#SPFBO7 Interview – Jon Ford

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

Hunters is the first book in The Battle of the Songbird saga. Here’s the blurb:

Welcome to the new age…

In a world where Vampyrii, Werewolves and other creatures of myth and legend now live side by side with the remnants of the Human race, conflicts are inevitable.

Gayle Knightley has been fighting all her life.

As a Fae/Human hybrid, a quirk of her birth ensured she was destined to be a warrior. A Hunter. One of the best. But now she’s broken and grieving. Her team and her friends brutally taken from her. Gayle will need to overcome her grief and join the fight once again. Her first steps on the path to redemption take her back to London, and the Human Fae Academy where it all began.

Where she learnt to be a Hunter.

Yet on the eve of a historical global summit, an enigmatic manipulator threatens to shatter the fragile peace.  In Werewolf controlled Canada, a girl is abducted by a monster. In Vampire occupied America, a lone Vampyrii forges an alliance with an enemy to try and correct history.

How are these things all connected?

And more importantly…who hunts the Hunters?

Hunters is a story as complex and deep as Game of Thrones or The Expanse, yet set in a modern urban fantasy setting.

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 very first time entering #SPFBO. Honestly, I didn’t know about the competition before my wife flagged it to my attention – she’s way savvier than I am in these matters. I tend to bury my head in writing, while she handles my Instagram account and keeps her finger on the pulse of the writing community, so to speak.

‘The Ballad of the Songbird – Book 1: Hunters’ is my first published book. It was out in March, and the follow up is on its way in autumn, hopefully end of July/early August – fingers crossed! Hence, it was the only book I have to offer up for this contest.

2. Why do you write in the fantasy genre? What make this genre particularly appealing to you?
Gosh, this might be a long-winded way to answer a simple question, but here goes…

I’ve always had a love of Science Fiction, and I had planned to write a book that was firmly in that genre. But one day, for a totally unrelated reason, I was googling Vampire myths and discovered that there isn’t just one. We all know the stereotypical tropes of Vampire lore from books, TB and film…but there’s so much more out there. The same is true for Therionthropes. Everyone knows Werewolves, but in Africa there are legends of Werehyenas, and in Malaysia there are Weretigers.

In fact, go and dig into any myth you like and you’ll find a dozen different variations depending on the country of origin. This fascinated me, and it became the kernel of an idea for a story. Which became a saga.

But SciFi wasn’t the place to do it, so I leaned heavily into Urban-Fantasy instead. I wanted to put the reader into our world as they know it now, but slightly askew. A world where our world was changed by a supernatural event, which made those myths and legends real.

I am also a huge fan of George RR Martin’s ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ and also of James SA Corey’s ‘The Expanse’ novels. One is fantasy, the other hard SciFi, but the thing they both have in common is spectacular world-building. Worlds filled with characters colored in shades of grey, multiple complex character arcs, different nation states and intriguing webs of mystery and politics. Both are a huge influence on my ‘Songbird’ saga.

But it all really boiled down to the fact that I wanted to play with monsters and magic. LOL

Fantasy was the natural selection.

3. Why did you decide to self-publish?
Well, this answer is kind of linked to the previous.

‘Hunters’ is a difficult book to classify.

It’s definitely Urban-Fantasy, but it also threads the eyes of many a different needle. As it follows multiple characters on their arcs, we have a number of different stories all happening at the same time. One arc is a kind of action/adventure story about Zarra – one of my main characters – who is hunting a monster in the forests of Montreal. Another thread is a romance blossoming between Gayle and Michael, who are teachers at a school for Human/Fae hybrid children in London. While yet another story arc follows Gayle’s sister Allyson, who is the security chief for a place called Nexus City in Iceland, where all the different factions of the world (Human, Were, Vamp, Fae, Troll, Ice Giant, etc) come together once a year to hash out their differences.

And that’s just three of the arcs. LOL

It’s a hard book to describe in that it doesn’t have an easy ‘elevator pitch’, and I felt that was always going to be an issue querying. Plus, I had a very distinct vision for the saga, including the book covers, which are wraparound covers featuring the duality of each main character.

So, for example, book 1 is Gayle Knightley, my Human/Fae hybrid main character. When you first meet her, she’s broken and grieving, but over the course of the saga she’ll unleash her elemental powers. The front cover has her grieving, while the back cover is her powered up. Book 2 will feature Lyssa, my Vampyrii leader. She’ll be human form on the front, and Vamped out on the back. And so on.

Plus each cover is color themed. Seven books, seven colors in the rainbow. First book is red, second is orange, etc. (See attached picture to understand! – you of course don’t need to put it in the interview if you can’t. I very much regret not sending in the full wrap around cover for the cover contest! LOL).

I felt that a publisher would want to change my vision. Either cull characters, or simplify the story. Or give me a cover that is standard for the genre.

