I've said it before and I'll say it again: there just aren't enough pirates in fantasy. But author Rob J. Hayes is trying his best to remedy that lack of nautical naughtiness, and he's doing a fine job. His pirate duology, Best Laid Plans, is one of the most entertaining pirate adventures I've come across, and I was thrilled when he agreed to an interview. I hope you enjoy the interview below, and that your thirst for piracy will be quenched by Rob's creation.
First of all, thanks for agreeing to this interview, Rob!
When did you first decide you wanted to become an author, and how did you get into writing?
ROB: Well I've always been a bit of a dreamer. Or probably a lot of a dreamer really. Even at school I was that kid who spent half his time staring out a window imagining orcs and elves doing battle in the playground. But it wasn't until I was about 15, I think, that I actually started writing stories down rather than just running them through my head. I remember I had just finished reading Aurian by Maggie Furey and I thought “I could give this a go”. Of course back then I had no real idea what plot or characterisation really meant, and my sentence structure was pretty much a wall of text. I like to think I've improved a little along those lines.
It wasn't until I was 26 that I actually decided to sit down and write some real books and try to make a career out of it. I was pursuing a career in Zoology at the time and I spent 3 months living on a desert island in Fiji, diving down to the reefs and cataloguing the sea life. There was quite a lot of downtime so I started writing stories in a journal, all focusing on a world I'd been building for quite a long time. I think I wrote 2 short stories, and then started my first book in that little leather bound journal. And 1 of those short stories, the Sword of the North, actually made it to print in my anthology collection, The Bound Folio. The other short and the full book did not, they are forever consigned to my not good enough folder. Once I got back from Fiji I made writing my priority and focused on that same world which has since become First Earth.
Fabulous answer. Living in Fiji sounds like the experience of a lifetime! You mentioned your career in Zoology, and I know that's what you studied at university. Does that knowledge come into play very often in your work? If so, can you give us an example?
ROB: Oh it definitely does, though rarely in major ways. I like to throw fantasied up creatures into my books here and there. In The Ties that Bind there's a spider the size of a small dog that can jump and spit venomous webbing. Both are traits that appear in spiders in real life, but never in the same species. I cheekily combined those traits and then blew the spider up from the size of a finger nail to the size of a dog. Then I decided it would sit on the shoulder of a pirate instead of something more mundane like a parrot, and that much of the pirate ship's rigging would be made from spider silk instead of rope. I'm not sure I'd ever have come up with that idea if not for my background in Zoology. There's a few more examples hidden throughout my books as well so I definitely put the knowledge to some use, even if that use is giving people nightmares about giant spiders.
Well, you've made me a fan of giant man-eating centipedes that like to be worn as belts, as well!
What inspires your stories? And what comes to you first: plot, characters, setting, or something else entirely?
ROB: I think I take a lot of inspiration from books, films & TV, and computer games. Often times something I see or read will just spark off my imagination and an idea is born. I remember watching the 3rd Pirates of the Caribbean film and there's a scene towards the end of the film where we see a fleet of pirates ships and then on the horizon we see an even bigger fleet of navy ships. I watched that and thought “This is gonna be epic!”... Well it wasn't. It was a massive let down to be honest and I remember thinking “I can do better than that.” So now there's a few big naval battles in Best Laid Plans.
As to what comes first, it changes a lot from story to story. My main 3 characters from The Ties that Bind all existed for quite a while before I found a story for them. And on the complete flip side the story for Best Laid Plans existed before most of the characters. The setting for them both has been around even longer as I've been building First Earth for about 17 years at this point. I think I'm quite an organic writer, which works for me, but I often get to the end of a story and honestly have no idea how I managed to pull it all together.
I completely understand what you mean by feeling let down by naval battles in film, and you most definitely don't let readers down with your naval battles in Best Laid Plans!
You've already written multiple series. Where would you suggest a new reader start?
ROB: Chronologically speaking The Ties that Bind trilogy takes place first. However both that and the Best Laid Plans duology are designed to be read independently of each other, and my piratical books are newer and shinier so I'd say start with Where Loyalties Lie. There's a few crossovers in terms of characters and locations but little in the way of spoilers from one series to the next so it really is OK to read them in any order.
