Today’s guest is actually guests, a dynamic duo calling themselves the Dragon Authors. I’m quite thrilled to be hosting them today, not only because their series seems fascinating, but also because they’re experimenting with a new publishing platform with a lot of potential called Channillo.
Please give Erin Michelle Sky and Steven Brown a warm welcome.
1. Can you tell us a bit about your debut fantasy series, The Dragon of Sylvenhost?
The Dragon of Sylvenhost is an epic high fantasy series, set in the magical land of Durnadath. It is about a human brother and sister whose village has been besieged by a dragon; about a happy-go-lucky mage trader prince who is cast out of wizard school for defending the honor of a prostitute; about his stoic best friend who spends most of his time just trying to keep the prince out of trouble; about the thieving daughter of a sexy (female) pirate captain; about a professional guide who in fact owns a horse ranch and knows nothing about guiding; about a mysterious, scarred man who travels with the silent people of the High Desert; and, of course, about a dragon, disguised as a human, who is trying desperately to prevent the short-lived human race from repeating a history that he, himself, remembers all too well.
The world of Durnadath is as diverse as the cast of characters, and the story has a ton of twists and turns that we wouldn’t want to spoil for our readers. Suffice it to say that it is currently on submission through our wonderful agent, Valerie Noble of Donaghy Literary, and we can’t wait to be able to tell our readers that it is on its way to publication!
2. The Dragon of Sylvenhost is represented by Valerie Noble of the Donaghy Literary Group. Can you tell us a bit about how you landed this agent?
We were so fortunate to find just the right fit with an agent who loves our story just as much as we love her. There was certainly some kismet involved there! That being said, there are a few steps writers can take that can make all the difference in finding the right agent.
First, make sure your book is truly finished and in tip-top shape. Although we do our own editing, most writers find it very difficult to edit their own work, and a run-through with a professional editor can really help get that manuscript where you want it to be.
Second, do your homework. Don’t just send a generic query letter out to a hundred agents. Hone your search by reading up on agents who are currently accepting queries in your book’s genre, and then write an individualized letter to each one who seems to you like a good fit, following the agent’s submission guidelines carefully, and being sure to tell the agent what it was about their interests that made you think they would like your book in particular.
Third, it doesn’t hurt to do some old-fashioned networking! A lot of agents will announce on their social media, for example, what events they will be going to in which there will be opportunities for aspiring authors to meet them. There are even pitch events which take place within social media like Twitter, in which authors can use certain hashtags to try to bring their work to the attention of various agents. If you aren’t exploring social media as a way to connect, you really should! (You can find us on Twitter @DragonAuthors.)
3. You’re also publishing a serial fiction project called “On Holy Ground” through Channillo. Why did you choose to publish this work through Channillo?
We decided to serialize our novelette On Holy Ground as something of an experiment. We liked the fact that Channillo was just getting started, and we wanted to see how a serialization of one of our shorter pieces might do in an online publishing medium. The publishing world is still going through tremendous changes. Everyone knows, of course, about the e-book revolution, but new online publishing models are still popping up almost every day it seems, and the competition to bring readers to any one particular platform over another is only becoming more intense. Which of these platforms will prove to be among the winning strategies is anybody’s guess, but one thing is certain: publishers are going to have to be more responsive than ever to a changing marketplace if they want to weather this first quarter of the twenty-first century.
4. Can you give us a brief run-down of your writing process?
We always start a new project with a one-sentence idea for the basic plot and then outline all our main characters before we do anything else. Good fiction, no matter how fantastical the world it inhabits, has to rest on engaging characters, so we always make sure our characters have both a goal to achieve for the story—find the grail, destroy the ring, defeat the empire, etc.—and a personal ‘character arc’—opens his heart, accepts his fate, moves from despair into hopefulness, and so on.
We flesh out our characters with a basic profile of age, gender, physical description and place; any special abilities they may have; their mental and emotional strengths, weaknesses, and general characteristics; their key relationships (whether or not those people are characters in their own right); important events from their past; and where we want them to end up by the time the story is complete. Some of these things might never even be seen by the reader, but if it has significantly affected our character’s personality, habits, and/or outlook on life, we know about it.
Then we move on to whatever world-building is needed. Because we are fantasy authors, all of our works have elements that don’t exist in the real world, and of course we have to make those things up! That spans such a gamut of possibilities that we couldn’t begin to cover the topic adequately in a paragraph or two, but we will say that all world-building must be based on an underlying set of rules if the world is to be believable. We always create and keep track of that set of rules first, because readers are happy to suspend their belief for a good fantasy, but only as long as that fantasy world remains internally consistent.
Finally, knowing our characters and the world they live in, we move on to the actual storyboard, but even there we never enslave our characters to the story. In other words, if we want them to do something, and they just don’t want to, we listen to them! That’s one of the things that makes our characters so believable: we never force them to do something out of character just to move the plot along. Instead, we find plausible ways to encourage them to do what we want them to do.
