Dan Fitzgerald on The Place Below, smaller stories, and continuity

Hi, bookwyrms! I hope your readings are going well and that March isn’t kicking your ass as much as mine is :’ )

Nevertheless, I’m really excited to bring you an interview with the great Dan Fitzgerald, where we’ll talk about his latest release and third and final installment in his series, The Maer Cycle. The coziest adventurer story since The Hobbit, The Place Below is the culmination of an engaging travel fantasy like no other. As it closes the curtain (or does it?!) on a beloved series, I’ve invited Dan on the blog to share about his experience and writing magic.

As I’ve been threatened with pitchforks to do so, I can’t not mention the wonderful ladies at Storytellers on Tour who made this interview possible via a blog tour you should definitely venture forth and explore.

To do so, check out the tour schedule below for more on Dan’s work and make sure to connect with the other bloggers on the tour:

You can also enter the tour’s international giveaway to win a mega pack of all 3 books in the series (+ some really cool items!). And now that your curiosity is piqued enough, let’s get to it.

Meet Dan

Dan fitzferald author photo. Author is smiling at the camera; behind Dan, a very characteristic nature background with a river and a hill and hey, is that a rainbow?!

Dan Fitzgerald is a fantasy author living in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, DC with his wife, twin boys, and two cats. When he is not writing, he might be gardening, taking photographs of nature, doing yoga, cooking, or listening to French music. The Maer Cycle is his debut trilogy, with Hollow Road and The Archive on several book bloggersโ€™ best-of lists for 2020, and The Place Below coming March 4 2021. His upcoming duology, The Weirdwater Confluence, will be published in October 2021 and January 2022. All books published by Shadow Spark Publishing.

Find out more about Dan and his books at www.danfitzwrites.com, or look him up on Twitter or Instagram, under the name danfitzwrites.

๐Ÿ‰ Hi, Dan, welcome back to the blog! Last time you were here we talked about your (then) latest release, The Archive, the 2nd book of your Maer Cycle series. You even shared the cool characters cards you had made for the bookโ€™s cast (which Iโ€™ll admittedly never stop raving about because…come on…Theyโ€™re awesome!) Itโ€™s a pleasure to have you back here to discuss The Place Below and the end of a trilogy.

๐Ÿ‰ First thingโ€™s first, for those unfamiliar with your work (and if thatโ€™s you, reader, no time like the present to change that!), can you have the main characters of The Place Below introduce you and the book?

Sasha: As a scholar, I have heard and read many tales in dozens of languages, and it is a pleasure to introduce a storyteller who gets what the Maer are all about. We are not a monolith, we are not monsters, and we have tales and legends that would rival any in the human world. I read Fitzgeraldโ€™s account of my travels with Tcheen and some of our human friends, and while he got a few details wrong, he did manage to capture the essence of what happened with Kuun and the Skin Maer without getting too long-winded about it, which I appreciated. Thank gods it wasnโ€™t like one of Fabarisโ€™ epic longstories; I never had the patience for them. I still havenโ€™t figured out how Fitzgerald got inside my head like that, and I wish heโ€™d asked permission first. He must have studied with my mother.

Tcheen: I am partnered with a scholar, so I have seen this fascination with stories up close, but I have not read the book, nor do I plan to. I was there, and I am glad it is over. I see no need to rehash stories that have already happened. You can read it if you want. I think Fabaris put a copy in the Archive.

๐Ÿ‰ The Place Below makes a 25-year time jump from the 2nd book, The Archive. From the synopsis readers are made aware that known lore established in previous books (like the Maer-human relationships, and the Ka-lar, the undead kings of old) will be resurfacing in this 3rd book. But The Place Below focuses on an entirely different main character from the ones of previous books. 

๐Ÿ‰ I thought it was an interesting decision. Why jump the last book to a different character and time?

Two reasons. One, the MC of this book, Sasha, is the child born at the end of The Archive, and I couldnโ€™t very well have a baby MC. I really wanted to tell her story as the first known child of a Maer-human pairing (okay, well technically a Maer-Maer-human pairing, given that she has two Maer mothers due to the mystical surrogacy at the heart of The Archive). 

The second reason is that I didnโ€™t want the arc of the trilogy to be what is usually expected of such things: an escalation toward an epic showdown with the world on the line. I laughed when I read Justineโ€™s call for bloggers to join the tour for the โ€œepic conclusionโ€ to the Maer Cycle. Yes, The Archive was a bit more epic than Hollow Road, but I wanted to go in a different direction, one that stays true to what Iโ€™m trying to accomplish: staying intimate with the characters, their relationships, and their journeys of self-discovery (and discovery of larger things), and keeping that at the core of the book. 

