I met Sean Poage a few months ago through fellow author Andrew Weston. We hit it off really well and I was intrigued with his debut Arthurian novel. Through our conversations, I knew I wanted to interview him. I asked and he said sure. It’s my pleasure to introduce you to Sean Poage and his debut novel. Take it away, Sean.
What is your writing process?
I’m what they call a “pantser”, meaning that rather than making an outline, I’ll get a concept and a rough outline in my head, and then start writing. I actually can’t bring myself to move to a new chapter until I feel comfortable with the chapter I’m working on, though I have gone back and completely re-written chapters later.
Do you have any odd writing habits?
Not that I know of… I can get squirrled out when researching. I might go to look up the name of a particular town in the 5th century and end up spending an hour following a rabbit hole into the details about the tin trade between Britain and the Mediterranean, and thence onto iron smelting in Asia Minor, and so on.
What book do you wish you could have written?
A novelisation of the Trojan War that hasn’t already been done to death.
Just as your books inspire authors, what authors have inspired you?
There are so many. J.R.R. Tolkien, Geoffrey Ashe and Janet Morris spring most readily to mind.
If you could cast your characters in the Hollywood adaptation of your book, who would play your characters?
Ha! I am the absolute worst at current pop culture, actors, etc. I couldn’t hope to pick someone out by name. If it ever happens, I just hope I can arrange to get in as a cameo.
How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning?
Names have actually been a real issue for this series, because I‘ve wanted to stay true to the Brittonic/Pre-Welsh era and not use names that came mostly from French Romance writers of nearly a thousand years later. For instance, “Sir Kay” and “Sir Bedivere” are easily recognizable, but their original names were “Cei” and “Bedwyr” in the earlier Welsh stories (knights are a much later title). Those were pretty easy to keep. The main character, Gawain, was a tougher decision. Originally, his name was “Gwalchmei”, but it doesn’t evoke an Arthurian image for most people, so I stayed with “Gawain”, which is also much easier to pronounce. Lancelot was a later invention, but Cei, Bedwyr and Gwalchmei were all member’s of Arthur’s circle from early on, and are thought to have been historical people.
What do you consider to be your best accomplishment?
I designed and implemented a training program for the Iraqi police and military to do bomb related crime scene investigations. It was very successful and well received, was very interesting to teach to them, and gave me a real sense of doing something to help people.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Hopefully a best-selling author with a completed trilogy!
Have you always liked to write?
I have. I started dabbling in, probably, 9th grade. I have a few samples that make me cringe to look back on.
What writing advice do you have for other aspiring authors?
Read, read a lot, and read some more. Nothing trains like other good (and bad) authors. And then have a story that you really want to tell. Don’t do it for money; very few can do it for a living. Do it for the love of telling a story.
If you didn’t like writing books, what would you do for a living?
Well, I work in IT and would rather write. If I had a different choice, it would be one of those people who get to travel the world and do TV shows about it. Ok, you didn’t say it had to be realistic.
Are you a plotter or a pantster?
Definitely a pantser. I sometimes do short outlines to keep some details in the right places, but I generally feel like the story takes me where it needs to go.
Do you read your reviews? Do you respond to them, good or bad? Do you have any advice on how to deal with the bad?
I read all of my reviews, and it has been wonderful and humbling. I have responded when I can, with at least a “like” or thanks. Once or twice I’ve asked readers what they thought would have made the book better. I enjoy interacting with people about the books. If you get a bad review here and there, well, you aren’t going to please everyone. If you get a lot of bad reviews, don’t give up, just put aside any pride and find out what needs to be improved.
What is your best marketing tip?
Find someone who knows what they’re doing. I struggle to find the time to write because I have a full time job, family and so on.
What is your least favorite part of the publishing / writing process?
The marketing process!
Do you have a favorite spot to write? What is it?
Looking out over some beautiful natural scenery, that is perfect.
Is there a certain type of scene that’s harder for you to write than others? Love? Action? Racy?
The part of writing that gives me the most trouble is when I am transitioning between scenes. Finding the best way to move from one subject to the next in an engaging way without using cliché techniques.
Is this your first book? How many books have you written prior (if any?)
This is my first completed and published book. I’m working on the second book in the series, The Strife of Camlann, and I have a short story contributed to an upcoming anthology by one of my favorite authors that will hopefully be coming out before long. I also have several short stories based around my current series that are available for free to anyone who signs up for my mailing list.
What are you working on now? What is your next project?
I am working on book two of The Arthurian Age trilogy, The Strife of Camlann. After that will come the third book in the series. Following that I have some ideas for some books that are more in the fantasy realm.
Do you write naked?
No. The coffee shops seem to have a problem with that.
Have you ever gotten into a fight?
I had a couple in school. Quite a few as a police officer. One as an adult a few years ago when a drunk at a bar tried to sucker punch me for being friends with the much bigger guy he was arguing with. That was weird.
What do you want your tombstone to say?
We thought he’d never die.
If you had a superpower, what would it be?
I seem to be invisible in bars. Except for the drunk guy mentioned above.
What literary character is most like you?
I’d like to think Han Solo, but Jar Jar Binks is probably a closer match.
What secret talents do you have?
I am great at trivia, as long as it isn’t about current pop culture.
Where is one place you want to visit that you haven’t been before?
Australia is high on my list.
What’s on your bucket list (things to do before you die)?
I’ve done most of the items on my bucket list at this point, aside from publishing my trilogy. The remaining items are all about travel— seeing as much of the world as I can.
Do you have any scars? What are they from?
I have several scars, mostly from injuries in the military or when I was a police officer.
What do you dream? Do you have any recurring dreams/nightmares?
I don’t remember my dreams, mostly. I seem to have a variety of flying dreams most often when I do, which is fun.
Thank you, Sean, for the insightful interview. Readers, scroll down to read more about Sean's debut novel.
Title The Retreat to Avalon
Author Sean Poage
Genre Historical Fiction, Historical Fantasy
Publisher Made Global Publishing
After three generations of struggle against ruthless invaders, Britain has finally clawed its way back within reach of peace and prosperity. Across the sea, Rome is crumbling under an onslaught of barbarian attacks, internal corruption and civil war. Desperate for allies, Rome’s last great emperor looks to Britain and the rising fame of her High King, Arthur.
Arthur believes the coming war is inevitable, but many are opposed. Dissension, intrigue and betrayal threaten to tear the fragile British alliance apart from within, while the enemies of Britain wait for the first sign of weakness.
Gawain, a young warrior craving fame, is swept up in Arthur’s wake as the king raises an army. While his wife and kin face their own struggles at home, Gawain finds himself taking on more than he bargained for, while heading into the greatest battle his people have faced in generations.
“Avalon, so the story goes, is a mythic place where King Arthur fades from view after his last battle. But in his ground-breaking novel The Retreat to Avalon, Sean Poage tells us otherwise. Avalon, he says, is a real location on the map, and a real Arthur did go there. We can even fix the date.
Told through a group of vivid characters, The Retreat to Avalon brilliantly opens up a world which historical research has only recently begun to discover.” - Geoffrey Ashe, MBE FRSL, historian and author of The Discovery of King Arthur
Arthur moved to within a few bowshots of the lines and observed the battle. Bedwyr ensured that the initial charge was feeble, and the Vesi surged against the Britons with increased confidence, believing they faced weak opponents. But the Britons held, and the battle continued sporadically, the wounded and dead carried away between clashes.
After some time, Bedwyr had his men press forward, and the Vesi lines wavered, their commander sending cavalry to the weak spots. Shortly after, a column of enemy infantry appeared, marching to reinforce their comrades. It was time to continue the retreat.
Bedwyr had groups of men begin peeling off from the rear of his formations. A disordered withdrawal would be more convincing but would waste lives. Arthur led his heavy cavalry up to prevent an actual collapse as Bedwyr started pulling more men out. The mounted warriors pressed up against the thinning locations, stabbing with their long spears, over the heads of their fellows and into the faces of the enemy. The light and medium cavalry remained on the wings, dodging scattered flights of arrows that the Vesi cavalry haphazardly fired from extreme range. Gawain watched impatiently with the others as Arthur surveyed the melee from his saddle.
