Patrick, welcome to Lavender Lass Books. Thank you for agreeing to this interview and best of luck in the competition!
Spitting Image is the second book in The Immortal Vagabond Healer series. Here’s the blurb:
Immortal Sean Danet can heal others with a touch. Over the centuries, he’s learned to hide in plain sight, moving and changing his identity often, for long as a soldier and then as a paramedic. Finally, after too long as a rootless vagabond, he has found a place he feels he belongs, with friends he can trust and the love of an intelligent, beautiful woman. The life he dreamed of but never expected to attain.
When a sinister new adversary targets his abilities, his tranquil existence is overturned, and he finds that things may not be as they appear, and he may not be sure if he can trust those close to him, or even his own eyes.
Can he untangle this mystery and outwit his latest foes? Or is his only hope of safety to give up his hard won and precious place in the world and return to a bleak and lonely fugitive existence?
Spitting Image is a tense, twisting adventure where Sean must confront both deadly enemies and the consequences of his own decisions on what is worth defending.
And now to the interview:
1. Is this your first time entering #SPFBO? Why did you decide to enter this book?
This my third time. In 2018 I made the finals with my urban fantasy “Out of Nowhere,” where I came in eighth place. In 2019 I entered “Broken Crossroads,” my pulpy sword and sorcery buddy rogue story and went, well, pretty much nowhere. Not even a bad review or a DNF or a coupon to a bartending school, or a cyanide capsule and a significant look. I just kinda extrapolated my elimination from the fact that a different book from my subgroup was advanced to the semi finals. Kinda made me miss the bad reviews.
2. Why do you write in the fantasy genre? What make this genre particularly appealing to you?
I like the freedom it allows. You can literally do anything you want. I remember having an epiphany back when I read The Hobbit when I was maybe ten years old, and just feeling like “You mean we can do that? Just invent a world with wizards and dragons and make up stories in it?” I was hooked.
Tolkien was my gateway drug before I move on the experiment with the harder stuff.
3. Why did you decide to self-publish?
Frustration with the traditional process, really. I spent a few years sending out queries to agents and collecting rejections.
I looked at the advantages of traditional publishing and really, when you think about it, you have to sell yourself to an agent, then a publisher, and finally, assuming you do get a deal to the public, because, frankly, not a lot of new writers are going to get a marketing budget from a big publisher, so if I’m going to have to do the work anyway, I’d rather have more control, and spend my limited time pushing my book and writing the next book rather than writing query letters.
Then I met a group of authors on Litopia, which was an online writers’ community (and probably still, is, but it went through a lot of upheaval and changes since I was active there) and we started a co-operative where we would help with critiques and edits and eventually started publishing our work. This was invaluable and it brought a lot of talent together, as some of the members had day jobs as editors or graphic designers and could really pool our efforts to produce some high quality work. We published for maybe two or three years as Firedance Books.
Speaking of Firedance, I’m going to take a moment to thank Louise, Cole, Ren Warom, Gary Bonn, Alf Haywood, Julie Erwin, Kevin Wright and the late Steve Godden in particular. All brilliant writers and better human beings. You should find their stuff and read it.
4. Are there advantages to self-publishing? What about the challenges?
The advantages are that you control everything, and you keep more of your royalty. The disadvantage is that you have to do it all, and pay for things like covers and editing out of pocket.
There are people who will say that self published authors have to do all their own marketing and this is true, but this is true of all authors. Tell me how many ads you’ve seen for mid list books. And how much money the publishers have put into them.
If I’m going to do the marketing work anyway, I want to retain control. Over the cover, over whether to put out an audiobook, and so on
I’ve done alright without a publishing house behind me. I have six novels out in eight years, two of which have sales in the thousands. It’s a slow climb building a following, but it’s something I could do.
The other advantage that doesn’t get mentioned much is that I still have the ability to edit my books, which I simply wouldn’t if I had a major publisher.
Back in SPFBO 4, after reaching the finals I got some pretty serious criticism which made me take a long hard look at my book, and I decided to make some revisions. The fact that I could do that and just upload the new version was a godsend. Probably made my audiobook narrator, who was just finishing up the old version, curse and burn me in effigy, but it’s a better book for having taken the criticism into account
5. As a reader, and now author, how has the fantasy genre changed over the last several years? How has it stayed the same?
