Peter Hartog: Guardian of Empire Series

INDIE AUTHOR CORNER / Sunday, October 3rd, 2021

A native son of Massachusetts, Peter has been living in the Deep South for over 25 years. By day, he’s an insurance professional, saving the world one policy at a time. But at night, well, no one really wants to see him fighting crime in his Spider-Man onesie. Instead, Peter develops new worlds of adventure, influenced by his love of science fiction, mysteries, music and fantasy. Whether it’s running role-playing games for his long-time friends, watching his beloved New England sporting teams, or just chilling with a movie, his wife, two boys, one puppy and three cats, Peter’s imagination is always on the move. It’s the reason why his stories are an eclectic blend of intrigue, excitement, humor and magic, all drawn from four decade’s worth of television, film, novels, and comic books.


Hi Peter,
Thank you so much for taking the time to discuss The Guardians of Empire Series with me. It really is my favorite urban fantasy. Best I’ve ever read.

Peter Hartog, Author

Aside from the bio that is on your books and website, can you tell us more about yourself?

Lorraine, thank you for having me! And you are too kind. I’m blushing. Can you tell I’m blushing? Well, I’m blushing. I definitely need a moment…
::takes a moment::
::takes another moment::

That’s easy—I’m very boring. My wife will tell you I’m very boring. My friends will tell you I’m very boring. My golden retriever Ollie would tell you I’m very boring if he could speak.

I’m an 80s nerd that would still wear rainbow suspenders if I could get away with it. I crossed the half-century mark last October. I work, read, write, run, and play in tabletop RPGs with my best friends going on more than 30 years. I’ll hit the tennis court occasionally and wonder whether I’ll pull or break anything (on my body, not the racket, although that actually happened once).

As I type these responses, one of my three rescue cats (Leo – black with a white spot on his belly) has positioned himself next to the keyboard and is now headbutting my hands thus preventinmefromtyppropdelry.
::gently removes Leo from desk::

There. Much better.

What else? I’m a horrible cook, although I love watching all the cooking competition shows on the Food Network hoping that I might learn something or improve (I haven’t). Recently, I’ve gone back to playing World of Warcraft (RP Server, of course) to give me a break from the daily grind of insurance. My wife and youngest son play, as well. The family that raids together, stays together, amiright?

(Yeah, I’m terrible at raiding too)

And I’m useless when it comes to social media and doing interviews.

I can relate. I guess a lot of people would call me boring. I go to teach, come home, do teacher stuff, read, and write for my blog. You have a great sense of humor. It comes through in this interview, and in the books as well!

Did you always want to be author? How did you decide on fantasy, and more specifically urban fantasy? I think it does cross a few genres, mystery, and some science fiction. It has also been described as dystopian. I didn’t get the dystopian feel since the city pretty much functioned as normal, and was, in many ways, more advanced. I categorized in my review as urban fantasy given the magic system and how it manifests. How would you describe it?

I’ve been writing all my life, but I never actively pursued being an author. Life always got in the way. And then, one day I said, “Fuck it, I can do this!” and just started scribbling on a blank Word page, and the rest was rock and roll history.

My love of fantasy and science fiction was cultivated by my mother who impressed upon me the importance and joy of reading. She also introduced me to Star Trek in the 1970s, and I’ve been hooked ever since. I’ve been running or playing in tabletop role-playing games since the early 1980s, and I love coming up with campaign ideas to terrorize…err…mesmerize my players.

Then, around ten-ish years ago, I started watching the television shows The Blacklist and Person of Interest, and the concept for doing a crime thriller filled my head. But the story needed more. As a fan of Blade Runner, Harry Dresden, and Harry Bosch, I wanted to combine elements of science fiction, fantasy, and the police procedural to come up with something I hoped was refreshing and new. I needed to do something that was as sweeping and epic in scope as it was down-to-earth and humanly visceral.

