Interview with Author Andy Peloquin

If you're not familiar with Andy Peloquin's work, check out my recent review of Traitor's Fate. He's a prolific dark fantasy author, who also co-hosts the Fantasy Fiends podcast. I'm pleased to have him here today sharing his thoughts about world building, connecting with readers, and challenging yourself.

What inspired your world building process?
I tend to approach world-building a different way every time.
  • Sometimes, the focus is on the world first, setting up the scenarios I want to throw my characters into in order to force them to ask the questions I want answered. For example, for my upcoming series, Heirs of Destiny, I knew I wanted to play with a caste society, so I created a city that was built around that caste structure.
  • Sometimes, the characters are the main priority, and the world is built around them. In my Queen of Thieves series, the character is a thief, so I had to build her world from the inside out. It started out with a series of underground tunnels, which grew to a network that connected various warren-style sections, and ultimately grew outward to join a sewage system, rooftop network, and maze of back alleys all around the city. Of course, as the thieves went to steal from the rich, I had to build in the upper-crust parts of the city. It took shape from the inside and expanded according to the story.
  • Sometimes, it’s a certain emotion or visual image I want to evoke. In my Hero of Darkness series, I knew I wanted a more epic journey feel, so each new city visited took on some new aspect that I found exciting. The character traveled from a London-esque city to places reminiscent of Venice, Constantinople, Shangri-la, and Medina.
Who are you writing for and why?
I write for myself, to challenge myself to see life through new eyes and to ask myself questions I would never have thought about otherwise. Every time I sit down to write a new character or story, it’s all about forcing myself to grow, evolve, and mature as both an author and a person.
Plus, I’ve loved fantasy worlds since I first found John Carter of Mars (by E.R. Burroughs) decades ago. I’ve always loved to invent and create thrilling new places and things.

What do you do to recharge your creative energy?
TV is a huge boost for me. It gives me a break to shut down my brain, but I find that it also inspires me and almost serves as education for story-structure, storytelling, and creativity overall. Books help some, but I tend to be far more critical (editor’s brain) when I read. Watching TV, it’s easier to forget about the nitty gritty and just enjoy it overall.

What reactions do you hope to inspire in others?
I want people to really stop and think about things they’d never have questioned before. We make so many instinctive assumptions and react from our gut, but we never dig deeper into the “why” of things. I want my writing to start digging deeper into themselves (and, of course, the people around them) so they can better understand their own thought processes and reactions, as well as the world at large. The more we can identify with the people around us, the harder it is to alienate them or hate them.

Where is your writing taking you?
I don’t write to win awards or to become recognized. Obviously those things would be nice—and they’d certainly help my stories spread far more effectively. However, ultimately, I write to connect with people. I want my characters to resonate with readers on a deep emotional level. I want people to think about what I’m saying and to give the arguments and rationales I’m presenting real, serious thought. If I can do that, I will count myself successful!

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Picking Their Brains: Scott Kaelen on Cover Design

Wrapping up this week’s advice topic of book cover design, let’s hear from Scott Kaelen, author of The Blighted City...

Just to show how awful the initial attempts at cover creation can be, here's the first cover I made (it's for my short story which was renamed "When Gods Awaken" prior to publishing). 

My advice would be to not mess around with trying to make your own book covers if you haven't had professional experience and don't have access to the best programs to use. I ultimately made all my own covers, which is fine for short stories, etc. but not for a novel if you want it to get the right sort of attention. Pay the experienced artists (NOT the mediocre ones) to create a compelling cover image AND cover text for your book. It won't look professional unless it's done by a professional. And don't listen to any praise your friends give you about your self-made cover - they're only saying it to make you feel good and because they don't have the backbone to tell you the truth. I know this because all my crappy self-made covers got positive praise from my online acquaintances, but I knew the covers were shite. Only listen to critical and responses from qualified and unbiased professionals connected to your writing genre, who you trust will give you the hard truth when necessary (peers, designers, book bloggers, etc.) 

The first two (actually, three) covers [for The Blighted City] were done by an artist based on what I asked him to do, but the last one (the current one) is a small area of a stock photo I'd been holding onto for several years and I did a lot of work on it myself.  

First version for The Blighted City cover art

This is the first one I had the artist make. It was intended as a full cover (front, rear, spine). Ultimately the consensus of my betas and a few others I asked was that it didn't fit with the tone/setting of the novel. So this one was shelved.  

Second version

I decided to try a different angle with the second cover, based on suggestions from a beta. This one depicts the end of the Chiddari Crypt. But after it had been published for a while, the main feedback I got for it was that it felt more like straight-up horror than dark epic fantasy, and that the image really didn't gel with the book title. So this one was replaced. 

Third version

The third cover only lasted a few weeks, but it did sell one paperback in that time, which is the only physical copy of the second published cover edition in existence. Maybe worth a small fortune if I ever get successful! For those who look closely and with the keenest eyesight (not me!), they might be able to tell that it is really a small section of the city in the background of the first (never published) cover. But it's been further tweaked from the original.The consensus for this one was that it felt more like a historical fiction than a secondary-world fantasy. So, scrapped this one, too. 

Current cover

And this is the fourth (third published) cover, the currently published one. This one had much better reception than the previous covers, although, to my mind, it still doesn't give a true depiction of the setting which it's based on. But hey, artistic licence and all that. If the cover helps to sell copies, it's doing its job. 

Picking Their Brains: Ulff Lehmann on Cover Design

Continuing the advice topic of book cover design, let's hear from Ulff Lehmann, author of Light in the Dark series...
Book covers, to me, should always reflect the spirit of the story. Same as the titles... when I first thought of the titles, long after the first book was finished and I was somewhere in the middle of what now is the third book, I came up with the titles... Yes, I know it's about covers but this goes hand in hand.

I wanted a progression, the dichotomy of words that upon closer inspection would surprise you, only if you paid attention, of course.

Current covers of Crossroad Press editions

Shattered Dreams, Hopes, & Bonds. Nightmares, False Hopes, & well bonds is kinda obvious.

I wanted the covers to mirror that.

Since the story revolves around Drangar, I wanted something to represent him, hence the sword. I liked the covers of the The Last Kingdom etc, but I didn't want to imitate, so I came up with the blade across the middle. I wanted the sword to represent Drangar's conscience over the telling of the tale, well, kinda... blood smeared, a little cleaner, clean. Night, dawn, noon as respective backgrounds.

I spoke to the lady who designed the first two covers (yes, Hopes had a cover before I signed with Crossroad) and told her the concept. Then I told her to make it her own. The only thing that mattered to me was the broader concept.

Covers of previously self-published editions