Sourcerer’s Eleven: Questions for Author Joshua Robertson

Welcome to round three of Sourcerer’s Eleven. An interview series where contributors within the site get a shot in the big chair. The Instigator-In-Chief, Gene’o interviewed Luther Siler, who then put me through my paces, so now it’s my turn *rubs hands together*. In the hot seat today is Joshua Robertson, author of Melkorka (Book 1: Thrice Nine Legends), and A Midwinter Sellsword (Book 1: Hawkhurst Saga).

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  1. You recently released Gladiators and Thieves, book two of the Hawkhurst Saga. Can you tell us a little about that series and how it came about?

You will have to forgive me if I momentarily nerd rage. The story of Hawkhurst was never intended to be in my collection of stories. Hawkhurst first began as a politically-themed RPG MUD (Roleplaying Game Multi-User Dimension) played through text on a web-based platform. I spent an entire weekend creating a complex city from the ground up – detailed with theological and political underpinnings – vibrant with unique shops, guilds, and NPCs. Unfortunately, the group of players only were able to engage in the game for a few weeks. I could not let the creation go to waste, so I started restructuring the themes of the plot into an engaging tale.

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The series is about Argus, the bastard child of House Madrin, who ran away from Hawkhurst years ago after being enslaved as a gladiator. Argus is tricked into returning to the underground city. He soon finds himself trapped and subjugated to the political games between the noble houses. In desperation, he is forced to trust old friends with hopes to escape again before anyone discovers his true identity.

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That’s a great origin story, and an extremely rewarding outlet for the nerd rage! For the plotters among us, it’s a dream come true – a whole platform with which to expand on. Those who know you, will be aware that you began crafting the world for your dark fantasy series Thrice Nice Legends in 1999. I really like the fact there’s a fan site for the series, and a TnL tabletop game. I’m going to leave the gaming element there for now. There are several contributors at Sourcerer who will be chomping at the bit to ask you questions so we’ll leave it for the thread!

  1. I had a great deal of fun on my visit into the world; Melkorka is a wonderful introduction to the series. I know the sequel Dyndaer will be released in January 2016. You’re also co-writing a standalone within the Thrice Nine Legends. How did that particular collaboration come about?    

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Ooo…there is a good question. You weren’t kidding about the hot seat! The TnL Game originated from a collaborative plan back in 2013, where my world was used as the primary setting. The game continues to be tweaked and play tested, but to answer your question – JC Boyd, the co-author to Anaerfell (the standalone novel) is also my partner in the TnL game. He and I developed an idea for a book in 2004 and Anaerfell is the final result of that original idea. Thrice Nine Legends will soon be better described as a shared universe (much like Dragonlance) with a series of stories taking place in the same world. Melkorka, Dyndaer, and the final book, Maharia (set to be released in 2017), will be a trilogy within The Kaelandur Series.

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  1. That is incredibly cool, it has to be said. I can see it now; novels, game accessories, films, audiobooks – a hugely exciting project in more ways than one! You recently set up your own company, a small press (Crimson Edge Publishing), specializing in Fantasy, Science Fiction, Dystopian Fiction, and Horror. That in itself takes considerable planning, not to mention the shared universe. What’s your secret when juggling all these projects (we can’t all have J.A.R.V.I.S) – is there a programme you use, a specific system, a container full of notes, an army of minions, how exactly do you keep everything straight?

That would be incredible. When I sell just one book, I’m like an 80s child discovering Q-Bert for the first time. If my stories ever made it to film, my mind would be blown! [And, I’d beg to be an actor in the movie.] As for keeping it straight, I wish I had something cool like JARVIS, but my budget only goes as far as sticky notes (the computer-widget kind). In all seriousness, I stick to a structured schedule for gym, writing, editing, publishing, marketing, family, and so on. I only deviate to fill the coffee pot.

  1. I have planners envy! I couldn’t stick to a schedule if it followed me around all day :-) I can totally appreciate the Q-Bert reference, and that feeling of excitement (though I was a Donkey Kong fan myself). But in all seriousness, when we writers dream, we tend to dream big…so I’m sure, if you don’t already have the full cast in your head, you have an idea of what your characters would look like on the screen. Do you have detailed character profiles, concept art, that kind of thing?

There have been several illustrators who have created rough concept art for Thrice Nine Legends, but there are no pictures of the characters found in the stories. I would be thrilled to have some fully framed, canvas images of the characters to hang up around my house. But, yes, I have files upon files of detailed character profiles. I have a short biography on each character that outlines their homeland, family and upbringing, major childhood events, adolescence and training, religion, romances, and motivations for the plot. The motivations are the most important! My kingdoms, cities, and other settlements are far more detailed than the characters, mirroring the same complexity as Hawkhurst. I have folders embedded in folders embedded in more folders that have been created over 15 years. However, despite all the information known about the world, a writer has to be clever in how the world is discovered with their characters. I once did a short interview on Building World and Story.

