Today we welcome Samuel Z. Jones.
Book ‘Em: Tell us about you and your life outside of writing.
Samuel Z. Jones: Life… outside… writing? I’m sorry, I don’t understand. I’ve somehow managed to make writing a living for about ten years now… I’m not really sure how far divorced one’s living and one’s life can really be. Pretty much everything I do is somehow connected to writing; my interests and hobbies are all essentially research to that end.
Things I do when not writing or thinking about it include martial arts, camping, historical re-enactment, roleplaying games, and when I can, horse-riding. I hold the view that “write what you know” applies equally to Fantasy as to any other genre, and that camping, riding and archaic combat not only feature strongly in the genre, but are things one can indeed know about.
Book ‘Em: Which books have you written? What are they about and why did you choose to write them? Do your books have a message? Are they fiction or nonfiction?
Samuel Z. Jones: I’ve written so many books… Nineteen? Twenty? I think I just broke twenty this year. I write novels, primarily Fantasy in the heroic sword & sorcery vein. I’m fascinated by the archetypal coding of mythic imagery and its bearing on the human subconscious; writing is a means to structure and process experience, and Fantasy in particular is a way to map the vast terrain of the mind. Rather than a message, per se, each book is an abstract study of some puzzling aspect of life. The Women’s Regiment series is largely about PTSD. The Red Knight and the rest of the Akurite Empire trilogy explored spiritual and religious concepts in the absence of the divine. Most books also feature an attempt at some new technical aspect of writing, be it exploration of a sub-genre or specific theme, a study of an archetypal character, or a particular storytelling structure. Lately, I’ve been looking at approaches to collaborative writing; alongside my own work in progress are several novels written with one to four other authors.
Book ‘Em: Do you have a work in progress?
Samuel Z. Jones: Always. I’ve had to impose a stop on starting new works until I’ve cleared some of the unfinished manuscripts from my desk. I generally have three or more novels actively in progress at any given time, with each taking from three to five years to complete.
At present, I’m trying to bring the published material of my Fantasy series up to date with the timeline of the story as I have it now; while readers are still with the armies marching home from the long wars, the stories in progress deal with rebuilding for the next generation.
Book ‘Em: What was the most difficult section/piece you ever wrote? What made it difficult?
Samuel Z. Jones: I wanna say “zombies”. I’d decided to do a trilogy exploring the archetype of the witch, founded on Horror as a sub-genre of Fantasy, and looking in particular at the undead and necromantic imagery in a Fantasy context.
By the end of the trilogy, I had zombie fatigue. There are only so many ways to write the advancing zombie horde, only so many ways to make the undead interesting. It was the study of the witch that carried the story through; there’s something liberating in a cackling villain with the leeway to say whatever they please. The ease with which the immortal sorceress stole scenes and upstaged the hero led me to question if he had the true star potential of a leading role: There arose a new technical challenge in developing him from a faithful knight to a paladin with the charisma and force of personality to exchange jibes and blows with his adversary. Sir Taran Denebar has since grown into a character I have to use sparingly, having become a scene-stealer himself.
Book ‘Em: What sort of research do you do for your work?
Samuel Z. Jones: I dress up in period costume, gather with up to two thousand people who make a habit of doing the same and, among other activities over a long weekend, batter the hell out of each other with padded cudgels in the shape of archaic melee weapons. No, really. I also read, fiction and non-fiction, and what one might call both in the form of mythology.
Book ‘Em: Which books and authors do you read for pleasure? Is there an author that inspires you?
Samuel Z. Jones: What inspired me in particular about his work was the humour. Fantasy is frequently dry, when comedy is a real thing that occurs in daily life. People really do laugh, and in a genre asking disbelief to be suspended across a chasm, taking that aspect from characterization hobbles many Fantasy writers. Hugh Cook’s work revealed a way to be funny without trying to be Terry Pratchett.
Perhaps my favourite author is the obscure and sadly unrecognised Hugh Cook. I spent a decade collecting his Chronicles of an Age of Darkness, and only recently discovered that the tenth book in the series was ever printed at all.
Book ‘Em: Was there a person who encouraged you to write?
Samuel Z. Jones: My great-grandfather. He’d instruct me to write something, and then enter it in a writing competition or to a local paper. He taught me that this was a normal and achievable thing. My first published piece was around the age of twelve, when I was shortlisted in an adult fiction competition, my piece included in a short-run anthology.
Book ‘Em: What would you say are your strengths as an author?
Samuel Z. Jones: Bloody-minded determination and an encyclopedic memory.
Book ‘Em: How often do you write, and do you write using a strict routine?
Samuel Z. Jones: I try to write every day. It’s not always possible. At the very least, I stare at a work in progress and will it closer to completion. There is no routine, no set system; I put as much time aside as possible to write, and use that time trying to do so.
Book ‘Em: Five years from now, where do you see yourself as a writer?
Samuel Z. Jones: Living in a nicer house. I would, one day, like to finish the enormous Fantasy epic that’s so far eaten up a decade of my life. Then I’ll take a break, write a novel about a desert island instead. Maybe do some practical research.
Book ‘Em: If you could offer one piece of advice to a novice writer, what would it be?
Samuel Z. Jones: Oh, alright. No one knows. That is the truest statement possible about the state of modern publishing. At both ends of the spectrum, from the wild frontiers of indy PoD and Epub to the hallowed halls of trad publishing, the Ultimate Truth is… No One Knows what the hell is going on, what to do about it or what’ll happen next. They don’t, I’ve checked. Been at this ten years now, started literally when ebooks and Amazon hit publishing a left-right combo. Trad publishing is still on the ropes, reeling, stunned, taking body blows, and in denial. The old saying, “How do you make a small fortune in publishing? Start with a large one,” has never been more true, now that every author is expected to shoulder ever more aspects of the publisher’s role. Be prepared for the long-haul, is the short answer.
