- Why failure is not only normal, but necessary.
- Charting our own paths as writers instead of following the crowd.
- Why being a writer is worth our time, even when it seems difficult to continue.
In a way, writing allows you to live forever and that is worthy of your time.
Welcome to the fifth episode of Interviews from the Void, where I interview writers about their writing process, discussing the mechanics and physicality of the craft.
In this episode, I’ve asked fantasy Christopher Ryan about his writing process, self publishing, and turning failure into a means for finding success in writing.
A. Macabe: On your blog, you discuss “killing” drafts of your previous novel, The Godkiller Chronicles – which is an awesome name. What did you learn from this process? What are you doing differently now for Children of the Void?
Ryan: I had spent so many years drafting what wound up being Godkiller Chronicles that I could have published three books from the sheer amount of pages I had. But, all in all it came down to, would I read this? The brutal answer was, hell no. The work was crap. I just didn’t want to admit it to myself for a long time. When I was able to finally say to myself “this is dreck and needs to be abandoned,” I didn’t want to just shelve the work and walk away. I wanted to be proactive about it. So, I took the characters and themes and the fictional world of Immur from Godkiller Chronicles and re-purposed it into Children of the Void.
I always liked the world I had created and I knew there was a ton of stories to tell in the land-masses I had created. I just needed to find the right story to tell at the right time. Thus, Children of the Void was born.
Even if Children of the Void doesn’t break any records or win any awards, I’m still really happy with how the story is coming out. I feel renewed in the process whereas when I was penning Godkiller Chronicles I felt like I was dreading the writing process.
A. Macabe: You have a great Questions and Answers on your blog which talks about editing an author’s voice. How did you find your “voice,” or rather, develop it, over the course of your writing experience?
Ryan: Failure. I’ve failed so many times as a writer that the joke is no longer funny. In my younger years I tried to incorporate the voices of authors I loved. R.A. Salvatore, Jean Rabe, Bradbury, King, Charlotte Perkins, Sylvia Plath, Aldous Huxley, Isaac Asimov and more. What I slowly began to understand is that I could never emulate the voices of these titans of literature. If I continued to try and do so, I would be an absolute failure and worst of all, a fraud.
So, while I’ve taken inspiration from the aforementioned, I had to really learn to take those ideas and create them in a wholly individual way. But, it took practice. A lot of practice. I had to dabble in genres I never thought I would ever touch. Romance, erotica, drama, children’s lit, essays, science fiction, fantasy, horror. I tried them all and failed at 95% of them. Which, if you’re a young writer reading this right now, let me assure you that failure is not only normal, it’s encouraged!
In the end, it was life that gave rise to my voice. I started creating dramatic, semi-autobiographical pieces about life. These stories, without me even noticing, had themes of love, loss, sorrow, happiness, joy, excitement etc. These stories had dialogue that began to range in tone and severity. Finally my voice, my REAL voice was beginning to shine through.
A. Macabe: Is your Questions and Answers series a way to connect with other writers? How successful has it been for you – if you don’t mind me asking?
Ryan: I used to run a Facebook page called The Writers Academy. Every week I would take a list of questions from the members and I then I would write up the answers to their questions. When I was running the page, it was fairly popular with a members list sitting around 500 members. I was relatively picky with who I allowed in. I was trying to cut down on spam bots and what not. However, in the end, some personal drama brought an end to the page. However, I wanted to continue to teach so I took the questions and answers I had collected over the past six months and I re-posted them on C.R. Literary for anyone to peruse at their leisure.
I also recommend that writers chart their own paths rather than follow the crowd.
A. Macabe: Do you self publish your own work? Can you tell us more about this process?
Ryan: I self-published a collection of short stories called Through the Eyes of Another. The process of self-publishing is both really simple and really challenging. The physical act of self-publishing is pretty easy. Once you have your manuscript completed and edited, you can either create a cover yourself or hire an artist and then bam, put your work up on CreateSpace or Smashwords and you’re an author.
However, doing the above is a really easy way to fall into obscurity. To self-publish the proper way takes months and sometimes years of consistent marketing work, hiring the right staff such as a copy-editor, a cover artist, an e-book formatter and if you have the dough to spare, a marketing team to push your work to prospective buyers. It’s an overly time consuming endeavor. In fact, I don’t recommend it. Yes, trying to publish your work through traditional methods is tedious and challenging because of all the rejections you’ll receive but I believe it’s better of the two avenues.
A. Macabe: Your background is creative writing. What inspired you to pursue this at Arizona State? Is writing your full time job? If not, how do you make time for it?
Ryan: I actually started college as an IT major. About two semesters in I realized I was incredibly bored. I had always loved writing and I had been writing, even to a little success for years before I began college. I never thought of it as a career however until my English 111 professor at Delta College asked me, “Why aren’t you writing full time? You’re the best student I’ve had in years.” I really didn’t know how to react but my gut said, “go change majors.” I switched to English Literature and graduated from Delta which was able to propel me to Arizona State where I majored in English with a concentration in Creative Writing in the Short Form.
