Yes, it’s that time of year again, when I start showing up at other people’s websites, talking about myself and my work. Also known as the blog tour! This year’s 2015 Summer of Two Releases Tour will begin later this week with a post at Magical Words, which is, in many ways, my “home” site. Over the next two months I’ll be visiting lots of sites — probably twenty or more, before all is said and done — and putting up more than thirty posts. The full schedule can be found here, and will be updated as needed. Hope to “see” lots of you along the way.
I have a new interview up — my good friend Diana Pharaoh Francis, a wonderful writer in her own right, asked me some questions about writing Spell Blind, the first book in my new series, the Case Files of Justis Fearsson.
Why don’t you begin by telling us about your latest release, THE CROW OF CONNEMARA? What’s the book about? Where did the idea come from? And are there more books planned for the project?
So many questions packed into one little paragraph! ☺ I’ll try to tackle ‘em one at a time. What’s the book about? Man, that’s always a question I dread, because it’s terrifically difficult (for me, anyway) to boil down a whole novel into a few sentences. But let me try… On one level, it’s about a character discovering himself and his purpose in life. On another, it’s about the diminishment that old gods must feel as belief in them fades, and how they might react to that. It’s about the role of music in people’s lives. It’s about finding a home for yourself, even when where you find yourself is foreign to you. It’s about prejudice. It’s about family (and what creates a family). It’s about all those things and more. Read it, and you can give me your own definition!
Where did the idea come from? Ultimately, it goes back to a trip I took to Ireland several years ago (and which also spawned the Cloudmages trilogy — HOLDER OF LIGHTNING, MAGE OF CLOUDS, and HEIR OF STONE, written under my “S.L. Farrell” pseudonym — the first books I wrote for DAW). I loved being there… and not just because Ireland is part of my heritage. But one incident in particular stuck with me. My sister and I climbed Diamond Hill in the Connemara National Park, and in looking out over the landscape before us with all these green hills and deep valleys and an ocean bay in the misty distance, a revelation hit me. Back in my college days as a Fine Arts student, I loved doing watercolors. Most of them were imagined landscapes; nothing I’d ever actually seen. Looking out over the Connemara landscape, I was seeing what I used to paint: the same steep, emerald-touched hills, the same walled valleys. I had the proverbial cliché shiver along my spine, and suddenly felt like I was home. I know, I know, that sounds incredibly corny, but it’s nonetheless true.
In some ways, THE CROW OF CONNEMARA is an attempt to recapture that feeling via a fictional character…
Are there more books planned for the project? Not at this time. I planned the book, like my previous book IMMORTAL MUSE (which also has its mass market pb release this month), to be that rare beast: the standalone fantasy. However, astute readers might notice that there is a connection in CROW to other books of mine, and I won’t rule out following these characters in a future book, should fans clamor for that. But at the moment, no. When you close the book, you’re done.
Music plays a significant role in this narrative and also in your life outside of writing. Tell us about the link between your writing and your musical endeavors.
I’ve been writing since I was in grade school. I’ve also been playing guitar since about the same time, and for significant period in my life, I made my living as a musician. Strangely enough, though, I’ve never considered myself a songwriter. Yeah, I’ve written the occasional song (and still do), but composing music never grabbed me and refused to let go as has writing fiction. So as the bands broke up and I wearied of living out of a suitcase in strange hotel rooms with too many people in them, I gave most of my creative energy and attention to writing.
Mind you, I still play music: some of the people I played with over the long decades are still in a band with me, and I occasionally do some ‘quiet’ gigs as a duo, and sometimes even an occasional solo gig, or you might find me in a music circle at a con.
And one of my songs (well, at least the lyrics for it) appears in CROW. And I fully intend to sing a few songs from CROW at my readings.
If that doesn’t scare people away, nothing will.
A lot of your work touches on Celtic mythology and the link between ancestry and destiny. Do you feel that your writing is an expression of something in your familial background? Do you see it as a way of connecting with past generations?