Good to know!! As someone who started with Where Loyalties Lie, I thought it was a fabulous introduction to the world of First Earth.
Do you have a favorite character you've created?
ROB: I don't think I have a definite favourite, but I do have some who I really love writing. Elaina Black was a good example of just that. I loved how fierce she is mixed in with some fairly detrimental daddy issues; she was a joy to write and I think it's because of that that she grew into a much larger part than I had originally intended for her. Another good example would be Anders Brekovich; he's so sardonic that I get to have a lot of fun crafting his dialogue. But I also love how blunt and down to earth the Black Thorn is, and digging into his old war stories is always a good laugh. So... no. I don't think I could pick a favourite.
I don't know that I could pick a favorite either, although I must say that T'ruck is a pleasure to read.
You started as a self-published author, signed a deal with a publisher, and went back to self publishing. What influenced that decision?
ROB: After a while I had quite a few grievances with the publisher I signed with and they just kept piling up. Between late royalty payments and delayed releases I began to lose confidence in the leadership of those in charge. The straw that broke the camel's back was that they sent an unedited manuscript of Where Loyalties Lie to Audible, so the audio version of that book is not the product I wanted to release. I've been quite vocal and descriptive of all my issues with the publisher so if anyone wants to know the details they can check out my blog posts on the matter.
I think it is worth mentioning that the leadership at the publisher has completely changed since I left, and the new folk in charge do seem to be making steps to fix the issues that both myself, and some of their other authors, have.
In the end though I'm quite happy to go back to self publishing. I like the control I have over everything, and working to my own schedule.
Is there any advice you can give aspiring writers who are trying to decide between self publishing and seeking a more traditional publishing deal? And is there any advice you can give them on writing?
ROB: First thing I'd advise is to do your research, and take into account is that each author is different. Self publishing works for some and not for others, and the same can be said of the more traditional side of things. There are typically more upfront costs involved in self publishing what with having to pay for editing and covers and advertising, but then there's usually more in the way of payment for each book sold as well. Chances are though that by self publishing you will never be able to get the reach capable of a traditional publisher. It really is a case of reading up about the different avenues of publishing and deciding which one works best for you.
I must admit I struggle to give advice on writing. Again it's a case of what works for some people doesn't work for others. I would say the best advice I can give is write lots, read lots, and don't get disheartened by criticism... I'm still working on the latter myself.
Your books have stunning, high quality cover art. Who is your artist, and how are you able to secure such amazing artwork on your own?
ROB: The artwork for most of my books has been done by Alex Raspad, with cover design then handled by Shawn King. They're both excellent and very professional. It was pretty much a case of asking them to do the work. I think covers are often 'you get what you pay for', and as the first part of the book that most readers will see I feel it's worth paying for quality. That being said I know a few authors who do all their own covers and do a hell of a job with it. Unfortunately the extent of my skill in that area is shouting at photoshop because it won't do what I want it to. I have quite rightly decided that cover art and cover design are forms of ancient magic best left to wizards.
Would you tell us a little about the projects you currently have in the works?
ROB: I actually have quite a few projects in the works at the moment, some completed and ready for publishing and others in various stages of completion. I have another First Earth novel, a standalone called City of Kings, releasing next year. It features many of the characters from The Ties that Bind and the whole book takes place over a six day siege of a fortified city. I have a sci-fi noir thriller called Drones, that one is based on the premise of emotions being harvested and sold as a drug. I'm also currently writing an eastern inspired sword and sorcery novel called Never Die, and I have a YA epic fantasy in the works as well.
And at some point I will get around to finishing my First Earth saga books. There's two more series to write in that world before I'm done with it.
And lastly, what is a book or series (outside of your own) that has impacted you, and what book or books do you wish you could convince everyone to read?
There's a whole load of books that have definitely impacted me, but I think I'll go with Robin Hobb's Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies. Never before or since have I connected so emotionally with a book(s) or character. Reading about Fitz and the Fool is like spending time with old friends, and Hobb remains the only author who has ever made me cry at a book.
