Reviewed by Paige Lovitt for Reader Views (08/15)
Article first published as Interview: Eben Mishkin – Author of ‘The Hidden and the Maiden’ on Blogcritics.
Eben Mishkin is a gentleman and a scholar who has devoted his life to the study of story and the accumulation of trivia. He holds more degrees than he is entitled to, but is most proud of his Masters in the teaching and practice of creative writing from the University of Wales, Cardiff. He enjoys role playing games and casually wielding forbidden knowledge. Mishkin is married to a very talented artist who was kind enough to do all the artwork for his debut novel, The Hidden and the Maiden, for only an extended night of gaming and the purchase of a pony.
Sheri: Welcome Eben, and thank you for being here today. Why don’t you start by telling readers a bit about your journey to becoming a published author?
Eben: I was initially interested in going the traditional publishing route but I have a cousin who is traditionally published and he convinced me to look into self-publishing again when I told him I was sending my book out to agencies. He said his experience with traditional publishers, while he required it for other reasons, convinced him that self-publishing was a better deal for authors. I went and did my own research and concurred with his conclusions. So, after toiling for six years on The Hidden and the Maiden, I decided it wasn’t that much more work to do the selling side as well.
Sheri: What is The Hidden and the Maiden about?
Eben: A misanthropic alchemist, a naive medium, and a troublemaking ghost learning to work together to stop the God of Death from taking over the world. Mostly as a way for me to deal with the idea of loss and how we lie to ourselves to explain bad things in our lives. The fundamental idea behind it was mythology erupting into everyday life to say that it is still going on, even as we dismiss it.
Myths just take on new forms and become more personalized. Why did I lose that person that I loved? Well, it’s my fault because of X. So if I just do Y that will undo X. When in fact, neither statement is true. Those are just the stories we tell ourselves, but it ends up ordering our lives because we live inside of stories, most especially when we lie to ourselves and say it is a plain FACT and not a story we’ve told ourselves to make sense of things. And, the real cure for that isn’t another better set of facts, it’s another better story that guides us to where we want to be. Truth, beauty, factualness, and goodness do not equate. It also is probably about my tendency to go on far too much about anything that I find interesting, such as myths and emotional growth.
Sheri: What makes Eben Mishkin tick?
Eben: Oh, just ignore the ticking sound, I assure you, I am completely 100% human. Full of organs. Sorry. A bad sense of humor has a lot to do with it. Also being several years to decades behind the curve. It made for an interesting childhood, I enjoyed a lot of old radio shows like The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. I think I’m still trying to write something that will fit in with those old obsessions: Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes starring in a new adventure set in the old White Wolf World of Darkness. I suppose the real answer is old obsessions that I still haven’t gotten enough of. I’ve never quite gotten enough Sherlock Holmes, Noir, or fantasy role-playing games. So, I still fill my life up with them.
Sheri: Where do you get your inspiration for your work?
Eben: I’m a great believer in remixing. I like to scramble my old obsessions into new things. I love finding old myths and then stuffing modern or futuristic things into them. I love taking the essentials of a character from one story and putting them in another. One of my better skills, which sadly don’t show very well, is simply running with an idea. For instance, I was trying to write a scary haunting scene, but one of my first readers pointed out that, while I was describing everything as dark and scary, I had mentioned a paragraph back that all the lights were on. So I just dumped the scary scene and went with the comedy of someone who thought all the lights were out, thinking they were the terrifying monster when nothing of the sort was going on. I think it is mostly mistakes like that, that end up producing what I would identify as my work, me embracing an idea I didn’t originally intend because I feel it makes it better.
Sheri: What is it that drew you to write in the fantasy genre?
Eben: A childhood dream of becoming a wizard. I think I still want to be a wizard. And, I guess, knowing names that must not be spoken, how to banish ghosts, and trick fairies and demons into revealing themselves hasn’t quite filled the itch. I’ve got to do some magic, so I write about other people doing magic, and that I feel is somehow more satisfying. It’s also that fantasy is the majority of what I read, watch, and play for entertainment, followed closely by sci-fi and mystery. So, it’s sticking to what I know.
Sheri: Reviewer, Paige Lovitt, called The Hidden and the Maiden an urban fantasy with touches of mystery and horror. How did adding these elements provide more complexity and depth to your story?
Eben: I think most of the complexity ends up coming from the urbanizing of it all. The theater just off Main Street, where all the tourists go shopping, doesn’t really fit with the primordial God of Death. It’s easy to pacify the gods that are worshipped, you go to the temple and you do your oblations, etc. It’s much less easy to pacify a god that has been forgotten. While I’m not someone who idolizes and idealizes the past, there are definitely important aspects that we have forgotten in the modern world. We’ve forgotten that horror lies around every corner, that magic pours out and drowns us if it isn’t controlled, and that liminal spaces don’t have to be somewhere that away. By taking what would be a standard fantasy in a high fantasy world and making it happen in a version of our world instead, I think it ends up inherently creating complexity simply because the territory has been steadily de-charted over the centuries.