Not to be disingenuous, but I don’t know. I’m interested in history in general — a lot of my ‘pleasure’ reading is nonfiction history books, about any time or place that I find interesting — and that’s generally always reflected in my work. IMMORTAL MUSE, for instance, was a book with sections set anywhere from the late 1300s Paris to modern day New York City. I’ve been to France (and a lot of that trip is reflected in IMMORTAL MUSE); I’ve been to London and England a few times (and those trips are also reflected in my fiction). I’ve already spoke to how Ireland has influenced both the Cloudmages trilogy and CROW. So it’s probably less a ‘familial’ connection (though I do feel that with Ireland), but more that I like seeing and learning about different cultures and times than my own, and that interest, that research, and those experiences gets tangled up (to my pleasure and delight) in the creative process.
But… touching on family, early in CROW (I don’t think this is so much that it demands a spoiler alert, but SKIP THIS PARAGRAPH if you really want to know nothing about the book before you read it. Seriously. Go on, we’ll wait.) So… As I was saying, touching on family, the father of Colin, the male protagonist, dies early in the book. Writing the initial draft was no issue, but in between that and the time that I was doing the revisions for the book, my own father passed away — not in the same way exactly, but under somewhat similar circumstances. Writing that section immediately following the death of my own father was… difficult. At a recent convention, I read that section and I had to stop a few times to stop my voice from breaking. Sometimes fiction cleaves too damn close to reality.
You’ve written science fiction, epic fantasy, historical fantasy, YA, and now a tale that, in your own words, blends contemporary Celtic fantasy with tragic romance. Do you enjoy shifting among subgenres? Do you think it keeps your work fresh? And is there one genre in particular that you’re drawn to above the others?
I don’t know that it keeps my work fresh, but it keeps me from getting bored as a writer — which is also one reason why the last two books have been standalone. I find that (and I speak only for myself), that by the time I finish three books set in the same place and general time, that I’m hungry to try something new and different. I don’t particularly want to go back there. For instance, when I started the Cloudmages series, I had an entire 12-book arc planned in my head, consisting of four separate trilogies which would follow that world through the entire centuries-long slow cycle of rising and falling magic… but by the time I finished the first trilogy, I really felt like I needed to do something different to recharge the creative batteries.
I may even return to that world one day because I do love it and because there are things there I’m interested in exploring, but I’m also happy moving on. That’s also the case with the Nessantico series, which I thought I also might continue, but didn’t because I was much more interested in writing IMMORTAL MUSE.
There are certainly writers who have written multiple books in the same universe, and are obviously still happy to be working there. There’s nothing at all wrong with that, and more power to ‘em. Like many sf/fantasy fans, sometimes I really enjoy going on that ’long ride’ with an author (for instance, David, I love your own “Thieftaker” series). I know fans like long series… but alas, I don’t think I’m a writer who can easily accommodate that.
And someday, maybe, I might attempt a straight historical novel, or maybe an alternate history novel. Just because.
What are you working on now? Where do you think your work will take you after the Connemara project?
I already know what I’m doing next — in fact, I’ve already started on it. I have a two-book contract with DAW for a ‘duology’ (as opposed to a trilogy…). This one will be set in a world that will bear a resemblance to 1st century Britain under the Roman occupation, but it will not be that historical world (though much of my research into the period will go into the work, and some of the incidents in the novels will be drawn from actual historical encounters). This is a world where there is true magic, and where ghosts might be real, and the gods might actually get involved in the affairs of humans. So, yes, I suppose it’s another “Celtic” fantasy.
The first book is tentatively entitled A FADING SUN, and the second will be A RISING MOON. The protagonists, in both cases, will be women (as, for some inexplicable reason, seems to be usually the case for me; CROW has two protagonists, one male and one female). Right now, I’m, oh, maybe a third of the way through the first draft of A FADING SUN. So it’ll be awhile before the first of the two appears in print. Between teaching at a local university and the rest of life interfering, I don’t qualify as a ‘fast’ writer.
