Jeffrey Getzin: Finding Special Fans and Unexpected Readers

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!

If you want to know more about Jeffrey, his writing, or his martial arts achievements, check out his website.

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 Getzin

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.

[Begin Spoiler]

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.

[End Spoiler]

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.

“You haven’t.”

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!”

“It’s Willow.”

“What?”

“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.

“Terms?”

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.

Jeffrey:

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.

Chaos ensued.

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)

Alison deLuca: Steampunk, Dieselpunk and a Bolt of Flash Fiction

Alison deLuca, steampunking

One of the pleasures I have enjoyed in participating in the on-line writing community in the past few years has been meeting dozens of writers from all over the world through the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) forum, on authonomy, and in other venues. Many of them have launched their literary careers in an era when self-publishing was a viable option, which it was not for most established writers when they first started out. The new-writer experience is very different today than it was 30 years ago when I began, and that has both its drawbacks and its advantages, I think.

My own entry into self-publishing has been greatly enriched by this community: we’ve learned the ropes together. I decided it would be fun to profile a couple of these promising and industrious emerging writers on my blog so that you could read about the lessons they have learned, and the great progress they have made, in their still relatively new careers as authors. In discussing this blog idea in one of the FaceBook groups I belong to, the thought came to us that having one of these newer (and definitely younger) writers than I interview another might be the way to go. Therefore, it is with great pleasure that I present for your reading pleasure a series of incisive and intriguing questions posed by Jeffrey Getzin of Alison DeLuca – and her equally fascinating responses.

Alison’s bio (from her very thorough press kit: kudos on that Alison. I’m going to use it as a model for my own!) tells me that she is the author of several steampunk and urban fantasy books. She was born in Arizona and has also lived in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Mexico, Ireland, and Spain. Currently, she says, she “wrestles words and laundry” in New Jersey. You can connect with Alison on her author page on FaceBook here, and read her Fresh Pot of Tea blog here.

Jeffrey Getzin, whose first novel – a fantasy – is entitled Prince of Bryanae, has a website here. Next time, he will be interviewed by Alison. Stay tuned….

_______________________

JG: Tell us about your first book The Night Watchman Express. What’s it about? What inspired you to write it?

Alison: First, thanks so much for the opportunity, Mary, and for the amazing interview questions, Jeff.

Nightwatchman is a steampunk novel set in Edwardian England. It’s the story of a young orphan named Miriam. Her guardians want to control her wealth, and their son, Simon, clashes at once with her. When some real villains enter the picture, Miriam and Simon have to find a way to forge an alliance. Along the way they encounter a quantum typewriter, a mysterious governess, and loads of adventures.

I was inspired by the music of Angelique Kidjo, a wonderful singer from Benin in Africa. Her songs helped me to picture the character of Mana, a governess from the islands.

It was difficult to write the scenes where Mana was confronted by the attitudes of Edwardian society. I had to make those interactions realistic but never demeaning. In fact, I couldn’t have done it without Mana’s inner strength, intelligence, and inherent poise. A lot of that came from Kidjo’s lyrics and the singer’s own beautiful personality.

JG: The Night Watchman Express has gone through several iterations. Why all the different versions, and why is it so hard to find now?

Alison: When the book was first published, I was very naïve. It was only after I wrote the second and third books in my trilogy that I realized I needed to go through several rounds of beta reads as well as several professional edits. It’s a good thing that publishing has become more fluid with the growing popularity of ebooks and Indie authors, and thus I have a second chance to present my work.

I grew more and more unsatisfied with TNWE, so I decided to do a complete structural and line edit on the book. It, along with books two and three in the series (Devil’s Kitchen and The Lamplighter’s Special) will be available again this summer.

JG: Rumor has it that The Night Watchman Express is part of a planned trilogy. Can you confirm this? If so, what kind of story arc do you have in mind?

Alison: It is actually the first of four books called The Crown Phoenix Series. The first three are written, and I am in the middle of the fourth, The South Sea Bubble.

The relationship between Miriam and Simon is the Bosun Higgs particle that connects the books, as well as the struggle between Mana and Barbara, my beautiful villainess. Those women are both strong characters, and their confrontations cause a lot more adventures for Miriam and Simon.

JG: Do you have any other projects planned?

Alison: I do! I’m also in the middle of a dieselpunk book. Steampunk’s tech is driven by steam, so dieselpunk has working engines and more advanced engineering. It was a great deal of fun doing research for that; I got to dig out my father-in-law’s old engineering and mechanics manuals.

The title is The Gramophone Society, and it is about a modern girl who finds one day that the steps to her attic lead downstairs, not up. She descends and is drawn into the world of WWII, when children were sent out of London to the country to get away from the Blitz. Of course, lots of adventure ensues. Yes, I’m an adventure freak.

