Interviews Conversations with other authors – how they write, what they use, and what drives them.

JR Handley (interview): the Sleeping Legion vs the world

JR Handley, military vet and sci-fi author, on his backstory, what it takes to bring military authenticity to fiction, and lessons from being an author.

Us Handleys have worn uniforms since the dinosaurs roamed the earth.
– JR Handley, author of the Sleeping Legion

My conversations with JR Handley began with an interview – he’d put a public call-out for sci-fi authors, and I immediately put my hand up.

Before long, I was reading his blog, intrigued. JR is an army veteran writing military science fiction; he took up the craft after a long stint in combat in Iraq left him with a head injury and PTSD. His books read like a cross between Warhammer and the Halo books – lots of fast action, military boot camps, and genuine fun.

And they’ve been genuinely successful. JR’s books function in the universe of Tim C. Taylor’s The Human Legion, where human marines serve as slave-soldiers to alien overlords. The Legion Awakes and Fortress Beta City have, as of the time of writing, sold around 10,000 and 5,000 copies respectively. He’s working on the third and fourth novel. There’s even a novella (The Demons of Kor-Lir). 

With all of this on his plate, JR is one of the most friendly, approachable authors I’ve met, online or off – we’ve had some pretty late conversations, ranging from writing to politics. He’s also a huge Halo fan.

Needless to say, I asked him for an interview of my own, and JR was kind enough to take the time to make this one of the most detailed interviews I’ve ever done (over 3500 words). We cover JR’s personal history, what it takes to bring military authenticity to fiction, and what he’s learned from being an indie author.

So, for starters, tell us a bit about yourself. On your blog, you’ve spoken about how your writing, for you, was a way out of wartime trauma.  How did the whole thing come about?

I’m the product of generations of military service.  In my family, when babies were born, we didn’t wonder whether they’d be a doctor or a lawyer, we jokingly asked what their branch of service (Army, Navy, Marine Corps, etc) would be and which job they’d choose.  It was natural for me to enlist into the US Army Reserves at 17 to help fund my college experience.

My wife and I met in college, and after I got hurt during my second deployment she wouldn’t leave me.  We have two beautiful sons, and a pet rock named Bob.  In my undergraduate college program, I was a history major, focusing on Colonial America, and I would’ve gotten my master’s degree in this if I hadn’t damaged my brain playing dodge the bombs on the Iraqi highways.

As for my Army skill set, I had three job descriptions.  I was an 88K Watercraft Operator, which the Navy would call a boatswain’s mate, until the riverine unit I was supposed to join sent all their floating toys to the Navy.  I was then trained as an 88M Large Wheeled Vehicle Operator, but you shoot expert on the rifle range after wrecking one little truck and suddenly you’re in the infantry.  11B Infantry.  It ended up being a blast, pun intended, and I enjoyed the entire 8 ½ years I served.

When I got home, after being injured from one to many concussions, I noticed adapting to normality. I ended up getting treatment at the Veterans Affairs hospital, where I was diagnosed with severe PTSD, which they classified as chronic and combat related.  As part of the treatment, I started a writing therapy program with my doctor and I was off to the races!

You’ve mentioned multiple times that JR Handley is actually a 2-person husband-and-wife effort. Tell me more about that.

Well, I come up with the ideas and flesh them out with my wife and mother. We tweak them so they flow and make sense.  Mostly we do this over lunch at the local Cracker Barrel; we call those our board meetings.  My mother helps keep up with my story codex to ensure I don’t contradict anything I’ve already written.  I then type the outline and we all agree on it before I jump in and start writing.

My wife and my mother then go behind me to fix the issues of my poor grammar.  They then clean up the complications stemming from my anomic aphasia. – I often get words and names confused, so when I don’t remember the words I just describe them.  It’s not a washing machine, it’s that dang box that you put your clothes in so they smell nice.  My mother or wife then go back and clean it up, turning my gibberish back into cogent English.

When the story is done, my mother then does a final edit before we turn it over to Tim and Corey my editor.  Hopefully this process ends with enjoyable books that have fans coming back for more.

