D.P. Prior has been thrilling fantasy lovers for several years now with his numerous self-published series. Whether it be the angst-ridden warrior-monk Deacon Shader, the axe-wielding Nameless Dwarf, or the half-human, half-Husk Jebediah Skayne, Mr. Prior’s characters burst off the page, carrying the torch of sword and sorcery torch to this generation in the tradition of Conan the Barbarian, Elric of Melnibon, and Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.
Hi, Mr. Prior, thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions.
As a veteran of self-publishing, you have several series under your belt already; could you tell everyone a little about them.
My first series, Shader, is a sprawling epic that spans two worlds, both of which are under threat from an exiled scientist who has developed a way to unmake everything there is just so he can begin a new creation in his own image. All he lacks is the power source, which comes in the form of an ancient artifact that has been broken into five pieces to evade his detection.
The main character, Deacon Shader, has been prepared for this scenario since the age of seven. As an adult, he is drawn to a life of prayer, but he’s also the deadliest warrior of his generation. If he’s to have any chance of fulfilling the task he’s been groomed for, he must integrate both aspects of his nature.
My second series was a spin-off from Shader. It began with a short story called The Ant-Man of Malfen, which was later developed into the novella A Dwarf With No Name. It was followed by three more novellas and a novel, which became known collectively as The Chronicles of the Nameless Dwarf. I later released them in an omnibus edition called The Nameless Dwarf: The Complete Chronicles, which has consistently been my bestselling book.
Recently, after discussion with my agent, and in response to reader emails, I decided write a complete Nameless Dwarf story arc, beginning with his origins and then taking the tale beyond the events of The Complete Chronicles. This led to the latest series, Legends of the Nameless Dwarf.
Do you agree or disagree with those who label your books as sword and sorcery? Was your writing influenced by any sword and sorcery writers from the past?
I have no issue with my books being labeled Sword and Sorcery, with one provision: they also owe a huge debt to the epic style of Stephen R, Donaldson, the heroic fantasy of David Gemmell, and the grimdark of Joe Abercrombie. None of the influences are dominant any longer, but at various stages, these writers have nudged me in one direction or another.
Maybe Neo-Sword and Sorcery would be more accurate, a blending of the old with a more modern approach to characterization, and use of tight point of view.
Sword and Sorcery undoubtedly influenced me early on. I grew up reading Conan, Elric, Kull, Solomon Kane, Corum, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, and these books still capture for me the essence of the kind of fantasy I want to read. Obviously, the genre has grown more sophisticated in some respects, and certainly more naturalistic (I’m still undecided as to whether that’s a good thing).
When I describe my books to others, I usually label them Heroic Fantasy, in large part because I retain a thread of morality wherein, no matter how blurred they get during a story, good ultimately triumphs over evil, but always at an enormous cost.
Shader is one of my favorite self-published fantasy series out there. What was the inspiration for the main character and the series? How did it change from original concept to completion? Your favorite character?
It’s so long since I first started writing Shader that it’s hard to remember. Definitely, there was a huge Solomon Kane influence, only the original Shader was Catholic, not a Puritan. Later on, references to real world religion were dropped on the advice of an editor, who felt there was no place for such things in fantasy. He may not have read Solomon Kane or Stephen King’s The Dark Tower (which I’ve finally gotten round to reading this week, having once had Shader compared to The Gunslinger in an early review by Journal of Always’ Robert. J. Duperre).
The ideas that eventually became The Resurrection of Deacon Shader first started to take shape in a novel (unfinished) called The Trials of Ignatius Grymm. Trials was told from the poi
nt of view of Ignatius Grymm’s squire, while the two of them basically went from village to village burning witches.
I moved to Australia for a time, and that’s when I set about writing something a little more serious. I invented a new character, Shader, and imbued him with a conflict that had plagued some of the Christian knights at the outset of the Second Crusade: How was it possible to be a Christian and to kill? Saint Bernard famously argued that killing the “infidel” wasn’t homicide, it was malicide, and so the matter was settled (cough).
