Last week I reviewed some tales by newcomer and indie author Joshua P. Simon. This week I’m following those reviews up by interviewing the author himself. This is something I plan on doing from time to time, following up a review with an interview. It’s not something I’ll do with every review, but once every couple of months, I’ll throw an interview into the mix just to keep things interesting. Bold face type will be my questions, regular type, Joshua’s responses.
You’ve said in your author bio that you didn’t grow up reading fantasy. How exactly did you come to be a fantasy writer?
I’m a bit of an anomaly. I didn’t know anyone growing up who read fantasy/science fiction or played D&D. My only knowledge of D&D came from the old Saturday morning cartoon series in the 80s.
That being said, I was always drawn to the fantastical via TV and movies. I must have watched the Conan movies a hundred times as a kid. Red Sonja and The Princess Bride were also in the regular rotation. Basically, if something had a sword or axe, I was hooked.
That’s not to say I didn’t do any reading as a kid about the fantastical. However, most of what I found on my own revolved around various tellings of King Arthur or the stories of the Greek and Roman gods. I think I read a book about the Twelve Labors of Hercules at least five times in the sixth grade just because that was all I could find of interest in our school library.
Anyway, my reading interests shifted in high school to sports as I was really involved with basketball at the time. In college, I worked and went to school full time so had little opportunity to read for pleasure.
Finally after grad-school, I had time on my hands and money in my pocket. I started buying graphic novels since I had also been a big Batman fan growing up (thanks to the old Adam West show and later the Bruce Timm universe). After dropping a few hundred dollars I started thinking, “Man, a graphic novel costs anywhere from $12-$20 dollars and doesn’t last very long. I could spend less than that on a paperback and get more for my money.”
So, I did some research and realized that those Conan movies I loved as a kid were actually based upon the Robert E. Howard stories (Yeah, I was late to the game). I immediately bought the three Conan collections released by Del Rey, devoured them, and then ordered everything else by Howard. After Howard, I jumped to George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series. Even though it was nothing like Howard, it still blew me away. Next came Glen Cook’s Black Company series which to me is literary perfection. I’ve moved on to read other great others like Paul Kearney, Joe Abercrombie, and Steven Erikson, but nothing beats Glen Cook in my eyes.
A couple years after reading all of these great stories (some more than once), I just started typing out some random prose in Microsoft Word on a whim during a slow day at work. It was garbage and later trashed, but for some reason I was hooked and continued on for a month trying to craft a story by the seat of my pants.
About 10,000 words in, I realized I had no clue what I was doing. So, I trashed everything but one scene and a few characters which I carried over into the Blood and Tears Trilogy. After a couple weeks of outlining, I had most of it figured out and began writing the first book in the series, Rise and Fall.
It’s weird. Growing up, I would have laughed at the idea of being an author. Now, I can’t imagine not writing.
Did you try to pursue traditional publishing or did you decide to go indie right from the start, and what factors influenced that decision?
I actually dove straight into indie publishing and I’ve never submitted even one query letter to an agent or publisher. For me, there were several reasons that swayed me to indie publishing. I liked the appeal of having final creative say in my work (good or bad) and also the faster time frame for getting my work out to the public. Like many others who go down the indie path, I also feel the percentage earned by the author for the efforts is much fairer than that offered by most traditional publishing contracts. Without the author, there would be no product to sell, so why does he/she get such a small chunk of the profits?
That being said, I do think that there are some advantages to traditional publishing and I haven’t ruled out the possibility of pursuing that route in the future with certain projects I’d like to work on. If nothing else, I think there are benefits to not having all your eggs in one basket.
Do you do your own formatting, layout, cover art, etc.?
For editing, I’ve been extremely happy working with Joshua Essoe. He’s great at what he does and has worked with some pretty big names within the fantasy/science fiction community such as New York Times Best-Selling author, David Farland. You can find out more about him and his services at www.joshuaessoe.com.
I worked with Brooke White of Sprout Studio in Houston, Texas for all cover art in the Blood and Tears series. She’s very easy to work with and reasonably priced, in my opinion. If you’re interested in her work, the best place to contact her is through her website http://sproutstudio.us/
When it comes to formatting, I’m lucky to have an unbelievable personal assistant (my wife, Leah) without whom I’d be lost. Leah has some good knowledge of html and was familiar with many of the programs necessary to get my books ready for publication. She also is the artist behind my maps and acts as my alpha-reader on all writing projects before I seek out the opinion of others.
What challenges have you encountered as an indie author, and conversely what rewards?
I think the challenges I’ve faced are pretty common among indie authors.
One of the biggest is overcoming the stereotype that my work isn’t first draft quality and slapped together without a care. People forget that there are just as many poorly written and edited traditionally published books as there are great ones. The same holds true for indie publishing. I think this stereotype has lessened some, but it unfortunately has a long way to go before disappearing completely. Regardless, this opinion makes it harder for bloggers or even the average reader to give the work of most indie authors a shot.
