Today’s Featured Author is Marc Vun Kannon, also known as AuthorGuy. Marc is the author of the Flame in the Bowl series. Be sure to check out all of his wonderful answers! Thanks for the great interview Marc! Please feel free to post questions or comments!
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I am a husband, father, and author, with degrees in Philosophy and Computer Science. I am also a lifelong reader of fantasy and SF fiction, which came in really handy when writing my stories since I never took any classes or workshops to learn how to do it.
When did you first start writing and when did you finish your first book?
I first started writing while I was in Graduate School as a Philosophy major. Naturally it took quite a long time to finish since I was taking classes at the same time, plus I had to figure out what I was doing. Then once I got it finished the computer it was on crashed, and I, naturally, had no backup (see above about ‘not knowing what I was doing’). Some years later I got a new typewriter and thought to rewrite the story. So I got the original paper pages, opened them up, and shuddered in horror. It was just so bad! My second version was a vastly different version, and is essentially what got published. All in all I’d say it took about eight years to get the story in its final form, maybe even ten.
Can you tell us about your initial challenges in getting your work published? Is there anything you would change if you could?
Querying agents has always been my weakest point. In the beginning I had no idea of what went into a query letter, so I put all the wrong things in there, and naturally got no responses. Eventually I decided to skip that part, and started contacting publishers directly, which is how I found Echelon. It’s a bit of a miracle how that happened, since they weren’t supposed to be listed in the book I found them listed in. I sent them a much less formal request and they decided to look at my pages. If I went back in time right now I’d have a much better idea of how to write the query but I still probably couldn’t describe my stories. I never have been able to do that.
How do you market your work? What avenues have you found to work the best for your genre?
When my book first came out, I had no idea what I was supposed to do with it. I’ve blogged a bit about those early days, so I won’t repeat myself here, but after trying and failing to get my books into bookstores I finally decided to make my own bookstore. Originally it was just an idea to sell my books at craft fairs, inspired by a craft fair sign that I passed. It grew from there, as I started carrying other Echelon titles than my own, and finally became a real business, Author Guy. I have lately been getting more into the marketing, with my blogs and Twitter and interviews like this one (which pleases my publisher no end, I can assure you), but my main success has been direct, hand-selling to the people that I meet at book-selling events.
The Flame in the Bowl series grew out of a single book, which grew out of a single sentence. That sentence popped into my head from nowhere I know. While I was in Grad School, one of the concepts I was introduced to was that of a person who was only motivated by a desire to do the right thing. This sort of person couldn’t exist in the real world. At some point I also had a pair of dreams (a man making an offering for the gods, and the gods themselves) on the same night, which I actually remembered, something I almost never do. I described them to my wife and she said, “That sounds like it would make a great book.” Somehow all this got combined to be the story of a man who always did the right thing, and how he got drafted into the service of the gods, to do the right thing for them. The first sentence of chapter 1 sprang from that.
As I was writing the story, which was originally called the Flame in the Bowl, it started getting longer and longer, and I saw more things about Tarkas and his world and what could and would happen to him. I realized that a) this book was about far more than just being a Hero in the service of the gods, and b) it would never fit into a single title. The Flame in the Bowl is a much better series title anyway, but now I had to come up with a title for this book. ‘Unbinding the Stone’ came from an image in the book itself, towards the end. The second book is called A Warrior Made, as a play on the phrase ‘a warrior born’ which Tarkas most certainly was not. Tarkas was born a normal man wanting normal things, and he’s changing himself, growing in a deliberate fashion into the role he has to play while still being the man he wants to be. A Warrior Made also features several characters from the first book in much more prominent roles, especially several of the women, and introduces a few of critical importance, namely Tarkas’ nephew Janosec.
I am currently working on the third book in this series, tentatively called Tales of Uncle, which will touch on several of Tarkas’ lesser adventures between books 1 and 2, embedded in a strong story that will carry the series forward.
The worlds in your books are very detailed, how do you keep all the information straight?
