1. Describe the journey that led to your huge signing with TOR for The Sorcerer’s Song series. How has the experience been so far?
I’ll give the abridged version. Telling the story in its entirety would be a novel unto itself. As some may already know, my roots are in indie. I was a part of what some call the “first wave” from 2010-2012. This was when I was writing The Godling Chronicles. There were few resources and much of what you see available for indie authors today (editing services, cover art, formatting services, etc.) was built largely as a result of our rise in popularity. I was writing like someone possessed, cranking out three books per year. But as more time passed the pace began to take a toll on me, both mentally and physically. By the time I was writing The Vale, I knew I needed to make a change.
Tor had expressed some interest in me, so my agent, Laurie Mclean (Fuse Literary) sent over Behind the Vale for their consideration. Unfortunately, as I had already sold the audio rights, they couldn’t make an offer. However, they said that they wanted first look at my next project. I had roughly 20k words of a new series written that I’d shelved while trying to finish The Vale. So I wrote up a synopsis and pitch letter and we sent what ended up being The Bard’s Blade as a sample. But the world building being so complex, they were insistent on a full manuscript. So shoving everything aside, I finished it up and had a quick edit done.
By the time it was ready, though, Devi Pillai had been promoted and handed it off to another editor. At the time I was extremely disappointed. Lindsey Hall, senior editor, had a stellar reputation, having worked on several highly acclaimed books, not least of which was Kings of the Wyld by Nickolas Eames. Still, she had no reason to be excited about my work. So my expectations were lowered considerably.
As it turned out, Lindsey getting her hands on The Bard’s Blade was the best thing that could have happened to me. She absolutely loved it. From submission to deal memo only took five days, which is next to unheard of. And from there we were off to the races.
The transition to Tor has been unique. The negatives are centered mainly around methods to which I had to adapt, the slower pace of traditional publishing which forced me to learn patience, and letting go of the complete control I enjoyed as an indie.
But working with Lindsey has been a wonderful experience. She’s elevated my writing to levels I could not have achieved on my own, and helped bring out in me new skills, and learn new perspectives on both my world building and character creation. The Bard’s Blade was a really good book when it was first written – at least I think it was. Lindsey helped me make it better than I had thought possible. In fact, the entire Tor team has been fantastic. I was so fearful that my indie origins would be a hindrance. But they made it easy. And hey…it’s freakin’ Tor! How cool is that?
2. From past conversations we’ve discussed both being musicians and how important music is in our lives. Was this the catalyst for writing Lem’s character ? What is it about the Bard archetype that compels you?
I was a professional musician for many years. So for PR purposes I should probably say that was what inspired me. But it wasn’t. Lem was inspired by a flash fiction contest I entered (and failed miserably) which was centered around a piece of fan art for a Mark Lawrence book. The image showed a young man with a stringed instrument across his back, hair blown in the wind and looking rather despondent. The scene I wrote from this is still in the text, though not 100% as I’d written it originally. I may have failed to keep it under the required 300 words, disqualifying the entry, but it was the catalyst for the entire series. Bard’s have always fascinated me. The thought of traveling the countryside, spreading news and telling stories through song and verse has a very romantic quality to it.
3. What do you hope readers that may be experiencing your work for the first time get out of The Bard’s Blade?
Fun. If I can put a smile on the face of a reader and make them feel their time was well spent, I’ve done my job. That’s all I have ever wanted to accomplish as a writer.
4. You’re writing classic Epic Fantasy in an era where more and more authors are going in a Grimdark direction. What’s your feeling about the Grimdark genre?
I have no particular feelings about it. A well written story is a well written story. Grimdark is just another way to express ideas, build worlds, and create narratives. While as you pointed out, my work doesn’t really fall into the Grimdark genre, it has its darker moments. The great thing about fantasy readers is that they enjoy more than one style of fantasy. They can pick up a Mark Lawrence book one week, and a Brandon Sanderson book the next. Then they’ll give someone new a try like Evan Winter. Or with a bit of luck, me.
5. I’m a huge fan of your Vale series, and of Drake , it’s main protagonist. It’s a difficult series to categorize but one that I think many readers would love. Describe The Vale to new readers.
Let me start by saying this is not GameLit. You don’t level up, and there are no gaming elements. Imagine the novelization of a game that doesn’t exist. Basically, I took the tropes and character types of RPG’s such as Final Fantasy and Tales Of and inserted them into an original world. So if you love those types of games, you’ll love The Vale. It has it all: The dark hero, the princess, the roguish thief, the mischievous mage, the evil prince, sinister conspiracies, tightly wrapped around an end of the world plotline. And like RPG’s, uncovering one mystery only reveals another.