This is the basic argument that has been put to Shader during his career as a cavalry officer, and he’s never been satisfied with it. It’s the dilemma upon which the whole series hinges.
Shader also has elements of Thomas Covenant in him, not so much “unbelief” in the Land and its people, but in his religion and his purpose. At times he is full of angst; at others, he compensates with violence bordering on insanity; but for the most part, he struggles to find a middle path, often going from one excess to the next.
Because of his inner conflict, Shader can be a fascinating protagonist, but he can also be a little frustrating. He’s a far cry from the usual confident sword-wielding hero, and he’s the polar opposite of the Nameless Dwarf, who has issues of his own, but is much more decisive, especially when it comes to smiting someone with an axe.
As to a favorite character in the Shader books, it’s a close call. The Nameless Dwarf almost upstages Shader in book 3, and Shadrak the Unseen (a diminutive assassin) is always fun to write, but overall, I think Ernst Cadman, the lich who disguises himself as an obese doctor, was the character I most enjoyed writing. His interior thoughts play against what he says to other characters, he’s witty, nostalgic, frightened, and driven to Faustian acts of recklessness because of his dread of oblivion.
In Shader, was the idea for the amazing post-apocalyptic earth and the fantasy world of Aethir already fully formed in your mind before writing or did it evolve as the story progressed?
I knew from the outset that Aethir was a world dreamed by the god-like character, the Cynocephalus, and that it was accessible to the indigenous race of Sahul on Earth/Urddynoor through mystical dream states. I began writing the story in Australia, so there are very real references to aboriginal beliefs.
I was also clear that this wasn’t fantasy in the traditional sense. It was set on our world very much like ours, only after a cataclysm known as The Reckoning. Science had reduced the old world to a dehumanized dog-eat-dog kind of a place, in which the last pocket of resistance was the island continent of Sahul and its shamanic culture. Eventually, even the Sahulians come under fire, and their only defense is to use an ancient artifact to unleash the nightmare creatures of the Dreaming (the world of Aethir) to devastate the world and end the culture of the prevailing technocracy.
That was all very much in place when I began writing the series. I developed a three-thousand-year timeline and detailed the mythology and major historical events, before situating each character within that timeline (bearing in mind that not a few characters in the series have been alive for hundreds of years).
The real challenge was to allow glimpses of the past to surface in the manner of an archeological dig without bringing them into the foreground at the expense of the current narrative.
Future plans for the Shader series?
My original plan was for there to be six books in the Shader series, but that all changed when I decided to write the complete Nameless Dwarf story arc. I looked again at the events of what was then Shader 4: The Archon’s Assassin, and saw very clearly that Deacon Shader had been reduced to a supportive subplot character, which he was to remain until book 6. It made sense, as I rewrote much of this material for Geas of the Black Axe (Legends of the Nameless Dwarf book 2), to remove Shader from the narrative, and the result was a much more focused story.
I have just finished writing two Shader origins novellas that obviate the need for much of the backstory in the series. I’m now in the process of adding about 80,000 new words to the series, which turns a lot of other backstory into part of a continuous narrative from when Shader leaves his role as Captain of the Seventh Horse and makes his first trip to Sahul, where he meets Rhiannon and the Gray Abbot for the first time.
This completes the Shader story arc from age seven up until the end of book 3, The Unweaving.
I plan to release a massive omnibus edition (both novellas and all three novels with this added material) as Templum Knight at some point in 2016. That’s one of the big positives about indie publishing and ebooks: no imposed word count.
After that, I want to make use of the deleted Shader and Rhiannon scenes from what was The Archon’s Assassin as the opening of what was originally going to be Book 6: Daughter of the Abyss. This will now be the sequel to Templum Knight, and will tie everything up very neatly.
I also have plans for a Shader swan-song novella.
