Today I finally managed to get hold of Brian and tie him down long enough to get some answers about his new book and how he’s finding his voice as an author.
Q. Brian! What made you decide to write a book?
A. Writing is something I have enjoyed all my life. Publishing a book is something I wanted to do since I was thirteen. I tried and failed to finish a space opera, a high fantasy novel with too many characters, and superhero novellas I wrote for fun when I was in college.
So, when I finally found a story I could see through to completion it was a huge personal victory.
Q. How long have you been writing books?
A. I have been writing since I was four years old. I started trying to create science fiction and fantasy stories before I knew there were supposed to be spaces between words. Hopefully, I have improved since then.
Q. How long did it take you to write this book?
A. It took about a year to write the book in my spare time. Revisions and formatting the manuscript took another four months of more intensive labour.
Q. What do you use to write your books?
A. I write on a Toshiba laptop my uncle gave me for my birthday. Before I got it, I did most of my writing on a desktop PC that ran Windows XP. It could barely surf the Internet.
Q. What problems did you encounter?
A. My biggest issue was getting carried away with nerdy pop culture references. I’m a big fan of Jim Butcher, Kevin Hearne and Charles Stross so my first-person narrator/protagonist was a little too influenced by their characters. It took a while and some complaints from a friend who sort of mentored me through the writing process, to tone down the derivative humour and find my own voice. The other major issue was finding time to work on the book. I spent a lot of Sunday’s writing because that was the only day of the week I could hide from the rest of the world and spend at least eight hours trying to think of stronger adjectives.
Q. How do you think you’ve evolved as a writer since you’ve started?
A. I am a lot more comfortable than I used to be writing in the first person. It is also easier for me to think in terms of a novel’s structure. When I started the book, I wasn’t used to thinking about pacing, dramatic repetition, and all the other things that contribute to a satisfying novel. I’m a little better at that now.
Q. Is there anything you wished you’d known when you started writing?
A. My biggest flaw as a writer is that I do things that make perfect sense to me and appeal to my odd sense of humour that doesn’t necessarily work for anyone else. I wish I had been more aware of the need to tone down my weirdness by about thirty percent so that other people would appreciate my story. I would have gotten the book ready for publication sooner.
Q. Do you structure your plots or just go with the flow?
A. I just go with the flow. I’m not good at making outlines or sticking to them. Some of the most fun parts of my book emerged from ideas that just felt right at the time, so I don’t question the process too much.
Q. Do you work on a set amount of words per day or does it change?
A. It changes all the time. It is definitely good to set goals about how much to write each day, but I stink at being consistent. That going with the flow thing meant that sometimes I agonized all day over 150 words and other times I wrote whole chapters in nine hours.
Q. Do you do a lot of research when writing a book?
A. I research, but in a sloppy way that no serious student should emulate. I also look things up on the Internet a lot. My friend who used to be a police officer gave me feedback and answered questions. I watched educational shows about different forms of weapons and combat for ideas about interesting ways to kill vampires. After I decided that some of my elves worship the Vanir (Norse gods associated with things such as fertility, wisdom, nature, magic, and the ability to see the future), I spent a lot of time online looking for more stuff from mythology I could use.
Q. How would you describe your writing process?
A. I have a lot of bad habits that somehow work for me. For example, I wrote most of my book while watching reruns of a show called Leverage or having cheesy action movies on in the background for noise. Sometimes I distract myself watching martial arts videos on YouTube. I eat too much junk food and go without sleep. I write notes that wouldn’t make sense to other people about what characters should look like or what weapons they carry. Instead of outlining, I come up with role-playing game-type character sheets listing items such as clothes, firearms, how much cash they usually carry and other things that may or may not make it into the book. Hopefully, my mild OCD translates into a sense of veracity as I write weird stories about quirky vampire hunters.
Q. What time of the day do you find is best to write?
A. Inspiration strikes me pretty randomly. Afternoons are probably the best.
Q. Where do you draw your inspiration from?
A. My inspiration comes from all sorts of sources: superhero comics I read as an awkward teenager, a lot of excellent genre fiction, Norse mythology, movies, television, video games I used to play, stuff I see on the Internet, songs, neat looking guns in magazines… The protagonist in my book has a fighting style partly based on Chinese drunken boxing because I love old Jackie Chan movies. He uses a magic mobile phone because I was reading a lot of books by Charles Stross and started thinking more like him. I didn’t know that Stross had the idea first. Imagine my disgust when I got my hands on the next book in his Laundry Files series and his protagonist had a magic iPhone.
Q. What draws you to this genre?
A. I fell in love with urban fantasy when I stumbled across “Dreams Underfoot” by Charles de Lint. I quickly discovered that I loved seeing fantasy elements juxtaposed with our modern world. There is something really fun about crime fighting wizards and elves that play guitar in rock bands. Urban fantasy draws on horror, noir detective stories, comic books, and pretty much anything else that somehow make sense in the context of finding out that the Tuatha De Danaan are running numbers in Chicago. That makes it more enjoyable for me because I can find elements of practically everything I like in one story.
Q. Have you ever tried to write other genres?
A. Once I tried to write a more traditional sword and sorcery adventure. Although I loved my characters, I just didn’t know enough about real medieval history and customs to feel like I could write a proper story about knights and telepathic highlanders. I love writing science fiction, but as a recovering English major who barely passed chemistry in college, I’m probably not qualified to follow in the footsteps of Clarke and Asimov.
