Sunday, April 28, 2013

Interview with Shawn Speakman

This month I have the pleasure of welcoming Author and Web Druid extraordinaire Shawn Speakman to talk about writing and publishing over coffee and apple pie.


1. Your first novel, The Dark Thorn, came out recently and is finding many fans. What was your inspiration for this urban fantasy - historic novel? I’ve only just started reading it but am already hooked. 
Happy to hear you are hooked already!  The inspiration behind The Dark Thorn is a crooked road, I’m afraid.  I have always been interested in faith and religion and how they don’t often equal one another.  When 9/11 happened, the world got an ugly look at the worst that religious extremism can offer.  I was heartsick from it.  But I was actually more shocked at the extremism that replied to the attack.  I heard Americans raging, Americans becoming just as extreme as those who attacked us.

I was fascinated by that ugliness.  Where did it come from?  Why?  Are we really better than the extremists?  Or are we just one side of history and we are right and everyone else is wrong?

That’s where the inspiration for The Dark Thorn came from.  What if the first religious Crusade was not against the Middle East but instead against very real fey creatures living in ancient Britain?  What if Henry II sent one of his sons to quell the fey?  And more importantly, how would those fey creatures respond over time?
2. Rather than walk the traditional path you’ve opted to start your own publishing company and publish your book(s) through that. What made you decide to do that and how has it worked out?
It was a tough decision.  The Dark Thorn was at two different NYC publishers when I was diagnosed with cancer in 2011.  I lacked health insurance and knew I was going to have a huge medical debt, one I would have to do something about.  Unfettered is that response, a fantasy anthology I am editing featuring some of the biggest names in the genre.  They came to my aid, donating stories so that the proceeds would go against that debt.

I realized though that Unfettered would garner a great deal of publicity, publicity I could put to work for me beyond just the anthology.  I took The Dark Thorn away from those NYC publishers and decided to publish both books on my own.  It has worked out better than I expected.  People are buying both books and The Dark Thorn has gotten great reviews.  Better yet, that debt is dwindling.  So a smart move in retrospect.

3. You also maintain the websites for at least 3 other authors, how does their work inspire you and what, if anything, have you learned about writing and publishing by working with them.
Working with Terry Brooks, Naomi Novik, and David Anthony Durham has been great fun.  I have learned something from each of them but Terry is driving force in my life.  We have been friends for thirteen years now.  His work has influenced me all of my life.  He has taken on the role of mentor in the last few years, guiding me like Lester del Rey used to guide him in the early days of his career.

Obviously, I have been a part of the publishing industry for a decade now and have learned more than I ever imagined I would about it.  But something fun has happened recently.  Since I have self-published The Dark Thorn and Unfettered, I am teaching my writer friends about the trials and tribulations of self-publishing.  It’s been fun because I feel like I am giving back in some way.

4. ebooks vs. traditional publishing?
Both.  They both have a place.  I knew when I went live with my own publishing press, Grim Oak Press, that I would do both ebooks and physical books.  They go hand in hand.  Right now, the industry is in flux, trying to find its balance again with the relatively new inclusion of ebooks.  That balance will be found and we’ll still have traditional publishing and ebooks.  The industry will look different but physical books aren’t going anywhere.  There are too many bibliophiles like myself who love them!

5. Pen & paper or a computer?
I’m a computer guy.  Always have been.  I can’t imagine writing a book with pen and paper.  I know several writers who do.  I’m just not built that way.  I type at a high word rate and I plan my books in advance—meaning I know exactly where I am going and I have the fingers to get me there!  Ha!

6. What do you think is the most important thing a writer can do, aside from write well, to increase their odds of a successful career?
Read.  Without a doubt.  Writing is important.  Finishing something more important.  But beyond that and getting adept at editing, reading is the most important thing.  Reading in the genre one is working in; reading outside of the genre.  Reading teaches a writer different ways of constructing a sentence, a paragraph, a story arc.  It really is the best way to learn and have a successful career.

I’m also fond of how Terry Brooks answers this question:  “Ten words: Read, read, read. Write, write, write. Repeat.”

7. What secret talent do you have, which everyone reading this blog will keep secret, and does it help in your writing?
I am bendy.  Quite bendy.  While that has its practical uses in the real world—I’ll try to keep this PG, kiddos—it also helps me do hot yoga.  I do hot yoga every other day as a stress reliever.  Sitting in a chair and typing for hours a day is harmful to your health.  Seriously.  It is great to take that bendiness I have and use it in a hot room with other sweaty people.  The stress just melts off and not having that stress the next day when I sit down to write can only help my chances of writing something good.

Thank you and happy writing!


Thursday, April 25, 2013


“Our imagination flies -- we are its shadow on the earth.”
― Vladimir Nabokov

Imagination is the ability to see what isn’t there. For a writer that means creating whole worlds, populated with believable characters and their experiences, seemingly from thin air.

There is often something that sparks that imagination and gives it wings. It can be a casual conversation, a billboard, a flash of color out of the corner of your eye, or, as in the above picture, an interesting knot on a tree.

To me it looks like an owl. Not just any owl, a sentinel. A creature that comes alive after dark and guards some hidden passage to another realm. The creature is obviously otherworldly and only by using your imagination can you see that it’s not truly hidden in the daylight hours.

A picture like that can keep me thinking for some time about a possible story. I’ve not stretched into the fantasy realm yet, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy giving my imagination free rein.

Every time I stretch my imagination it enhances my writing. It doesn't matter what I’m working on, it can be another Fountain pen story for the collection coming out this fall, or a book like “Out in the Dark”, or a satirical short story blending elements of Steampunk and SciFi into a future where women in hoop-skirts and petticoats race in their own spaceships alongside men in a race to be the first to fly around Jupiter’s moon, Europa.

I think Albert Einstein says it best: 
“Logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will get you everywhere.”
― Albert Einstein

Friday, April 5, 2013

March/April Book Review

A little late for March and a little early for April, but life’s been busy and reading has had to take a backseat in recent weeks, but I did manage to finish one book in my towering stack:
The Rook by Daniel O’Malley.
A thrilling debut novel.

Imagine waking up in the rain, on muddy ground in a London park surrounded by bodies all wearing latex gloves. You have no memory of what happened or even of who you are. A letter in your pocket explains in only the barest details who you are and what you should do next.

You make your way to a very comfortable hotel and assess the damage to the body you woke up in; it’s badly bruised and you have some serious black eyes.

Your options are to run away and hide, assuming an identity different from the one this body had, or continue on as Myfanwy Thomas, a highly placed administrative operative in an incredibly secret organization dedicated to protecting England, and the world, from the supernatural.

Myfanwy chooses to continue on, in part to learn who has tried to kill her. Along her journey of discovery we meet one personality inhabiting four bodies, a woman who can enter your dreams, children transformed into highly efficient fighters, and many more fantastical beings, as well as an old threat to the country reborn: laboratory created people with terrifying special abilities.

Myfanwy has to learn quickly who she was, and who she now wants to be, as well as how to effectively use her own awesome powers.

This novel has a very satisfying and suspenseful tale to tell and a very inventive cast of characters ranging from good to evil and the many shades in between. It seemed totally believable to me that such an organization as theirs would exist and I was hooked from the first page. Besides, somebody has to deal with all those vampires unleashed in recent publishing history.

No word yet on when a sequel might come out, though one has been planned and presumably is in the works.