FQ: Your trilogy has been inspired in part by Celtic Mythology. Have you always been interested in Celtic lore?
WESTGATE: Not just Celtic lore. After reading the Odyssey in school, I went on a binge of Greek mythology. It always struck me as weird that there was a whole section of the school library for the Greek stuff, when surely there were other cultures and lore to read as well. That curiosity led me to exploring an array of lore including Celtic, Egyptian, Japanese, and a variety of religions. During that period, I read constantly, and I found myself hooked on the Celtic lore.
I leaned heavily on my own Celtic ancestry as both the concepts of Otherworld and the Mist itself fit well with the weather and atmosphere here in Maine. On any day during my commute, the road can be blanketed with thick fog rolling off the ocean. The Baku Trilogy explores many facets of Celtic myth and legends which appear throughout the trilogy. One of the fun parts of my writing is being able to conceive a world where it’s all real. The Celtic gods can go toe-to-toe with Egyptian Gods. Hence the main character, Xlina, being a descendant of the Baku from Japanese lore.
FQ: Would you explain to our readers a bit about “Otherworld” and how Celtic Mythology played a part in creating it?
WESTGATE: Otherworld has multiple interpretations in Celtic mythology depending on the region. I drew heavily on the Irish and Welsh versions where Otherworld exists as a parallel plane to ours. It is a place of deities and magic. There are also those who believe Avalon in Arthurian Legend is hidden away within Otherworld.
In my setting, the earth realm is just another realm within the vast scattered realms of the material planes. As humans are prone to ordering the world through our own point of view, all the other realms within the material plane exist as Otherworld. The knowledge and pathways leading to Otherworld are guarded by the Grand Enchantment, the mist, which keeps the everyday mundane humans segregated from the magic and monsters beyond.
FQ: I admit I hated Amber when she makes her first appearance in The Infernal Games – she’s like so many annoying “practically perfect” cheerleader-type girls I knew in high school. Were you hoping that is how readers would react when first meeting her?
WESTGATE: Amber is a character that is alive today only because my oldest daughter, Emma, fell in love with her. In the original draft, Amber dies early on as a consequence of Xlina not acting on a nightmare. The idea was to present Xlina with a human adversary to highlight her struggle to find acceptance in either the human or magical worlds, and the plan was that the guilt of Amber’s death would be a huge motivator for Xlina. My daughter loved the banter between them and loved the mean girl attitude Amber had. She thought Amber was a character that everyone could relate to. Everyone knew that girl, and even worse for a young teen like her, everyone in some way wanted to be “that girl.” As much as my daughter hated her, she also envied her. The status, the popularity, and the seemingly perfect life that Amber leads has an allure of its own, almost like the demon Valeria’s intoxicating allure. It was a struggle that she could identify with. That emotion, the conflict I saw in her, was too powerful to just throw away.
Dad the author had to improvise. Why does Amber act that way? What are the struggles she faces? Suddenly Amber became this tangible character with hopes and feelings. She faced her own insecurities and inadequacy that led to her behavior. I find many of my readers have commented on how they hated Amber at the beginning of the book and by the end of the series they absolutely loved her. By the final book in the trilogy, Amber goes from being the throwaway antagonist I had originally intended to the character on the cover of the book.
At the end of it all, I really enjoyed exploring Amber as a character, to dig into her motivations and have the character come full circle. One of my favorite scenes is the moment she and Xlina share in Heart’s Hearth, where they are just talking about the expectations placed on them. You see two very different characters bonding over a similar weight of trying to be the person they are expected to be, rather than living as the person they are.
FQ: When Xlina first meets Oxivius, she explains to him that “The things I see happen. I need to stop them. Or at least I need to try and stop them.” Do you think this need to help others is a major element in what makes Xlina so special? Does it cause torment when she knows that she can never save everyone?
WESTGATE: Xlina’s power comes with a heavy toll. Sure, she can harness this nightmare magic to do some cool things, but the cost is seeing those nightmares. Watching them play out night after night. It is a constant source of lament. She knows she can’t stop it all and in one spot she even acknowledges that there are worse nightmares than just monsters, but she can at least stop the monsters.
The demons believe it is because she craves battle. That she is a natural predator. That’s not the case. Xlina’s lack of control makes her a danger to the people around her. She feels alone and isolated. Her abilities prevent her from living a normal life, from having normal dreams. But fighting those monsters? That is something she can control. That is something she has power over.
FQ: Valeria, a demon with no redeeming traits - she’s just a nasty, evil demon. Was she fun to create? Did you enjoy writing her scenes?
WESTGATE: Valeria was a ton of fun to write. When I started working on Valeria I knew I wanted a truly evil character. I needed her motivations to be pure. She is a demon. She does bad things because that is what demons do. Writing a truly cruel and malicious character like that is fun. No bones about it. Her words are sharp and cut deeper than any dagger ever could. She manipulates Xlina, preys on Xlina’s feelings about her body image.
Another flaw taken from my two daughters, that gets played on heavily. One of Xlina’s cool abilities is she can eat however she wants because the nightmares each night burn calories like she is an Olympic athlete. Nevertheless, she struggles with body image and insecurities just like everyone else. She feels too tall, too muscular, etc. She knows her image isn’t the preconceived notion of “Pretty” like both Amber and Valeria. The demon uses that to her advantage regularly throughout the book and continually feeds Xlina negative and positive reinforcement, as if she were a mouse in an emotional maze. The magic of the ruby choker offers her rewards when she makes choices the demon approves of and injects feelings of inadequacy when needed. Valeria does everything possible to break Xlina’s spirit, because she needs her to fully succumb to the mark to unlock her potential as a warlock in full service to the demons.