The best advice I can possibly give to anyone starting out is; wait. I know you don’t want to. But you should. The market is such that a great many authors publish before they’re ready, while just as many languish unpublished long after they’ve developed their writing to high accomplishment. Diving into the indy market on the hope of viral success is akin to buying a lottery ticket, and the odds of being picked up by a big publisher and catapulted to bestselling celebrity multi-millionaire author status are about as slim. A far better approach is to just write, and keep writing, and write more, for years, until you are absolutely definitely very, very good, and have also had a chance to study publishing as a professional field. By the time you’ve done this, the market will have changed and hopefully someone will know what’s going on.
Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.
Book ‘Em: What would you consider the best compliment a reader could give your book?
Samuel Z. Jones: “When’s the next one out?”
Book ‘Em: Provide an excerpt of your writing that you would like to share with our members.
Samuel Z. Jones: From “The Headsman’s Daughter”, available February 2018…
In a cavern beneath a mountain, the dragon Gargouille lay on a mound of gold. The dragon’s attention was presently on a knight, clad as tradition demanded in full plate armour and girt with enchanted sword. The knight’s armour was red as blood, the dragon’s scales granite grey. Contrary to tradition, the wyrm and the paladin were not fighting, but having a conversation.
“The Lord Protector’s problem may not be his enemies, but his friends.”
The dragon’s voice was sibilant in Sir Denebar’s ear, a whisper surprisingly soft for so huge a beast. Denebar grunted and shifted his weight, seeking comfort or at least stability perched on the great mound of gold comprising Gargouille’s nest. As the guardian and de facto banker of the Realm’s gold, the dragon Gargouille had also become one of the Lord Protector’s closest councillors.
“And what the devil do you mean by that?” The Lord Protector himself, Sir Taran Denebar demanded.
“Simply that my Lord Protector is too closely tied to the military to effect his designs with ease.”
“Ease? If I wanted ease, I’d have retired long ago!”
“Indeed. For about a week, two at most. The Realm would need no longer to fall back into war. As well my Lord Protector knows.”
The dragon delighted in tormenting Denebar with his title: He had not chosen it, did not like it, and accepted it solely because to refuse would encourage the demands that he proclaim himself king.
Very few had the nerve to taunt the Lord Protector. Besides his station, Sir Denebar was a battlefield knight, veteran of a hundred fights, renowned swordsman and slayer of monsters. He was also a bearlike man, well over six feet tall and proportionately broad, fierce of beard and grim of eye. The dragon Gargouille, while small by the standards of his race, was nonetheless a monstrous beast owning no regard at all for either a man’s stature or his station.
“What do you propose?” Denebar grunted at last; the dragon was more patient than he, having centuries to compare with the decades of a man’s life.
“It seems to me,” Gargouille hissed, “that my Lord Protector…”
“…has an abundance of mighty warriors at his command. But such men and women lack subtlety, and that is what is required here…”
“…I was merely going to suggest…”
“No.” Denebar caught the dragon’s eye and held it, a feat few men possessed the willpower to achieve. “In this I can read your mind. In what sense, exactly, is assassination by dragon in any way ‘subtle’?”
Gargouille hissed, long and slow, the dragon’s equivalent of kissing its teeth, and then said, “You must concede this is no task for questing knights.”
“No, that it is not. But it’s a damn nasty job to shirk off onto the Women’s Regiment, and they’re the only ones as could do it. There’s the ugly truth of it. How the hell I mean to sell it to them; that’s another thing entirely.”
“The Lord Protector is wise in his compassion,” the dragon smarmed sarcastically, “but indeed, even my services, which he must inevitably call upon, would demand first that his Lordship…”
“Watch it,” Denebar growled.
“…beg the aid of the Women’s Regiment, which can only require somehow convincing Lady Xenales to support so unpleasant a mission.”
“Some bloody councillor you are,” Denebar grunted, making at last to depart. “I could have worked all that out meself.”
Gargouille’s laughter followed him from the chamber and along the winding passage back to the surface. The way was surprisingly narrow, considering the dragon’s bulk; Denebar could easily touch the opposing walls with both hands. The passage was almost perfectly smooth, worn so by the action of Gargouille’s scales on the rare event that the wyrm slithered forth. Lately, this had been only for state occasions; Denebar privately thought that the dragon was getting lazy.
Outside, blinking in the daylight, Denebar enjoyed a rare moment alone. It did not last; just as he was considering packing his pipe and sitting down for a smoke, hoofbeats echoed from the narrow road leading to the dragon’s lair.
Denebar groaned, sat down on a rock, and packed his pipe anyway. He had just struck a match when the rider came in sight; a woman, clad in the deep red uniform of Denebar’s personal Lifeguards, leading a second horse by the reins.
“Good morning, Captain.”
Captain Karmilla Tate dismounted her horse at a bound and landed at attention. Denebar sometimes thought the intense young woman slept like that, bolt upright, eyes front, unblinking.
“Oh relax,” he told her. “Step into my office, pull up a chair.”
Karmilla swivelled her eyes as if to discover the office of which the Lord Protector spoke, but there was only the mountain valley leading to the dragon’s cave. “My Lord?”
“Oh, alright, I’m coming…” Denebar heaved himself to his feet and clanked over to the spare horse that Karmilla had brought. He was not quite quick enough to stop Karmilla moving to the opposite side and holding his stirrup while he mounted.
“Captain, how many bloody times have I told you not to do that?”
“I don’t keep count, sir.”
“The day I can’t mount my own horse is the day I retire. Take some advice, Captain; make yourself too useful, and you may be sure I’ll find a use for you. Think on that, because I’d far rather you had a nice quiet career and went home to Vale where I found you.”