Interview With Josh Erikson

ME: At what point did you know you wanted to be a writer? What was the journey like to your first published novel ?

JE: The writer part happened with the birth of my son, 9 years ago. I was working a stressful job for 60 or 70 hours a week, plus commuting an hour each way. And I realized I had to do something to be there more for my family. So I started teaching myself to write by churning out a massive 300,000 word epic fantasy as a “practice” piece, which…probably wasn’t the smartest way. It took four years to finally finish, and it won’t see the light of day until I have lots of time to polish it up! But I learned a ton from the experience–including that I wanted try writing as a serious career. So I started fiddling around with other genres that I might be able to write at a more efficient pace, and I found Urban Fantasy. From there, it was just a matter of becoming better at it. I had to learn to un-purple my prose, improve my pacing, and generally be a smarter storyteller. But eventually I got to the point that I was proud of what I had, and I started shopping it around to agents. And since this answer is already super long, let’s just say I had an uninspiring time with that process, so I decided to devote my full efforts to publishing/narrating it myself. It turned out to be a pretty good choice!

ME: How was SPFBO for you? Hero Forged was one of the books I heard talked about a lot and I found out about it through the competition

JE: SPFBO was fantastic for me, and I could honestly go on for paragraphs explaining why. But I’ll sum up by saying that there’s an entry in the Acknowledgements of Fate Lashed thanking the judges in my group for their generosity and Mark Lawrence in particular for creating the contest. I think it’s one of the coolest things happening in the Fantasy world today, and I’m just thrilled to be a part of the community in any form. I started it knowing nothing and nobody, and I came out with the foundation of a career. So it’s safe to say I’ll be singing its praises for quite a while!

ME: What inspire you to write the Ethereal Earth series? How would you describe it to a new reader?

JE: Ethereal Earth is a bigger idea that I’ve had for a long time, stemming a bit from childhood when I wished my favorite fictions could be real somewhere out there. I wanted Star Wars or Dungeons & Dragons to be happening where I could visit, and I had all the confidence of youth whispering that of course I’d be a super powerful Jedi or Wizard on the other side of that portal. But then I got older and more jaded, and I started thinking about how most of us would REALLY react when faced with nightmares in the flesh. That’s where Gabe came from. Our biggest collective ideas (good and bad) are able to come to life, and this regular guy who lives purely on wits now has to figure out how to cope…without picking up the nearest machine gun.

ME: There’s a lot of well timed comedy in the book. Did you know at the beginning that you wanted to write a humorous story or did it come with the writing?

JE: Thanks! I’ve always used humor to deflect more serious emotions, so this book is really just an extension of that. Without delving too deeply into my psyche, I’ll just say that I wanted to write things that are deeply personal and serious, without bumming everyone way out. There are some deep themes in this series, and some dark philosophy, but the humor is like a candy coating to make it all go down easier. And, ultimately, I liked the idea of writing in layers. The humor level is very accessible and there for everyone to have fun with. Then the deeper stuff is underneath if people want to dig for it. So the book can be easy and fun, or hard and fulfilling, depending on what you’re looking to get out of it!

ME: How much of your own personality finds its way in to the characters in the series?

JE: So, so much. It’s a little worrying, actually. I didn’t intend for it to happen that way, but several of the characters took on some pretty clear traits of mine as the writing progressed. Gabe and Heather in particular have quite a bit of me, but pretty much every character in the book has a dash in there. (For better or worse.) But then, doing the audiobook was in my head from the beginning, so I suppose it was inevitable that I’d write characters I could convincingly portray!

ME: You narrate your own audio books which is awesome and something I don’t see often…how has that been? Why did you choose to go this route ?

JE: I could seriously talk about this for hours, and if there’s anyone interested in that, hit me up! But the short version is that I’ve been singing since I was 12, and I started acting in local theater about the same time. Consequently, I’ve worked on vocal training and performance for fun ever since. And audiobooks have been a passion since wearing out a cassette tape read-along of a Ghostbusters picture book when I was 6. So when I decided to take the writing thing more seriously, those disparate skills came together in a way that no other job in the world could have provided. It seemed like a pretty decent sign that I should give it a shot. In retrospect, it was a massive gamble that probably shouldn’t have worked. Fortunately, it seems like I didn’t screw it up too badly!

