I’m always thrilled to support fellow graduates of the Seton Hill University Writing Popular Fiction program, even if I’ve never had the opportunity to meet them in person! Today, I’m happy to host dark fantasy author Allan Cornelius and ask him some questions about his debut novel.

Whispers at the AlterABOUT THE BOOK

When you’ve done the unthinkable, what wouldn’t you do to make it right? Lie? Steal? Kill?

For thirteen years, Steven’s mother is all he’s known. Then he plays an unintended part in the resurrection of Ssanek, a long-dead god. Now Steven must decide between abandoning the world to its fate, and risking those he cares for in a hopeless bid to banish the dark god

Meanwhile, half-elven Christabel searches for a way to bring her mother back from the dead while fighting those at the palace who see her human heritage as poison. Her only hope is Ssanek. Will Christabel be willing to give what he asks in return? After all, every wish has a price. And Ssanek’s price is blood.

Separated by thousands of miles, these two strangers must fight an evil that twists the very hearts and flesh of anyone who follows it. But only together will they find the strength to defeat what neither could overcome alone.

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Tell us a bit about what sets Whispers at the Alter apart from other dark fantasy tales!

I would have to say it is the emphasis on the characters themselves.  I’ve always been attracted to stories that were about more than just something bad happening to the protagonist and her friends, them struggling, and then just more bad happening to them.  The darkness in Whispers at the Altar comes as much from within the protagonists themselves as it does from without.  At its heart, it is a story about two vary similar people, who experience similar loss, and their internal struggles to overcome and move past that loss.  The internal journey of all of the characters, protagonist and antagonist alike is what has always attracted me to writing. 

Which was your favorite point-of-view character to write, Christabel or Steven? Why?

This is a really hard question, but between the two I would have to say Christabel.  Though she isn’t a typical hero at all, she is the one whose story I carried with me the longest.  I know her better than any other character in the book, and possibly better than any I will ever write.  Writing her scenes, even the ones where she’s acting like a jerk or making the complete wrong choices, were like walking with an old friend, or reminiscing with them about places we’d already been.  It was just that easy.

Stealing from a meme I’ve seen go around on Facebook: If someone was to summon you, what items should they put together?

A snake altar and some pigeons?  Sorry, book reference, couldn’t resist.  I’d say a Pepsi, a Warhammer 40k Codex, an RPG rulebook (any system will do), and a good horror movie.  But pick the wrong horror movie and you’ll definitely regret it.

Even fantasy worlds require a bit of research. Can you tell us the coolest thing you learned while researching for this book, regardless of whether it made it into the text?

So, there is a scene in the book where Brogan, Steven’s adopted father, has been shot with an arrow and Steven has to basically operate on him to get the arrowhead out safely.  I did a half-day dive into arrowheads and their removal and wrote this whole long sequence detailing exactly how he was going about getting this piece of metal out.  I honestly don’t remember a lot of specific detail that I learned, but that was definitely the deepest rabbit hole of research I went into.  Eventually I realized I was spending way too many words to describe a pretty simple task and the scene got edited down drastically.

I’ve also learned what kinds of trees grow in swamps, some of the religious rites of ancient Canaanites, and a bit of Persian and Arabian culture and the differences between the two.

Can you give us any hints as to where things are headed in the rest of the Alter Trilogy?

Well there is a pretty big twist at the end of Whispers, but I can say that Ssanek is back with a vengeance in Tears at the Altar.  And he has some pretty unexpected and angry allies.  But even with all of that, it’s just possible that he might not be the biggest thing Christa has to worry about.  Oh, and yes, Christa and Steven will meet in the flesh.

Finally, leave us with a short excerpt from Whispers at the Alter to show readers why they should check it out!

Sinna flipped to one of the first sections of the book. One Christa barely remembered. “Here’s another question. Name the five most prominent human deities.”

Christa rolled her eyes. “No one worships those any more. I’d never even heard of them.”

“Humor me.” Sinna gave another wide smile and Christa couldn’t help but comply.

“Ancient humans worshiped a series of deities who each took on one of five mostly opposed aspects. Day, Night, Creation, Destruction, and Balance. None were considered evil per se. Life needs all five to continue. But there was a cult of Ssanek, the god of night, which grew particularly powerful. They believed they had summoned Ssanek, and that he spoke to them in their dreams. He was said to make deals. To provide some service in exchange for payment. Anything from money or jewelry to living sacrifices.”

Christa paused. He made deals.

“Keep going,” Sinna encouraged. “So, what happened to this cult?”

“Oh.” Christa shrugged. “No one knows. The book says they killed each other in a series of power grabs. But again, there’s no reference given.”

Sinna continued to ask questions, but Christa’s mind wasn’t on them. She kept coming back to the same thought. What if—and she realized it was a large if—Ssanek was real? What if she could make a deal with him? He was a god, right? And she was half human, she must have some kind of tie to him if he did exist. And if he did… Sure there was a price, but she could always say no if it was too high, right? It wasn’t like she wanted to kill anyone.

This way, no one had to know. She didn’t need anyone else’s help, and no one would get hurt. By slow increments Christa allowed herself to begin to hope.

Maybe, just maybe, the Creator wasn’t the only one capable of bringing Mama back.


Allan Cornelius has been creating Fantasy and Science Fiction worlds to play in since he started his first gaming group in high school. Along the way he has accumulated four degrees, including an Associates in Space Systems Technology and a Master of Fine Arts in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. He currently lives in Colorado Springs with his wife and family and can often be found at the annual Pikes Peak Writers Conference.

Whispers at the Altar is his first novel.

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