FQ: Likewise, Oxivius isn’t your typical necromancer. Was it your goal to flip the “traditional” versions of various magical creatures to keep readers guessing?
WESTGATE: The entire goal of the Baku Trilogy, the whole concept of the series, revolves around the power that is free will. Our ability to choose. Oxivius comes to Xlina and instantly when she realizes “what he is” all the stereotypes of her upbringing come crashing in. He is everything that is supposed to be evil. He is a cannibal, a practitioner of the dark arts, a sorcerer exiled to Otherworld for his crimes against humanity. Yet while he is all of those things, he isn’t any of the stereotypes. Xlina has to come to terms with the notion that her preconceived versions of good and evil may be incorrect. It makes for an interesting hurdle to clear while at the same time battling for one’s soul.
Oxivius is meant to challenge the reader. He sets the tone for the series, often highlighting how people, government, or institutions can determine what is good or evil and sell it to the masses. Instead, as Oxivius is so fond of saying, Magic is intent. Everything is about the choices you make and the intent in your heart when making them. He has become a truly beloved character by many readers.
FQ: You have a shop page on your website with lots of “goodies” for fans of your books. I think this is a great idea. Have you found these items popular with readers? Would you recommend that other authors consider merchandising their books?
WESTGATE: I debated for a while whether anyone would buy such goodies, but seriously look around at every major franchise. Can you think of one that doesn’t have T-shirts, toys, and other merch? I decided if I wanted my little universe to be treated like the big ones, then I needed to act like them. So far, the goodies have been a big success. I paid my artist for bulk commercial use and took off running. I hoped people would love the characters in my books enough to want to wear a T-shirt or have a puzzle. I was right. The best movers have been clothing, the fleece blanket, and the puzzles.
I have more designs coming and I recommend any independent author consider doing the same. With on-demand printing, there is no upfront inventory cost and having branded stuff for in-person events is a huge bonus. I have also engaged with a virtual sculptor to create models of Xlina and Oxivius and am happy to say by the fall I expect fans to be able to buy their own resin miniatures of the duo for use in all their tabletop games.
FQ: Speaking of your website, I love how you have artwork of the main characters included on the site. How carefully did you work with the artist, Micha Cole/Lady Pirotessa to get the images as you pictured each character?
WESTGATE: Micha is a gem of an artist. The process she uses is very effective and she truly brought my characters to life. She starts by having you fill out a character profile that is very in-depth. You also include samples. How do you want that eye to look? Skin tone? Body shape? I have folders for each character she has illustrated with snips of parts so she had references. My hard drive makes me look like a serial killer assembling faces and bodies from a series of clips. She then takes all of that input and begins sketching in phases. Each phase comes with an approval and options for revisions. The whole process takes a long time, but it is worth it. Her artwork and renderings are simply amazing.
FQ: The end of The Infernal Games has a great teaser for book 2 in the trilogy. Would you give our readers a little tease for the second book, Dirge of the Dead?
WESTGATE: Dirge of the Dead takes the foundation built in The Infernal Games and dials up the intensity. There is a major Valeria reveal in the prologue that sets the tone for the book. Chapter one picks up seconds after the last line in the epilogue. Xlina finds herself in a dark place, unable to accept what she had to do to survive. She is hurting. Oxivius can bear it no more and in typical Oxivius fashion, takes the bull by the horns. Storming hell to steal a soul back from an Arch Demon is just the beginning, however, as there is a natural order to the world and universe. Oxivius’ plan is the ultimate taboo in the magic community. Once again Xlina finds herself pitted against friend and foe alike as she must choose between her heart and the laws of nature.
Dirge of the Dead allows Xlina to grow on her own and manifest new ways to use her powers. It explores her depression and isolation, leading her to grow and evolve as a character. I wrote Dirge of the Dead during the height of the Covid lockdowns when we all were feeling the weight of our loneliness. That loss of human interaction spoke to me, and Dirge of the Dead allowed me to address the importance of things like hope and the bonds of friendship.
Dirge of the Dead delivers more Celtic lore, a disturbing visage of the infernal planes, and even the angels decide to get involved.
FQ: You’re also working on another trilogy, the Soulstealer trilogy. What can readers expect from this series, and might there be any magic or other elements from the Baku trilogy in this newest work?
WESTGATE: The Soulstealer trilogy is the backstory for Oxivius. So many readers fell in love with the necromancer and his past that they clamored on my socials to know the full story. Especially after Dirge of the Dead, when you get a sense for how old the necromancer truly is. The trilogy begins with Soulstealer Origins due out November 1, 2022. It highlights Oxivius’ early days and explores the concepts of man versus monster. The second book, Soulstealer Mistress of the Waterfall, makes a leap forward in time and explores how Oxivius came to know Penny and Burglecut and tells us why the Burglecuts don’t talk about Penny’s daughter. Finally, due out in fall of 2023, Soulstealer Exile explores Oxivius’ wife and her death leading up to his ultimate exile to Otherworld.
While I have other ideas for novels in both the sci-fi and fantasy genres I still have a lot more story to tell around my little Baku Universe and so I plan on continuing in this little world for the time being. I was terrified that I wasn’t good enough to put out stories that people would enjoy, but I am finding a loyal and growing fan base who loves Xlina, Amber, Oxivius, and even Valeria as much as I do.