Today we have another instalment in the SPFBO interview series! I was lucky enough to catch up with Dyrk Ashton, author of Paternus, finalist in SPFBO 2016. First welcome to the blog! Thank you very much for agreeing to take part in this series of interviews.
Thank you for considering me for your SPFBO interview series, Shona!
1) What made you decide to self-publish your book?
There were a number of factors involved, and I’m a bit of an odd case, so my reasoning and justification may be equally odd. I’m a bit older than most getting into fantasy writing these days. I worked in Los Angeles in the film business for a number of years, as an actor and a producer. I wrote spec screenplays and queried agents for quite awhile regarding those as well. I’m familiar with how the film biz of production, talent, agenting and distribution works. I also have friends who are professional writers, screenwriters as well as novelists, who have agents and publishing deals and are successful, and some who have had both and it all went terribly sour. The film and publishing businesses are very similar.
I wrote Paternus because I had the time, or could make the time, and I had always wanted to write a novel and I needed a creative outlet. Mostly, though, because I wanted to read it. Publishing was always secondary to me. I’m not vehemently opposed to the traditional publishing route, but I could never drum up the enthusiasm for getting into that game again. And it’s not like we have a choice of self-pub or traditional. We can self-pub or attempt the traditional route. I’m also not thrilled with the idea of being held to deadlines. I write because I love to right. To have to judge my days by word count output or rely on churning out writing product to make my living actually sounds terrifying to me. I have utmost respect to those who can do it, I just don’t know if that’s for me. The more research I did, comparing the two, the more self-pub appealed to me.
Then a good old friend with a great deal of experience read the book and he loved it. He said that if he were me, he’d self-pub. He was certain an agent or editor would want me to make changes that would significantly alter what the book was - and he loved what the book was. Now, I have no problem changing things if I think it will make the book better - but I also still have to like it. I’m not interested in making my work different (and not necessarily better) to make it more marketable by someone else’s reckoning. I don’t want to do something I don’t like personally. There are certainly things about Paternus that some people don’t like, but I did all those things on purpose because I like books that are like that - if it was much different, I wouldn’t like it as well. That may sound selfish, but if I can’t please myself, or I’m spending my time trying to please others (and believe me I spent enough years doing that), I just don’t want to do it. I also got a lot of feedback from good readers and other authors. Of course it would be fantastic if Paternus became a bestseller and made millions and got a movie deal (yeah right), but, I’ll honestly be fine if it doesn’t. That said, I do market and promote to get my work noticed. If it fails, I don’t want it to be because I didn’t try my best.
2) What advantages and disadvantages have you experienced in self-publishing?
That’s a grand question that deserves a grand answer, which I’m not sure I can give justice to here. I spent months comparing the two approaches, weighing pros and cons. Traditional can have the benefit of larger budgets, talented editors, powerful agents, marketing muscle - or not, actually, depending on the size and quality of the publisher (and agent). There are plenty of trad-pub horror stories. There is also the prestige of being a “published author,” but I’m personally not all that interested. Of course there are a whole lot of trad-pubbed authors who are really talented and don’t care about that, I’m not saying everyone is on an ego trip. But there are those who look down their noses at folks who self-pub. Let’s be honest, there are a ton of books coming out of big trad-pub houses that are, well, not good. Even badly edited. And there are commercial failures of great books, successes of books that are, again, not good. It’s a crapshoot in many ways.
So is self-pub, of course. There are tons of terrible self-pubbed books. I’d venture to say the vast majority are not that great. I think, though, that enough self-pubbed authors are good enough, and have gotten savvy enough, that the bar is rising very quickly. I also feel that readers are changing. The variety of reading tastes is broadening, they (we) are becoming both more and maybe less “discerning.” We don’t require that big publisher’s name on the spine so much any more. The gates of the old gatekeepers are burning.
The biggest advantage of self-pub is control. Control over content, artwork, marketing strategy. That can be frightening, though. I have a background as a professional film producer, though, so the day-to-day details of production and promotion weren’t that daunting to me. Still, it does take an amazing amount of time, time that I could be writing. Ultimately, though, I felt self-pub was the right thing for me.
3) Why did you decide to enter SPFBO?