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  1. Thanks for providing a link to the interview. I enjoyed your views on the art of world building in fantasy, especially the section on inference. I also agree that a reader enjoys to learn with a character. We’ve established your admirable organisational skills (read the article, folks!) and it’s clear the worlds you create are as rich and diverse as our own. If you could bring one of your characters into this reality and teach them the ways of our particular universe, which one would you choose and why? Tell us about them – what job would they have and how would they adapt to their new surroundings?

I have to consider my main character, Branimir. He could not only use a little acculturation into the world of humans, but he would be the most appreciative of the experience. Branimir has a free spirit, rarely bound by any personal ambitions. He is extraordinarily blameless and kind, but he is also quite inquisitive. This would make him ideal in venturing through our world. I think his long life span and natural curiosity would set him up to be an archaeologist, a historian, or a world traveler.

  1. I loved spending time with Branimir, and as Melkorka was the first book of yours I read – I’ll probably always have a soft spot for him! We tend to be loyal to our firsts :-) And now I’m curious. Which fantasy character/s have stayed with you?

I would give most credit to Matrim Cauthon, who is a character in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. Mat is a roguish guy who is all about women, gambling, and drinking! Today, I meet several folks that grew up with Harry Potter. Well, I grew up with this brazen kid from Emond’s Field and lived vicariously through him.

Other characters that have stuck are between fantasy and science fiction genres: Gandalf, Han Solo and Chewbacca, He-Man, Ender, and Spock. I know – some all-time favorites for many geeks in that line up. Beyond that, there are a handful of characters that I have played in Dungeons and Dragons for almost twenty years that are close to heart.

  1. I’d love to discuss some of those fine characters with you, but perhaps we’d better save it for the thread! Let’s bring it back to you. In terms of writing, what is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

That is an easy one, Melissa. Keep writing! There are many tidbits out there to help a writer hone his or her craft, but the number one thing that any author can do is to keep writing.

  1. I actually have that printed on a t-shirt (I kid you not!) Keep writing. It’s important – as is reading. It should be in the induction pack – well, if there were such a thing. Okay, so we’ve discovered a lot about you in terms of your work, your tastes, and how you approach certain projects. Now tell us something you’ve never revealed before – one thing you enjoy. I’m not talking deep, dark secrets here, just something we don’t yet know.

The only thing that comes to mind are random facts, like I always order a 5-layer bean burrito when I go Taco Bell or I’m one of the two members of my family tasked to be the ancestral historian (very enjoyable!).

  1. We don’t have Taco Bell in the UK so I’m not going to lie, I googled the 5-layer bean burrito because my curiosity got the better of me. It looks delicious! And I love researching my ancestors – those nice little surprises that always seem to end up in a story (very enjoyable indeed!). Are there any writers in your family tree? Artists? Gold miners?

I have yet to find any writers in the long history of my “family tree”; we have oodles of farmers. However, we make up for it in my immediate family. My older sister wrote stories when she was younger. My younger sister is currently working on her first novel. And, JC Boyd is not only my best friend and co-author, but he is also…[drum roll]…my younger brother.

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  1. That is beyond cool! It’s so great that you get to share the journey together. The following two questions are unique to Sourcerer’s Eleven, so – first up: Give us your best pitch elevator pitch. In four sentences or less, why should we read your books?

Is there a restriction on the sentence length? Wait! Did that count as one?

There was a time when gods were gods and men were men. Before legends divided truth from untruth, love from hatred, or the righteous from the wicked, the world was nothing but a veil of myth and misconception. It is heroes who defied what it meant to be a man or a god, seeking a purpose for themselves and humanity. My stories are about those heroes and their legendary adventures.

  1. Sold! Though I didn’t need the pitch – I’ve already spent time in your fantasy world. Final question – If you could own one (and only one) piece out-of-this world technology or magical artefact, large or small – anything from the simplest magic wand to a Death Star — what would it be?

Besides the infamous Horn of Bubbles from DnD? :) I choose the Ring of Gyges introduced to the world by Plato. The story explains that this ring gives the power of invisibility to its wearer. In addition, the owner may forever have whatever they touch as though it were their own. There is some speculation the tale of the Ring of Gyges was the inspiration behind Tolkien’s LOTR.

Thank you so much, Joshua. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed chatting with you, and I look forward to the conversation in the thread – I know people will have plenty of follow up questions from this engaging interview.

Social Media Sunday: The State of the Blogs

Normally, I’d share stats today, but I need to think more . . . globally right now. We’ve had a great quarter but a not-so-great month. April and May saved us, thanks to all the people who contributed a volume of posts that allowed us to publish every day while I spent most of my internet time working for traffic.

I think the poor June is partly about the time of year, but is mostly due to my absence from the Internet. When I’m not religiously answering threads, our engagement suffers. When I’m not tweeting consistently, our referrals suffer. When I’m not in a position to guarantee a post per day, we live entirely on search traffic. Etc.

I’ve seen this effect before on more than one blog, and it’s predictable. It’s not a cause for concern, and I’m not even thinking of it as a setback. It happens. Moving right along.

It’s the July 4 weekend. Last year I overextended myself engineering a good July to the point that we tanked in August and didn’t really recover until late September. Not doing that this year. Of course I’ll maintain communication with all our contributors and do my best to make sure we have a post per day, but for the next two quarters, we get what we get while I reorganize a bit and figure out what 2016 looks like.