Since publishing BLOODLINES, I’ve described The Guardian of Empire City as a science fantasy crime thriller with magic. Genre-bending at its finest!

The series contains elements of dystopia, which, by definition, denotes human suffering amidst overcrowding in an imaginary place where everything simply sucks the life from its residents. While Empire City on the surface may not reflect dystopia, there are other enclaves in this alternate Earth which do, such as the Confederate States of Birmingham. Dystopia as a condition is certainly present in the world, and (I feel) also subtly portrayed in Empire City. That said, I expect to have Holliday and the team visit Birmingham in a future novel, which would involve Deacon’s family and provide a lot more color around the former Protector’s backstory.

Ah, the original Star Trek. Tackled so many issues ahead of its time. You certainly did cross many genres, but I still classified in my review as urban fantasy. Hope it’s to keep it there! I really think there so many layers in your books. I’ve read other urban fantasy, but none come close to this series.

Another reason I didn’t get the dystopian feel was the normalcy that went on. You still have Doc’s favorite deli, a remnant of the past, the old bookstore, and what seems to be regular neighborhoods. These little parts made that the difference for me in not seeing it so much as dystopian. Were these parts and characters in the books included to give the region the feel of it being a normal city, just set in the future?

In my experience, people are grounded and defined by where they live, their neighborhood, their job, their friends, their families, their church or synagogue, sports affiliations, you name it. I wanted to create a relatable world, a sort of “What if?” setting where regular people lived after their forebears had endured a truly horrific series of events then somehow restored life to some semblance of normalcy. People still have jobs. They raise families. They watch shows. They go shopping. They pay taxes. They complain about the weather. They rely upon emergency services, food delivery and HVAC repair folks. They buy insurance for their property, build homes, create art, write books, and they also commit crimes. Now toss in Vellans, Nexus Nodes and magic to spice things up!

Dystopia could be a reality in today’s world, but I believe in the human spirit to overcome adversity and overthrow tyranny. Empire City is my small hope for the future.

This is awesome. The connection to community is something I never thought of.

OK, I have to talk about is coffee!! I love Tom “Doc” Holliday’s character. We’ve chatted a bit and you mentioned you don’t drink coffee. Doc downs more coffee in a day than I do in a week! That’s not a bad thing. What I love the most is the different names you come up with for coffee. I have really laughed out loud with some of them. How do you come up with all those creative names, and you don’t drink coffee? On a side note, you should sell “Doc’s” Java or a Doc’s Java mugs. I definitely need one of those!

HA! And thank you for the compliments.

A significant challenge for any novelist is to write about something with which they have little to no experience. Since I don’t drink the stuff, I figured the best way to lampoon my own dislike of coffee was to have a character who waxes poetic about coffee. I decided to challenge myself to come up with as many different variations to describe coffee as I could and hope I don’t repeat myself from book to book. I think I’ve succeeded so far…

I need to try that with drinks I dislike, like soda. Not sure if I can ever be as creative. Doc loves his coffee. I really need a Doc coffee mug…hint…hint…

As a debut novel, Bloodlines was brilliant, as was the second, Pieces of Eight. What was the inspiration for the Guardians of Empire City series? 

Thank you. That means the world to me that you’ve enjoyed both novels!

I’ve been running tabletop role-playing games since the 80s, and I love coming up with campaign ideas to terrorize…err…mesmerize my players. My gaming crew consists of friends that I’ve known for over 30 years, and despite everything I’ve ever done to them “in-game”, they remain my friends.

I asked myself these questions:

What if my players were part of a clandestine cadre of law enforcement armed with an assortment of powers and technology that had to stop horrible monsters who were equally (or more formidably) equipped? And rather than make up a setting, why not use New York City as the base but call it Empire City instead? And what if the world went through some horrific events, survived, and magic returned to be considered an integral part of the world’s new technology? What would their first case be, and how can I combine the elements of magic and technology to really make things weird and fun, but grounded by the characters?

