When I was surveying reader opinions for what proved to be one of my most popular blog posts 6 reasons why we love fantasy fiction one of the comments I received was “As soon as you put a dragon in a story, it’s a fantasy.” I don’t write about dragons (yet), but I have an interview guest here who pointed out in our email conversation that there are many stories with dragons that are not strictly fantasy. Now that he mentions it, I do recall there is a World War II story somewhere with Spitfire fighter planes battling dragons over the skies of London…
Today, we have dragons in America with Kevin Potter and his prequel story The Fall of an Overlord. You may have come across this story in recent months, but the story behind the story is all new. Onward to the interview:
Hi, Kevin! The first thing I’d like to ask is, when did you first know you wanted to write and why did you begin?
Well, I was probably twelve when I decided I was going to be a professional author. Everyone told me “Writers don’t make any money” and “There’s no way you can make a living doing that,” but I never listened.
Heh. Do I ever listen? To anyone? Probably not.
The honest truth is Dungeons & Dragons got me into writing, ha ha. My first stories (aside from a short story about a magical pair of shoes when I was nine) were the background stories for my D&D characters, which averaged about ten times the length of any of the other players, and the first adventures I wrote when I started running the games. But before long, it grew into a whole lot more than that. I was probably fourteen or so when I started writing stories just for the stories, and I suppose I did that purely for my own enjoyment.
I can certainly identify with that last sentiment. What are some of your biggest influences, both starting out and in the present?
Anyone who knows me can attest that I was (and still am, truth be told) a huge fan of Dragonlance. As such, my first influences were Margaret Weis, Tracy Hickman, and Richard A. Knaak. Knaak’s The Legend of Huma was easily my favorite book of all time throughout my teen years. And speaking of Richard Knaak, just recently he became one of my twitter followers and has been helping to promote the release of The Fall of an Overlord! When that started, I had to sit down and take some deep breaths and force myself not to go all fanboy about it!
As an adult, I’ve taken a great deal of influence from the works of Celia S. Friedman, John Marco, and (to a somewhat lesser extent) Anne McCaffrey. Like most fantasy readers, I had a hard time getting into Tolkien. The Hobbit was easy, but it took me three tries to get past the first hundred pages of Fellowship. Once I did, though, I was hooked. I even read the Silmarillion. I admire his worldbuilding, and in many ways, I’ve tried to emulate the depth of his setting. Frank Herbert as well. The amount of depth and history he put into Dune is phenomenal. I greatly admire David Gaider for his work on the Dragon Age novels. Much like Stephen King, his stories are wonderful.
Others… Drew Karpyshyn, Dean Koontz, R.A. Salvatore, Terry Brooks (later works only, I hated the original Shannara trilogy. It felt like a blatant rip-off of LOTR), and Robert Jordan. Quite recently, I discovered Brandon Sanderson (I know, I know. As a fan of the Wheel of Time series, I should have read Sanderson a long time ago. But, to be honest, I never got around to finishing WOT) and Dan Wells. Both are wonderful authors, but Dan keeps my attention so much more effectively. Sanderson is a wonderful epic fantasy author, but the pacing of his books tends to leave me bored and begging him to “Just get on with it!”
I will admit, I’m also among those that started but never finished The Wheel of Time series.
How do you spend your time as a reader?
This answer has changed greatly over the years. When I first started reading heavily, I was an exclusive fantasy reader. Actually, ha ha, at the time I was exclusively a Dragonlance reader! However, I have branched out over the years. It started with picking up Dan Brown’s The Da’Vinci Code, then I progressed to Ann Rice’s Vampire Chronicles and then to some of Stephen King’s books, and then the floodgates were open. Since then, I’ll read almost anything. I don’t really do romance (I read the Twilight series to appease my wife, but that’s about all), and I do still tend toward fantasy more than anything else, but I’ll give pretty much anything a chance. I always give a new book at least 30 to 50 pages to get my attention before I put it down.
That said, these days about 90 to 95% of my consumption is audio, and I try to read at least one non-fiction writing craft related book for each five or so fiction books I read.
What was your main drive and inspiration for The Fall of an Overlord and the larger series?
This is a tough one, as these are two very different questions.
In the “about” section of my website, I state that the idea literally fell into my lap. This could not be more true. In 2009 I came to the conclusion that I wanted to create a fantasy roleplaying world for use with Dungeons & Dragons or something similar, so it was off to the races creating new species, landscapes, histories, a magic system, etc.
