This time we welcome Dyrk Ashton, author of Paternus. This will be the first author that is entered in this year's SPFBO that we have talked to, hopefully not the last. The SPFBO might just contain the 'next big thing' in fantasy literature. With that in mind, here we go!
GRM: Tell us about your book.
DAS: Genre-wise, Paternus is contemporary mythic fantasy, also called mythic fiction. Readers, though, and some pretty well read and savvy ones, have been calling it all kinds of things. Dark fantasy, urban fantasy, even epic fantasy. It could be urban fantasy, I suppose, particularly here in the first book, but many of the main locales will change to anything but urban in the following two books (oh yeah, Paternus is the first in a trilogy, btw). It can’t be epic fantasy by any definition I know of, though it could be considered epic in scope. Basically, the story grounds itself in today, in this world, with ordinary people - but with beings from mythologies from around the world.
I think of Paternus is an adventure story of sorts, though, even action-adventure. It may take awhile for those elements to manifest in the book, but the main mythological beasties are introduced pretty quickly. Essentially, a young woman and a young man, Fi Patterson and Zeke Prisco, become caught up in the latest, and potentially the last, battle in a war that’s been going on for ages. Those characters we’ve heard about in mythology, legends, folklore, actually exist. Most are dead and gone, lost in earlier great wars - but some survive - and the not very nice ones have a plan…
Ultimately, I think readers often know better than we do what are books are. I mean, I really just wrote a book I wanted to write. I knew I wanted it to be snarky and fun, but scary and nasty too. And I knew it was fantasy, but I hadn’t really considered genre until I had to start talking about and marketing it. More than a few readers claim Paternus reminds them of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. M. R. Carey (The Girl with All the Gifts and Fellside) told me it made him think of Zelazny’s Lord of Light. One said it’s like Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson books, but for grownups. One of my faves is, “For fans of Lord of the Rings mixed with Beautiful Creatures and crossbred with American Gods ... Yeah, all that.” Hell, all that’s fine by me! If anything, it might be a bit of all of them, but hopefully the storyline, style and approach are unique enough to make it all it’s own.
GRM: Where did your inspiration come from?
DAS: Mythology, the fabulous works of other writers (fantasy and non-fantasy), comic books, movies and TV. Mostly, though, it’s mythology, legends, folklore, even fairytales. And not just reading and loving the old stories - many of which were (some still are) religious in nature, but reading and thinking about them as well. The whole brilliant mystery behind how they came about and why, how so many of them from all over the world have amazing inter-connections and shocking similarities. I just love that sh*t.
And I love action films, the long form storytelling of TV and book series, the graphics and writing of comic books. And fantasy art. Total geek over fantasy art. I have a film background and have done some screenplay writing too, so the style and format of writing in that way definitely inspired the writing style of Paternus. I’m also a freak for metaphysical philosophy, from ancient to present, so some of my worldbuilding and speculation by characters stems from that. With Paternus, I guess I tried to incorporate everything I love about all these things - I mean, not entirely on purpose, but I believe it was always there, in the back of my head, and it seeps in subconsciously. I wrote it because I really wanted to read it. I wanted to read a book like this.
DAS: This book took me several years to write, and for most of that time I honestly didn’t think about publishing. Early on I decided my writing had to be something I was doing because I loved it - and I do. And since this is my first novel, I had to school myself as I went along, trying different things, getting readers’ feedback, reading A LOT, and a whole lot of re-writing.
So for the longest time I wasn’t all that confident it was even publishable, or if I wanted to try. I’m honestly still amazed that people are reading it, let alone liking it. I try to live by the motto, ‘be prepared for everything, expect nothing.” So when cool stuff happens, it's REALLY cool. Anyway, back to the question. Enough readers liked it well enough I finally decided to think seriously about publishing. I did a lot of research on both sides, traditional and self.
Also, I lived in Los Angeles and worked in the film business for a number of years. I have friends who are published writers, and professional screenwriters. The publishing biz is extremely similar to the film biz. I know how it works - the good and bad. My biggest concern with not going the traditional route was not having the input of a savvy agent and editor. I know how important and helpful they can be to the quality of the final text. One thing that niggled at that back of my mind, though - even if I was lucky enough to get an agent (after maybe years of submitting), and then lucky enough to get a publisher and assigned an editor - would I get good ones all the way down the line? I’ve got too many years on me to tolerate less than honest agents or shoddy or demanding editors. There are fantastic, unbelievable ones out there, I know very well. But, particularly with editors - I can’t tell you how many books I’ve read from BIG publishers that, honestly, are not written well, even poorly, and are riddled with mistakes. I mean, what are they doing?
Please don’t get me wrong, I absolutely believe in editors, and I certainly don’t think any of my work can’t benefit seriously from the input of a good one. I just saw all the opportunities we now have for self-publishing, the stigma fading (slowly), and decided that was the way to go for me. I’d use friends and beta readers, hire a copy-editor, to improve and proof the book. Maybe I made a terrible mistake, but I guess we’ll see. If people like my book, I’m thrilled. If they don’t, then at least I know it’s all me and I can’t blame anyone else. And, ultimately, it’s not really like we have a choice between self-publishing and traditional publishing. We have a choice between actually self-publishing and trying to be traditionally published. And if we win the lottery, get struck by lightning, it can still take years.
