It’s been awhile since an author interview has appeared on Goblins, Swords, Elves, Oh My! , so I thought it would be a good idea to ask around. I shot an email to author D.P Prior, and he said sure. (Here are my reviews for his books Cadman’s Gambit and The Nameless Dwarf.) Enjoy! — Jake P.S Thanks Derek for taking time out of your busy schedule for an interview!
JS: When and why did you start writing Fantasy?
DP: I started trying to write a fantasy novel at about age 13. I had an antiquated typewriter and some really original idea about little people with hairy feet going on a quest. By that time I had read a fair bit of Robert E. Howard (Conan), Lin Carter (Thongor), Edgar Rice Burroughs (John Carter) and Tolkien (The Hobbit, LOTR, Tom Bombadil, Farmer Giles of Ham). I guess I was just trying to emulate what I was reading. That effort didn’t get beyond a few pages, but I was acutely aware I didn’t want to be that guy who was always working on a book that was never likely to be finished.
I continued to read a lot of fantasy (Donaldson, LeGuinn, McCaffrey, Moorcock, L. Sprague de Camp) but after those writers there was, for me, a real dearth of material. That all changed when David Gemmell released Legend (circa 1984). From that moment on I read everything he released and still consider him to be the greatest writer of heroic fantasy. Since his death I’ve run out of things to read. The so-called “new-wave” of fantasy authors didn’t really appeal to me. To be fair to the authors, I didn’t try many of them. The covers, blurb and first few pages was enough to put me off. I’m sure it’s a taste thing and that if I persevered I’d probably enjoy many of these books. I had some respite when I discovered Joe Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy, and I’ve gone on to read all his new releases.
I finished my own first fantasy novel, The Resurrection of Deacon Shader, some years back. It felt such a great achievement getting to the end of a story, but that’s when I learned that doing so was just the beginning of the writing process. John Jarrold (script doctor, former publisher, and fantasy agent) edited it and (rightly) ripped it to shreds. I started to redraft, following John’s notes, but soon realised it would be more worthwhile to begin the novel from scratch. I tidied up the original and released it as a print-on-demand paperback then immediately set to work writing Shader’s story in a much more contemporary style (close point of view, irony, dark humour, and a fully fleshed-out world with thousands of years of history). I had originally planned a trilogy, but it soon became apparent the first book alone was going to be so long it could form a trilogy by itself. The original book 2, The Archon’s Assassin, was swiftly moved to fourth place (much of it was already written in first draft), and the first book (originally called Gods in the Dreaming) became Cadman’s Gambit (followed by Best Laid Plans and The Unweaving, which I am finishing off at the moment).
My aim was initially to see if I could write a novel, but that later changed to me writing stories I would want to read. I wasn’t aware I could make a living out of writing (without jumping through lots of hoops) until C.S. Marks (Elfhunter)suggested publishing Resurrection on Kindle. Since then it’s been a mammoth voyage of discovery. I narrowly missed the first wave of the golden age of e-book publishing, but I got carried along in its wake and am now at the point where I can make a tidy living from e-book royalties.
JS: What made you self-publish rather than go the traditional route?
DP: I have nothing against going the traditional route, but the whole process of finding an agent to represent your work, and then of that agent being able to sell it is so fraught and time consuming. I had visions of spending a year or more writing a book and then nobody reading it whilst I sought a publisher. There’s no guarantee a first, second, or even a third book will rise above the slush pile, and ultimately I would have found that discouraging. I may well not have written all I have if I felt there was no feedback loop, no one reading my stuff.
The advent of print on demand, and more importantly ebook publishing, has circumvented that whole process. It’s possible to find thousands of readers without going through the gatekeepers, and it’s also possible to make a reasonable living out of independent publishing whilst remaining open to mainstream publishers. I’d certainly rather be selling hundreds of ebooks each month, reaching new readers and learning from reviews than waiting for months on end for a response to a query letter that is likely to be negative in the majority of cases.