In the beginning, I never intended it to be more than that. I had no intention of writing stories in the world, I just wanted a great world for my friends and I to roleplay in.
Well, what I wrote as a 10-page overview of a cataclysmic event to add flavor to the world’s history, later became a 7-page short story to introduce the antagonist of said event. Later, that 7-page story was expanded to about 25 when I went backwards to how he got on the path he was on.
And now, after a few years of working on other projects then coming back to it and revising it again, it has grown into the 100+ page novella that I have in final editing as we speak.
And remember, this is just a prequel novella. The main series, entitled The Calamity, is going to be rather long.
What was my inspiration? Well, as you may have guessed, certain parts of it (such as the nature of the world and the proportions of the dragons) were absolutely inspired by Dragonlance. Some of it comes from real history and mythology. Some of it is a conglomerate of other fantasy writers I love, and the rest is just out of my own head.
As for my drive, I really think it was just the need to get the damn story out of my head! As with so many writers, I have more story ideas than I know what to do with, and I need to get as many of them as I can out of my head and onto paper. And if I can publish a few of the better ideas, allowing others to enjoy the insanity my subconscious comes up with, all the better.
So, I have to ask, why dragons?
So, I have to ask, why not dragons?
Dragons are amazing. They have always held a powerful place in my imagination. One might even call it an obsession. Plus, this series is giving me the opportunity to really explore the inner workings of the dragon mind, which I’m hoping will be as fascinating to my readers as it is to me. You don’t often see a book written from the perspective of a dragon, and I’ve never seen one that features only dragons as characters. I’m hoping that idea will appeal to my audience.
Additionally, I really wanted to do something different, something that you don’t see in every fantasy world. And the way my dragons have developed is allowing me to do that.
Dragons of a scale much larger than is normally done is not unique, of course, but dragons on the scale of my antagonist is unique (as far as I am aware). Nor has the evolution and life cycle of my dragons been done before (again, so far as I am aware). It’s all ideas that I personally find fascinating, so once again, I’m hoping that my readers find it equally so.
How much real world influence is there in your fantasy?
I realize that anyone who really analyzes the story of Overlord will see a lot of parallels, and they are welcome to make those comparisons. But the truth is that I wasn’t consciously intending to do that. I wrote the story I saw in my head, and that’s about it. It’s not meant to be some thought-provoking tale about the dangers of monarchy or the power of the many when they band together. Those are certainly facets of the story, but it’s not an intentional parallel.
What has the writer’s journey been like for you?
Long and slow, with many false starts.
For some years, I stopped writing altogether. Around seventeen or eighteen, I think, I took a promotion at my job and didn’t have the time. And then life got in the way, and I almost forgot about writing.
Fast forward to 2009. My personal life was in an uproar, and I found myself with more time on my hands than I knew what to do with. So I started writing about a character I’d had in my head for a while. And by a while, I mean about 15 years.
There was a problem, though. This character exists within the Dragonlance world. His story is intrinsic to Dragonlance. Without that exact setting, the story falls apart. I didn’t see an issue at first, as I was writing mainly for myself. But as I got into it, I realized more and more that I wanted to publish. I wanted to be a professional author. The old dreams were rekindled almost overnight.
What did I do, you ask?
Well, I quit.
Not the best response, I admit. It occurred to me, 117 pages into this story, that I would never be able to publish it. Not only was it written within the Dragonlance world, which is completely off limits to anyone not in the employ of Wizards of the Coast, but it was also written in a time period within Dragonlance that had been completely abandoned by WotC.
So it was a no-go, even if I could find a way to get onto WotC’s radar.
In 2010 I had this great idea for a contemporary story built around the Apocalypse described in the Revelation of St. John in the Bible, but with several facts twisted from real world belief. I went on to write the first chapter, solidifying the main character in my mind.
And then, can you guess? I got bored and gave up the project… for a time.
Fast forward again. Now it’s 2013, my life is more stable, but still in tatters. I started working the graveyard shift and had a lot of time on my hands. The Apocalypse story had been burning in my mind for so long, I had to let it out. So I started writing again.
My original vision was a complete story in a single, standalone book. However, by my fourth month of writing this story, I realized that it simply was not going to work. I was writing by hand, so it’s hard to say definitively, but I’d guess I was sitting on about 250,000 words. That was when I decided to break the story into parts. I figured three parts at first, but now I’m thinking it’s going to be four. I mostly stopped working on new material for it, and have been revising and honing my craft since then.
