Author Robert JR Graham Interviews Author DJ Stearns

Tell me a bit about yourself?

I grew up on a dead end street in Farmington Hills, Michigan. We were the last house on the street with the largest lot, surrounded by woods. My love for the outdoors started at an early age. I think my creativity started budding then as well. I used to build forts in trees and on the ground. I loved Legos and Constructs. My friends and I would build just about anything we could think of with whatever material we had available.
We moved when I was ten to a rural area. In high school I was in drama and loved biology classes. After school I participated in the musicals and even was on the mock jury team my senior year. I worked in the local grocery store during school and with the family construction business during the summer.
I went to Grand Valley State University where I majored in Film/Video Production. I made many projects and even worked on a few independent films produced in the state of Michigan. When I graduated, I worked in the TV field for three years producing, directing and editing various programs from a live TV show to local biographies.
Unfortunately, money wasn’t as forthcoming as I would have liked because I wanted to start a family. So after much self-reflecting I returned to work in the family business in construction. I help run and manage the business with my father and brother. I even took classes and am now a licensed builder.
I can say I consider myself to be extremely creative. I always had one of the best, if not the best project in the many classes I took in my academic career. I enjoy working with wood and creating things from scratch. I’ve been to Europe twice, which has helped me gain another perspective on life. I have always been fascinated with the Middle Ages in Europe, and the Constitution of the United States and what it represents.
It’s creativity and curiosity that drives me. Its people who can take nothing and rise to the top that inspires me to be better. I wrote this book to let out some creative energy and prove that I could do it just to challenge myself. Sci-Fi / Fantasy has always fascinated me because I enjoy reading what other creative people can do, and creating a world and cultures from scratch isn’t easy.

Tell me a bit about your Trilogy?

The Equinox Trilogy is about finding confidence in yourself and others. It’s about rising to the top and enduring the trials to complete a challenge. In the first novel I introduce the main characters and set up their backgrounds and personalities. I have them meet in unique ways that unexpectedly throw them together. They learn the importance of the main character and vow to help him succeed by reclaiming the lost jewels for the Gate key.
The second book will deal with finding two more of the jewels; learning twisting points of the main plot, and watching the characters grow and gain in power. While the final novel will resolve the main quest, and watch the companions learn the value of trust and friendship. I think the Equinox trilogy will be both exciting and memorable once it’s completed.

What inspired you to write Allies & Adversaries?

Stories that inspire me are The Hobbit, Willow and the Dragonlance: Chronicles. I like stories about rising to meet challenges by being drawn into an ordeal unwillingly, then becoming great by seeing the quest completed. I love the underdog story. This idea is the basis behind Allies & Adversaries.
The initial idea came to me while I was working one cold November day watching the snowfall through the window of machine I was operating. I was loading dirt from a pile into trucks to be hauled away, and the swirling of the snow around the piles formed the images in my head to write the prologue. Amazing what such a simple, stupid view can ignite in the minds eye.
Since then I have been able to plan my books while working. It helped pass the time and blocked out the drone of the engine. I had all three books pretty much ‘wrote’ in my head before I even finished Allies & Adversaries.

Is this a trilogy, or do you think you’ll write more in the series?

This story is strictly a trilogy. It was just supposed to be one big book, but after I started writing it, I realized it was going to run over 900 pages. I figured I should break it up. I have thought about writing a second trilogy to follow the first, but that’s way into the future. I want to get through this one first. I have a few stand-alone ideas for books I’d like to work on when I complete the Equinox Trilogy. In my collage days, I made an hour-long sci-fi movie as my senior project. It took me three semesters to shoot and edit. I would love to go more in depth and make it a stand-alone novel. So that will probably be my next project.

Who is your favorite character in your trilogy? Why?