The first novel I ever wrote is actually the first one I published.  I’m most proud of my growth as an author and teller of stories, though I know I won’t ever be done learning.  As long as I don’t stagnate or go backwards, I’ll be satisfied each time.  After that, it’s up to the readers to judge the merits of the work.

The Sleeping Legion is (if I’m not mistaken) a cross between a spin-off and a partner series to Tim Taylor’s Human Legion. How did the partnership come about, and how’s it been?

I stumbled into Tim’s universe after I’d been introduced to the Kindle by my neurologist, who was trying to get me to read again.  Because of brain injury, I was told I must exercise my grey matter or I’d be at a heightened risk for dementia and other related issues.  I’d stopped reading because printed books gave me migraines after suffering my head injury.

My VA (Veterans Administration) care-team struggled to find a solution; my doctor, my mom and my wife didn’t give up though. Then my mom remembered that you could magnify the heck out of the print with the new Kindles.  With nothing to lose, I gave it a try.  It worked. I’ll always remember 2014 fondly because of this rediscovery of my love for the written word.

I started with every free book I could find and then narrowed in on several genres.  It kept me occupied while languishing in the Veteran Affairs medical waiting rooms—where I spend too much of my life.  Books let me escape the depressing hospitals, and charge into other worlds.  Worlds where I wasn’t haunted by visions of Iraq.

After my shrink recommended I use writing as therapy, I gravitated towards science fiction and read everything I could afford.

I then tried to write my own spin-offs of those stories as practice.  I read so much that my family gave me Amazon gift cards that Christmas!  Eager to spend my newfound digital currency, I went looking at the Hot New Releases in the science fiction, and found Marine Cadet by Tim C. Taylor.

While going all fan-boy I looked into Tim, saw he also had a publishing company and followed him there too.  Read a few good novels from his company, time well spent.  I also found his original Human Legion website and began furiously chatting in the comments section.

This ended up with my teaming up with Hans and attempting a Wiki page.  During my talks with Tim about the Wiki I suggested some side stories which he could tell in the universe, places where there were questions that I wanted answers to.  I then went back to writing my own stuff, which I sent to Tim for a friendly review.  He said he loved the premise and gave it a critique, which I promptly adjusted for.

Shortly after I submitted a formal proposal to his new Human Legion Publications.  Tim said no, since he wasn’t taking outside work.  Instead, he counter proposed that I write a few novellas, the very stories I’d suggested that he write.  Those novellas grew up, and here we are with a series of novels.

With your military expertise, the Legion series seems like a perfect fit – what are the moments, in the books, that you’re proudest of for their military realism?

I would say that there is a tendency to write military science fiction that is devoid of the realities of human nature.  Men are afraid, people don’t always act as they’re trained to and war is a dirty, nasty business.  And more than that, there is a lot of boredom, sandwiched between moments of extreme action.

I think that what I’m the proudest of is showing that, which you see a lot of on the peripheries of my novels.  I mean, obviously, we want to entertain, so I focus on the action.  But, I do try to show the space marines in my novels as people first and foremost.  They get scared, some run from the battlefield, and some really do run to the sound of the guns.

Further, nobody is perfect and my main character makes plenty of mistakes along the way. And because it’s military science fiction, and their consequences for errors on the battlefield, people die as a result. While I try to avoid gratuitous violence, I don’t shy away from letting you know what’s going on.

Do you feel your service in the US Army added a veneer of authenticity to your writing?

That’s a tough question, on the surface you would think that it absolutely would make my stories more believable. I would say a conditioned yes because it gives me some credibility, at least at first, to the readers.

I also believe it helps me write the military culture, to understand the warriors involved and to respect them enough to write them fairly. Some of them exist because they reflect reality. I truly loved the soldiers I served with, in ways that transcend familial or romantic love. Some of them still call me, and for the guys in my fire team I’ll be their ‘sarge’ for perpetuity. And even though some stayed active duty and outranked the E-5 stripes I proudly wore, they’ll always be Specialist Joe to me. The lightning rod of combat, the first rounds fired, it solidifies that moment, encapsulating it and preserving the bond. For us, time stopped and Bravo Fire Team will always be as it was. Even though we moved on, it remains.