ME:What were some of your biggest literary influences both Fantasy and not?

JE: Neil Gaiman is my biggest influence overall. American Gods had a huge impact on me, and my story pulls a little from those ideas. Plus the guy narrates his own stuff, and I’ve always really admired that. Stylistically, Joss Whedon is my other big hero. He writes deep, compelling characters with smart dialogue to keep things light over some pretty dark backgrounds. Combining the two was really a perfect recipe for me.

ME: When not writing what takes up most of your time?

JE: Hanging out with my wife and two kids, mostly. But when I’m not doing that, I’m bouncing between books, movies, and video games in equal measure. I’ve learned that I need creative input to get decent creative output, so there has to be a little leisure time built into the schedule if I want my writing to be at maximum okayness.

ME: You’ve chosen to self publish . How has that been for you so far?

JE: This is another thing I could talk about for hours, but I won’t put that evil on you. Send me a message sometime when you need to fall asleep, and I’ll tell you a story about profit margins and creative control. The “short” version is that indie publishing has been amazing for me. I initially decided to go this route because the endless cycle of querying and submitting was taking up an obscene amount of time and energy that I wanted to devote to other projects. That process culminated in a sit-down meeting with an agent who told me Urban Fantasy was dead, and that no publisher would ever let me narrate my own book. It was a sad day. So I figured if I was going to deal with rejection and failure, I might as well do it on my own terms. Fortunately, things have started off pretty well! It’s far more work than I anticipated, but it’s also more fulfilling than I ever imagined a job could be. I get to talk directly to cool people who like my stuff, and then write and narrate more stuff for them to like and talk about. No walls, no board meetings, no nonsense. Well…lots of nonsense, but it’s MY nonsense. That’s a big difference. I’d obviously consider publishing traditionally if an offer came along, but at this point it’s pretty cool not to have to go out looking for one. Just me and my trusty keyboard, delivering sustainably produced, 100% organic fiction directly to you!

ME: How important is reader interaction to you? Do you find it helps you increase awareness and sales?

JE: Reader interaction is everything. Writing is the first thing outside of marriage and fatherhood I’ve ever gone 100% at, and the reviews and emails I’ve gotten in response have honestly been crucial motivation for me. I think, as a reader, it’s easy to assume that anyone brave enough to put themselves out on paper or audio must be fairly self-assured. But that’s definitely not the case. Sometimes we’ve scraped together every bit of gumption we had just to publish this thing, so your feedback is a massive part of what replenishes the fire to keep at it. Plus, I could write snappy advertisements all day, but they’ll never be half as good as a few reviews from real readers. It helps sales so we can afford to keep going, and it helps balm our tender little writer hearts. Vocally supporting the things you love leads to more of the things you love. Then we all win!

ME: What are a couple of Fantasy books from the past couple of years that you would recommend to readers?

JE: I turned all my friends onto Game of Thrones, American Gods, and Name of the Wind before any of them were the mega hits they are. So I feel like I’ve done my duty as a literary scout for my sliver of the world. But if I had to pick something to champion to everyone, it would be Pratchett. I know quite a few people who’ve read little or none of Discworld, and it blows my mind. It’s so clever and fun, and there’s a ton of heart in there if you bother to look for it. I’m actually talking myself into a reread right now…

ME: What one piece of advice would you offer to writers, both your peers, or those aspiring to write their first novel?

JE: Honestly, nothing replaces quality. Your story can be great and your ideas fresh, but if you don’t get an editor and at least one proofread, your awesomeness won’t matter. The smallest missed detail can ruin the delicate magic your storytelling works on the reader, and that’s a massive disservice to your work. There will ALWAYS be typos that make it to publication somehow, but that’s no excuse to turn a blind eye. Take the book and your career seriously and give it everything you’ve got. Also, go get more advice. I barely know anything.

ME: What can we look forward from you next? Anything you can let us in on yet?

JE: The next Ethereal Earth book is coming together now, and I’ve got a few ideas for novella-length stories in the same universe. I’ll be polishing up a couple short stories too. And then there’s always my first book, just sitting off to the side and taunting me with how much revision it’ll take to be suitable for reading. That’s the secret monster I keep in my basement.

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