Interview with D.P Prior

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!

nameless..

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

IMG_0748D.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

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Guest Blogger: Scott Fitzgerald Gray

Today we have a special guest! His name is Scott Fitzgerald Gray, and this post is part of his blog tour for his new novel We Can Be Heroes. Enjoy! — Jake

All authors are indie authors, unless there’s someone I’m not aware of who farms out part of his or her work to teams of subordinates. (Maybe Stephen King hires adjective specialists; I don’t know.) Writing is a thankless and solitary task for the most part, and almost all books are the product of a lonely creative struggle. Publishing, on the other hand, tends to be a group effort. And this is an area where the current usage of the phrase “indie author” can get a little confusing.

If you’re a person who’s… well, alive, you’ve probably heard that there’s a bit of to-do going on these days between the proponents of what’s come to be called “traditional publishing” and the proponents of indie author-publishing (less flatteringly sometimes called “self-publishing,” so I tend to not use that phrase a lot). And though I’m an indie author-publisher myself, I try to keep to the diplomatic middle lane in this debate for the most part, because I don’t hate traditional publishing. If pressed, I might admit that I fear for its survival and question the intellectual and moral integrity of some of the people running it, but the end goal of most people working in traditional publishing is the same as the end goal of most indie publishers — publish a great book.

And really, when it comes down to it, the process of publishing a great book is pretty much the same, regardless of whether that book is published traditionally or independently:

First, write a great book. Next, publish that great book. And that’s it, thanks for listening, you’ve been great.

(In saying the above, I realize that I’m kind of doing an homage to an old Steve Martin routine, where he promises to reveal how “You can be a millionaire and never pay taxes! First, get a million dollars…”) (You’re probably not old enough to remember, but Steve Martin was a well-known stand-up comedian before he became the “Cheaper by the Dozen” guy. But I digress.)

“Yeah, wait a minute,” I hear you say. “Go back to Step 1 for a minute.”

So how exactly do you write a great book? I have no more idea than you do. I’ve read my fair share of great books, but as luck would have it, I’ve never actually been around while any of those great books were being written. I’ve written a few books myself, and though it’s gratifying that people read and enjoy them, I’m not sure I’m naive or arrogant enough to call them “great.” But having been a professional writer for a number of years in a number of different media, and having worked in publishing for a long while concurrently with that writing work, I can say the following with great confidence:

All great books are books that were given enough time to be the best books they can be.

I don’t hate traditional publishing, if for no other reason than I think all indie author-publishers need to wrap their heads around this truth, which most people involved in traditional publishing have long known.

A great book is a book that’s given enough time to be the best book it can be.

Writing a great book isn’t a solitary act. Writing a great book starts with the solitary act of writing, but then becomes the process of rewriting and writing again, of editing and more editing. Every great book that’s ever been written shares this pedigree.

A great book needs editors. Not just “an editor,” but a whole freaking team. First up is the development editor or story editor — an editor whose primary focus, as the name suggests, is on the story being told, not so much on the words that are telling it. A good development editor helps a writer dig into plot and character, theme and meaning, continuity and narrative flow, making sure that a book takes fullest advantage of the potential of the story within it.

Once the writing and rewriting and consultation with a development editor are done, every book needs a copy editor. This is the editor most people associate with that title, digging into a book at the level of the text that tells the story, and flagging that text for clarity, usage, and consistency of style. When the copy editor has had his or her way with the book, and after the writer has worked on it yet again in response, the last editor it passes by is a proofreader — a specialist who forms the last line of defense against typographical errors, formatting glitches, and that place where you accidentally typed “pubic” instead of “public.”

All these stages take time. All these stages cost money, because good editors need to get paid. But a great book is a book that’s given enough time to be the best book it can be.

Now, I know for a fact that some of my favorite authors don’t work with outside editors the way many writers do. Among established novelists, development editors are rare. A lot of the best writers are their own copy editors as well, conscious of and signing off on the placement of every adverb and comma in their text. But that’s not the point. Working with an editor — an outside voice whose objective opinion can help a writer see strengths and weaknesses in a book that otherwise might not be apparent — is the rule, not the exception, especially for newer writers.