Ah that’s a tough question. Having created all the characters, I feel attached to them all in some way, shape or form. I’m going to have to say Argon, simply because he’s loyal and immovable. He’s the type of person who has your back no matter the situation. He would never turn his back on a friend
Argon’s character is a little different from the others because he falls from grace and learns humility from it. All of the characters have some sort of personal tragedy and character flaws, but Argon’s stem from a horrible crime he was accused of and cast out of society. I created him as quiet and looking for a new purpose in life.
I don’t get into his character a ton in this novel, but he is one of my favorites. All the loose ends of Argon’s sub story will be wrapped up completely in volume three.

Are there similarities between you and any characters in your work?

My main character in the story, Gith Zu’Garthin, has a somewhat parallel life to me. I created Gith with having a physical handicap that is his source of both no self-esteem and ridicule. I never had a visible handicap, but I am hard of hearing. This always made large parties and events difficult. Going to a movie or seeing a speaker at an event was both awkward and uncomfortable because I had a very difficult time trying to understand what was being said. It felt like I was sitting in a quiet room, watching people react to the speaker, not knowing what was going on. As far as parties go, when people find out you can’t hear, they focus on that and constantly say ‘what’ like its supposed to be funny. I do own hearing aids, but unless you wear them, it’s hard to imagine what it’s like.
I wanted Gith to have something that would really put him at a disadvantage in the world. I wanted him to have a very difficult and troublesome life so the reader could grow with him as the story progressed. During medieval times, people were very superstitious about things that were different, and people who were viewed that way had a more difficult life than it already was. I find in a lot of movies and books, that one big event can change a person from a nobody to a somebody. I wanted Gith to grow and change, but I wanted it to take multiply events so it would seem more realistic. Hitting a target once doesn’t make you a marksman.
I wanted Gith to be shy and kind of a follower rather than a leader. He needs help from his friends to fulfill the role he is destined for. It takes a while to build confidence and learn to put your foot down when you have to.

Do you draw any parallels between your work and the real world?

While looking at current events, I don’t think I can draw too much together between my story and reality. I have always believed that the power of the individual can overcome a situation. I try to elevate this point in my novel, along with the idea of believing in your-self and having confidence. There are a lot of viewpoints in this world, but every one of them seems to think their view is right. Our world needs to be viewed as a shade of grey, rather than in black and white. I apply this idea in my book as well. Societies determine right from wrong, good from bad, and trying to push that onto others isn’t right.

Why did you select the period of time, and the character types?

I have always been fascinated with The Dark Ages in Europe, castles and swordplay. Fantasy novels have always captivated me just for those reasons, and I have been reading them since I was in elementary school. The time period was very questionable with laws and morals, while those in power ruled through fear and intimidation. Loyalty to family, honor and integrity were the characteristics that defined a person. Huge castles and the idea of magic always had my imagination running a mile a minute.
Having been to Europe twice and seeing ancient castles as well as the city of Rome makes me whistle in awe at what people could accomplish without heavy equipment and electricity. The ingenuity that went into building some of those structures is just incredible. The Vatican doesn’t have any reinforced concrete in it anywhere, yet the structure is just enormous. It is true for the pyramids and other ancient buildings. I chose this timeframe because it took both creative and hard people to survive.
My character choices go hand in hand with the legends of the ancient world. Giants, dwarves, elves, and magic were included in the tales told to explain the unexplainable natural events of the world. These characters go with the time frame and I wanted to include them in my story. I think without a little of the extraordinary, the fantasy genre would be very boring.

Is there something unique about your story that you’d like to highlight?

The one thing that I like about my story that I personally have never read in a fantasy book is the fact I put the name of the kingdom a human was born in as part of their name. For example, Gith Zu’Garthin is from the kingdom of Zuward; while Arthur Min’Swenzel is from Mineval. I don’t point this out anywhere in the story, but a few people who have read the book did notice it and thought it was a clever idea.
Another interesting theme I have in the story is the concept of good and evil are more a shade of grey rather than black and white like I see in most stories. Many books and movies have a definitive good guy and a definitive bad guy. My story, and book two will help clarify this even more, deals in perspectives from society as to what’s good and evil versus what everyone says is bad and good. I wanted to shy away from the norm, so to speak. I’m completely confident that the reader will enjoy this perspective in the book.

