Creative Colleagues: Chris A. Jackson

Each week, I’ll pester one of my creative colleagues with five questions about his or her work and, if I’m feeling wicked, deeply personal issues. Most of these folks are friends, a few are secret enemies, and one has been blackmailing me for years.

Chris A. Jackson

I first met Chris Jackson and his wife at Gen Con 2012. Anne’s cold was so bad that I mistook her hoarse voice for an Australian accent and was surprised to hear her American dialect this year.

Chris surprised me the next year by turning on me. While he’d initially come across as friendly, I soon caught him pulling faces behind my back while we signed Pathfinder Tales novels at the Paizo booth. I bide my time.

In the meantime, I’ve exploited Chris as one of the early readers of King of Chaos, though he’s yet to collect on that favor. We keep in regular touch through his spotty wireless access from his sailing vessel in the Caribbean, for which he expects us to pity him.

 

1. Unlike some authors, your self-published work is your bread and butter, while writing Pathfinder Tales introduces you to a new audience. To those who’ve read Pirate’s Honor, what would you say to introduce them to your wildly popular Weapon of Flesh trilogy?

Self-publishing has been a long and rocky road for me, and it is finally paying off. One never knows what is going to get recognition, either from critics, or fans, but one thing I have consistently enjoyed hearing from readers is that my work, on the whole, is not typical. While writing for Paizo, I got to create a pirate story that was very different in many respects from anything else in the genre. In creating the Weapon of Flesh story, I took a single premise—a boy created to be the perfect assassin, imbued with magic and trained from birth as the perfect killer, but without emotions to interfere with his craft—and took it on the road. Readers fell in love with the character, and through the magic of modern digital distribution, the trilogy has become a smash hit. The second in the series, Weapon of Blood, was released in July of 2013, and the final volume, Weapon of Vengeance, will be released in summer 2014. The trend in self-publishing success in the digital marketplace has changed things, and many traditionally published authors are now turning down “good” deals from reputable publishing houses to publish their own work, or are negotiating digital rights separately from print and audio. I intend to continue both avenues, traditional and self-publishing, for the simple reason that I absolutely refuse to limit my options. As I said, who knows what will become a runaway hit?

2. There’s a very strong element of romance in Pirate’s Honor, but I wouldn’t think to describe it as a romance novel. Is a romantic angle an essential element of a swashbuckling story?

Personally, I think any story without some kind of romantic or “relationship” element is selling itself short. Nothing is “essential,” but historically, “swashbuckling” tales have had elements of romance, and I couldn’t turn away from that. I think readers expect the dashing pirate captain to have a sexy pirate lady at his side, and I didn’t want to disappoint, but I did it my own way. As you know, Dave, the romance in Pirate’s Honor isn’t typical. I had fun playing with a lot of relationship issues in different ways. Someone even called it kinky, which made me smile. But you’re right, it’s not a romance. None of my books are “romance novels,” but there are romantic elements in every single book I’ve written. I don’t want to turn readers off with too much “mushy” stuff, but hey, real people have relationships, right? I write real people. They just happen to live in a fantasy world.

Cover by Denman Rook

3. More than any other author I know, you write fast. Like, crazy fast. What is your daily schedule that allows such productivity? And how much do you find yourself revising that first draft before sending it to your editor?

I do write fast when I’m inspired (or possessed, some might say). The first draft of Pirate’s Honor (115,000 words) took me 29 days. On a good day, I can crank out 5000 words before lunch. Here was my schedule during those 29 days: Wake up around 0400, because my goddamn muse wouldn’t let me sleep. Brew coffee, and write non-stop until around midday. Take a break for lunch, and do something physical (hike, swim, snorkel, or do a boat project). When the sun reaches the yardarm (and sometimes the yardarm is significantly higher than others), sit down with a cocktail and read through what I wrote that morning, not really editing, but just touching things up. Dinner, and maybe a little more work, but more likely watching a movie or playing a computer game before bed about 2100. (That’s 9PM for you landlubbers) Then up again early the next morning to start again. So, yes, I write fast on the first draft. Momentum keeps me going. The editorial process takes a bit longer. It took more than three months to edit Pirate’s Honor. There were some major plot holes to fill, and much hair pulling, but when I handed it over to Paizo, it was pretty clean. I take pride in handing over a finished product, and my editors like me for that. Any work I can do to make my editor’s job easier will help get me that next book deal and build a solid reputation. One thing every author has to learn in this business is that the publishing world is small, and editors talk to one another. Your reputation is all you have. Well, that and your sales record.

