- If you could do it all over again, would you change anything in your FIRST book?
Well, this being the modern age and all, I actually DID change something just a few weeks ago. When I first went to publish Valley of Embers, I sought out advice from another fantasy author/editor I was friendly with online. He’s a great writer, and he suggested that my intro scene, which began with a tense action scene in the vein of a thriller, was a little too jarring. I modified my intro and wrote an additional scene of about 3-4 pages I’ll dub the, “Calm before the storm” scene, introducing a few of the characters and easing the reader in. Thing is … it always felt weird to me, and when I did a blind test with 16 other author friends, they unanimously preferred my original intro, so I recently changed it back.
Other than that, there are ALWAYS things that could have been improved. I think I edited my first book a little too harshly, in that I trimmed some subplots that, while not essential to the overall story, were nice character add-ons. With the sequel, I’d allowed myself to up the word count, and–hopefully–add more depth to the ancillary characters as a result.
- Have you ever judged a book by its cover?
I wouldn’t say I judge the book by the cover, but it is absolutely THE most important thing in terms of hooking potential readers. Or, if not hooking them, letting them know the feel/tone of your book. If they hate what’s inside, it’ll all be for naught, but if they hate what’s outside, you can bet they’re not going to open it unless they’re specifically recommended to.
- Who designed your cover/covers? Where you able to work with the artist or is it all the publisher?
I put a two-artist team together for my current series, with artwork done by Aaron Nakahara, a Maui-based designer, and a graphic designer for the titling. Being on the same page is extremely important. You want an artist whose style not only suits your world, but whose personality suits yours, at least on a professional level. I controlled all aspects of the production process, but you should always consider the advice of visual artists when working in a visual medium.
- Have you ever had a side character Try to steal the show? Would you like to go back and make a spin off series or something for them? Or is there a theme or idea you’d love to be able to explore in more depth?
It’s pretty important to me to listen to the characters in my stories and let them open and guide the narrative. I’m a big believer that a cool world concept and magic system is only intriguing if the characters are compelling. Without them, you’ve got an empty husk, even if it’s a “cool” one. I have absolutely had side characters force themselves into positions of prominence, but it’s rarely been a bad thing. They’ve always got a good reason for insisting on the spotlight.
- If you could read any book again for the first-time What book would it be?
Hmm. I don’t even think it’s my favorite book, but I often point out Joe Abercrombie’s Best Served Cold as a masterpiece in terms of pacing and thematic intent. All character arcs are tightly-spun and the narrative rockets along at an incredible clip. It reads like the best of revenge thrillers, and it’s got some epic flair and a good number of organic twists. Fun, horrifying, violent, beautiful and poignant, this one left a mark.
- When trying to figure out what a character should look like, do you Think of Celebrities, or just start looking at everyone you pass as if your looking through a mug shot book?
I’ve never based a character’s look on anything specific, at least not consciously. But we’re all influenced by our collective experience. I like to think I discover the setting first, and then I find the characters playing around within it, as if they’ve been there all along.
- How many books have you written, how many have you tried to publish, and how many are in print?
I’ve half-written, three quarters-written, five eights-written a number of books, but Valley of Embers was the first one I saw through to the end because I found out the writing process that works for me, which I have since streamlined and adapted. The Emerald Blade was the second book I completed, and I’m currently on #3. Before completing my first couple of books, I’ve made a 10+ year career of blogging, sports writing, etc.
- Four children have small toys. The first child has 1/10 of the toys, the second child has 12 more toys than the first, the third child has one more toy of what the first child has and the fourth child has double the third child. How long before you run away from them screaming?
The key to dealing with small children is to not have them yourself, go and hang out with family members or friends who do, be the most awesome uncle/big cousin possible and make sure you leave the parents with more trouble than you arrived with. No consequences, and you’re revered by tiny humans everywhere.
- Are there any occupational hazards to being a novelist?
Mentally, there’s the constant threat of comparison, which most writers fall prey to, whether that’s feeling down because you don’t think you’re as talented or will sell as much as someone else, to feeling like you’re more talented and should be selling more. It’s a part of the human condition, and it’s important to remind yourself as a writer that we’re all on the same team, so to speak. There’s a virtually-infinite pool of potential readers and–despite the advent of independent publishing–only so many writers to service them. Did that sound weird? Yep. Keeping it. Also, criticism, from both readers and bloggers, can sting. But you’ve got to take the good with the bad. Physically, writing is tough on your back/posture … all that jazz.
- How many people have you killed over the course of your career? Real people first, then fictional.
The first thing you need to know is that I always make it quick. It’s also the last thing you need to know.
- How many of those just counted would you estimate are the direct result of you being so angry at someone that you thought “Oh the things I am going to do to you?”
I don’t get angry before or during fights, even dating back to my days in the ring and cage. But, adrenaline can be a hell of a drug, and it pairs nicely with head kicks.
- What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? Did it end up helping? Or did we just count that person in question 10 or 11
I received criticism on a draft from a big-name author I respect that my writing just wasn’t at the level it needed to be, but that was balanced by another who gave the book a raving, five-star review. Again, good with the bad. Not all writing styles will be for everyone, and his criticism did lead me to do two full page-one rewrites.
- What has been the best compliment?
A recent review compared my current series to a unique blend of Princess Mononoke, The Legend of Zelda and Avatar: The Last Airbender. Two of those were conscious influences on the world of the Landkist Saga. All three are awesome.
- Do you have any advice to give aspiring writers?
I wrote a letter to R.A. Salvatore when I was 13, as he was my favorite author at the time and lived in my home state. I referred to my desire to one day “compete” with him on store shelves. I didn’t mean it as an insult, but competition was in my mind even at that time, and even with someone I admired. He wrote a really nice note back (also told me I could Email him next time so as not to waste money on postage,) and said, “There is no such thing as competing authors. There can never be too many voices in the fantasy genre.” It stuck with me. And I would tell any “aspiring” writers out there to drop the “aspiring” tag, and just keep writing. If you write, you’re a writer. And it’s up to readers, critics and your own muse whether or not you’re any good at it.
- What do you think will be your Final words?
“I had a good run. Thank you. I love you all.”
- What one question do you think I should have asked you, but didn’t?
What would win in a fight between a Tiger and a Lion? It’s literally the only question that matters and I’m disgusted at your lack of professionalism.
- Do you have any questions for me?
What is the best portrayal of a goblin in any medium? And why is it Norman Osborne?
Some great answers to some stupid questions! Thanks Steven. And you can find his books here