Today I am very pleased to introduce another young(er) writer, Jeffrey Getzin, whom I also met on the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Competition forum a few years so. He has since self-published his first novel, Prince of Bryanae, a fantasy, so he is another of the significant contingent of writers who have chosen to launch their careers themselves, rather than waiting around for the traditional industry to recognize their talents. I have noticed that a really huge segment of this new crop of independent writer / publishers is working in fantasy: I wonder if it has anything to do with the popularity of fantasy games like World of Warcraft among this generation. There is certainly a crossover readership.
Jeffrey is the person who developed a series of challenging questions for Alison deLuca to respond to, two weeks ago, and now Alison is interviewing him. She encouraged him to talk about his first novel, Prince of Bryanae, and what other writing projects are coming down the chute in the near future. He also offers the wisdom of experience to would-be self-publishers. Thank you both!
AdL: Jeff, thanks so much for giving us your thoughts on self-publishing and writing Prince of Bryanae, your fantasy novel. You’ve stressed in other interviews that your main character, Willow, is a strong character. Could you describe her for us?
Jeffrey: Thanks, Alison. I’d be delighted to!
In the Kingdom of Bryanae, there is none more feared than Willow, the elven Captain of the King’s Guard. She is one of the deadliest creatures who has ever walked on two legs, having obsessed about weapons and combat for 150 years!
When we first meet her, she’s a bit of a cypher; she’s abrasive, emotionless, and obsessed with discipline, but through the course of the story, we find out why she is this way, and a large part of the book is about Willow coming to terms with her past and becoming a whole person.
As for being strong, oh yes. Yes indeed, she’s strong. She’s dedicated her entire life to self-discipline, and is driven like no protagonist you’ve ever met. She’s like a Terminator with a rapier and pointed ears. Through the course of the book, she suffers countless injuries and runs up against what look to be insurmountable obstacles and unbeatable foes, but Willow never gives up.
AdL: As you went through the writing process, how were you able to access edits and beta reads? What feedback surprised you the most?
Jeffrey: The first reader of Prince of Bryanae was my girlfriend Kate, to whom the book is dedicated. She was my focus group for characters and plot, and I depended heavily on her reactions. If she liked a hero or hated a villain, I knew I was on the right track. If she didn’t react the way I had hoped, I’d tweak the book to bring them more in line with my intentions.
After the first draft was done, successive drafts were read and critiqued by writer friends, writers groups, and even co-workers. Prince of Bryanae went through literally dozens of revision cycles. Even so, I still catch the odd typo to this day!
AdL: Tell us about the language in POB. What words did you create or use to reflect the action in the book?
Jeffrey: There are several languages spoken in this book.
First, there is Szun Universal, which is the language spoken by most humans in my world. I wrote that language using English, a language which which I have a passing familiarity. ;)
Second, there is the language of the invading humans. Initially, they are simply referred to as “barbarians” but later we learn that they are called Kards. I invented their language.
Third, there is the language spoken by the elves of Willow’s homeland. Initially, I used an invented language, but later in the book, it became the new “default” language and was represented by English. (An interesting side effect of this is that when an elf encountered someone who spoke Szun Universal, previously represented by English, he heard it in a made-up language that sounded English-like.)
Of course, when I say I invented these languages, I don’t mean I went to Tolkien lengths and wrote entire vocabularies. Instead, I got a good feeling of what each language should sound like, and a very rough idea of its grammar. I invented words only as I needed them, though I made sure to reuse them when appropriate for consistency.
Finally, the protagonists actually meet an honest-to-god Szun, and not just any Szun but the one who invented Szun Universal! It turns out that over the centuries since its invention, humans have been mangling the language, so when we meet the Szun, he essentially speaks English in its “original form.” I structured this original form borrowing heavily from the Latin grammar, where verbs appear at the end of sentence, but I took it to an even greater extreme, where words are listed in increasing order of “importance” (modified by precedence). The result unusual the least is to say.
