Saturday, October 25, 2014

Grim Interview: Tim Marquitz of Ragnarok Publications

Today we have editor in chief of indie press Ragnarok Publications, Tim Marquitz. Tim has an extensive resume as not only an experienced dark / urban fantasy author, including the Demon Squad series and the Blood War Trilogy, but he has also worked as an editor and contributor on many anthologies and other projects, including the Dead West Series and Neverland’s Library. His most recent professional endeavor is taking the helm of the new indie press Ragnarok Publications. Coming off the heels of the amazing Kickstarter Campaign for Blackgaurds, (which damn near tripled it's funding goal), we're chatting with Tim for a little insight into the beast that is Ragnarok Publications...

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So, give us the story of how Ragnarok Publications got started. 


Joe Martin approached me originally to work on a project (which ended up being Dead West) and he and I got to talking about publishing in general. I’d been wanting to spearhead something different publishing-wise, expanding on my editing work, and along the way I realized Joe would be the perfect partner for this project given his experiences. We sat down and chatted about it. The idea exploded, and here we are.

What does a day in the life of the editor-in-chief look like? 



Coffee, coffee, coffee, followed by words. My days are actually split between all the different things I need to get done. Some days are slower, when I get to write and focus on my own stuff, but most days are spent dealing with the vagaries of Ragnarok, from contract creation to editing to doling out assignments to talking to agents to formatting to promoting. There’s a constant stream of little tasks that aren’t scheduled so it’s hard to define each day. That said, I love every minute of it, chaotic as it can sometimes be. 


What are some of the challenges of running an indie press? 

The biggest I can think of is staying (becoming) relevant. There are thousands of smaller presses out there these days. The hardest part for us is to stand out above and beyond these folks as a press authors want to share their work with and be published by. We push ourselves every release, every day for that matter, to do better, to learn more, to become more competitive. 

Another huge challenge is finding an audience. We’ve been lucky to turn our Kickstarter successes into a soapbox, so to speak, but it doesn’t translate across the board for all of our titles. We’re constantly struggling to find a larger audience so the amazing authors we’ve picked up can shine as they should. 

What do you enjoy most about running and operating Ragnarok? 

For me, it’s finding and promoting authors I love who haven’t quite found their place in publishing yet. While we publish folks who are successes in their own right, we have a number of authors who should be successful but just haven’t hit that point yet. It’s frustrating because they’re talented and fantastic story tellers but just haven’t stumbled across the luck factor yet. I love being a part of these peoples’ careers this early on and helping to push the out there. 

Why the focus on darker fiction stories? 

I think that’s just the direction that appeals to us most. There’s a beauty in darkness that we like to tap into with our books. We’re comfortable in that darkness. 

Overall, how has Ragnarok Publications been received by readers and the industry? 

You’d have to tell me. I feel we’re fairly well received given our limited time in existence. Our Kickstarter campaigns have spread our name far and wide and we produce quality books consistently. People likely still see us as a small outfit, and they wouldn't be wrong, but we have huge aspirations. I think I’ll have a better feel for how we’re received as we get a little older in the business. 

How has social media played a part in the development and promotion of Ragnarok Publications? 

Social media has played a huge role in our development. We’ve a dedicated social media team who promote the hell out of us and do everything they can to get our name out there in a positive light. We’ve also used social media to coordinate and create our greatest successes along the way. If it weren’t for the current atmosphere of social media, I don’t think Ragnarok would exist. 

Currently Ragnarok isn't taking new submissions, but once you open the flood gates, what sort of works will you be looking to receive?

We want dark but different. We don’t have a specific type of story (outside of our basic genre preferences) but we want to be hit over the head by a story. We want something that screams at us to be published, whether it’s horror or urban fantasy isn’t an issue. 

I think our preference falls in the little-left-of-center category. 

Can you give us your take on the publishing industry eBook revolution that’s taking place right now? Where do you see the future of the publishing and eBooks headed? 

I feel there will be a slight correcting of course, paperbacks coming back a little more while eBooks begin to settle in sales comparison to paper. That said, eBooks will continue to be the new market, the technology spurring new directions for innovative and interactive eBooks. 


Small and self-publishers will continue to thrive for a long time to come. They’re becoming more adept at adapting to the climate while the larger presses stumble against tradition and investors’ needs. I suspect you’ll see a number of smaller presses explode over the next 3-4 years, becoming monsters in their own rights, but then the cycle will reset. 

Where would you like to see Ragnarok five years down the road? 

I’ve been blown away by Ragnarok’s success so far, so I can only imagine what five years would do for us. I think we’ll have ironed out the “in store” aspect of distribution and will expand into the market. We have big plans yet we still want to retain the creator-comfortable atmosphere we’ve developed. Ultimately, Ragnarok will succeed, expand, become better and wiser, as the years progress. Beyond that, I can’t say. 

What are the next titles coming down the pike that we should be keeping an eye out for? 

We’ve just re-released the first book in the Red Reaper series, Sword Sisters, by Tara Cardinal and Alex Bledsoe as well as the first book in the Gnomesaga series, Rough Magick, by Kenny Soward. We’re looking at releasing Rob J. Haye’s gritty, The Ties that Bind series so there will finally be a paperback version of it out there in the world. We’ve also got Skinjumper by Lincoln Crisler coming up and a bunch more. 

Tim, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us.

Thanks so much for having us. We’re grateful to everyone who’s help make Ragnarok a success and we plan to hang around a long time and give y’all plenty of dark fiction to hunker down with.

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To learn more about Ragnarok Publications, just head on over to ragnarokpub.com, and to find out more about everything Tim Marquitz, check out his blog at tmarquitz.com. Tim, thanks again for hanging out, and best of luck to you and Ragnarok Publications.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Grim Interview: Timothy C. Ward


Up next for the Grim Interview is probably one of the nicest authors I've had the opportunity to come into contact with. It seems whatever the subject of discussion, Tim always brings an encouraging, positive perspective. As an author, blogger, reviewer, and podcaster, Timothy is a respected voice in the genre fiction community. His newest title Scavanger: Blue Dawn, the second installment in his Sand universe series made popular by Hugh Howey, is available now here.   

Roll call. Name? Age? Where are you from? What do you do when you’re not writing or blogging or podcasting? Hobbies?


Tim Ward, author name, Timothy C. Ward because the guy who published under the former writes Buddhist Erotica. Anyway, off to a fun start. Born in Des Moines, Iowa, raised in suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio. Right now, I work out, play with my seven month old boy, Kai, my firstborn, and whatever I can to remind my wife that this author wants to spend time with her as well as in a book. I'm waiting patiently for that dream trip to Colorado to snowboard.

Where did your love for reading and writing science fiction and fantasy come from? When did you first begin writing?

I always loved books, but R.L. Stine's Goosebumps books were early addiction reading in elementary school. Middle school and high school was discovering Dragonlance and that I can finish Stephen King books (sorry The Regulators, you didn't work for me.) My first author experience was creating a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic in Kindergarten. But I didn't write fiction/prose until high school, when I started a novel about skateboarding mice in a mansion. It was awesome. Very Secret of Nihm-esque.

Besides fantasy and science fiction, do you enjoy any other genres of literature?

