Daniel, welcome to Lavender Lass Books. Thank you for agreeing to this interview and best of luck in the competition!
ILLBORN is the first book of The Illborn Saga. Here’s the blurb:
BOOK ONE OF THE ILLBORN SAGA
Long ago, The Lord Aiduel emerged from the deserts of the Holy Land, possessed with divine powers. He used these to forcibly unite the peoples of Angall, before His ascension to heaven.
Over eight hundred years later, in a medieval world which is threatened by war and religious persecution, four young men and women begin to develop supernatural abilities. These forbidden and secret powers will shatter the lives that they have known, and will force each of them to confront the mystery of the ethereal Gate which haunts their dreams. What does the dream mean, and how is it connected to their burgeoning abilities?
As they experience conflict, love, lust and betrayal, in lands which are being overtaken by war, they must try to stay ahead of and to survive the sinister forces which are now pursuing them. For they are being hunted…
Illborn is Daniel T. Jackson’s powerful and gritty debut novel, and is the thrilling opening chapter in the epic fantasy story of The Illborn Saga.
And now to the interview:
1. Is this your first time entering #SPFBO? Why did you decide to enter this book?
It is my first time entering SPFBO. ILLBORN is my epic fantasy debut novel, and was published earlier in 2021, so this is my first ever opportunity to enter.
I decided to enter the book into the competition for a number of reasons. First and foremost, I want to find new readers for my novel. It is very difficult for a new author to be noticed amongst the plethora of books that are out there, and being part of the SPFBO competition gives me an opportunity to gain exposure to a wider audience.
Secondly, I would like to see how my book is received by the competition’s reviewers. I believe that ILLBORN is an original, exciting and high-quality epic fantasy story, and I am proud of my novel. Early reviews and feedback have also been very positive. However, I do not have the hundreds of reviews and years of exposure that some books have, and for a first-time author it can be challenging to find new reviewers. This competition will provide me with an opportunity to have at least part of my book read and assessed by experienced fantasy reviewers, for which I am grateful. I look forward to their feedback, which I hope will be positive!
Finally, there is a tiny part of me that thinks: hey, how great would it be to get to the semi-finals or final of this thing? Or, heavens above, even win it! The realist in me recognizes the extremely long odds of that latter outcome, but until I am eliminated, I am still able to dream!
2. Why do you write in the fantasy genre? What make this genre particularly appealing to you?
I have always loved the fantasy genre, ever since I was 7 or 8 years old. That love extends across books, television, movies, computer games and tabletop games. I am a genuine fantasy enthusiast!
I have always wanted to write in the fantasy genre, because it is what I love as a reader. There was never any question for me about writing in any other genre.
My love of fantasy books started with the Fighting Fantasy Choose Your Own Adventure series. It extended from there into The Hobbit and the Narnia stories. In my teenage years I devoured The Lord of the Rings, The Riftwar Saga, the Shannara series, and the Thomas Covenant Chronicles, amongst others. Later, I read through the Wheel of Time and Memory, Sorrow & Thorn series. By the time I reached my 20’s, I was hooked on fantasy for life.
I wrote my first fantasy novel aged eighteen (almost thirty years ago), on an old typewriter, at a time when I had little experience of either life or storytelling. That manuscript now gathers dust in the attic, where it shall remain forever! However, I loved the writing process, and that love of writing has stayed with me (as a hobby) throughout my life.
The epic fantasy story for ILLBORN has been in my head for many years. The world, characters and plot have all taken shape across that period. I finally escaped from my day job three years ago, to allow me to find time to write it. Writing a fantasy novel was something that I always knew that I was going to do, and the question for me was when, not if.
The fantasy genre is particularly appealing to me because of the awesome scope of what it can allow you to achieve as a writer. Where else can you create a whole world, or even a whole universe, and then build the lore and peoples within it? What other genre allows a writer to have so much license to create awe-inspiring and breathtaking moments?