Thanks, though, for giving me the chance to natter away about my work and the writing life in your blog. I appreciate the opportunity, and I’m looking forward to seeing what your readers say!
I’ve debated back and forth about writing this post. Even now, as I type it out, I’m not sure I’ll ever actually put it up. Honesty wars with pride. Fear of revealing weakness and saying “the wrong thing” strives against the notion that reading this post might help others struggling with similar demons.
This has been another of those days — I seem to be having quite a few of them right now. By “those days,” I mean the ones that are filled with doubts and frustrations, stretches of idle time during which I do nothing but stare at a blank screen, getting nothing done and feeling like a lump.
But worse, I find myself falling into all sorts of old, bad habits, things that I have posted about, glibly telling aspiring writers “don’t do this and don’t do that.” And now here I sit, guilty of all the sins at which I’ve railed.
“Success,” I have said in recent posts, “must by self-defined. Don’t look to others for affirmation, find it within yourself.” But I feel myself surrounded my mirrors, as if I have stepped into an erroneously named funhouse. These mirrors are distorted, farcical. And yet I look at myself as I appear in them, and I wonder, “Is that really me?”
“Be ambitious! Ambition is good!” But my ambitions mock me, daring me to reach for them again, to risk falling short of them. Again.
“Don’t write to the market. The market is a moving target. Write what you love, the story that is burning inside of you.” But that story feels elusive right now, and I am constantly second-guessing myself, wondering if I am on the verge of writing the “wrong” story, the one that won’t take my career where I want it to go.
“Don’t read your own reviews.” “Don’t obsess over your numbers.” “Don’t lose sight of the fact that to succeed in this crazy business one must understand that its ultimate reward is love of the craft and passion for the act of creation.”
Don’t, don’t, don’t.
And yet, I do it all.
Because as much as I love this business, as fortunate as I am to be a professional writer, I’m always mindful of the precarious nature of success, however it is defined. I am flying without a net, unsure of what I am going to write next and where I might sell it when it’s ready to hit the market. And that uncertainty terrifies me. I have ideas, but they have yet to coalesce into a vision for a new project.
A voice in my head says, “But they will, they always do.”
To which another voice — a voice that has plagued me all my life, as such voices do all of us — answers, “You mean, they always have. Perhaps this time they won’t.”
I really hate that fucking voice.
There really is no answer to that voice of doubt, at least none that is solid in its certainty. The answer to doubt has to be faith, and faith can be a shaky foundation on which to build confidence. Do I think that I’ll find an answer, that I’ll emerge from this dark, unsettled place? Of course. But I don’t — can’t — know. Belief is all I’ve got, and while I can hope that eventually it will be enough, right now my confidence seems threadbare and worn.
I have no answers for you, no note of redemption on which to end this post. Hence my reluctance to start it in the first place. I’m struggling, as we all do from time to time. And all I can do is contend with my demons again tomorrow and hope that in the light of the morning they seem a bit less formidable.
Today, I welcome author Harry Connolly to my site for a guest post about writing, publishing, and the power of perseverance. Good to see you here, Harry!
Twenty Palaces, the series was called. Del Rey was the publisher. I was a noob who got to work with their amazing editor-in-chief, Betsy Mitchell, and my covers were done by Chris McGrath. I saw my books in bookstores (even better, my in-laws saw them), plus reviews in Publishers Weekly, the whole thing.
Honestly, it was a dream come true.
… right up to the point where sales were amazingly mediocre, then became less mediocre with each book, and then finally sorry, we can’t publish any more of these books oh sorry no we will not be exercising the option on something else. It was three books and out for me.
Obviously, it was time to move on to other projects. Again. The only problem was that the other times I’d moved on was because I couldn’t get something published. Now I had; I’d even found a small fan base. It wasn’t enough to sustain Del Rey’s interest in Twenty Palaces, but it was still a whole bunch of people.
