#SPFBO7 Interview – Rob Donovan

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

The Crystal Spear is the first book in the Forbidden Weapons Saga. Here’s the blurb:

The Crystal Spear is a weapon so powerful that legends tell of how any warrior that carried it could single-handedly demolish entire armies. It was a story sung by bards across Merindel but nobody truly believed it…until now.

When Klayton is told by a mysterious stranger that the Crystal Spear is real and given instructions how to infiltrate the palace at Erisea to find it, he cannot resist the challenge. Naïve? Sure! Foolish? Completely. But Klayton could not have possibly known that his discovery would have deadly consequences and reveal an inexplicable bond to the weapon even the myths are unclear about.

Prince Horan had given up trying to impress his father. He has been considered a failure and a disappointment from the moment he could walk. But when the King and Queen are on a diplomatic visit to a neighbouring island and Erisea comes under attack, Horan sees an opportunity to alter the perception of his father by saving the city, without a thought of the long-term consequences of his actions.

Finally, there is the Black Shade. The most notorious pirate of the four Isles. The mere mention of his name causes men and women to anxiously glance over their shoulders. The Black Shade has heard rumours that the Crystal Spear is very real and has set his sights on obtaining it.

Merindel is about to discover that not all legends are myths, but sometimes it is better if they were.

And now to the interview:

1. Is this your first time entering #SPFBO? Why did you decide to enter this book?
No, I have entered a few times before with my earlier books. On each occasion I have performed reasonably well but have not been lucky enough to be one of the finalists. I then got involved in my Ballad of Frindoth series and was therefore not eligible to enter (the entries must be standalone novels or first novels in a series). I’ve entered The Crystal Spear as it is the launch of my brand new series; I am also very proud of this novel – it is the first novel I wrote after a personal tragedy which really affected me.

I had spent 9 years and 6 novels in the world of Frindoth where it felt like I knew every blade of grass, and suddenly I had to create a brand new world whilst grieving hard. It was daunting to say the least and I found rediscovering the discipline to write daily again difficult. In the end it was sheer perseverance which got me through.  I am always proud of every novel I write, but this one feels a little different and special. The early reviews have been very good so it will be interesting to see how it performs.

2. Why do you write in the fantasy genre? What make this genre particularly appealing to you?
Like many, Star Wars had a huge impact on me (it is fantasy set in space as far as I’m concerned). However, it was not until years later that I realized how much my nan exposed me to fantasy when I was young. I used to love going round my Nan and Granddads on a Friday night and she would always put on a fantasy movie. As a kid, I remember staying up with my Nan and watching Lord of the Rings (the Ralph Bakshi version), the Dark Crystal and the Beast Master. I would also watch The Crimson Pirate (Burt Lancaster) over and over.

In terms of what makes the genre appealing to me. It is hard to diverge from the standard answer of loving the freedom it gives you as a creative writer to escape reality and create worlds unconstrained by rules, but I’ve always found I love the romantic idea of being a pirate or part of Robin Hood’s Merry men and so to write about similar adventures is just a natural fit for me. What child doesn’t wish they were a hero saving the world?

3. Why did you decide to self-publish?
The quick and simple answer is that it became the obvious thing to do. When I completed my first novel, Ritual of the Stones, back in 2013, the market had already begun to change. However, there was still a stigma surrounding self-publishing and it was viewed as taking the “easy option.” I opted to send off query letters in a bid to get published in the traditional way. It was a long drawn out process and at times disheartening when you got a bog standard rejection letter through the post. However, there were one or two letters which, although were rejections, were very complimentary and they made it all worthwhile.

Slowly, the stigma around self-publishing eroded as authors began to build successful careers from it.  The requirements in query letters also changed as publishers began to ask if you had published anything and the advice altered to mentioning how many books you had sold already etc. Up to that point the only things I could point to that had been published were short stories in magazines and so I chose to give self-publishing a try.

4. Are there advantages to self-publishing? What about the challenges?
There are plenty of advantages and also a plethora of challenges. The advantages speak for themselves i.e. setting your own schedule, deciding your own release dates and having complete control over your manuscript from length to content. You also choose the cover you want and where you want to sell your book. The challenges however, are daunting to say the least. You are essentially on your own. It is up to you to source proofreaders, editors, beta readers, cover artists and to format your novel and to pay for all of that out of your own pocket. It can be done cheaply, but there is a reason why the phrase, “you get what you pay for,” has been coined. Once all that is done, you are responsible for marketing and advertising your novel. This involves a whole new gambit of skills and doesn’t come easy for authors who are often introverts and uncomfortable promoting themselves.

