But part of the breakthrough I mentioned earlier came when I decided to make the story’s central protagonist more of an everyman.
Michael Meyerhofer – 26 June 2014
The Back Flap
In a land haunted by the legacy of dead dragons, Rowen Locke has been many things: orphan, gravedigger, mercenary. All he ever wanted was to become a Knight of Crane and wield a kingsteel sword against the kind of grown horrors his childhood knows all too well.
But that dream crumbled—replaced by a new nightmare.
War is overrunning the realms, an unprecedented duel of desire and revenge, steel and sorcery. And for one disgraced man who would be a knight, in a world where no one is blameless, the time has come to decide which side he’s on.
About the book
What is the book about?
Wytchfire is a dark/epic fantasy novel set in a world where magic is despised and those born with the ability to use it are reviled throughout the continent… sometimes, for good reason. In an effort to combat centuries of murder and oppression, those born with magical abilities—the Shel’ai—have banded together and hatched a desperate scheme to utterly annihilate their many, varied enemies. However, there’s unrest in the ranks. Some of the Shel’ai think they’ve gone too far. Others think they haven’t gone nearly far enough.
As the Shel’ai fight their oppressors, as well as each other, Rowen Locke—a common man with no magical abilities of his own—finds himself caught in the middle.
Rowen is a failed squire, a former sellsword turned aspiring Knight of Crane. Only he was expelled by that prestigious order as much for the color of his skin as for his inability to surmount their grueling training. Now, disgraced and penniless, he finds his loyalties tested on all fronts as the machinations of the Shel’ai unfurl around him.
When did you start writing the book?
I first started this book in high school, believe it or not. It’s had several incarnations over the years as I went back and revised the storyline, tweaked the characters, etc. I’m very hard on my own writing so it took a while before the light bulb came on and things finally started to fall into place.
How long did it take you to write it?
I probably started on the final version of Wytchfire about four years ago. It was tough because I was also teaching full-time, writing and publishing poetry, and serving as the Poetry Editor of Atticus Review, so I had to just work on Wytchfire in the evenings and weekends, a little bit at a time. But about four years ago, I finally had a major breakthrough that helped me map out not only what would happen in Wytchfire, but what would happen in the sequels. That sped up the process tremendously.
Where did you get the idea from?
I suppose the original idea came to me when I was a kid. I loved X-Men comics, as well as pretty much any fantasy novel I could get my hands on, and always wanted to write a medieval-type fantasy series with some similar themes of oppression and revenge. But part of the breakthrough I mentioned earlier came when I decided to make the story’s central protagonist more of an everyman. After all, Rowen Locke isn’t a Shel’ai. Nor is he anything close to perfect. He’s not the strongest or the fastest guy on the battlefield, either (a fact of which he’s well aware). But he does have a tragic past of his own, which grants him some affinity for the plight of the Shel’ai. The character of Rowen Locke allowed me to incorporate into my fantasy some of the same themes I was writing about in my poetry: my experiences growing up very poor, for example, plus what it felt like being continually bullied and picked on for birth defects we didn’t have the money to fix. From there, I found myself addressing some other social issues through the other characters and conflicts.
Were there any parts of the book where you struggled?
As I put more and more of myself into my characters—first, Rowen Locke, then the others, including the villains—I panicked a little bit. Did I really want to be this vulnerable in my writing? Luckily, I’d been fairly blunt in my poetry (often seasoned with some dark humor) so I was able to get over that relatively quickly. The reader gets the final say, of course, but I hope that’s made my fiction stronger.
What came easily?
I’m something of a history and philosophy nerd so when I got the idea to pattern the Knights of the Crane after Japanese samurai, my knowledge of Buddhism really came in handy. Gradually, I changed that portrayal here and there so that instead of flawless, honorable warriors, the Knights of the Crane were portrayed in a more realistic manner: skilled, sure, but also ambitious, political, and as prone to bigotry as everyone else in the world of Wytchfire. Especially when I was writing the Codex Lotius (a kind of poetic/philosophical rule book that the Knights are supposed to follow), I had a lot of fun incorporating some elements of Zen. I also got to weave in some tidbits from the Greek philosopher, Democritus. Oh, and battles! I won’t say that writing fight scenes is easy, but it’s definitely one of the most fun aspects of writing fantasy, I think.
