Risingshadow has had the honour of interviewing N. S. Dolkart, who is the author of Silent Hall (Angry Robot Books, 2016).
About N. S. Dolkart
N. S. Dolkart, otherwise known as Noah, was home-schooled until high school by his Israeli father and American mother, and is a graduate of the notorious Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. He studied creative writing and Jewish studies there.
By day, he leads activities in a non-profit nursing home, where he also trains fellow staff in caring for dementia patients. He writes his tales of magic and Godhood late at night, and doesn’t sleep much.
Silent Hall is his first novel.
About Silent Hall
Five bedraggled refugees and a sinister wizard awaken a dragon and defy the gods.
After their homeland is struck with a deadly plague, five refugees cross the continent searching for answers. Instead they find Psander, a wizard whose fortress is invisible to the gods, and who is willing to sacrifice anything – and anyone – to keep the knowledge of the wizards safe.
With Psander as their patron, the refugees cross the mountains, brave the territory of their sworn enemies, confront a hostile ocean and even traverse the world of the fairies in search of magic powerful enough to save themselves – and Psander’s library – from the wrath of the gods.
All they need to do is to rescue an imprisoned dragon and unleash a primordial monster upon the world.
How hard could it be?
AN INTERVIEW WITH N. S. DOLKART
- Could you tell us something about yourself in your own words?
25-34 year old white male, just under 5'8" and weighing approximately 165 pounds, last seen driving west down Main Street in a gray Honda Civic after definitely not doing anything illegal. I'm totally innocent!
I'm cis, liberal, Jewish, and really very friendly. I used to read Torah in synagogue much more often than I do now, and I'll probably go back to it when my kids are a little older. I draw a lot of inspiration from the Torah as it's written, especially when I can ignore the centuries of commentary and take ideas in a totally different direction. So who cares if "herding the wind" was an ancient expression meaning "attempting something futile" -- I want to write a story about an actual wind herder!
Both of my children have Arabic names, either first or middle. Not coincidentally, they're Hebrew names as well. We strongly believe in emphasizing the similarities with our ethnic and religious cousins. We believe not just in peace, but in kinship.
- How did you become a fantasy author? Have you always been interested in fantasy fiction?
Always. I grew up reading Diana Wynne Jones, and even wrote to her once on her website, for writing advice / encouragement (she didn't answer, but it was also kind of a stupid question). I loved the Chronicles of Prydain as well, and adored the Golden Compass (I read the rest of His Dark Materials too, but thought he handled Lyra's coming of age poorly, especially in The Subtle Knife). I enjoyed the Young Wizard series by Diane Duane too, despite growing uncomfortable with its Christian bent.
There's a huge amount of fantasy out there that's basically Christian, following in C.S. Lewis' footsteps, and a lot less that's quintessentially Jewish. I think it was the dissonance of loving fantasy as a genre and at the same time being vaguely uncomfortable with all the Christian allegory that pushed me into believing that I had something to add to the literature. Then again, maybe it's just that I loved fantasy and also loved writing stories, and it just made sense for me to combine those two passions.
- What kind of novels and stories do you like to read? Have any of them been an important point of inspiration to you?
See above. I love reading fantasy in particular, though now and again I'll branch out to something else if the writing is good enough. I wouldn't normally have been interested in John Irving's plots or settings, but holy cow that guy can write an amazing sentence.
- You're the author of the fantasy novel Silent Hall (Angry Robot Books, 2016). What inspired you to write it?
I wanted to write a story about humanity caught in the cross-hairs between warring gods, and what it would be like to try to survive in that kind of world. In Greek mythology, Egyptian mythology, and even in the Bible, you get the distinct impression that getting a god's attention is almost universally a bad thing. I haven't read much fantasy that starts from the same premise, so I thought I'd write it.
- Was it challenging to create a story that takes place in a fictional world?
Oh, I find that much easier than creating a story that takes place in our world! I'm too afraid of getting important details wrong, which is much less of a problem when you can just make stuff up. If I say that some island's economy is built on exporting a rare variety of seaweed, nobody can contradict me.
