So in October of this year, Ashley and I attended a local event held at Carleton University called Geek Market. It's sort of yet kind of not like a con. You can read my delayed event recap, if you want (it's mostly just pictures.)
Why am I bringing this back up in December? Well, at the event, we met a local author who self published his fantasy novel called Shadow Over Sheradan.
1) If you were to summarize Shadows Over Sheradan (SOS) in 3 sentences or less, how would you do it?
- Shadows Over Sheradan is an action-packed science-fantasy adventure about a prince who accidentally sets off a disaster on his homeworld, and has to race against time to set things right before it's too late. It is a fresh take on fantasy because it takes place on the very edge of space.
2) How did you come up with the idea for SOS? How long did it take for you to write it?
- The novel is based on a role-playing world I created as a teenager. It borrows several characters that were developed during gaming sessions with friends or online stories I wrote after our group stopped meeting regularly. The book took eleven months to write, but a good deal of the world development, characters, and situations, were already fleshed out before the book project even started in earnest.
- The idea of fantasy on the edge of space arose from a desire to offer a fresh twist on the fantasy genre. With all the good writing out there, what can be created that hasn't been tried before? Taking the adventure into the edge of space? Now, that's a fresh concept!
3) Have you always wanted to write? Did you ever think you are going to get published?
- I have always had stories to tell. As a gamer, I would often assume the role of the game master, in part because I loved telling stories, and in part because my world became a well-known platform for adventures among my friends. I can't say that I dreamt of being a writer when I was young. Becoming a writer by traditional channels always seemed unattainable, so I never considered it seriously. With self-publishing, however, it gave me direct access to the market without waiting years for someone to approve my manuscript. I am presently working with a US literacy agency to get into a traditional company, but in the meantime at least, my book is out there and I am growing my readership.
4) When naming your characters/places, do you put any hidden meanings in them?
- There are a few with hidden meanings. One is a character named Amestra. She is the love interest for the main character. Her name is made up of the first syllable of my wife and childrens' names: "Am" from Amelie, "Est" from Estelle, and "Ra" from Raphael. This way, my family is in the book. :)
-Another is a character named G'Kota, which I had played as a teenager. G'Kota's original name was Gilean, and he became the king of the Abyss very briefly by tricking the queen of darkness into thinking he was her husband. His book name "G'Kota" is an acronym for Gilean, King of the Abyss - as a nod to his dark past.
5) Any tips for future fantasy/sci-fi writers? What was the hardest thing about writing SOS?
- Take the time to edit thoroughly. If you have the money, invest in a professional editor. IT IS WORTH IT. Don't just ask a friend to look it over for you. Even if your friend is an expert in the literary field, get an objective third party who knows the industry standards to take a fine tooth comb to the work, and really go through it page by page.
- It is easy to get impatient. It is easy to get excited to type "The End" at long last, and send your book in the next day. Resist the urge to send in the manuscript right away. Put it aside for a while. Detatch. Come back and read it cover to cover after taking a break from it for a while. You'll see things that you missed. Read the book out loud to yourself. You will hear things that might not seem out of place on the page, but don't sound right when reading out loud.
6) Who are your favourite authors? What are your favourite books/TV shows/movies?
- Movies? I especially enjoy the Three Musketeers, Krull, and The Godfather. For TV, I like The Highlander TV series, The West Wing, Miami Vice, Magnum PI, Remington Steele, and Columbo. For books, I like James Clavell's Shogun, in addition to the influential authors I mention in my next answer.
7) Which authors have inspired you when writing SOS?
- Shadows Over Sheradan has several influences. One is Michael Moorcock's Elric of Melnibone series. I love the high fantasy elements in his writing. Another is Dune by Frank Herbert. I am always mystified by the way the environment is a silent character that plays a role, and the sweeping grandeur of his writing. I also admire the endearing character banter in David Eddings' Belgariad series. I have to admit that the high-flying adventure of the original Star Wars movies (episodes IV, V, VI) inspired my action sequences, and the film Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, for its unique spiritual elements.
8) Do you have any songs that you associate with SOS?
- The soundtrack to my online book trailer is a track licenced from Jeffrey Hayat, a hollywood composer. The song is entitled "Here I am". When I first heard it, I immediately felt that it captured the epic feel of my book, and I wanted to licence it. My wife thought I was crazy. I reached the composer through e-mail, negotiated a price, and signed a contract. You can check out that video at:
- When writing, I listen to music for inspiration. Often, it's Sting, Enya, Enigma, Delerium, or Sade. It depends on the mood or the scene I'm writing - for instance action sequences require some hard driving techno to pump me up - something like Armin van Buren.
9) You teach high school students when not wearing your author hats, are your students easier to manage or are your characters the difficult ones?
- Your question is more difficult than it appears at first glance. Writing relatable characters with a clear voice that seems natural and believable is not an easy task. Some scenes, like the epilogue in Shadows Over Sheradan, were re-written dozens of times, as I fine tuned them over and over again. Visual artists must experience something similar to how I feel at times as a writer; you can see or feel something clearly in your mind, but it does not always translate easily to paper. Some written characters are perhaps more elusive to 'manage' than the most unruly students.
10) Do your students know about your double-life?
- Several students know about my book and have purchased it. In fact, many of them have told me that they do not normally like reading novels, but that my book was enjoyable for them. I assume that one part of the pleasure they had reading was the fact that they actually know the author. How often do you get to read a book and then high-five the author the next day while walking down the hall?
11) Does being a teacher/department head influence how you write? ("OMG, my students could possibly read my book one day. I feel so exposed!")
- Being a teacher absolutely influenced my writing choices. I paced the book briskly so as to keep young readers interested. I intentionally started the book with five short, intense chapters, which are all cliffhangers, to hook readers quickly - think of a James Bond movie. In those films, there is an action sequence at the beginning, and then music plays, and then the 'real' film begins. My book borrows that approach. I've seen students close a book after only reading a quick sample, and say "I'll wait for the movie to come out". I tailored my writing toward the late high school, university student crowd, with reluctant readers in mind.
12) What else do you do in your spare time, if you have any? (Seriously, how you can juggle HS students and unruly characters at the same time is beyond me.)
- In my spare time, I draw, I read, I use my telescope to stargaze (have you seen Jupiter lately?), I play violin occasionally, I like to take drives where I can clear my mind and think about things, and I listen to music.
13) Did you illustrate your own book? If not, did you get any say in how the cover/map turned out?
- I illustrated the world map at the very front of the book. For the front cover and other interior illustrations, I contracted two very talented local artists. Hiring artists to help was mostly a time-saving measure. Had I illustrated the entire thing myself, it possibly would have added another year to the total release time. An unexpected benefit of working with artists is that it forced me to really clearly define the characters physically, which helped me write them more clearly.
- Since I am self-published, I had total control over the art that went into the book.
14) Are you working on something else at the moment? Ever consider writing another genre?
- I am presently working on Book II of the series. I have hired my illustrator and I have a small team already reviewing portions of the manuscript as we speak. I do have an idea for a science-fiction story and a self-help book on self-publishing, but those are on the back burner as I focus on pushing Book II forward. The working title for now is: The Dark Titan.
15) What are you reading right now? Best book you read in 2013?