And they had my email address.
I’d discovered a new kind of rejection. Suddenly, I wasn’t operating in total obscurity any more. I certainly hadn’t become famous, but I did have readers contacting me to tell me they loved my work.
That’s an amazing thing, and I love when it happens. I love hearing from readers. But what those readers wanted was more Twenty Palaces, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to give it to them.
Each Twenty Palaces novel sold about two-thirds of what the previous book had sold. I did not want to chase a shrinking readership. Could I have made some money self-publishing? Absolutely. Would it be a viable long-term career? I wasn’t so sure.
So I wrote a post about the end of the series, and why I probably wouldn’t be returning to it for a long time, if at all. Then I sat down to figure out how I was going to create something new that my current readers would enjoy but that would also draw in new readers. I knew I was going to write an epic fantasy. I knew it was going to be full of action but not nearly as dark as the current fashion. But how was I going to keep the old readers while bringing in new?
I needed to figure out what the fans had loved and what the non-fans had hated. To do that, I did something many writers advise that we should never do: I read my reviews.
As far as I can tell, more authors avoid their reviews than read them, and this isn’t really the place to go into all the reasons why. Let’s just say they can be upsetting.
Me, I grew up in a household where we said horrible things to each other all the time. We called it “joking.” So when a reader writes something like “The villain is a child-killing monster and he’s still more likable than the protagonists,” my first instinct is to laugh aloud.
Online reviews are where you find the most honest appraisals of a book, because they’re not concerned with the author at all. They aren’t giving notes. They aren’t trying to encourage anyone. They’re speaking directly to other readers, saying “Here’s why you will love/hate this book.” So what did I learn?
Things people liked:
• Monsters they’d never seen before
• Fast pace
• Flawed, active characters.
That was the list of things to keep.
Things readers didn’t like:
• Lack of context for the characters’ actions (when the plot question is: “What’s going on here?”)
• Too-fast pace
• Scenes where the tone veered into horror
Once glance told me this was not a list of things to ditch. Frankly, I like action thrillers and fight scenes, so I had no plans to leave out the violence. Not every reader can be won over, and it would be self-defeating to try.
Taking out the secrets, though? That I could do. It meant creating a story where none of the characters were in a superior position, and where no one was invested in hiding information. To me, that suggested a common enemy introduced to the setting for the first time.
Also, by taking out the secrets, I gave the characters a chance to come together and discuss their situation. That slowed the pace for readers who felt things were too frenetic, and it provided a chance to portray a larger context.
The real question is whether any of this truly matters. The Great Way turned out to be over 374K words long, and even if you don’t count individual words, it’s full of thousands of creative choices, large and small. On one hand, you have something as overarching as the concept: “a sentient curse causes the collapse of an empire.” On the other, you have choices as small as a line of dialog, or a name for a walk-on character. Amidst all those decisions, what difference does the choice between, say, mysteries and secrets make?
I think it’s a powerful difference. We’ve all had the experience of reading a wonderful book that felt just a little “off.” Maybe it was the names, or maybe it was a character who didn’t seem quite real enough. At a certain level, if almost everything is great, those few shortcomings can dampen the readers’ enthusiasm.
The trick is to understand why, and it was impossible for me to do that on my own. I had to venture out into reader-review land, where people called me a hack or thought I was ridiculous. That was where I found the answers I needed.
Finally, I’d like to express my gratitude to everyone who takes the trouble to review a writer’s work in a thoughtful, intelligent way, even if they’re also being mean or snarky. All those opinions were valuable to me, and I could never have made this journey on my own. Thank you.