GRM: What was the hardest part about taking this route?
DAS: Probably making the decision to self-publish in the first place, but then it would be the logistics of it all. How do I do it? What channels do I use? There’s a marketing and publicity plan to come up with and maintain, website, social marketing, release to plan for, signing events, etc. Then production elements to manage like formatting, cover design, artwork, printing (POD or in batches?), also etc. Then what about eBooks and audiobooks?
Once I’d pretty much finished the novel, I actually didn’t write another word for almost six months so I could concentrate solely on all those things. I know others can write at the same time, but I also have a day job that pays the bills, there just wasn’t enough time. I also wanted to do it right - good artwork, real design, a better than crappy website, all that stuff. I’ve seen way too many self-published books that don’t look like “real” books because the author’s don’t want to spend the time, effort, or a little cash to make them look that way. Or they have really ugly websites - quite often both. I had a lot of help from friends and colleagues along the way, it certainly isn’t all me, and I spent some money too, but no more than a boat enthusiast or avid skier might on their chosen hobby.
Also, I’m a film producer by background - commercials, industrial films and low budget stuff only - but still, budgets, breakdowns, talent, locations, props, sets, financing, even distribution, everything that goes into making a film, I know how to get it organized and done. So for me, the magnitude of what it takes to self-publish wasn’t that frightening. I actually really enjoy it.
GRM: Morning, afternoon or evening writer?
DAS: All of the above, but I have to say mostly afternoons. I try to get my day job
work out of the way in the mornings, then write in the afternoons, and I usually have one obligation or another in the evenings. My brain turns to mush after 3 to 5 hours of writing, so that’s about all I can stand, mentally, anyway.
GRM: Architect or Gardener? Planner or Pantser?
DAS: Oh, good one! Wow. You know, I hope this doesn’t sound (insert word here, because we all know that when someone says “I hope this doesn’t sound, whatever, it always does ;), but I think all of the above here as well. I’m an OCD goofball. I love doing artsy stuff and living things and getting my hands dirty and jumping on beds, but I’m also a freakish organizer and framer - because if I don’t plan things out and stay meticulously organized I forget stuff, and freak out. Yeah, there are some anxiety issues there. The architect/planner in me helps stave that off.
GRM: Silence, music or what when writing?
DAS: I actually don’t work well in silence. I’d say nearly 90% of Paternus was written in coffee shops. Something about the background noise (and coffee) helps, or forces, me to concentrate. I do listen to music most of the time when writing at home, though. ALL kinds, really. But not too loud.
GRM: What’s the weirdest fact or piece of information you had to research in order to write the book?
DAS: Oh boy, there’s so much weird stuff I’ve had to research, that’s a tough one. The history of guitars and violins, maybe. Or when the atmosphere of the planet first became oxygenized (I may have just made that word up). When trees first appeared, and flowers.
I think my favourite, though, mostly because I’m amazed I found it, was how long it takes to travel to and from various places in ships with oars and limited sails. Yeah, I found that. After a lot of searching, but it’s there. Thank God for other geeks on the internet.
GRM: To steal (paraphrase) from Rod Stewart, what do you wish that you know now, you knew when you started the journey to a finished and published book?
DAS: You know, I actually can’t think of anything relevant enough to mention except for maybe I wish I’d known more about the various conferences earlier in the process. I can’t recommend them highly enough for new authors. The people there, the contacts made, knowledge and advice gained, friends made, I can’t even begin to place a value on those experiences.
I can however, adamantly declare some things I’m glad I DIDN’T know. Like how long it would take to write the first book, or how much time I’d have to dedicate to production and marketing. It’s all good now, but I may have never continued if I’d known. Okay I probably would have, but it would’ve been unbelievably daunting.
GRM: You’re on a deserted island with enough food and water to survive. There no building materials around so you must wait for rescue. What three books would you have with you, to help you pass the time?
DAS: So no cheating and saying survival manuals, cookbooks, or big thick novels made of lembas bread, I’m assuming. Oh all right. I’m still going to cheat, though. The Lord of the Rings trilogy - I’m counting that as one book. I could spend months learning and expanding on languages, memorizing and singing songs, and scribbling fan fiction in the sand.
Then it might be A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. That definitely could use multiple readings. Think Carl Sagan or Stephen Hawking level stuff told by Douglas Adams. Oh man, then what… I’m going to take a risk and say The Fireman by Joe Hill. I say that because I just bought it and haven’t read it yet. And it’s like 4 inches thick. I hope it’s good.
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I hope you've enjoyed the interviews so far, and I hope you are thinking about giving some these authors a try (including me <- shameless self-plug) because there is a lot of talent out there that just needs a little bit of recognition.
There are some more authors upcoming so please check back often and let me know what you think either by getting in contact (social media or email) or adding a comment below.