Horror is the first subgenre to come to mind. Not splatter and massacre Horror, but Ronald Malfi type, character driver horror. Aside from his stuff, Post Apocalyptic, survivor Horror is probably my favorite, if done well. I'm still looking for The Walking Dead type character focused zombie fiction. I've read some very good books in that genre, but none excite me quite like the show. Most of my fiction has elements of Horror, even Scavenger 2 has brought in a little Horror to the mix.

Your latest releases, Scavenger and Scavenger 2, is a shared world novelette set in Hugh Howey’s Sand universe. Tell us how this project came to fruition.

Hugh is one of my favorite authors. His book, Wool, is one of my favorites, and is part of the Kindle Worlds, shared world project. That world is a bit crowded with fanfiction though. In reading his novel, Sand, there was a moment where scavengers were described sand diving for survivors of a terrorist attack. I was immediately inspired to tell the story of one of those people and whom they were diving after. The character came to life right away as a drunk holed up in the local brothel who must get over his problems in order to save the woman he loved.

Scavenger was a stand alone novelette, but I’m getting good reviews and encouragement to keep writing, so I’ve already written 18k words on the next part. There is a lot left explored in Howey’s novel, such as the lost city of Danvar, a city of the old world now buried under a mile of sand. There are also a few remaining cities on the east coast, so I have a lot of ideas and adventure left planned. The goal is to put out a novel. At the moment, I’m trying to decide if I should serialize novellas or wait until I have a novel and then self publish that.

When it comes to craft, what’s the most profound writing advice you’ve ever received?

I did a podcast with Hugh Howey and Robin Sullivan on my old show, AudioTim (Episode 33: http://timothycward.com/2012/05/01/audiotim-33-indie-publishing-with-hugh-howey-and-robin-sullivan/). During our conversation about how Hugh and Robin’s husband, Michael Sullivan, hit it big, they talked about how Hugh had written about seven books, and Michael over ten before they had their overnight success. Hugh said he did no marketing on Wool, his breakout title, after having tried nearly everything on previous books. His success was unexplainable. Readers loved the story, told their friends, and he worked his butt off to serialize another four parts to make up the complete Wool Omnibus within a couple months (one of the most successful NaNoWriMo’s). Robin chimed in with the advice that after writing book one, you should spend about 80% or more of your time writing book two, and the rest marketing.

These ideas and examples imprinted on me the importance of a long term vision for my writing. Stamina is a must. Don’t get distracted by platform building and marketing. Write the next book, then the next, etc. and don’t let your hopes rest on that first book being a success cause you to crash when it isn’t. This has helped me develop a mentality of daily writing, counting my success on that production and not on whether or not the few short stories or still unpublished novels will become instant bestsellers.

For new authors looking to get their fiction out there and go the route of self publishing, what general advice would you offer? 

Try to find beta readers who are willing to criticize your work. I’ve found too many “yes men” and not enough who have challenged me that my story isn’t good enough. The problem there is that everyone is busy and reading poorly written fiction is a kind of torture I’m apt to avoid. So, you have to practice. Get involved in the community via facebook, goodreads, blogs, etc and when you have friends who are critical readers, ask if they’d mind reading something. Give them the opportunity to stop reading at any time, asking only that they say why, then use that to make the story better and ask someone else. Reddit has an active critique community in the /r/writing forum. Critters.org is another option.

Be warned, editing can be very expensive. I recently shelled out nearly 4k for a novel that the editor did not finish reading and said needed rewritten. Tough lesson to learn after hiring another editor before that one. I thought it was ready to submit and/or needed polish before publishing and this editor had different views. Read books by editors you seek out to see if you like their style of storytelling. The one thousand word sample is not enough to determine if you are a good fit for each other, and by the time they are ten or twenty thousand words in it is likely too late to back out.

Episode 12 of the Rocking Self Publishing Podcast has an interview with editor, Harry Dewulf. I haven’t used him, but his advice is excellent and I really like his method for making sure you are a good fit by reading an extended portion of the work to determine character arcs, etc. (http://rockingselfpublishing.com/episode-12-effective-editing-harry-dewulf/)

Lastly, please, for your sake, don’t put out an ugly product. A poor cover and poor writing is going to kill your chances of selling and building readership. If you can’t afford a quality cover or editing, either wait and keep writing or submit to a quality small publisher who offers at least 50/50 royalties and other rights that are better than what large publishing houses offer. Custom covers aren’t cheap, but some cover designers offer premade covers for a discount. Get a second job or something on the side to help save money for that editor. Some may say publish and let the readers help you edit as you go. I say that time has passed; there are too many other books out there to read to take the time to email the author about why you aren’t going to read their book.

When did you first start podcasting? What was it about podcasting that caught your interest?

I started podcasting in 2010. I discovered podcasts in about 2008 and listened to every one I could find (Adventures in Scifi Publishing, Dragon Page, I Should Be Writing, The Secrets w/Michael Stackpole, Dead Robots Society, etc). Listening to authors talk about writing was the inspirational fuel I needed to push me through writing my first book and beyond. As much time as it takes to write a lot and read a lot of fiction, let your commute and workout time be where you get injections of writing advice and inspiration.

What has been your best experience when it comes to podcasting? Also, what has been your worst experience?

The best would probably be the two podcasts I did with Hugh Howey. I was a big fan. He is incredibly nice and inspired me like no other guest.  My worst will be under wraps, but in short, when a guest takes over the show, gives general answers, and is rude, yeah, that’s unpleasant.

Not only do you write and podcast, but you’re also a pretty busy book reviewer. When did you decide to start writing reviews and sharing your reading experiences with others? What do you enjoy most about reviewing books?

I think it was around 2009 when I started noticing blogs and was given the advice to buy a web domain with my author name (www.timothycward.com), that I thought it would be fun to fill it with book reviews and stories about writing. Plus, I wanted to help writers by reviewing their books on Goodreads and Amazon. I enjoy getting free books because I’m poor and don’t like how the library gives me so little time (if I can’t renew it). Plus, I like ebooks better, and the library has been really slow to improve their selection in that format.

I’m struggling with being a book reviewer now because I want to be more critical and harsh on my ratings than I can as a peer to these authors. The closer I get to publishing my first novel, the more I contemplate not reviewing. I have more than enough books at this point.

Can you give us your list of the top 5 genre books you’ve read?

Germline by T.C. McCarthy

Fiend by Peter Stenson

Wool by Hugh Howey

The Explorer by James Smythe

Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman (a bit dated at this point, but my first book love experience)

What’s the next project on the horizon?

Aside from writing the novel extension to Scavenger, I’m waiting on beta readers for my novel, Order After Dark, a post apocalyptic fantasy set in the rift between Iowa and the Abyss. Any volunteers to help me beta are welcomed. I have a certain small publisher I’d love to submit this to, partly because they are very talented, have a larger reach than I do alone (good boost to an author with no books out), and would save me the upfront cost of cover design and editing. I think the hybrid approach is a smart one, especially when I have multiple books that will be done before year’s end and won’t have the money to pay for covers and editing for both.



Saturday, September 27, 2014

Free GRIMDARK Fiction Short Story Compendium!

The Grimdark Short Story Writing Challenge Compendium for Summer 2014 is now available as a pdf to download and enjoy for free. The compendium features two original short pieces from C.L. Werner and Timothy Baker, and a host of aspiring authors.

