Fellow independent author L.S. Engler is really cool and you should read her books. You should read this interview with her first, though. Then read her books.
Because I said so, that’s why.
So, how’s it going?
Really great, actually! You’re catching me on my single day off this week between ending my one job and going straight into a new one. A coworker at the last one “owed” me for picking up several of his shifts since he DJs at bars when there’s something exciting going on in sports, and there’s almost always something exciting going on in sports in Chicago, so he got me a gift card, which meant a nice meal out. This was followed by a trip to Half-Price Books and Disc Replay, where the breadth of amazing, creative, and ridiculous stories in the world got my head all a’buzz with ideas of my own. And now I get to sit down and chat with you and your readers, so I’d say that’s a pretty damn good day.
Tell me about your latest project. What is THE SLAYER SAGA all about?
I sound a bit like a broken record when anyone asks me that question, but I truly feel that one of my beta-readers put it best when she told me that THE SLAYER SAGA was kind of like “Buffy meets the Hobbit,” although my inspiration is straight out of too much The Walking Dead and Thundarr the Barbarian. It’s a nice little post-apocalyptic zombie yarn, where the Soulless (because we can’t use the zed-word) invasion has devastated humanity to the point where it turned to utter ruin. Since we’re basically cockroaches, many still managed to survive, but the world develop into one much more primitive than what we know now. There are still hints of the old world, with the technology of the Ancients an alluring mystery that hang on the edge of rediscovery. A legend sparks throughout the communities scattered across the land of a great warrior, the Slayer of the Soulless, who, as would be expected of a prophetic soldier, will rise up to protect the world in its hour of dire need. One little girl, on the night of her village’s complete annihilation, decides that SHE will be that hero, and she will dedicate her life to destroying the monsters that have threatened her people for far too long.
Her travels bring her to Paravelle, a fortress in the mountains where a society has flourished within the protection of sturdy walls, but she discovers that even this idyllic location is not nearly as safe as she expected. There is a dark plot behind the attack on Paravelle. In the company of the few survivors, the Slayer of the Soulless sets out to find the Queen, who conducts her reign from the safety of a massive airship, to find out what can be done, before it’s too late.
I was interested to see that HEARTLESS came in much shorter than the first SLAYER book, and you’re planning on the third volume in just a few short month. Was there any thought to releasing the last two volumes together, or was that just how the story worked out?
From its very inception, THE SLAYER SAGA was intended to be a trilogy, with each book released in August of the respective year, to keep up with trying my hand at keeping a set publishing schedule, which includes my literary journal, WORLD UNKNOWN REVIEW, in December. So even though HEARTLESS came out much shorter than I had hoped, the thought didn’t even cross my mind. Plus? I’ll let you in on a dark secret: I haven’t even started writing FEARLESS yet. It’s outlined, yes, but I also decided to tie in THE SLAYER SAGA with NaNoWriMo, so I won’t start scribbling until November.
I should also note that I never, ever, in all the years I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo, actually finish the novel in that month. But I’ll keep trying until I do.
I do plan on releasing the trilogy as an omnibus in 2017. I blame my years of collecting individual volumes of manga only to discover that omnibuses (omnibi?) existed and one awesome summer of reading through all the NARNIA books in a big thick volume my dad got me for Christmas for planting that idea in my head.
The Slayer herself is never named in HEARTLESS. Talk about that for a moment- why did you choose to not give your main character a name?
I grew up on video games, with the height of my influence being during the epic RPGs released for the Super Nintendo. Many of those games featured a silent protagonist, which made me wonder how people would know their names if they never talked. The Slayer talks, but the idea of a nameless protagonist landed in my brain and would not leave. I started it mainly as a challenge to myself, to see if I could pull a gimmick like that off, and it developed into something a little bit more. There are quite a few characters in THE SLAYER SAGA who don’t have names, actually, and there’s a reason for that, but I won’t reveal it here. I think of it as kind of an Easter egg, a little wink-wink, nudge-nudge for the people who might recognize the pattern.
And now I’ve led a bunch of people to try to figure it out. My work here is done.
What’s your writing process like? Are you a planner? How much of a story do you need mapped out before you get started?