As for the books I wish everyone else would read... I'll go with Chris Wooding's Tales of the Ketty Jay. They are swashbuckling adventures in a steampunkish world and just so much fun to read. And if everyone in the world had read them I could have endless discussions about a particular scene where a character is involved in a dogfight thousands of feet in the air, while also involved in a fist fight with a cat.
Thank you so much for the thoughtful responses. You made this first interview a great experience for me.
ROB: Thank you. It was fun answering your questions. Thank you for taking the time to do this.
You can visit Rob's official website here.
Where Loyalties Lie, book one of the Best Laid Plans duology, is available for purchase here.
The Fifth Empire of Man, book two of the Best Laid Plans duology, will release on September 26th, 2017. You can preorder your copy here!
David Niall Wilson is the owner and Editor in Chief at Crossroad Press, one of the largest independent publishers currently on the market. He's also the author of 150 short stories, 32 anthology entries, and over a dozen novels. David has written novels for Vampire: The Dark Ages, Star Trek: Voyager, Stargate SG-1, and is a Bram Stoker winner. We're very lucky to have him talk with us here.
So the truth is, I've been screaming (politely) at everyone who will listen to me about The Shadow Campaigns by Django Wexler. It's a Flintlock Fantasy tale abounding with intriguing politics, a menacingly subtle magic, and some of the best characters I've ever read about!
"Why don't I have sales", "What did I do wrong" and "What am I supposed to do when the time comes" are just some of the questions I've been asked from authors regarding the art (and desirable success) of self-publishing. Although I've been more than happy to answer those questions, I found it easier to write an article so I'll be able to redirect them here in the future.
You've written a book but you have no idea what to do next? Simply follow these instructions. Or don't. I'm a guide, not a cop.
No matter how good and consistent your story is, you will need a second opinion. Find a couple of experienced beta-readers, send the first draft along, and let them give you feedback on what works and what doesn't. A spreadsheet where the beta-readers will be able to rate each chapter individually on characters, plot, pace etc is a nice touch. Note: Don't pick your friends for this kind of work. You don't need encouraging, you need constructive criticism.
You have a Bachelor in English Language and Literature. That's awesome. You will still need an editor. There are plenty of talented editors out there like Tim Marquitz, Laura M Hughes and Sarah Chorn. Hire them. Let them proof read, line and copy edit your manuscript. You won't regret it.
You had to buy a ISBN number, pay a fee to print Hardcovers on Ingramspark, and hire an Editor on top of that, so you simply can't afford an illustrator for your cover. A stock photo will have to do, right? The answer is no. Wait another year if you have to, save money, and hire a talented artist. It doesn't matter how awesome your story is, it simply won't sell without a good cover. John Anthony Di Giovanni, Jason Deem, Felix Ortiz and Amir Zand are just four of the hundreds of talented artists that you can find in the wild. It will make your book a thousand times better.
Oh shit, I have to pay again? Yes you have, and it doesn't end here, so just keep reading or quit. The cover will be responsible for a large proportion of your sales, but it's not just an illustrator's job. You will need professional designer as well. I only know Shawn King for this job, and I really have to look no further, because he's as great as it gets.
Your book is ready for publication, but are *you* ready to publish it? Of course not. Οne of the most important steps to a successful publication is the correct distribution of Advance Reading Copies, and for that reason I'll split them into 3 categories:
Community members: To get people to notice your book, you need to start the so called hype. At least 3 months before publication date, you will distribute ARCs (e-copies will have to do) to people who might not be popular reviewers, but their opinion holds weight in their communities. A name out of my head is Julia Kitvaria Sarene. If she likes your book she will recommend it when it's suitable. If she loves it, she will rave about it. I've added countless of books on my TBR thanks to Julia, and I'm sure I'm not the only one.
