Thanks for having me, Filip - excited to chat for a bit! I owe a lot to the SPFBO, so I’m always delighted to take part. It’s a great way to meet new people - authors, readers and bloggers - and it kills my TBR list every year! I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit gutted at getting knocked out today (my third semi-finalist position, dontchaknow), but it was always going to be a hard group, and that’s with the authors whose work I’m already aware of. The SPFBO is strongest when connecting new authors with new readers. I wasn’t aware of M L Wang’s work before this year’s contest began, but now she’s a hot favourite to win, and I’m excited to get stuck into her book!
The Sword of Kaigen is a special novel. I will admit it might be my own favourite so far, though having read it before the contest, I’m staying far, far away from booknest’s official score of it. I was a bit gutted to find out you didn't make it to the finalists this year, myself but I'm cheering you on for next time!Your latest novel, The Flight of the Darkstar Dragon saw its release last month, on October 7 – what’s that been like in terms of initial reception? Has it been a load off your mind, finally having it out there?
Darkstar Dragon took a lot longer to get out into the world than I had planned, so it certainly was a relief to finally hit the ‘publish’ button. I’ve had that world running around in my head for a good few years now, and had planned to leave it there for a lot longer - at one point I had promised myself I’d have six Yarnsworld books published before trying something new. After finishing Owl Queen’s Court last year, however, I knew I wanted to take a break and try something different, so the Darkstar books got a bump in priority.
Initial reception has been great, so far. Not all of the Yarnsworld readers have picked it up straight away. I had expected that to be the case; it is always more difficult to get people to try something new, and this was a departure from those first books - much more action-adventure, lighter than the Yarnsworld novels. What had thrilled me, however, is that the majority of people I’ve heard back from have loved the story, the world in particular. That’s feedback I can roll with, and I’m excited to return there in 2020.
Owl Queen's Court was a powerful novel, very dark, even sublime. It must've tapped into the darker side of your imagination - and that's part of why I enjoyed your latest work. “Darkstar” is a book that is a break away from what you’ve been doing in the entirety of your career as a self-published author so far, with the tightly-knit folklore of Yarnsworld. Instead of the claustrophobic spaces of the Magpie King’s forest, you had the freedom of a hundred worlds to play with. How liberating did that feel? Was it a little daunting, as well?
Oh, I loved it. One of the best parts of this gig is getting to create your own playgrounds, and I wanted to go to town with the Darkstar, create somewhere all kinds of stories could take place in. The first book wasn’t daunting, but the second one might be, especially after hearing how enthusiastic so many of the readers have been. Will I be able to keep up that level of wonder, will I be able to live up to the promises that seem to have been made in the first book?
Crap. I’m not going to get to sleep at all tonight, am I?
I wouldn't bet on it... I was going to ask you if you were planning on returning to Min and her crew in the future, but you've given me the answer already... unless you are interested in telling brand-new stories with different characters in the sandbox you’ve created for yourself?
Got to keep myself busy, don’t I? The current novel is another Yarnsworld book, then back to ‘The Return of the Whalefleet’ (Darkstar 2), and after that... I’ve got a few ideas. I do want to return to the City of Swords at some point soon, and of course the Magpie King’s forest demands a return trip too, but... Well, there are one or two other ideas bouncing around that are demanding attention, and one of them is looming particularly close on the horizon right now.
I understand you’ve been hard at work on a new novel – To Dream and Die as a Taniwha Girl. Could you tell us a little bit about it?
Happy to talk a bit about it! I knew I wanted to return to the Crescent Atoll, but I honestly thought Kaimana and Rakau’s story was done. I adored the film Kobu and the Two Strings, and it really hit home for me when the creators were asked about a sequel; they did not want to, because then they would have to escalate the follow-up. As it stands, the events of Kobu are the most important moments in that character’s life. If they made a sequel, would they relegate those moments to second place? Or would the sequel be less important? I had felt the same about K and R - their story was done. They would pop up in other tales, of course, as side characters or Easter eggs, but it was time for something new.
Sometimes, the characters call to you, don't they? It's like they have a mind of their own.
The characters had other ideas. I HATE it when authors say that, but this time it really is the case. In fact, the main events of ‘Taniwha Girl’ stem from the closing folktale in ‘Where the Waters Turn Black’, where we learn that the people of the Atoll are starting to tell folktales about Kaimana now. In a place like the Yarnsworld, stories have a price. In this next book, Kaimana and Rakau are going to find out that becoming modern folklore characters brings with it a hefty toll...