My warriors are not cardboard cut outs, they’re not Hollywood tropes and they’re not overblown super soldiers. They’re men and women with a common goal, trained to bring death upon their enemies, but men and women all the same. They have lovers and families, lives outside of their uniform and above all they don’t want to die for a cause. They want to live and force the other guy to die for their stupid cause. My warriors have dreams for the future, but they willingly risk that for the warriors surrounding them, because that love has value.

Anyway, I better move on or I’ll ramble forever. While my time in the infantry helped give my novels something extra, because I was writing what I know, the tactics of the future would be different. You have to consider war in a sphere; all 360 degrees matter and if you don’t consider that factor you’ll end up a notch on some enemy’s rifle.

When I was envisioning the tactics, I took what I know from modern combat and expounded upon it with a lot of “what if’s” over a few beers with an old Army buddy. I mention him in the ‘Special Thanks’ section, but he was a senior NCO and helped me figure out the parts I didn’t know. We met, chatted and diagrammed what it might look like until I was satisfied I had what I needed. Wrote a few tactical formations and left room for expansion later. When world building, remember never paint yourself into a corner and that forced us to reach a certain point and stop. If I ever need more, I will certainly revisit the situation though.

Another issue I ran into when writing a large scale fictional army was that I had zero experience at battalion level or any of the echelons above that. As a fire team leader, I was trained to become a squad leader in the event of battlefield casualties. I went to a military college and took several years of ROTC teaching me to lead a platoon and company, which I feel I could confidently do . . . though I imagine the learning curve would be harsh. Again, I believe I understood enough to make it believable but it’s a series of educated guesses based upon research.

The Sleeping Legion’s doing really well, by your numbers – 10,000 on the first copy, 5,000 on the second, congrats! You’ve sold more than most traditionally published authors in their lifetimes. What was your process of getting these books out and onto Amazon success, and how does that success make you feel?

Success you say?  It doesn’t feel that way, and I don’t know that I ever want to get there.  But seriously, thank you for the kind words.

My philosophy is that you’re never successful, because no matter where you are in your career, there is always higher up you can go.  When you stop having goals to shoot for, you become complacent.  Complacency is death in any professional venue, so I don’t ever want to get there.

As for my process of publication, all of that was handled by Tim so I didn’t have to worry about it.  He did the marketing, advertising, and key words and such for Amazon.  For my part, I had a blog, Facebook, and Twitter account which I started months before the novel was released where I worked on my branding and social media platform.  I believe that all of this contributed to creating a successful first launch, and letting me do well enough that Amazon picked up my novel and started pimping it for me.  The rest, as they say, is history.

How has it impacted your life?  And what would you pass on to new writers?

Well, it’s still too new to fully process how I feel about it.  If it’s a dream, then please don’t pinch me because I don’t want to wake up.  As for whom I thank for helping me along the way, well my family, my boss and my amazing editorial team!  What the adventure of writing HAS done is make me more analytical of the storytelling process.

As for advice, I’ll repeat the only useful advice on writing there is.  Write.

That’s it, keep writing and when you’ve finished the first project move on to the next.  You can’t edit a blank page!  And secondly, find a reputable editor who will help you polish your diamond in the rough until it shines.

If you need a good copy editor, I couldn’t recommend Thomas Weaver any higher.  He does my copy editing and works fast, you’ll appreciate the work he does.  And if you’re looking for a good developmental editor, check out Lauren Moore.  And finally, if you want to follow a editor and blogger as he shines a light into the trenches of the editorial war on bad grammar, check out QuintessentialEditor.

What’s surprised you about your writing experience over the past few months?

I guess the most surprising thing for me was how much work happened AFTER you wrote the novel. I thought the writing would be the hard part, but in retrospect that wasn’t the case. The edits and business side of everything has proven to be much more difficult. Honestly, without my family I couldn’t handle that part of things, it gets very confusing. Another thing that surprised me was how attached I’d get to characters. They become real to me, not like hallucinations, but real people nonetheless.