What was the biggest challenge you found to writing or publishing your book?

The most challenging aspect of writing the book was finding the time to actually write. Losing track of what I was writing or getting writers block was never a problem. I was able to step away from the story for a two or three month period, sit down at the computer, read the previous page and pick up where I left off like I had just wrote it the day before. But finding a decent amount of time to write; that was the problem. After my duties as a father were done, and any household issues that needed to be taken care of, I would sit at the computer and maybe knock out a half of page in an hour or two. After that it was off to bed. I’m hoping I can devote more time to the next book now that my kids are getting older.
The second tricky part was finding all the grammatical errors. It seemed like no matter how many times I reread my story; I always found some sort of error, be it a misspelled word, wrong word or typo. After running into this issue on more than one occasion, I started to get frustrated with the whole “writing thing.” But I got through it with help from family and friends. And any writers reading this, all I can say is stick to it, the story isn’t going to write itself.

When can we expect your next book?

Honestly, I don’t really know. I’m shooting for two to three years given I do have a full time job and a family. But, I’m currently working on book two. I’m already six chapters into the story, so that’s progress. So I ask my fans to please be patient, I’m doing my best.
For more information about Allies & Adversaries, check it out on Facebook. My book is available in hardcover; soft cover and digital download from any major bookseller. I would recommend digital download, which seems the simplest and cheapest thing to do.


A Handicap to Make You Stronger

I’m losing my hearing. It’s been with me now for a long part of my life. Do I regret this hearing deficiency? Not really. It has been a part of me so long; I just accept that’s what it is. Will my ears get worse? I don’t really know, but my handicap has molded me into how I view life today.

I gave my main character in my book a physical blemish. He has nasty scars from a bad burn when he was a baby. I needed my character to be quiet, shy and without confidence. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not trying to say physical deformities make people this way but it can help lead down that road.

I may not have a physical handicap, but being hard of hearing tends to shy me away from parties and crowds. I’ve learned a long time ago that people are quick to comment upon the fact I can’t hear with some poor and overused joke. Like my character, I’ve learned self confidence and I learned to put my foot down. Are we alike? Maybe, maybe not.

I needed my character to be without self-esteem otherwise he couldn’t grow during the story. One of my many themes is having self-confidence towards our goals in life. I wanted him to be able to succeed on his own and be thankful for his friends. Do I succeed in making this point? I believe I do.

Well, not this type of tragedy.

I mentioned earlier in my blogs I think characters need tragedy to help them grow. I chose something that was close to home, but not the same. I needed him to overcome the shackles of pessimism and become a hero. A nobody to a somebody.

I hope I made the right decision on this line of thought. I feel it works for the story. Those of you out there who are in a similar boat and see the world as doom and gloom, seek out those who act as optimists in your life and grow that branch. Try and learn new skills. Embrace life and bash through the many barriers thrown your way. I did.

I read a quote a long time ago. I don’t even know its origin. “Pleasure is doing what other say you cannot do.” And I try to live that line to the fullest.


What Makes a Story?

Perhaps one of the most important things for me when it comes to a story is the characters. Characters are what I think about when I read a book or watch a movie. Those of you familiar with the DragonLance: Chronicles and Legends trilogies always make me think of Rastlin Majere. Or Tasselhoff Burrfoot. The plot of the story never stands in the front; it’s always the characters.

The problem with plot is its based on conflict that can be broken down into a few

Joss Whedon has a strength for creating characters

different types. Those few types can be found in just about any story. That’s why for me, characters are the most important aspect. I watched the Avengers movie because I liked the characters. The actual story wasn’t anything spectacular, but it was a memorable movie because of the interaction of the characters.

