I’m thrilled to welcome Deck Matthews, author of the Riven Realm series aswell as Varkas chronicles, both set within his wider world of Varkas! I gave The First of Shadows 5 stars, if you’d like to read the review!
Facebook: Varkas Chronicles
Hi Deck! It’s great to be able to interview you for Spells and Spaceships! Let’s start by getting a bit of background on you for new readers.
Did you always know you wanted to write and if so, was it always fantasy for you?
I don’t know about “always”, but I’ve definitely known that I’ve wanted to write for a long time, and fantasy has always been my thing. I read a lot of different stuff as a kid. Mysteries and adventure stories, but it was at the end of my eighth-grade year that my teacher gave me a set of David Eddings’ The Belgariad. I devoured it over the summer, and then the follow-up series, The Mallorean. From that point on, I was hooked on the genre. I started experimenting with my own stories shortly after that.
You structure your books a little differently than is probably the norm within the genre. With each book in your Riven Realm series weighing in at under 200 pages, and your Varkas tales being more of a novelette length, is this something intentional that you planned to do originally?
“I’ve always likened it to a season of TV show, with each novella being an episode that drives the story forward.”
More or less. I’d played with some stories in the world of Varkas (where The Riven Realm is set), but when I started working on The First of Shadows, my intention was always to self-publish. To that end, I became interested in attempting a shorter format that would allow me the flexibility of doing this as a side gig, without having to write 500+ pages for each release.
So I spent some time considering my medium before setting out on the writing and decided to experiment with a series of novellas. I’ve always likened it to a season of TV show, with each novella being an episode that drives the story forward. Structurally, I was somewhat inspired by LOST, answering a few questions, but raising more as I go. Each novella is like a segment of the action, and not necessarily a fully fleshed out story in its own right.
I’ve come to recognize that there’s an inherent weakness in this model, as the endings can feel somewhat artificial. Still, I hope that, when taken as a whole, the overall story will be a satisfying one (and I promise to try to deliver an ending with more closure than LOST).
Did you ever feel the temptation to combine the Riven Realm books into one or two volumes and do you think the length of a book has any bearing on the interest it generates? Reading The First of Shadows was a refreshing change for me for example; sometimes it can be daunting starting a huge tome if you’re short on time or concentration.
I agree with the fact that some of the books landing on shelves these days can be daunting. I think of Sanderson’s Stormlight Archives, or The Licanius Trilogy (which I am reading this year), and each of those books is a huge commitment!
The Licanius Trilogy by James Islington, Orbit Books. Book one is over 700 pages!
But to answer the question, the temptation has never really been there for me. I have a pretty clear vision of what I want this series to be. A few people have suggested that I might want to combine them into a full novel, but it’s just not something that I feel compelled to do.
That being said, I am formulating some ideas for full-length standalone novels set in the same world, and The Riven Realm will likely have a follow-up series of full-length novels. I’m also planning on releasing collected editions for those who might want to read the novellas in batches. The first one of those should be released by April 2020.
What would you say is the biggest challenge for a self published author? Is there anything you wish you could change about the process of publishing?
From a purely selfish perspective, it would be great if editing didn’t cost me quite so much. But, I’ve worked in professional services for well over a decade now, and I understand that professionals deserve fair compensation for their time, so I don’t begrudge it at all. My editor is great!
Beyond that, I enjoy the process. I have a background in graphic design and print, so being able to design my own covers and do all the typesetting for print editions is actually quite fulfilling.
I’ve read some fantastic self published books, many with only a few other reviews. Would you agree that you need a degree of faith when first starting out to continue writing books; what have you found are the best ways to promote your work?
To speak honestly, I’ve found self-publishing to be a gruelling, torturous and occasionally soul-crushing process. It definitely takes faith to keep writing some days—faith in my work, faith in the process, and faith in the idea that I’ll eventually gain some momentum. Only time will tell if that faith is well-placed or not!
I don’t know that I’ve found a great way to promote my work yet, but I think the most useful thing I’ve done is just to be myself on social media and engage with readers and book bloggers. It doesn’t come naturally to me. I’m a pretty introverted person, and self-promotion isn’t my default. Still, I’ve built some great relationships in the community with people who seem to genuinely enjoy my work. I’ve extremely grateful for that.
What are you currently working on? Can we expect more Riven Realm and Varkas?
I’m drafting the next few volumes of The Riven Realm. I was hoping to have them out in 2020, but we’ll see what happens. To return to an earlier point, editing is a significant expense for me—at least where I am in my self-publishing career right now, so as a family man, I also have to be mindful of cash flow. Hopefully, I can at least get the fourth book out by the end of the year.
I’m also working on a YA novel at the moment, which I do plan to release in 2020. It’s also set in the world of Varkas, but features an entirely different cast of characters, in a different time period and a different part of the world. There are some connections to The Riven Realm books, but those will take a bit longer to come to fruition!
Do you tend to plan the full story arc out in advance or do new ideas come into play as you go along?
I built out an entire story arc, but as I started writing and characters started coming into their own, a few small changes had a significant ripple effect. A lot has changed from that first draft, and I have the feeling we’ll be deviating even more as we move through the next few books. I do have a final destination in mind, but I think that the characters might take me on a slightly different route to get there.
That’s okay. So far, the story has only gotten stronger because of it!
Would you say you’re influenced by any particular authors?
I think that, to some degree, every book I read influences me in some way. Of course, there are some books and authors that have more of an influence than others. Some of the big ones that I always list are Terry Brooks, Brandon Sanderson, Jim Butcher, Joe Abercrombie, and Weis and Hickman. Recently, I’d add Brian McLellan to that list.
Can you recommend any books you’ve really enjoyed over the last year or so?
“There’s a certain sadness that comes with finishing off a beloved series.”
Perfect segue! In 2019, I discovered the wonders of Brian McLellan’s Powder Mage books.
Last year, I started listening to more audiobooks. I get most of them from my local library, and one of the titles they had available for borrow was Sins of Empire. It happened to be the first book in the second series (so book 4). I absolutely loved it. As soon as the last word finished, I was online, placing a hold on book 5. Then I purchased the print edition of book 1 in the summer and received books 2, 3, and the recently released 6 as gifts for Christmas. Currently, I only have book 6 left to read.
I’m looking forward to it, but also kind of putting it off because there’s a certain sadness that comes with finishing off a beloved series.
But it’s definitely something I plan to read again in the future.
When was the last time you read a book or series that just made you say “wow”? What do you think the most important element is in a fantasy story to take it from ‘good’ to ‘amazing’?
See the previous question?
Beyond that, I’ve recently loved Nicholas Eames’ Kings of the Wyld and Bloody Rose for their memorable cast of characters and astonishing prose. These days, it’s rare for me to come across a fantasy novel that is jam-packed with some of the most uniquely evocative imagery I remember reading. Eames delivers in abundance, while still managing to craft thrilling action and an equally rare laugh-out-loud humour. If you haven’t read them, I’d recommend checking them out.
I also listened to The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French, which I enjoyed on a somewhat different level. It’s much cruder and a little more ‘sweary’ than I normally enjoy, but there is some fantastic worldbuilding and some deftly handled play on the ideas that inspired the story. I also really appreciated the book’s narrative structure. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how French wove his tale together. To me, that’s one sign of a solid book!