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Author Interviews

Author Spotlight Interview: Ellis L. Knox

By: Hidden Gems on July 18, 2023

Hidden Gems Books ARC service.

By: Hidden Gems on July 18, 2023


Today’s interview is with author and medieval historian, Ellis L. Knox. According to his official bio, he is the creator of the fantasy world called Altearth, a place where magic is real, monsters roam the land, and the Roman Empire never fell. We were honored to learn more about Knox’s journey to publication, writing style and life outside of writing!

HG: How would you describe yourself to somebody who isn’t familiar with your writing yet?

ELK: I’m obsessed with stories. Whether it’s television, games, or text, it’s the story that I like best. When it comes to telling stories myself, I try hard to make them as interesting as I expect to hear from others.

I’m a medieval historian by training. I’ve always enjoyed SF and fantasy. After many years of fooling about with SF ideas and some fantasy, I decided there was potential in taking what I knew about the Middle Ages, and reworking it in a fantasy context, using generous amounts of medieval lore. And that’s where I’ve been playing ever since.

HG: How cool! Tell us a bit about your publishing journey. When did you know you were ready to take on the “author” role?

ELK: I have always written, but back in the 1970s I submitted a short story to Galaxy Magazine. It was rejected, but I got a handwritten note from the editor encouraging me to keep writing. I filed it away, never submitted—never even finished—another story, and that was that. Some time in the 2000s my wife found that note and put it on my desk. At that moment, something clicked, and decided I would write a novel. After I finished the first one, I’ve been calling myself an author.

HG: I love that story about your wife putting the note on your desk. Thank you for sharing. Now, tell us more about how you created the fantasy world, Altearth. Was it years of thought in the making? How would you describe it to someone who hasn’t read the books yet?

ELK: Years, yes. I got the idea of Altearth in the 1990s and started my usual making notes, writing fragments, never finishing anything. By the time I started my first novel (almost twenty years later), I had a pretty clear idea of how I would work. I knew every story I told would be set in Altearth.

Most of Altearth is real. Places, people, events; I try to keep as much unchanged as I can. Sometimes I make big changes, like having the Roman Empire persist. Mostly, I add stuff like dwarves or dragons or elves or trolls, then see what has to change in order to accommodate those. It’s been fun!

HG: Sounds fun! Tell us a little bit about your actual writing process. Are you a plotter? Do you have a routine for where and when you write? Any interesting quirks?

ELK: I’m an everything-er. I plot, but I also just write along. I usually know where I’m headed, though I rarely know how I’m going to get there. I make a good outline, then I promptly wander away from it. My writing process is well-intentioned, badly executed, but ultimately successful.

I write five days a week (I’m retired, so I have that luxury), anywhere from two to four hours each day.

HG: Fantastic! So, what have been the challenges you’ve faced in your publishing career?

ELK: The biggest challenge has been figuring out what a publishing career meant for me. I didn’t get serious about writing to publish until I was in my late 50s. I never had a need or desire to publish for profit, but I did and do aim to have many people read my stories. I’m after readers, not money.

The first and biggest challenge was to get serious about writing, to decide I would write and actually finish a story. Everything after was work, could be frustrating, but getting that first novel all the way to done, that was the hard one.

Next came choosing between traditional and self-publishing. I quickly realized that I could spend months to years just trying to get an agent, months to years more finding a publisher, and months to years after that before the accepted work was actually in print. I don’t have that long, so I turned to self-publishing. That was in 2014. I’ve been self-published ever since.

The challenges since then have been learning the details of publishing, such as formatting and layout, finding a cover artist, and so on. It turns out there’s a fair distance between finishing the story and the story actually being published.

Probably the most frustrating challenge has been learning about marketing and then sticking with it. That term “marketing” for a self-published author ranges everywhere from writing blurbs (*shudder*) to figuring out the mysteries of advertising, to writing and producing a newsletter. I do enjoy the newsletter, but most of the rest of it I wish I could do without.