Do you agree that The Nameless Dwarf is your most popular creation, and if so, why do you believe he has been embraced by so many fantasy lovers?
Yes, the Nameless Dwarf has definitely proven to be my most popular and most successful creation. A close rival is Shadrak the Unseen, who features a good deal in Legends of the Nameless Dwarf.
I think the reasons for Nameless’s popularity are manifold. He’s a complex character with vacillating moods, the potential for devastating bouts of violence, and yet he’s loyal, funny, and generally goodnatured. Despite his early falls from grace, which were largely out of his control, he has a strong sense of morality, and he’s someone who quickly earns the respect of virtually everyone who comes to know him. If you’re in a tight spot, Nameless is probably the one person you can rely on to get you out of it, or die trying.
In terms of the Nameless Dwarf books’ popularity, there are also a number of factors:
The books deploy several familiar fantasy tropes, which, despite what the “experts” say, are appealing to many readers of the genre, or at least those of us who grew up reading Sword and Sorcery, or the Heroic Fantasy of the 80s and 90s.
In my writing, however, I like to tinker with those tropes, and sometimes subvert them, so the Nameless Dwarf books are familiar but also new.
I think the blend of action, horror, tragedy, pathos, and humor has been a successful combination, at least according to the general flavor of the reviews. The books take the reader through a whole gamut of emotions, all of which ordinary people can identify with, despite the fantastical setting and events.
Another factor, one that led many readers to the books in the first place, was the artwork, particularly the iconic picture of the Nameless Dwarf on the cover of The Complete Chronicles, by Anton Kokarev.
Did you have any trepidation writing about a dwarf, as many modern fantasy readers seem to instantly dislike any story which includes elves, dwarves, or other “classic” fantasy races? Any reader backlash?
I didn’t have any trepidation writing the Nameless Dwarf books because they began as a spin-off from the much more human-centric Shader series. The first Nameless Dwarf standalone was a short story, so there wasn’t much hingeing on it. When the story became popular almost overnight, I wrote the rest of the initial series (which eventually became Revenge of the Lich) as episodes. As each installment received feedback from a core group of avid readers, I took what I learned from their likes and dislikes and put it into the subsequent episodes.
It was only when I was signed by an agent and we began talking about pitching to publishers that I began to have concerns. Acquisitions editors are very circumspect creatures who tend to shy away from anything that doesn’t resemble a major bestseller of the last few years. Whilst I was aware there had been successful single race fantasy books at various times, most of the recent bestsellers were of the gritty, realistic kind, and had humans as the protagonists.
We pitched, nevertheless, and all but two out of fifteen top fantasy publishers loved the writing, the storytelling, and the characters, but they pointed out that dwarves (and single races generally) had waned in popularity.
The two publishers who didn’t seem to have an issue with dwarves requested an extension to the deadline I’d given them (not out of choice: I’d foregone editing work for the best part of a year in order to get these books written, and funds had all but run out). When they missed the extended deadline, I went ahead and self-published. So, I guess we’ll never know if my dwarf books could be successful in the world of traditional publishing, but they are doing extremely well as independently published books, thank the lords of shog.
One thing I hadn’t anticipated was that some casual browsers assume my Nameless Dwarf books must be “in the tradition of” Markus Heitz or the Gotrek and Felix Warhammer novels. The idea is a massive strawman. You might just as well say that because Shader is human, the Shader books are based on A Game of Thrones. I have never read Heitz (or GRRM, for that matter), and as for Warhammer, there was no such thing when I invented the Nameless Dwarf back in 1979/80. I recently had a look at a Gotrek novel, and the similarity ends with the fact that both characters have a beard and an axe.
In my opinion, there’s no harm using fantasy tropes, so long as you make them your own and tell your own unique story. Fantasy dwarves for me were little more than a point of departure. Actually, in the stories, we learn that the dwarves of Aethir were created by the Technocrat Sektis Gandaw to resemble the dwarves of mythology; and we later learn that Sektis Gandaw may not have been altogether truthful in that claim.