For me, the ‘Songbird’ saga is my legacy, and I wanted to do it my way. Hence self-publishing.

4. Are there advantages to self-publishing? What about the challenges?
Well, I think I listed the advantages to me above. Complete control over the end product.

But therein lies the rub.

Because with complete control, comes complete accountability for everything you need to do to get a book published, and as any self-published author will tell you, this adventure can cost you a fortune if you’re not careful.

Editing is the first big hurdle.

You can spend thousands of dollars on a good editor, and that’s money which you’ll likely never make back unless you can also make a spectacular success of the marketing, too.

I was fortunate enough to meet some great people in the Twitter #WritingCommunity, including my editor partner, NT Anderson. We traded favors to get our books published. She did the editing on ‘Hunters’ (and a fine job she did, too!) while I parlayed that for doing the formatting, story development, and cover creation for her book (a romance novel called ‘Acts of Closure’). That managed to keep both our costs down on that front.

Where I am still desperately trying to figure out what to do is in the marketing of the book now that it’s out. Finding readers to put their eyes on your work isn’t easy in such a saturated marketplace, and it doesn’t help that indie authors don’t have the best reputation for quality control. While I wanted to put out a product that would look totally professional (as have the other contest entries here, I might add), I have bought indie books in the past that are just awful. Bad covers, bad formatting and rife with spelling and grammatical errors.

Now, I’m not saying my book is perfect, but I’ve tried as hard as I can to be as perfect as I can on the limited resources and budget at my disposal.

So, yeah…good editing, marketing and overcoming the prejudice that self-publishing is inferior. Honestly, some of the best books I’ve ever read are self-published.

5. As a reader, and now author, how has the fantasy genre changed over the last several years? How has it stayed the same?
Well, honestly, the genre itself (along with SciFi) has always been a place where an author can cut loose with their imagination and that imagination hasn’t changed much over the years.

‘The Hobbit’ came out in 1937, so that just goes to show you how long these fantasy worlds have been entertaining readers for, and Middle Earth is still held as the gold-standard for fantasy worlds.

Fantasy has always been a touchstone in my life, certainly. Some of my earliest real book memories – and one of my biggest influences – are the books of Anne McCaffrey. I loved both her SciFi work on the ‘Talents’ and ‘Brain & Brawn’ series, as much as her awesome Science-Fantasy work on the ‘Dragonriders of Pern’ series.

What I guess I’m saying is that Fantasy has always been a part of my reading diet, and the work of the master imagineers dates back decades.  

What I have seen change, however, is our attitude toward it.

For the longest time Fantasy – and it’s futuristic cousin, SciFi – were regarded as a geek dominion and almost frowned upon by the mainstream. But now, with shows like ‘The Big Bang Theory’ and ‘Game of Thrones’ drawing huge audiences, plus Marvel dominating the box office, geek culture has now become the mainstream.

The big TV companies like Amazon, HBO and Netflix are all chasing the next big Fantasy show. Movie stars such as Henry Cavill and Vin Diesel are acknowledged as gamers and geeks, so it’s all now much more accepted to enjoy venturing into fantasy worlds of swords and sorcery. And because it’s now so mainstream, we’re seeing a real uptick in people writing in the genre.

Almost every other book I see these days seems to be firmly in the Fantasy genre, and the cynical side of me wonders if this is simply because many of them see the success of George RR Martin’s works and want to find that next big hot Hollywood property.

It’s like a Fantasy gold rush.

That said, I’ve read some simply awesome Fantasy work this year alone. Books that are more than worthy of being a huge HBO show or a movie franchise. As I mentioned earlier, the Fantasy genre lends itself to flights of the imagination, and I’m glad so many talented writers are flocking to it.

On the flipside, it does make it difficult to stand out in the crowd.

6. Do you write (or plan to write) in any other genres?
Science Fiction.

There are some gentle science fiction overtones in ‘Hunters’, in that it’s set slightly in the future, so there is a light touch of future tech. The book is set in 2045, but after an event in 2016 changed the course of human history. I think it’s more Urban-Fantasy, but it could quite happily sit in Science-Fantasy, too, I think.

This is really my cheeky way to have my cake and eat it!  LOL

My series of books also gives me a scope for spinoff stories in slightly different genres. ‘The Ballad of the Songbird’ is very adult in nature, but it’s also partly set at something called the Human/Fae Academy, where kids who are Human/Fae hybrids get to learn how to control their powers. I’ve been thinking very much about doing a Young Adult Fantasy spinoff series based on these kids and their time at the Academy. Kind of Harry Potter-esque.

Additionally, my primary MC, Gayle Knightley (the ‘Songbird’ of the saga) is also formerly a soldier who led a team called the 137th Hunters (hence the name of the book). I have a whole prequel set of novellas almost ready to go which detail the events leading up to the ‘Songbird’ saga. These will be more kind of an action/war story in nature.