I originally heard about it on Reddit Fantasy last year, when I was still an r/F newbie. I saw the r/F interviews with the top winners there last year. It looked like an amazing way to get a self-pubbed book noticed, as well as to meet other people in the self-pub world . I kept an eye out, and when I saw it was going to happen again I jumped at the chance - at the last minute, because my book was just releasing at that time. I think I beat the entry deadline by a day, and I was like the 298th or 299th book before the 300 cut-off.
4) Can you tell us a bit about the book that you entered?
In my mind, Paternus is a modern myth about myths. It’s a fictional unified field theory that (fictionally) validates nearly every mythological being and story we’ve ever read. On the surface, big bad ancient creatures around the world have come out of hiding and are assassinating others of their kind after thousands of years of relative peace. A couple of young people get caught up in these events and find themselves on the run for their lives - with some strange and frightening allies, some of whom they’ve known all their lives and thought were just regular folks (they aren’t, not even a little).
For me, though, Paternus is actually about the nature of reality itself and our perception of it, about considering the difference between what we know and what we think we know, about relationships, family, self-worth and identity. But with fights and scary monsters and gods. It’s modern fantasy, contemporary fantasy, or sometimes called mythic fiction. Some call it urban fantasy, but it’s not what I usually think of as urban fantasy. There’s no paranormal private detective and it doesn’t all take place in a city or urban areas. It’s comparable to American Gods or even Percy Jackson in genre, but significantly different from both, I think.
5) How was the experience of participating for you?
Unbelievable. Far better than I could have imagined. That goes for working with the people involved as much as the publicity the book has gotten. If it weren’t for the SPFBO the book (and I) would still be completely unknown, I’m convinced. The very best part, though, is that I have developed relationships with so many amazing people, including both the other authors and the bloggers. And then there are the introductions they make, directly or indirectly. Amazing. I’ve learned a crazy amount about everything from writing and marketing to production and finding editors and artists. I can't say enough good about the whole experience, I have been incredibly lucky. Mark Lawrence and the bloggers are absolutely fantastic for pulling this together and keeping it running.
6) Did taking part have any effect on your sales as far as you aware?
Of course it’s hard to tell what really effects sales, but I’d say absolutely, without a doubt. I’m not getting rich by any means, in fact I’m still paying off costs, but I know for a fact the vast majority of sales I’ve had are a direct result of the SPFBO.
7) What was the best and worst /part of the experience for you?
I’ve already addressed the best part. Worst part… There really isn’t any bad part, for me. I NEVER expected to make it to the final ten, for one thing. I really did get incredibly lucky to have been included in the Fantasy-Faction group that picked me out of their bunch of entries. The only thing I can think of might be the waiting. It’s a very long contest. BUT - that is also a big part of what makes it so great. There is constantly new news coming out about it, for months and months, which is just plain spectacular publicity no matter how you slice it. And FREE!
8) What are you working on now?
I’m writing book two, and to some extent book 3, of the Paternus trilogy. Plan for release of book 2 is Summer 2017, book 3 Summer 2018.
9) Do you have any other projects planned?
Other than some short stories and perhaps novellas based in the same “world” as Paternus, not really. Except I will definitely be doing a companion text for Paternus, which will include more background stories, descriptions, timetables, etcetera. I have hundreds of pages of tables, notes, backstories, etcetera, that I think will make for a fun addition to the saga.
10) What does your typical writing day look like?
I generally try to get my day job work done in the morning and write for 2 to 4 hours in the afternoon. Any more time writing than that and my brain turns even mushier than it already is. With the first book out, though, there is much promotion and other biz stuff to take care of and track, so I find it harder to make all the time I’d like for actually writing.
11) Do you have a favourite quote about writing?
I do! My favorite quote about writing, from one of my very favorite authors:
“Occasionally, there arises a writing situation where you see an alternative to what you are doing, a mad, wild gamble of a way for handling something, which may leave you looking stupid, ridiculous or brilliant -you just don't know which. You can play it safe there, too, and proceed along the route you'd mapped out for yourself. Or you can trust your personal demon who delivered that crazy idea in the first place. Trust your demon.” --Roger Zelazny
12) Where can we connect with you?