I’ve also been surprised at how lonely and solitary writing can be. You sit at a computer with only a temperamental muse to keep you company and mine seems to think she’s my drill sergeant. You second guess every decision, and sometimes when I call for advice I wonder if it’s just so I can hear another human voice.

Another thing which has surprised me, was how sometimes I’ve managed to make the right decision accidentally. Where words turn out to be the perfect choice and I didn’t even know it. I’m always surprised when I see particularly good turn of phrase, and think to myself “I wrote this?”

Finally, I’m continually surprised by how supportive my family has been throughout this whole process. They’ve not complained . . . much, about the time spent writing or daydreaming. My wife willingly bought a better, ergonomic office chair before we’ve even made a dime on these novels. This has been my biggest surprise, though I suppose it shouldn’t have been.

What have your core lessons been from the experience of being an indie author?

So, right now I would consider myself a hybrid author since I write for a small publishing house.  I write in the Human Legion Universe, written by author Tim C. Taylor.  He is the publisher of record, so I haven’t had to do the backend stuff.  However, I’m not really traditionally published because I never bothered to approach an agent or one of the Big 6 publishing houses.

What I have learned is that there is a huge community of authors and readers who love to nerd out with you.  If you write a novel, a good one, then the audience is there. The publishing world isn’t a zero-sum game, there is room for everyone.  And there is a niche for everything, you just have to find your tribe. 

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that I’ve learned exactly how much goes into the book making process AFTER the author hits “The End” on his or her book baby.  Wow, but I have a whole new respect for the community of authors I barely qualify to join.

And what’s next on the horizon for you?

Well, I have a novelette that takes place between book one and two of my series that will hit Amazon at the end of March and book three will likely be released in April.  Then I will finish the last two novels in the Sleeping Legion Series, and loop the story back into the main series.

Aside from the Sleeping Legion series, I’ve submitted to two short stories to anthologies and I’ve already heard that the I’ve gotten the green light for the Roswell Anthology from Tickety Boo Press.  The second short story is being co-written by my editor and I, but we haven’t finished it yet.  As soon as we’re done editing book three, it’ll be finished and submitted to Chris Kennedy for final approval.  After that I have notebooks full of ideas! Where will the muse take me?  I honestly don’t know!

Where do you see yourself five years from now?

I’ll still be writing, hopefully I’ll even have more time since both my sons will be teenagers.  Wow, now I feel old.  Thank you, Yudha, thank you!  But yes, I will still be writing, though in universes of my own creation!

What do you like to do in your downtime?

I’m an undedicated gamer, meaning I love playing but adulting gets in the way and now my Xbox One has dust on it. One day, I’ll knock the dust off and plow into Fallout, Skyrim and Halo again. I love first person shooters and RPGs mostly, never was one for sports gaming. I enjoy movies, cuddling on the couch with my boss . . . urm, my wife. I’m a bit of a news and politics junkie, though as a libertarian, I just start the debate accepting defeat.

Seriously though, I do read non-science fiction as well. It exists; they call it fantasy!

Recently, I’ve also started trying to get thin again. Like they told me in my army days… “You wanna be Airborne, you gotta be thin!” With my injury, I take it slow, starting with a half mile in the morning which started when my youngest son, whose autism makes him somewhat blunt and direct, saw an old photo of me in uniform. “That’s not you, Daddy, that’s half of you!” Hopefully I’ll get thin enough to fit into my uniform again, but it’s hard. I’d gotten used to eating and drinking whatever I please. You can do that when you run a few miles every day. But I digress . . .

If you had to list your top ten favorite books, what would they be?

Rifles for Watie by Harold Keith
The Ember War series by Richard Fox
The Empire of Bones Saga by Terry Mixon
The Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind
The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien
The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
The Belgariad series by David Eddings
The Human Legion series by Tim C Taylor
The Four Horsemen Universe by Chris Kennedy and Mark Wandrey
The Honor Harrington series by David Weber

These were in no specific order!  And you’ve likely caught on that I love series!