If you read my #WeekendCoffeeShare post last weekend, you may have noted that I used the word “monetize” in a positive way. And that I said Sourcerer will be just what it is — a noncommercial WordPress.com blog that thrives on contributions — for as long as it remains in operation. The rest of this builds directly from that post.

Periodically, I take a look at all my social media, evaluate it, and re-prioritize my Internet time to shore up the most valuable ones when they need it. This is a requirement for me, because I’m always experimenting, looking for new friends in out-of-the-way places, and goofing around on networks where I’m weak to figure out how they work. This blog is the most valuable social media space I own, and it’s not in terrible shape, but it needs some shoring up.

I’ve poured a ridiculous amount of time and energy into building Sourcerer. Almost two years in, I am ok with that, because it pays dividends for me and for others. Here are some of the dividends it pays.

  • It’s a safe, welcoming place for a diverse group of bloggers to publish about things that they’re interested in but that doesn’t necessarily fit on their blogs, to mingle, and to form friendships with other bloggers who share their interests.
  • It’s capable of generating crazy-good engagement for its size when circumstances are right.
  • It’s supported by a Twitter account that’s valuable for introducing people, generous about sharing links to other blogs, and positioned to grow.
  • It’s a key part of a much larger social network that is good for generating project ideas, though the brainstorming rarely happens on the blog itself these days.

Here’s something to note about these dividends: they are all social. I’ve privileged the formation of meaningful relationships over other benefits from the beginning, and that has worked well. As long as we can maintain a contributor base and keep bringing the content, Sourcerer is just too good a blog to let go of, or to move to a self-hosted model. It stands or falls on WordPress.com. Its purpose is to get bloggers other than me read.

Here’s the problem. I’m maxed out on the ability to keep growing by putting in more time and energy. It’s taken a lot of luck along with help from many of other bloggers to build it to this point. I am happy to be here and believe I can maintain this blog over time, but I think growth, in terms of increasing page views, will be be slow from here on out.

That has two consequences. I have to get more efficient with my internet time, and I need a source of revenue to spend on marketing. Since I’ve ruled out monetizing this blog, and I can’t build another one on the Sourcerer model without a LOT of administrative and editorial help (because who could run two blogs, each with this many contributors?), I need something completely different.

So, I’m in the process of transitioning all my activities on WordPress to Sourcerer and to the blogs I contribute to and guest post for. Just Gene’O hasn’t performed in a while and there must be better options for a personal website — options that allow third-party ads and are more friendly to affiliate links. Also: options that provide better analytics. So, here is my new-and-improved long-term plan.

1. Phase out Just Gene’O over time. No project I’m supporting with that blog requires it for support at this point. #WeekendCoffeeShare will be just fine without it as long as I have someplace else to publish those posts. The Feminist Friday Project has the infrastructure now to keep right on rolling, provided I continue to coordinate it and find someplace else to archive the public schedule, to index the links and to publish my own contributions. I just don’t know yet what this new personal site looks like, nor where it will be hosted.

2. I need a better personal brand and I need site I can use to get a lot more traffic with one or two updates per week than I’m getting from Just Gene’O at that frequency. If I can generate even $15 per month that isn’t coming out of my (very modest) family income, I can use it as a development fund for the larger project. The question at the moment is how I get there.

3. While I’m figuring that out, keep doing the coffee posts and feminst posts at Just Gene’O and pour more attention into Sourcerer and @Sourcererblog.

4. Make smarter choices about how I structure the next site I build, what I commit to doing with it, and where it’s hosted.

5. Keep making friends.

6. Get lucky one more time.

7. Keep Sourcerer posting, maintain my contributions to the other blogs I post at, and be primed to explode from the starting blocks again in January, the same way we have for the last two years.

That’s it. All my thoughts for today. World domination is still very much on. I just need to find more resources to work with.

What do you think about all this?

Connecting Through Star Wars, Part III: Bonding as Podcasters by Johnamarie Macias

Gene'O:

We’re working on building a regular Star Wars theme for Saturdays here — we’ve done several Star Wars Saturday posts over the past few weeks. No post of our own today, so check out this fine post by Johnamarie Macias of The Wookie Gunner.

Originally posted on Natacha Guyot:

In fact, online is how a lot fans become friends, couples, and even parents themselves. Take MakingStarWars.net’s Jason and Amanda Ward, for example. They initially became friends through a Star Wars forum in 2003, and today, they’re loving parents of two children, showering them with all things Star Wars. They’re the perfect example of how Star Wars transcends distance, and later on, connects through the generations–like me and my mom.

Her first experience with Star Wars was on the big screen in the late 70s, and even though she didn’t become a hardcord fan, it made an impression long enough to affect me when I eventually came into the picture.

“The reason I said yes without thinking–without questioning–it’s because as children grow older, they tend to have and develop their own relationships and their own lives,” my mom said during the fan question portion of one of our…

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Weekend Music: Good Mornin’ America!

Seems appropriate for a July 4 weekend.

Happy Friday!