Production of a fantasy novel: Interview with Graham Austin-King

Picking up where we left off yesterday with Sarah Gailey, exploring the ‘production’ side of her novella RIVER OF TEETH, I wanted to put another spin on the ‘producing a fantasy novel’ topic, and have today invited Graham Austin-King to talk about his newest release FAITHLESS.

FAITHLESS is Graham’s ‘second’ outing, following the success of his debut trilogy FAE: THE RIVEN WYRDE SAGA. With this in mind, I wanted to understand the ‘production’ side of taking a story and turning it into a book, especially a self-published one, but also understand how a writer sets out to meet the expectations set by their previous works.

Hi Graham! We’re going to talk about the ‘production’ side of turning a story into a self-published novel. FAITHLESS is your first book outside of your ‘Fae’ series, so I’d like to focus on that.

Before we begin, let’s start with some introductions – who are you, what do you do, and what’s special about you as a writer – 50 words, go!

*Sighs and looks around the group* Hi, I’m Graham and I’m a writer. It’s been thirty-four days since my last novel.

I write dark fantasy that seems to be growing progressively darker. I’ve been self-published, worked with a small press, and then gone back to s/p again.

Same sketch as the previous question, this time about your novel FAITHLESS – what’s it about, who’s it about, what’s special about it – 50 words, go!

FAITHLESS is a book about searching for the truth within a crumbling religion lost in amongst all the ritual and dogma. It’s a dark novel about abuse and cowardice, and the choices we make when it comes down to us or them. About how we face those consequences. Damn, this 50 word thing is hard!

Did you approach FAITHLESS differently to your previous work?

Yes but for all the wrong reasons. FAITHLESS was supposed to be a novella. I had just finished FAE – THE SINS OF THE WYRDE and completed that trilogy. FAITHLESS was supposed to be a fun little novella, a bit like the dungeon hack computer games of the early 90’s. As I went on it grew more complex and it soon became obvious that I could never fit the story into a novella.

The ‘difficult second book/movie/game etc.’ syndrome (let alone a second series!), combined with the desire to write the next better than the last, must be a challenge to live up to. How did you tackle this?

I didn’t really feel that pressure, at least not from an external source. I am my own worst critic and so it was my own desire to write a better book that mattered more. That was the thinking behind using so many beta-readers and sending the book out to groups of betas at a time. I think it worked. I’ll be using that method again next time.

Back to Faithless, let’s start from the beginning. Cast your mind back to when you finished the first draft of your manuscript. It’s a completed story – what did you do next?

I vaguely recall a celebration, and a happy dance that I’m very glad nobody saw. Then I think I reread the ending and swore a lot. I tend to write in layers. That first layer can be terribly thin and superficial. I also don’t plot, I write on the fly. So when I reach the end of that first draft (meaning the very, very first draft) then I need to go back through and make sure that what made sense in my head makes sense on the page (it didn’t). I also need to make sure that the tone I was going for, and the twists and turns, all worked and were obvious enough without being too obvious (they weren’t.) So, long story short, the first thing I do is read back through, editing as I go.

What was the biggest change you made to the story before it reached your editor, the lovely Sarah Chorn?

There were a few actually. The ending had some serious work. The ending in the book now is quite different to the one the beta-readers had. One character, Killen, underwent a sex change along with a personality shift, and another (Leesha) gained about fifteen years in between drafts.

And were there any major changes that Sarah helped you with?

Sarah was amazing with many parts of the book. I think the part she helped the most with, was the part that was most uncomfortable to write, namely the sexual abuse. It’s an important part of the story because it’s the root of all the things wrong with the character in question. It is the source of his cowardice, and the reason behind many of the awful decisions he makes. It’s not just something that was just thrown in for shock value. So it was really important to get it right. Sarah helped with everything from body-language, to the pent-up anger and resentment.

From what I understand, you also approached agents with FAITHLESS. Did you treat this story any differently, because of that?

