top of page

Reader's Give-aways 5: The Scourge

Enter our draw to win a copy of this book!

See details at the end of this post.

The Scourge by Roberto Calas

Roberto Calas and I have known each other for a number of years now. I was first exposed to his writing with one of his current works-in-progress, an epic fantasy tale about a group of thieves and madmen who seek to avenge the death of their swordsmaster by secretly infiltrating a corrupt government. It was a great introduction to his work, and I eagerly moved on to read his published writing. His books are hard to put down, full of adventure, and always a fun read. To borrow from his bio, a little bit about him:

Roberto Calas is an author of fantasy, historical fantasy, and horror. He lives in Sandy Hook, Connecticut and has twelve-year-old twins, a boy and a girl. He is represented by Byrd Leavell of Waxman Leavell.

His serial trilogy (The Scourge) is about a 14th-century knight fighting his way through a demon-infested England to reunite with the woman he loves. And every bit of it is true except for the made-up parts.

If you prefer epic fantasy, Roberto’s series The Beast of MaugMaurai might be just the thing for you. In this series published by Westmarch, a dispirited officer in the King’s Army must lead a band of misfit soldiers into a forest to slay a marauding monster.

If you have any interest in The Hundred Years War or Neal Stephenson’s Foreworld universe, Roberto was commissioned to write a novella called Kingdom of Glass for Amazon’s Kindle Worlds program. For Amazon’s StoryFront, Roberto wrote a short story set in The Scourge universe. And, most recently, another of Roberto’s short stories (also set in The Scourge universe) will be published in the upcoming animal anthology Tails of the Apocalypse.

Roberto is the former co-owner and current consultant for Strongblade, a company that designs and sells swords, armor and historical replicas. In addition to physical art, he is an accomplished artist in the two-dimensional arena. His digital creations have graced the book covers of writers such as Scott James Magner, StantLitore, and Melissa F. Olson.

Want to know more about him? He flips any coin he sees that is tails up; he plays a mean game of Pictionary; he has a pilot’s license; he can juggle really damn well; and with the amount of evidence his friends have, he could never, ever run for President.

Book Review: The Scourge

Roberto's writing always has a touch (or sometimes more than a touch) of humor, great action scenes and unique characters in very interesting settings. The Scourge, his first published book, is no exception. Recently re-released, it's the first in a trilogy and follows the journey of three knights as they traverse a zombie-filled Medieval England. The three knights are Sir Tristan, a wise-cracking, irreverent crusader who takes very little seriously, Sir Morgan, whose faith in God is stronger than the zombie apocalypse, and Sir Edward, whose love for his wife, Elizabeth, propels their journey through the nightmare landscape.

The story is richly textured, with an amazing level of historical detail, and includes such heart-breaking and also humorous details as Sir Morgan's favorite hunting falcon, now a zombified creature, faithfully following them and sometimes attacking them as they ride across Southeastern England.

I haven't read another book that takes such a unique premise and combines it with the fantastical in such an entertaining way. I couldn't put the book down, as each confrontation between the living and dead becomes more and more harrowing. The description and setting are richly and beautifully written. It places you directly into Shakespeare's England, with realistic and yet readable dialogue that gives the reader a sense of the archaic but without overwhelming you with florid language. So if you like zombies and you like English history, this would be the perfect book for you.

Author Interview with Roberto Calas

I recently had the great pleasure to sit down and talk with Roberto about life, writing, and The Scourge.

Alison: Hello, Roberto, and thank you for joining me today. It's been a lot of fun reading your Medieval adventure novels, starting with your first published book, The Scourge. You now have a couple of trilogies of historical fantasy books, in addition to several standalone novels and short stories in various anthologies. Please tell our readers a little about your writing background. How did you get started?

Roberto: Hi Alison. Thanks very much for talking with me today. Might I take a moment to say how much I enjoy your fiction? It's an honor to be interviewed by someone with such mad writing skills. I guess I should use a Z there, but I don't think I have enough street cred to say "mad skillz." I have so little street cred, to tell you the truth, that I still use the term "street cred" and think the expression "mad skillz" is edgy.

