Spotlight & Author Interview: The Maiden’s Sleep, by Michael J. Stiehl

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The Maiden's Sleep

The Maiden’s Sleep
by Michael J. Stiehl
Genre: Fantasy / Mystery
Publisher: World Castle Publishing, LLC
Cover Artist: Karen Fuller
Release Date: January, 16th 2024
page count: 117 pages.

Bow has hit bottom. Banished from the town of Dunwynn, his hands crippled by the town guard, he drinks his days away in a hut made of sticks and mud. He is a long way from being part of the legendary father/daughter duo Knife & Bow.

That’s because his daughter is dead. Killed by The Maiden’s Sleep, a plague that ran rampant through Dunwynn all spring and summer, killing only young women.

Now there are two children in his hut asking him to find their missing father. Against his better instincts, and to make a little money, he decides to help. It’s a decision that will lead him into the darkest corners of Dunwynn, revealing a secret sect of alchemy, and a plot to achieve unspeakable power.

Can Bow play the hero one more time or will the truth about The Maiden’s Sleep be his end?

Content Warnings: contains descriptions of murder, violence, and dark themes.

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Author Interview:

1. What inspired you to write this book?

On December 10th, 2021 my dog Scout died. My wife and I rescued her when she was two years old and she had been a part of my life for more than fifteen years. I’ve worked from home either part or full time for much of the last decade, so she was my daily companion. Scout was a poodle, and poodles are strange dogs in that they have their person. While friendly and loving to all Scout was never settled unless I was around, I was her person. She was always watching me, following me, and with me through tick and thin. Losing her was a real gut punch.

About a month before she died, I was sitting at my laptop as she slept quietly next to me in her bed on the floor. I remember looking at her and knowing that she wouldn’t be with me much longer – seventeen is pretty old for a dog. I turned back to my laptop and the first sentence of The Maiden’s Sleep just spilled out of me and into a word document I had open for work. I stared that sentence – “I hate kids, and yet there are two in the pile of sticks and mud I call home.” – and wondered where the hell it came from. So I followed it. I kept writing whatever came to mind and within fifteen minutes I had two pages of Bow’s voice.

That has never happened to me before.

After Scout’s death I was visiting family for the holidays. My mother could see how much I was grieving Scout’s loss and, knowing I liked to write, suggested I write a story about her. Something that would help me remember how much she meant to me. When I got back home, thinking about what my mother had said, I opened that document I had written that day next to Scout and just kept going. I completed the first draft of the story in a month.

I don’t think The Maiden’s Sleep is at all what my mother had in mind when she suggested writing a story about Scout – sorry mom. But given what I was going through it should come as no surprise that Bow’s story deals with the themes of death, loss, and grief. I also think it really captures how I found my way through such a significant loss. Ultimately, it’s a hopeful story about how those we lose live on in our memories, inspiring us to be better with their love. In that way they never really leave us.

2. What, if anything, did you learn when writing the book?

That grieving is a strange process. You can be completely okay one minute and then feel utterly broken the next. In the end, I learned a lot about gratitude, love, and how to treasure the memories of those who’ve passed.

3. What surprised you the most in writing it?

Bow. His voice was extremely present and flowed easily as I wrote it. He’s not much like me, except that we were both suffering a deep loss at the time, so I was constantly surprised by how well I understood his motivations and point of view. Also, it was surprising how his journey seemed to just build the world that surrounded it. As he moved from place to place everything became visible to me. It was quite amazing.

4. What does the title mean?

The title is a reference both to a disease that is ravaging the town of Dunwynn but also to the death of Bow’s daughter. More importantly I think it references death and all the strange, complicated feelings that go with the subject.

5. Were any of the characters inspired by real people? If so, do they know?

No. All the characters are really amalgams of characters from movies, or at least the half-remembered versions of those characters. Sometimes I do that – I cast characters from movies or books as actors in my stories. For example, as I was writing The Maiden’s Sleep, I imagined Bow being played by a mashup of Jake Gittesis from the movie Chinatown and John McClane from Die Hard. Not Jack Nicholson or Bruce Willis so much as the characters they played in those movies. In the end I think he turned out different from both of those characters, but I’d be lying if I said he didn’t have some of their DNA.

6. Do you consider the book to have a lesson or moral?

Yes. If things are dark there is light ahead. Just hang on for it because, eventually, it will reveal itself. Also, it never hurts to look around for friends, you might just find some when you really need them.

7. What is your favorite part of the book?

Anytime Freneck and Bow are talking to each other. I love their back and forth. Their personality clashes brought a smile to my face many times as I wrote this adventure for them.

8. Which character was most challenging to create? Why?

The alchemist Tomen. Trying not to make him a moustache twisting villain was a struggle. I hope I succeeded in giving him a little depth and motivation.

9. What are your immediate future plans?

I’ve finished another novella about Houdini in WWI that I’m really excited about and I’m probably three fourths of the way through my first real novel about high school metal heads in the 1980s who get mixed up in paranormal adventures. That book has been a blast to write. Someday I would love to come back to write more stories about Bow. I have another one in mind

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About the Author:

Michael J. Stiehl writes speculative fiction of all varieties, from fantasy to horror to weird westerns. Frankly, there is just no telling what he’ll put on the page next.

Michael is a full-time staff member, and adjunct faculty, at the University of Chicago. With a lifelong passion for fiction, in particular horror, comics, adventure, and science fiction, he is thrilled to be pivoting away from academic publications and towards the kind of fiction that has always inspired him. Michael lives in the Chicago suburbs with his wife, two kids, and their very silly poodle Jack. When not writing fiction, Michael spends his time riding bikes, camping, reading books, obsessively listening to music, and playing D&D with his friends. In short, he hasn’t changed at all since junior high.

Michael’s work has previously appeared in the Rogue Blades Entertainment anthologies, “Reach for the Sky,” and “No Ordinary Mortals”. He has also been featured on the Night Shift Radio Story Tellers series and his novella “Sanctuary” was recently published by Black Hare Press.

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