JR Handley lives at

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Joseph Malik (Interview) – Dragon’s Trail and the Art of Writing Realistic Fantasy

Joseph Malik, author of Dragon’s Trail, discusses writing, worldbuilding, and how movies and books really have it wrong about battles.

There’s a new book I’ve been reading –  Dragon’s Trail, a debut fantasy novel by Joseph Malik. The best way I can describe it is as a modern Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court: a modern-day man with some very select skills and equipment ends up making a massive dent in a very old world.

DT’s hero, Jarrod, is armed not with a magic sword or powers, but with modern steel, modern strategies for battle analysis, and a lifetime of combat training from the professional sword fighting / Live-Action Role-Play circles. He’s dropped smack into a medieval fantasy world, with everyone under the assumption that he’s some kind of demon, and given a mission: the enemy is kicking ass under the leadership of a sorcerer who once was a Las Vegas showhand. Jarrod, supposed demon and savior, is supposed to figure out how to deal with this threat.

What really shines through here is the author’s love of realism, even in fantasy scenarios (read his blogpost here about steel in medieval warfare to understand what I mean). Joe Malik, a huge geek who happens to be a former Special Ops guy, apparently intends this to be part one of a bigger discussion – information asymmetry in warfare, modern weapons and the power advantages they give, and how technological progress plays into battle strategy at every level – and it works right from the start.

After reading some of his blogposts, I asked for an email Q&A, and he was kind enough to provide some very lengthy answers. Read ‘Talking Tech In Fantasy’, a conversation he has with one of his beta readers, and skip back here to build on what they discussed there.

Dragon’s Trail looks like a hit. You mentioned you’d been writing this for thirty years, to the point where it wasn’t about words anymore. How do you measure progress on your work? Is there a metric you use, like x number of drafts?

JM: I don’t know if “hit” is the right word, but I’m extremely pleased. It has been generating steady sales, a “slow burn,” for about six months, now, and doing quite well considering it’s a debut release on a small press. Last week it had a great review posted to GoodReads, and all I can figure is that the reviewer has a huge social reach, because sales took off on the same day. It peaked at #18 in Military Fantasy last week, shoulder to shoulder with such luminaries as Tad Williams and Joe Abercrombie, and was briefly under the 10,000 mark overall on Amazon. It was a small but significant proof of concept.

As for thirty years writing this, it has been, and it hasn’t. I started writing this story back in high school, in the mid-80’s. Granted, it’s gone through a lot of changes and I sucked back then. I still have the original manuscript, with comments and corrections from my high school English teacher. I pursued the story as a hobby for a few years, and then got serious about writing in college, and started submitting the novel in probably the mid-1990’s. Rejections led to rewrites in an endless circle for about ten years, and the story developed and I started working on series ideas. Toward the end of that, I quit submitting and just wrote for my own enjoyment. Then I put it away for about five years and pretty much forgot about it, and then rediscovered it five years ago and started a total rewrite. That book became Dragon’s Trail.

I don’t know how I measure progress anymore. My style is defined at this point; I have my voice. Fifteen years of cover to cover rewrites will do that to you. So, I have a standard, but it’s nebulous. You reach a point with your rewrites where you’re like a standup comic rehearsing in front of a mirror, getting the timing and phrasing right. You need to know how the story goes, but then you have to figure out how to tell it so that you can make it engaging. I’m on my first rewrite of Book II, The New Magic, right now, and I can tell that this version is going to hit pretty close to the mark. It’s progressing quickly. I think that ultimately, my editor, Monique Fischer, will be the judge of whether or not it’s ready. Really, my metric — if I have one — is how confident I feel presenting this to my editor.

DT has a ton of information on metallurgy, weapons, weaponsmithing, not to mention battlefield tactics, but spread out like a thriller – as opposed to, say, the info-dumps you commonly see in most scifi and fantasy. How did you work out this style?

JM: Thanks.

