ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jeffrey Speight’s love of fantasy goes back to an early childhood viewing of the cartoon version of The Hobbit, when he first met an unsuspecting halfling that would change Middle Earth forever. Finding his own adventuring party in middle school, Jeff became an avid Dungeons & Dragons player and found a passion for worldbuilding and character creation. While he went on to a successful career as an investor, stories grew in his mind until he could no longer keep them inside. So began his passion for writing. Today, he lives in Connecticut with his wife, three boys (his current adventuring party), three dogs, and a bearded dragon. He has a firmly held belief that elves are cool, but half-orcs are cooler. While he once preferred rangers, he nearly always plays a paladin at the gaming table.
WARNING: THERE WILL BE SPOILERS FOR THE BOOK IF YOU HAVE NOT READ IT
Thank you so much for taking the time to discuss Paladin Unbound with me. It was a unique and wonderful fantasy.
Aside from the bio that is on your books and website, can you tell us more about yourself?
As you know, I live in Connecticut with my wife and three boys. Some things you may not know are, I once climbed a 600 ft. ice wall in New Hampshire, I went to summer camp for the first time at age 47 (August 2021), and I was a vegetarian for 20 years.
That’s so cool. I went to summer camp once when I was a kid and cried the whole time because I missed my mom. And it wasn’t even sleep away! Ice climbing must have been beautiful.
Did you always want to be author? How did you decide on fantasy? I know you are a big fan of D & D. Did it stem from there?
I’ve always enjoyed storytelling, but it manifested itself in creating homebrew D&D campaigns and bedtime stories for my kids. I never aspired to be a published author. I wrote Paladin Unbound for myself to relieve stress and didn’t decide to publish it until after I shared it with a close friend who encouraged me. Deciding on fantasy was easy. I’ve always been a fantasy junky. There’s something about escape that’s always drawn me in. D&D was a big influence for writing Paladin Unbound. I created Evelium and some of the characters for a D&D campaign for my kids. I spent so much time on the worldbuilding that I decided to keep going and write the story that became Paladin Unbound.
That’s amazing. To take something you love and share with us is wonderful. Everything came together perfectly/
I’m always in awe of writer’s stories. I write reviews. I teach students how to write research papers, but I am not at all creative. How did you form the idea of Paladin Unbound?
I had the world built, but the story didn’t begin to take form until I created Umhra. He’s this wandering half-Orc that doesn’t fit in anywhere. He just bounced around from place to place looking for whatever work he can find, all the while hiding his true nature as a Paladin. I liked the conflict his existence created. Stuck between two cultures, neither of which would truly accept him. Stuck between his faith and the law. He had a story to tell. He’s amazingly powerful and suffers from social anxiety. He’s a bundle of contradictions.
I love Umhra. He is a really great character and so well-developed. I actually liked that he had anxiety as I found him relatable. So many people suffer from anxiety, and when you read books with characters that have certain stigmatized traits, I really believe it helps. It helps take away the stigma and let people get the help they need. Books can do such great things. Thank you!
I loved Paladin Unbound. It was so cool to have a half-human, half-Orc as the main protagonist. I must admit I instantly thought of LOTR orcs! I was very glad to see Umhra on the cover, and the picture on Instagram! What made you decide on Umhra as the main character? How did you decide on the great names for the characters?
This ties in with my answer for the last question. Umrha was the MC from the very start. I wanted to tell his story. When we meet him, he’s lost and not being honest with himself and those around him. He’s letting society dictate who he is and what he can be. I believe our greatest adventure in life is figuring out who we truly are. He’s at a pretty big inflection point in that journey at the onset of Paladin Unbound.
In terms of names, I keep a running list of interesting names that I come across. I make others up as I’m writing. In Orc culture in Evelium, you have a given name at birth, like Umhra. I made that up when I created him. Then you are given a name when you enter the clan as an adult. It’s a name you earn, like the Peacebreaker. I explain how some of Umhra’s comrades earned their names in Paladin Unbound, but I don’t really dive into Umhra’s name that much.
It’s so true. Trying to figure out who we are is life-long quest, I think. It changes as we grow. I definitely felt Umhra’s uncertainty and fear if his power was revealed.
I love the names. I find it so clever how you came up with all of them. It tooks months to figure out what we were going to name our kids, and that was one name. I can’t imagine coming up with great fictional names for so many characters!
I thought it was very interesting that Umhra’s band is killed very early in the story. It was sad about as we feel Umhra’s sorrow. What was the main driving force to have the Bloodbound killed so early in the story?
This is a divisive question. I’ve received very mixed feedback on doing that, especially from my 14-year-old son. He loved Gori, and still won’t talk to me about killing off the Bloodbound. The thing is, those characters were made with the purpose of being killed and they needed to be likable if anyone were to care about it happening. So, I guess I succeeded in that part of it. The fact is, Umhra needed a nudge. He needed a catalyst. Something that would break him. It was only when he felt he had lost everything and due to his own hesitancy to admit his true nature that he embraced his path. I have some plans for the Bloodbound, though. We might see them again at some point.
I can see that it was a great choice. I was tearing up when they died. To me, that’s great writing. I cared about the characters, and was sad for them and Umhra losing his friends. He was so alone.