Are your characters entirely fictitious or have you borrowed from real world people you know?
You know, it’s funny because I didn’t realize until I went back and started to revise, just how many of my characters were at least somewhat based on people I’ve known personally. Especially with the supporting cast, so to speak, I kind of subconsciously patterned a lot of them after people I’ve met over the years, either in factories or grad school classrooms (or *cough* family reunions).
We all know how important it is for writers to read. Are there any particular authors that have influenced how you write and, if so, how have they influenced you?
Ha, I’m trying not to mention George R. R. Martin every single time I answer that question but… yeah, George R. R. Martin. Since I read both “speculative” and “literary” stuff all the time, though, I hold a pretty eclectic roster of authors close to my heart. Here are just a few of the authors to whom I owe everything: Ernest Hemingway, J.D. Salinger, Raymond Carver, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Flannery O’Connor, Dorianne Laux, Richard Knaak, Sharon Olds, Li Po, Chiyo-ni, D.H. Lawrence, Tony Hoagland, Yusef Komunyakaa, Brandon Sanderson, Raymond Feist, and Terry Brooks. In terms of how they’ve influenced me, I think every good writer provides a slightly different way of looking at the world, not to mention a unique aesthetic on the writing process. More specifically, I owe a lot to Hemingway’s brevity, Whitman’s passion, O’Connor’s dark wit, Carver’s symbolism, Olds’ guts, etc.
Do you have a target reader?
You know, having written poetry, book reviews, creative nonfiction, and a little bit of literary fiction before Wytchfire, I sometimes feel like I’ve targeted—well, tried to target—pretty much every type of reader by now! I’ve also heard it said that writers should just write the kind of books that they’d personally like to read. Let me see if I can provide a less tap-dancing answer, though. I guess I’d have to say that I prefer readers who are fueled not just by passion for the written word, but by curiosity for the unknown. There’s an element of escapism to reading, sure, but I also think that a good book—any good book—is good in large part because it gives us a fresh way of looking at the world, our country, ourselves, etc. Pickiness is fine, too. I like readers who will happily suspend disbelief and give themselves over to a story, but only when the author has genuinely earned it.
Do you have a writing process? If so can you please describe it?
It kind of depends on what I’m writing. If it’s poetry, for example, I might just jot down some ideas or a couple lines here and there (between classes, waiting at the airport, standing in line at the coffee shop, etc). With fiction, though, I’m much more regimented. I sit down, usually in the evenings or late afternoon, with some music, plus some sort of vessel that contains more caffeinated beverage than should be legally permissible, and tell myself that I won’t move from that spot until I’ve done A, B, and C. I don’t necessarily do that every day, but when I do, I make sure I’m staying on track and getting stuff done. I also recall a passage from Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, about leaving something in the well when you stop writing. I try to call it a day when I still have some idea of what I’ll do the next time I sit down to write, rather than writing until I’ve completely exhausted all my ideas.
Do you outline? If so, do you do so extensively or just chapter headings and a couple of sentences?
Part of the reason why Wytchfire took me much longer to write than the forthcoming sequel, The Knight of the Crane, was that I didn’t start extensively outlining until relatively recently. It’s been a lifesaver, though. Now, I come up with a good paragraph of synopsis for every chapter, as detailed as possible. Even though I inevitably wind up making huge changes as I go, that takes some of the logistical pressure off and lets me concentrate on the fun stuff, aka the actual writing.
Do you edit as you go or wait until you’ve finished?
This is another thing about which I’ve changed my philosophy over the years. I used to edit as I went, which slowed me down considerably and also made completing the manuscript seem a lot more daunting than it should have been. Then in grad school, I received this advice: don’t edit (at least, not much) until you have your first draft done. After all, that first draft is just about creating your novel’s skeleton, so to speak. Revising and editing is when you actually put flesh on the bones. I’ve had a lot more work, and a lot more fun, with that strategy. One other strategy I’d like to share: the past couple years, I’ve tried listening to my own manuscript with headphones, read back to me by a voice reader, so that I can follow along and make corrections, or pause the reading and spend some time basically rewriting any passage that just doesn’t sound right. That’s really helped me to get a different perspective on my stuff, as well.