The first lines of the book blurb are sure to disappoint anyone looking for an escalation: Itโ€™s been 25 years since the Battle for the Archive, peace reigns over the Silver Hills, and the humans and the Maer are about to sign their first trade agreement. There are larger sociopolitical stakes in the book, to be sure, but a lot of that is in the background. What I want to show is the individual meeting between Sasha and Kuun, who come from very different points in history (sheโ€™s 25 and he was laid down 1,700 years ago). I want to write about the personal experience of those in the midst of these events.ย ย 

The three books of the Maer Cycle trilogy in all their glory. Oh, to have such a summoning circle! Satan could never. Depicted: against a black, silky cloth, items. In the middle: Dan's character cards for the first book, in the style of Magic the Gathering. Below: the three books side by side: Hollow road, the archive, and finally, the place below. Below them: a knife! Uuuuh. Below that: feathers, and an intriguing book named the Art of the maer cycle. I WANT! On top, on the left: a skull. In the middle: candles, for mood that's why! And on the right: the back of the character cards, featuring hollow road's cover. What a set up!
The three books of the Maer Cycle trilogy in all their glory. Oh, to have such a summoning circle! Satan could never

๐Ÿ‰ One of my favorite things about this trilogy is how it both embodies some of the precursors of high fantasy, like companions on a quest, curious fantasy creatures, life-threatening hikes through beautiful natural landscapes,… But it also subverts a lot of traditional fantasy expectations by for example, blurring, or even completely erasing, the big question of good vs. evil, and focusing the narrative not on โ€œchosen onesโ€ but on an incredibly normal, and no less exciting, group of friends. Why is this โ€œepic fantasy of homey proportionsโ€ a priority for you throughout the series?

I have little taste for world-at-stake fantasy. I respect those who enjoy writing and reading it, but I always gravitate toward smaller stories. Dark Lord Rising and Threatening to Overspread the Land with a Second Darkness is one of my least favorite tropes to read, so I wrote a dark lord rising in a dank shithole with a bunch of filthy Skin Maer. And he really doesnโ€™t want to take over the world. He just wants to make it better, and not in a make-it-better-by-subjugating-entire-nations way. Like, literally, Kuun wants to cure disease and heal the injured. But if a few have to die so the many can benefit, heโ€™s cool with that. 

I know not everyone wants to read this type of story, but surely there are some who could use a break from all the Epicnessโ„ข? Also,*300 pages* isnโ€™t going to break anyoneโ€™s TBR.

๐Ÿ‰ Knowledge and its unearthing through personal experience is such a big theme in this trilogy, one that translates in The Place Below as the main character herself being a scholar who embarks on a quest for knowledge and the truth. What personally compels you to write about these themes?

Itโ€™s a fair question. I have important scholar characters in all my books, including the two that will come next. I love to see how languages, cultures, and stories evolve over time, branching off whenever people move to a new place and have new experiences. In grad school, I studied the Arthurian legends in Old French, and was fascinated to see that from the very beginning, these were collective stories that varied and morphed with each telling. Each personโ€™s take on reality and history is unique, but there are also common threads, and it is this push and pull that interests me most. 

๐Ÿ‰ What changes and nostalgia will come to The Place Below, for both readers who have followed the journey since Hollow Road and those newly inducted to your world?

There will be some serious nostalgia for readers of the first two books, as we see many of the characters from Hollow Road and The Archive (the ones who survived anyway) in important supporting roles, and the MC, Sasha, is the child of three such characters. There are several call-backs and tender moments that only someone who remembers the first books will appreciate. Remember, these characters are 25 years older, and going off on a crazy adventure at age 50 or older is a bit different than going off in the prime of your youth. I wanted a bit of the getting-the-band-back-together feel, even though the bass player and a couple of the background singers are no longer with us.

I also want to give a shout-out to my girl Grisol, an important side character in all three books. She gets a few POV chapters in The Archive, but for most of the trilogy she is in the background, but without her, the whole thing would fall apart. Her arc goes from being a nameless hairy creature in Hollow Road to an important part of the society in Castle Maer in The Archive to the leader of the castle in The Place Below, and I am really proud of what she has accomplished from such humble beginnings. I wish I could have put her on the page more!

๐Ÿ‰ With The Place Below marking the end of the Maer Cycle trilogy, what are some of the questions left by the previous books that you felt it necessary to answer, and, without giving too much away of course, what mysteries can the reader look forward to in this third book?