HG: Thank you for that thoughtful response. Tell us a bit about your books.  What can readers expect? What feeling do you hope readers are left with when they finish one of your novels?

ELK: My books range widely. One is a fantasy re-working of Verne’s A Journey to the Center of the Earth. Another follows the tribulations of a young woman who grew up believing she was half-human and half-elf, then finds out she is neither. I’m currently writing a series set in the later Middle Ages that involves a performing troupe who keep getting caught up in mysteries/adventures. There will be six of those. My first novel covered an invasion of the Roman Empire by a goblin horde. So yeah, all over the place. With a whole continent and a thousand years to play with, how could I not?

What can readers expect? Anything and everything, I hope. Above all, though, they can expect interesting characters in unusual circumstances; my stories are not the usual fantasy fare.

What feeling? I hope every reader remembers my story.

That’s what every author hopes for, isn’t it? That their book is remembered.

HG: Surely. What can you tell us about any other projects you have in the works?

ELK: All my fiction is Altearth, but I do sometimes make historical presentations at the local university. I’ve done sessions on the construction of the dome of cathedral in Florence, one on pilgrimages to Jerusalem in the Middle Ages, one on the Pazzi Conspiracy, and have a full series in 2024 covering the Crusades.

As for Altearth itself, I am working on this series with the Trouvères. After that comes a novel (one, but maybe two, volumes) that is a re-working of the career of Emperor Frederick II. I know. Sounds dull. But there’s trolls and orcs, not to mention wizards. The story is called The Falconer.

Signet Ring

HG: Great! Switching gears, what do you enjoy doing when not writing?

ELK: When not writing, I enjoy reading, playing video games, and traveling with my wife and our two dogs. I also used to do a fair amount of electronic music composition, making CDs back in the halcyon days of

My wife and I love to travel. We’ve been to Turkey, Italy (three times), Germany, Scotland, France (well, Paris), England (London), and have at least visited many other European countries.

HG: That’s awesome. What was your last 5-star read?

ELK: This would have to be a history book; a re-read, actually. Peasants Into Frenchmen by Eugen Weber. Well written, incredibly well researched, it describes life in French rural society before industrialization, then how that changed over the 19th century. From peasants into Frenchmen. The earlier chapters are a gold mine of anecdotes useful for anyone doing historical fiction.

HG: Sounds fascinating. For fun, before we wrap up, let’s do a fast five! First one…cookies or cake?

ELK: Cookies. Specifically, wafer cookies with tea.

HG: Movie or book?

ELK: In general, whichever was the original medium. For example, The Expanse = the book (though the series was well done); Indiana Jones or Star Wars, the movie.

HG: Pool or ocean?

ELK: Ocean, but not to go in, not any more. Lovely to look at, but the sea is dangerous. I nearly died … twice! … the last time I was in Hawaii.

HG: Introvert or extrovert?

ELK: I used to think introvert, but I found I can initiate conversations in group settings. But I’m not demonstrative.

HG: eBook, print book or audiobook? 

ELK: For fiction reading, nearly always eBook. But print when it’s non-fiction, especially history. It’s too difficult to scan and reference with an eBook. Audiobooks, never. I don’t have the patience to just sit there and listen at the narrator’s pace, and if I’m doing other things, I don’t want those other things distracting from the story.

HG: For readers that want to find out more about your stories and keep up with you, where should they go to connect or learn more?

ELK: First stop should be where they can not only find out what books I’ve written and what’s in progress, they can also read a fair amount of background lore. Oh, and there are a couple of free short stories there.

For those interested in the historical side, there is which contains about twenty essays on various medieval subjects. They come from when I taught courses online for Boise State University, starting in 1993. I was the university’s webmaster back then, so I was able to get in on the ground floor.

Thank you to Hidden Gems for offering me this interview, and thanks to you, reader, for taking the time to read it!

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