6. Who are some of your biggest influences in the Fantasy Genre?
Too many to name. But if I had to narrow it down to three: Tolkien, of course. The Lord of the Rings was my introduction to fantasy. Robert Jordan. Watching his progression from the early Conan days to The Wheel of Time taught me so much about what it means to be a writer. Anne Mccaffrey. She taught me that stories can be about anything and still be amazing. That you shouldn’t limit yourself. I realize her books are not considered fantasy in the strict sense of the word. But her influence is felt throughout the genre.
7. How important is reader interaction to you. What’s your favorite way to interact with fans of your work?
Very important. The readers are why I am where I am. So, I do my best to be accessible. I don’t really have a favorite way of interaction. Any of my social media platforms are fine. And I love meeting fans at conventions and festivals too. The excitement you see in a reader when they express their passion for fantasy is amazing to me.
8. What’s been taking up most of your time when you are not writing?
Sleeping. Seriously. I’m in the middle of copy edits for A Chorus of Fire (the second Sorcerer’s Song novel), I’m writing the final Vale novel, and the final Godling Chronicles novel. So right now, all I do is work and sleep…and occasionally ride the Harley.
9. Talk a bit about your podcast and what the idea behind it is?
I’m still in the process of building it, so it’s in that vague, fluid stage. For now, it’s small – recorded at my desk. But later I’ll be opening a studio in my basement. I’m focusing primarily on writing and publishing advice, but in the near future I will be including reviews and have live guests.
10. What’s next for you in 2020? Will we see a Vale wrap up, and do you have plans for another series once the current one wraps up?
I’m wrapping up The Vale, The Godling Chronicles, and Akiri. This will complete all my outstanding indie works. I also have to finish the final book in the Sorcerer’s Song. After that, I’ll be working on a new project for which I have about 80k words already written. It’s a massive undertaking, written in a world on a scale I’ve never attempted. But for now….that’s all I can say about it.
11. What one piece of advice would you offer to new and aspiring writers?
I’m not sure there is a single piece of advice I could give that would make a difference. The best I can do is to say: Keep writing. You don’t get better without practice and you can’t edit what’s not on the page.
12. For all the Bards and Wannabe Bards reading, describe your best Rock n’ Roll story.
Let’s see…I need to keep this PG-13. While not impressive but funny, there’s my first paying gig.
I was fifteen years old and had joined the band led by the brothers of a girl I was dating. We were pretty damned good, I have to say. Mike (guitar) and Jim (bass) were a few years older and highly accomplished musicians. Kevin (drums) also older, was a huge fan of Neil Peart and could pull off Tom Sawyer and YYZ. We were mostly a hard rock band. Though we did play a few Police and REM tunes. But it fit in nicely with Iron Maiden and Ozzy. We practiced constantly and in time we thought we were ready to play out. So Alex (vocals) and Jim set out to book us a gig. Nothing big. A local party or school sock-hop. That was the plan, anyway.
To my surprise, and mild horror, they managed to get booked for New Year’s Eve (circa 1985) at Boo-Boo’s King Cole Club. And if you’re thinking, “That sounds like the name of a bar” you’d be right. I couldn’t drink at a bar. But they were more than willing to let me play there. Hey! It was the 80’s.
Anyway, the night of the gig arrived and having done sound check early that afternoon, walking in at around 8PM was the first time I saw the crowd we had been hired to entertain. Packed inside were John Deer and cowboy hats…an ocean of them. On the jukebox, Hank Williams…Sr. I felt like I’d stepped into the movie The Blues Brothers. And to be honest, I was missing the protection of chicken wire, being that our opening song was The Trooper. The stares we received were curious, to put it mildly. Five kids, ranging in age from 15-19 timidly pushing through the crowd to get to the stage must have looked…well…out of place.
I’d like to be able to say that we started playing and through the strength of our talent, won over the crowd. Yeah….that’s not what happened. What ensued was a bar brawl straight out of a 1950’s western. Those who hated us-v-those who didn’t. But I think after the first minute or so, being that there was no real way to tell the difference, folks were just punching random people. Though not known for my common sense at that age, I did move behind the PA until it was over.
By the time it settled down, half the bar was cleared out, which we thought meant the end of the gig. But the owner was determined we were going to finish the night no matter what. Not about to argue with the man, that’s what we did. Without the riff-raff to heckle us…okay….with the riff-raff who liked rock having a good time, the bar owners willingness to serve underaged musicians, plus time enough for everyone to get thoroughly drunk, it ended up being a lot of fun. Shouts of “Play Crazy Train” in thick southern accents called out from the audience. We even did an encore. So that’s my rock-n-roll story. Such as it is.
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