The amount of planning I put into a book really varies from project to project, but I usually have general outline of What Must Happen, and then I set out to write it down, letting it flow as it will. As I mentioned, I haven’t even started writing FEARLESS yet, though I have an idea of what will happen and how we’ll get there. In my experience, you can plan a story all you want, but there’s a good chance it will take you somewhere completely unexpected once you try to write it. There’s a whole section of HEARTLESS that came out of absolutely nowhere that helped solve a bit of a plot hole I was worrying about, so they’re usually happy surprises. And then there are situations like the one with another project of mine where you get a draft finished, go back and read it, realize that it’s completely unworkable, and rewrite the story all over again with a few different angles. I have one project that is currently in its third draft. I have been working on this project for upwards of ten years. Maybe it’ll finally be ready when I’m 85.
Meanwhile, the whole of THE SLAYER SAGA is being written in three years. Three. For three books. There is absolutely no consistency here.
HEARTLESS is certainly a dark book, darker than the first SLAYER SAGA book by a fair amount, I feel, and the ending, without getting too deep into spoilers, is…well, we’ll say “kinda bleak.” I am entertained to note that one of your other books is called BOWLFUL OF BUNNIES, which I assume is somewhat different in tone. I hope. Do you find yourself as a writer needing to flip back and forth between tones, or is that just how the different books needed to be? Or is BOWLFUL OF BUNNIES creepier than I think it is, because now I that I think about it, I can come up with ways for bowls of bunnies to be really awful.
I’m sure every independent author comes to look upon their first publication with a little bit of cringy regret, and, while I’m very proud of the work in BOWLFUL, I think I really missed the mark in the title and the cover art. Which I love and is adorable, but it definitely gives off the wrong impression of the work. However, BOWLFUL is also a good example of how I strive for diversity in my writing. Whenever anyone asks, “Oh, you’re an author? What do you write?”, I’m always compelled to answer, “A little bit of everything.” BOWLFUL is a collection of nearly all the short stories I’ve written in the decade before its publication, covering everything from historical flash fiction about Communist China to science fiction about an assassin who has to kill a shadow demon trying to take over his soul. I chose the title because of a funny conversation a roommate and I had about having a bowlful of “plot bunnies,” that you would just reach into and grab on and make a story out of it, but, in retrospect, it doesn’t really convey the mood of the book. People think it’s all cutesy stuff (and there are some cutesy stories, too; I had a friend tell me that her grandkids loved the first tale, “Dragon Rising”), but there’s also violence and bad words and even a graphic sex scene in one of the stories.. I thought of following the pattern in future short story collection (Platterful of Puppies, Kettleful of Kittens, Hot-Water-Heaterful of Hedgehogs…), but I don’t want to continue running into the same misconceptions. If there’s anything about independent publishing, it’ that you learn more and more with every book, and you feel a bit silly about some of your mistakes, but you’re glad you learned from them.
I will admit, I do tend to skew a little dark. I had one reader tell me (lovingly!) that I had a “sick mind,” and all I could think was, “And here I thought THE SLAYER SAGA was one of my tamer ideas.”
What else do you have going on? Any new or upcoming projects we need to know about?
Oh, there’s TONS! When I started independently publishing, one of my biggest challenges was holding myself back to focus on JUST ONE project at a time, so there’s always a huge list of things waiting when I finish something.
The biggest, most exciting one is releasing the second volume of WORLD UNKNOWN REVIEW in December. I started this project last year, and I’m so thrilled to see where it goes. It’s my very own literary journals, and we’ll accepting submissions until October 31st. So if you have a story, please send it! I’ll even pay you a whole fifteen bucks! That’s, like, two Starbucks coffees or something. Last year, I had the honor of publishing a story called “Culaqan” by a certain person conducting a certain interview right now, and it’s still one of my favorites. It’s an awesome project that I hope serves its purpose of bringing writers together and spreading their words all over the place, because that’s one of the things I love most about the writing world today. If you’re interested, you can check out the guidelines at http://lsengler.com/submissions
And, as I mentioned, I haven’t even started writing FEARLESS yet, so, in the meantime, I working on my own short stories, as well as a novel in my Aryneth world. I grew up playing a lot of Final Fantasy and King’s Quest and reading a lot of DragonLance and Narnia books, so of COURSE I have my own fantasy world that I will unleash one day. That ten-plus-year project I mentioned? Another Aryneth project. The first book I wrote when I was in sixth grade and thought it was the greatest thing ever? Aryneth again. I have about a million books planned for this series, and so I’m working on just one of them.