Click the link to download... http://tinyurl.com/ke5npw3


Friday, September 26, 2014

Short Fiction Contest Winners!

Congrats to Philip Overby and Erik Holmes! They are the winners of the grimdark short story writing contest! Each of you snagged an eBook of your choice from Ragnarok Publications library! Thanks to all who entered! Soon I'll post a free compendium of all the entries, featuring short fiction from CL Werner and Tim Baker. More writing contests coming soon!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

PODCAST: Grimdark Short Story Workshop

I had the extreme pleasure of joining hosts Dave Robison, Moses Siregar III, and Tim Marquitz (Ragnarok Publishing) for an hour or so to workshop of short story I'm working on.

Here's the link:


This was such a blast to hang out with such incredibly talented and creative people. I can't wait to get this story put together and share it. If you like writing or story telling, this is probably the best podcast around.  

Friday, August 15, 2014

Grimdark Writing Challenge

Write a short story up to 1,000 words using the picture as 'grimspiration' (art by Kai Lim). When you’re done, just post a link to the story in the comments (please do not post your story in the comments). Just giving this a try to see if it’s something people enjoy. Please make sure your story is “Grimdark”, or you will be summarily dispatched with a battleax to the knee. Deadline will be 8/31/2014, and I’ll collect all the final pieces and post them on the GFRW blog. Thanks to all who join in.

Update: The Grimdark Writing Challenge is now a Contest! Thanks to the team at Ragnarok Publications, I'll select a 1st place and 2nd place winner who I feel best meets the challenge, and each will get to select (1) eBook title from the Ragnarok Library.  Deadline is 8/31/14, winners will be notified by 9/8/14.  And for the best in dark genre fiction, check out ragnarokpub.com...


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Grim Interview: Janet Morris

I'm honored to have Janet Morris as our next guest. Janet has been a prolific author, with more than 40 novels, her career started in 1976 and since then, she's been offering heaping helpings of darker fantasy, scifi, and short fiction. Often co-writing with her husband Chris Morris, there's so much to choose from in their extensive bibliography. For those who prefer something darker, there's The Sacred Band Of Stepsons series, based around the ancient warriors known as the sacred band of Thebes. Or there's the Heroes In Hell series, a sprawling set of anthologies, each featuring a broad cast of characters who find their final resting place in the pits of the underworld; selected titles in the series include Angels In Hell, War In Hell, and the latest edition (currently priced at $6.66 on Amazon), Poets In Hell. And for those who want science fiction with a dark twist, there's Outpassage, a scifi thriller offering plenty of intrigue and adventure. When Janet isn't creating writing, she is a championship level horse breeder, and an advocate for non-lethal military proliferation.

Janet, thanks so much for taking some time out of your busy schedule to talk with us.

Thanks for having me with you here at Grimdark, Rob. Grimdark well describes much of what I read and what I write.

Grimdark fiction is on the rise. It seems that, at least for now, fantasy fiction readers have given up on the black or white, good or evil, PG rated writing that has saturated much of the genre for years. People seem to want a true sense of the human condition, that life is sometimes brutal, and sometimes the good guys lose. In your opinion, what factors do you think have contributed to rise of darker storytelling?

 
Grimdark fiction has always been out there; from as far back as the epic of Gilgamesh, writers and poets and mythologists framed their worlds around struggle: struggle against Nature, struggle against their gods, who often controlled elements of nature; struggle against each other; struggle to define themselves in a hostile world. As the early Greeks evolved the novel form, writers found ways to show the human condition and tell the stories that still haunt our dreams. Once Homer wrote the Iliad and the Odyssey, Grimdark fiction had its calling card. And from there on, all great writers, and would-be great writers, tried to set their characters daunting tasks in a world where their hearts and souls would be tested. The heroic monomyth itself ( as it defines our sense of heroism and ethics and morality) defines Grimdark: if a hero isn’t faced with great trials, he is not truly a hero. At times, this model has been sweetened and softened for children and for reasons of religious persuasion, creating stories of perfect heroes in various versions of Camelot, and peopling these visions with watered-down beasties such as friendly fairies and elves and such. These elementals weren’t sweet at their beginnings. But then came warfare utilizing naphtha fireballs, plague-bearing rats thrown over the walls of besieged cities, and two things happened: the darkness of humanity’s soul became overwhelming; writers either wrote about man’s failings, or pretended those failings didn’t exist. In the 20th century alone, over 180 million people were killed in warfare. Mustard gas, carpet bombing, napalm – all these made humanity admit the increasing lethality of our species. This plus the first atomic bombs, and the threat of nuclear annihilation by a single push of a button, made people ask “Is God dead?” In the face of the unanswerable question, fiction and the other arts reacted; from Kandinsky and Klee and Sartre and Kafka onward, from horror movies and the rise of science fiction, two reactions rocked the world: tell fairy tales and stories of perfect heroes who’ll save us; tell the truth about the human condition as history revealed it and as we know it: penetrate and understand the Grimdark reaches of the human soul.

In the 1970s, when I started my writing career by selling the first draft of my first novel, “High Couch of Silistra,” I wrote because I couldn’t find the book I wanted to read. Any ethical writer writes that book for the self; writing less is pandering. Silistra turned into a quartet of novels exploring the link between sex and power in the human psyche, and the responsibilities that come with overwhelming power; the books were smart, erotic, philosophical and took no prisoners. They looked like science fantasy, or what is now called sword and planet. Soon Silistra, a series whose hero is a bisexual prostitute, had four million in print. This series was very dark and made me few friends among the old guard of science fiction or the woman’s movement, for it broke new ground and gored all oxen. This issue of limits to power and responsibility can be found in many other writers now thought ‘Grimdark’ at that time, the days of Stephen King’s first novel and many other anti-heroic views of humanity. Whence the anti-heroism? All around us was proof that humanity is self-destructive and hates any members of our species even slightly different from ourselves; that we can’t be trusted with power; that we are lethal to one another and every other species on the planet. This focus on the worst elements of the human condition is our way of coming to term with ourselves as recent history shows us to be: willing to destroy wantonly for reasons of politics, greed, and metaphor. Since those who grew up in the “duck and cover” days when children learned to hide under school desks before the A-bombs hit, is it any wonder that today, faced with the horror of what we have become, writers feel compelled to explore the darkest part of our fictionalized souls?


After Silistra, I then wrote “I, the Sun,” the biography of Suppiluliumas, Great King of the Hittites – not scifi or fantasy but a rigorous biographical novel about a man who raised his Ancient Near East empire from ashes, took three queens, made twenty-four of his sons kings, and sired at least forty-six children while he brought chariot warfare to a new peak, took slaves and countries, and conquered his way from the Black Sea to the gates of Amarna Egypt. The book was called “a masterpiece of historical fiction” by Dr. Jerry Pournelle, and the Hittite expert O.R. Gurney praised it as: “familiar with every part of Hittite society.” In Hittite society, if you cut off a man’s ear, you paid him twenty shekels of silver; in Hittite society, sorcery was punishable by death; in Hittite society, if two men had sex with the same free woman, there was no harm in it; in Hittite society, sack and pillage were normal tactics of warfare. That book, reprinted today, still incenses and scandalizes those who want to recast history in a kind and gentler light.