As with the worldbuilding, dwarves in my books are multi-layered and never quite what they seem. Readers and publishers who are superficial in their reading sometimes miss the irony and satire, then make themselves look daft trying to pontificate on what they see as fantasy cliche. Thankfully, the majority of my readers are astute enough to realize what the books are really about, and the majority of the publishers were, too. But that still does nothing to remove the animus some have against dwarves, or any other non-human races.
What I learnt from these near misses was that it would be career suicide to continue pitching single race books at this point in time. The positive, though, was that all but two publishers invited me to submit as soon as I have anything else ready.
Carnifex is a prequel to the original Nameless Dwarf series. Why go backwards in time instead of merely going further with the story you had already begun? What does the future hold for the series?
I was forever getting emails from readers wanting to read the story of the horrors Nameless committed at the ravine, and how he lost his name. This was all alluded to as backstory in the original books.
Initially, I put off writing this material. For me, it was just a little too dark, and I was keen to show where the story went next.
I therefore wrote the follow up to the original Complete Chronicles, Return of the Dwarf Lords, which was the book that convinced my agent to take me on.
We immediately had discussions about which series to pitch first, Shader or Nameless, and both agreed on Nameless, purely on the strength of sales the Complete Chronicles had consistently shown. This meant we would need a complete story arc that didn’t require the reader to wade through Shader to fill in the gaps.
That’s when I went back to the origins of the Nameless Dwarf and wrote Carnifex. I then had to follow on with all the events from the Shader series with Nameless as the central character, and then add the scenes that were due to form Shader 5 (unwritten, and now never will be). This became Geas of the Black Axe (Legends of the Nameless Dwarf Book 2), which takes us up to the start of the original Complete Chronicles.
There are currently four books out in the series. The fourth ties things up nicely, but there’s an epilogue that suggests things are not going to end happily ever after. I have a few writing commitments to take care of this year, but if the series continues to sell well, I’ll start work on book 5: King of Arnoch, which will be followed by 6: Blood Feud, and 7: Civil War. The stories have already been sketched out in some detail. Civil War is set to be my final Nameless Dwarf novel.
Was the name “Carnifex” inspired by the California deathcore band of the same name? Or is it merely a coincidence?
I hadn’t heard of the band until I Google-searched Carnifex after the book had been released. I think it’s a cool association, though. You know, if their manager wants to talk with my agent, I’m sure we could come up with a pretty lucrative collaboration…
The name Carnifex comes form the Latin for “butcher” or “executioner”. In the story, it’s the name Droom Thane is told to give his second son by a homunculus (shifty little creatures of deception) who prophesies that through Droom’s sons, the dwarves will once more rise to greatness. Needless to say, never trust a homunculus…
While self publishing has many positive elements I’m sure it has many negative ones as well. What are the most bothersome things about being an indie writer for you personally?
I hate promoting, and for years I hardly did any. Occasionally, I would take out a Book Bub promotion, which took care of sales for a few months, and Amazon picked up The Complete Chronicles for a Kindle Daily Deal, which was nothing to sniff at. But mostly I relied on organic sales and word of mouth, and that worked out well for me.
It may sound crazy, but it’s only in the last few weeks that I’ve had a proper website, which is now the hub for all the books in their various formats. I’m also much more active on social media these days, primarily because the books are now my family’s primary source of income.
Over the years, I’ve built a fairly reasonable online footprint, largely through contributing to blogs, or being reviewed by fantasy bloggers. That, to me, is the only thing I have any direct control over: reaching out to bloggers and offering articles that lead people to my website, rather than directly advertising the books.
