Tony, welcome to Lavender Lass Books. Thank you for agreeing to do this interview, and best of luck in the competition!
A Hero’s Downfall is the first book in The Story of Evil trilogy. Here’s the blurb:
During an entertaining jousting tournament, a mysterious villain attacks the capital with his army. Because of this disastrous event, Stephen Brightflame, a nineteen-year-old who aspires to become a knight, embarks on a quest to save the kingdom from further destruction. He joins up with a convicted felon, an arrogant warrior, and a Halfling woman, but quickly learns their pasts are just as dark and disturbing as his own. Experience the first book in an epic fantasy trilogy that’s been called, “fascinating and captivating” featuring “well-rounded, enjoyable characters, intense action scenes, and riveting twists” (The US Review of Books and Self-Publishing Review).
*In 2020, The Story of Evil series was re-edited and condensed from a five-part series into a trilogy. The volumes Heroes of the Siege and Escape from Celestial have been combined to form the first book of this trilogy, A Hero’s Downfall.
And now to the interview:
1. Is this your first time entering #SPFBO? Why did you decide to enter this book?
Yes, this is my first time entering SPFBO. I learned about the competition six months ago during SPFBO5 and enjoyed following that contest, especially considering how it was a nail-biter of a finish with the scores so close!
I appreciate the reason why Mark Lawrence started SPFBO – as a way to shine light on and bring publicity to self-published books, but I think it’s evolved beyond what it was created for. It’s become a great way to connect with fellow readers and authors in the fantasy community. I enjoyed becoming friends with some of the participants of the previous competition, but by entering A Hero’s Downfall in SPFBO6, it allows me to become even more immersed in the community. I know we’re all competitors hoping to have the last book standing out of the 300 entries, but that doesn’t mean we can’t support and encourage each other and make new friends along the way!
2. Why do you write in the fantasy genre? What makes this genre particularly appealing to you?
I’ve always been drawn to fantasy. When I was six years old, I saw a commercial for a Fisher Price castle and desperately wanted it (you know how awesome those retro ‘90s commercials made toys look?). Luckily, my grandparents got it for me for Christmas and got my brother the companion pirate ship set. I spent countless hours playing with those toys, making up story after story. I think that’s where my love for fantasy began and it was only added to by the fantasy books, movies, and videogames I read, watched, and played as I grew up. For my whole life, I’ve enjoyed works of fantasy across all mediums, so I think when I decided to start writing, it naturally ended up being the genre I gravitated towards.
3. Why did you decide to self-publish?
The moment I decided to self-publish is also the moment I decided to start writing my book series. All throughout my teenage years I wrote down my ideas for a fantasy book (characters, plot, worldbuilding, etc), but never did anything with them. Then, one day, I happened to see a local news story about a boy who self-published a book through CreateSpace. When I looked up the website, I read about self-publishing and found out I could upload a manuscript and have it printed as a paperback book. Right then and there, I got out all my notes and started writing. Four years later, at the age of twenty-three, I released the first book in my Story of Evil series.
4. Are there advantages to self-publishing? What about the challenges?
When you’re self-published, you control everything. This is both a blessing and a curse. All the steps to publication go through you until the book is ready to be printed. This includes outlining, writing, maps, editorial, revisions, beta readers, cover art, ebooks, and marketing. Of course, some of these you outsource, but you’re still in charge of every decision. The sheer amount of work is daunting, but it makes it all the more worth it when you finally get to hold your book in your hands for the first time.
5. As a reader, and now author, how has the fantasy genre changed over the last several years? How has it stayed the same?
We’re starting to see a lot of new fantasy subgenres grow in popularity. Some of these are steampunk, LitRPG, Asian, Urban, and Flintlock. I think more subgenres and unique fictional worlds will arise in the coming years. Self-published fantasy fiction is the breeding ground for this kind of ingenuity.
A second way fantasy fiction has changed is that it’s shifted away from the idea of good and evil and moved more towards antihero characters. With protagonists that are humanized and flawed, it allows the reader to more easily connect to them since none of us are perfect and we all have struggles. Not knowing how characters will respond in the circumstances and challenges they face allows the plot to become less predictable and more engaging.
Despite the changes in subgenres and character archetypes, the part of the fantasy genre that will always remain at the forefront is magic. Magic is one of the main foundations of fantasy and the majority of fantasy books will continue to feature some form of it as long as they continue to be written.
6. Do you write (or plan to write) in any other genres?
At some point I would like to write a book on Christian theology. The more I study the Bible, the more I am amazed at how interconnected its themes and concepts are. My faith is important to me and I’m always seeking to grow and expand my knowledge. And although there is a simplified version of religion and faith in my books, I am careful not to allow the ideas for my Christian book to cross over into my fantasy writing. I understand readers might be turned off because they would feel they’re being preached at, so I’ll reserve my musings for the Christian genre.
Other than that, I’ve written a film treatment for a thriller I would love to see get greenlit and it might eventually be fun to experiment in writing books in different genres, but as of right now I plan to stick primarily to fantasy.
7. What do you look for in a story? Especially in the fantasy genre? (Original ideas, plot lines, character development, world building, etc.?)
I look for all four of these things in a story and I don’t think there’s any one I value more than another. Originality, plot, characters, and world building are all like gears. They all need to be able to work on their own and be their own source of strength in the novel. If an author can get each to stand on its own merit, then they can attempt to get them working in tandem with each other which makes the whole mechanism function properly. Harry Potter is the perfect example of storytelling that has originality, plot, characters, and world building firing on all cylinders.
8. Are you working on a new book? Can you share any details?
I’m currently working on the final book in The Story of Evil. It is called The Story of Evil – Battle for the Kingdom. All I’ll say about it for now is that the entire series has been building up to this epic finale. It brings almost all the characters from throughout the series together in a climactic battle to determine the fate of the world. There will be two armies clashing with plenty of aerial and naval battles. Just like my current books, it is full of cliffhanger chapters and plot twists. I’m very excited for its release which will hopefully be in 2021.
9. Do you have any advice you would offer to writers who plan to self-publish in the fantasy genre?
Immerse yourself in the fantasy community through Reddit’s r/Fantasy, Facebook groups, and Goodreads forums. There are great people who will support and encourage you as you develop your craft. I would also suggest watching Brandon Sanderson’s lectures on Youtube, reading Stephen King’s On Writing, and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. These are an invaluable resources that every author needs to take the time to watch or read.
If you decide to self-publish a fantasy book, or any book for that matter, make sure you hire a professional editor and cover artist. In the over-saturated market of indie books these two things will help you stand out amongst the crowd. More than anything, enjoy the process and the challenge of writing. You, as an author, have the power to put words on a page that will inspire and entertain people. It’s incredibly rewarding to get emails from readers saying how they resonated with one of your characters or how they stayed up all night because they couldn’t put your book down. Writing is hard work, but the more you do it, the better you’ll get. Good luck!
You can find Tony Johnson’s book on Amazon! https://www.amazon.com/Story-Evil-Heros-Downfall-ebook/dp/B085HLKT93