Hollow Road opens with a dead body, Theo, and The Place Below ends at Theoโ€™s graveside. The mystery of what happened to Theo, what set the whole adventure in motion, is resolved in what I hope will be an interesting way. And the larger story of the history between the Maer and the humans gets some major elucidation as well. I didnโ€™t call it Cycle for nothing. There is a cycle to the stories, the mysteries, and the revelations. But I also believe in some degree of uncertainty, so there will be room for readers to play certain things out in their heads and think for themselves what would happen next. And there may be some threads of continuity with my upcoming duology and the trilogy that will come after, though each series is meant to be independent. 

Dan teasing us loyal readers about his upcoming book, because he wants us to suffer but like, in a nice way. Click the tweet and read a sneak peek of the 1st chapter of The Living Waters!

๐Ÿ‰ A lot of readers enjoy exploring a series out of order and it seems to me like this trilogy would pair really well with that. Out of curiosity, would you say the Maer Cycle can be explored out of (its published) order? And did you purposefully intend to make it so?

I honestly would not recommend reading the books out of order, as there is a progression in terms of the larger arcs that might be missed. That being said, the second and third books probably do a better job of telling complete stories on their own, and the core of the story here, the meeting of Sasha and Kuun, stands on its own. But without knowing who Sashaโ€™s parents are, what Sinnie and Finn have shared, how Tcheen fits into their backstory, readers would be missing something. Maybe they would enjoy that, and going back to read Hollow Road and The Archive would be a fun little treat. Who am I to care how people read my books, as long as they are reading them?

๐Ÿ‰ Lastly, what other projects do you have currently in the making, for those eager to follow you along your exciting writerโ€™s journey? (Definitely asking not for a friend, but for myself, ah!)

I got big plans, BIG PLANS I tell you. In fact, I have a Master Plan, and Iโ€™m happy to reveal part of it now. 

First, the Weirdwater Confluence, a swordless high/weird fantasy duology with a meditation-based magic system, plenty of alchemy, and some ancient magical tech. Oh, and did I mention a magical version of social media? Yeah, it has that too. Itโ€™s a big departure from the Maer Cycle, and yet you will find the same close character interactions, some big journeys, and some delicious tie-ins, though the duology is written to stand on its own, and may appeal to readers for whom the Maer Cycle was not their flavor of tea. The first book, The Living Waters, comes out in October from Shadow Spark Pub, and The Isle of a Thousand Worlds comes out in January 2022. 

Next, the Time Before trilogy, a high fantasy series set during the apogee of the Maer civilization of old. This will also be a standalone series with some nice tie-ins to the other two series. The ancient magical tech from the Maer Cycle came from this society, so it will feel almost modern in a wayโ€”particularly for the โ€œhavesโ€ in the society. The have-nots will be living in more primitive conditions, just as is sadly the case today. The series will open with an as-yet untitled book featuring a dungeon crawl that will explore class, xenophobia, and history, along with more action than Iโ€™ve written in a book before. The rest of the series will be somewhat varied, but readers will get to meet some of the Maer who later became Ka-lar, and maybe get a sense for the conditions that made the Great Betrayal possible. 

Beyond that, I have plans, whispers in the dark, echoes, things that may yet come to pass, but that is not for you to know at this time. 

Thank you so much as always for such a fun set of questions! It is a pleasure to conduct interviews with someone who puts so much thought and care into the process, and I hope the book will meet you and your readersโ€™ literary needs. 

๐Ÿ‰ Thanks for being here, Dan, and for the bittersweet release of The Place Below. Looking forward to your next book!

More about The Place Below by Dan Fitzgerald

The Place below cover. It depicts gray skulls on a black background.

Series: The Maer Cycle (#3)
Published: March 4, 2021
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 291 (Print Length)
CW:ย Violence, Death

Itโ€™s been twenty-five years since the Battle for the Archive. Peace reigns over the Silver Hills, and humans and Maer are preparing to sign their first trade agreement. Even warring tribes of the Free Maer have set aside old quarrels.

Sasha is a young scholar of mixed Maer and human parentage, traveling throughout the Maer lands collecting stories of the Ka-lar, the buried Forever Kings. She finds a reference in the Archive to a Ka-lar named Kuun, a scholar in life, who was laid down in an ancient brightstone mine, beneath a mountain said to be the home of the fabled Skin Maer. The lure of the tale is too strong to resist. Joined by some old friends, Sasha sets out to uncover secrets that have lain buried for over a thousand years.

In The Place Below, the Maer Cycle comes to a close as the darkest mysteries of the Maer are at last brought into the light.

Book blurb

One thought on “Dan Fitzgerald on The Place Below, smaller stories, and continuity

  1. Pingback: Tour Schedule: The Place Below by Dan Fitzgerald | Storytellers On Tour

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