Monday, October 19, 2015


Chris Mannino

Chris Mannino is a versatile MuseItUp author who writes about Death and many other subjects in multiple genres.  Below is the cover and an excerpt from Sword of Deaths, his most recent novel in the School of Death series.  Also, you will find a riveting interview that I find both fascinating and surprising.

***ATTENTION: School of Deaths is on SALE this week for only 99 cents, and Sword of Deaths is also on sale for only $2.99.

EXCERPT from Sword of Deaths

Frank started to speak when a deafening shriek pierced the woods. They exchanged a silent acknowledgement, and crept to the side of the boulder. 

“We might be able to hide beneath the stone,” Frank told Michi. He used his mind, grazing the power without diving into its depths. 

The shriek screamed through the forest. The Elementals huddled on the rock’s edge, grasping for a crevice. Frank reached into his pocket and clutched the hilt of Rayn’s dagger. Tingles of warm energy coursed through his skin, rippling in waves from the mortamant blade. 

A third scream blasted leaves to the ground. The forest floor trembled and trees quivered in the face of the Dragon’s fury.  

“Something’s changed,” said Michi. “He knows we’re here.” 

“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Frank. For a moment the forest quieted. 


The canopy overhead tumbled down, trees snapping in half. A smell of sulfur choked Frank. A blast of heat swept through the forest. White-hot flames engulfed the woods, disintegrating trunks and leaves in a conflagration. Fire rushed around them like a tidal wave against a beach. The boulder protected their backs, yet even the stone grew hot. Smoke stung his eyes like acid. 

Frank pulled out the dagger. The Dragon’s scales covered its entire body. He’d never get close enough to draw blood. Yet, one nick of his own blood and he’d be home.  

The Dragon’s blast ceased. So much destruction in a single blast. How did the Deaths ever defeat creatures like this? Acrid smoke billowed around the ashen ruins of trees. A wide swath of forest had been obliterated.  

“Hold my hand,” he said. The boulder radiated heat behind them like coal in a furnace. “I’m going to bring us back to the College.” 

“Wait. I’ve used my power,” said Michi. “It’s two against one, we should fight.” 

“Fight a Dragon? Are you insane?”


     John: Hi, Chris, thank you so much for being my guest. I have to begin by asking about your picture on MuseItUp Publishing’s site. What’s a high school theatre and drama teacher doing with a scythe held over his shoulder? Are you auditioning for the role of the Grim Reaper?

     Chris: One of my students was causing some trouble, just thought I’d reap a quick soul. No, that’s a joke, of course. The picture was actually taken when we filmed the trailer. A group of students (all of whom have since graduated) joined me to film a book trailer. Some were actors, and one kid did the camera work. The scythe was used in the trailer – it is a steel scythe, not fit for soul reaping (real scythes, as my books discuss, are made of mortamant).

     John: Could you tell us more about yourself? Why are you so fascinated with death (at least fictionally). And what motivated you to write about Suzie, the first female Death in a million years?

      Chris: The books were inspired by a trip I took to Cornwall, while finishing a study abroad program in grad school. I spent a semester at Oxford, and decided to journey once a week to a location I’d never visited before. One of those trips led me to Tintagel, the supposed birth-place of King Arthur. I became stranded there, not realizing there was only one bus to/from Exeter a day, so had no car, little money, no change of clothes, and no phone. I spent the night in a pub.

At 4 am, having slept very little, I journeyed out onto Barras Nose, a promontory overlooking the Cornish coast, and Tintagel Castle. I was alone, with no other people in sight, fighting fierce winds from every direction. I crawled on all fours to avoid being blown into the sea, and watched the dawn from a cliff, fifty feet above the crashing waves. I imagined a character completely alone, attacked from all directions. In the earliest draft, the character was actually a boy.

I liked the idea of someone training to be a Reaper, since I was at the time training to be a teacher. As I sought to make the character even more isolated, I developed the idea of Susan being not just the only female reaper, but the first female Death in millennia. I was drafting in Oxford, and the first time I felt homesickness for the USA was Halloween- which is a huge holiday in the States, and felt like nothing in England. That’s probably one reason the characters ended up carrying scythes.

     John: Is spooky YA fantasy your basic genre?
     Chris:  Absolutely not. I’m currently working on edits for Daughter of Deaths, the final book in the trilogy, but have already started my next novel, which is in a completely different genre. The new novel is adult sci-fi thriller, sort of Dan Brown meets Michael Chricton. I have many genres I want to explore, including historical fiction, adult high fantasy, humor, and nonfiction. I keep a detailed “book journal” with novel ideas, and there are currently twenty-two ideas there.
     John: Tell us about your School of Death books, and please mention your adult science fiction novel.

