Interview with Jonathan Burgess, part 3

Welcome back as we conclude talking with Jonathan Burgess, author of Chasing the Lantern.

Part one can be read here.

Part two can be read here.

AA: What do you do to keep a balance between writing and the rest of your life?

JB: Struggle. It’s never easy, striking that balance. One of the questions I kept coming across in my own research, and which people ask me now, is “how do you find time to write?”

I make it. I compromise for it. I steal it. Need to go work out? No, you need to sit down and write. Do you have a lunch break? Then bust out that laptop, or even a pen and paper. As I write this, my wife is being violently ill. I’ll go comfort her…after I finish this paragraph.

On the other hand, you can’t write all the time. You stagnate, if nothing else. Your mind needs food just as much as your stomach does. So…read something. Play videogames. Go see a movie. Hang out with your friends. Watch a play.

Just be careful to find that balance.

 

AA: Do you get to talk much with other writers and artists to compare notes, have constructive critique reviews, and brainstorm new ideas?

JB: I do! Critique sessions are a favorite of mine. You get to see what you did wrong on a manuscript (or what someone thinks you did wrong) as well as bounce ideas around and see what comes up. I’ve had some great ideas, that way. I’ve helped people with their outlines and thorny plot problems, as well. Critique groups are a wonderful resource, and I highly recommend using them. If you can’t find one locally in real life, there are plenty online. Here, I’ll even plug a good one I know about; www.farlandswritersgroups.com.

 

AA: You’ve shared a bit of your literary journey with us. How would you say that  you and your work grown and changed over time?

JB: Well, like almost everyone, I used to be terrible. But you practice. You learn and grow.

That’s the simple answer though. I imagine you’re after something just a little bit more complex. So if I had to be honest, the one area where I feel my work has really grown has been with character interactions. Specifically, the relationships between them that drive drama and action and all those things that we actually like to read about. Once upon a time, I moved characters around the story like pieces on a chessboard, sending them where they needed to go for the sake of plot. Now I wind them up and let them go, ready to see them smack into each other.

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AA: How is the Pacific Northwest for writing? Does location matter for resources, access, publicity, etc

JB: There is so much coffee here. It’s a great place, actually. Portland, Oregon is a haven for the arts, including literature. Every year there’s a big convention called Wordstock that’s all about celebrating the written word. Seattle, Washington is even better, with more artistic events than I can shake a stick at. Most of the bookstores carrying Chasing the Lantern are based in the Puget Sound region, including the wonderful Otherworlds and Third Place Books.

At the end of the day I don’t think location is utterly necessary for writing. I do think it can help, though. Urban areas mean potentially high exposure, with bookstores offering decent publicity and access. On the other hand, many authors live in the comparative middle of nowhere, where low cost of living means that its easier to devote more time to purely writing. I’m rather fond of the Pacific Northwest, though, and can’t see myself living anywhere else as I hone my craft.

Because seriously. There’s a Starbucks on every street corner.

 

AA: And in Vancouver, B.C., there are Starbucks on opposite corners! Most of the authors I’ve talked with have some type of day job and that writing is their other job. What has that situation been for you and how has it helped/hindered begin a published writer?

JB: It’s hard to make a living as a writer! Heck, it’s hard to make a profit. I’ve spent years as a network administrator for an internet service provider. Which is nice, as it means that I don’t have to take the starving artist route. It can get in the way, though. No one wants to spend 8-10 hours staring at a monitor only to commute home, sit down, and do it again, all while trying to be creative.

Remember when we talked about balance, earlier? The day job is the 1-ton gorilla in the room; hard to live with him, even harder without.

 

AA: Looking beyond steampunk, writing and working, what other interests fill your time?

JB: I read tons of fiction, though I’ve been a little starved for good books, lately. Any suggestions? I love to watch movies, when I can find the time. I’ve also been studying martial arts for a few decades as well, which is something of a cliché. There are two dogs and three cats in my house, and keeping up with them can be modestly time-consuming.

I also geek out, and geek out hard. Planescape was the best computer role-playing game, and I will fight anyone who says otherwise. I’m currently painting and installing battery-driven LED lights into fifty chaos daemon miniatures for a Warhammer 40,000 tournament next year. Should anyone show up in the next ten minutes with Arkham Horror or Cards Against Humanity, I will be appreciably delayed in finishing this interview.

 

 

 

AA: Welcome back. Hope the games were fun! How do those interests influence your work?

JB: They continuously remind me that the playgrounds of the mind are damned near limitless. All the art and fiction that’s come before is barely a fraction of all that’s still to come. It seems like every day I’m finding amazing new things by talented people all over the world.

And the best part? There’s almost always a story involved. Whether it’s an evocative painting I’ve found or an amusing gaming result, I always pause to ask myself what the narrative is. Who are the characters, and what do they think about what’s happening?

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AA: Who or what do you count as your influences, motivators, or role models?

JCV: My literary role models are Roger Zelazny and Jack Vance. If I can accomplish the kind of writing that those titans got up to, I will be happy. David Farland and Brandon Sanderson both have been wonderful resources for this whole “writing a book” thing. Mike Mignola’s wonderful use of brevity in his comics has always been something I aspire to, and usually fail at.