BIO: Harry Connolly’s debut novel, Child Of Fire, was named to Publishers Weekly’s Best 100 Novels of 2009. For his epic fantasy series The Great Way, he turned to Kickstarter; currently, it’s the ninth-most-funded Fiction campaign ever. Book one of The Great Way, The Way Into Chaos was published in December, 2014. Book two, The Way Into Magic, was published in January, 2015. The third and final book, The Way Into Darkness, was released on February 3rd, 2015. Harry lives in Seattle with his beloved wife, beloved son, and beloved library system.
Today I finished reading through the first pass galley proofs of Dead Man’s Reach, the fourth and (for now) final book in the Thieftaker Chronicles (which I write as D.B. Jackson). There is really nothing left for me to do in terms of production for the novel. It will be released on July 21, 2015, and I really can’t wait. It is my favorite of the Thieftaker books and it may well be the finest novel I’ve ever written.
And it also sports the best cover of the series, which is saying something because ALL of Chris McGrath‘s Thieftaker art has been magnificent. I mean, really: check this out. Amazing, right?
This is one of those announcements that I just love to make: I am very pleased to say that I have been invited back to DragonCon as a guest (as D.B. Jackson, but I’ll be there promoting work under both my writing names). I will be speaking on panels, (perhaps) reading from my latest work, and selling books in the exhibitor’s hall in the Tairen’s Lair/Author’s Lair booth.
DragonCon is one of my favorite conventions, and each year a centerpiece of my event calendar. I am grateful to the folks at the con for having me back again this year. It offers me a chance to catch up with friends, interact with fans, and see all sorts of stuff I don’t see anywhere else — the weird, the impressive, and the unexpected. (As in the Chick-Fil-A zombie cows in this photo from a few years ago. . .)
So, I’ll be in Atlanta the weekend of September 4-7, Labor Day weekend. Hope to see many of you there. For more information about my 2015 appearances, please go to this page.
I’m exhausted after a great weekend at MarsCon. Tomorrow I leave Williamsburg to do a few stock signings in North Carolina and then two bookstore events later in the week: a signing at the Books-A-Million in Gastonia, North Carolina on Tuesday (4-6) and then a signing at the BooKnack in Rock Hill, South Carolina with Faith Hunter on Wednesday (5:30-8:00). I’ll be signing copies of Spell Blind, the first book in my new series from Baen, The Case Files of Justis Fearsson, and also copies of my Thieftaker books (Thieftaker, Thieves’ Quarry, and A Plunder of Souls) which I write as D.B. Jackson. Hope to see many of you along the way.
I have arrived in Williamsburg, Virginia for MarsCon 25, which begins tomorrow. I was literary Guest of Honor at MarsCon back in 2013, or maybe it was 2012. Whichever it was, I had a great time here, and when the folks who run the convention decided to invite back some of their former GoHs for this silver anniversary con, I was delighted to accept. Some of my favorite people will be here this weekend, and I’m looking forward to catching up with them, as well as meeting some new folks.
I spent the day driving from Richmond to the Virginia Beach-Hampton Roads-Newport News-Norfolk area, where I stopped in at several bookstores to sign stock. This after a wonderful signing last night with Bishop O’Connell at the fabulous Fountain Bookstore in downtown Richmond. The stock signings I did today went well — every store I visited had multiple copies of Spell Blind as well as copies of my Thieftaker books. And all the staff workers I met were friendly and professional.
The drive east from Richmond was beautiful. This entire area was hit by an ice storm yesterday, and this morning, with the sun struggling to break through a blanket of high clouds, the trees lining the highway were still glazed, so that their branches seemed to glow in the silver light. Gorgeous. Later, nearer to the ocean, I saw a Bald Eagle circling over the road, and then a Peregrine Falcon diving for pigeons just outside of Norfolk.
A good day, and, I’m sure, the prelude to a great weekend.
My friend Joshua Palmatier (aka Benjamin Tate) has interviewed me about the release of Spell Blind, the first book in the Case Files of Justis Fearsson. We talk about pseudonyms, urban fantasy, and character development, and, of course, we do so with panache. So check it out. You can find the interview here.