AdL: Please share a passage from your book that you really enjoyed writing.
Jeffrey: Here is a passage of which I’m particularly fond. In it, Willow has run into her mother after being estranged for over a hundred years. It was a lot of fun to write because it has snappy dialog, and also, it’s the first time we get a clue about the nature of Willow’s childhood.
“You’re looking well, Waeh-Loh,” said [Willow’s mother]. “Other than the dark circles under your eyes, that is.” Her eyes surveyed Willow, had already glanced at the shabby cowl she wore.
“Thank you, mother,” Willow said, ignoring the barb. “You’re looking well, too.”
And she was. Tee-Ri looked extreme, barbaric, vulgar, yes. But she also looked beautiful, voluptuous. The two appeared about the same age, which was just another of the many lies of time as measured by elves.
The two women regarded each other. Around them, more spectators were arriving on the scene, gawking and chattering among themselves. Two elves in Bryanae: that ought to keep them steeped in gossip for years. Not that they didn’t already have a lot to talk about after Willow’s failures and subsequent demotion.
“Your father sends his regards,” Tee-Ri said.
Willow arched an eyebrow.
“Really? Who is my father these days?”
The corner of Tee-Ri’s mouth twitched. She had always been well adept at lying to herself. No doubt, she had convinced herself that this man really was Willow’s father.
“Jabar,” Tee-Ri said. “The great-grandson.”
“Ah, keeping it in the family, are you?”
Tee-Ri’s nostrils flared, and she sprung towards Willow with a hand raised and the backhand slap already headed towards Willow’s face. She stopped, though, when Willow’s rapier whisked from its sheath and pointed at her throat.
Tee-Ri’s porcelain face turned even whiter as she looked down at the rapier. Her face reddened.
“You would draw steel against your own mother?” she said.
“You would strike your own daughter?”
Tee-Ri took a step back, and Willow lowered her rapier but did not return it to its sheath.
“You’ve changed,” Tee-Ri said.
Tee-Ri’s face registered the wound. For just a moment, she showed her age, and she was a sad, tired woman.
“I’m a practical woman, Waeh-Loh. The world changes, trees sprout, trees die. One either flows with time or is swept aside by it. Surely, you must know this. Or has your life among the humans turned you into one as well?”
“You tell me, Mother. You’ve spent more time in their beds than I have.” Tee-Ri’s cheeks were now a bright red. Willow pressed her attack. “And while you’re at it, Mother, when’s the last time you gave any thought to my real father?”
Tee-Ri raised her hands in half-surrender. She smiled ruefully.
“Like I said, I’m a practical woman.”
“You’re a cold, heartless bitch.”
“Ah,” Tee-Ri said, her eyes sparkling with malice, “and I see you’ve grown up to be just like me. Just look at yourself. Your hair is like straw, your body is a cylindrical lump, and your face looks like it hasn’t smiled in a thousand years. At what point did you decide to stop being a woman, Waeh-Loh? At what point did you decide to stop being an elf? My lovely, smiling, darling daughter has grown up to be a calcified statue of an old man. You can’t even get within a hundred leagues of Bryanae without hearing of the famous stoic elf Willow, that humorless, single-minded shadow of a woman.” Tee-Ri snorted. “Why, I’ll bet you’re still a virgin.”
Willow pressed the point of her rapier against Tee-Ri’s throat again. Willow’s hand shook with the effort to restrain herself.
“You know that’s not true,” Willow said with a small quaver in her voice.
Tee-Ri retreated a step, but Willow advanced, keeping the rapier pressed against her mother’s throat.
“Tell me why I shouldn’t kill you.”
“Because I’m your mother!”
A grim smile played at the corner of Willow’s lips. She pressed the point of her rapier an infinitesimal distance further into Tee-Ri’s throat.
“Not good enough.”
Tee-Ri started to shake. Her eyes cast about, seeking help. All around them, the fair citizens had gathered to watch the spectacle. The mood was of curiosity, though, and not of outrage. The people of Bryanae were excited, yes, but no doubt looked at this confrontation as delightful entertainment.
