#SPFBO6 Finalist Interview – Justin Lee Anderson

Justin, welcome to Lavender Lass Books. Thank you for agreeing to this interview and best of luck in the competition!

The Lost War: Eidon Book One is the first book in the Eidon trilogy. Here’s the blurb:

“Strikingly intense … immersive and thoroughly compelling.” SFX

“Compelling and entertaining … inventive and fun.” SciFiNow

The war is over, but something is rotten in the state of Eidyn.

With a ragged peace in place, demons burn farmlands, violent Reivers roam the wilds and plague has spread beyond the Black Meadows. The country is on its knees.

In a society that fears and shuns him, Aranok is the first magically-skilled draoidh to be named King’s Envoy.

Now, charged with restoring an exiled foreign queen to her throne, he leads a group of strangers across the ravaged country. But at every step, a new mystery complicates their mission.

As bodies drop around them, new threats emerge and lies are revealed, can Aranok bring his companions together and uncover the conspiracy that threatens the kingdom?

Strap in for this twisted fantasy road trip from award-winning author Justin Lee Anderson.

Praise for The Lost War:

“Genuinely surprised and delighted me. Bravo!” Anna Stephens, author of Godblind

“Highly entertaining fantasy … extremely readable.” Tom Lloyd, author of Twilight Reign and The God Fragments

“A blistering tale packed with action and adventure.” Evening News

“Outstanding … The Lost War is easily one of the biggest surprises of the year.” Novel Notions

“This book has a perfect blend of everything. A very strong 5 stars.” Spells and Spaceships

SPFBO 2020 Finalist

Shortlisted in the 2019 Booknest Fantasy Awards

And now to the interview:

1.  Is this your first time making the final round in the #SPFBO?  Why did you decide to enter this book?
It is! I entered my first book, Carpet Diem, two years ago and I think it was cut in one of the first culls, so I’m getting a real taste of both ends of SPFBO. After that experience I suppose I could be forgiven for never entering again (!) but I think I probably entered The Lost War for the same reasons most people do – it’s a great way to get your book seen and if you’re lucky enough to do well then it can be an incredible boost to your publicity and career. The added bonus this year has been the networking and contacts that come with getting this far in the competition, so it’s all upsides, really. It’s an incredibly generous thing Mark does for the SPF community.

2.  Why do you write in the fantasy genre?  What make this genre particularly appealing to you?
The real world is boring! It’s all about the escapism. I was one of those kids who grew up wanting something incredible to happen. I wanted there to be more to the world. You know, aliens, ghosts, that sort of thing. So writing in worlds where incredible things can happen is just more fun. And it gives you great scope for stories. I’ve never been a kitchen sink drama kind of guy, and the older I get the less TV and films I watch that are set in the real world, to be honest. They have to be really good to get my attention if there’s not some fantastical element to them. I still *want* ghosts or aliens to show up, but I’m not holding my breath…

3.  Why did you decide to self-publish this book? 
A total lack of patience, mostly. I spent a lot of time subbing to agents and trying to get Carpet Diem picked up, but I kept a hitting a wall, where people were complimentary but basically said there was no market for it. In fact, one told me bookshops don’t have a comedy fantasy section, they have a Terry Pratchett shelf. But I did get it published with a small press and it was one of their bestselling books ever, I believe, until I took back the rights and republished it myself in 2018. Now, I’m in the extremely fortunate position of having a partner who has funded setting up my own company to publish my work, which means it is even easier than it would have been to do it myself. I also have a background in publishing and worked professionally as a writer and editor for over 15 years, so I knew a lot of what I was doing before I started. I did submit The Lost War to one agent, with whom I had a really helpful and generous (on his part) dialogue around Carpet Diem, and, while he liked it, he still passed on it. I didn’t have the patience to continue down that route again, so I took the resources I had to do it myself.

4.  Are there advantages to self-publishing?  What about the challenges?
A number on both sides. The first advantage is simple: you can get your work published. There’s no gatekeeper to prevent you from getting your work out and into the hands of readers. That’s a huge change to the pre-ebook world. The second is, I think, control. You can publish your story, with the cover you want it to have, and you don’t have to compromise on what story you want to tell. This is why you’ll see much more unusual and unique stories, I think, being told in the SP industry. You can take risks the major publishers can’t or won’t.

