Today marks the first ever Author Interview on Off The TBR! William Ray graciously accepted my interview request and I want to take a moment to thank him.
Ray is the self-published author of the Tales Of The Verin Empire series which at this point consists of two full length novels, Gedlund and The Great Restoration and a short story, A Case of Eager Heirs . You can read my reviews of those novels by clicking on the links in the titles above.
OTTBR: For readers of the blog who aren’t familiar with you, please tell us a little bit about yourself.
WR: I’m long-time fantasy reader – I was introduced to the Hobbit when I was five, it was the first real book I ever read, and I was totally hooked. I was a long-time D&D fan, a big Star Wars nerd, a huge Transformers geek, etc, etc, and had some time on my hands so I took to writing. My first novel won some acclaim from Kirkus and so I decided I should write more!
Prior to that I had a bunch of irrelevant career nonsense. I worked retail, worked in television, became a lawyer, did intellectual property stuff for a long time, and now I’m here.
OTTBR: Anyone who reads my blog on a regular basis will know I’ve really enjoyed your books. But for those who don’t know about them, tell us about the Tales Of The Verin Empire Series.
WR: The Tales of the Verin Empire is a series of stories in a high fantasy world that has ‘moved on’, to borrow a bit of Stephen King’s Dark Tower parlance. When I first read Lord of the Rings as a kid, and (spoilers) Gandalf, and the elves, and all the other good magic was loaded up into boats and shipped off, I immediately thought, “But what happens when they dig up another balrog?”
The Verin Empire is, to some degree, my musing on that sort of question. It’s a world of high fantasy that has progressed into the equivalent of our 19th century, facing many of the questions we faced, but reframed by the presence of magic.
OTTBR: What were some of the influences behind the books and series?
WR: Tolkien, obviously, but also many of our subcultural spin-offs from it, and, of course, the history and literature of the 19th century. The Verin Empire’s colonial issues borrow from England’s misadventures, there’s influence from the Crimean war’s history and storytelling, particularly Tolstoy, a bit of Sherlock Holmes, a bit of William Pinkerton. I personally find period fiction can be more enlightening as to the feel of the world than history alone, so I try to dig into that when I’m working.
OTTBR: One thing you’ve noted in the books and that I’ve discussed in my reviews is the idea that you’re writing a fantasy series where the nation or the characters are not longing for a mythic glorious past, but rather to a more glorious future. Tell us a little more about that.
WR: A very common element in fantasy is the idea of a more virtuous past. Ancient magics were better, ancient heroes more accomplished, ancient evils darker and more foreboding. Most fantasy stories center around the revival of some ancient evil past heroes vanquished that ‘modern’ heroes are for various reasons less equipped to deal with. In framing my setting, I decided that thematically I’d rather go for the opposite – a world where the past was less virtuous, the present muddy but better, and the future hopefully brighter still. A world that was constantly moving onward, rather than stuck in a persistent medieval fog, waiting for the next big war to change things.
OTTBR: Each of your books has also dealt with issues of class, gender, and other social norms being challenged. What made these important themes within your work?
WR: A large part of it is the real history! The 19th century was a tumultuous period for such things. It saw the end of the largest enslavement in history, the birth of socialism, communism, labor movement, anarchists, suffragists, and also growing ideas of cultural identity drawn through nationalism rather than merely at the local level. Telecommunications and transportation technologies made the world shrink dramatically, and that changed how people saw themselves, and each other. That sort of change should be very familiar to modern readers as well.
The great utility of science-fiction and fantasy stories is that they allow us to examine such things at a remove. Thinking about how Kirk should deal with Romulans was easier than examining how we should deal with the Cold War, for example. Discussing the dangers of executive overreach represented by Palpatine is simpler than trying to apply those same concepts to modern leaders. In the same way, class, gender and other social norms are constantly being reevaluated, and reframing the issues in similar-yet-different settings and circumstances lets us see them with different eyes.
OTTBR: The Great Redemption was entered into SPFBO 2018. What has that experience been like so far?
WR: Fantastic! The SPFBO has been a wonderful experience. The judges and bloggers involved are great, of course, but the community formed by the various authors involved is invaluable. As of this writing, I’m still in contention, but there are so many great works and great writers in the contest that it’s a privilege to even be counted in their number. Self-published literature is a mixed bag, and that can be daunting, but I think Mark Lawrence has done fantasy literature a great service in helping draw attention to some truly brilliant work. Blogs, like yours, are the great gateway between the self-published writer and their audience, and I think the SPFBO not only lends legitimacy to the contestants, but to all independent authors.
OTTBR: Who are the authors who have been most influential to you as a writer?