Fortunately I don’t have to. My technique for writing descriptions is simply to focus on what the character is perceiving, what matters to him most at that time. As a result, he can look upon something he saw before and see it differently the second time. ‘Keeping it straight’ doesn’t matter when the characters aren’t straight. Notice that in the beginning of Unbinding the Stone Tarkas goes through a great trial in the swamp, yet towards the end, he finds the same swamp only a minor nuisance. This is a sign of the change in the man.
You have also written a number of short stories, do you prefer writing these or your novels?
Writing short stories is a very different sort of work. I started writing by just spinning out character and story logic, and seeing where it led me. This is a good technique for novels but not for short stories, especially short stories with word count limits attached. Many of the stories I’ve written would be improved with additional text. The good thing about shorts stories is that they’re usually easier to write, since the room for plot complications is small, and for me at least, a lot more fun. I tend to write comically when I write short, since comedy allows me to paint in a lot of details with a broad brush. Blogging regularly has also helped me learn to tell stories in a short format. As I write more stories my shorts get longer and my novels get shorter, so I expect someday they’ll just meet in the middle.
What project are you working on now? Will you have a new book coming out soon?
After A Warrior Made came out I started working mostly on a novel of a different sort called St. Martin’s Moon, which is a futuristic paranormal about a man investigating a werewolf attack on a lunar colony. This was my most difficult story ever, since it was originally intended to be a horror/mystery, and I couldn’t write either one! I got three chapters in and found that I had no plot or genre! All I could do was follow all these people around and see what they did, and hope that it all went somewhere. It didn’t help that I was going to computer classes at the same time, which makes it hard for me to do creative writing. Finally I got close to where I thought the end should be and just sat down and wrote something, figuring I could always edit it later (similar to what I do in my work as a software engineer, looking at existing code and fixing it). About 2 weeks after that I was driving down the road and suddenly realized what it was all about, so I went back to it and rewrote a good bit of the ending, and added little bits of text here and there throughout. I still am, since it’s still in the editing stage, planned to come out very early next year. I never have been able to fully describe it, although I’ve come close, as I discussed in several of my blog posts. I call it a Catalyst story, since most of the plot-advancing moments are performed by lesser characters, but only because the main character is there, catalyzing them into action. I don’t know if there are any other stories like that out there.
Right now I’m working on the third Tarkas novel, as well as some time sensitive short stories for contests. Just last night I was attacked by another story idea that my son and I were able to develop a plot for, which seemed pretty cool to both of us. Like my other stories, it’s not something I’ve ever seen before, so it’ll be fun trying to make it work. Right now I’m wondering if I can fit it into the St. Martin’s Moon universe or if it’ll be a separate story. My editor has expressed an interest in more Marquand stories, and I would hate to disappoint her. I’m hoping Marquand will start speaking to me again soon.
Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?
Write for yourself first. You are your own first reader, and if you don’t enjoy your own work the odds are good that no one else will either. Don’t try writing to a demographic, trying to fit into a trend that may not be there when the book eventually comes out, if it ever does.
The writing is the easy part. It only gets harder after that, so if you’re not prepared to give up a large part of your life to your writing and marketing and promotion, stop with the book. Write to please yourself all you want, but the publishing business is a hard one, and seeking publication that you’re not prepared to work to support is unfair to quite a few people.
Try not to do something that you’ve seen done before, that’s my only real rule. It forces me to not only write differently from everyone else, it also forces me to change and develop my own style from book to book.
There are many blogs out there that offer helpful advice to writers, so read at least one every day. You may not always agree with the advice but it’ll help you learn what you want to say. Your style should be your own but that doesn’t mean you can’t make changes based on the experience and advice of others. You should be trying to learn and improve so a little guidance is good.
All of which is to say that writing, like living, is process of change, deliberate or otherwise.
Is there anything that you would like to say to your readers and fans?
First of all is “Thank You”, thanks for reading my work, and also to those who’ve taken the time to comment on or otherwise provide feedback about my books. Please consider contacting not just me but any of the authors whose work you love.
Equally important, please tell all your friends about the books that you love! No review or endorsement will mean as much to your friends as yours will.
There are many ways to find out about me and my work, such as my website , as well as my various blogs. I mostly use http://authorguy.wordpress.com these days. Like a lot of authors I have both a Twitter and a Facebook presence as well. Just look for AuthorGuy.