4. You’re also one of the most traveling authors I know. For those who haven’t done the convention scene, about how many do you visit each year? In general terms, what are the costs and benefits of selling your books at a table, and how do you balance that time against appearing on panels or at signings?

Strangely, I used to do a lot more conventions when I had a day job. Sailing full time has actually curtailed my convention appearances to the summer months only. Still, we can usually fit in anywhere from three to four big conventions per year. Next year, we are actually planning to sail back to the United States, instead of storing the boat in Trinidad as we have in the past and flying back. This will allow us to do more. Possibly eight or ten big and small conventions. We’re also planning a number of smaller “meet up” events with Pathfinder Society or other gaming groups. We tried that out last year in Tampa and had a great time!

We don’t always sell books at conventions, but when the con has a dealer room, or better, an “Author Avenue” we do. The success of these sales is highly variable, but it’s a great way to meet fans face to face. I’m blessed in that I have a partner in crime, so when I’m off doing panel discussions, signings, or readings, my wife Anne is watching the store. Selling books does tie me down in some respects, but I think it’s worth it. And now, my fans expect it, and I can never turn away from that. The costs in time and money (large conventions charge big bucks for dealer tables) is offset by face time and the sheer enjoyment of hanging with the people who are paying me to do what I love to do. Financially, sales offset the cost of attendance. I’m not (yet) a big enough name to get a free ride to most conventions, so it’s an investment.

5. You and your wife spend much of the year sailing, which seems like the dream life to a lot of the rest of us. How does that lifestyle make writing easier, and how does it make it harder?

Sailing has been a dream of mine for most of my life. But what is a dream to one person can be a nightmare to another. On the plus side, we have seen and experienced much that most people will never even dream of. Hearing whale song under water, watching octopi mate, swimming with sharks, sailing far offshore under the stars, are all experiences I would never trade away. But everything comes at a price. Internet and phone service are sometimes hard to come by, and when we get it, the service is slow. There is no “broadband” in the Caribbean. Also, you are living in a small, self-contained universe. To be self-contained, you must be self-sufficient as well. That means fixing things when they break. You can’t just call a plumber, or an electrician, or a carpenter, fabricator, mechanic, or even doctor most of the time. You learn to do for yourself, and live simply. We live in the tropics without air conditioning, but we usually have a nice breeze. We don’t have a car, but we have a dinghy to drive around. We don’t get cable TV, but we didn’t watch it when we were at a dock, either. We have limited space for everything (a 45′ boat has about 300 square feet of living space, including the beds and closets.) but we don’t have a lot of stuff. We can’t go to the gym like we used to every day, but we have the biggest swimming pool in the world right outside our door. All in all, I think it’s a win, but it’s not for everyone. There are certainly challenges to writing, but there are also advantages. I don’t think I’ll ever run out of sea stories.

 

A sailing writer, or writing sailor (still not sure which), Chris A. Jackson is living his dream.  Sailing full time since 2009, he and his wife are dividing their time between cruising the Caribbean and writing fantasy. While nautical fantasy came naturally—his Scimitar Seas novels have won multiple awards, and his debut Pathfinder Tales novel, Pirate’s Honor, received high praise—his other works have earned an incredible fan following as well. The Weapon of Flesh Trilogy has become a Kindle bestseller, spurring international interest in the author’s work.  Recently, he has signed on with Privateer Press, and will have a Skull Island Expeditions novella released in 2014.

 

Creative Colleagues: Jaym Gates

Jaym Gates

Jaym Gates

Each week, I’ll pester one of my creative colleagues with five questions about his or her work and, if I’m feeling wicked, deeply personal issues. Most of these folks are friends, a few are secret enemies, and one has been blackmailing me for years.

Jaym Gates hugs on first meeting. So, you know, brace yourself for that.

We first met in person at Gen Con 2012, but she’d already been attached to my then-latest Pathfinder Tales novel as publicist. She did a terrific job putting me in touch with podcasters and online magazines I’d never before encountered, and the work she did for Queen of Thorns was still helping me when she’d moved on to other ventures and King of Chaos rolled around.