     Chris: The Scythe Wielder’s Secret is a trilogy that begins as lighter YA Fantasy, and ends with a dark and epic feel. The first novel, School of Deaths, tells the story of a thirteen-year-old girl who’s forced to become a Death, and reap souls. She’s the first female Death in a million years, and fights against sexism and bullying, eventually helping to overthrow the headmaster of the school.

In the second novel, Sword of Deaths, we continue to follow Susan and her friends, as they struggle to prevent a war between Dragons, who are the original reapers, and Deaths. The three search for the fabled First Scythe, which they hope will change the balance of power.

In the final novel, Daughter of Deaths, war breaks out, and Susan and her friends are caught at the heart of a terrible secret. For the first time we learn the real reason that Susan was brought to the World of Deaths, and the fate of three worlds rests on her shoulders.

I’m not going to go into too much detail about the newest novel I’m working on now, but I’ll say it’s been fun to switch genres. Writing from the point of view of adults is a nice change. It also starts in Washington DC, which is not only a popular spot for thrillers, but is also my home. 

      John: Do you have any ideal writing conditions—rituals, a quiet, set place, that sort of thing?  And how often do you write a day?
     Chris: I write whenever I find time. Most of my drafting honestly happens during the summers. The drama program I lead is very large, we do four shows a year, and it’s not uncommon for me to spend 10 or more hours a day at school. I’m typing this interview from school, in fact. My ideal writing conditions would be to have a large chunk of time. If possible, I’m outside on the patio with my wife, who’s also a writer. I turn the internet off, or only allow myself to go on Pandora, and listen to film scores.
      John: Are you a plotter, a pantser or some combination of both?  Do you do anything to get inspired, like go on 10 K runs or play music?

      Chris:  Definitely both. I begin with a general scenario, or specific book idea/situation. Then I formulate an “image outline” which is generally between three to ten specific images, or still pictures, that I have in mind for the story. I don’t know how they’ll fit in, or necessarily which order they’ll appear. After that, I just sit down and start writing, though there’s some outlining as I go as well.  If I’m not inspired, music or walks do help.

      John: What, if anything, makes you different or unique as a writer and person?

      Chris:  I think the fact that I spend more time with teenagers than adults makes me uniquely suited to capture my audience’s voice.  I am also fortunate to be able to pursue my two greatest passions at the professional level.

      John:  What’s your happiest childhood memory?

      Chris:  For a number of years, we lived in the middle of nowhere in rural Western Massachusetts, in a log house my parents had designed themselves.  I used to spend the summers sitting on my porch, spending hour after hour reading books.  I’m sure that affected my desire to become a writer.

       John:  What’s the most important lesson life has taught you?

      Chris:  Never give up. Persistence and perseverance are two of the most important traits in life.

      John: If you had to marry a fictional character from film, books, history, or legend, who would it be?

      Chris:  First let me say that there’s no one I’d ever rather marry other than my wife. But if I had to marry a fictional character, probably Sophie from Howl’s Moving Castle, Beckett from the TV show Castle, or Buttercup from The Princess Bride.

      John: Being a writer is (sometimes) a great job.  What is the worst job you’ve had?

      Chris: Probably being a cashier at a 24-hour grocery store with the “graveyard” shift.

      John: Describe one of your favorite characters and tell us who you patterned him/her after and why.

      Chris: One of my favorite characters in my series is Frank.  He’s a fascinating character, who really developed and grew in directions I hadn’t originally foreseen.  I think he was roughly patterned after myself at first, but as the series progressed, his role became more and more complex.  Without giving too much away, at times he is the sidekick, at other times the main POV character, and at other times his entire experiences mirror and foreshadow Susan’s future actions.  He is central to the entire plot, and I love his storyline.  

      John: Tell us about your upcoming book.  Has it been launched yet, or is it due soon? 

      Chris: Sword of Deaths is available now. I’m hoping the final novel Daughter of Deaths releases next year.

      John:  Thank you so much, Chris, for your fascinating answers. Are there any questions I didn’t ask which you would like to answer?  If so, here’s your opportunity.  Please go ahead!

       Chris: I can’t think of anything else.

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Chris's Links:


  1. Thanks for hosting John! School of Deaths is on SALE this week for only 99 cents, with Sword of Deaths also on sale for only 2.99.

  2. Thanks for being my guest, Chris. Maybe I'll put that sales info in the post.