My prime motivator through all these years? There’s no mystery there. I want to tell stories that readers enjoy. That’s all. Stories that entertain. Stories that grip them tight. I want someone, one day, to read a copy of my work and feel the same way I did when I found the Dying Earth for the first time, or Lord of Light.

 

AA: That’s a great thing to have a strong internal motivation to do something. Three quick fire, random questions –  what is your favorite plant, background sound, and appetizer?

JCV: Pampas grass, the rain, and Char Siu Bao.

 

AA: As we wrap up, are there any final thoughts to share with our readers

JB: Writing, like most things in life, is a skill. It can be learned with work and practice. Talent and luck are important, but without work behind them, don’t mean a thing. And yes, you’re going to fail when you try. You’re going to make mistakes. Everyone does.

Always be willing to learn, to go find answers to the things you want to know about. Sometimes that research will tell you that exactly what you’ll need to do. Sometimes it will only tell you that you’re going to need to blaze your own trail through unfamiliar territory.

Oh. And don’t pay any attention to your Amazon sales ranking. You’re going to ignore me and do it anyway, but listen: that way lies madness.

 

Thanks for joining us, Jonathan! It’s been great to catch up with you again!

Keep to date with Jonathan on his website.

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Published in: on January 25, 2014 at 9:23 am  Leave a Comment  
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Interview with Jonathan Burgess, part 2

Welcome back as we continue talking with Jonathan Burgess, author of Chasing the Lantern.

Part one can be read here.

 

Airship Ambassador: Looking at world building, what elements did you include so readers could feel and believe the Chasing the Lantern world and history?

Jonathan Burgess: Chasing the Lantern is fairly fantastic in many ways, with quite a bit of absurd humor. One realistic element I’m fairly proud of, though, was the history of the pirates themselves. Haventown didn’t just spring fully into being one day; the infrastructure they built on was left behind by a would-be international power seeking to colonize the Copper Isles. After resources were needed elsewhere, the colonists were left to fail on their own. So they turned to piracy, and found that they were good at it.

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AA: Every author I’ve talked with has a different journey to seeing their works in print. What was your publishing experience like?

JB: It is continuously said that every path to publishing is unique. There is certainly some truth in that. For a decent amount of time I devoted myself to what’s commonly seen as trying to break in via the “traditional” method—getting accepted by one of the big publishing houses. Yet after everything went south a few years ago, the responses I received were always the same; “due to current economic conditions, we are not taking on new clients at this time.”

That was vexing. It quickly became clear to me that if I wanted to get my story in front of readers, I’d have to do things a little differently. Fortunately, the eBook revolution was just taking off, with people like Amanda Hocking and Hugh Howey doing very well. After researching it a bit, I realized that there wasn’t anything stopping me from doing it myself, as well as continuing with query letters and slush pile submissions. I could have my cake and eat it too, if I so wanted.

Making an eBook isn’t hard. But making any kind of professional product has to be done properly, with care. I did some research and found an editing group, as well as an artist for a cover. A bit more effort turned up someone who could do layout and typesetting. All the marketing leg-work would have to be done by me, but that’s no different than if I were with a major house. There was just one problem with all of this, however. All of these services I’d need? They cost money.

Luckily, I was familiar with an online program called Kickstarter. Back in early 2010, I’d run a very small project in order to fund a prose internet comic. The end result wasn’t very good, in all honestly. But the project was successful, and the method of patronage seemed applicable to what I wanted to do now.

So I did it, simple as that. I did the math, wrote a clean proposal, and found a method of generating physical print-on-demand copies for those who wanted something more tangible than the eBook of the final product. The response was better than I could have hoped for. My project proved successful, I raised the necessary funds, finished the work and sent copies to readers in Asia, Europe, America, Australia, and even a tiny island in the south pacific.

I put myself directly before the readers, who are the only ones that really matter, and let them decide if my work should exist. They said yes.

Then this year I did it again.

 

AA: That’s pretty gratifying to hear, that you took control of your project and made it happen. Having a successful Kickstarter program should be encouraging to others who an idea that supporters want to see happen. For the aspiring writer, what lessons did you learn about having an agent and editor, their feedback, and your writing?

JB: I don’t have an agent! But my editor, Susan Defreitas, is amazing.

It’s a funny thing. You sweat blood and tears over a manuscript. You torture yourself. Yet no matter how much work you put into it, there are some things you’re just never going to catch. You’re too close to the work. So an objective pair of eyes is absolutely invaluable. My editor lets me know when I slip into modern dialogue too much, or my jokes are a little flat. She patiently reminds me, yet again, why I’m not supposed to use the semi-colon in the way that I do.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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AA: If you weren’t an author, what else would you be doing now?

JB: Finding some other way to tell tales, probably. Game design, perhaps. Or simply boring my friends, yet again, with stories of what it was like to fish in Alaska.

 

AA: Fishing sounds relaxing! Maybe that will make it into the third book 🙂 What have conventions been like, and the fan reaction?

