I’ve made something of a habit of buying books by self-pub authors – at least the books that interest me. One never knows what to expect from such books – an unknown gem, perhaps. Or sometimes reading one feels like needles stuck in one’s eyes.
John Hoddy and I were classmates at the U.S. Naval Academy, Class of 1966, he a sometimes bearded submariner and later a bureaucrat. As it turns out he and I lived on similar paths – educated in technical fields, but with a life-long love of books and writing. His first major work, The Bandit Little Red, is a 580 page read, but it’s hardly a tiresome read. In fact, I place it in the gem category above.
John consented to this interview, so I’ll let him tell you the rest of the story.
GF – – Given your background, how did you become interested in writing?
JH – – I began writing at an early age, starting with poetry as a third-grader and a brief excursion into a science fiction “epic” in the seventh grade. My first excursion into serious writing, and my first published work, was in college, with a horror story that came into mind pretty much fully formed. A couple of other short stories followed, all of which were published in the college magazine.
After college, I set creative writing aside for years, although I continued writing poetry, and I dabbled with a Tolkien-esque fantasy. Lots of technical and bureaucratic writing filled the years before I took up the creative side again. Bureaucratese is deadly to prose. That meant unlearning any number of bad habits, and learning how to tell a story again.
GF – – This is a largely a fantasy work. How did you decide to write in this genre?
JH – – Blame Tolkien for that. The Fellowship of the Ring was an assigned work in my college literature class. It took half the book to get into it, and then I was hooked. When I started a work of my own, it was the aforementioned quest novel, where a hearty band of [fill in the blank] set off to save the world from [fill in the blank] etc. The faded hand-written text from that effort still sits on a shelf somewhere, but—
Once you’ve created characters and invested them with personalities and motivations, they never entirely go away. I’d check in on my creations from time to time, see how they were doing, find out how the lives were progressing and the like. Alisa was originally a secondary character in her 20s, the blue-eyed blonde sister of my intended protagonist Lathin, and the romantic interest of an antihero. The epiphany that led to The Bandit Little Red and plans for works to follow came when I was watching a PBS presentation of Riverdance. The lead female dancer was a tall, statuesque redhead. Watching her, it was as if Alisa turned, looked me in the eyes, and said: “I’m not a blue-eyed blonde, I’m a green-eyed redhead with a personality to match, and I have a story to tell. If you’ll get these muscle-bound oafs off center stage, I’ll be happy to tell it to you.” The rest led from there.
GF – – The locale for the book’s story seems similar to Eastern Europe, possibly the Middle Ages’ tribal Rus area, from what is now Russia to the Caspian Sea. Was this intended?
JH – – Yes and no. I modeled the time and setting on post-Roman, early pre-baronial Europe, where long-established political structures have broken down and new ones are being formed. I had the steppes of Central Asia in mind as a model for the location, although as the story evolved, the area you describe became the more accurate model. Apparently the story and its characters knew better than their writer did. That’s a region crossed by trade routes, inhabited in Classic times by the Scythians, superb nomadic horsemen, and later by Cossacks, people sharing a number of similarities with Grisha’s bandits.
GF — Please describe briefly for our readers Alisa’s evolution from a relatively well off child to a teen bandit.
JH — When the story starts, Alisa is on the cusp of her 14th summer, growing up the youngest child of an aristocratic merchant family in a walled city-state named Thysandra. Her brother is stopping by with the military, heading into an ongoing war that claimed her father’s life some 10 years earlier. Within a matter of weeks, her people’s military suffer a disastrous defeat with her brother presumed dead, and enemy troops are camped outside the city walls. When the city falls, she is among the few survivors. Alone and starving, she joins refugees from the continuing war headed for nearby Elbion, a city that surrendered to enemy troops without resistance.
Titled wealth still awaits if Alisa can make it to her father’s native city a week’s trek distant. Spending six months living on the streets of Elbion, she waits for a break in the fighting and the weather to try to make it to her father’s home. Before she can set out, she’s caught in a sweep of the city by slavers hired to rid Elbion of a vagrancy problem. On the way to distant slave markets, the convoy carrying her is sacked by bandits in an ungoverned region called the Wildlands. When she sees slavers dead and those like her promised relocation and given better treatment by the bandits than that received from civilized society, she determines to make a stand where events have carried her. Arguing her way into probationary status with the bandits, she intends to make it back to titled wealth when she can, but sees no reason why the waiting shouldn’t include a little adventure.
The remainder of the story has her winning her way to a place as an equal in a male oriented society. The outlaws, a rough but compassionate lot, make her no allowances. She must prove herself at every step as she seeks to become the bandit Little Red.
GF – – Perhaps the most memorable character interaction in the book is between Alisa and Leandra. In fact, to this reader, Leandra almost steals the show from Alisa. How would you describe their relationship?
JH – – It’s easier for me to write the interaction than to characterize it. In Leandra, I set out to create a character tough on the outside, caring where it counts, responsible and hard-working to a fault, and almost impossible to live with. She’s also one who’d never turn away a stray dumped on her doorstep, and Alisa fits the description. Want her for a housemate or not, practically the first thing she does with the half starving Alisa is to feed her.
Their relationship as the story progresses becomes one of older/younger sisters, with rough around the edges Leandra another mentor for her young housemate. Alisa gives as well as she gets, with the back-and-forth between them keeping things lively.
From an author’s perspective, I enjoy Leandra’s character and have a good time getting into her persona. Some of the elements come from my Appalachian born second-generation Irish grandmother. A tiny woman, into her 80s she could still work the rest of us into the ground.
GF – – Grisha seems something of a mentor to Alisa. Can you speak in more detail to their relationship? How is he similar and/or different to/from Lathin?
JH – – Grisha is a father figure as well as a mentor. Alisa grew up without a father, killed in battle before she can remember. Grisha lost his daughter into slavery years earlier. The two keep everything distant and formal, but each fits a psychological void in the other.
Earlier, before Alisa’s world was torn apart when her city fell, eight years older Lathin played a similar role, doing the best he could to fill the missing father’s place. When the story begins, he’s been absent two years overseeing the family’s broader business and political interests.
The two are similar in their caring about Alisa, mentoring her, and looking out for her where they can, something she doesn’t always make easy. They differ in that there was never any doubt that Lathin was nothing more than a big brother. Alisa sometimes sees Grisha as the father she never had.
GF – – What are you working on now? A sequel to The Bandit Little Red?
JH – – Yes. The sequel, In the Company of Thieves, is about 90% complete in first draft. The tale picks up about a month after The Bandit Little Red concludes. Alisa has just settled into her new life when she finds that her brother is threatened. Only one person can get him a warning, although that means crossing snow-choked mountains in the middle of winter, and it jeopardizes her hard won standing in Wildlands bandit society. Two more volumes in the series are planned, Vengeance and Fine Wine, where Alisa must do what she can to get a bounty lifted from her head, and Blood Will Find Blood, with Alisa finally reuniting with her brother, extracting retribution against the general who sacked her city along the way.