Q. Which author/book would you compare yours to?
A. I was heavily influenced by Charles Stross’s Laundry Files (British spies fighting demons and Lovecraftian horrors), Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles (the protagonist is an immortal druid who fights Greek gods and other mythological figures when he isn’t killing vampires), Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series (a wizard detective who occasionally saves the world) and the Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny (an absolutely brilliant mix of fantasy and science fiction with a great flawed protagonist). If you like any of those series, you’ll probably get a kick out of my book.
Q. Can you relate to any of your own stories?
A. I don’t really base characters or stories on anything from my own life anymore.` I tend to go more for escapist wish fulfilment. I would rather imagine being able to use a bow like Legolas or having a black belt in kung fu.
Q. How many books have you written?
A. Technically, one and a half. I am currently in the middle of writing the sequel to Crosses and Runes. My working title for book two is The Vampire Kings.
Q. Have you ever written in collaboration with another author?
A. No. It might be fun, but I haven’t had a chance to try it.
Q. Who designed your front cover?
A. My youngest brother Craig. He is a really talented graphic designer. Considering that he had never worked on a book cover before, I am quite impressed by the results.
Q. Who was the first person you showed your novel to?
A. I have a friend who is a prolific crime fiction author. He beta read my first draft, made a lot of great suggestions, got me to cut most of the pop culture references in the early chapters, helped me format the eBook and the print edition, and did a million other invaluable things for me.
Q. Have you ever dedicated a book to someone?
A. I dedicated my book to my mother. She gave me a place to live when I was in a huge financial bind and put up with me being a lousy roommate while I finished the book. It seemed like the least I could do.
Q. How do you market your books?
A. I mostly use Twitter because it is easy and there are ways to do it either for free or for reasonable fees. Twitter works better if you’re giving your book away for free, but it is still a good way to raise awareness and occasionally make a few sales.
Q. How do you deal with bad reviews?
A. I haven’t seen any yet.
Q. Do you use an agent?
A. I don’t have an agent. Partly, it is due to poverty and partly because I have no idea how to find someone I could trust. I might use one if I was convinced he or she could help me achieve my dream of supporting myself with my writing.
Q. How much time do you devote to marketing your books?
A. Not enough. I work full time and invest a fair amount of energy into writing book two of my proposed trilogy. That barely leaves time for reruns of Kitchen Confidential, much less updating my blog, posting updates on my book’s Facebook page and all the other things I should be doing.
Q. How do you get your book reviews/reviewed?
A. I haven’t had much luck with that. Begging on Facebook doesn’t work and only two readers have posted reviews on Amazon.
Q. Do you ever run free book promotions? Have these worked for you?
A. I feel like I can’t afford to give away my book, so instead, I try to point readers toward free trial periods at the book subscription sites Scribd and 24Symbols. Readers can try my book and choose lots of great works by more established authors.
Q. Do you do all your own proofreading and editing?
A. Yes. I used to work as a copy editor and I wrote for a weekly newspaper. I feel comfortable editing my own stuff most of the time.
Q. How and where are you publishing this book?
A. The print edition is available from CreateSpace. People can buy it from Amazon or Barnes and Noble. The eBook initially went live on Amazon. After my mentor failed to convince me to go exclusively with Amazon, he advised me to try Draft2Digital. Draft2Digital helped get my eBook on Barnes and Noble, iTunes, Kobo, Scribd and 24Symbols.
Q. What are the main benefits of being an independent author?
A. I keep control over my work. Nobody is pressuring me to finish a draft in three months and then waiting a year to publish the final version. I got to release my book when it made sense to me instead of having to wait until some marketing guru decided it was the right time. On top of that, when I sell an eBook I get most of the money. I can make a decent income from a $3.99 book because there aren’t any other people taking most of the profits.
Q. What are you reading at the moment? Which book do you have by your bed?
A. At the moment, I am reading Hot Lead, Cold Iron: A Mick Oberon Job by Ari Marmell. It is a fun period piece about a guy with magic powers taking on a missing person case in Chicago during the Prohibition era.
Q. What was the first book you ever read?
A. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien was the first novel I read by myself. My parents taught me to read when I was four, so my first book was probably a Richard Scarry activity book or something by Dr. Seuss.
Q. Who is your favourite author/book?
A. It is hard to pick one favourite. Right now, I would go with Poul Anderson. He was a brilliant fantasy author and an underrated science fiction writer. He wrote amazing short stories. His novels were incredible too. He wrote a lot of great stuff such as the Operation Chaos stories, his Time Patrol stories, The Dancer from Atlantis, The High Crusade, The Broken Sword, A Midsummer Tempest, and Three Hearts and Three Lions.
Q. What is your favourite quote from a book?
A. Right now, I would go with “Don’t panic.” from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.
Q. What is your favourite book to film adaptation?
A. The Princess Bride. It is still fun after watching it a million times.
Q. Where are your favourite places to read?
A. My bedroom and on the bus to work. For years, I couldn’t get to sleep at night unless I read for a while. On the way to work, I need a good distraction.
Q. When you read do you prefer a book or a Kindle/tablet?
A. Both have their charms. More and more, I love the convenience of a tablet. I can pack around hundreds of books on my Kindle Touch. I can download free books without leaving my house. The screen makes it easier to read in poorly lit areas. A Kindle can’t match the smell and feel of a nice hardbound book, but it is a godsend for a bookworm on a tight budget.
Q. Any tips for aspiring authors?
A. Finish a draft. Completing a story is good for you and you will learn a lot about writing by seeing something through to the end.
Q. What can we expect from you next?
A. I hope to keep writing more volumes in The Summersgate Chronicles. In fact, I have plans for two more books and possibly a spin-off about a fan favourite character.