Interview with Des M. Astor, Author of Professors & Kings
What’s the story behind the story? What inspired you to write Professors & Kings?
My book, Cobratongue University: Professors & Kings was a concept I had in mind ever since I attended college. I love the idea of magical schools, but I haven’t stumbled across any magical colleges in my reading journey, even while supporting and reading other works by self-published authors. I wanted to explore adult themes in an academic setting, and college is the perfect place to do so, even if I’m an introvert myself.
Not to mention, I love the idea of everyone being able to learn magic should they put the work into it, which is what I utilize with my work. I do not like the “you need to be born special” trope when it comes to fantasy with regard to using magic. Therefore, in my book, anyone can do it, and magic is like any skill you can learn in real life. Cooking, law, science, math, and the like are careers some people fall into really well. The same concept can be applied to magic! One person might be excellent at picking up elemental magic, while another might take to necromancy well. However, it takes many years, usually decades, to become a ‘legendary mage’, by which you are an “expert” in your field.
Finally, the variation in my magic and how there is no ‘evil’ magic is important for my book, a concept I explore in-depth for my stories. It all depends on who is using the magic and what it is used for, not the power itself. I don’t like the idea of “inherently evil” magic nor species.
If you woke up in the world of Professors & Kings, what is the first thing you would do?
Hopefully, I would wake up in Elapid City, the fictional city in our world where the college is located! If so, I would gather my bearings and ask around. I am very introverted and shy, so it would be difficult for me to adapt. Should I have the knowledge I do now of the world, I would seek out King Goliath and Queen Sam for discussion. I likely would be spooked by one of my characters, Ares, in the process. Imagining that interaction is interesting, to say the least.
I would wake up there with a reason, most likely, so I’d want to figure out why. How can I help my characters and my world? I’m not sure what I would tell them in terms of who I am, however. But it’d be wise to begin learning magic right away, given the brutality of the world I’ve built. Once I settled in, I would begin that process, doing a lot of research and practice.
This is actually a concept I considered writing – me, the author, waking up in my own world. I’ve beta-read for a book with a similar concept, but I would take my own directions of course.
What’s your favorite genre to read? Is it the same as your favorite genre to write?
Definitely Urban Fantasy! Yes, it’s my favorite genre to write for sure, with a dark twist, of course. I like the idea of magic being brought to our modern world. It makes things feel a bit more fantastical, and I can imagine things happening all around me. When I look at city skyscrapers, I see dragons weaving between them. I see orcs driving cars, and vampires throwing a really formal party. I want to bring magic to our world, and I want to see how others do the same.
What fictional world would you most like to visit?
This is a tough question. It took me about a half-hour to figure it out, but I’m going to exclude any worlds I create because that’d be a boring answer. My answer would therefore be the How to Train Your Dragon universe! That is my all-time favorite movie, and always will be. Not to mention, it’s implied that the dragons could return someday, and I bet in that world, there would be a super neat return of the dragons to the modern world. This goes back to dragons weaving between skyscrapers. I love the dragons in that world in general, though, and wish I gave a bit more variation to mine in my works. But yes, the Monstrous Nightmare is my favorite dragon from the movies, though I adore the Nightfury like most fans too.
What book did you expect to hate, but ended up loving?
To be honest, I don’t read books that I expect to hate! I’ve read books that I didn’t expect would hook me as much as they did, but enjoyed the premise at first. This is especially apparent if I wander out of my genre. But flat out hating, I just don’t read books that I feel will make me miserable. If we’re talking about when I was in school, I forgot it all anyway, so I suppose that doesn’t matter here. Sorry, I don’t have a better answer!
What’s your favorite thing about writing? What’s your least favorite thing about it?
As much as I adore my characters, I have to go with world-building. I adore turning something into my own concept and applying things like biology to it. My vampires are a perfect example of this. I have all of my lore so far for free on my website, but a shortened version is that they are a living sister species to humans, nocturnal, and are sensitive to the sun (rather than burning). Especially their eyes. They also have teeth of a pure carnivore (so all of them are bladelike) rather than two fangs. I twist common myths on the regular with my creatures to make them my own, and when I delve into making worlds that don’t take place in a modified version of Earth, I will be world-building my own creatures as well.
My least favorite thing is marketing. I am not great at getting my works out there. It’s even worse than editing. I have no direction or skill with marketing, which makes it difficult for a self-published author. My wild dream is to someday make a career out of my writing, but I don’t know the best areas to dedicate my time to for marketing. I’ve spent a lot of money, and don’t have much to begin with, on trying to market with little success. Which is a shame given the feedback on my other books has been pretty positive! I research as well, but with no dice. Sadly I don’t have much time to dedicate strictly to marketing either.
What scene in Professors & Kings was your favorite to write?
My favorite scene was definitely when I introduced the tension and stakes of the world by having Professor Luna & Dr. Kelsy’s car shut down due to attacking vampires. It’s a key moment in the book that not only shows off gore but develops the characters and emphasizes just how dystopic and dangerous the world is. While the college aspect is primary in this book, the setting is still dystopian, as vampires have taken over the world and are the dominant species now. Most are without mercy, and that is made very clear to our protagonists. I would call it the general inciting event, as the entire world is against them beyond just the antagonists featured in the book.
Do you have a motto, quote, or philosophy you live by?
I exist to subvert expectations.
Many people see the dark as ‘bad’. They like to claim animals like spiders, snakes, and bats are ‘inherently evil’. Or, in the fantasy genre, that this ‘species’ is pure evil just by being what they are. I think that is a ridiculous notion, and while caution toward dangerous things is important, straight-up scorn and hatred toward something on the basis of what it is just isn’t right. This applies in real life as well. The night is as beautiful as the day, we just like the sun ‘better’ because we are diurnal. But the sun can burn and cause a great amount of suffering. There is a balance between light and dark, and one is not evil compared to the other. They simply are.
Therefore, with my works, I want to show nuance. You will have a mixture of vampires, demons, fae, humans, and the like because that is how the world works. Unless the creature itself is piloted by an evil spirit, and therefore not a natural thing at all, there will be good and evil individuals in the creatures of my works.
What will your next adventure or writing project be?
Right now, I am working on another urban fantasy novel that does not take place on Earth, but in a city nonetheless, that looks quite a bit like our own. It is a bit more whimsical and the setting isn’t dystopian at a grand scale.
Aside from that, I will be working on the second version of this book, featuring the perspectives of Fallynn, Derek, Aki, & Ernest. Originally, the perspectives were mixed in this book, but I cut that down to two separate versions instead.
Then, when my editing for that is complete, I will be working on the final book in The Cobratongue Saga, which won’t take place at a college.
Finally, an adventure story in my Vampire Wars universe (which includes The Cobratongue Saga and The Kingdoms of Blood series) which will be standalone from the other two series, but in the same world, featuring some side characters from those series as mains in this one. Phew, lots of work, but I love building worlds!