While writing I first make a chart of characters and I try to connect them in a way that ties them together through tragedy. I find tragedy is a way to give characters, whether good or bad, flaws that people can relate to. Once I’m happy with the character’s histories I think more about the plot. I’ve always found this to be my easiest route for coming up with a story.

I wanted the characters I created in my story to be believable and personable. They are what make the story fun and memorable to write.


Dream Big

Many people often ask me what inspired me to write a book. Unfortunately, I don’t have a very good cut and dry response for that question. There are a few people I respect and admire that I’ve met in my travels, but the numero uno blossoming flower that inspires me is the imagination of successful people.

Did you know "Misery" was inspired by a dream Stephen King had?

I know, that doesn’t sound very fun, and it may be a little corny, but it’s true. I really think people who are able to come up with great ideas should be respected and admired. Who doesn’t think of Steve Jobs when Apple is brought up? Or George Lucas with Star Wars?

These are people who had a clever idea and made it happen. A small idea formed and like a grass fire just took off. Sure there were bumps and holes along the way, but we all need to learn to walk before we can run. When I see people wasting their lives, even though they have so much potential, it saddens me a little.

I’ve always found it better to remain optimistic in a situation. When I’m asked what I can do, I always just smile and say, “I’m a jack of all trades; master of none.” The expression ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ is a saying I hope never applies to me. I’ve found most tasks all can be broken down to the same similar parts. Once you learn them, it’s not difficult to keep learning new skills.

Inspiration can come from anything, and anybody. If you have a good idea, take a chance to be great with it. Don’t let the fear of the unknown stop your dreams.

It’s not the most philosophical thing to live by, I know. I’m sure you’ve read better, but I’ve been pretty happy with it. You only live once, so dream big.


The Beginning

Six years ago I decided I would write a book––little did I know of the time and work that was involved in such a feat. It started on a snowy November day while I was at work. I run heavy equipment for a living, therefore I have a lot of time to think to try and blot out the drone of the engine. Watching the snow blow around the mountains of dirt sparked the initial idea of my story.

I first opened my mind’s eye to fantasy in middle school with the book The Legend of Huma by Richard A. Knaak. I immediately was hooked and had to read the sequel, Kaz the Minotaur. From there, I latched onto the rest of the DragonLance franchise and have been slowly reaching my grasp into science fiction, mystery and graphic novels.


Having read so many stories over the years, I though I would try my hand with my own book. Between running a business, being a father and husband, and never fully satisfying my desire to make things––I found it difficult to devote an adequate amount of time to writing. The first half of the book probably consumed the first three and half years of my writing time. It was grueling and really hard to stay focused, but once I noticed the finish line on the horizon, I bit the bullet and got it done. Then started proofreading…

I turned to friends, colleagues, and family to help me with the edits. This process took up a good two years. Some people finished the book in a week, others a few months. But in the end I think it was worth it.

Now that Allies & Adversaries is done and ready to read, I can only hope the fantasy world will pick my book up and read it. I’m not expecting fame or glory, just to entertain and give people a smile. Like it or hate it, I think the journey of writing this story was worth it.

I thank those of you who have decided to jump into the world of VoGiln, and rest assured, I am busy working on book two of the Equinox Trilogy: Life & Death.


Allies & Adversaries: Equinox Trilogy Volume One by DJ Stearns

For over a thousand generations the Evil has been locked away, guarded by a being known only as the Equinox. With his assassination a nefarious plot will put the fate of the world of VoGiln in the hands of an unlikely hero. Aided by four elven wizards looking to belong, a disgraced champion searching for redemption, a retired knight affected by grief and loyalty, an assassin with her own agenda, and a spoiled princess dreaming of adventure, he will be forced into a world of lawlessness and cruelty. With no experience outside the walls of servitude, he will journey across the kingdoms only to find adversaries trying to stop him and few allies to help. Allies & Adversaries is the first novel in the exciting new Equinox Trilogy.