- Could you tell something about the characters? What kind of characters are they?
Well, in order of appearance:
Narky is a bitter and sarcastic semi-accidental murderer. Far from being unrepentant, though, he desperately wants to change, but doesn't know how. All he knows is that his new friends are better people than him, so he does his best to learn from them.
Hunter is a combat-obsessed brooder, whose prowess in arms can't cover for the fact that he's not all that great at anything else, including social interaction. He's shy, quiet, and not as quick-witted as some of his friends, and when his "plan A" for life falls through, his ego collapses. He knows he ought to come up with new goals for himself, but he doesn't know where to begin. His journey is about finding a new purpose in life.
Criton is a damaged young man, brought up by an abusive father and a meekly enabling mother. At first he filters everything through the stories his mother used to tell when he was a child, because those stories are his only real tool for interpreting the world. He's obsessed with learning about his ancestors, who were draconic, and he refuses to believe that his abusive father was in fact his real father. He can be very heroic at times, but he's still a deeply flawed character. He always does his best, but his upbringing gets in his way more often than not.
Bandu is somehow less damaged, despite being abandoned in the woods as a girl and essentially raised by wolves. She is uncomfortable in civilization, but she knows who she is, and that's much more important. Insightful, genuine, and a bit misanthropic, she pokes a lot of holes in her friends' various assumptions. Her grammar might be terrible, and her manners worse, but her logic is almost always sound.
Phaedra is a scion of the upwardly mobile middle class, a girl brought up to metaphorically conquer the world. She's smart, athletic, a voracious reader, and willful as all get-out, if also a tad conventional in her thinking. She becomes the group's leader in the early stages, even though she's what you might call the nerd of the group.
Then there's Psander, the mysterious antihero. I don't want to spoil anything, so I'll just say that this particular wizard is not your typical kindly mentor with the white beard. There's way more going on beneath that surface.
- What was the most difficult part of writing Silent Hall?
I've been asked that question a few times, and always answer it differently. Now that I've had more time to think about it, though, I think the answer has to be getting the character of Criton just right. He's a complicated guy, at times almost the classic hero and yet just as often self-sabotaging in his various neuroses. In the first few drafts he just seemed inconsistent, so getting the right balance was very tricky and took several rounds of rewriting. I'm pretty sure I managed it, though.
- What was the most rewarding part of the writing process?
Breathing life into these characters. They started out as pretty basic archetypes, and it was unbelievably exciting and rewarding to turn them into such real people. My brother and his wife like to play a game now of identifying people in their lives who are just like my characters, based on their personalities and motivations. I love that.
- Did you do any research before or during the writing process?
Not a whole lot. Sometime before I started the novel, I had read a fascinating academic book about ancient Judaic theology,Creation and the Persistence of Evil by Jon D. Levenson, which inspired the setting and theology of my world. But beyond that, the only research I did was very casual – googling trees that I wanted my plant life to resemble and so on. Asking friends who are medical professionals if the health outcomes in the book are plausible. My characters make some poor medical decisions, and I wanted to make sure they wouldn’t make things worse than I thought.
- How would you advertise Silent Hall to potential readers?
It's character-driven epic fantasy with an ensemble cast -- what's not to like? If you're fond of thoughtful, deeply characterized protagonists, and hate idiot plot, you're going to love Silent Hall. If you like action that has real consequences for everyone involved, you're going to love Silent Hall. If you like exploring the theology of a well-drawn world, if you like creepy old-school elves and sinister wizards, or even if you just like stories about kids growing up, making unlikely friends and succeeding together, you're going to love Silent Hall. Did I mention you're going to love Silent Hall?
- What can readers expect next from you? Will there be a sequel to Silent Hall?
Yes! I'm hustling to finish it by November so that we can have it on bookshelves in the spring!
- Is there anything you'd like to add?
Buy my book! It's really good!