I think it’s changed for the better in that we are getting more diverse stories. More representative stories. I touched on this in an editorial I wrote for Quantum Muse Books on my early influences. You don’t have to go back very far to find fantasy (and published fiction at large) to be very white, and disproportionately male. I grew up on Tolkien and the Big Fat Trilogies of the 80’s before digging back to read the older fantasy of Fritz Leiber, Robert E Howard, Karl Edward Wagner and Michael Moorcock. If you go back even further, to the roots of fantasy, you’ll find Mary Shelley, Jules Verne, Edgar Allen Poe, Robert Louis Stephenson and H G Wells. So, pretty white, and largely male. These are the authors I had available when I was young. I’m not slamming their stuff. Plenty of it is good and should be read by any student of fantasy, but it’s not representative of the reading population.
This is changing. SPFBO 5 had three Asian inspired books make the finals and one of them won the whole thing. Congrats to Miracle Wang on her win with The Sword of Kaigen, by the way. So I think we have a better representation of points of view and cultural influences.
I also think that the self published sector is opening up the types of story we have available to us. Fantasy has gone through trends, and will continue to do so. When a few outlets controlled the whole of the market, it was hard for something “out of fashion” to make it to market. Being able to be your own publisher nicely circumvents that. There will still be trends, but not following them isn’t the hurdle it was.
At its heart, though, fantasy remains the genre of possibility. That hasn’t changed a bit.
6. Do you write (or plan to write) in any other genres?
I have a military science fiction novel out. “In Every Clime and Place” is a near future action adventure set in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. I have a few short stories that aren’t quite fantasy.
I’m not a big believer in hard genre boundaries, so I stray across some lines, but I think everything I write falls under the umbrella of speculative fiction.
7. What do you look for in a story? Especially in the fantasy genre? (Original ideas, plot lines, character development, world building, etc.?)
Voice foremost, and characters that I care about. There’s a school of thought that the narration should be invisible, but I reject that out of hand. One of my favorite things about Pratchett’s books is his prose. Sometimes the way he says something is as important as what he says. The same goes for Steven Brust and Roger Zelazny.
Characters have to engage me. I like to use the analogy of a book as a road trip. The protagonist is the person sitting in the seat next to you. Doesn’t matter where you’re headed, who you’re taking the trip with can make or break the experience.
I can run with a thin plot, but I want the plot to be tied up nicely. Don’t leave me wondering how threads resolve, or drop what looked like an important thread.
World building is the thing least likely to be a deal breaker for me. It can add a lot, but it can be as bare bones as “Imagine 11th Century England, but with wizards” and I’m fine with that, so long as it’s consistent and make internal sense. And detailed world building can be a turn off for me if it’s really overdone. I don’t want to read a chapter about the ecology of the Fire Swamp, unless it’s relevant to the story. And I prefer my world building to be dropped into the story in nice bite sized bits, not huge info dumps. This can be tough, especially if the author has spent a lot of time and effort building that world.
If it’s done well, you get Lord of the Rings, where there’s a huge backstory with a mythology and history and whole languages creating a world that the reader can feel underneath the main story, which gives the setting depth and makes it feel real, but mostly doesn’t overwhelm the core story. If it’s done badly, I’m skipping pages to get back to find out what the characters are up to. I really don’t want more than a paragraph describing the food at the feast.
8. Are you working on a new book? Can you share any details?
I’m writing a Victorian era, steampunky adventure involving airships. Mostly because I wanted to play with the era and some alternative tech. The 19th Century has a ton of nice juicy stuff to play with, from unprecedented advances in technologies to the cultural changes of the Industrial Revolution and the height of colonialism set against the beginning of the abolition of slavery, the beginnings of the labor movement, the emancipation of the serfs in Russia. It was a momentous period, both good and bad, and set the stage for the great events of the last century. All of which I’m sure I’ll fail to do justice to. But it will have some cool airships and sword fights and some killer dialogue.
It’s not related to anything else I’ve done, it’s just a story that my brain really really wants to tell me. It would probably make more commercial sense to add to one of the series I already have out, but those books just don’t want to be written right now.
9. Do you have any advice you would offer to writers who plan to self-publish in the fantasy genre?
First, don’t get discouraged. Trust your vision and write the book. There will be a million doubts and a million reasons not to bother, and lots of those will be good, compelling reasons. Ignore them.
Find a good group of people who will give you honest feedback. Now that we have the internet, this isn’t hard. Find a good editor and a good cover artist. If you marry a fine artist and web designer, like I did, even a mediocre hack like me can look professional.
You can find Patrick LeClerc’s book on Amazon! https://www.amazon.com/Patrick-LeClerc-ebook/dp/B01GEWBCG8