When the Barrow’s Pact is formed, they each have a unique power that contributes the quest they are on. What is the process of how you formed each character and their unique ability?
So, the origin of the Barrow’s Pact is discussed in the book. Laudin, the ranger, is kind of the glue that keeps it all together. When we meet them, they’ve scattered all over Evelium doing their own things. On sabbatical, so to speak. Gromley and Naivara were focused on their gold Suffusions, and Shadow was just getting into trouble which is his natural state of being. They adopt Umrha and Nicholas as a promise to see things through. They see the bigger picture, even when Umrha is mired in his own remorse. They realize they have to get this anomaly to his destination if they are to have a chance of saving the world. It’s that simple.
They do complement each other very well. I built the party much the way one would for a D&D campaign. In fact, a few of the characters started out as D&D characters we played at home. You’ve got Laudin, the ranger, Naivara, the druid, Gromley, the cleric, and Shadow, the rogue. They team up with Umhra, the Paladin, and Nicholas, the bard. It’s a love letter to D&D at the end of the day.
I was torn between the Bloodbounds and Barrow’s Pact, I have to admit. I know Umhra had suffered such a great loss, but then he found a new “family”. I loved the Barrow’s Pact as well. They were so cool. Shadow was one of my favorites, I have to admit. Love the cloaked characters. I definitely need a cloak!! Then again, I always wanted to be a ranger…oh, I’m torn!
The cult that the Barrows Pact is fighting is to prevent bringing back Naur, the God of Fire. The antagonist, Evron, is really bad, killing his own wife. What is more difficult, writing protagonists or antagonists?
Yeah. He has very few redeeming qualities. I intentionally wrote a story of good versus evil. There isn’t much moral grayness in Paladin Unbound. There are certainly differing perspectives that show evil in a different light, but the good guys are good and the bad guys are bad. I looked at Evron as the yin to Umhra’s yang. He’s an absolute zealot whose sole purpose in life is bringing about a new world order. He’s not conflicted at all. Doesn’t hesitate for a moment. He was more difficult to write simply because I had to put myself in the mindset of someone who thinks along those lines. Someone willing to commit atrocities to further his agenda.
Wow. I never thought about it that way. You sort of have to try to get into the mind of “being evil”, so to speak. What an amazing process. I certainly can see now how that would be more difficult to write. Evron was also a great character and really well-developed. Have to say he did some things that caught me totally off guard.
Do you have a favorite character from the book and if so, why are they your favorite?
You’re asking me to choose between my babies! I, of course, have a soft spot for Umhra. He’s not had an easy go of it and continues to see the positive side of things. Shadow is probably the most fun out of the crew, though. He’s a moth to the flame. He also rises to the occasion and is pivotal in many of the big fights the Barrow’s Pact faces. Always a step ahead, that guy.
I thought that is what you would say! I figured when you create characters they all have special meaning to you. Umhra is such a gently soul. Shadow is so cool and I can see how he would really fun to create. Like I said, he has the whole cloak thing going for him. Automatic coolness!
I love maps in books. The map in Paladin Unbound is really in-depth and beautiful. How does one go about constructing a map?
Well, thankfully, I had Thomas Rey bring that to life for me. He’s a phenomenal fantasy cartographer. I’m happy to see his work popping up in other indie works since. I had an entire map of Evelium (all of Tyveriel actually but we focused on Evelium for Paladin Unbound) built that I shared with Thomas. We tweaked a few things to add depth and realism to the geography, etc. Ultimately, the map is only as good as the worldbuilding, though. The setting has to be compelling. Evelium is a kingdom divided by geographical features and political conflict. That had to come through in the map. It was important for it to be detailed as the reader deserves a guide that will help them navigate a foreign land as they embark on this journey with you. We actually removed quite a bit of detail from my original map. I think I may have overdone it a bit.
You both did an awesome job. The map was excellent. I always like to see where characters travel and where each location is in relation to another.
Well, you probably get this quite a bit, but will there be a sequel to Paladin Unbound?
The sequel to Paladin Unbound is finished and ready to be sent to my publisher. I’m really excited about how the story has unfolded in the second book. It’s a bigger story with a ton of action without being longer than Paladin Unbound. I tend to under-write, so I’ll probably never release a thousand-page tome. I want you to grab on and wipe your brown at the last page. I’ve got the third story outlined (which is new for me) and have about 10k words written. I’m not sure when that will be ready, but I’m hoping to have the second book out sometime next year.
I’m so excited for the sequel! I think the length is perfect. A great book is measured by the story, not the page number. Paladin Unbound was excellent and I am really looking forward to more of Umhra’s adventures.
Book Blurb (from Storytellers on Tour)
The last of a dying breed, a holy warrior must rise up against a growing darkness in Evelium.
The most unlikely of heroes, a lowly itinerant mercenary, Umhra the Peacebreaker is shunned by society for his mongrel half-Orc blood. Desperate to find work for himself and his band of fighters, Umhra agrees to help solve a rash of mysterious disappearances, but uncovers a larger, more insidious plot to overthrow the natural order of Evelium in the process.
As Umhra journeys into the depths of Telsidor’s Keep to search for the missing, he confronts an ancient evil and, after suffering a great loss, turns to the god he disavowed for help.
Compelled to save the kingdom he loves, can he defeat the enemy while protecting his true identity, or must he risk everything?