5. What’s the hardest part of the writing process for you and how do you make it easier for yourself?
The hardest part of the writing process for us is probably having the patience to do things in the order we’ve described. There is always a temptation to start writing before everything is worked out. That can actually work up to a point, but you can also run into problems that you have to go back and fix later, often requiring significant rewriting.
To make things easier, we solve the problem from both directions at once. First, we try to focus most of our energies on character building, world building, and story-boarding before we start writing in earnest. Second, we never let ourselves get too attached to any scene or chapter until the whole book—or even the whole series—is finished. That way, if we do start writing and realize later that we need to change something, we take it more in stride as an expected part of the overall process.
6. Do you ever find it difficult to move from one novel to the next? If so, how do you make changing projects easier?
No, but only because we make sure each new project is just as richly developed as the last, if not more so. We have easily a dozen book ideas for every one we actually develop, so we always pick the stories that are the most exciting to us. If someone came to us with this problem, we would probably say that if you are unhappy moving from one story to another, then you haven’t found the right next story yet. Go back to the drawing board until you love your next one as much as the last one!
7. What’s the biggest challenge of co-writing a novel?
We have found co-writing to be the opposite of a challenge. So many writers complain of writer’s block, and that just never happens with us. There is nothing like having someone to bounce ideas around with to keep that creative energy flowing freely!
That said, if you want to write as a team, you have to both let the team be more important than either one of you is alone. To us, that means the other person always gets veto power. Always. On everything. That might not work for everyone, but we have found it to be critical to our success as a team. If either one of us comes up with something that doesn’t resonate for the other, from something as small as a character’s nickname to something as big as the final scene, we let it go and keep brainstorming.
The trick to writing with someone else is that you can’t ever let yourself start thinking, “They don’t like my idea.” That’s just not the right way to frame what’s happening. Instead, we think to ourselves, “OK, that’s not the best idea we can come up with because the synchronicity isn’t there yet,” and we have faith that when we do hit on the right thing, we will both love it, which is always exactly what happens.
It is unbelievably rare for any idea in any of our books to be just his idea or just her idea. Usually, one of us suggests something, and that suggestion sparks an idea in the other, who proposes a slightly altered version, and we go back and forth like that for a while until we’re both saying, “Yes! That’s it! That’s perfect!” That’s when we know we’ve hit on the thing that’s going to work best, not just for us, but for our readers, too.
8. Are either of you working on other fiction projects alone?
No. Writing as a team works too well for us to go back to writing alone!
9. If you could give an aspiring writer only one piece of advice, what would it be?
Don’t just try to be a writer. Decide to be a writer.
There’s a huge difference between the two.
Whenever we, as human beings, go into something with the mindset that we are ‘trying’ to do it, we leave open the possibility of failure. Even worse, we actually prime our minds to watch for evidence that it can’t be done! Every criticism or rejection letter becomes ‘proof’ that the whole undertaking is ultimately doomed, and it becomes relatively easy to give up, saying to ourselves, “Well, I tried it, but I just couldn’t do it.”
On the other hand, when we approach any goal with the mindset that we have ‘decided’ to accomplish it, our brains stop sifting through every new experience for portents of disaster. Criticisms and rejections are no longer proof of anything. They are just hurdles to be overcome and useful experiences that can inform our next steps. Most importantly, we stop constantly injecting doubt into the process by asking ourselves over and over again, “Can I do this?” Instead, we start asking ourselves, “What should I do next?”
If you try to be a writer, you might make it, and you might not. But if you decide to be a writer, you will be. It will still take a lot of work. It will still involve learning the craft by joining writing groups and/or taking classes. It will involve a lot of writing and rewriting. It will involve rejections. It might involve an entirely different day job for several years while you hone your skill and get to that critical first sale. But if you decide to do it, you will eventually find a way to get there, as long as you are willing to put in the work that being a writer ultimately requires.
(For more thoughts and articles on the writing process, connect with us on any of the links below!)
10. What are you working on now that readers can look forward to?
We are tremendously excited about our newest project, which is a young adult, urban fantasy novel with another big cast of fun and engaging characters. There are both boys and girls, ranging in age from eleven to seventeen years old and hailing from places as diverse as California, New Jersey, Alabama, and Mexico. We can’t say a lot about it yet because it is still in the relatively early stages of development, but we can say that in its current form it would work as either a stand-alone book or the launch of a whole new series. Only time will tell!
Erin Michelle Sky and Steven Brown met in a rock climbing gym and bonded over coffee and Scrabble. After their first game, Steven insisted on adding a timer to the turn rules, which Erin admitted was probably for the best.
As a child, Erin fell in love with toy farms and now owns life-size versions of the farmhouse, the barn, the fence, the truck, the tractor, the horse trailer, the horses, the mule, the donkey, the dogs, and the cat. She is still considering the llama, which is sold separately.
Steven learned to swim before he could walk, learned to walk before he could crawl, and learned to jump motorcycles over barns before he learned about the laws of physics. He wrote his first story for his little brothers when he was nine, going professional at the age of ten when he wrote, directed, produced, and starred in a play about King Arthur and the Greek heroes, selling tickets to the neighborhood kids to fund future productions.
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