As to when do I have time? I don’t! With a wife and two children, finding time to write is as time consuming as actually sitting to write. However, I tend to stay up late after the family is asleep or I get up really early, around four or five in the morning and try to get a few hundred words in at least.
A. Macabe: So when you’re up late writing, do you have a place where you’re most productive? Are you ever tired being up that late (or early) and trying to crank out words?
Ryan: I’m always tired! I don’t think there’s a time when I’m genuinely “awake”. But, I simply have to push through the mundane routine and I do. Often times when I’m awake before the sun is up or if I’ve stayed up past my family then yes, it’s absolutely challenging to crank out even a line or two. Sometimes, more often than I want to admit, I’ll just stare at my manuscript and change a line or two then say to myself “well, that’s a good day.” Then I go to bed.
Let me assure you that failure is not only normal, it’s encouraged!
A. Macabe: Do you have any advice for other writers to create more time in their schedules to pursue the craft?
Ryan: Honestly, if you have a full schedule with a spouse and children and a job then you’ll never truly have time dedicated to your craft. In fact, you have to be willing to carve out your own time and do so every day. If you fail to do this, you’ll most likely wind up with a half finished manuscript that you just never quite have the time for. You’ll kick yourself for it too. I know I have on several occasions.
Make time for yourself. Make time for your work. Don’t let someone tell you that your writing isn’t important or a waste of time. Your endeavors into literature are important. Someone, someday, maybe post-mortem, will pick up your book off of a shelf and dive into the world you’ve created. In a way, writing allows us to live forever and that is worthy of your time.
A. Macabe: What draws you to fantasy?
Ryan: I suppose I’m a massive nerd. I’ve loved gaming, especially role playing games, ever since I was a kid who got the original Final Fantasy video game for the Nintendo. When I was around 8, I started writing my own stories set in the worlds of characters I loved. Early version of fan fiction I suppose. By the time I was seventh grade, I had graduated from flimsy fan fiction to penning my own tales set in fantastical worlds where the hero didn’t always win. I suppose I had a dark sense of humor.
I’ve never really left the fantasy genre behind although now, as a working writer, I tend to dabble in other genres simply to spread my wings.
A. Macabe: I’m also a major Final Fantasy fan. Which was your favorite?
Ryan: Oh there have been so many. My absolute favorites though have been Final Fantasy 6, 7, Tactics, 12 and 14.
A. Macabe: Do you think fantasy “tropes,” or even in other genres like science fiction and horror, should be avoided? How are you avoiding them in Children of the Void?
Ryan: Literature tropes are so difficult to avoid no matter how good one is at the craft. And, I think some tropes have become tropes because they work so damn well! But, it’s our job as writers to spin those tropes into something new or something unexpected and that’s what I’ve been trying to do with Children of the Void. Take what you think you know and turn it upside down. Hopefully you’ll enjoy the ride.
A. Macabe: Are you part of a writers group and do you find it beneficial?
Ryan: I used to be really into Facebook writing groups. I was the founding member of Fiction Writing, which i believe has upwards of 20,000 members. I also founded The Writing Academy in order to teach younger writers the finer points of craft. However, writing groups, especially the larger groups, tend to be more of a detriment than beneficial. I’m also at a point in my career where I am actively avoiding writing groups for that very reason. I also recommend that writers chart their own paths rather than follow the crowd.
A. Macabe: How do you manage promoting your work and still keeping time to work? What method of self promotion has provided the best return on investment for you?
Ryan: I have learned to love Twitter. I can typically post a snippet of my work with a quick link back to the chapters on my blog. When I add an appropriate hashtag to accompany my snippet and link, I discover that I earn a steady amount of link clicks. All of those clicks are potential readers and possible future fans. I know there are a lot of different avenues for a writer to promote themselves but I can’t think of a better one than Twitter.
A. Macabe: You have a great short story on your site: Dream Runners. Where did this story originate from? What was the inspiration behind it?
Ryan: Dream Runners, while one of my shortest pieces of work, is one of my favorites. I was actually playing a video game, ShadowRun for the PC. In the game, I encountered a set of characters getting high off of people’s happy dreams. I thought, “How cool is this!?” But, it also felt like a wasted narrative opportunity. I immediately set to work on my own version and after around fifteen drafts or so I settled on what would become Dream Runners. I completed that story somewhere in early 2014 and while I’ve had several requests for a sequel or an expanded version of the story, I feel Dream Runners is complete. At least from John’s point of view. Perhaps one day I’ll return to that world as a different protagonist but that’s a tale for another day.
A. Macabe: Thank you so much, Christopher. I think this bit of advice is going to stick with me forever:
In a way, writing allows us to live forever and that is worthy of your time.
We will check back in with Christopher later this year to see how Children of the Void is progressing. Until then, check out his website for his short stories and to follow him on his writing journey.
Next week in Episode #6, we chat with horror and fantasy writer A. F. Stewart and her new novel, “Ghosts of the Sea Moon.”
Featured Image Credit: Christopher Ryan.