Reviewers & Authors: A couple of months before the book is out, you will have to send ARCs to those who have a huge following. People like Mark Lawrence, Jaime Tivendale and Petrik Leo can make you popular on their own. This time though you will need paper ARCs. Electronical copies (and some times simple paperbacks) means nothing to them; they can buy that on their own. A rare and limited print ARC is what reviewers live for. Make their day, and they will make yours.
Booksellers: Most of the readers nowadays buy their books online, and they trust their reviewers on what to read next. Still, a huge proportion still visits the old traditional bookstores. A single bookseller on Waterstones can sell as many of your copies as every reviewer combined.
The first reviews are in, and they're bound to have some awesome quotes in there. Use them on your social media and on the back cover of your book. The correct selection of a blurb is a combination of wording and politics. You will need a quote that shows your book for what it is, not what you want it to be (eg 'a promising debut' instead of 'in a par with GRRM') from someone who has a big following, and a quote not from someone who gives you a meaningless title (eg THE DEBUT OF THE YEAR) but from someone who has done everything in his power to help you and is bound to do the same when your next book is out.
Your book is out, but you are not ready to go. The final step to a successful publication is advertisement, and there are two types of it. The one that you have to pay for, and the one that you don't.
Free Advertisement: There's an important number of book-related communities out there (For fantasy see: Fantasy Faction, Grimdark Fiction, Fantasy Buffet and /r/Fantasy) that can bring you hundreds of fans. Join the conversations, let the community members to know you, become friends with them, but don't advertise your book. If they like you, and if your book deserves it, they will do it for you).
Paying Advertisement: Buy ads. Yup, simple as that. Facebook, Amazon, or book-related sites like Tor.com and BookNest.eu can host ads for you. Ask other authors, see what works, and use it.
Giveaways: Do them your own (fb page, author website, goodreads etc) or have a blog (BookNest, Fantasy Faction, Fantasy Book Review, Fantasy Book Critic) to do them for you. Subconscious is a powerful thing. If people keep seeing your book they will register its title and its cover, and when they come across it on amazon or in a bookstore, there's a high chance they will buy it.
Special Edition: A limited, signed and numbered edition of your book is a nice touch. It doesn't cost anything extra, and there are a lot of collectors out there.
Date of publication: Ask an experienced self-published author (eg Ben Galley) when to publish your book. Yes, the date counts. If you publish it on December, don't expect any sales - people save their money for the holidays.
Goodreads: A powerful tool for all authors. Learn how to use it.
Now you are ready to go. These steps can help you immensely, but they don't mean a guaranteed success. There's still a high chance that you will be unlucky, or, who knows, your book might simply be shite. You will never know until you try.
PS. I've had to write this article twice due to a power outage (a lesson to be learned here) and I was really tired the second time around, so there's a high chance I've forgotten something important. If something comes to mind I'll add it later, or if you think something's missing, feel free to write it in the comments.
Here on BookNest we decided to celebrate one of the best years for Fantasy by giving away 18 (!) fantasy books that were published (or are due to be published) in 2017.
To enter you have but to follow one of these two easy steps:
01) Like, Share or Comment on our Facebook post.
02) Comment here with the same name as your facebook account.
The Giveaway closes on 31st July 2017. On the following day we will randomly select 6 lucky winners, each one of them winning 3 different books. Best of luck to all of you!
The Giveaway is over! The lucky winners are:
Georgia May Goodall
Bane and Shadow
Sins of Empire
Kings of the Wyld
The Court of Broken Knives
The Heart of Stone
Farmaan Khan Mansuri
Age of Assassins
The Legion of Flame
Evil is a Matter of Perspective
Swarm and Steel
If you commented/shared/liked on facebook, then you should contact us on our facebook page with your personal info.
The winners have 14 days to contact us - any books that won't be claimed until then will be offered as prizes in the next Giveaway.
Mankind has always been fascinated by fire. The most spectacular and intangible of the four elements, fire holds an unmatched allure. From Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and crafting, to Kagus-tscuchi, the Japanese blacksmith god, to Logi, the Norse fire giant, fire and smithing have been worshipped and deified in almost every culture on earth.