When the ‘Songbird’ saga ends, the final book leaves it in a particularly interesting place, which would lend itself to another genre I’m keen to play in if I wanted to do a continuation series. (I’m not saying any more than that for fear it would spoil the end!)

Other than that, I have an idea for a Cyberpunk novel that I really want to write, so I’ll get to that at some point. Plus my website has a series of Superhero genre stories I started to write years ago.

So, yeah, there’s a lot I plan to dabble in.  LOL

7. What do you look for in a story? Especially in the fantasy genre? (Original ideas, plot lines, character development, world building, etc.?)
Oh, ALL of the above! LOL

First and foremost, I want a world that makes sense within its own rules. For me it needs to have a believable structure, including the politics. That’s why I found Game of Thrones so intriguing. The dynamics between the factions and the characters was as interesting as any battle or action set-piece. This came across beautifully when the books were converted to TV, the quieter episodes often being amongst the best.

(Let’s forget about that final season, though, shall we!)

And then the characters. I want complex characters with flaws and struggles. My pet peeve it the ‘perfect hero’ or ‘the chosen one’. If you’re going to use those tropes, then spin them in a unique way. Harry Potter is an excellent case in point. He’s billed right from the start as ‘The Chosen One’ or ‘The Boy Who Lived’, but he’s not the all-powerful, all-conquering hero. Reading the books, it could easily be said that he actually succeeds through a combination of stubbornness, luck and simply having made good friends. But that’s what makes him an interesting character.

Same with Bilbo Baggins, or Frodo, or Jon Snow, or Arya Snow…the list is endless. I love a flawed hero, or an ordinary person who rises above.

I personally also adore multi-character stories. I want multiple threads that I can follow and wonder how they all interweave. I want mysteries I can try and figure out. I want story threads that I can pull on and theorize about.

That’s the beauty of storytelling for me – the complexity of imagination taking you on unexpected journeys.

8. Are you working on a new book? Can you share any details?
I’m heavily into the edit phase of book 2 of the ‘Songbird’ saga, entitled ‘Blood to Earth’. **Spoiler – the title is a reference to the Vampyrii funeral ritual we witness in book 1.** While ‘Hunters’ doesn’t really finish on a cliffhanger, it very definitely sets up the series as a whole and ‘Blood to Earth’ deals with the fall-out of an event that happens right towards the end.

I’m also in the process of writing book 3, entitled ‘Tooth & Claw’, which will deal with the Vampyrii civil war (set up in ‘Blood to Earth’) and really set in motion the wheels of the mystery central to the saga. There are hints in the first couple of books as to what’s going on, but by book 3 the main characters will also be twigged into the fact that something is out of the ordinary and will start pulling at those threads themselves.

The key question being: who caused ‘The Rising’ (the event that changed the world in 2016) and how are all these magical and mythical creatures related?

The ‘Songbird’ saga will be seven books long, and each one is semi-plotted and ready to go. I plan on releasing two books per year, and maybe some novellas in between. So, I’ll be having a very busy time writing!

9. Do you have any advice you would offer to writers who plan to self-publish in the fantasy genre?
Oh, good grief, I’m not sure I’m expert enough to offer advice to anyone at this stage.

I was really lucky to make some really good friends in the Twitter #WritingCommunity who have been invaluable in helping me get things done.

There are so many questions along the way to self-publishing.

Where is best to do it? How do I format my interior files? What settings do I need to use?  What’s the difference between margin and gutter settings? How do I convert my Word file to a PDF and keep my fonts embedded? What software do I need to use/purchase?  Where do I get ISBN numbers from?  What do I do for cover art?  IF I commission an artist, do I need a commercial license with it?

The list is endless.

I’ve tried to document all my steps along the way on my website blog, and I’m more than happy to share any wisdom I’ve gained.

Or at the very least point you in the direction of someone who may know better than I.

I guess the biggest thing is to seek help and advice wherever you can get it. And be prepared for a HUGE and STEEP learning curve.

Plus, don’t be in a rush and don’t expect huge returns immediately.

Take your time with your book – you’re not on a deadline. Make it the best it can possibly be. Put time and effort into every aspect so that it’s something that YOU are proud of, because the first time you hold that hard-copy in your hand is a fantastic moment. I swear I almost cried when I held ‘Hunters’ for the first time as a physical manifestation of all my hard work.

For me, it was never about any money I make; it was about having made a mark on the world. Leaving behind something that will outlive me, and I wanted that to be the best thing that it could be.

I think if you approach self-publishing with that mindset, you can’t be let down at the end. I think it’s a healthy way to look at it.

To paraphrase the old saying…

By all means, shoot for the moon with your self-published book…but if you miss, then it’s okay because you’ll land amongst the stars. 

Well, that made sense in my head anyway! 

You can find Jon Ford’s book on Amazon! https://www.amazon.com/Hunters-Ballad-Songbird-Book-1-ebook/dp/B08RS3PW6R/