This week I was joined by fantasy novelist, Dustin Bilyk, to talk a little about himself and his new novel, Tournament of Hearts: The Librarian Gladiator.
Dustin describes himself as, “…a fervent blogger, sub-par husband and lover of all things unreal, thrilling and out of the ordinary.” His debut fantasy sword-and-sorcery novel, Tournament of Hearst: The Librarian Gladiator: Book One has just been released as an ebook on Amazon, and is soon to be on the shelves at the iBook store. Check out his blog for more details.
Dustin, thanks for coming for a natter. Folks reading this have just seen the ad-copy spiel about you and your work, but why don’t you tell us who you are in your own words?
A: I’m a young author, new to the publishing game but an old sea-dog when it comes to putting my pen to paper. I also have this other thing going on in my life called a full-time job that sees me shovelling mountains of snow in the winter and taking care of Canadian parkland in the summer. But, like many people that get lost in their own head, that’s eight hours of the day I use to daydream about the next line and the next chapter in my book.
Q: Your new book, Tournament of Hearts: The Librarian Gladiator, is a fantasy novel that jumps right into a world of beasts, barbarians, blood, and a battle between good and evil. Spill the beans for us on what we can expect.
A: To summate, Neven, our awkward and lily-livered hero of the story, is thrust into The Tournament of Hearts, forced to fight to death for his bloodline. However, soon after the announcement, he finds that much more than the lives of his loved ones hangs in the balance, for a winged monster brings him a threatening message providing Neven with a terrifying choice – death for one, or pain and suffering for many.
Aside from the blurb, I would characterize it as a high-paced, high-action fantasy that doesn’t get bogged down in the minute details. I world-build, like any good fantasy must, but the novel is story-driven and progresses rather fast.
Q: What draws you to the fantasy genre? Do you see yourself branching out or delving ever deeper into the realm of dragons and magic?
A: I love everything about it! Just the thought of magic, creating something out of nothing, excites the hell out of me. As a writer, being able to conjure up extraordinary lands with creatures that are only limited in size, shape and ferocity by the extent of your imagination is what drew me to writing in the first place. I want to be able to create whatever the heck I want, and the fantasy genre allows me to do that.
Now with that said, I love all spec-fic. A real challenge I expect to tackle someday would be to branch out into another love of mine: horror. But to do that genre justice, it needs to feel real. For instance, I couldn’t have a dragon pop out of some kid’s closet, eat him whole and then proceed to terrorize the neighbourhood one fried cat at a time.
Wait a second…
Q: You’re quite the blogger. I really enjoy your rant-style posts thrown into the mix of life-of-a-writer and promotional posts. It seems you get a real kick out of engaging with readers frankly. It’s a great way of cutting through the pretension you find elsewhere. What do you enjoy blogging about the most, and where do you get your ideas for posts?
A: I began my blog with the premise of providing writers with information and support in their creative endeavours, while providing helpful content and publishing opportunities that I found interesting and fun. To nobody’s surprise, it soon devolved into a mix of that and me ranting, which apparently a few people enjoy.
Some of my ideas come from others bloggers and articles that I read, and I’m fine with that. It breeds community, and serves to share collective messages that I find important. However, the bulk of my blogging tends to happen when I sit down and just start hammering on the keyboard. I have issues expressing myself outside of writing, so I suppose it comes easy to me. When you have all this happiness, anger, nervousness and tension to release upon the world, blogging becomes a natural outlet.
Q: This is your debut novel. Have you written fiction before now, and in what form? Do you enjoy the short story form or novellas, or are novels your bread and butter?
A: I love short stories. I write many, publish few, and read dozens every year. But now that I have one novel under my belt, I would say they’ll likely become my bread and butter. The hope is that the next few will come a bit easier than the first.
Q: Take us on the journey from inspiration to typing those final words in Tournament of Hearts.
A: This novel started back when I was attending university, four or so years ago. I moved to the big city after living in a small town for the first 23 years of my life, and it was a tough adjustment at first. It didn’t take long for me to feel isolated, alienated and completely out of place in this new, foreign land, so I turned to the pen and paper. For a while it saved me.
Only after completing the novel four years later did I find out that Neven was an extension of myself in those first confusing years. In fictional Hamelin, he’s isolated from the rest of the world, has nothing but his books and histories to keep him company, yet he wants more but isn’t willing to put in the effort to earn it. In many respects, it sums up exactly how I felt – trapped between a rock and a hard place, and as I wrote Tournament of Hearts I discovered that both of our prisons were made of our own doing.