Speaking of King of Chaos, Jaym was the one I consulted to make sure my descriptions of the horses and unicorn seemed reasonable to a woman who’s raised and trained the magnificent beasts.

Jaym is also an accomplished writer and editor, most recently of the anthology War Stories, which is charging toward its Kickstarter goal with about another week left to achieve total victory.
1. Before we met, we “met” when I heard one of the contributors to Rigor Amortis read her story at the Pure Speculation convention here in Edmonton. Something tells me there’s a story behind your first stint as anthology editor. Care to share it?

This is a where the “Jaym’s not allowed to make jokes on the internet” thing started. A couple of friends were talking about how passe zombies were, and I made some comment about how “it’s not over until there’s a zombie erotica anthology.” Even when people started getting excited, I figured I was safe, because no publisher would ever touch it. Then someone introduced me to Erika, who had a publisher who was willing to take a chance. The rest, as they say, is history.

3. While Edge Publishing brought out your first anthology, you’re Kickstarting your latest, War Stories, for publication with another traditional publisher, Apex. What’s easier and what’s harder about taking that route?

The easiest and hardest thing are actually the same, I think: Kickstarter allows the editors or authors more control in the final product. However, that also means that we’re doing a lot more than just choosing the stories. There’s still a safety net, but it’s smaller, and there are more balls to juggle. I mean, it’s great, it’s just more nerve-wracking.

4. Once again as a publicist, do you have a short and sweet summary of advice for authors maintaining their own websites?

CONTACT INFO. I can’t emphasize that enough. I can’t tell you how many times someone’s lost out on an opportunity I wanted to give them because I couldn’t find any way to get in touch with them. It doesn’t have to be a fancy website, just name and email. Seriously. Every author website that doesn’t have an email address makes a publicist weep.

Cover by Galen Dara

Cover by Galen Dara

5. No one spends more than a couple of minutes with you without realizing you’re a warrior at heart, but as a writer what unique perspective are you bringing to the War Stories anthology?

The first part of that statement may have made my day. I think the unique perspective I bring is that of a person between the civilian and military world. I’m not military, but I’m very much influenced by many of my friends and family who are. Since one of the big problems now is that the average civilian doesn’t have any understanding of what a service member goes through, I hope my perspective might help.

6. You’re also a horsewoman. Since they are such a staple of fantasy fiction, can you offer a few helpful tips to writers on capturing horse behavior?

Horses are frequently like big dogs. If they’re raised right, they’re loving, loyal, sweet, and protective. They’re also frequently aggressive, prone to idiotic flip-outs, and goofy as hell. Each horse has a very distinct personality, so they’re an excellent way to add some color and distinction to your story.

Check out the War Stories Kickstarter and Jaym’s website.

 

The Essence of Radovan & the Count (and Arni)

Art by Roberto Pitturru

Let’s say you’ve read two or more of my Pathfinder Tales novels and know the boys pretty well. Balancing brevity with completeness, how would you describe Radovan, the Count, and Arnisant to someone who hadn’t read the books?

To ask it a different way, if I were writing a book introducing the characters for the first time, what are the essential qualities of the characters that readers would need to know within the first few chapters? Keep in mind that these qualities must be true of them after the events of King of Chaos, so I should warn everyone right now…

SPOILERS IN THE COMMENTS

Let me start off with a few obvious ones, but tell me if you think they aren’t actually essential qualities.

Radovan: The big smile, the big knife, spurs, hellspawn, “Desna Weeps,” the ladies, the Tines, a little fire don’t hurt him

Count Jeggare: Erudite, vast knowledge, class-conscious, the Shadowless Sword, riffle scrolls (and the new development), likes his wine, half a heart, the Red Carriage, half-elven

Arnisant: He’s a good dog

Remember, SPOILERS IN THE COMMENTS!

 

 

Creative Colleagues: Richard Lee Byers

Author Richard Lee Byers

Author Richard Lee Byers

Each week, I’ll pester one of my creative colleagues with five questions about his or her work and, if I’m feeling wicked, deeply personal issues. Most of these folks are friends, a few are secret enemies, and one has been blackmailing me for years.

