Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Author David Temrick on fantasy, writing, and publishing

I’ve always been a bit of a gypsy when it comes to my career. I’ve done a little of everything and while I tend to find a way to succeed, nothing really felt like it mattered to me beyond a new challenge and a regular paycheck.

In 2008, my wife asked me why I just write short stories and flash fiction for websites rather than trying to put pen to paper for a whole novel. As always, I took her simple query as a challenge and wrote Draconis’ Bane.

The initial idea was to take fantasy fiction back to its roots. I love fantasy, but it’s become somewhat elitist. When I consider that storytelling dates back to mythology and the stories of how our world came to be, I can’t fathom why fantasy can’t have a wider appeal. So I did away with needlessly complex names with more apostrophes than vowels, I ditched the “party” system, I did away with long-winded introspection and instead opted for action and character development.

Fantasy is my favorite fiction genre by far and even when I imagine other genres, I tend to supplant them into fantasy. I wrote a steampunk novel called Daughter of Vengeance that employed more magic than science. I can’t seem to ever go with the flow, mostly because I find following the herd so infuriatingly boring.

It was in 2008 that I started keeping my stories as well. I’ve been writing for more than 20 years, but I’ve never bothered to keep the things I’ve written. I primarily wrote content for friends, both online and off, for their websites, blogs and news sites. Since I started keeping my fledgling ideas, outlines and short stories, I began gathering a mixed bag of some rather odd tidbits.  In retrospect, I have no idea what the purpose was. I guess I was inspired to write something and did, that seems to be the only rhyme or reason.

Since becoming more serious about writing as a possible career though, I’ve had to funnel my ideas into topics that could potentially hold a reader's interest for an entire novel. I don’t believe in fluff or waxing philosophical about a button, not that there is anything wrong with that, it just isn’t my style. As a result, my novels tend to hover around the 100,000 word mark while the serials I’m working on will likely be 10,000-word multiple part series.

There are so many avenues for writers these days, with a myriad of options and concepts that could keep anyone feeling overwhelmed. After almost six years, here is what I’ve learned:

  • There is a market for everything
  • No one is an authority on literature
  • Quality counts

Obviously, the market and quality concepts are fairly universal. However, the authority statement always seems to get me into trouble. So I’ll explain a little with an example.

Fifty Shades of Grey was turned down by everyone, no one wanted to take a chance on a subject as risqué as romance that blossoms out of bondage…even though it’s a fairly common concept taken to the extreme. Yet, that novel outsold every traditionally published book that year. There was a market for it, the author tapped into that market and ended up with a book deal after blowing the competition out of the water.

Not everything is going to have that success.  However, if you have a story and feel passionately about it…spend the time working on it. If you want to be traditionally published, but can’t seem to make headway…publish it yourself. There are dozens of options available. Don’t let “no” be a final answer if you believe in yourself.

If you do decide to publish yourself, as I have, make sure the book is as polished as possible. Even professional editors miss grammatical faux pas and there will never be a shortage of people to point out yours while ignoring others. At the end of the day, if you can carve out a market for yourself, write for them and others will follow.

I’ve written three novels to date, and with each I learned something valuable. Draconis’ Bane and Deadly Intentions are very much traditional fantasy fare. Tristan Vallious is a spoiled prince who uses his station to bully those around him, but after he’s brutally attacked by a cult hellbent on the eradication of the draconic species (including half-breeds like him), he begins to understand that the world is far larger and more delicate than he’d ever thought possible. As he sets out to right the wrongs perpetuated by this cult, he’s confronted by terrible choices that leave him feeling less and less sure of himself and his abilities.

After building the world of Amesdia, I decided to use conflicts large and small, personal and global, to drive the story forward concentrating on the characters rather than allowing the genre to dictate the pace or tone of the story. Sure, there are heroes, dragons, sorcerers of both good and evil, but each of them has a voice of their own with their own rationale and a unique perspective that drives them.

My latest novel, Daughter of Vengeance, is a coming-of-age tale about a young lady who becomes apprenticed to an assassin. Through her training and experience she becomes less the child-like victim of a depraved minor earl and more a confident and strong woman. As with everything else I do, the status quo just doesn’t work for me. Even today, the only writers giving us female leads who aren’t Amazonian brutes or demure damsels in distress are themselves female authors.

I thought it would be interesting to tell a first-person story by a man about a believable female hero. Quite a few feminists were bemused by the concept, but ultimately, after reading the story, had wonderful things to say to me about Michelle and her story. It could have easily gone the other way, but I was confident that I could deliver a heroine that readers could empathize with…even if they had no desire to be exposed to anything remotely feminist.

The story itself offered several challenges, the first of which was tone and content. I wanted to write something that would appeal to a young adult audience. As such, scenes couldn’t be too graphic. In order to create a beaten-down character that had few options when confronted with a career that is morally reprehensible, Michelle had to literally be in hell. The moral flexibility that tends to become more apparent in all of us during our teenage years had to be apparent enough that the reader would have made the same choice. Otherwise, Michelle wouldn’t appeal to them.

I gave the book to a feminist lawyer I know who supports the arts; she called me after reading the emotional climax of the novel in tears. I love reader interaction, but knowing that something I had designed to be emotional accomplished its purpose made the entire work worth the effort.

Take every opportunity that presents itself, even if it’s just once. If a writing group or conference organizer asks you to do a reading, try it. Public speaking might terrify you, but the only way to get out of your bubble is to try new things and expose yourself to new experiences. No exposure is bad exposure; the most glaring example of this is the horribly hilarious dinosaur adult literature that Jon Stewart revealed on The Daily Show a few years ago. It was poorly written, questionable content at best…yet the writer made a lot of money off of the interest it created.

Rumors circulated for months afterwards that the writer had work in his own name and the interest got his foot in the door with a reputable publishing house that released one of his less inflammatory books. I’m going to chalk that one up to wishful thinking, but I wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand. Stranger things have happened.

While I have dreams of grandeur, my goals are reasonable. I write to supplement my income, though I would like to replace it entirely with my craft but that might never happen. For now, I will continue to thumb my nose at convention and I’ll continue to write the books that I love, luckily I have established an audience and hopefully they will enjoy my next story.

Connect with Dave:
Twitter: @rehabdave

Books available on Kindle:
Draconis' Bane (Blood Feud - Book 1) -
Deadly Intentions (Blood Feud - Book 2) -
Daughter of Vengeance -

All also available in the Apple iBook Store, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords.

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