Author Interview: Alan Hurst, Jr.
After reading the African fantasy novel The Onyx Crown, I needed to learn more about it. How did this story come to be? Is the history told throughout it true or did the author create it for the purpose of telling the story? Thankfully, author Alan Hurst was kind enough to answer all of my questions about The Onyx Crown, and any I had about his writing and his life. I’ll bet you’ll never guess what his secret "obsession" is.
Let's Learn More About The Onyx Crown
Lisa Hodorovych: How did The Onyx Crown trilogy come to be? Was it a dream or did something or someone inspire you?
Alan Hurst, Jr.: First of all, thank you for allowing me to be on your blog and for these great questions! Both! It’s been a dream of mine to write a fantasy novel ever since I can remember. I was inspired by the great Chinese Wuxia fiction novels of Gu Long and Louis Cha as well as some traditional western fiction classics. The Onyx Crown is my own personal take on the epic fantasy genre.
The Story of the Onyx Crown
Lisa: How did the story of the creation of the onyx crown come to be? Honestly, when Pala K’Nan was telling that story to Jorann, I was envisioning when Galadriel was telling the story of how the ring was created in the first Lord of the Rings movie. It was great!
Alan: Thank you! It’s really hard to come up with a prophecy when you use the flowing method of writing that I do. So let’s just say the Onyx Crown origin didn’t turn out to be what I thought it would when I started writing the book.
History...Real or Created?
Lisa: The history in this book is incredible, especially in Chapter 4. Is this real history mixed in with some storytelling, or did you fully create it for the book?
Alan: There are some loose elements of African history in the book, but most of the expository history is completely made up. I will say that the original history was much more in-depth before my editor got a hold of the story and advised that I was putting people to sleep.
African Languages Being Used in This Book
Lisa: As I mentioned in my review of your novel The Onyx Crown, I loved how you used all of these different African words and added their translation, so readers understood what you were saying. Are all of those words real African words? If so, how did you learn about them?
Alan: This is a great question. Because I wanted this book to be African based, but at the same time wanted it to be inclusive of all of Africa, I decided I couldn’t just use dialect from one region (like Black Panther uses Xhosa). So basically the Numerian words you hear are all a mixture of several different dialects of Africa -- Xhosa, Amharic, Swahili, Arabic, etc. Also, the spellings and word structure were changed around a bit, to simulate an *ancient origin* language feel.
Lisa: You – like so many other great writers – wrote your story in the third-person perspective. Is this the perspective you prefer to write in, or did it just work best for the story? If you do like to write in this perspective, why?
Alan: I actually like to switch it up -- within the same book when necessary. I think it’s refreshing when you get to *temporarily* peek inside he head of the protagonists or even minor characters of the story.
Writing in the third person is easier for my expository tendencies.
Lisa: How did you come up with all of the different characters? From my girl, Sania to Gesemni and Jorann to Pala K’Nan and Mistress Jayda. Did they just come to you or do they represent someone?
Alan: I’m glad you like Sania. She was written to appeal to a very specific type of reader. As were Gesi and Jorann. The supporting characters just became part of the story as I continued to write. Both K’Nan and Jayda serve as the bridges between the Khuselas and their mysterious pasts. They are functional plot armor who will continue to have roles in the future.
Why a Trilogy?
Lisa: What made you decide to make this story into a trilogy instead of one book?
Alan: It was going to be just one book actually, but it was beginning to look like a Bible Remake or sequel, so I decided to split it up. I hoped this would make things easier for people who don’t read books or the fantasy genre much, and I also wanted to go ahead and release the book while this genre was still in pre-explosion stage.
Lisa: Why did you set it in Africa?
Alan: I wanted it to be epic, pre-medieval and feature black people, so that pretty much narrowed down the possible settings. For my first post-Onyx novel I plan on making the setting contemporary USA however.
Lisa: What research did you do for this story?
Alan: Mostly research on African customs and myths as well as the language of Africa. For Book 2, I had to do some research on medieval shipping and boating terms and phrases.
Lisa: Why fantasy? Why didn’t you write The Onyx Crown trilogy as a historical fiction or under a different genre?
Alan: I actually do see TOC as a cross between historical fiction and epic fantasy. You will begin to see more of the historical fiction elements in Book 2, with the introduction of the family of Mansa Musa, and the burning of Kenamesh. However, I wanted to incorporate some of the truly imaginative things I like about fantasy and wuxia fantasy in particular -- this plays out when you read the fight scenes.
Let's Learn More About Alan Hurst
Lisa: When did you first realize your love and passion for writing and that you wanted to pursue it as a career?
Alan: I still have a day job and don’t plan on letting it go for a while. But I’ve always had a passion for writing. I wrote my first book in the fifth grade after stealing a copy of one of my sisters YA novels (I think Judy Blume LOL) -- I’ve pretty much not stopped writing since then.
Lisa: Who inspired you when it comes to writing? Who inspired you when it comes to life?
Alan: For writing I already mentioned Jin Yong (Louis Cha), Gu Long. Also Lloyd Alexander, James Clavell, and George Martin. Who inspired me for life? Revolutionaries like Fred Hampton and Malcolm X I think mostly.
Lisa: What is your writing process? Do you do an outline? Do you write everything out first before typing it up or do you go straight for your laptop?
Alan: I just write. I don’t follow my outlines, so I stopped using that method. I start my story in one place and try as hard as I can to lead it somewhere in a straight line. Most time that straight line isn’t straight at all.
Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing
Lisa: I know you self-published The Onyx Crown, but in this world of traditional publishing vs. self-publishing, there are a lot of people who are on the fence, unsure of which way to go. What advice would you give them?
Alan: If you feel like you can be your own publisher and publicist, go the self-publishing route. At least, that was the reasoning behind the decision I made.
Lisa: Other than finishing up The Onyx Crown trilogy, what is next for Alan Hurst?
Alan: I’m looking forward to the audiobook and then finishing a couple of screenplays I’ve been working on. Then will be the contemporary black fantasy I was just discussing earlier.
The Release of Book Two
Lisa: By the way, when is Book Two coming out?
Alan: I would say October is a realistic release time at this point. It all depends on the Covid-19 situation though.
Lisa: What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
Alan: Write more than you plan. Send your stuff out to people so they can tell you what they think. Then use that input to find your most effective style and be more prolific as a writer. But most importantly, write!
Lisa: May I have at least one interesting fact about you that no one knows? (For example: You’re a comic book enthusiast, you have a plethora of tattoos you’re hiding…something that would make people say, “What?!” Haha!)
Alan: I’m a motorcycle dude (as you can tell from my website)! I’ve owned a Honda CTX 700, a Yamaha FJR 1300, a Ducati XDiavel S, and a CanAm Syder RT. Love being on the road sans cage.
Thank you again, Mr. Hurst for taking the time to talk with me and answer my questions! It was an absolute honor and it is truly appreciated!
If you would like to learn more about Alan Hurst, Jr., his books, and where you can purchase them, please check out his website, https://www.alanhurstjr.com/.
Remember, I did not get paid to write the review on The Onyx Crown nor am I getting paid to interview Mr. Hurst. I'm just a fellow writer and fan showcasing the work of a great author. If you have any questions or would like to be featured on my blog, please don't hesitate to contact me.
The photos featured in this post were given to me by Alan Hurst, Jr. for that very purpose.
**This post was originally published on July 3, 2020**