But there are challenges, too. You don’t get the might of a marketing beast behind you that you would get with a traditional deal, and that’s a huge miss. For me, that would be just about worth a trad deal alone. I spend so much time on marketing and I’m not very good at it, but I’ve learned a lot from trial and error and advice from friends. The flipside of giving up creative control is also that you get the expertise and experience of people who can help you make your book better and more marketable – and that’s a trade off that might be worth making, depending on what your priorities are. And, of course, the big, somewhat unspoken one is credibility. As much as we might like it not to be so, there is credibility, in the eyes of readers, I think, that comes with a book being published by a known, traditional publisher. There are a lot of people who have discovered the SPF world and are both fans and advocates, and the irony, of course, is that publishing began with self-publishing! But as it stands, people will, consciously or not, ascribe greater credibility and quality to a book published by a big house than a self-published one. I hope that will keep changing, and I hope the economics of publishing will change to make it more feasible for authors to get their books into bookshops, but sadly, I’m not convinced it will. In fact, I’m not sure physical bookshops will even survive in the long term in their current form, but that’s another conversation!

5.  As a reader and author, what changes (if any) would you like to see in the fantasy genre?
Better representation of characters who are not straight, white, cis guys. And better written women, in general. So much of the genre has been dominated for a long time by middle-aged, straight, white guys like me, and frankly we need to be better at writing more diverse characters and encouraging more diversity among authors. It’s getting better, but not quickly enough. The Bechdel test is an embarrassingly low bar, and yet so many books, TV shows and films still fail to clear it. I think we need to be more aspirational about our worldbuilding too. I think a lot of fantasy, because we associate it with being historical, leans into the idea that we have to represent women and ‘minorities’ as they would have been in the past. That’s wrong. It’s fantasy. We can imagine pseudohistorical multi-racial fantasy worlds where women are equals and not being straight is seen as perfectly normal. They’re our worlds. Why shouldn’t we imagine better?

We also need to do it the right way. Mandalorian did a great job of it when they had a four-person strike team who just all happened to be women. They didn’t do a slow-mo or a lingering shot to make sure we knew they were all women (I’m looking at you, Infinity War), they just did it. That’s exactly what I think we need more of. No proclamations of ‘girl power’, just powerful girls. And that doesn’t always have to be literal. Powerful characters don’t have to be physically powerful.

6.  Do you write (or plan to write) in any other genres?
After I finish the Eidyn trilogy and then finish the sequel to Carpet Diem, I have three different ideas for books. One is an urban fantasy thriller with vampires and magic, one is an urban fantasy murder mystery-style thing and one is a futuristic SF superhero political thriller. I think I’ll always just write the things that excite me – which I guess is another benefit of self publishing!

7.  What do you look for in a story?  Especially in the fantasy genre?  (Original ideas, plot lines, character development, world building, etc.?)
Yes. All of it, ideally. I suppose mostly I want a story that will surprise and delight me. I have an annoying habit of predicting where stories will go, so I’m always pleased when something takes me completely by surprise. Last Memoria, Rachel’s book, did that, and I loved that I didn’t work out earlier what was happening/going to happen. That feeling of ‘wow!’ is a real pleasure, and it’s what I try to do with my books. I do like a good twist.

8.  Are you working on a new book?  Can you share any details?
I’m about 170k words into The Insurgent King, Eidyn Book 2. It’s been a hard slog through a pandemic, but it’s getting there. It’s going to be a lot longer than Lost War, and quite different in a lot of ways, as the characters deal with the aftermath of the first book. I think it’s going to finish between 200 and 250k words, which is a bit of a beast. Maybe this will be the first book of mine that gets shorter in editing!

9.  Do you have any advice you would offer authors who plan to enter next year’s #SPFBO?
Only the same advice I would give any SP author, I think. Invest in an editor, a proofreader and a cover artist, if you possibly can. They are worth the money. A good cover artist is your primary sales tool, and the editor and proofreader will make your book the best it can be, so that readers enjoy it, talk about it and help you sell more books. Even as a professional editor, I still need an editor, because you can’t see your own mistakes – you need those fresh eyes and different perspective. Writing a good story alone is not enough to make it work as a self-published author.

You can find Justin Lee Anderson’s book at Amazon!