First off, I need to shout out to Monique again on this one. My readers tell me that there’s really no other book like Dragon’s Trail out there right now, at least, to hear them tell it. It’s just a different kind of book, that’s trying to do something new with the genre, and maybe even create its own. I went to a few different editors with the manuscript, and one of them said, even at the pitch, that he wouldn’t touch it. One, who I started working with after he did a killer sample edit, wanted a total rewrite in limited third POV and wanted me to change the characters so that it would “resonate with the YA crowd.” He also wanted all the technical stuff taken out and for me to just give Jarrod a magic sword. So that didn’t work out. When I approached Monique and told her that I had a cross-worlds, epic fantasy, political technothriller written for an adult audience and voiced in old-school omniscient, she said, “Sounds great.” She was critical in toning it down in spots and raising the volume in others. She gets it.

For my part, I read a lot of technothrillers. I read more thrillers than I do fantasy, and I love the geeky stuff. The geekier, the better. In fact, I have a section of bookshelf that’s nothing but repair and operation manuals for antique equipment: turn-of-the-century power drills, vacuum cleaner repair manuals from the ’40’s. I love arcana.

I think there’s a natural crossover between fantasy and thrillers, or there can be. The author of The Marathon Man, William Goldman, is also the author of The Princess Bride. Umberto Eco wrote both Foucault’s Pendulum, which is just freaking mind-bending, but also wrote The Name of the Rose, which is an amazing historical thriller. I actually started writing fantasy all those years ago because I’d read The Hunt for Red October and Red Storm Rising. And to my knowledge, nobody had taken that kind of approach with fantasy — that level of research and narrative explanation — and I wanted to read something like that, so I decided to write it. Goldman kind of went there with the fencing and the worldbuilding in The Princess Bride, which also has that omniscient narrative feel that I love so much; it’s written from the POV of someone who’s telling you the story, which is just magnificent to me.

Anyway, with the fantasy that I’d been reading as a kid, it seemed to me that many authors were getting their details wrong. It seemed to make sense to me to research all of it, and take the thriller-writer’s approach: have the characters be the experts, and have the reader see it through their eyes. Tom Clancy and Michael Crichton, who my work keeps getting compared to, were masters of this. Infodumps can be entertaining if you tell them as stories in their own right, and I think that’s where sci-fi and fantasy authors screw it up. You can’t just start into the, “Well, as you know, George . . .” There’s an art to it; a finesse. Eric van Lustbader does such an amazing job with the Eastern mindset without ever ramming it down your throat. He just sets you down in the middle of it and folds the world up around you. James Clavell did a wonderful fish-out-of-water thing with Shogun by making the main character a student for a good part of it. Again, though: thrillers, and historical thrillers. Not so much in fantasy, which is weird, because it’s not much of a leap.

Doing the homework for all this, or at least realizing that I’d have to, led me to my approach to research, which is strictly hands-on. It started with foil and saber lessons after school through the local community college. Then I bought an old sword in an antique store, and made a shirt of mail from coat hanger wire, and started whacking at it and shooting arrows at it and making notes. I got hooked on learning how things should work in fantasy; I didn’t realize it would become a lifelong quest. Pretty much, at this point, though, if my characters do it, I’ve likely done it, myself. It’s easy enough to go on YouTube or Wikipedia and research how something functions (at least now; that wasn’t an option when I started all this) but when you learn how to do it yourself, the act of learning and doing creates its own story. All these little stories funnel up into the book like roots, which solidifies the worldbuilding. I think that’s why words like “convincing” and “plausible” keep coming up in reviews for Dragon’s Trail.

This kind of research is much more of a thriller concept, I think, than a fantasy one. In thrillers, you expect the technical details to be right. In fantasy, you expect the details to be the same as every other fantasy book, instead of being right. There are accepted inaccuracies embedded in the tropes, and I sometimes read fantasy just to find these things so I can go out and test them and blow them up. You see that a lot in Dragon’s Trail; you think you know how it’s going to go because you’ve seen this a hundred times, but it turns out that the trope is wrong, and it really works like this. The scene where Jarrod draws the wrong sword against the sheth, and the sword he needs is on his horse. You’d think, from the messages I get about that, that nobody in the history of fantasy has ever pointed out what different swords do. The hero’s sword is the hero’s sword, right? The hero draws his mighty sword and slays the critter. Well, maybe yes, maybe no. It depends on the sword. And the critter.