Thus, the first “case” for the Empire City Special Crimes Unit was born! I titled the game BLOODLINES for the very deliberate double-entendre.

That game ran for over a year. About two years later, I developed PIECES OF EIGHT. The second case took another year for my players to resolve it. THE DEVIL’S SHARE (my current WIP and the third book in The Guardian of Empire City series) followed a couple of years after that.

As I was running THE DEVIL’S SHARE, the writing bug hit me. I wanted to pay my players the greatest compliment I could by novelizing their exploits. The previous cases had been so much fun, and my players had created these brilliant characters, most of whom are in the novels, although altered to fit my vision of them as they related to the story. In addition, how they handled the cases versus the novelized version had some very dramatic and significant differences.

But for the novel to really work, I needed a protagonist, a unique lead who was completely independent of those games. By now you’ve figured out that I’m a sucker for overly used tropes. I do my best to dust them off and rub those pesky tropes until they shine.

I came up with Tom “Doc” Holliday, a down-on-his-luck homicide detective (overly used trope) who somehow possessed a magic he couldn’t control and didn’t understand (another overly used trope) that also came with a destiny he didn’t want (a third overly used trope). I drew upon an amalgamation of Rick Deckard, Rick Castle and Steve Rogers as inspiration, then tacked on some of my own personal experiences to flesh him out.

I love to hear about the creative process and where it stems from. To create an entire novel from role playing games is amazing. I played D&D with my kids twice. They were creative with the quests…all I wanted to do is use my power and magic.
I didn’t see Tom as a trope because he is such a well-developed character. He is deeply flawed and still trying to sort out the demons that haunt him.

The magic system is really amazing. I am not creative at all. I write reviews and teach students how to write research papers. I am in awe of the creativity I read. In your series, how did you construct the entire system with the nexus points and how they manifest in each person differently? I think this really sets the series apart from others.

Thank you. I wanted to create a living magic that made sense in a world that included parallel or somewhat “alternate” Earths. To do that, magic had to be actual characters (to a degree), subtle yet present within the fabric of the world I had developed. To a common person in Empire City, magic is another word for power to turn on your lights, heat your shower or run your holo-technology. But to those sensitive to its presence and usage, magic has personality, depth, and purpose.

I gravitated toward the concept that the use of massive destructive power (the nukes) affected the natural order of things beyond merely changes in the environment. Reality shifted. Magic was always there. Humans simply couldn’t see it. And even when they could, most didn’t possess the knowledge to do anything about it. Enter the Vellans, and their bargain with humanity—allow us sanctuary on Earth, and in exchange, we’ll show you how to tap the energy needed for everyone’s continued survival. Win-win for all concerned!

How magic manifests and how it is used draw upon the myriad emotions any individual experiences. I wanted that parallel to be depicted (especially in PIECES OF EIGHT) as both tangible and ethereal.

When I read and review books that have a magic system, sometimes I can overly critical. I am analytical when I approach reviews, and often break them down into component parts. That’s the scientist in me. Magic systems have to make sense. One of the reasons that I loved the books is that the system made sense. There is magic that everyone uses to an extant, then there are those like Doc, who are more sensitive and have abilities. The Vellans are a great addition, and I love how Besim tries to appear more human. She’s a very complex charater as well.

Aside from coffee, I wanted to talk about Doc’s character. He is so well-developed and complex. One of the things I like is that he is older (which I can relate too!). In many fantasy novels the protagonists are so young. I read the books and it’s not bad that they are young. However, it is refreshing to have a character that has real life experiences, has gone through trauma and it still working it through. How did you work out Doc’s character? It is urban fantasy, yet his experiences are very relatable.

There are three key things you need to understand about how I’ve written Holliday.

The first is, I grew up in a household full of bitter anger. While I was never physically abused (although the threat was always present), the mental abuse I experienced still resonates with me to this day. “You’re not good enough” or variants of the same was something I heard a lot back then.

