Interview with Epic Fantasy Author R. Scot Johns


R. Scot Johns is a life-long student of ancient and medieval literature, with an enduring fascination for Norse mythology and epic fantasy. He first came to Beowulf through his love of J. R. R. Tolkien, a leading scholar on the subject. As an Honors Medieval Literature major he has given lectures on such topics as the historical King Arthur and the construction of Stonehenge. He owns and operates Fantasy Castle Books, his own publishing imprint, and writes the blog Adventures of an Independent Author, where you can follow his progress as he writes The Jester’s Quest, his second novel. You can visit his website at www.fantasycastlebooks.com.

Welcome to The Writer's Life, Scot. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?

I’ve been writing for about twenty years now, give or take. Unlike many authors, I never really wrote much when I was a kid, although I’ve always been an avid reader. But in 1988 I had a dream that changed my life, and I’ve been writing ever since. It was one of those wholly lucid dreams where you wake up but you’re still immersed in the dream world, with every detail firmly in your mind. So vivid was it, that instead of rolling over and going back to sleep as I probably should have, I grabbed a pen and paper and started writing madly to get it down before it disappeared into that mystic void from which such dreams are spun. The next day I went down to the youth ranch and bought a beat-up manual typewriter and set up a table in my attic, where I started writing The Jester’s Quest, which will be my next book.
Can you please tell us about your book and why you wrote it?

After writing some five chapters or so of The Jester’s Quest, I decided that if I was going to make a serious effort at writing a novel I needed to learn the tools of the craft. And so at 28 I went to college for the first time and studied English Lit and creative writing for the next six years. During that time I was introduced to Beowulf more than once, and having already read it once due to my love of J. R. R. Tolkien’s work, who was himself greatly inspired by this oldest of English epic tales, I delved deeper into it, eventually learning Anglo-Saxon so that I could do my own translation from the original language. For some reason the story really spoke to me, whether for its poignant themes of loyalty and courage, or the conflicts of clan and kin, of love and honor, or its timeless warning that violence begets more violence, it was a story that I felt deserved a vastly broader audience than the endless procession of disinterested students who grumble and groan over it at midterm.
What kind of research was involved in writing The Saga of Beowulf?

Aside from undertaking a complete translation of the 3200-line Old English poem, I studied the history of academic criticism of the poem from its first partial transcription in 1705 to the present day. But more importantly was a thorough study of the contents of the poem: of the story that it told, and the discovery that part of it was true. The overlying structure of Beowulf is a mythic folk tale of Nordic origin, complete with marauding monsters and a fire-breathing dragon. But underneath this is a story of a people searching for their place in history, forging a civilization from the cold, hard rock of northern Europe. This led me from the 6th century Historia Francorum of Gregory of Tours, in which the death of the Geat king Hygelac is recounted, to the later 12th and 13th century Icelandic sagas, including Hrolf Kraki’s Saga, from which we learn the tragic tale of Yrsa, unwitting wife and daughter to her own brother Halga.

How much input did you have into the design of your book cover?

100%. I created the cover art myself, using Corel Painter and Photoshop with a brand new pen tablet that I purchased just for the purpose. Although I’ve done art for many years using traditional medium like watercolor and pen & Ink, this is the first piece of entirely digital artwork that I’ve done. I did sketch the basic design in pencil first, including the title font design, but the rest was done entirely in the computer.

Has it been a bumpy ride to becoming a published author or has it been pretty well smooth sailing?

I imagine it’s always a bumpy ride, unless you’ve already achieved celebrity some other way. The truth is I didn’t spend much time courting publishers and agents – I sent out some fifty queries to agents and just three to publishers, the last of which I’ve still not heard from to this day. But I decided instead of waiting endlessly for someone else to determine how my life would go that I would take matters into my own hands. I’d already done all the work myself up to this point: the writing and the editing, the cover art and illustrations, the layout and typography, and of course, the proposals with their requisite marketing analysis. And so, in the grand tradition of Twain and Franklin, I started my own publishing company.

For this particular book, how long did it take from the time you signed the contract to its release?

It was a little more than a year of waiting from the time I sent my first queries out until I started working on establishing my own publishing house. Once I bought my ISBN block and registered by DBA there was no turning back. From that point it was about three months before I saw my book in print.

Do you have an agent and, if so, would you mind sharing who he/she is? If not, have you ever had an agent or do you even feel it’s necessary to have one?