Let’s talk genre. You mentioned this series based on the Apocalypse. I’m guessing that’s not fantasy?
Ha ha. No.
Okay, there are definitely some fantasy elements to it, but those are quite vague until later in the story. I would categorize it as supernatural suspense. Which, funnily enough, I didn’t realize was an actual genre until quite recently. I originally envisioned the book as a thriller, but the pacing and story have turned out to be much more in the vein of suspense than thriller.
My main series that I’m working on, however, is most definitely fantasy. I call it dark epic fantasy. It gets very dark at times, not quite to the tune of horror, but close. And I’ve noticed that among almost all of my writing, suspense is the overall feel, so I’m running with that. Plus, I think adding fast-paced suspense to an epic fantasy is a wonderful way to make the books more exciting and draw readers in.
Fast-paced fantasy sounds good to me!
How do you find the time for writing alongside family and work commitments?
Um, I don’t sleep, ha ha.
Yes, I laugh. I’m sure you’re laughing too, but that’s the truth of it. See, my wife is disabled, but we don’t qualify for disability benefits (doctors can’t figure out what it is, so no diagnosis. And no diagnosis=no disability benefit here in the US). So I have to work two jobs just to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. I probably work about 60 hours each week. I get home between 10 and 11pm, and I go straight up to my office to work on the writing every night. Some nights I only get in an hour, others I can keep going for three or four.
I don’t write while my children are awake on the weekends, so those nights/early mornings are my only writing time.
That sounds rough. How do you stay motivated to keep writing?
Honestly, I don’t understand how any writer can not be motivated to write. Writing is my passion, my lifeblood. If you take away writing, I’m not sure what would be left. Probably just a family man who lives for nothing more than his children.
I don’t remember who said it (might have been Salvatore), but there’s a quote I see floating around Facebook all the time. It goes something like, “If you can quit, then quit. If you can’t, then you’re a writer.” That’s me exactly. Yes, I go through phases when I don’t have the mental energy for it, I have times I just want to veg and not do the work. But in the main, I write because I have to. Because I’ll go mad if I don’t get these stories out of my head.
So, would you describe yourself as a “plotter” rather than a “panster” [seat of the pants writing]?
Truthfully, I hate those terms. “panster” feels so derogatory to me. Then again, so does “plotter.”
I know what you mean. Not terms I invented, I assure you 😉
I’m a big fan of how Brandon Sanderson puts it (and thinks about it). You have outliners, and you have discovery writers. And I think there’s a huge misconception that discovery writers don’t plan anything. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Discovery writers plan all the time, they just don’t write outlines. They don’t plan out the details of each scene before they write it. They don’t know every little detail. But many discovery writers do put a lot of time into figuring out roughly where the story is going to go before they write it.
Now, personally, I think I’m about as close to a “pure” discovery writer as anyone who actually finishes a novel can be. I usually start only knowing one or two characters and a rough idea of their situation or a basic idea of where I’d like the plot to go. I don’t control what happens, I don’t try to force my characters into anything. I let the story flow naturally and see where it goes.
In many ways, I think of myself as more a chronicler than a writer.
I change things in the rewrite, of course. You have to. Sometimes you need to censor a character, or extrapolate an event, or add details. But on a first draft, I’m never the guy in charge.
On a side note, I’ve noticed there are exceptionally few resources to help discovery writers in their journey toward publication (or even finishing a novel, for that matter). Giving a natural discovery writer the advice to “write a detailed outline,” is not effective. Yes, the vast majority of people who think they are discovery writers could benefit from learning to outline, but some of us simply can’t write that way. So I’ve decided to make it my job to correct this. I’m just getting started with it, but when I feel I’m successful enough to be taken seriously, I plan to start publishing a series of writing craft books geared toward discovery writers.
You’ve mentioned Dragonlance, history and mythology as being inspirational for you, but are there more sources of inspiration for what goes into your stories?
That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it?
Ask me what inspires my poetry, and I can answer that easily enough. That’s 99% life experience. But my fiction? Let’s call it one part life experience, one part the fiction I love, one part real history (I love Celtic, Greek, and medieval history), one part wishful thinking, one part conspiracy theories (all my stories have at least one aspect of history that is radically different than our reality), and one part delusion brought on by sleep deprivation.
I’m not sure about scared, but the idea of Celtic and Greek mythology combining with conspiracy theories in a world of dragons is shaping up to be quite some dramatic concept!
Since you’ve had experience with Inkitt, I’d like you to share what your experience there has been like.
Truthfully, not very good.
I mean, at first, it seemed like a really cool idea. But then it started to hit home, it’s really just a popularity contest. Stories on Inkitt don’t get voted up because they are good, they get voted up because they are popular. And, unfortunately, I’ve seen evidence that it’s very easy to cheat the system, using artificial accounts to upvote your own work.
It didn’t bother me that much at first. See, I originally joined Inkitt solely to enter into one of their writing contests with an award of publication. When I didn’t win, or even place, however, I figured I’d leave the book up since it might be a good way to get feedback on anything I might need to change or correct.
But here’s an interesting fact: in the roughly five to six months I had a book up, I had more than 13,000 reads (a “read” roughly equals a chapter, I think, though that’s not really clear), but only one rating and review. No one else even bothered to rate my book, much less review it. That’s a large part of why I deleted my book and am no longer active on the site.
I never thought I’d say this, but more and more I’ve been considering giving wattpad a try.
You mentioned there are more stories in the works. What does the future have in store for your writing?
A lot, ha ha.
With my writing process it’s hard to say definitively, but at this point, I’m expecting The Calamity to span roughly thirteen volumes of novella length, though that may change. The story could easily grow bigger or shrink smaller than my expectations.
I’m also still working on my Apocalypse story. I have to do one or two more revisions, but after that, I’m going to begin the long process of trying to procure an agent to represent me with the traditional publishers. I’m not really expecting to get a good enough deal to go traditional, but we’ll see. You never know.
You mentioned pursuing a traditional deal with your Apocalypse series. So where do you stand on the traditional publishing vs. indie debate?
Very middle of the road. I have every intention of being a hybrid author.
I hear a lot of arguments about this, and I’ve seen a lot of data about it. So here’s my take:
If you want to be in control and do everything yourself (whether through outsourcing or not), then indie is the way to go, especially if you have the skills and/or financial resources to secure your own formatting, editing, cover art, audio recordings, translations, marketing, etc.
However, if you just want to sit in your office and write, then traditional is your only option. Even then, though, unless you get a mega-deal (at least mid-six or seven figures), you’re still going to be responsible for your own marketing. That’s the main point that makes me lean to indie publishing.
Here are a few fun facts.
Fact 1: on average, indies (especially new authors) make at least 50% more money than traditional authors.
Fact 2: indies make between 4.3 and 10 times the royalty rate of traditional authors.
Fact 3: indies represent more than 50% of all ebooks sold.
Also, if you take out the mega-bestsellers on both sides, indies make approximately 3-4 times more total income than traditional authors.
Seems like a no-brainer, right?
Well, I’m vain. I’m also into diversification. I don’t want all my chickens in one basket. That’s why I’ll never be exclusive to any retailer (not even Amazon, with their 90%+ market share). All that retailer has to do is change one little algorithm and my income disappears. By the same token, indie publishing could disappear tomorrow. True, that’s highly unlikely, we’re making Amazon (and other retailers) truckloads of cash, but it could still happen. So, the more places I’m making money from, the better off I’ll be. But, back to the point, as much progress as we’ve made, there’s still a lot of stigma for indie authors. This is where the vanity comes in. If I can say, “Hey, I was published by TOR. They put my books into the hands of thousands of readers in hundreds of countries and dozens of languages.” that’s a big thing for me. That’s validation. However, I won’t do it for anything less than a large enough advance to guarantee the publisher will push sales of my book. Is that arrogant? Probably. But it’s a fact. If I have to do all my own marketing anyway, I’d much rather get the bigger slice of the royalties for it.
Watch out – there is a long hard road on which an indie author continues to spend more on marketing and producing more books than is made in royalties. And many never leave this road.
Where can readers follow you to keep up with what you’re doing?
My newsletter signup is at http://dl.bookfunnel.com/ylzvpuriwa
My website is www.kevinpotterauthor.com
I’m trying to correct it, but I very rarely blog. Readers will be much better off to connect on social media or email me with questions or comments at kevin at kevinpotterauthor.com
I’m on facebook at www.facebook.com/kpotter.fiction
Twitter at www.twitter.com/kpotterbooks
I’m much more active on twitter, but facebook is more personal for me. I post infrequently there because I only post things that are personally important or relevant, while on twitter I constantly share things that are geared toward the business and craft of writing.
Thank you, Kevin!
Once again, you can get a free eBook sample of The Fall of an Overlord to try Kevin’s work and keep informed about his releases when you sign up at http://dl.bookfunnel.com/ylzvpuriwa