As a reader, I love the sense of escapism which good fantasy writing creates. As a writer, I want to evoke that feeling for other people. I would like to elicit emotional reactions in the reader, and to create scenes and moments which cause goosebumps. I want my readers to love the experience of escaping to other lives within another world; an experience that I have created for them.
Within fantasy, I love the epic fantasy sub-genre in particular for the reasons stated above. The genre allows the writer to tell a story which is epic in scope, but which can be wonderfully intimate at the character level. And, at the end of the writing process, if you are proud of what you have written, you can look back at it and say, “Wow, I created that!”
3. Why did you decide to self-publish?
In brief, I decided to self-publish because I want people to read ILLBORN.
Being honest, I explored the market for traditional publishing of fantasy in the UK before deciding to self-publish. That was a pretty dispiriting process, with probably less than ten UK literary agents holding the magic keys to the sealed gates of traditional publication!
Within that process, I soon established that the length of my debut novel (220,000 words) was a significant barrier to traditional publication. I suspect that the word count in my covering letter to agents meant that, for many of them, my manuscript took an uninterrupted, high-velocity arc from the slush-pile to the bin! The one agent who I did get to meet with told me that he liked my writing, but that the story needed to be 90,000 words shorter!
After that meeting, I had an extended period of self-reflection (and self-doubt!). I spent a lot of this time wondering whether I should start again, and write an entirely different and much shorter story to ILLBORN, in pursuit of the remote possibility of a traditional publishing deal. This would have led me to consign ILLBORN to a metaphorical dusty attic in the bowels of my PC, and to start over.
However, I was and am proud of what I have created in ILLBORN, and therefore after a brief pause to untangle my metaphors, I decided to pursue the self-publishing route. The whole process since then has been one learning curve after another, and it remains that way.
The main reason why I decided to self-publish therefore is that I want people to read ILLBORN. I do not want it to sit as an electronic file on a PC forever; unknown and unloved. I want to find an audience who reads it, and who I hope will enjoy it.
And who knows, some of that audience might even want to read the sequel!
4. Are there advantages to self-publishing? What about the challenges?
The main advantages of self-publishing are those of control and freedom. Give me the power! All of the power!!!
In seriousness, by self-publishing, you get to decide on pretty much everything. Title, cover, font, blurb, editor, proof reader, printer, marketing channels, social media; the final decision usually rests with the author. If you like the finished product, then I will take a self-satisfied bow. Thank you very much, it was nothing, really, you’re just too kind!
By not being tied to a contract with a traditional publisher, the self-published author also has the freedom to move at their own pace and to set their own goals. I have been self-employed for much of my career, and I am now enjoying working for myself as an author; if I want to take a day off, the boss is fairly forgiving (just don’t tell my wife I said that, though). Equally, if your goal is not financial but rather to find enough readers who enjoy your work (as mine is), then you do not have to be worried about commercial returns.
However, as a relative of somebody with spidey-powers once said, with great power comes great responsibility. As such, if either you do not like the multiple roles that a self-published author needs to undertake, or you are not particularly good at them, it can be a challenge.
Someone who starts off as a person who loves writing, may soon realize that they also will have to do all of those other tasks to be a successful self-published writer. And even if they embrace all of those other roles with enthusiasm, they may not be good at them.
What, you don’t like the cover? The title stinks? My prose has less fluidity than a fatberg-blocked sewer? Well, erm, in that case, it’s on me. Sorry!
Personally, I have found social media and marketing to be the most challenging part. I have had to move within six months from being a Skynet-dodging hermit to trying to become a social media-savvy author, and that is still taking some getting used to! However, I recognize that this is also a massive part of the role for a traditionally published author.
In summary, for me, I like the freedom and control that self-publishing has given me, despite the massive learning curve. There is also a wonderful community of people out there willing to offer help and advice to those who ask for it, which helps to mitigate the challenges. Long may it continue!