As someone who hasn't yet read "Where the Waters Turn Black," I think I better get to it soon! I'm looking forward to finding out what price Kaimana and Rakau will be forced to pay although knowing the Yarnsworld, I have the firm suspicion it might involve more than a pound of flesh... But to step away from the writing side of things, Authors today, especially those in self-publishing, are required to do so much more than just write. How do the mish-mash of marketing and near-constant need for social media presence affect your writing process?
I get around it by not being that good at them! I’m lucky in a way that the writing side of things tends to be well received, although of course I’m always striving to improve, and always have areas of my craft I want to keep developing. Compared with that, marketing is still a crap shoot for me. Marketing changes so often, that anytime I feel I’ve got a handle on something that is working for me, algorithms shift and success rates change. I took a break from major ongoing marketing for most of this year to focus on the writing, but plan on returning to it in 2020, hopefully not affecting the writing speed too much! It is tough, though. I’ve got nothing for admiration for the authors who seem to ace both sides of the business, and that’s really what you need to do to be financially successful at this game.
Now, for a trio of fun questions!
You used to be a devout World of Warcraft player, this much I know – “used to” being the operative word. Well, phrase. During which expansion did you finally give up?
Mists! I had actually been in and out during Cataclysm, but I ran a casual raiding guild during Mists, and when it fell apart my reasons for sticking around left too. I did nip back during Warlords for a month, but the storyline did not appeal to me. But I’m telling you this now, Filip - I’m going to try again. Did you hear they have fox people now? Fox people! I’ve already logged in with a free account to save the name ‘Vippon’. Next year is the year!
The fox people even have a cute song! I will send it to you later. *Laughs* If you need reinforcements, I might just be open to aiding you in the construction of a brand new fox-guild!
You have a D&D podcast – Crit Faced – with fellow authors Josiah Bancroft, Timandra Whitecastle, Phil Tucker and David Benem. It’s excellent fun for those who don’t know about it but as a fellow DM, I was hoping you’d tell me how you got into the hobby. What’s one advice you’d give a newcomer to role-playing games?
One of my high school friends introduced me to role playing via a book called Dungeoneer. I don’t know if you had the Fighting Fantasy books when you were growing up, but it was basically an RPG using those rules. I stayed away for most of my twenties, but it was actually podcasting that got me back into it. I read a lot of webcomics at the time, and two of the strips I followed - PVP and Penny Arcade - started an irregular DnD podcast. I had never known how much fun the game could be until I heard those guys play, and I wanted to have a go.
Don’t stress about the role playing. Certainly not about the silly voices. Most people you hear or see playing online - the Crit Faced crew included - already have a history of playing together. It takes a while to get comfortable playing together, and you need that before players allow their characters to shine through.
Either that, or get drunk. That usually leads to some odd gaming experiences, though.
It's a hobby like no other - somehow, role-playing teaches you so much about personal choice and consequences while bringing groups of people together. Although, when alcohol is involved, things tend to get a touch more explosive!
I find the guys turn into barmaids. Not pretty.
Mine end up chugging potions way past their end-dates, puking rainbows and once, forcing a gigantic ice wyrm to grow a moustache.
Thank you so much for doing this, Benedict! Before I leave you, one last question: Which of your novels would you point out to a first-time reader, and why?
Oh, I wouldn’t point them to a novel at all! I think a great starting point would be the short story ‘And They Were Never Heard From Again’. It is short, it is free, and I’m bloody chuffed with it - I reckon it is a great introduction to the Yarnsworld in general, and the Magpie King’s forest in particular. If someone enjoys that story, then they can be pretty such there are other Yarnsworld books out there that will appeal to them.
You know, that's the perfect entry point I'd offer them as well, having read And They Were Never Heard From Again. It encapsulates everything great about the Yarnsworld.
Now you’ve got me wearing my ‘aw shucks’ face.
I am happy to accept all the credit for that! This was extremely fun – let’s do it again next year! Maybe over video chat this time, eh? Will we be brave enough? Time will tell!
I’m up for it! Give me a warning, I’ll grab a few beers first, and then we can all be barmaids together. This was a lot of fun, man - thanks loads for asking me to do it!
A better first interviewee I could not have asked for!