Do you listen to music while you write? If yes, what gets the fingers tapping?
I love listening to music while I write but I find that I get distracted if it’s anything with lyrics. So over the years, I’ve tried writing to classical, jazz, Indian classical, ambient, etc. Really any instrumental music (besides muzak) can work, depending on my mood.
Did you submit your work to Agents?
This may sound strange but since my first few books were poetry, and almost no poets have literary agents, it honestly wasn’t something I spent too much time thinking about at first—though I’ve been thinking about it a lot more lately, now that I’m about 2/3 through the Dragonkin Trilogy and have actually started a second, separate trilogy, plus a different stand-alone YA fantasy novel. I’ve only done a little research into agents so far but it’s been a real eye-opener in terms of just how competitive this business is. Then again, I suppose that’s a good thing. Anything worth doing should have a strong measure of difficulty to it.
What made you decide to go Indie, whether self-publishing or with an indie publisher? Was it a particular event or a gradual process?
I think my past publishing history made me extra receptive to indie publishers, but what really cinched it for me was when I kept hearing about Red Adept’s professionalism. They’re known for working really hard to help their authors make sure their books are as good as they can possibly be, and that’s something I really appreciate and respect. I’ve had one or two bad experiences in the past (the less said, the better) so working with Red Adept has been a real privilege. Obviously, every author would love to see their books on the shelves of every major bookstore in the country (and beyond), but in this ever-changing and ultra-crowded publishing world, I think if you can find a committed editor who really believes in your book, you’re ahead of the game.
Did you get your book cover professionally done or did you do it yourself?
Red Adept was kind enough to have the book cover done professionally, though as a further testament to their character, they also made sure I was involved in every step of the process.
Do you have a marketing plan for the book or are you just winging it?
Honestly, a bit of both. I had some ideas when I started out, thanks to my past experience. However, I’m finding that promoting fiction is very different from promoting poetry, so I’ve ended up revising my marketing strategies about as much as I’d revise the rough draft of a manuscript!
Any advice that you would like to give to other newbies considering becoming Indie authors?
Make sure you find a press that genuinely likes/believes in your writing, somebody you’ll be happy working with. The easiest way to tell the quality of a press is to look at a couple of the books they’ve published, then also do some online research and see what (if anything) they’ve done to help promote said books. At the same time, understand the financial limitations of small presses. Weigh that against the cost and possible stigma of self-publishing, in which you’ll do all the work and be entirely by your lonesome, but get all the royalties (such as they are). Also, regardless of your publication strategy, the most important thing is just to make sure you’re writing the best book you possibly can—not just out of respect for the craft, for this crazy business of writing with its history that goes back for millennia, but as a sign of respect for readers.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Osage, Iowa. It’s a small but really pretty farm town in the extreme north of the state, surrounded by green hills and broad, golden cornfields. It tends to be really hot in the summer and North-of-the-Wall cold during the winter, though I’d like to think the extremes in climate help keep us honest.
What would you like readers to know about you?
Well, I’m not just a writer, but a lifelong reader. So as cheesy as this sounds, I’ve always had a deep and abiding respect for the leap of faith one takes when they check out a new book series, let alone a new author. I’d probably still be writing even if I were trapped on a deserted island, with nothing to do but stash my manuscripts in hollowed-out coconuts. But I still have great appreciation for anyone who gives my stuff a chance. Let’s see, what else… Oh, I’m also a crack shot with a blowgun.
What are you working on now?
I alluded to this earlier but I have quite a few new projects going on right now. I’m very self-critical when it comes to revising, but I also absolutely love the writing process, so I tend to be very prolific. Obviously, my priority is finishing up the Dragonkin Trilogy, and I’m very excited for people to see what happens in the sequels to Wytchfire (tentatively called The Knight of the Crane and The War of the Lotus). In the meantime, I also have a good start on a completely different trilogy, plus a stand-alone novel. I’m still writing poetry whenever I can, too. I easily have enough poems (many of them published in magazines) to fill two or three more books.
End of interview: