March 4, 2016

A Farmboy in Epic Fantasy: an interview with Phillip Tomasso, author of "Severed Empire: Wizard's Rise"

SEVERED EMPIRE: Wizard's Rise by Phillip Tomasso - A war is coming. There is no way to prevent it. The only thing for certain is that there will be one loser. . .and one winner. 

For over two hundred years the Rye Empire enforced drastic measures outlawing the use of magic. To avoid capture a handful of remaining Wizards escaped royal persecution and made it into hiding. Shortly after the decree the empire crumbled, but the laws remained in place. . . 

The Mountain King’s ambitions of becoming the next Emperor will be realized. With forced help from an enslaved sorceress, he will stop at nothing until he achieves his dreams. The easiest path to victory can be obtained by retrieving buried talismans. With those enchanted items in his possession he can summon the Wizards, steal, and harness their power. 

In an effort to save the Old Empire from a growing, sinister magic, seventeen-year-old farmboy Mykal and five friends begin a desperate journey. They must collect the talismans before the Mountain King. Their trek will force Mykal to face fears, and accept truths he’d never known existed. There isn’t much time. A war is coming. Their chances of winning will depend on whether they succeed or not. If they fail, a terrible darkness will steal the light from the Grey Ashland Realm. . .forever. 


Gef: What was the impetus behind Wizard's Rise?

Phillip: I tried writing this book years ago, but stopped. The odd thing about me (or one odd thing about me -- since this isn’t a therapy session . . . I don’t think?) is that only recently have I started reading fantasy novels. I’ve always loved fantasy movies, but never got into the books. (The shear size of some of those books made me apprehensive). And then along came the HBO show, Game of Thrones. The show blew my mind. I immediately book all five books (tomes) . . . and a new me was born. And along with the new me was a desire to write a book in the fantasy genre. In no way is Wizard’s Rise comparable to Game of Thrones. I love grimdark fantasy (Mark Lawrence, John R. Fultz, Joe Abercrombie, etc.), but decided I would (for now, anyway), focus on the more innocent protagonist who embarks on an epic journey in order to thwart evil, while facing different enemies, and challenges along the way (more Eddings, Jordan, Sanderson, Brooks, Goodkind style, but again, do not dare compare my first fantasy novel to the legends these authors are).

However, I didn’t become consumed with writing fantasy until I had a story worth telling. Enter Mykal. The main character. He is young, flawed, and has been raised by a crippled grandfather. Thing is, he is happy with his life. Taking care of their small parcel of land, and animals is good enough. Unfortunately, he is forced out of his comfort zone, and must embark across the Old Empire with the hope of preventing war. It isn’t something he wants to do, it wasn’t something he dreamed of doing, and yet if he does nothing countless lives will be lost. A conundrum to say the least. (That was what I started with. And from there …)

Gef: What was it about this book, if anything, that you approached differently from you previous titles?

Phillip: Stick with me on this answer. It is going to sound all over the place. I am pretty sure I can tie it together, though. So, Sounds of Silence, was the first young adult book I’d ever written, and is about a 12 year old who contracts meningitis and becomes deaf. He believes his dreams of ever playing professional baseball have been shattered. It was written specifically for a younger audience, and is a very straightforward, first person narrative. Aside from short stories I had published in the late 1990’s, Wizard’s Rise is my first fantasy novel. I wanted to create a novel that was enjoyable for both young adult, and adult readers. This meant incorporating more (and multiple) complex storylines, as well as including enough action, character depth, and world building to please an array of fantasy-lover ages.

Gef: How much emphasis do you place on setting as character?

Phillip: Setting was very challenging, and perhaps the most fun, while writing Wizard’s Rise. When I write I buy a new composition notebook and fill it with story details while I write. I have several separate Word documents where I also add information. And then there are the random squares torn from paper, and napkins, and whatever I can get my hand on at the time, that hopefully helps me keep everything in order while telling a story. In creating this “world,” I knew skies would be blue, grass green, autumn chilly, winter cold, spring wet, and summer hot. I toyed with the idea of “religion,” but consciously left out any for of god/God reference, or inference (despite endless notes about ancient monks, and monasteries, the Jedi’s use of the Force, etc.). While I don’t have parallel lines from that world and ours, there are some subtle hints that may lead readers to wonder “where” and/or “when” this actually takes place. (There may be revelations in later installments, so I do not want too much exposed just now). In short, (or is it too late?), the setting played a major role as a supporting main character in Wizard’s Rise. A major role.

Gef: How have you found your progression as a writer thus far?

Phillip: My progression. Hmmm. It has progressed. No doubt about that. Sold my first short story (about being a busboy) when I was fourteen years old. That was in 1984. (Wowzers). Anyway, the goal was always to write novels. I decided to work on a portfolio of short stories. From 1984 until 1999, I’d sold roughly 200 short stories and articles. In 2000, I’d sold my first suspense novel to a small press out of California. (I was almost 30 at the time). Currently, Wizard’s Rise is my 21st novel (and for the record, I am 45). In between 2000 and 2016, I have written suspense/thrillers, a legal thriller (as I used to work as a paralegal in a corporate law firm), children’s books (under the pen name Grant R. Philips -- which are the names of my kids, Grant, Raeleigh, and Phillip), young adult novels, a Christian suspense book (under the pen name Thomas Phillips), a science fiction novella, several horror novels (mostly zombies), and now a fantasy series with Mirror Matter Press.

Too many times I have thought I should stick with one genre. More often, my mind and my inspiration dictates otherwise. I feel like I have to write the story that is begging to be told. It is difficult, though, because many times my “readers” have expectations. If someone is waiting on the next zombie novel, and I put out a book about a deaf ‘tween playing Little League Baseball, I risk losing that reader.

Let me say this, I have enjoyed the progression. I can never complain about where I was, where I’ve gone, or where I am. I have been flown to conventions first class, have been picked up by limos, been interviewed in magazines, for ezines, on blog sites, and on television. I have done book signings where I’ve sold every copy in the store, and times when my pen and the bowl of M&Ms are the most interaction to be had for hours. I love being a writer.

Gef: Who do you count among your writing influences?

Phillip: My influences are all over the place. My love for reading began when I discovered S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders. It only grew from there. After reading her books, I moved on to devour everything by Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Robin Cook, and John Saul. Robert Parker, John Grisham, and Walter Mosley gained my interest next. I spent some time with James Patterson, Scott Turrow, and Mary Higgins Clark. Only recently have I begun reading fantasy. Tolkien, Goodkind, and Terry Brooks. I read The Hunger Games, the Divergent series, and the Harry Potter books. My apartment is filled with bookcases packed with a wide variety of novels. My inspiration comes from every book I’ve ever read. The good, the bad, and the un-put-down-able. To pick just one writer, or a few, I just can’t narrow it, though I’ve tried to pinpoint the influence more specifically many, many times.

Gef: What's the worst piece of writing advice you ever received? Or what piece of writing advice do you wish would just go away?

Phillip: Truth is, I don’t think I can recall a terrible piece of writing advice. I have learned, or have taken something positive from any information shared with me. Before my first novel was published I used to go to local book signings. Horror legend, T.M. Wright, and his twin brother T. Lucien Wright, often sat at tables at the mall’s Waldenbooks. I was “that guy” who stood there between signing lulls and talked their ears off asking questions about how to “break into” the writing world. (Of course, I bought whatever book they were promoting, and still have quite the collection saran wrapped in a safe, warm, dry place). These guys were nothing but gracious, and helpful. They pointed me toward writer’s groups, and instructed me on to-dos and not-to-dos, and from there, I only grew in the craft, and learned the (then) ropes of submissions, and contracts, and such. I spent a lot of time with Writer’s Market books, and becoming familiar with understanding submission guidelines, simultaneous submissions, and waiting. It is all about waiting, but being patient while doing so. (Way easier said than done at times)!

Gef: What kind of guilty pleasures do you have when it comes to books or movies or whatnot?

Phillip: I work full time as a Fire/EMS Dispatcher for 911. I spend a lot of my life working. We’re a family, deranged, and demented at times (most times), but close. Anyway, the point is, they know not to ask me for advice on what movies to watch. I can find the good, or grasp the message, or see the positive in most any movie I watch. There are very, very few movies I hate (Halloween III). I am, admittedly, a Netflix & Hulu junkie. I binge watch shows like at any moment my cable will be cancelled. I can watch any of the LOTR, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, or Jurassic Park movies, any and every time they are on TV (plus I own the Blu Rays). Cheesy B-Horror films are my favorite. The toughest thing about having grown children is that of everything I’ve just listed, Disney animated/Pixar films are my favorite (with the exception of Cars). Unless I can convince my 18 year old daughter to go with me to the theater, I am stuck waiting for them to be released on DVD. (I am trying to find someone with kids to hang out with, because the sequel to Finding Nemo is hitting the big screen soon. I am not waiting for the DVD). TV shows I love, and can’t miss, are as follows: Game of Thrones, Vikings, The Last Kingdom, The Walking Dead, The Shannara Chronicles, Outsiders, Modern Family, Bob’s Burgers, Arrow, Flash, Daredevil, Kimmy Schmidt, and Angie Tribeca. (How do I get any writing done, right? I know. I know. SMH).

Gef: What projects are you cooking up that folks can expect in the near future, and how can folks keep up with your shenanigans?

Phillip: The Severed Empire series is just revving up. Wizard’s Rise is book one. Out this summer is book two, Wizards’ War. These two books tell one complete story. Each is roughly 400 pages (in paperback). Book three, out hopefully by winter, is a standalone and tells the origins tale of a secondary character, Blodwyn (The Assassin’s Promise). Additionally for Mirror Matter Press, I am writing a science fiction thriller, (currently untitled), loosely based on “actual events,” and then a fourth Severed Empire installment with a working title of Wizard’s Reach. Lastly (for my writing commitments in 2016), I will be writing a science fiction horror novel for Severed Press (also untitled at the moment).

Thank you for the interview, for the amazingly tough questions, and the opportunity for me to share some of me with some of your readers. I greatly appreciate the opportunity.

If people are interested in keeping up to date on my work (fingers crossed), below are some ways!


  1. Thanks for the interview. Had a great time with the questions! Have an awesome weekend!

  2. Thanks for the interview. Had a great time with the questions! Have an awesome weekend!