Obviously, there are a wealth of other factors that are beyond the writer’s control, and this for me is one of the frustrating things indies face. Online retailers have the power to “turn on the juice” for books whenever they wish, and this seems to be a somewhat arbitrary decision. I once woke up to find one of my books selling 150 copies a day at Barnes and Noble at $5.99. I had done no promotion, and I had never had more than a handful of daily sales from B&N. This went on inexplicably for a few weeks, then petered out. The same thing happens with Amazon from time to time, although my sales there are always respectable.
But it’s such a fickle game, and the algorithms are constantly changing. An indie writer can never simply sit back and enjoy the ride. You have to keep your finger on the pulse, and I would much rather be writing and doing other things with my life.
I’ve seen some writers who release their first book, don’t promote, and then that book sells thousands of copies in its first month. Others have written comparable (or even superior) books that no one ever sees. It’s that sense of lottery that can be frustrating in the indie field, but the only thing to be done about it is to write a lot, write well, put together a compelling blurb, get professional editing and a professional cover design, make sure it’s easy to buy your books in one place (website), and connect to your hub through social media. That way, you make it much more likely for organic sales to slowly build, and if the juice is suddenly switched on by the retailers, your pieces are all in place so you can make the most of it.
To me, covers are an integral part of selling any book, especially fantasy novels, so how does an author go about finding just the right cover artist and finding one he/she can afford? How much input do you have in the cover itself?
I always seem to go after covers I can’t afford and max out credit cards to get them!
A lot of writers search the portfolios of work on Deviantart, which is how I discovered Anton Kokarev. The first artist I worked with was Mike Nash, who I found via a Google search. More recently, Mike did the covers for Carnifex and Return of the Dwarf Lords, and Anton did Geas of the Black Axe and Revenge of the Lich.
If original artwork isn’t important to a writer, there are plenty of good reasonably priced cover designers. I’ve used Damonza.com for three recent novellas, and the results have been great.
As social media becomes more a part of an author’s role in publishing, how do you feel about that fact and how do you attempt to fulfill this growing job duty?
I’ve actually gotten to the stage that I enjoy social media more than I should. I’ve been contacted by a lot of supportive readers on Facebook and Twitter, and I’ve recently worked with various social media book promoters.
I’ve only really started using social media effectively in the last few months, and during the launch of Carnifex I was all over Twitter and Facebook for two weeks. The task now is for me to strike a balance in favor of writing and activities that don’t involve sitting in front of a computer, and to dedicate no more than an hour a day (if that) to social media.
I’ve been told by authors that attempting to sell a book to traditional publishers is nearly impossible unless you can say it is “Just like Joe Abercrombie” or “Similar to Brandon Sanderson” or something of that nature. Were they being truthful, and if so, how should authors attempt to get around this bias?
I was given this advice by an agent/editor/former publisher some years ago, and the same advice has been given to a number of my editing clients. There’s a degree of truth to it, but it’s probably not the whole truth.
I can only imagine the number of editors who receive submissions that “will appeal to readers of A Game of Thrones” who roll their eyes and toss the manuscript in the garbage.
The feeling I got from many of the publishers we recently queried is that it’s not quite so simple. There are trends they want to capitalize on, for sure, but they are also looking any shifts in what is popular and changes in the zeitgeist. Most editors are quite savvy people, and will be able to tell from your pitch and your first few pages if there’s a market for your kind of writing.
For me, I’ve learned that pitching to publishers is like gambling: only pitch what you can afford to do without for a very long time. Don’t do what I did and pitch a four-book series, then have to limit how long you’re going to leave it in the hands of editors because you need to start earning royalties to cover the mortgage!
In your opinion, has the ebook boom ended, or is there still room for new authors to make a name for themselves in the flood of self-published works?
The golden era for indie writers ended a few years ago. That was the period when you could get away with releasing a fairly good story, unedited, and with a reasonable cover that at least had some kind of picture on it. Some of the pioneers of indie publishing made a lot of money very quickly back then.
I came in on the tail end of that, as the boat was sailing off toward the Western Isles. Each year, it gets harder: quality is improving all the time, there is more and more competition, but most troubling is that the retailers (Amazon in particular) keep altering the landscape, and not always in the indie writer’s favor. It is much harder these days to get a break-out success, but they still happen now and then. All a writer can do is maximize their chances by doing the best they can with the elements they have under their control.
There is definitely still room for indie authors to make a name for themselves, and to make a living from their writing. Even on a bad month, my royalties pay more than my former job as a mental health nurse.
In terms of the general ebook boom, I’m hesitant to say that it’s over. I think the recent decline in overall ebook sales in relation to print has largely been due to mainstream publishers unrealistically inflating their prices. By pricing too high, publishers appear to be shooting themselves in the foot. Ebooks occupy a similar place to mass market paperbacks: they are more likely to be picked up by new or casual readers. Diehard fans will continue to pay whatever it costs for the early released hardback copy, but the broad spectrum of general readers are much more likely to wait for the cheaper paperback to come out, or the even cheaper ebook.
The problem is, publishers are often asking upwards of $14.95 for an ebook. Why would readers pay such exorbitant prices when they can read an indie fantasy book for between 99 cents and (typically) $4.99?
When you line up the best indie fantasy books alongside their trad. equivalents, there’s no appreciable difference in the quality of the storytelling or the editing.
What projects should fans be eagerly anticipating in the future?
The big project this year is a new fantasy novel set in a new world. It’s provisionally called The Codex of Her Scars, and it’s the first part of a proposed series called Snaith and Moonshine.
The protagonist, Herrick Snaith, is a young man who wants to become a great warrior, but he is maimed in a horrific accident while trying to protect his wife-to-be, Tey Moonshine, who is also maimed.
Their clan has no use for the disfigured, and so they are apprenticed to sorcerers, or rather the charlatans who use trickery to keep the clans in check.
But Tey Moonshine has been covering up dark secrets that have plagued her since childhood, and she starts to develop abilities of her own, abilities that arouse the attention of a race so ancient they have been reduced to mythological bogey men.
When their island kingdom of Branikdür is invaded by the Helum Empire, the magic of their people is revealed for the sham it is, but the invaders have real sorcerous power that is as devastating as it is demonic.
And Herrick and Tey just can’t get enough of it.
This book should be finished by the end of summer, and will be doing the round of publishers, so I can’t predict when it will be available.
In the meantime, I’ll be finishing off Templum Knight, and just maybe I’ll start work on King of Arnoch, Legends of the Nameless Dwarf Book 5.
You can find out all about my books, listen to audiobook samples, and keep up to date with what’s next at: www.dpprior.com.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
D.P. Prior is the bestselling fantasy author of the Nameless Dwarf and Shader series. He is represented by Laurie McLean, Fuse Literary.
Raised on a diet of old school Sword and Sorcery, and later influenced by the Heroic Fantasy of David Gemmell, the literary epics of Stephen R. Donaldson, and the “grimdark” offerings of Joe Abercrombie, Prior combines the imaginative daring of the old with the realism, tight point of view, and gallows humor of the new.
As well as being a prolific author, D.P.Prior is also an experienced fiction editor with an impressive portfolio of clients (http://homunculuseditingservices.blog…).
He has also worked as a personal trainer, and is a competing member of the US All-Round Weightlifting Association.
Subscribe to D.P. Prior’s New Release Mailing List for freebies and specials:http://eepurl.com/zacJT
Email D.P. Prior with comments, feedback, questions, and donations of wine: derekprior[at]yahoo.co.uk
Purchase D.P. Prior’s work at Amazon.
Legends of the Nameless Dwarf series:
The Nameless Dwarf: The Complete Chronicles
Carnifex (Legends of the Nameless Dwarf Book 1)
Geas of the Black Axe (Legends of the Nameless Dwarf Book 2)
Plague Demon series:
Husk (Plague Demon Chronicles Book 1)