When I had just finished “I, the Sun,” Bob Asprin asked me on a conference panel to write for “Thieves’ World,” and described it as the “meanest town in fantasy, dark and gritty and filled with mankind’s worst.” Having determined he was serious, I brought my character Tempus, an immortalized son of a storm-god, and his “sister” whom he loved, and their ancient ethos into sword and sorcery-style fantasy. In the early 1980s, as the stories progressed, readers saw a man dragged to death by the entrails; another staked out over a badger’s bower while the badger was smoked out with nowhere to go but through the man’s body to freedom, and more. Some readers found Tempus a villain – I can’t think why. Any ethical writer can confront these issues of state-sanctioned incest, murder, pederasty and treachery through the right character, and Tempus was – and is – the right character. He applied historically-acceptable corrections to wrong-doers, from knee-capping to burning alive, but he also brought the Sacred Band ethos to life in fantasy. In his turn, Tempus is saddled with a female elemental of great power who has her way with him when she chooses. The Sacred Band, male/male pairs of bisexual and homosexual fighters, have since graduated into my Sacred Band of Stepsons series, which, from those early days to these, is not for the faint of heart. A good sense of history pervades all Grimdark fiction: not so much what disturbing methods were used, but why they were used, and the characters of those who use them: our heroes of Tempus’ Sacred Band fight valiantly, mercenaries of the god of war – realistic war, not a pastel childlike view of humans and their failings. Much darker than Conan or Elric novels, our Sacred Band of Stepsons fight more and worse enemies, but realistic ones. They do this because no writer of good conscience can write about anything but the human condition, and how realistic heroes deal with the horrors within us all, often worse than any dragon or demon or plague.

In science fiction, I wrote Outpassage, a bleak future wherein governments and corporations collude for reasons of national security (sound familiar now? It didn’t, then.), and a Ranger outfit finds aliens where aliens shouldn’t be… But when given orders to mine the equatorial faults of a planet with nukes to blow it apart, my Rangers balk – at first. I won’t tell you the story, but having spent twenty years in government, that story seems more plausible than ever. And the dystopian Kerrion Consortium Dream Dancer books, based in science but truly about dynasties exported into space, had two volumes on the Locus bestseller list at the same time. Meanwhile, many other writers were beginning to write dark and darker still, including not only King but Clancy and Tom Wolfe and Truman Capote.

Whatever I write, whether solo, or co-author with Chris Morris or others, my sense of history and what it tells us of the human condition pervades the story. I don’t write horror per se, but what I write may be horrific, sometimes, but inspiring, always. One of the most important things about our species is its capacity for hope. All Grimdark writers realize that hope is the only justification for heroics: hope of glory, hope of love, hope of honor, hope of triumph, hope of survival. 

And beneath all subterfuge, the Grimdark writer faces the final truth: every one of us lives to die. It is the quality of that living which matters. And by my lights, this is what Grimdark is about: taking bold action in service to an ideal when you know that death is at the end of all striving. 


No doubt that you have an extensive body of work, and there's no doubt you have a broad perspective on the ebb and flow of the publishing industry. Tell us a bit of your experience with the industry, the industry at present, and direction you see it going.


When I sold my first novel, I had no familiarity with publishing as a business. I had written the story for myself and my friends to read. I was completely unaware of science fiction politics, or conventions, or its fan network. Because my books made a few bucks and publishers called me “bestselling author Janet Morris,” I was thrust into an arena where you sold books and were paid half before you wrote them, half on delivery. I took multiple book contracts. I had books go to auction in the US and England because more than one publisher wanted them. I did this until an editor, making a multi-book deal with me in a bar on a napkin, said that what she wanted in these books was “blood on every page.” In her mind what she meant, I am sure, given my body of work, was a bestseller. In mine, she had slapped me across the face: I didn’t write for those reasons. I took the contract, wrote the books, but decided that if this was where the industry was going, I’d do something else.

About then I started writing primarily nonfiction for government customers, and found it difficult to write fiction that wasn’t in some way related to my nonfiction. So for about 20 years I wrote only nonfiction, primarily in the defense and policy arenas. Because of this, I was on the sidelines of the implosion of the book business: since much of what I did for my government customers was predictive, one could stretch a point and say I took a look at what was coming and got out of the line of fire.

With the internet came book piracy, which made the old publishing model unsound. For example, one pirate had 57 editions of my work on the internet for free – probably for years, until I started fighting back. Since every writer expects royalties and is judged by their sales, piracy hurts: not only does it hurt publishers, it makes publishers less likely to invest in new writers. Big publishers died off and tiny publishers sprouted. People tried marketing on the internet. Confusion reigned.

In the first decade of the 21st century, when I knew I wanted to write fiction again, I talked to my New York agent, who said that the book business had radically changed, and we couldn’t offer a book to what was left of NY publishing without offering digital rights. So, since I wanted to keep my digital rights, we formed a small publishing company to do the kind of books we liked to read: edgy, dark, and well-written: that publisher is “theperseidpress.com”. During the time we had not been concerned with fiction, the “worldwide” bestseller became a possibility. These were and often are books written to suit youngsters-to-adults of minimal sophistication and education, books with simple plot and vocabulary. In the 20th century a book needed to be readable by a twelve-year-old; now, in the 21st, publsihers wanted to pitch to a nine-year-. Perseid doesn’t do those books. Perseid, heading into the wind as is our nature, does books for a literate audience. We’re publishing to stick a thumb into the dike holding back a newer and darker dark age; we publish the book we want to read: dark, lyric, literate, and compelling. Others like us are trying micro-publishing, and none of us “know” where that will lead us. But we are slowly publishing more books, by more writers, and getting our backlist into modern print (sometimes as “Author’s Cut editions,” revised and expanded because now we are not limited by a publisher’s contract to a certain word count) in editions with more readable print. Will this get us ‘worldwide’ bestsellers. There’s no way to tell.

One thing is certain: as long as digital editions exist, good books will be available, sometimes for free, sometimes not.

You've paired up with your spouse Chris to coauthor a number of works. Give us an insight into your collaboration process, and what you like best about working together. And have your two hit any bumps along the road in learning each others work habits?

 
Chris and I fell into full collaboration naturally: he was always my first reader; he always contributed ideas. But in those days and still today a book written by a man and a woman is less desirable to some than a book written by one male. We had to fight hard to get his name on our books once it was obvious to us that this would be the next step. We sold a book at auction for a high five figure advance that we wrote under the pseudonym of a single male, and got more for it than we’d ever gotten for a book written by a woman or a man and wife team. Nevertheless, fair is fair: if Chris contributes substantial to my work, or me to his, both names go on the product.

Our collaboration process goes like this: One of us suggests a title or a story line. We discuss it, expand it. I type the draft because I am a faster typist. He then comes in o my office and we go through the draft line by line, aloud. We argue and discuss, sometimes for as much as fifteen minutes on one line, until we have each line as we want it. Then we break and eat and discuss what needs to happen in the story on the following day and how the characters will be impacted by the new events. So we both live with the characters around the clock. Then I type that next bit of draft, always early in the day. Thus it has evolved: separate work early, combined work late on any day. We take notes on good lines or points to be included for the next day. If one of us doesn’t like something, we pull it out and try again, until each line is as we want it. The result is an increasingly strong sense of presence and character. In the early days of drafting on paper, when I would finish draft, Chris would take it all the way across the room before he started reading, so I couldn’t grab the paper away from him and rewrite in pen then and there. Now, with computers, it is much easier.

My work habits are three hours of concentrated drafting per day; his read/edit mode and mine are truly combinatory, to the point where often neither of us will know who actually first came up with a line or a quip or a piece of description.


Writing and editing together creates a whole that is more cohesive than any other way. When I’ve written with other collaborators, I don’t get the seamless quality I do when Chris and I write together, or the depth of insight that putting both male and female eyes on a story can yield.

The rise of the e-book has had an enormous impact on the industry as a whole, and with that eBook piracy has also been a factor. Give us your take the effects of piracy and how your think authors, readers, and publishers should respond.


The first thing the internet brought us was piracy, which has virtually destroyed the book business as big business, and forced print publishers into e-books to try to hold onto their rights. One pirate had 57 editions of my works on the internet for free. Like others trying to make a living writing, this was distressing. And remains distressing. The wonderful thing about the internet is you can get nearly any book immediately. The horrific thing is you can steal almost any book without fear. For the midlist writer, piracy has meant tremendous privation. The writer can’t keep track of sales or popularity. “Beyond Sanctuary”, one of my most popular pirated books, has been available from numerous pirates for at least fifteen years, before real e-books existed, as ugly scanned copies. People who would never break into my house and steal my clothes or food or medicine or animals are without compunction when it comes to stealing my livelihood: my books. Because of this overwhelming piracy, we began the “Author’s Cut” series of books at Perseid Press with the “Beyond Sanctuary Trilogy,” which is expanded by fifty-thousand words over the three volumes and contains new scenes and new insights; on these editions, I am trying harder to control the piracy. I ask people not to steal my books or books of other writers: in doing so, these people harm not only the writers, who need royalties to live and write more, but other readers, who may lose access to talented writers because the piracy problem is insoluble unless readers refuse to read pirated books. Today if your book is pirated you can report the pirate, and if the pirate doesn’t remove your book, they are banned from the internet. So now the pirates ask you to sign up before you see their list of illicit titles, and often that sign up agrees abiding by their rules… which may preclude your right to report them. This is an issue of ethics and morality, person by person. The unethical will steal e-books, others will not. Thieves will always be with us. But consider: there are many free books available from young writers, fledgling publishers, and from big companies such as Amazon; there is no real reason to steal. But as long as e-books exist, people will steal them unless and until an internet methodology for banning pirates permanently is found.

Many of our readers are aspiring writers of Grimdark fantasy and scifi fiction. What advice would you give to new writers when it comes to writing about darker themes?
 
Tough question, and an easy one. The writer knows darker themes; they are a part of each of us. If the writer chooses to write a character-driven piece, rather than get caught up in techno-babble or historicity for mechanical propulsion of plot, that piece will succeed; someone will see it and want to publish it – IF that writer has enough basic grammatical skills, literacy, and understanding of dramatic modalities to create a viable story. The good editor is seeking the good writer; the good writer is seeking the good editor. When those two find one another, great things happen. However, too much of what I see today is derivative: fiction written by people who have not read the basic Western Canon, which you must read if you want to be a fluent writer of fiction, and instead take their cues from hack writers who have impressed them because some hack’s book sold many copies. To make things worse, the internet is full of scalpers who claim to be copy-editors, editors, and publishers but have little understanding of what is needed beyond how to upload a file and secure an ISBN number. Don’t use people to help you with your work who are not better than you at something; a BA in English does not make a competent copy-editor, much less a savvy editor or publisher. When I read a manuscript from someone whose editor and copy-editor haven’t done a good job, I can only blame the writer for allowing their work to fall into clumsy hands.

As for how to write dark, if you don’t feel the magic, read some ancient history. Read those who shaped literature, all the early Mesopotamians and Greeks. If you want truly dark, read Milton’s Paradise Lost: don’t skim it, read it. True ‘dark” isn’t a matter of window-dressing: it’s inherent in the viewpoint character on every line and page. Spend a bit of money and buy Pritchard’s Ancient Near Eastern Texts, and hear the words of those historical characters that shaped our world. Then read Homer, Xenophon, Marcus Aurelius, Seneca. You waste your time if you read derivative works for inspiration: read the source material, always, as those before you have read these works and been inspired.

What projects are you currently working on?

 
We’re writing a new novel with a new hero, “Rhesos of Thrace: The Black Sword” is the working title. Rhesos is a quasi-mythical hero, and his small part in the Iliad convinced me that, were I bold enough, I could tell his story. He’s a hero forgotten in modern times, whose assassination Pallas Athene decreed, for, if he fought at Troy, the DanaƤns would lose the war. I’ve done the beginning of this story, published in “Nine Heroes” edited by Walter Rhein, and fifteen thousand words beyond that. I’m also doing a new Sacred Band of Stepsons novel, a sciamachy; and a new series of “Grimdark” heroic anthologies, “Heroica,” the first of which I hope will be out in mid 2015. Speaking of dark, we’re at work on the yearly Heroes in Hell volume, this one being “Doctors in Hell.” And we have a hush-hush project with a new collaborator.

To date, what has been the most rewarding part of being a writer? In hindsight, anything you might have done differently? 

 
The most rewarding part of writing is drafting: being whisked away into another time, another place, another life, and seeing the world through a different temperament. The writer of a tale experiences about 90% more than he can communicate to the reader; for these pale shadowings, some of us are royally paid, some not. I love to draft; when I have been drafting for three days, my endorphins take over: after that, until I skip a drafting day, I have no discomfort, no concerns but getting back to that world awaiting; the story tells itself, subject only to the limitations of my physical body’s ability to sit still and take down what I see and hear and feel. This is what I write to accomplish: to fall through the words into another world, and hopefully take you with me.

In hindsight, as far as fictional work, I probably should have stayed with my first editor, who was brilliant and protective of me. But I was young and impetuous, headstrong. However, I am happy with what I have accomplished. And because of our nonfiction work, people are alive today who might not have been if Chris and I hadn’t written that door and ushered others through it. So we’re content enough, and busy writing using what we’ve learned.



Thanks again to Janet for taking the time to give us some insight. To win a kindle eBook copy of The Sacred Band, Poets In Hell, or Outpassage, just email us, grimdarkfcition@gmail.com, with the subject line JANET MORRIS, and we'll pick a random winner on August 31st, 2014, U.S. only.


Poets In HellThe Sacred BandOutpassage

Thursday, August 7, 2014

New blog banner, it's grim, and it's awesome!

A very special thanks to artist Shawn King for creating a new banner for our little corner of cyberspace. The base image is a piece by artist Kekai Kotaki, found at https://www.facebook.com/kekai.kotaki. Shawn King's work can be found online at stkkreations.weebly.com, stkkreations.weebly.com, or tweet him at @stk_kreations. Shawn is an up and coming graphic artist and you're sure to see more of his work down the road.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Grim Interview: Jake Scholl

Blade Of The Broken
Our next guest for Grim Interviews is Jake Scholl. As author of the forthcoming dark fantasy novel Blade Of The Broken, Jake has traveled the road of self publishing, and offers some insights to other new authors aspiring to get their work published and noticed. Jake is a blogger, gamer, metal head, and a true fan of speculative fiction, movies, and more.

Roll call: Name, age, where do you live, and what do you do with your spare time when you’re not writing?

Name is Jake Scholl. I'm 22, and live in southwestern Idaho. In my spare time I collect comics, watch movies, and spend time with family and friends.

Can you tell us about the moment when you sat down and decided you wanted to be a writer?

It was back in 3rd grade, and it happened rather by accident. We were assigned to create a picture book, and I remember being the only kid disappointed that I had to draw pictures. I wanted to make a real novel! Thankfully that book is hidden in place I only know. It may be embarrassing, and a flagrant rip-off of Jurassic Park and Neverending Story. So to avoid a lawsuit, it will stay in hiding. But we all have to start somewhere.

What other writers or books have most influenced your writing?

Quite a few. Most people say Tolkien, but Tolkien wasn’t the Fantasy writer I read first. It was Dennis L. McKiernan’s Iron Tower Trilogy. (Those first edition paperbacks I read were well used. Definitely a good sign.) People say that series is a Tolkien rip-off, but that is far from the truth. It was darker, and the characters were very complex and layered. The story may be simplistic compared to long running series, but I’d rather read a book series that gets to the point quick than not deliver. This was the book series that made me want to be a writer for a living.

Michael Moorcock would be high on the list too. His Elric novels are some of the best Fantasy books ever written. A lot of books, songs, and of all things video games, have been influenced in some way by Moorcock’s novels. His writing style is what always brings me back.

Ray Bradbury is another. His writing style will never be equaled, and is best read out loud. And that’s why I read my books and stories to myself. If your book doesn’t sound good out loud, something is wrong.

Tell us about your new novel, Blade Of The Broken. Give us an elevator pitch. Is this the first of a series? When do you expect the novel to be released?

The focus of the book is on a ranger by the name of Stefan. The rangers in Blade Of The Broken are the only law in the book’s world. Since this world is like a medieval one, most “justice” is solved by killing, or beating the hell out of people who hurt others. Sometimes arrests happen.

He gets sent on a mission to stop someone who allegedly wants to kill a bunch of people with a magical item. Though things aren’t as they seem… And dark things from the past are waiting to strike Stefan once again.

That’s the most I can say without spoiling the book. J It will come out either in October or November. You can find out more on my blog.

With your latest novel, Blade Of The Broken, can you go into some of the details of your writing process? What were the circumstances around your initial concept for the novel? Did you do an outline, or “discovery” write? How long did it take for you to get to a completed manuscript?


I began outlining my novel around the end of July of 2011 with a character I’d been “seeing” in my mind. (I thought it would be smart to outline before I participated in National Novel Writing Month, and I was thinking of writing an epic fantasy novel like the books I grew up reading.) Then in August 2011, I was rushed to the hospital, and went septic.

Real life craziness can really change plans, and book outlines. So the book became more of a heroic, and gritty fantasy tale. The fighting theme of the genre resonated even more so after the hospital, and I couldn’t read epic fantasy that wasn’t about people who couldn’t wield a weapon, or weren’t intelligent. The stories I read had to be realistic; so the story I would write had to be honest to the reader.

So in November, I started writing, and it took one month. I didn’t follow the outline word by word, but I didn’t go full-on discovery mode either. It was a good mix of the two. The first draft was horrible, and it’s taken 3 ½ years of rewriting and having an editor to go through it to get to the point I’m at now.

Thankful I never threw the book away.
 
Can you tell us about how you came up with the cover art for Blade Of The Broken?

The MacGuffin of the story, if you will, is a sword called the Runeblade. I don’t want to get too much into it, but it connects all of the characters together in one way or the other. (Trust me, it’s more than an old blade with runes scribbled on it.) So I always thought it should be on the cover, and I worked with my amazing cover artist Rene Folsom, she works at Phycel Designs.

The fiery, and dark background worked best to set the mood. There are quite a bit of sword fights and carnage throughout the tale… Speaking of the background, when I got the first cover proof I could’ve sworn I saw a raven with talon’s extended. When I said I liked the raven, Rene asked “What raven? I didn’t put one in!” but said it was a great idea. So she added a raven… That’s part of the magic of a writer and cover artist working together!

How would you describe your experience with self-publishing your novel? Do you plan to stick with self-publishing, or do you hope to someday go with a publishing house?

It’s been good. I like having a direct influence on every aspect of my book, rather than having another person make all the calls for me. I’m planning to stick with self-publishing. In this day and age, it’s possible to produce a great looking book without the publisher as a middle man. I’ve been told money should flow to the author, rather than making the pittance publishers pay. The model traditional publishing uses is rather outdated, especially since we use eReaders now. It doesn’t mean you don’t need editors or cover artists, etc, but rather can hire those people directly, and make your own decisions on your books.

Speaking of blades, weapon of choice: letter opener, Swiss army knife, or Ginsu blade?
 
Ginsu blade. The other choices aren’t barbaric enough.
 
This isn’t your first self-published piece, though; tell us a bit about Demon Stone.

Demon Stone was first written back in 2009. I was reading old school sword & sorcery a lot that year, by authors’ such as Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, and Michael Moorcock. So I decided to write a tale inspired by these stories. It started out as a hack job, but over many revisions, I had something original in my character Dagr. I kept getting rejection letters, and kept revising, changing, adding… Then I gave up, and kept it saved. I went back to it in 2011, and kept revising. Then I sent it to an e-magazine and it was accepted, and was published in the first issue of Fantasy Short Stories, ran by Mark Lord.

By that time, I’d been working on the book that would become Blade Of the Broken. And when I got the rights back, I decided to self-publish a special edition version of the Demon Stone short that had more changes, to help with the hard task of building an audience.

The story is a quest about a King who lost everything to try and save his wife. If you like sword & sorcery, and heroic fantasy, this story may appeal to you. It’s on Smashwords, Kindle, Nook, iTunes, and a lot of other eBook sites.

What do you find most appealing about writing darker fantasy?

Being able to explore parts that normally isn’t explored in other genres. In traditional epic fantasy, it seems to be a big no no to explore what makes the villains tick rather than just that they want “world domination” or “destroy everything”. Doesn’t the reader want to know why the villain does what he does? Or see what the other characters want you to see?

Also, with the heroes, they don’t have to be perfect in “dark fantasy”. George R. R. Martin, Gary Gygax, Michael Moorcock and many others were/are of the mind that everyone has good and bad, so why not write people realistically, rather than make the heroes saints? Even bad people at times have done good things.

I think “dark” fantasy should be called “realistic”. But that would be a weird word pairing.
 

What influence has gaming had on your writing?

Games have had quite an influence on me. Before I even touched a novel, I’d been enjoying playing as Mario on the SNES, and trying to rescue Princess Peach, only to find out I was in the wrong castle. Or Banjo on the N64, trying to rescue his sister from the witch… And incidentally, these games had stories just as engaging as any novel, and inspired me to dream up stories in my mind with unlimited FX budget. Thus, writing was very attractive to me.

What do you find most aggravating aspect about the fantasy publishing industry today?

Probably the assumption most self-published books are crap. Yeah, there is some self-published drivel, but I’ve read quite a bit of crap published by people like Random House. Crap is crap no matter who the publisher is. It doesn’t care where it’s from. It just goes splat!

*Note to all self-publishers or would be writers: Hire an editor. Not your mother or father, or a friend or family member. We writers need editors who will say what needs to be said. No matter if it hurts your feelings.

Not only do you rock dark fantasy novels and short fiction, but you’re also a blogger. When did you start blogging? What is your blog about? Where can folks check it out?

I started blogging in ’08, originally just writing fantasy and sci-fi novel reviews, and posted them on my website called Goblins, Swords, Elves, Oh My! Then that progressed to also interviewing authors like Dennis L. McKiernan, Margaret Weiss, and fellow indie authors.

That site built up my writing confidence dramatically, so I decided to also write about my crazy life on another website called Jake’s Blog. I’ve been in a wheelchair most of my life, and was diagnosed with Duchene Muscular Dystrophy at age five. I really didn’t have that odd of a childhood as people would think, nor am I some broken soul… I just have some definite opinions on life and writing.

Now it has a dual function of being a blog, and an author’s website. I haven’t posted much lately on either site, but there’s quite a backlog of posts dating back to ‘08. So now you can see how bad of a writer I was.

I was pleased to read that you were also a lover of cinema and heavy metal music, now I’m pretty much convinced we were separated at birth. Give us your top three movies of all time, and top three metal albums.

Another favorite’s question? This is like choosing which children I’d keep around, and which I’d put up for adoption! I was raised watching old black & white movies my parents grew up watching. John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Humphrey Bogart, and tons of other movies. I hope they forgive me if I don’t name any classics, haha. Plus, being disabled, movies are one thing I do to pass the time.

I would put the original, and uncut (Han shot first!) Star Wars Trilogy. (This was literally my first exposure to the science fiction / fantasy genre, and without it I probably wouldn’t be interested in fantasy or heroic fiction at all.)

Second, I would say Pan’s Labyrinth. It’s a great play on traditional fairy tale films, and has a great plot and writing. It may have subtitles, but it’s worth reading through for two hours. I usually like quest type fantasy films, but at times I prefer the morality tales my mother and grandparents read to me as a child. There’s something comforting about stories about children and the small folk of the woods.

Since you asked for three movies, I’m going to have to skip a ton of others outstanding films, so here’s the third one; Mad Max: The Road Warrior. The story is probably one of the best in modern cinema, and The Road Warrior was a great improvement from Mad Max, from a writing and acting standpoint.

As for favorite Metal Albums, where do I begin?! Holy Diver by Dio is great. Summer Of Darkness by Demon Hunter. And currently 7th Symphony by Apocalyptica is a great album… And I’ll cheat and say every Iron Maiden album is amazing! (And Maiden is a fun band to write to!)

For writers just starting out, what advice or wisdom can you offer?

Listen to all criticism. All of it. Too many beginners have a thin skin, and that isn’t good when you’re a writer. Believe me, I was there too. I had my sister read my very first novel in 4th grade, and she said it was crap. I was devastated, didn’t listen to her criticism, and threw all the pages in the garbage.

Everything you write has potential to be a great novel, or story. Listen, and keep revising, and repeat. If you don’t have friends who have time to critique, find a group like Critters. There are thousands of people that use Critters, and I’ve gotten great input from the group. (Especially when I was working the early drafts of Blade Of the Broken.)

Also, watch out for scams. There are a lot of people wanting to scam writers, so I recommend checking out Writer’s Beware, Preditors & Editors, A Newbie’s Guide toPublishing, and David Gaughran’s blog.

What’s the next project on the horizon for Jake Scholl?

I’m currently planning a sequel to Blade Of The Broken, and maybe a short story or novel sequel to Demon Stone. Or maybe a Horror novel? We’ll see what the guy upstairs has in store.


You can find Jake Scholl on Facebook, Twitter (@JakeSCholl), Goodreads, and you can grab a copy of Demon Stone here for a mere $0.99. A special thanks to Jake for taking the time to talk to us, and wish him the best of luck with the release of Blade Of The Broken.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Grim Interview: Greg James

All the way from the UK, today we’re joined Greg James, author of The Age of the Flame Trilogy, which titles include The Sword of Sighs, The Sceptre of Storms, and The Stone of Sorrows.  Not only has the trilogy topped the Amazon rankings for bestselling dark fantasy, but it also comes with a tasty content warning for those not accustomed to high levels of violence and potty language.  But the fun doesn’t stop there, not by a long shot.  Horror fans can also pick up a myriad of novels, novellas, and short stories, including the The Vetala Cycle Series, under the pseudonym G.R. Yeates.  Oh, but there’s still icing on this literary pop tart.  Greg has a new trilogy of grimdark novels coming out very soon titled The Khale Trilogy, with the first novel, Under a Colder Sun, due out August 28th of this year.  We’re going to talk about just what the hell kind of childhood trauma makes Greg James tick, and let us peer into that utter pit of infinite darkness known as a cerebral cortex.

First off, Greg, please tell us a bit about your background.  Where are you from?  When you’re not pounding the keys constructing grimiores of gritty goodness, do you have a day job?

I’m from London, England and I am an office administrator. It keeps me in bread, water and the occasional light bulb while I write in my spare time.

When did you first start writing?  Who were your major literary influences?

I started writing seriously back in the far gone days of 2007. I spent a few years writing the Vetala Cycle trilogy and then tried to break into traditional publishing. It didn’t work out so I sacked my agent and started self-publishing in 2011. I had a slow start with the Horror genre but managed to gain some critical acclaim and then I made the jump across to Fantasy and I have to say the genre has been very good to me since then.

I have a broad range of influences from differing genres but from Fantasy I would say that Robert E. Howard sits at the top of the tree in many ways for me and after him there stands Michael Moorcock, David Gemmell, Stephen Donaldson and Karl Edward Wagner.

You’ve got 12 novels under your belt at this point with a new trilogy on the way, which is quite an amazing feat for a man of a mere 34 years of age.  You look marvelous by the way (and you smell terrific), how do you find the time to get so much writing done?

It’s a combination of discipline, late nights and having a very supportive and understanding girlfriend. There’s no real secret to being prolific apart from hard work and wanting to succeed at what you love doing. If all life was writing, it would be so much easier.

No doubt your body of work has included some rather dark stuff.  But now you’ve specifically endeavoured to release a number of grimdark novels.  Can you tell us how you came to begin writing this new trilogy?

The beginning goes back to when I started writing seriously in 2007. The main character of the series, Khale the Wanderer, existed in an early form in my head back but he wasn’t an entirely coherent entity and my passion at the time was strictly for the Horror genre so he has had a long time to gestate and develop. He grew out of my reading stories about various Fantasy characters of whom a short list would include Conan, Kull, Bran Mak Morn, Druss, Kane, Elric, Thomas Covenant and Sandor Clegane. I wanted to create a character who would follow that lineage and now that I have made the move across to the Fantasy genre, the time felt write to sit down and start making his adventures become a reality.

Can you give us your definition of grimdark?