The second is, I understand addiction, but only as an outsider. I was married to a woman who was torn apart by her addictions. Our marriage suffered the same fate. I’m very thankful that my experience was not nearly as horrible as others, but those years were bad enough to leave a lasting impression.

Holliday embodies some of both. He’s overcome adversity, although he continues to fight the good fight every day.

The third thing I wanted was to write a real, believable character, with real problems, who has a sense of humor, and who isn’t perfect. Holliday gave up once, and while he still doesn’t understand why he was brought back, he’s chosen to face the peril, rather than give in to it. There is an optimism to Holliday that I share. I’m what I call an “optimistic realist”; I hope for the best, but I recognize that, if left unchecked, ignorance, hatred and the general foolishness of humanity will continue to do stupid stuff anyway…and yet I still believe (and work towards making) things will be better despite all that. Glutton for punishment? Perhaps. But Holliday (and I) won’t go alone into that good night just yet.

My heart goes out to anyone who suffers from addiction and abuse and is unable to receive the help and care they need. Holliday is my way of saying to anyone willing to listen that the good guys can win. That there is hope. That light can defeat the darkness. That love matters, despite what the world continues to throw at you.

Thank you for sharing your personal story. I, too, saw addiction in my family and it’s very hard when there’s nothing you can do. I think perhaps that is why I can relate to him so well, and he is one of my all-time favorite characters. He suffers from issues others can relate too. He’s far from perfect, but he is a good person. I like the fact that you give us pieces of his background a little at a time. We pretty much know he himself tried to commit suicide after he found his girlfriend had. It haunts him, as it would anybody. He hasn’t moved on, but he knows he wants to do what’s right. I can also relate to the fact that he’s an older character. I read so many books with young characters. They’re great books, but it’s nice to read about someone closer to my age.

The first-person narrative was a great choice because Doc is such a wonderful, likeable character. It’s also cool that most people think Doc as in Doc Holliday, the western. But Doc has a PhD in literature and ends up in the Special Crimes unit. He is truly a unique character. How did you decide that the first-person narrative would be the best choice? Is there “experimenting”, so to speak with other narratives before deciding on them.

It just made sense. Peter has tried writing in third person. But when Peter writes in third person, it sounds stilted and fake, and he really isn’t into that writing style. Peter may try his hand at it someday, but for now, Peter will stick to first person.

I do like the first person narrative and “getting into” Doc’s head, so to speak.

There seems to be still quite a bit we don’t know about Doc’s past. We know he’s been in rehab, addicted to Goldjoy. The woman he loved committed suicide and he tried as well. I still feel like there’s more for the reader to know. Was this one of the “driving forces” to have the story told from Doc’s narrative?


::cue the dramatic foreshadowing music::

Yes. And you’re right, there’s more to that suicide.

Much more…

::fade out dramatic foreshadowing music::

And that’s all I got to say ‘bout that.

Aha!! I knew there was more to it!!

Do you think it’s more difficult to write a continuous series, for example, like Game of Thrones, or single event stories, like Guardian of Empire City? The characters are the same, but each case is different.

I can only speak from my experience, but I am so thoroughly impressed by anyone who can put together a continuous series and keep track of all the character names, relationships, and plot dispositions. I’m only two novels in, and while there is definitely an overarching story going on somewhat behind-the-scenes with this current run, I have a definitive end for it in mind. The question is how many novels will it take to tell that story? I’m on the fence about that. I plan to resolve certain plot points in THE DEVIL’S SHARE, but that will also introduce new things. So I guess the Guardian of Empire City series will run for as long as I can come up with casework for the Special Crimes crew.

Honestly, I just hope it goes on for awhile! I love it and as far as I’m concerned, I’ll keep reading as many as you write!

Do you have a favorite character from the book and if so, why are they your favorite?