The other big challenge for me is the amount of initial investment needed to properly self publish your work. The costs for cover art, editing, and formatting (if you can’t do it yourself) add up quickly. This can be tough to justify to yourself and even your family if sales aren’t what you need them to be in order to break even.
The biggest reward is probably the satisfaction that goes with putting out works to the public that I can be proud of and that readers enjoy. Though I’m not close to selling the amount of novels that some of the indie giants like Hugh Howey are moving, feedback from readers has been really positive thus far. That’s an awesome feeling to have.
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to follow the publishing path you’re on?
Do your homework (including cover art, editing, marketing, etc.). Indie publishing is a lot of work. If you aren’t ready to do that work or you aren’t ready to foot the bills needed to do it right, then you might be more suited in going the traditional publishing route.
Also, just like traditional publishing, the odds of you being successful with only one release are slim. The more quality work you can put out, the better.
I’ve noticed two things I like in the Blood and Tears Trilogy that I don’t always see in a lot of modern fantasy. The first is the role of religion. While not every character has religious beliefs, religious expression is very much a component of many of those who do. In some works, the characters’ religions seem tacked on, but they don’t come across that way in your work. Religion seems to be integral to some characters’ story arcs. The second is that while a great deal of the setting is very much in the traditional western European vein, you’ve got a large portion of your story set in what I’m going to call (for lack of a better term) your world’s African equivalent, with a diversity of cultures and tribes as well as individual characters. Yet, when I read those sections, it doesn’t seem to me that you’re just copying something you read in National Geographic. Rather, I sense you care deeply about all the cultures you’ve introduced. To what extent are the portrayals of race and religion in your work consciously planned and to what extent is your subconscious coming through as you write?
Wow. Great question.
It’s funny. Though my Christian faith is definitely a large part of who I am, I rarely think about my own beliefs when writing fiction since I’m telling stories in a secondary world that is unlike our own. That being said, I do feel that in order for a world to seem real, religion should be talked about and featured.
I think if you were to grab a hundred people off the street, you’d find various levels of religious commitment among them—some zealous, some middle of the road in their faith, some who believe in their chosen faith only when it’s convenient, some who resent religion and what it stands for, and some who just find the idea of a god silly. Therefore, why wouldn’t I try to portray all of those reactions, emotions, and feelings in my world? Hopefully, I do present aspects of religious commitment in way that adds depth to both my characters in world.
In regards to race and ethnicity, that was a very conscious decision on my part. And actually, those characters set in that African like culture as you put it were the first ones I thought of.
Though I’m a big fan of the older pulp writers, many had a tendency to showcase people of color in their writings only if they needed a villain. How many times did Howard pit Conan or Solomon Kane against the savage witch doctor (always black)? Later, fantasy writers often dodged the issue of ethnicity altogether by following in Tolkien’s footsteps and creating diversity through other races (elves, dwarves, etc.)
Thankfully, some writers eventually got over this and began creating non-white characters that didn’t fall into the stereotypical molds people expected them to. Glen Cook is a good example of one who did this really well. Steven Erikson is another. However, I think they are the exception to the rule.
Even today, most fantasy writers who feature non-white characters are often non-white themselves. Though things are slowly improving, it bothers me that many white authors are afraid to write stories with non-white characters. I find this is especially the case now that I’m the father of a black daughter. I want her to grow up and read about characters like her, ones she can be proud to be associated with rather than ashamed of.
Because of this, I will always do my best to write stories with non-white characters in major roles. Hopefully, others will do the same.
The final volume of the Blood and Tears Trilogy is due out this year. What are your plans when that’s complete? Are you going to write something different or will there be prequels or sequels?
Trial and Glory is currently in my editor’s queue. I’m hoping to have it published in April 2013. Afterward, I really don’t have any plans for sequels or prequels within the same world. For me, I told the story I wanted to tell within that world and with those characters. I’d worry that anything more would be overstaying my welcome. And considering that I’ve got quite a backlog of ideas, I really don’t see myself writing anything related to that series in the near future. I’m happy with the way the trilogy turned out.
Right now, I’m working on a story much different than the Blood and Tears Trilogy. Whereas that series is told through several viewpoints in a tight third person , I’m now working on a tale told in first person . In many ways I’ve found it harder to write fantasy in first person, but I’m enjoying the challenge.
Since the story is still in the drafting stage (I’ve written about 70K thus far), I don’t want to give away too much information about the plot. However, I feel comfortable saying that the main character is a returning war hero and a bulk of the story revolves around him adjusting to a world much different than what he left behind.
I’ve also got several other ideas I’m itching to start. One of these I’m hoping to possibly begin within the next year or so. It would be a series of old school sword and sorcery novels based around a couple of characters I created in a short story last year.
If only the days were longer… Ha.
What are you reading right now?
I usually read two books at a time.
Physical book – Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
Ebook – The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett
If you were conducting this interview, what question would you ask that I haven’t?
Because I’m a huge music fan, I’d probably ask for fun who my favorite band/artist is.
Answer: The Jimi Hendrix Experience. \m/
And thank you for the opportunity. It was a lot of fun.