JB: I love conventions!

No, seriously. You see, I hadn’t actually been to any before a few years ago. My first, the World Fantasy Convention in San Diego, was an adventure that could fill up an interview all on its own. I quickly fell in love with them, and found myself at Orycon, Gearcon, Wordstock, Comic-Con, and of course, Steamcon.

I’ve always maintained that the reader is the most important thing in writing. They’re the ones I want to reach. At conventions? I get to do that directly! And they never disappoint. They tell me when I’m boring, or awesome, or something else they want me to know. I’m always happy to listen to what they’re doing themselves.

You meet others at conventions as well. Artists and people in the industry, all with their own unique experiences and stories to tell. I love hearing them. I love seeing what other people are doing, how they’re changing things, moment by moment, just by talking and meeting each other.

I’m a little sick of hotel breakfasts, though.

 

We’ll take a break here in talking with Jonathan.

Join us next time we he talks about balance, writing, and motivation.

Until then, keep to date with Jonathan on his website.

 

Published in: on January 21, 2014 at 8:11 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Interview with Jonathan Burgess

This week we are talking with Jonathan Burgess, author of Chasing the Lantern.

 

Airship Ambassador: Hi Jonathan, it’s nice to chat with you again after seeing you at several recent steampunk events, including Steamcon V in Seattle.

Jonathan Burgess: It was great seeing you too! You have the most amazing coats.

 

AA: Thank you very much, that’s very kind of you to say. What can you tell us about the basic story of  Chasing the Lantern?

JB: Chasing the Lantern is the tale of Lina Stone, a young woman who finds herself embroiled in the feud between two rival bands of sky pirates. As they race after cursed treasure, she has to survive strange magic, diminutive monsters, and the captains themselves; a pair of dire enemies who also just happen to be married.

 

AA: I dare say there will be some current and former couples who can identify with that last part. What motivated you to create Chasing the Lantern?

JB: There’s a story behind that! I was writing another manuscript a few years ago, which I found myself completely dissatisfied with. No matter how much revision I put it through, I couldn’t seem to fix it, either. Eventually I was ready to give completely up, when I happened to take another look at the scene I was trying to improve. It concerned a group of sky pirates, and I found myself curious what these characters would get up to, all on their own.

So I went ahead and found out.

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AA: Interesting how characters can take on a life of their own and tell the author what story to write about. Aside from their input on their lives, what elements from your life made their way Chasing the Lantern

JB: Oh dear. Well, I hope I’m not one of those authors who channel some aspect of their personality into their characters. Captain Fengel and Natasha Blackheart are actually rather horrible people, even if amusingly so. If I had to pick any one thing though, it is the sense of humor. Rapid-fire, acerbic, and occasionally absurd. That’s how I like to laugh.

 

AA: Humor is always a good trait to have. What kind of back story is there for Chasing the Lantern which didn’t make it into the final book?

JB: Quite a bit. A whole world, in fact. But at its most simple, The Dawnhawk Trilogy is the beginning to a tale about a fantasy setting moving into an industrial age. Though they don’t really know it, the sky pirates of Chasing the Lantern are the last of a dying breed, soon to come into conflict with the ascendant Kingdom of Perinault as it remakes itself into an empire, ushering in a new age of colonialism.

 

AA: What can you share at this point about the sequels in the trilogy?

JB: On Discord Isle, the direct sequel to Chasing the Lantern, is already in print! The third novel, tentatively titled Across the Burning Sky, is being worked on as I write this. I’m also laying the groundwork for a parallel trilogy as my follow-up project, which covers class struggle and the industrial changes to the world in more detail.

 

AA: When people read Chasing the Lantern, what would you like for them to take away from the story?

JB: I’m not overly fond of preachy fiction, but if there’s any lesson to be had in my novel, it is simply this; relationships are complicated. Friends, family, and significant others all have diverse opinions and attitudes. Sometimes they simply don’t line up with yours. Sometimes two people can be so similar they end up driving each other crazy. Learning to accept that fact is the first step to dealing with it, and an adventure all on its own.

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AA: That’s good relationship advice for everyone 🙂 What kind of research went into creating the Chasing the Lantern world?

JB: While the airships of the Haventown sky pirates are utterly fantastic creations, I did do a fair bit of research into both nautical terminology and how dirigibles are built.

The biggest bit of balance, was actually designing the things in a sub-optimal manner to show how much of an emergent technology it is. For example, the Dawnhawk was built with a grossly oversized captain’s cabin due to Natasha Blackheart’s swollen ego. As well, the helm of the airship is still situated in the stern of the vessel, even though it would make more sense to have it up near the bow where the pilot could actually see what’s ahead. Why? Because for all of their brilliance, the Mechanists who constructed the thing are still operating with many preconceived notions of how a ship should be built.

 

We’ll take a break here in talking with Jonathan.

Join us next time we he talks about world building and his path to publication.

Until then, keep to date with Jonathan on his website.

Published in: on January 19, 2014 at 6:39 pm  Leave a Comment  
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