Sheri: Tell us about the relationship between protagonists James Rathbone, the wizard school dropout, and Zephyr, the medium.
Eben: So, an extremely mild spoiler. Trust me this isn’t the big one. But if you want to skip it, go ahead. I enjoy the idea of things going wrong. I remember being fascinated, at some deeply agnostic time in my youth, by the phrase, “What if God does exist but He hates you instead of loving you?” And, I pretty much keep trying to play with that. So, the relationship equivalent of that for me is soul mates. What if two people were soul mates but they would never ever choose each other in a million years if they weren’t. I’m not talking about resistance to boiling passion and just having to accept, yep, that’s the one. What if you ran into your soul mate and they really aren’t your type. What if you were straight, and your soul mate was your same gender? What if you’re a man of the world and your soul mate still uses the word Mama.
Eben: James grew up in a slum; he was apprenticed to the last wizard because he was expendable. He made his way in life basically by being smarter and working harder than everyone else. He wants more than anything, the magic to control his world. Zephyr grew up in a mansion, he went to a lot of therapy and priests because he saw things. He’s got some ok medication now, but it’s still iffy for him. He wants more than anything for all the “magic” to go away. These aren’t enemies from two different countries, they have opposing outlooks on life. They aren’t each other’s kind of people. So them trying to find common ground to work together is kind of a chore. One neither of them would pick if they weren’t drawn together. So that’s their relationship in a nutshell, they are required to be together but they don’t have to like it. So now what? How do they make that work?
Sheri: What specifically do you hope to inspire in your audience with The Hidden and the Maiden? What do you hope is the biggest take-away from your writing?
Eben: To be honest, my biggest hope for a take-away is entertainment. I like telling stories and I like people listening to my stories, but I can only tell a story to a few people unless it is turned into a book. If you finish the book and you’re happy with having read it, as far as I’m concerned you’ve gotten the biggest take away I want.
Other stuff like emotional growth and peppering it with real mythology, it’s just an attempt to make people with tastes similar to mine enjoy it more. I’d love to say there is a deep lesson about learning to accept loss and the power of mythology in your life to combat it but that just happens to be what I believe and so it went into the book. If you come away with that, cool, but honestly, I just want a story I told to be the reason you had fun for a few hours. However you have fun. I used to have a sign in my office that said “Story Time” because one of my friends described that as how I do things, that I ask if you want to hear a story and if you say yes, you get story time, so settle in. Story time is my favorite time, and the book is just my best guess at how to make it happen.
Sheri: Can readers anticipate a sequel to The Hidden and the Maiden”
Eben: Yes. My “business plan” is to put out two sequels and then reassess if I should write more in this series, write a different series, or give up on novels all together. Basically, start with the basic standard of a trilogy and see how it does, since I knew going in that one book would not sell well. But, I also didn’t want to go straight for, yeah, I’m going to put out a hundred books starring James and who cares if any of them sell. So I am currently working on the first sequel, it’s working title is The Witch’s Tree, and everyone who lives past the first book will return. And the same will continue to be true. The basic idea of the series when I originally started it back in 2007 was a sort of riff on monster of the week stories. In each book recurring characters deal with a new threat and resolve it as best they can before the next one comes along.
Sheri: What do you like to do in your free time, that is, if you have any!
Eben: I’m mostly a gamer geek. I play video games and role-playing games. But not JRPG’s for some reason. I just can’t get into them. I also go to Disneyland more than is psychologically healthy. I just can’t let it go. I partially blame my wife for that though. Rarely, I’m still practicing to be a wizard. Other than that, I’m just somewhere online.
Sheri: Before we sign off, tell us about your website, and what information can be found there about The Hidden and the Maiden, and other works.
Eben: My website is mostly a hub at this point. It can lead you to places to buy The Hidden and the Maiden, including places like Smashwords where you can get an extended sample of 70% of the book to try before you buy it. It will also show my most recent blog posts. There’s also a way on there to send messages to me, for instance if you want me to let you know when book two is out. Any time I put out something new, the website will be modified to give you all the new information. You can find my website at ebenmishkin.com and my blog on emptymanuscript.tumblr.com.
Sheri: Eben, it has certainly been a pleasure chatting with you, and I look forward to seeing many more books from you in the future.
Eben: Thank you for speaking with me. It’s been a pleasure for me as well and a pleasure to read through your other reviews.