I can’t be the only person doing this. There have to be other authors out there doing it. Maybe together we’ll all set a new standard. A lot of hard fantasy writing seems to be wrapped up in the laws of the magic systems, which is awesome, but you still bump into these wild and sometimes laughable inaccuracies in the mundane parts of the worldbuilding. I believe that you have to get those mundane aspects right at the outset, because this develops a level of plausibility and trust with the reader that allows you to suspend disbelief sufficiently to introduce the magical aspects. By the time you get to the flying horses, hopefully the reader thinks, “Well, hell. He’s been right about everything else. Why not a flying horse?”

On that, it took weeks to design a functional pegasus saddle. But introducing it, I just write about the way the character’s legs fit into it and how much it hurts his trick knee, and that’s it. It’s, like, ten words out of a notepad’s worth of sketches and notes. It was originally a full page, down to the tooling and the latigo and the straps and the anatomy of the pegasus, since he had all this time up in the air to study it, but again, things like this come back down to my editor and her mighty red pen. She knew how to make it work. I didn’t.

What was the process of getting the book out there, once it was done? What did you have to do?

JM: The process was, I screwed it all up. I didn’t really think it through, and I didn’t do any research at all. The release of Dragon’s Trail was one of the dumbest things I’ve ever done.

I was of the impression that the indie market was for books like Dragon’s Trail; lifetime works that had been passed over by the major houses, and that the authors then decided to have professionally edited and released on their own dime. I completely misunderstood what the market was about, I’m afraid. I had no concept of pulps or writing to market or hitting the accepted tropes — hell, I’d written a book specifically destroying accepted tropes. I got laughed off of a couple of forums when I said that I had one book I’d been writing for thirty years.

After the initial friends-and-family spike at launch, I used the typical outlets for fantasy novels: BargainBooksy, Choosy Bookworm, ENT, taking an occasional chance on a Fiverr promotion, and playing with my Amazon marketing. I just took the money the book was bringing in and put it back into promo every month, and considered it all as a loss leader. What this did, unbeknownst to me, was keep the book afloat, and in so doing, it built up enough of a sales history that it appears to have some sticking power now that it has finally found its people. So, it’s successful by most definitions that indie authors throw around, but it’s not like I went out and bought a new Porsche.

I’ve been a panelist and moderator at NorWesCon, a sci-fi and fantasy convention in Seattle, for the past few years, and I think that’s what really kicked me in the ass to finish and publish. I didn’t even tell anyone I was an author all this time; I was invited to the con to speak and demonstrate as an expert on swordsmanship, hand-to-hand combat, and military strategy, plus all the stuff that I’ve learned while writing Dragon’s Trail. Panel after panel turned into “Fantasy Mythbusting,” with hand after hand going up and people asking why authors and directors never get this stuff right. People now follow me around from panel to panel every year, and it occurred to me that there’s a rabid, under-served readership out there who are sick of books and movies bullshitting them. If I’d really been smart about this, I’d have started an email list three years ago when I started speaking and demonstrating at cons. Huge, huge missed opportunity.

Your top ten for novels? (Note: I always try to ask this from people I come across. They’re generally a good indicator of what kind of mind the other person has).

JM: Only ten? Zoikes.

In no particular order:

Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. 800 pages of impenetrable, backwards-talking, hyperintellectual brain-porn. A Tough Mudder course for your language center.

“It’s been a prevalent notion. Fallen sparks. Fragments of vessels broken at the Creation. And someday, somehow, before the end, a gathering back to home. A messenger from the Kingdom, arriving at the last moment. But I tell you there is no such message, no such home — only the millions of last moments . . . nothing more. Our history is an aggregate of last moments.”