WR: That’s always a difficult question to answer – I feel like I only ever hold the last four or five books I’ve read in my mind! Tolkien is surely up there. I always admired Lovecraft’s twisty turns of phrase, even if his politics were a bit sketchy. I’m a big fan of China Mieville. Perhaps Greg Stafford? He’s the mind behind Glorantha, which is an RPG setting, rather than a novel, but a lot of his world-building ideas have stuck with me over the years.
OTTBR: Besides other authors who or what else has had a major influence on your writing?
WR: My gaming friends are probably my biggest other influence. Over the ages, I’ve had some amazing story-telling partners, and swapped tales and fantasy ideas with some really clever people, most of whom have never published any fiction at all. I would occasionally toss together short-stories based on such games, and it took years of positive feedback on those to convince me to try my hand at something more substantitve. Dungeons & Dragons and its ilk were shadowy pastimes for most of my life, but they seem to be enjoying a bit of a moment, so I definitely encourage anyone who’s never tried such games to take advantage of the blossoming opportunities and give it a whirl.
OTTBR: This month we’re focusing on self-published authors here on the blog and we’re curious about your experience in the self-publishing world. First, why’d you pursue self-publishing? Did you try going the publishing house route, or did you go straight to self-publishing?
WR: The most honest answer is I looked at the traditional publishing model and couldn’t make sense of the thing. It’s layers of gatekeeping to gamble on a product, projects can be enormous overnight… or be whisked away from their creator and tossed into limbo, never to be seen. There’s a lot of begging, a lot of mystery, and a lot of uncertainty…
And all that goes away if you just publish it yourself. I don’t have to wait years for my manuscript to bounce around from office to office, I can put it out to an audience as soon as I’m sick of working on it. If it does well, and some big publishing platform wants a share of it, they can bid on it as a known quantity, rather than based on pitches and puffery. That model makes way more sense to me.
It’s not exactly how the market works yet, but I think that’s where things are headed, and I’m too lazy to go backwards, so I’ll just wait for them to catch up!
OTTBR: What have been the toughest hurdles for you as a self-published author, and on the flip-side what has been the most rewarding aspects of self-publishing?
WR: There’s a presumption of quality that comes with traditional publication that, as a self-published author, you have to construct from the ground up. The modern market, however, means there’s infinite shelf-space. I’m not really in competition with anyone, so if I see a book I love, I don’t have to worry about it as a competitor, it’s just a book I love. Someone who reads just one book a year isn’t buying my book, so I don’t worry about them – I get to aim for a rarefied audience of history nerds and gamers and fans of overly-subtle mythology mixed with classic high-fantasy trope. Big pockets need lower common denominators, but independent authors can target stories at an audience with laser precision. The only trick is then finding that audience to let them know!
What would you like to see change and/or continue in regards to the self-publishing world?
The presumption of quality that comes with traditional publication has a dark side, which is the false corollary that traditional publishers must have already found everything of quality, and therefore self-published works must not have met that muster. There are a lot of reasons a book might not be traditionally published, and while quality is indeed one of those reasons, we need to better educate the public on the value of reviews. Blogs like yours, Goodreads, and even Amazon customer reviews, all work in concert to give readers every reasonable confidence in a story, and reviews are a far better indicator of a satisfying story than any given publisher’s imprimatur.
OTTBR: What is next for you? Do you have more Tales Of The Verin Empire to be told?
WR: I do! My first short a Case of Eager Heirs is up on Amazon, and I’ve been sending a link for a free copy to my mailing list subscribers. I have a handful of other short story ideas I’ve been toying with and will probably release another in the next few months.
My main project has been a new novel (or perhaps novella) that is set in the Verin Empire’s frontier colony of Rakhasin. My first novel was a classic Victorian war story, the second was a detective story, so the third will be patterned after the classic westerns of the era. It takes place at the same time as The Great Restoration, but on the other side of the world. There are actually a few references to the new story in the book!
That story and I are currently at odds, but I’m hopeful we’ll reach an accord without too much further bloodshed as books do not bleed and I begin to grow lightheaded
OTTBR: Where can readers look you up online?
WR: My website is https://www.VerinEmpire.com, and from there you can join my mailing list to get updates whenever I release something new. One social media you can find me at VerinEmpire on Facebook, and more actively @VerinEmpire on Twitter. I’m even VerinEmpire over on Reddit, and always happy to chat with fellow fans at r/fantasy.
Thanks again William for agreeing to the interview! I’m looking forward to getting my hands on A Case Of Eager Heirs and that third novel whenever it’s ready. A western sounds like a good read and an intriguing addition to the collection.
And to everyone else go check out The Tales Of The Verin Empire series. I really enjoyed them and think you will too.