The conflict grew intense as the Vesi pressed their attack, sensing victory against the receding British ranks. But as they pushed onto the higher ground that the Britons had occupied, they found their sides unprotected by the marsh. Arthur launched his cavalry fully into the fray against the enemy flanks, bringing them to a panicked halt.
Bedwyr’s infantry were now able to withdraw and began hustling along the road as the Vesi commander tried to reorganize his troops against the waves of cavalry attacks. Suddenly, Arthur rose up in his saddle, pointed his spear at the centre of the Vesi formation and roared, “By God’s hand, now!”
His horse leapt forward, and it was a testament to the discipline of his household guard that none missed a beat. A shout blasted forth as they spurred their mounts toward the enemy spearmen, their lance points dropping down to aim for standing men. Behind the first lines of riders and from the light and medium cavalry who were not engaged came a racket of shouts and the bellow of horns.
Arthur could sense the timing to initiate a charge like no other. The sudden noise and the sight of the onrushing mass of beast, rider and glittering steel had its intended effect on men already in a state of confusion. Panic erupted, some trying to find a way out of the path of the horses, others trying to push back through the lines. A few made futile attempts to rally their fellows.
The thrill of battle rushed through Gawain, intensifying his focus, merging with Keincaled, whose red ears pinned back against his head as he launched into such a dash that Gawain had to rein him in to avoid outpacing his line. From the corner of his right eye, he kept track of Arthur, in the centre of the charge and slightly ahead, four places down.
Arthur led his men as a warlord should, in the front and centre. His white cloak streamed behind, revealing his gilded scale armour and his famous sword, Caliburn, in its jewelled scabbard. His white shield bore the Chi-Rho in red, with an image of the Virgin painted inside the shield, above the handle. His dark steel helm was adorned only with scars of battle and a gold dragon crest.
Behind Arthur, Tegyr carried the Dragon banner, a pole topped by a gold dragon’s head with an open mouth allowing the air streaming through to extend a red silk tail for several feet. The enemy would have no doubts about who this was.
Gawain focused on the enemy line, seconds away. There was no room to maneuver so there would be little choosing of targets and no swerving to avoid an opposing spear. Gawain identified the man he faced—a grim, heavy man with a bald head and reddish-blond beard, wearing a thickly padded leather breastplate. He looked determined to hold the line and bellowed encouragement and curses at his fellows. But they were beginning to scramble away as the oncoming charge shook the ground beneath them.
The man glanced over his shoulders to see the space clearing behind him. He began fidgeting and, as Gawain expected, he lost his nerve, dropped his spear and tried to protect himself with both hands on his shield. It did him no good.
Gawain and his fellows hit the disordered Vesi lines in a dreadful cacophony of shattered wood, ringing steel, rent flesh and terrified screams. Gawain’s spear struck the shield of his target, smashing the man down, snapping the point off and wrenching the shaft out of Gawain’s grasp. In the space of a breath after Keincaled crushed the hapless soldier, Gawain drew his sword and joined his comrades in slashing, stabbing and trampling the enemy ranks.
A rout loomed, but that was not what Arthur intended, and within a minute or so, Tegyr sounded a horn call that told the Britons to withdraw. Gawain and the others moved in closer to Arthur and shielded him as they cantered out of the carnage of their assault. A few had minor wounds, and Arthur’s cousin, Siawn, had lost his horse, so he rode out behind his brother, Moren, until they could bring up a replacement for him.
There was little threat at this point, as the Vesi commanders struggled to reorganise. A few of their horsemen approached to launch arrows at the Britons but fled from Bedwyr’s light cavalry.
“It appears Euric’s men do have serious intentions towards us,” Bedwyr called out, riding up to join Arthur. He was flushed with battle and grinning to both ears. Arthur, too, was animated and laughed in response.
“Your spearmen should be able to put some distance between themselves and the enemy,” Arthur responded. “I doubt the Vesi will be able to organise another attack before nightfall.”
Historical fiction author, Sean Poage, has had an exciting and varied life, as a laborer, soldier, police officer, investigator, computer geek and author. Travelling the world to see history up close is his passion.
These days he works in the tech world, writes when he can, and spends the rest of the time with his family, which usually means chores and home improvement projects, with occasional time for a motorcycle ride, scuba dive, or a hike in the beautiful Maine outdoors.
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