I think agents are a thing of the past, just as the major trade publishers are heading rapidly toward their downfall. That’s not to say there aren’t good agents out there, or that they can’t be really useful. But the playing field has changed, and will continue to do so for some time, with POD technology and eBooks on the brink of taking over a major portion of the industry. It’s my firm belief that ultimately it should be the readers who decide what should remain in print, and what is utter rubbish, not some overworked flunky intern who bases their decision entirely on the first two sentences of a manuscript that took its authors years to write. I completely understand the overwhelming state that agents and editors find themselves in on a daily basis, but that doesn’t mean that we authors should entrust our careers and futures to the hands of someone who at best only has the time to give a cursory glance at the work we’ve crafted with the blood and sweat of own hands. The last response that I received from an agent who purported represented fantasy fiction said simply this: “364,000 words, are you kidding?” I wrote back: “Have you never heard of Tad Williams?” I’ve never sent another query since, nor likely ever will.

Do you plan subsequent books?

Absolutely. I have several planned, including a multi-volume historical epic that will span ten thousand years of human history. But, as I have mentioned, my next project will be The Jester’s Quest, a classic fantasy adventure fraught with magic and mayhem and a pantheon of very peculiar characters, revolving around a poor fool who unluckily falls in love with the king’s only daughter.

Are you a morning writer or a night writer?

I write when I can, but I prefer the evenings, because it takes my brain a good long while to get itself into gear most days. But as I have a day job, much of my writing is done late at night and well into the wee hours of morning when I really should be sleeping. Sometimes on weekends I’ll get a pot of coffee going and write for twelve hours straight before realize I never had breakfast. Those are the best days, though not so much for my stomach.

If money was no object, what would be the first thing you would invest in to promote your book?

My own chain of bookstores in every major city throughout the world, each equipped with an Espresso Book Machine and coffee bar. Then a jet so I could fly from one to the next and chat with readers every day. The EBM is a wonderful invention that I’m very excited about, and if you haven’t heard of it, you can find more information on my blog. Basically, it’s a kiosk-type machine, much like a Redbox, with a touch-screen interface that’s linked to Ingram’s database, and with a swipe of your card it will print and bind your book to order in just five minutes flat. There are now about a dozen of them in use, primarily in libraries and universities around the world, but I’m hoping they will find a larger market, as my book can be printed from them.

How important do you think self-promotion is and in what ways have you been promoting your book offline and online?


Self-promotion is really the only kind of promotion most authors get, and I’ve done quite a lot of it over the past few months. I’ve done interviews and giveaways, submitted and received reviews, built a website and write a blog; I network on MySpace and Facebook, have accounts on LibraryThing and GoodReads, as well as many others; I’ve done extensive work in beefing up my Amazon listings with additional material, posted the book on Google Books, and listed it on a myriad of sites and forums such as MyBooksOut and Published.com; I’ve made a promo video and posted it on YouTube and Google and several other sites as well. I had bookmarks printed up and give them out to everyone I meet. I run a GoogleAd campaign off and on as I can afford to, as well as MySpace ads and a banner ad here or there. There are, in fact, so many avenues to explore that an author could spend the rest of their life promoting just one book. But at some point you need to get on with writing another one, so I decided to do this blog tour as something of a final media blitz before turning my attention to the next book. I’ll keep blogging regularly, and in order to keep in touch with readers, I plan to post my writing sessions for The Jester’s Quest on the blog each day. That way, not only will I keep promoting myself as an author, but my readers can be involved in the development of the next book. One thing I’ve discovered about advertising is that there’s a lot of room for creative marketing!

Any final words of wisdom for those of us who would like to be published?

Read. Read all the time. Read voraciously. But most of all, read critically. Learn to distinguish good writing from bad in others so that you can see it in your own. Be highly critical of everything you read, and most of all yourself. And when you write something good, reward yourself for it, then get back to work.

Thank you for coming, Scot! Would you like to tell my readers where they can find you on the web and how everyone can buy your book?

A: You can find my blog, The Adventures of an Independent Author, at http://authoradventures.blogspot.com, and my publisher website at www.fantasycastlebooks.com. There’s a ton of stuff there to check out, including free downloads of sample chapters and video, as well as wallpaper and bookmarks you can print out, and a wealth of other fun stuff – including a Norse Rune decoder, which those of you who have read the book will understand the reason for! The Saga of Beowulf can be ordered directly from either of these sites, in both print edition – including autographed copies! – or four eBook formats for immediate download. It’s also available through virtually every online book retailer, including Amazon in print and Kindle formats. You should also be able to special order it through your local Barnes & Noble or your favorite independent bookstore.
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