I suppose I did but only in the technical side of its production, the first draft was written in the same way I’ve written everything else (drinking whiskey in a bathrobe). I was a lot more systematic with this book. I used a lot more beta-readers than I ever have before. Faithless went out to over thirty people in the end, through all the various incarnations of the manuscript, with changes taking place as the responses came in. It then went off to Sarah for editing, and off for proof-reading with Claire.

Chronologically speaking, how did the wordcount change from first draft, to following beta/alpha readers, editor, final version?

Up. It always goes up for me. I don’t know why, I hear about writers carving tens of thousands of words out of their books, mine always seem to get bigger. I think the first draft was about 125k, about 130k after betas, and then about 135k after editing. I think it comes down to things making sense to me because I wrote them. The trick, apparently, is to have them make sense to other people too. Who knew?

Were the changes plot driven, the desire for a particular word count by the editor / your prospective agent or something else?

No, it was mostly about explaining things. There were a few things about smithing that needed to be made clearer, some things about mining that I argued with Sarah about because they weren’t immediately obvious.

Let’s talk future releases. How much has your beta and editor feedback shaped your next work?

It hasn’t because we’re not there yet. I have Sarah primed and ready for the novella I’m working on but it hasn’t gone to betas yet.

One of the great things about self-publishing is the amount of control you have over EVERYTHING. Specifically, cover art. How much of a hand did you have in designing it? Did you give a detailed brief to the artist, or let them ‘do their thing’?

I gave Pen free rein with it, to be honest. I knew I wanted something about smithing and fire, so I suggested maybe a hammer and anvil. That was as far as it went. There were minor changes to what she came back with. We played around with the typography and the haft of the hammer but it hasn’t changed all that much.

Harking back to the earlier questions on changes, since you first began writing FAITHLESS, up until now, what’s the biggest change in YOU as a writer?

I’ve become a lot darker in my writing. I think if you read FAR – THE WILD HUNT and FAITHLESS back to back then you’d see a huge difference. I swear more too. I don’t think there are more than a handful of swear words in the whole of that first book. I remember feeling almost afraid to put things like that in. No, not afraid – uncomfortable. It’s hard to explain. In any event I think the process of writing the four books has helped me tremendously and I’d say this book is far superior to my first efforts. We’ll see what the SPFBO judge(s) think, if I’m lucky.

Finally, if there’s one thing about the modern-day publishing process for a fantasy novel, that you could share with wannabe writers, what would it be? Both self-publishing, and because you’ve worked with an agent, traditional? Or better yet, what’s that one golden nugget that you would share with the yet-to-be-published you?

Not so much about publishing but with writing itself, before you even consider how/when/if it will be published I would say this. Be wary of advice. Or rather, make sure you’re getting good advice. There are a ton of writing groups out there, and it’s all too easy to fall into a group which is basically a mutual appreciation society. That isn’t going to help your writing. You need people who will give you an honest critique. Nobody likes hearing that their work is flawed, and most people won’t tell you the truth.

Graham Austin-King was born in the south of England and weaned on broken swords and half-forgotten spells. A shortage of these forced him to consume fantasy novels at an ever-increasing rate, turning to computers and tabletop gaming between meals.

He experimented with writing at the beginning of an education that meandered through journalism, international relations, and law. To this day he is committed to never allowing those first efforts to reach public eyes.

After living in the north of England and Canada he settled once again in the south surrounded by a seemingly endless horde of children and a very patient wife who can arguably say her husband is away with the faeries.

The Riven Wyrde Saga is his first completed trilogy and draws on a foundation of literary influences ranging from David Eddings to Dean Koontz.

Visit his blog at http://grahamak.blogspot.co.uk where you can sign up for e-mail updates and be the first to hear about new releases.

Find Graham on facebook at http://on.fb.me/1pMyWmK He loves to chat with readers.

Follow him on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/Grayaustin

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