my work. There’s enough paranormal romance out there, so I’m not compelled to try it. I also struggle with finding evil things. I’ve had to do a lot of research in my old Dungeons and Dragons monster manuals to come up with obstacles for my heroes to battle. Considering how much trouble I have with it, I think I’ve done really well with my antagonist!
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I’m working as a substitute teacher at local schools. I teach K-8 any subject and it has kept me busy! Otherwise, I have two small boys still at home that I spend much of my time with, and a house full of four-legged creatures that keep me hopping!
What’s something people wouldn’t be able to guess about you just by looking at you?
Most people are surprised to learn that I was in the Marine Corps. I am proud of my service and am grateful for the sense of purpose and accomplishment that it gave me. I support our troops of every branch regardless of which political party has control of our country.
If you had a genie that could grant three wishes, what would you wish for?
Coming from you, that’s a dangerous question to try and answer! I wish my children could see themselves as I see them; I wish that I had more time to do all the things I want to do; and I wish that Babylon wasn’t a war zone because I’ve always wanted to visit there but don’t dare take my family.
What can we expect from you in the future?
Askari is my international award-winning debut novel and is currently being considered by Scholastic. That would open up huge opportunities for me. The sequel, Yezman, will be completed later this year (2013) with the final book, Shaeli, to be published in 2014. Muralia is a big part of my life now and I have a myriad of stories that take place within its borders running through my head!
How can readers get more information about you and your work?
Readers can follow my journey at my blog: www.mikkoazul.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/mikkoazul
Askari, Child of Muralia Book I is available as hardcover, softcover, Nook and Kindle on Amazon.com here or Barnes & Noble.com here.
Enter below for a chance to win a copy of Askari!
__Lauren Sweet is the author of the Bitter Snow series, a modern fairy tale in nine novellas, and Aladdin's Samovar, the first of a series starring Amber Polaski and Jasper the genie. Lauren lives near Portland, Oregon, where she is a freelance writer and editor.