Foucault’s Pendulum. The mother of all conspiracy theories.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. No contest, the best writing of the late 20th Century. This is four books, but I’m counting it as one.

Discworld. Really, any of them.

The Martian. My favorite recent novel. A brilliant concept, a hilarious hero.

The Princess Bride.

The Hunt for Red October.

Jurassic Park. Not a particularly well-written novel; I think Crichton’s prose is clumsy and wooden in places. But the concept is genius, even if the science is (now known to be) flawed. What a fantastic piece of sci-fi.

Glory Road by Robert Heinlein. A masterpiece of crossworlds fantasy.

Point of Impact by Stephen Hunter. Another master of the technical thriller.

Thanks for this. I had fun.

A shout out to Joe Malik for being a good sport and an excellent writer. I’m definitely looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

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On gender equality and womens’ rights: an interview from Morocco

Women’s rights are a very hotly debated issue all over the globe. Perhaps nowhere is this issue  more hotly debated than in Morocco, which frequently sees women taking to the streets in the age-old battle for equality, and whose Islamist-led government often comes under fire from women’s rights activists. (With just reason: according to survey data from the Haut Commissariat Du Plan (HCP), an independent government statistics body, around one in every two unmarried women in Morrocco are subjected to verbal or physical sexual violence).

I caught up with Sana Afouiaz at WCY2014 to get her take on the subject.

Please introduce yourself.

photo 3Hi, I’m Sana Afouaiz, from Morocco. I’m a correspondent for the Voices of Women and a national delegate for WCY 2014.

What is your primary topic of interest?

My primary interest is in women’s rights. People think it is enough to have basic rights, like voting,  For the situation of women’s rights to get better, it’s not enough to give the normal rights that people have, but to have their voices at a political level, to be equal to men in social, economical, political decisions.

This is one of the major issues I am really passionate about, and I have made many recommendations on these subjects, especially education, and I am trying to get them to take my recommendations into account.

What inspired you to join WCY as a delegate?

Well, are gathered here not only to be here in Sri Lanka, but for our voices, as women, our recommendations to be heard by the United Nations. We don’t need older men to dictate all our decisions. We need a voice in the decision. I wanted to bring our voice into the limelight.

I’m from a region in which this is a huge issue, so naturally I am very, very focused on this.

How far have the delegates progressed in addressing these issues?

For now, I can still say we’re in the process of discussing our ideas with people who have the power to do something, but I will only be able to judge the effectiveness og this whole conference based on the end, on whether our voices are heard or not.

There are some sessions where we spoke our mind, and the people involved did not, I feel, really hear us. We want to be involved, or included: we do not want government decision makers to ignore us.

In your sessions since WCY started, have you been able to communicate and discuss these plans with like-minded others?

Yes, I am. I just had an interview with Mr Ahmed from the United Nations, and I had the chance to be one of the photo 1Arabian people to address one of the issues of our region.

It was a very interesting interview. He agreed that we must not just talk, we need something tangible. Our voices will not be heard unless we are prepared, unless we properly present them. It was a very interesting presentation. One thing I really like is that in the negotiations we saw so many issues from different countries, and that really puts things in perspective,

I believe that it is a chance for us. We are not here from different countries just to come to Sri Lanka. We are here on a mission to get people to hear what we believe in, the voice of youth.

What do you personally hope to achieve here at WCY2014?

For me, being here is amazing.

But my voice to be heard is the most important. I represent the youth of my country. Before I came here, I established connections with youth in my country, and we discussed the most crucial issues and decided what I would address here, so when I ask a question, it is with their voice.

We want to develop education, health, gender balance – to develop our country – and what I would like to see is that the ideas and the recommendations that we bring will be taken in by the UN and that will result in a push in our government to improve things. I want every woman living their lives well – without being discriminated, with their voices heard in a political, social, economic level.

Is the empowerment of women the only priority? 

I believe that it won’t be successful if we educate only the women, of course. We need to educate both peoples. The problem is, in our region, men get more priority than women. We want both to be intellectual, both to be powerful, both to be balanced because one completes the other. That’s just it.


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