There are many times, I just wish I could focus on the writing side of things only. Unfortunately, the other elements are just as important and demand just as much of your time. The advertising element in particular is way out of my normal comfort zone. I am risk adverse in most things but especially when it comes to money. With advertising, you could do all the research under the sun, but there is comes a point where you have to test different adverts and methods and see what is successful. This involves conditioning your mindset to the point where you accept there is going to be expenditure that you will never see a return from. Having said that, I do find aspects interesting and quite fun.

5. As a reader, and now author, how has the fantasy genre changed over the last several years? How has it stayed the same?
There are trends that come and go but essentially everyone wants to read a great story, filled with colourful and memorable characters, set in a world that is different from the daily grind.

I find the trends fascinating. When Game of Thrones became popular, everyone wanted characters and plots that were complex. If your characters weren’t like Tyrion or flawed in some way, people rejected them as unrealistic. If your main villain did not have believable motives for their actions then they were cartoonish. There are many readers that still stand by this and love big, sprawling intricate novels. But there has also been a shift back towards the sword and sorcery tales or shorter novels or series that definitely conclude.

Personally I like a mixture both as a reader and an author. I love grimdark especially Joe Abercrombie but I also love the cartoonish villains. Darth Vader was nothing more than a big bad dude in a New Hope. It was only until midway through Empire Strikes Back that he had more depth. The Emperor on the other hand is nothing more than a two dimensional villain throughout the original trilogy. I loved them both. Vader choking one of his captains as they did not perform to the level he expected is awesome. “Apology accepted captain Needa,” is a line I quote over and over. Sometimes it is cool to have someone that is bad just because they are bad.

I think the main change from when I read fantasy novels as a youngster is the amount of diversity and choice that is available now. When you do any survey on what type of fantasy you like, there are easily over twenty categories to choose from now such as high fantasy, dark fantasy, urban fantasy, grim dark, paranormal, comical, epic etc etc. The options are endless and it is great.

6. Do you write (or plan to write) in any other genres?
Whenever I write short stories they tend to be horror or supernatural tales. I do plan on writing in different genres. For NaNoWriMO this year I plan on writing a coming of age story with a small supernatural element running through it. For a number of years now, I also have being developing an idea for a detective series centered around using police dogs. The idea formed over a conversation with a friend in the pub who trains police dogs; the stuff the police dogs can find and do is absolutely fascinating and I think it would be a fresh take on the crime genre.  

7. What do you look for in a story? Especially in the fantasy genre? (Original ideas, plot lines, character development, world building, etc.?)
All of the above is important I think, but for me any story has to have great characters. It is the characters that stay with me long after details of the plot or the world begin to fade. Although not everyone’s cup of tea, Stephen King is a master of creating good characters. He can place two of his characters in a diner and just shoot the breeze for an entire novel and I would happily read it. Without excellent characters you could have the best plot line in the world, with the most unexpected twist, set in the most fantastical world and it wouldn’t be nearly as effective.

8. Are you working on a new book? Can you share any details?
For the first time in my career I have actually got three books on the go. Two of them I have temporarily shelved; an origin story of Pewtory the Lesser Bard set in my first series in the world of Frindoth and a prequel of sorts to the Crystal Spear focusing on the Black Shade. Both of those novels I have drafted around 15K words so far but I have placed them to one side to concentrate on book 2 in the Forbidden Weapons saga. Progress is good, I am roughly 85K words into the first draft and approaching the final chapters. I want to keep it as close to the same length of the Crystal Spear (just over 100K words) but think it will come in closer to 115K words. Hopefully with editing it will lose 5 to 10K words. The aim is to have the first draft completed by the end of June.

As for details, I don’t want to spoil any plot threads for those that have not read the Crystal Spear but I have decided on a title – The Kraken Churn.  That is an exclusive by the way and the first time I have revealed it!

9. Do you have any advice you would offer to writers who plan to self-publish in the fantasy genre?
Read, write and persevere. It is far from easy, just remember why you want to write and never lose sight of that fact. You’ll see others say it often, but routine really is key. Find a routine that works for you and stick to it as much as possible, whilst also not beating yourself up too much if you happen to fail on any particular day. Nothing beats the feeling of that one review from a stranger in another part of the world, that took a chance on your book and loved it.

You can find Rob Donovan’s book on Amazon! https://www.amazon.com/Crystal-Spear-Forbidden-Weapons-Saga-ebook/dp/B08DM7QQJ4/