I started my journey as a writer when I was very young, and, back then, it was called reading. I read everything I could get my hands on. Fantasy . Science fiction. Literary. Young Adult. Shampoo bottles. Everything. Reading was pretty much my superpower. I would read, then draw and paint pictures of the things I had seen in my head while reading. Sometimes my mom would look at the drawings and cry and ask me what was wrong with me. No, I'm kidding. I always hid the drawings that I knew would make her cry and send me to therapy. Yes, I'm kidding again. I was a fairly happy child growing up, which is a horrible way to start a writing career.

Despite my disappointing happiness, I started writing stories when I was about seven or eight. I think my first story featured my stuffed animals as the main characters. Yeah, I know. I was seven, deal with it. The next one I remember was about an interstellar bounty hunter. I think I wrote it after watching that old movie, The Last Starfighter. I continued to write stories here and there, but reading was my real education in writing. And, for some reason, I outpaced everyone I knew. I think I lived more in the worlds I read about than in the real world. If this place we live in is actually real. Ask me a question about perception and reality if you really want to get me going...

Where was I? Oh, writing. Yes. I wrote sporadically until college. People would ask me to write their papers for them in exchange for beer or pizza, which, as anyone who has been to college knows, is the standard dorm currency. I wrote a letter-to-the-editor about some issue which had affected me--probably the price increases in beer and pizza--and sent it to our local newspaper. A day later, an associate editor knocked on my door and asked if I would consider writing for the school newspaper.

Thus began my writing career.

I worked for newspapers for a few years, and, though the discipline of deadlines helped my writing, the stripped-down, draconian writing style set my creative writing back years. Hmm. Maybe I'm not being fair to journalism. Writing for newspapers was like living among the Amish. It was hard work, with simple tools and no frills, and I suppose that sort of writing cut away some of the split ends on my writing style. But the creative dumbing-down did cause problems for my fiction writing. I left newspapers and worked as a magazine writer and editor for about four years. Magazines were much more my thing. Creativity was encouraged and actually rewarded. Sadly, the magazine industry is a wild West, and three of the magazines I worked for were sold to other companies and staff were dismissed. So I went back to school for art, my other passion. I became a graphic designer, and wrote creatively on the side.

I wrote The Scourge as a short story one summer as part of an anthology for my writing group, The Fairfield Scribes. Have you heard of them? Yeah, so, after spending about six years writing and trying to sell a fantasy trilogy, it took me two weeks to write the short story and sell it to 47 North as the basis for a novel. I even had a typo in the query letter. So, I learned a valuable lesson: Don't try. Yeah, that's another joke. The real lesson was that writing begets better writing. The more you write, the better you will get. You've got a lot of lessons to learn, and some of those lessons can only be learned by making the same mistakes again and again, by becoming so intimate with language that it becomes like the finest silk in your hands. You should be able to feel every little knot and imperfection in what you've written, and that kind of awareness takes an incredible amount of hard work. I might go live with the Amish for a while to up my work ethic.

Alison: You touch on a subject that I feel most writers can commiserate with, which is that writing is a lifelong addiction. You can't really break the habit, even if you try. What was the experience like when writing The Scourge? And what gave you the idea to combine knights and zombies in one story?

Roberto: The Scourge started its publication run as a serial novel. It was released in eight episodes, one episode every two weeks, as part of the then-new Kindle Serials program. Readers would pay one price ($1.99, I think was the starting price) and their Kindles would automatically update the story every time an episode came out.

I’ve talked a lot about the insanity of that time period. Most of the other authors in the program already had their novels written. The Scourge was only about 12,000 words long when 47North picked it up. The finished novel had to be at least 80,000 words long. I think I was writing about a month ahead of the publication schedule, which meant I was writing each episode in about two weeks. Then I would send the episode out to beta readers, who would get it back to me quickly so I could make edits based on their input. After the edits, I would send it to my editor at 47North, who would do a developmental pass, then send it to a copy editor. While they were looking at that episode, I was working on the next. It was a maddening, blissful time, and a really interesting way to write. I highly recommend that all writers try it at least once, even if their work is going to be self-published.