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 am not sure that I am the best-qualified person to answer this. My focus within fantasy has remained on epic fantasy, within which lots of great new authors and books have emerged in the last decade. The epic fantasy sub-genre is still thriving.
I believe that book word counts are reducing on average, although I do not have any hard evidence for that hunch (other than my “cut 90,000 words out” meeting with a literary agent!).
I also believe that more sub-genres have emerged in the last few years, with urban fantasy, romance fantasy and young adult / new adult in particular becoming areas that I am now more aware of.
With regards to how it has stayed the same, I go back to my answer about why I write in the fantasy genre. The good fantasy books being written now still have that amazing capacity to enable you to escape to another place and another time, and to allow you to witness and experience breathtaking spectacle. That was the case fifty years ago, twenty years ago, and is still the case now. I hope that it will continue to be the case, many years from now.
6. Do you write (or plan to write) in any other genres?
I do not write in any other genres, and I have no plans to. ILLBORN is book one of an epic fantasy series (The Illborn Saga), which I expect to be writing for a number of years.
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 of the things listed in the question. It is very important for me to feel that a story is original, and that I cannot predict everything that is going to happen. I think that there are certain tropes in fantasy which have been thoroughly explored now, and it is time to move on from them. It was very important for me in developing ILLBORN’s plot that I felt that the story was different to anything that the reader might have read before, which would leave scope for surprises and potential wonder.
It is also essential for me in enjoying a story to be interested in the characters, and able to empathize with them. This does not necessarily mean that I have to agree with their choices and actions, or even like the character (although I prefer books where I also like the main characters). However, it does require that I believe that their choices and actions are realistic and credible, even when I do not agree with them. I enjoy seeing characters face conflicts and problems, and then witnessing how they choose to resolve them. The arc of a character’s development throughout the duration of a story is also vital. My personal edits of ILLBORN spent a lot of time on this.
For me, tight plot lines are also essential to good epic fantasy. In situations where you might have multiple characters, countries, wars, religions, and magic types, strong plot lines are needed to hold everything together. Without that, it can become a jumbled mess.
The best books have both interesting characters and well-constructed plots, not just one or the other. World-building is also important (this is fantasy, after all!), for that simple reason that the reader is to be transported someplace else. As such, it makes sense to build and decorate it properly, before they arrive!
Bringing all of the above together, however, the overarching criteria that I look for is for the story to help me to escape to another place, and to fill me with a sense of wonder. I can always recognize a great epic fantasy book, because when I finish it, I feel a mix of emotions between awe at what has just happened, and loss that the ride is over.
8. Are you working on a new book? Can you share any details?
I am writing the sequel to ILLBORN, Book Two of The Illborn Saga series. I do not want to give too many details away at this stage for fear of giving spoilers, but I hope that at least some of the readers of ILLBORN will want to continue on the journey. Many of those who have finished the novel so far have indicated that they do indeed want to.
9. Do you have any advice you would offer to writers who plan to self-publish in the fantasy genre?
As a general piece of advice, be clear about what your motivations for self-publishing are. I self-published because I want to find readers who will enjoy my book. I did not do it for commercial reasons. If you are entering into self-publishing to make money, then you are probably deluding yourself (some may, but most will not). To be successful, you will need to devote a lot of time and energy, and that might bring great rewards in terms of satisfaction that people have read and have enjoyed your book(s). But even then, it is unlikely that there will be a meaningful financial return.
As a specific piece of advice for fantasy, make use of the community that is out there. I have found loads of friendly contacts in the fantasy community, and that is from a starting point of being terrified of social media. There are a lot of people who will give their time, resources and advice to help you (like Lorri, by allowing me to ramble on at length!), so please make use of it!
Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to answer these questions, Lorri, and for publishing this on your website. It is very much appreciated.
You can find Daniel T. Jackson’s book on Amazon! https://www.amazon.com/ILLBORN-Daniel-T-Jackson-ebook/dp/B08ZKWWLXY/