The great book is a book that’s given enough time to be the best book it can be. A great book is the book that’s not rushed to market in the first minute after the writing is done. A great book is one that undergoes a necessary process of revision and refinement, because every writer’s goal should be to write nothing less than great books.

• • •

Scott Fitzgerald Gray has been flogging his imagination professionally since deciding he wanted to be a writer and abandoning any hope of a real career in about the fourth grade. That was the year that speculative fiction and fantasy kindled his voracious appetite for literary escapism and a love of roleplaying gaming that still drives his questionable creativity. In addition to his fantasy and speculative fiction writing, Scott has dabbled in feature film and television, was a finalist for the Jim Burt Screenwriting Prize from the Writers’ Guild of Canada, and currently consults and story edits on projects ranging from overly obscure indie-Canadian fare to Neill Blomkamp’s somewhat less-obscure District 9 and the upcoming Elysium.

Scott’s latest works are the high-school coming-of-age techno-thriller We Can Be Heroes [http://insaneangel.com/insaneangel/Fiction/Books/WeCanBeHeroes.html], and the anthology A Prayer for Dead Kings and Other Tales [http://insaneangel.com/insaneangel/Fiction/Books/PrayerForDeadKings.html]. If anybody happens to think those books are great, it’s because they collectively took about ten freaking years to write and publish, because a great book is a book… oh, you know.

You can visit his site at: http://www.insaneangel.com/

Ray Bradbury: My farewell.

Photo from Wikipedia.

Have you ever read an author where you can read his books over and over again without getting tired? Well, Ray Bradbury was one of the few writers I never tired of reading. Sadly, he died Tuesday night. On June 5th, 2012.

When I read Farenheit 451 the first time I was amazed. It was back in Jr. High. I noticed the book on the bottom shelf at the school library, and picked it up out of curiosity. I saw an armored  firefighter in his black suit and beetle like helmet, spraying books with a hose that spat orange flames of blazing heat.

I checked out the book immediately.

The way Bradbury put his words together was amazing. The descriptive language was the best I had ever seen, and inspired me even more to keep writing, and to get to that point someday. I wanted to know his “secret” to writing. In that search I found his book  Zen in the Art of Writing.

Zen in the Art of Writing is on my shelf by my computer and writing books. To me it’s one of the best books about writing and how to inject life experiences into your writing. That is the exact reason why he succeeded.

He stayed true to himself. And he never gave up on his dreams.

I salute you Mr. Bradbury! When I get to heaven, I am looking forward to talking to you for hours on end.

Banner for Julnowrimo book!

Thanks pillsburydoughgirl! 🙂

JulNoWriMo just around the corner…

What is JulNoWriMo? Its almost exactly like National Novel Writing Month, but in July! Exciting huh? If your interested, just pay a visit to http://julnowrimo.com/  . To sign up, just click “Forums” on the left side of the webpage and register. If you sign-up, good luck! 🙂

Musings on winning Script-Frenzy 2010

Yesterday, I finished my screenplay! 🙂  It was quite an experience. At the beginning of April I was chugging along fine, until I hit the most dreaded part: the middle!

I was going to give up.

Yes, I wanted to give up, sadly. But, from much encouragement from family, and friends, I got back on my feet.

Then, that weekend, I came up with more plot ideas and got caught up on the days I missed.

Characters died, plots twisted drastically, heroes revealed their true colors, and all those things that people since Shakespeare’s day love to read.

By far this was the longest thing I’ve ever written, and it proved to myself I can do anything I set my mind to.

So, this weekend, I’m going to take it easy, maybe slay some people on Halo, read a book, and most likely write something. 🙂

Thank you family, and friends. You have helped me fulfill one of my lifelong dreams. Write a comic book script. 🙂

National Novel Writing Month 2010, here I come! 🙂