JG: How long have you been writing? If you could go back in time and visit yourself when you had just started writing, what advice would you give yourself?

Alison: “Hey, you! Thirteen-year-old self! Do you really have to keep writing a love story about yourself and Donny Osmond?”

Writing is a journey, a very special voyage filled with moments of despair, frustration, and also brilliant happiness. I spent one summer on a very long fantasy novel. Now I see that what I wrote is absolute tripe, but it did teach me that I could sit down and complete a book.

JG: What do you do for fun other than writing?

Alison: As well as being a mother and a wife, I’m a hopeless reading addict, and I love to cook and garden. Blogging has become a passion, and at times I like to get my Xtreme on and go skiing.

JG: Do you have a “day job”? If you could write for a living, would you?

Alison: My day job is being a Stay At Home Mom. I’m incredibly lucky that my husband supports my writing career. The house suffers as a result, but my man is gallant enough to put up with it. At least, he doesn’t complain too bitterly.

I’d love to write and edit for a living. As my daughter becomes more self-sufficient, I hope to do exactly that. The changing nature of publishing gives people like me opportunities I couldn’t have dreamed I could access in the past, so I am very blessed to be able to do what I love every day.

As an example, I never knew how much I loved to edit. I’ve discovered that I adore to assist in the process of a novel’s birth. Some of my edits have been for writers who have incredibly original voices, such as Shaun Allan. It’s been my good fortune to work with works like Sin and see those pieces evolve.

JG: Many authors say that in order to be a good writer, you must first be a good reader. What have you been reading recently? What’s next on your list?

Alison: How did I never discover Nick Harkaway before? I just read Angelmaker, and of course with all the clockworks in the plot it has me hooked. I finished the luminous Losing Beauty last week, and The Last Guardian is next on my Kindle. I’m the kind of person who has an upstairs and a downstairs book, and if I start to read a good book I’m deaf to all that is going on around me.

JG: Flash Fiction Challenge: Write a very short story involving: a lighthouse, a telegraph, and a beach ball.

Alison: This will be fun, especially since I’ve just researched telegraphs for The South Sea Bubble. Here goes:

Conditioned Response*

We crouched by the screen door. There it was again, a flash from the direction of the Barnegat Light.

“It’s not the lighthouse.” My brother raised a cracked pair of opera glasses to his eyes to check.

“Optical telegraph,” I said.

The last time we had seen it, five years earlier, our stepfather was at the top of the stairs. That blink from his old Maglite meant we had to climb up and be quick about it. The severity of the punishments were directly related to the amount of time it took us to climb to the top.

“It’s not him, at least.” He bit off the words with a long cough that was rich with phlegm.

“We don’t have to do anything about it. We can just stay here.” Even as I spoke I knew we would go to the lighthouse. We were dogs that salivated over the ring of a bell. Both of us had been schooled to come when the Maglite appeared.

I stood and walked to my old bike. My brother hopped in the basket. “You’re a lot heavier now,” I complained. “Jesus!”

“Just shut up and pedal.”

The house was at the tail end of the beach. If we turned and went in the opposite direction, we would pass millionaires’ houses, complete with pool boys and marinas. Our own home was an abandoned motel that had shuttered its doors at the end of the seventies.

My heart pounded as I stood on the bike to get us up to Barnegat. My brother took out a crumpled pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket. “Don’t even think about it,” I said.

Two flashes. Each one saw a rusty bike draw closer to the lighthouse. Centuries earlier they would have spurred an answering response from another lighthouse, and so on down the coast – a system of communication called the optical telegraph.

I kicked the stand down. My brother climbed out of the basket and stretched. “Remember the pick?” he asked.

I shuddered. Our stepfather used to illustrate what could happen to us with a beach ball and an icepick. I hated my brother for remembering and for making me remember.

“No guards on duty. Weird.” I felt for the handle, even though I knew the local historical society would have locked the door.

The knob turned easily in my hand. My brother coughed again and spat. “It can’t be him.” It was impossible for our stepfather to be at the top of those steps. Nobody knew that better than we did.

“Why did we come?” I asked. I pictured the red coast hidden inside our skulls. The light we had seen had its answer, and we were helpless against that message.

“Wait.” He put a hand out. I could see how his fingers trembled in the dark entrails of the lighthouse.

Thump. Thump. Thump. It was a muffled sound that grew louder.

The fear in my throat tasted like spoiled hamburger. “What!” I screamed. “What!”

Something appeared at the bottom of the steps. A beach ball.

_____________

* © Alison DeLuca