I wrote a guest-post for Lindsey Buroker’s blog a while back ago about that whole time. If you want to learn more about my time writing in the serial style, you can read about it here:

Alison: Your bio picture has you dressed up in a suit of armor, which is very cool. Especially after enjoying the high level of historical detail in The Scourge, it makes me think that you've walked a mile in a knight's shoes. Or boots, as the case may be. What is your current-day connection to Medieval things?

Roberto: I don’t know about mile, but I’ve walked around New York Comic Con for a day wearing that suit of armor, and it *sucked*. I certainly got a tactile appreciation for the rigors that knights faced. Getting from one side of Comic Con to the other can be a real battle, but it’s nothing compared to actual combat. I was exhausted when I finally took the armor off, and I hadn’t done anything more energetic than shuffle through crowds.

Medieval history has been a love of mine since I was a child. I truly think I’ve had at least one past life in medieval England. My travels have brought me to England at least thirty times in the last ten years, and when there, I’ve always tried to visit medieval sites—be they castles, monasteries, churches or battlefields. (And in England, you can sometimes see all four at one site. So cool...)

As you so kindly pointed out, I researched The Scourge meticulously, visiting each place I wrote about, walking the grounds, speaking to historians and reading as much literature as I could. Medieval history is rich with stories and larger-than-life characters. It’s no wonder that George R.R. Martin borrowed so heavily from The War of the Roses for his fantastic Song of Ice and Fire series.

Alison: There are three knights who journey together in The Scourge – Sir Edward, who seeks to rescue his lady love, Sir Morgan, whose faith in something greater than himself sustains him through the zombie plague, and Sir Tristan, who jokes at every turn. Of the three, which knight do you think you'd be, and why?

Roberto: To be honest, I think each of the three represents an aspect of myself that I want to *betterize* (to borrow a word from my critique group).

I think I’m passionate, like Edward, but I wish I had his perseverance and his strength of will. I wish I could lead with the easy confidence that he has.

I think my sense of humor is like Tristan’s, but I wish I had more of his carefree manner and his incredible charisma. Nearly every reader I talk with tells me that they love Tristan. I actually had a family friend who came to a barbecue wearing an “I Love Tristan!” T-shirt that she had made herself.

Morgan has incredible faith in his religion, which I’ve always found admirable. I am so impressed when someone is devout, regardless of the religion. It takes an incredible amount of strength to set aside your doubts and have faith.

That said, when faith is taken too far—as with anything in this world—it can become a serious problem. Zealotry is a mental disorder. I don’t think anything has caused more strife in this world than poisonous doses of faith. And I hope my comments are not misconstrued. I have a great deal of respect for all religions, and, as I said above, I admire those who follow their faith, and live virtuously.

Religion on its own has no negative qualities. Shakespeare—a genius if there ever was one—wrote that “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” And I wholeheartedly believe that. The labels of “good” and “bad” can be applied to anything. Those qualities don’t exist, inherently, in anything. We apply those qualities based on our perceptions. Religion can do and has done enormously beneficial things for the people of this world. But in the hands of misguided humans, it can become a weapon. Those who suffer from the sickness of zealotry can be (and often have been) massed into armies and used for personal gain. And it’s not just the leaders of organized religions that have been guilty of this in the past—the Charles Mansons and David Koreshes of the world have done plenty of damage, too.

Yeah, so... um... what was your question again?

Alison: I see you're also an artist and have designed multiple book covers, including the cover for the re-release of The Scourge. They say you can't judge a book by its cover, but it's often the first thing that draws me to a work when browsing titles. What's the experience like working both sides of the equation, being both artist and author?

Roberto: Writing and art have always been my passions. I am fortunate that I have a chance to make

money doing both. I was both a writer/editor for ten years and a graphic designer for ten years before my books were published. As a novelist, it’s easy for me to understand and appreciate what writers want on their covers. As an artist, I think it’s easier for me to put together scenes in my books that are more visually impactful. Many people tell me that The Scourge reads like a movie, and I like to think that my experience as an artist helped to achieve that.

Alison: What are your biggest pet peeves in writing? Both in your own work and when reading someone else's fiction?