I think it goes back to what Robert E. Howard started in 1932 with Conan’s gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth. Those stories introduced a grittiness and realism that never really became a part of the High Fantasy epics until George R.R. Martin brought the two together with A Song of Ice and Fire. Though if we went further back, it could be argued that its roots are there in Greek and Shakespearean tragedy where heroes are not always pure and noble, villains can have justified reasons for acting heinously and the gods are creatures that mock and torture mankind. The classic tragedies are also marked by their black humour which is something that I think is often referenced as part of the appeal of grimdark fantasy. Things can become too dreary and feel too pointless otherwise.

Since you live across the pond, can you give us a general idea of what the fantasy / sci-fi / genre fiction scene is like in the UK?

I’m still a relative newcomer and the majority of my success to date is thanks to genre lovers on your side of the pond so I can only comment so much but I think we are in rude health with Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence, Richard K. Morgan and, of course, David Gemmell’s legacy. I’m still familiarising myself with the current crop of grimdark authors so those out there that I have not mentioned will have to forgive my omissions and ignorance.

Besides books, do any other forms of media influence your work?  Music, movies, origami?  I see you’re a connoisseur of heavy metal like myself, to what role have other forms of media had an impact on your writing?

To be honest, it all goes into the mix. I’m of the generation who grew up watching movies like Robocop and Conan the Barbarian well before being of legal age. I’ve been a gamer for many years and I would say that the Demon’s Souls/Dark Souls games have had quite an impact on the atmosphere of Khale’s world in that it’s a realm that is rotting and falling apart and the only gods left are those of darkness and chaos.
 
As to music, Manowar have had a significant part to play, I cannot lie. Listening to something like Hail and Kill or Sons of Odin gets me into Khale’s mindset pretty quickly. Though I’m also an aficionado of dark ambience and post-punk bands like Joy Division, who can get me in the mood for the more reflective scenes and character moments.

Weapon of choice?  Bastard sword, blow darts, or butterfly knife?

It’s going to be the bastard sword. Given the character I’m bringing to life, anything else would be a bit too lightweight for him.

Let’s talk about horror for a bit.  What do you enjoy most about writing horror fiction?  Do you have any plans for more horror (that rhymed) down the road?

I think horror and grimdark have some common lineage when done at their best. Both genres look at the world without rose-coloured glasses and are willing to take risks and challenge the audience. As a reader and writer of the genre, I remember watching some of the more shocking scenes in the Game of Thrones TV show and not being surprised to find out thereafter that George R.R. Martin had written horror in his time. I may be wrong but, in my opinion, the execution of Ned Stark and the Red Wedding owe as much to the Horror genre as they do to their historical precedents.  I think there will probably be the odd horror release from myself in the future but fantasy, particularly of the grimdark variety, has ripped my heart out and placed it atop an altar to its dark and faceless gods for the time being.

For fantasy readers who have yet to delve into the horror genre, do you have any titles you recommend as essential horror fiction?

One of my main influences was Robert E. Howard’s contemporary, H.P. Lovecraft, so I would recommend starting with his story ‘The Colour Out of Space’, and then maybe ‘The Rats in the Walls’. Even though I’m now drawing more on inspiration from the former gentleman, I think Lovecraft will always touch my work one way or another even when it’s not intended. Though I do try and keep an eye on the adjectives as best I can.

What has been the most influential writing advice you’ve ever received?  What advice would you offer to new writers?

The best advice I received was from a whole book and that was Stephen King’s On Writing. Regardless of your genre, I would say it’s the best how-to book out there. It’s the only one that had an impact on me and started me on the road to writing as opposed to just dreaming of doing so.

In terms of my own advice, as a self-published author I would advise new authors to very carefully look at their options and not take industry word as the gospel because it’s not. If I’d listened to the traditional publishing industry, I would probably still be miserable, depressed and trying to hawk the Vetala Cycle rather than being where I am now with two complete trilogies under my belt, a handful of novellas and short stories, a growing audience and a regular monthly income.

Self-publishing isn’t an easy path to choose by any means but if you are willing to work hard, keep your ego in check and take the pitfalls with the breaks, then the rewards are there.

Can you give us a bit of insight into your writing process?  Are you a discovery writer, or an outliner?  Do you use writing groups or beta readers? 

I’m a discovery writer. My outline tends to consist of my title and then I’m off. I do outline and map the world though. I don’t think you can write fantasy without setting up the boundaries of the world you’re creating, even if it’s just loosely. The world-building is a lot of fun though, sometimes too much, and I have to remember to write the story and not piss the night away adding extra mountains here and there. I would if I could because mountains are awesome. Fantasy worlds without looming mountains are like pizza without cheese.

I have beta readers who I select from my hardcore readers, friends and fellow authors who are willing to lend their time. I’m not a writing group person. I like to work alone for most of the process then bring in my readers, editor and cover artist during the final furlong.

Your beard is epic, by the way.

Thank you. As a Fantasy author, I feel it is my duty to look the part.

So you’ve traveled abroad as a teacher, instructing English as a second language.  Can you tell us a bit about that experience?  How do you feel your experiences living in other regions of the world have influenced your writing?

I think living in China for a year taught me that we are all basically the same and that cultural boundaries are something we create needlessly. It also taught me that we live in something of a bubble in the Western world and even when we think that we have filtered out a lot of the bullshit from our upbringing, a lot of it still remains and you don’t realise that until you have the experience of being an outsider in a country that’s not your own.

As to how it’s influenced my writing? China has awesome mountains. If you go there, take a riverboat trip to see the Guilin mountains. They are incredible.

To date, what has been your most unpleasant experience as an author?  Any words of warning for those of us who seek to get our work published?

My most unpleasant experience was having an agent. Eighteen months or so of my time were wasted by him and I got to see what the publishing industry was really like. You realise that, as a new author, you are considered as being at the bottom of the food chain and your work is just another piece of shit for them to throw at the metaphorical wall while you sit there hoping and praying that it will stick. If it doesn’t stick, it’s no skin off their nose, but for you it’s your dreams being treated as something that should be flushed down the toilet. My only regret is that I didn’t cancel my contract and start to self-publish sooner.

Seriously, that beard, I just want to snuggle it for a while.  That cool?

There’s plenty of room and I feed it regularly so you won’t go hungry.

For those who want to snag a copy of the new book, or find out more about you, where should they go to learn more?

You can visit me at http://www.manderghastpress.co.uk or find me on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/gregjames1945. My Twitter handle is @manderghastp though that particular social media channel is still something of a dark art to me.

Again Greg, thanks for hanging out with us, I’m definite looking forward to the new series, and I wish you the best of success in your writing career.  Any last words before we wrap things up?

I’d like to close by saying thank you to the fantasy genre and its readers as a whole for giving me the beginnings of a career and I hope that you will find something to enjoy in the adventures of Khale and the other denizens of his world. That’s my little teaser, I guess. There will be at least two other characters with their own series showing up as part of my contribution to all things grimdark. I can’t say anything more at the moment as it would spoil details of the initial trilogy.

Stay grim. Stay dark. Stay true.

Don't forget to snag your copy of Under a Colder Sun, coming August 28th!  Until then, you can get a free copy of Greg's fantasy title The Sword of Sighs! US - UK