It seems that our obsession with fire is almost hard-wired into us, a part of our genetic memory. After all, for millennia fire has been essential to our survival. Even today we use fire to cook, to heat our homes, and in various forms, to make power. Is it any wonder that we have sought to tame this strange power?We've been obsessed with fire since Prometheus got nicked for petty larceny.
Fire and flame are deeply entrenched in the fantasy genre. It doesn't take an arduous search to find fire-breathing dragons, or wizards hurling fireballs. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings gave us dragons and wizards both, and a balrog as a bonus.
The netherworld gives us devils and other fire-demons. There are myriad heroes wielding flaming swords, though David Eddings might be argued to have done it best, or maybe that's just my nostalgia talking.
It's no great surprise that it is so prevalent in fantasy; fire is rife throughout classical mythology, and can be found in myths stretching from Mexico to the Norse sagas. There are flaming swords in the Bible, and, when you get right down to it, the largest religions on our planet owe their existence to an old man having a conversation with a smouldering shrub.
One major difference is that mythology would have us worship and venerate fire whilst books within the fantasy genre tend to tell tales of fire having been tamed. Not in any traditional sense, with cooking or heating, but by truly controlling it. By harnessing its raw nature; somehow yoking the primal heart of it with shields formed of flame and spells woven from fire.
Blacksmithing is one example of this level of control, and perhaps a point where fantasy touches reality. In many ways smithing is the act of applying the power of flame to, quite literally, shape the bones of the earth. Smithing tames the very elements, bending them to our will.
My latest novel, Faithless, was an attempt to marry these two concepts, the allure of flame and mankind's need to shape and control, whilst also examining the notion of religion as a whole. It is a dark book, and I make no apology for that. Fundamentally it's the search for the truth of a religion, lying hidden beneath centuries of dogma.
Smithing features heavily in the book, as you would expect in a religion devoted to fire and forging, and I've worked hard to both keep as close to reality as possible whilst instilling a sense of wonder and mystery to the mundane.
“Now,” he told Brial without taking his eyes from the molten iron. “Fetch those tongs and reach this out for us.” He stepped back to allow Brial access and continued speaking. “You can stop now, Wynn. Come and see this. Note how the iron has taken on the colour and aspect of the flame? The heat and the power of the Father has infused the metal and now, with care, we can shape it as we will...”
There is a sense of lost grandeur, of a golden past and paradise lost, as the Forgefather has turned his face from mankind and prayers whisper unanswered into the darkness.
“Through the power of the Forgefather we created wonders this world hasn’t seen the like of since. It’s said we could spin wire thinner than a human hair, but with the strength of anchor chains. We offered up our own blood to the forges and the Father blessed them himself. His was the voice in the fire. Even those who didn’t follow the faith could hear it.”
Faithless is also about the darker side of human nature, about jealousy, and cowardice, and spite. More than anything it is about the lengths we will go to when pushed, when it comes down to you or them, and nobody is there to witness your actions except your conscience. Faithless is out now and available from Amazon I hope you'll join me for the ride.
Godblind is set to be one of the biggest fantasy debuts of 2017. Petros reviewed it here on Booknest, calling it GDAF ‘as grimdark as it gets’ and ‘may as well be the very first novel classified as such.’ And in my review, I said, that after reading it I felt like I’d gone ‘12 rounds with a grimdark heavyweight, not a debut tyro. I hurt, I’m tired, I’m scared, I want a hug – but I want more!’
To celebrate the release of Godblind by Anna Stephens we are offering 6 (!) hardcovers in a worldwide giveaway(2 parts)!
The first part (with 3 HC) takes place right here. The only thing that you have to do is comment on this post, sharing your thought about the book, Anna, BookNest, or whatever else comes in mind!
The second part (the rest 3 HC) takes place on our fb page. You can find all about it HERE.
The giveaway end on Wednesday, 21st of June, and the 6 lucky winners will be selected and announced on the following day.
Thanks for taking part!
UPDATE: The Giveaway is over! The three lucky winners are: George Evans, Londaya and Jax! Please use the contact form to give us your personal info (address etc). Thanks for joining!