“There are people around. They’ll see!”
Willow shook her head.
“Not good enough,” she said. She pressed the rapier in a little more. A thin stream of blood trailed down Tee-Ri’s slender white neck.
“Stop it, Waeh-Loh!”
“Call me Willow. That’s my name now.”
Tee-Ri began to cry and hyperventilate. She inserted sporadic sobs as punctuation.
“You can’t kill me!” she said.
“Oh? Why not?”
Suddenly, Tee-Ri’s eyes focused.
“Because I’m here to deliver Warlord Jabar’s terms.” Buoyed by this revelation, a small smile played upon Tee-Ri’s beautiful, savage face.
A cold lump formed in Willow’s belly.
Tee-Ri’s smile broadened. She took a step away from the rapier. This time Willow didn’t compensate.
“Yes, terms. You didn’t think that it was just a coincidence that I came to see you when I did, did you? Don’t be ridiculous. Terms for the return of your prince, of course.”
AdL: Tell us about self-publishing. What challenges have you encountered?
Jeffrey: At first, I thought that self-publishing was admitting that I couldn’t hack it as a “real” writer. Until only recently, self-publishing was also known as “vanity” publishing, and was considered a form of literary masturbation.
Recently, that’s changed. As the price of print-on-demand publishing has decreased, and with the arrival of portable digital readers such as the Kindle and the Nook, the barriers for admission have lowered for self-publishing, and the value-add of traditional publishers has diminished.
I mean, what do traditional publishers actually do for you?
They critique and edit your book, but this is something you can do yourself if you have enough gumption, elbow grease, and some talented friends.
They engage an artist for the cover photo, but again, you can do this yourself. I was fortunate enough to find Carol Phillips to do my covers and I’d stack her work against the majority of the artists doing “professional” books. There are a lot more talented artists out there, too, so again, it just takes hard work (and money) to locate one and to commission a good cover.
They typeset your book for print. Once more, this is something you can do for yourself with a little research, a little moxie, and a lot of hard work.
Finally, they handle the book promotion. Here is where it gets difficult for the self-publisher, as you have to be your own publicist. It’s difficult, especially if like me, you have a full-time job that doesn’t leave you a lot of spare time.
Nevertheless, self-publishing has many perks. Chief among these is that you have chief and total control of your product. The book that’s published is the book you wanted to publish, not the book some editor felt was more sale-able.
This is, of course, a double-edged sword. A professional agent or editor knows what’s likely to sell. “All” you know is what story you wanted to write. Maybe you’ll luck out and they’ll be the same thing, but maybe you won’t…
AdL: What are some of the unexpected joys that you’ve found in your self-publishing journey?
The least expected and most rewarding experience has been the strong positive reaction I’ve received from such a diverse group of readers. I’ve managed to reach people I never expected to reach, and touch them in ways I’ve never expected to touch them.
For example, while I don’t come right out and say it in my novel, Willow is suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It turns out that one of my readers has a soldier for a husband who suffers from PTSD, and they both loved the book! They told me that my portrayal of PTSD was accurate, and they both enjoyed a story where the heroine was a fellow sufferer.
Another surprise came when I learned that the teenaged daughter of an old friend had come across the book, and loved it. Now, Prince of Bryanae is pretty dark in places, and it’s very violent as well, so I never even considered teenaged girls as a target demographic; it just seemed like something that wouldn’t appeal to them. I was delighted to be wrong on this. It absolutely made my day when I heard from her.
However, the most poignant experience has to be regarding my friend Dan Copeland. He and I trained in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu together, and then he was diagnosed with brain cancer. But Dan was one hell of a fighter, and even showed up to his some of his chemotherapy appointments in his gi (uniform). Well, I gave Dan a copy of the book and he became an enthusiastic supporter of it, even reading it multiple times!