I first encountered Richard Lee Byers when he and I contributed to The Halls of Stormweather, an anthology of novellas featuring members of the Uskevren household. My character was the younger of two sons, and Richards’s was our mama.

Since then, I’ve bought a story or two from Richard, and we bump into each other at Gen Con. So far, neither of us has challenged the other to a duel, but it’s only a question of time.

1. You and I have a few things in common: the Forgotten Realms, Pathfinder Tales, and a love of pulp fiction. Please tell us about your New Pulp series, The Imposter.

A few years ago, I decided to try some self-publishing. People said it was the future of the business, and some of the cool kids like Mike Stackpole were doing it. Partly, I did it by collecting previous published short fiction and releasing one of my early horror novels (interested parties should look for The Q Word and Other Stories, The Plague Knight and Other Stories [available soon], and The Vampire’s Apprentice), but I wanted to put out something original, too.

I decided to do a superhero series for two reasons. One was that I’m a lifelong comics fan and had always wanted to write superheroes. The other was that I didn’t feel like self-publishing something that might actually have a chance of selling to a traditional publisher. I wanted to do something that would be fun for me and that I thought readers might like, but which I was sure New York publishing would reject out of hand. I figured superheroes in prose fit the bill.

Here, by the way, you see the same keen insight at work that has served me so well throughout my career. Traditional publishing is doing prose superheroes now. But, oh, well.

Cover by Jamie Stubkjaer

Cover by Jamie Stubkjaer

Here’s the premise of The Imposter:

Matt Brown lives in a world of superheroes and supervillains, of mutants, sentient robots, and monsters, but none of that has anything to do with him. He’s just an ordinary guy living an ordinary life… until alien invaders attack the Earth, and all of humanity’s costumed champions go down fighting. By chance, Matt falls heir to their powers, but how can a fake hero save the world when the real ones have already failed? To find out, he begins a quest through a post-apocalyptic world where alien horrors and human supercriminals battle for dominion.

There are two volumes so far, The Imposter #1: Half a Hero and The Imposter #2: The Blood Machine. Each contains four novelettes plus a bonus story. People can also download The Imposter #0: Suiting Up for free. #0 is Matt’s origin story and the first of the novelettes from #1.

2. While I haven’t written a Realms novel in over a decade, you remained and have become one of the pillars of the setting. Which characters are you using in The Reaver: The Sundering Book IV? And how will this series change the face of the Realms?

Let me answer the last part of that first.

Several years ago, Wizards of the Coast, in an effort to create a great jumping on point for new readers, shifted the Forgotten Realms forward in time a hundred years. There was also a supernatural cataclysm called the Spellplague intended to introduce new challenges and wonders for gamers and the heroes of the novels to encounter.

To make a long story short, these maneuvers accomplished much of their purpose, but over time, it became clear that in the process, the Realms lost some of the elements that made the setting special. The Sundering will fix that. Its another big, transformative event, and without any cheesy time traveling and undoing history or waking up and finding Bobby Ewing in the shower, it will bring back what fans have been asking for.

I can’t go into much more detail than that because I don’t want to spoil the surprises.

There are Sundering-related gaming products that people can find out about on the Wizards of the Coast site. On the fiction side, The Sundering is a series of six novels coming out every other month. These are The Companions by R. A. Salvatore, The Godborn by Paul S. Kemp, The Adversary by Erin M. Evans (12/13), The Reaver by me (2/14), The Sentinel by Troy Denning (4/14), and The Herald by Ed Greenwood (6/14.) Each book tells us a self-contained story, but readers who read them all will get the Big Picture of what’s happening to Faerûn.

For the most part, the other authors used their established series characters. Bob used Drizzt, Ed is using Elminster, and so on. But Prophet of the Dead, my most recent Brotherhood of the Griffon novel, didn’t leave Aoth Fezim and his sidekicks well positioned to do what my novel needed them to do. So I wrote about new characters. My protagonist is Anton Marivaldi, one of those most notorious pirates on the Sea of Fallen Stars.

3. You’re one of several writers who have contributed to both the Realms and to Pathfinder Tales. What do the two settings have in common? What sets them apart from each other? Are there locations in either of them that you’d most love to explore in a new novel?

Well, the similarities are pretty obvious. They’re both worlds of magic and high adventure that connect to Dungeons & Dragons or a variant thereof.