There’s every indication that successful indies are catching the attention of the big six publishers, in any case. Rather than leave a book to rot at the bottom of the slush pile, it seems a no brainer to publish and promote it oneself, connect with readers, interact with them and learn from what they like and don’t like. It seems infinitely preferable to putting my fate in the hands of corporations who have probably got a thousand and one better things to do than read my submissions, and whose overriding concern when taking on new writers is how successful the book is likely to be financially based on the similarities it has to the bestsellers in the genre within the past few years. Mainstream publishers have to be all about profitability.
I’m extremely grateful to companies like Amazon (in particular) for making it possible for me to write full-time. Book royalties are my main source of income these days, supplemented by my editing work, which is again made possible by the indie publishing revolution.
JS: How did the book do the first few months?
DP: When I released The Resurrection of Deacon Shader I had the expectation that it would be successful (for me) if I sold maybe 400 copies over all time. I’m not sure where the numbers came from, but back then I considered it a good month if I sold about 15 copies.
With each successive release, sales have improved (overall and for individual titles).
JS: In Cadman’s Gambit, I noticed that you use a lot of Latin. What inspired you to use Latin in your novels?
DP:I’m not sure how much I can say without giving away certain story elements. On Earth, in the Shader books, Latin is known as Aeternam (Aeterna is the Eternal City, so called after the cataclysm known as the Reckoning). There were a lot of changes to national boundaries, names of countries, and religion, which enjoys something of a resurgence in the aftermath of the technocracy of Sektis Gandaw. The problem is, many of the religious scriptures are traduced for reasons both political and capricious. The culprit is revealed during the books.
A lot of recognisable history has been retained under various guises, and Aeternam (Latin) becomes the lingua franca of the ruling Templum clerics who govern the Nousian Theocracy, an empire that spans much of the Earth.
However, in the world of the Dreaming (Aethir) the same language exists in select circles, only it is still known as Latin. There is also a city governed by a Roman style senate, complete with togas and backed by legionaries. There are very good reasons for this, but I can say no more at this stage. Oddly, even the reclusive dwarves of the ravine city Arx Gravis retain some Latin, and it is rumored they once practiced the ancient faith Shader’s Nousian religion evolved from.
I studied Classical Latin at night school and later taught Church Latin to my son when he was home schooled, which was a huge help when I wanted to include snippets throughout the Shader books. There’s also a smattering of Latin in my Nameless Dwarf books, which are set in the world of Aethir.
JS: I have also another question about Cadman’s Gambit. I was pleasantly surprised that it was in a post-apocalyptic Australia (I’m a huge Mad Max fan.) What made you choose Australia?
DP: I lived in Australia for over three years and made a lot of my conceptual notes there.
Due to its remoteness, Australia made the perfect last pocket of rebellion against the world-spanning Nousian Theocracy. Before that, it was the last bastion of freedom from Sektis Gandaw’s Global Technocracy, at least up until the massacre of the Dreamers and the cataclysm known as the Reckoning.
In the Shader series, the whole world is post-apocalyptic, but the centre of the cataclysm was Australia. This opened doorways onto the world of the Dreaming, Aethir, and specifically onto its dark side (Qlippoth), unleashing the nightmares of Aethir’s mad god on the Earth.
There are many recognisable Australian features in Sahul: the Pinnacles of Western Australia; Perth (underlying Sarum); Uluru, and from time to time there are glimpses of indigenous flora and fauna. There’s also a bit of Australian slang in some of the scenes featuring Rhiannon and the boys from Oakendale.
JS: What does your typical writing day consist of?