Roberto: Ha! We’re going to need a lot more space than one interview! I have a long list of things I have to work on in my own writing. Included on that list are things like better pacing, stronger spatial descriptions, more selectivity in what to show and what not to show, not writing thousand-word answers to interview questions...

When I read others’ fiction, I have the usual pet peeves about showing vs. telling, pacing, author intrusions, sermonizing and the like, which I won’t get into here. But I do have a few cardinal pet peeves. I’ll list them here in no particular order.

  1. Clichés: Not just in dialog, but in ideas, plots and characters.

  2. Sloppy craft: Yes, there are many bestselling books that are written with little attention to craftsmanship. But craft is the sign of professionalism. Continue to work on your writing, always.

  3. Hurried thoughts: Some writers write swiftly. Others slowly. You can write great things swiftly and terrible things slowly, and vice versa. But to write a story without giving it the thought and attention it deserves is an injustice—to yourself, to the story, and to your readers.

  4. Writing for someone else: This was a painful lesson for me. You have to write what burns in your soul. If you write anything else, it will never be even half as good as you are capable of.

Alison: What other authors do you admire? What do you like most about their work?

Roberto: Because most of what I write is historical, I really appreciate Bernard Cornwell. He has a fantastic way of weaving history and fiction together, and is a master with pacing, characters and action sequences. I love George R. R. Martin, too. He writes fantasy that feels like historical fiction. The world he created in Song of Ice and Fire is so detailed, and not just any details. He gives incredible thought to each of the details, hones them and cuts them like gems. And he’s got mad writing skillz. I can open up any page in Game of Thrones and find at least one line that will make me wish I had written it.

Alison: For fans searching for more of your work, where can they find it? Have you had any publications come out recently?

Roberto: I recently negotiated for the rights to The Scourge from 47North, so I now own the series. Because of that, the earlier editions of the book have not been available for a few months. I have recently self-published the Fourth Edition of The Scourge, which includes the short story, The Mightiest God. That short story was first released as part of the Z Tales anthology, published by the Fairfield Scribes. I highly recommend the entire anthology. It’s fantastic.

Another of my short stories, The Weight of Hunger, was released in one of Sam Peralta’s popular Chronicle Worlds anthologies. The anthology is called Tails of Dystopia. And yeah, that’s “Tails” with an i. All the stories in the book feature an animal as the main character. Some of the proceeds from the anthology help fund Pets for Vets, a charity that sends trained therapy dogs to veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. The writers in this one are top-notch, and I’m humbled to be included with them. My story takes place in the medieval England of The Scourge universe, and is told from the point of view of a falcon.

Alison: What's next on the horizon for you? What are you writing now?

Roberto: I’ve got a couple projects brewing at the moment. I’m currently writing a story about four warriors trying to escape from Hell. It’s called The Children of Gehenna, and I hope to have it finished in the next three months. I also have another story, a fantasy about a madman who impersonates a duke so he can rob the vaults of a duchy. Remember my pet peeve number 4, above? Yeah, this was how I learned that lesson. I tried to split the story into three books, but it really needed to be one. So I’m going to edit/re-write the books the way they were meant to be—as one novel. Look for The Madness of Valatriste in 2018.

Alison: Do you have any advice for aspiring authors and artists?

Roberto: Yes. Take the time to learn your craft, join a critique group and workshop what you create. Listen to others. Writing is hard. If you dash something off and expect accolades, you’re not being realistic.

There’s another side to that, though. Writing is like sculpting in clay. You have to finish the sculpture before the clay dries. If you take too long trying to smooth out one section, you’re going to have a hard time finishing. Give the story the thought it needs, and write. Go with your first instincts and don’t change anything until you finish. Then, leave it alone for at least a month while you work on something else. When you go back, make your edits/rewrites quickly and move on. That book you are working on will not be your masterpiece. Nor will your next book. Or the next. Your library of published books will be your masterpiece. So move on!

And yes, I’ve learned most of those lessons the hard way.


The Scourge (Fourth Edition)

Z Tales

Tails of Dystopia

Roberto Calas: Blog

Amazon Author Page

Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
No tags yet.
Follow Us
  • Facebook Classic
  • Twitter Classic
  • Google Classic
bottom of page