After THE SLAYER SAGA is finished, I’m thinking I’ll focus on a book I’ve got half written right now about a haunted house and ghosts, because that’s always a good time. There’s also this retelling of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher,” from the perspective of Madeline Usher, that I’m pretty stoked about, and then this whole thing with a Western and dragons.
See? Huge list. I need to write faster.
Tell me who would play the Slayer in the movie.
Samus Aran isn’t real.
Okay, Charlize Theron. Who, in my mind, needs to be Samus Aran, too.
Where can we find you out there on the internet? How important do you find social media (defined however you like) to be to your success as an independent author?
Everyone always says that your presence on social media is THE MOST IMPORTANT part of being a successful indie author, which is probably why I’m not every successful. I like social media. I’m on it occasionally, but I’m probably not doing it right. I’m trying to get better, though.
I’m trying to be more present on my blog at http://lsengler.com , but that’s always tricky because I have a really crappy computer and posting can sometimes be a pain.
I’m most active on Facebook, because, since my computer is crappy, my phone is actually a better computer and Facebook is super easy to use on my phone. You can find me at http://facebook.com/ellis.engler . I post a lot of personal stuff, as well as professional, because (and this is another thing I probably do “wrong” according to the experts), I don’t believe in an Author Page. I am my brand, my brand is me, and I want people to be just as familiar with what I had for dinner last night as they are with my latest books. So let’s be friends!
Twitter scares me, because I feel I can never keep up with it (and I’m not even that old!), but I try to post updates and things I things Deep and Clever at http://twitter.com/lsengler
My favorite social media space, though, is probably my tumblr, because my dash is just basically a mess of all the things I find funny or beautiful or inspiring or cool. It’s basically like opening my brain and taking a look at it, and I hope it’s a place people would want to stay for a bit. And, again, I can easily manage it on my phone. http://tumblr.com/lsengler
Any advice for other writers?
Just write. Write your heart out. Write what you love, not what you think other people will love. Send thing out to traditional publishers. Publish things yourself. Read. Read, read, and then read some more. Read everything. Read good book, read bad books, read short books and long books. Stay inside and binge on Netflix and video games. Go out in the world and experience nature. Think of all the stories that are out there, and try to write them all. Learn to take criticism and use it to make yourself better. Every critique is an opportunity, not a put-down. Don’t knock it ‘till you try it. Never give up. Never surrender.
And the most important thing of all is to HAVE PATIENCE. It’s important to be skillful as a writer, but it’s just as important to be determined. There’s a quote from my favorite video game every created, EarthBound (or Mother 2 if you want to get TECHNICAL) that does the trick better than I ever could:
“There are many difficult times ahead, but you must keep your sense of humor, work through the tough situations, and enjoy yourself.”
What’s the last really good book you read?
(I know you said to pick something else, but I’m shamelessly going to plug you anyway, nyah nyah nyah)
Well, I’m currently enjoying an early peek at Luther M. Siler’s SEARCHING FOR MALUMBA, which I’m mentioning for OBVIOUS reasons, but has been both delightful and heartbreaking all in one. I encourage everyone to check it out when it’s released, and, I swear, I’m not just saying that because Luther’s RIGHT HERE.
On a less butt-kissing note, though, I’ve finally gotten around to reading THE HUNGER GAMES, and it’s so, so good! I also just finished reading Ray Bradbury’s DANDELION WINE for the first time, and it’s now a book I plan to read every August, because it’s such a wonderful love letter to summer and the kind of youth I had rural Michigan. I’ll admit, this year so far, I haven’t gotten through many stand-out, stellar HOLY CRAP books. A lot of GOOD books, but not as many GREAT books. I absolutely love to read, so I’d actually like to turn this question onto the readers: What’s the last really good book YOU’VE read? I’d love some recommendations (and hope that, maybe, one day, one of my books might be on your lists, too).
Thanks for having me interview on your blog, Luther! These were some really awesome question, and I hope I haven’t babbled too much. I hope everyone enjoys reading my ramblings and that we see much, much more of each other in the years to come!