Dan recently lost his fight to cancer, but it touches me that first, I was unexpectedly able to bring some pleasure into his life with this book, and that second, someone as brave and strong as he would could find it worth reading. When you’re diagnosed with brain cancer, you pretty much know the clock is ticking and yet he found it worthwhile to read my book multiple times. I can’t begin to describe how honored I feel by this.
AdL: Are you working on a new book now?
Jeffrey: I have a novella called “Shara and the Haunted Village” that will be coming out soon. It’s about a starving seamstress who leaps at an unexpected chance at riches and adventure when a shadowy pair of adventurers asks her to lead them to a haunted village.
Next in the pipeline is another novella called “A Lesson for the Cyclops,” in which a circus freak falls in love with a rogue who’s on the run (and when is a rogue not on the run?), and how her life changes from the encounter.
After that, I actually have the first book I ever wrote, a prequel to Prince of Bryanae called King of Bryanae. I wrote it many years ago, and while there’s a lot of good stuff in it, there are also many problems with it. I plan to edit and revise this novel and make it something worth selling.
Next, I just started a new story, as yet untitled. I’ve written a single chapter, and I’m not sure where it will lead, or if indeed, it will lead anywhere.
Finally, I have a story for a third novel in my Bryanae series bouncing around in my head. It’s not quite there yet. I need the story to stew a little longer before it’s ready to commit to the page. :-)
AdL: What advice do you have for those who are considering self-publication?
Jeffrey: Write the best book you can. Spell-check. Have lots of beta readers; listen to them. Spell-check again. Revise. Rinse. Repeat. Only when you’ve made your book as good as you possibly can should you start the publication process.
Then, learn to be patient. There are so many good books out there by so many talented authors, that even if you’re the next Harper Lee, it’ll take a long time for your readership to grow.
Finally, develop a thick skin. Not everybody’s going to like your book; indeed, some will hate your book. If you’re not prepared for that, then you should not publish. While most of my reviews have been very positive, I’ve received a few 1- or 2-star reviews that would strip paint from furniture. You have to be able to withstand that if you expect to have any pleasure from the experience.
AdL:. Take a section from Prince of Bryanae, and rewrite it from the point of view of a minor character in the scene to create a short of about 250 words.
The thunderstorm had so thoroughly doused Don-Lan that he felt there wasn’t a dry spot on him. Every piece of fabric he wore was saturated to capacity: every drop of rain just rolled off his clothes onto the splashy mud through which he trudged. Around him, the other elves and the human soldiers sputtered and stumbled alongside him in the swamp that hours ago had been a field.
The princess had given him one job to do: lead them back to Headquarters. It had seemed so simple at the time, but with the rain assaulting them and the sky as black as night, how could he be sure they were heading in the right direction?
Another explosion of thunder deafened him, and moments later, a flash of lighting lit up the field in stark relief. Don-Lan’s heart pounded in his chest, terrified that any moment he and the rest of them would be electrocuted.
The human officer, the one with the mustache, trudged through the mud up to the princess and shouted something into her ear. She said something in reply, shaking her head, and Don-Lan could see the frustration on the human’s face. Then the black human joined the fray and shouted something else.
The princess shouted something unintelligible to first the one with the mustache and then to the black one.
The black man replied, defiance evident in his demeanor. To Don-Lan’s astonishment, the princess slapped him.
The black man bared his teeth in rage and wrapped his hands around the princess’s throat.
Don-Lan ran forward to try to break up the fight. Pree-Var-Us evidently had the same idea, as he was running alongside him. The princess fought against her assailant: kneeing him, scratching and kicking at him, desperate for air. The human officer drew his sword.
Pree-Var-Us waved his arms, shouting at them to stop killing each other, that they had a common foe.
Then there was another blast of thunder, and suddenly Pree-Var-Us had no head. His arms continued to flail, but blood jetted from his neck, and then he fell to the ground and was still.
The black human released the princess, and she and the two humans gawked in astonishment and horror at Pree-Var-Us’s corpse.
(Fiction passages © Jeffrey Getzin)