It’s easy to choose Holliday first and foremost simply because I’ve incorporated a lot of my ideals into him. But the character I enjoy writing the most is Deacon. Acerbic, irreverent, and downright hilarious at times, the character plays off Holliday and the others very well. Inspired by my friend Christopher’s brilliant portrayal of Deacon in our Special Crimes role-playing games, the character has been a fan favorite of many readers thus far, and I don’t blame them.

Doc is definitely my favorite. But, yeah, Deacon is one cool badass. He smokes as much as Doc drinks coffee! Gotta love him, too!

Of course, I have to ask, what’s next for my favorite java drinking detective?!

THE DEVIL’S SHARE is in the works! All I’ll say is it takes place during a horrible heatwave and involves some old, familiar faces, plus a new nemesis for Holliday currently nicknamed “The Gray Man”. I expect to resolve a few things from the previous books…some of them permanently.

My target first draft finish date is next summer (I’m a slow writer). Hopefully, it’ll be sooner than that, but I take my time with the editing process to produce as good a quality of novel as I can.

In addition, I’m excited to report that the BLOODLINES audiobook should (hopefully!) become available to the world in late September or early October! So stay tuned, true believers!

Lorraine, thank you again for this wonderful interview opportunity! Your questions were so insightful (see what I did there?), and I absolutely enjoyed answering them.

But more importantly, thank you for all the wonderful support you’ve given to indie authors. Having someone like you in our corner gives us indie authors hope that our work will be seen and read worldwide.

Thank you so much for this amazing interview. It is my pleasure to support and help indie authors. Book like the Guardian of Empire Series need more publicity and more people to know about them. There is more than one author writing genres of books. I hope that readers step out of their “comfort zone” and READ INDIE!!

When former hotshot homicide detective Tom “”Doc”” Holliday is recruited to join Special Crimes, he trades in his boring desk job for a second chance to do what he does best, hunt down killers. And his first case doesn’t disappoint: a murdered woman with a bogus past, her body drained of blood, and two eyewitnesses wasted on the designer drug goldjoy claiming a vampire did it.

For Holliday is no stranger to the unusual. He wields the Insight, a fickle clairvoyance that allows him to see the dark and terrible things that hide upon his world. After all, when you live in Empire City, where magic and technology co-exist, and humanity endures behind walls of stone and spell-forged steel, anything is possible.

Saddled with a team whose past is as checkered as his own, Holliday embarks upon an investigation that pits them against bio-engineered vampires, interdimensional parasites and the magical masterminds behind it all.

From nightclubs and skyscrapers, to underground drug labs and coffee shops, Holliday’s search for the truth will uncover a shadowy conspiracy that spans the ages, and forces him to confront a destiny he never wanted.

How do you stop a killer who’s already dead?

Some secrets never die. When the mutilated corpse of an ex-con is found in the bowels of an old church, haunting Biblical verses scrawled at the crime scene speak of divine retribution, and a killer hellbent on revenge. For Special Crimes detective Tom “Doc” Holliday doesn’t need his fickle clairvoyance to see that a murder like this is only the beginning.

With few leads and fewer suspects, Holliday and his quirky team of paranormal specialists embark upon an investigation that will lead them down a dark and twisted path, and test the bonds of family and friendship. From the frozen streets of Little Odessa to the diabolical wealth of Park Avenue, Holliday will need more than his Insight to hunt down an unstoppable killer.

But when Holliday suspects the killer might not be what it seems, he’ll have to unravel a twisted web of greed and lies to save an innocent soul, or lose his own, and watch his world die.

Welcome back to Empire City!

Author’s Website:

Purchase Bloodlines on Amazon; THE AUDIOBOOK IS OUT NOW!

Purchase Pieces of Eight on Amazon

Review of Bloodlines

Twitter: @althazyr

Instagram: @althazyr

I can also be found on LinkedIn as Peter Hartog

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