Q: The publication process has been paved with success for you. You won a competition and bagged a publication deal. First off, congratulations! Second, do spill on what that was like for you.
A: Winning The Novelist competition was huge for my confidence and career as a writer. I was put up against nineteen other individuals from across the globe and I engaged in over three months of short story writing. Each week we were given a new assignment while our previous assignment was voted upon by the public and other authors. It was incredibly nerve-wracking waking up each Saturday morning not knowing whether or not I’d made it to the next round of competition, but I’ll never forget the morning I woke up next to my wife, fired up the iPad and saw that I won. It changed everything for me. I had a publishing deal in the bank, the pressure was gone, and I was able to write for myself and finish my novel on my own terms, not to please some prospective publishing agency. I now realize that my approach before The Novelist contest was all wrong – one should always first write for themselves first and foremost.
Q: How do you feel about the state of the publishing industry in general? As somebody coming into this world with fresh eyes, maybe you can describe how this madhouse comes across.
A: It’s just as you say, Harry: a bloody madhouse. Everyone is scratching and clawing for their chunk of bread, and there’s only one pitiful loaf. I scoured the web for years, sometimes spending more time formatting my first few chapters to meet the publisher’s specific requirements than I did actually writing. Finally I came across The Novelist contest as I perused the app store, sent in a synopsis and I was on my way. It was a bit of a fluke to be honest. But like many authors, I just needed that chance, someone to believe in me.
As for the state of the publishing industry, there are a few things that, frankly, drive me up the wall. This recent development of authors selling their books for $0.99 or for free is complete and utter crap. I believe authors should respect their own work. You laboured for thousands of hours on your masterpiece, only to devalue it and the entire writing profession in the process when the going gets tough. I know there are a ridiculous amount of books being published every day, but there are also a ton of people reading/buying them. Good books have, and always will find a way of finding their way to the top, so if you believe in your work, stick to your guns and sell that baby for more than a cup of coffee. I could go on, but this is starting to look a lot like another rant of mine, so I digress.
Q: What do you see in the future of publisher/indie relations? Are you looking to go hybrid, or are you looking to settle into the traditional route?
A: I’ll settle into the traditional route if I can with my current publisher, but if I must I will finish The Librarian Gladiator series by publishing independently and going hybrid.
However, I think if you’re new to the game, indie is your best shot at getting your feet under you. People keep telling me name recognition is everything, so my advice would be to just write, self-publish, rinse and repeat. Of course, publishers do help with marketing, editing, your cover, ect., but many authors find they have to put in the majority of the effort anyway. That is, unless you’re one of the very lucky few who land a deal with a big publisher right out of the gate, which, without name recognition and some sales to back you up, is entirely unlikely.
Q: Let’s get around to the fun part: your future. Tournament of Hearts is the first in a new sword-and-sorcery series and I have to say the blurb is one tight piece of writing. Having perused the book itself, you’ve clearly succeeded in bringing a quality product to your readers—an achievement to be sure for any debut author.
But this is just the first instalment, so tell us what we can expect from the series and your future work in general.
A: The Librarian Gladiator series has just begun. I anticipate at least a trilogy, but I am in love with my new world and could easily see this burgeoning into five or six books. Time will tell.
I will also be trying to find myself a place in some anthos, perhaps delving outside the fantasy realm as you alluded to earlier. There are just so many good compilations and themes out there that I might very well find it impossible to resist their allure. It’s also a good way to collaborate with other authors and make meaningful connections, which is something that is very important to me as a writer.
Q: Thanks ever so much for joining me, Dustin. It’s always a pleasure to meet genuine writers who are in it for the writing. I look forward to seeing your work on the bestseller shelves soon enough. Could you give our readers a closing remark?
A: Thanks for having me, Harry. It was a damned pleasure to be featured here on your fantastic blog, and if any of you reading this have a hankering for some fantasy, don’t be shy and check out my free preview on Kindle. If you hate it, tell your cat or the neighbour’s dog it’s a piece of crap and move on with life, completely forgetting everything that you read. But if you feel compelled to read on, find those nickels and dimes at the bottom of your wallet or purse and support a new author. If you spent those last dimes on a bottle of Jameson whiskey, I completely understand. Drink up and be merry, and have a great 2015. Cheers.