DP: I usually start writing between 5 and 6 a.m. when my wife and baby are still asleep. I aim to get at least an hour’s writing done, and this usually translates to what I term a sub-scene (a unit of action within a scene). Sometimes I’m lucky and get a whole chapter written. During the afternoon or evening I tend to read through what I’ve written and make corrections as well as adding detail. This stage usually works best with a glass of red. The next morning I will re-read what I’d written the day before, making more corrections, and then continue with the scene/chapter. I usually work like this Monday-Friday, but sometimes I work obsessively on a chapter for the entire day (and occasionally the night, too). When I’m revising, redrafting and editing I work for longer periods, often right through the day. First drafts, though, are much more demanding for me in terms of creative energy and I’ve found I am more successful if I keep the sessions short and focused.
If I’m editing for someone else, I write first for 1-2 hours and then dedicate the rest of the day to editing. If I have a lot of editing work on, like right now, I don’t write until my workload is more manageable. I’ve just taken two weeks off writing, but with one editing commission finished and the second a third complete, I’ll be pressing on with Shader three by the end of the week.
JS: What is the most important advice you have for aspiring authors out there?
DP: There’s so much advice, so I’ll try to keep it brief. These are the things I find most important. It does, however, depend on your goals. Some people will tell you to look at what’s popular in the genre at the moment and to emulate it. Others will focus on marketability, business plans etc. These things are obviously important if you want to make a living from writing, but for me it’s much more important to write the story you want to write. Do this well enough and you’ll have a product to market. These days many writers are in such a hurry to make a fortune from indie publishing that they skip most of the essentials; they have huge social networking platforms, professional press releases, a mountain of hype, and end up rushing to meet their self-imposed deadlines. I’ve worked with a few writers whose manuscripts are riddled with problems but who still go ahead and publish within hours of getting my notes back (notes that should take weeks if not months to implement) because they have set a release date that must, must, must be met. Strive for excellence, make progress every working day, and above all, be patient.
1. Write what you know, and write what you would like to read.
2. After you’ve made your notes, sketched out your story arc etc, get the first draft written quickly. Don’t fuss too much about spelling and grammar at this stage.
3. Do not set a firm release date until the next few stages are complete!
4. Take a break from the book for a few weeks (if you can) then read it through and make notes (I use track changes for this). If you see any typos, correct them, but don’t look for them specifically.
5. Work through scene by scene, making revisions and corrections. Do not be afraid to cut scenes or completely rewrite them if required. Look for points of conflict, tension, humor, themes etc. Sharpen them.
6. After another break, read through again, but this time with emphasis on the prose. Simplify the language and the sentence structure, pay attention to word repetition (but also make sure you avoid telling the reader things they already know). Check how passages sound read aloud. Sometimes the juxtaposition of certain words or phrases just sounds bad, and a little rephrasing can make a huge difference.
7. Read the entire book aloud (preferably to someone else). This make take a few days. Make notes where necessary and revise afterwards.
8. Hire a decent editor. Start with a content (story) edit. Action the notes through more revisions. Then have the book line edited (spelling, grammar, word repetition etc). Make any further corrections.
9. Take a break from the book. Reread it. Correct any lingering errors (there will undoubtedly still be some).
10. Hire a decent proofreader.
11. Now you are ready to look at marketing and release dates. Hire a professional cover designer (and maybe an artist, if you’re not broke by now). Work on your blurb (very important!) and run it by an editor. You may want to get feedback on this on a writing forum. Unless you have the skills and knowledge yourself, hire a formatter. Plan your release date, contact reviewers and send out ARCs. Consider which promotional sites you are going to use and coordinate your promotional efforts for the release. Make sure readers can find you (Amazon Author Central, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Smashwords, Nook Press, Kobo Writing Life etc). There’s a wealth of information on this stage online (Kboards is a pretty good place to look in the first instance).
About D.P Prior
D.P. Prior is the author of heroic fantasy, including The Nameless Dwarf and the Shader series. He is also editor-in-chief at Homunculus Editing Services. He originates from the south of England but has lived in Wales and Australia. He currently lives in Florida at the bottom of a gator-infested lake. He’s married to Paula and has two children, Theo and Cordelia. He can be contacted via www.dpprior.blogspot.com