To me, the primary difference is this:

The first Forgotten Realms product came out in 1987, and there have been hundreds since. There’s been so much development that while we can still see Ed Greenwood’s influences if we look for them, the Realms feels like itself and nowhere else.

In contrast, the world of Pathfinder has only been around since 2009. It has, of course, seen considerable development since, but I think the literary influences that went into it are still quite visible. You can look at one area and see that it drew inspiration from Edgar Rice Burroughs, observe that a different region reflects the work of Robert E. Howard and others. Since I love the great pulp writers myself, I don’t see that as a bad thing. I think that in its own way, it’s a strength.

With regard to pet areas, well, in the Realms, my last several books have dealt with the northeastern part of Faerûn, and I like it. If I’m offered the chance to do more Realms novels, I imagine I’ll keep hanging out there. I would like to get back to the Moonsea area specifically. I haven’t written about it since I did the “Year of Rogue Dragons” trilogy.

Pathfinder Tales: Called to Darkness is set mostly in the Darklands, and if I get the chance to do another Golarion book, I’d like to explore that underworld some more. There’s lots of cool stuff down there I wasn’t able to work into the first novel.

4. How does your experience as a fencer inform your scenes of sword fights?

Modern sport fencing is stylized, constrained by rules and conventions, and thus significantly different from the reality of fighting for one’s life with a sword. There are things I do with a fencing weapon that people couldn’t do with a broadsword or rapier (they were too heavy), and other moves I wouldn’t attempt if I were risking getting cut or stabbed and not just losing a point.

That said, though, the underlying principles of attack, defense, distance, tempo, deception, etc. are the same. On that level, learning fencing can help the writer write not just sword fights but any scene of hand-to-hand combat.

5. As an author of both novels and short fiction, what do you prefer about either form? Financial realities aside, if you could write only one form from now on, which would you choose and why?

That’s a tough question.

I like short fiction because you can hold the entirety of a short story in your head all at once and tinker and polish it until it works perfectly (or at least it feels like it’s this efficient little machine elegantly designed to achieve a particular effect without any waste motion.) Also, short stories are finished before the writer gets sick of them.

In contrast, novels are too big and complicated to focus on all the details at once and thus it’s impossible to fine-tune them with the same precision (or at least I find it so.) Thus, I never get to that same moment of feeling like, Yes, by god, that’s exactly what I meant to do. Plus, novels are not over before you’re sick of them. For me, no matter how enthusiastic I am about a novel, there’s always a point, usually around two thirds of the way through, when grinding out the damn thing becomes a slog.

On the other hand, though, when a novel is going well, I become even more immersed in that world than I am in the world than I am in the world of a short story. And that intense emotional involvement is part of what makes writing fun for me.

So, really, it’s a toss up.

 

Richard Lee Byers is the author of forty fantasy and horror novels including the urban fantasy Blind God’s Bluff: A Billy Fox Novel. He has published dozens of short stories and writes a monthly feature for the SF news site Airlock Alpha. He invites everyone follow him on Twitter, friend him on Facebook, add him to your Circles on Google+, and read his Livejournal blog.

New Stories and ePub/PDF Sale at Paizo

The boys investigate a grisly murder on the far side of the world.

Not only have Paizo uploaded a big batch of new stories in ePub format, but the older stories are on sale for a substantial discount.  You can find most of my Pathfinder short fiction via the links on this site, or go here to peruse the entire line.

Note that the sale includes the older novels, which are available in both PDF and ePub formats at 30% off. This means catching up on Prince of Wolves, Master of Devils, and Winter Witch has become a bargain.

May I suggest the novella Husks? It’s set in Minkai, Pathfinder’s version of Japan, immediately before the events of Master of Devils, which takes place in Tian Xia, Pathfinder’s China. It’s also one of the stories in which Radovan and the Count work side-by-side the entire time, so if you enjoy their banter, Radovan’s more criminal talents, and the Count’s role as amateur sleuth, this is for you. Did I mention samurai, ninja, yakuza, and tentacles? Before the arrival of Queen of Thorns, my editor considered Husks his favorite of the Radovan and the Count stories. It’s one of mine, too.

If you dig it, please leave a review. The same goes for all the short fiction. Good reviews help the authors of short fiction become the authors of novels, and a bunch of them deserve the boost.