Monday, January 13, 2014

A Conversation With Jay Noel

I FINISHED READING JAY NOEL'S Dragonfly Warrior over the weekend. I was floored by it. He did an amazing job. You can read my full, rambling review, over at Goodreads. But the gist of it is that this was something I couldn't put down and think everyone should read. So please, drop what you're currently reading and go pick this up.

On Saturday afternoon, as soon as I'd finished, I sent Jay a few questions about his novel, and he was kind enough to respond. Please see what he had to say below:

1) Dragonfly Warrior, if I recall from what you've written about it before, has had quite journey before publication. When did you first develop the idea for this story? And what sort of changes were made to it along the way?

"I first developed the story as an epic fantasy. But I also love science fiction, and I wanted to combine the two. For years, I wrote down notes and various outlines, trying to get it right. I wanted a story that drew from the traditional heroic fantasy I grew up with, but included many of the other genres and elements I loved. So the story continued to evolve, and I wrote one chapter - a specific scene I had in mind - to see if this idea had any wheels. And it sure did, and it ended up being a steampunk novel."

2) I haven't seen the e-versions, but the paper version is gorgeous. Not just the cover art, but the book's interior. Did you play much of a role in putting that together?

"Absolutely I had a role in getting the book's look just right. Dragonfly Warrior had been with two publishers previously, and I wasn't happy with the process at either houses. That's why I went full-on-indie. No one was going to care about my book more than me. That's the control-freak in me talking. I hired Inkstain Interior Book Design to do the paperback and JT Formatting to design the ebook. The ebook mimic's the paperback's aesthetics, and I couldn't be happier."

3) This book spits on the idea of fitting neatly into a single genre. The closest thing I've think I've read to your novel, in terms of the feel of the world, is Scott Westerfeld's, Leviathan. But even that comparison only goes so far before falling apart. Things like this don't typically come straight from the ether though, what most heavily influenced you in creating this series?

"My influences come from all over. The steampunk setting is from H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. The heroic fantasy is drawn from my love of mythology, specifically The Odyssey and King Arthur. I also studied a lot of Asian mythology. And the twist and turns, along with the backstabbing and drama is from all the Shakespeare I read. So yeah, this book (and series) is a combination of all the things I enjoy."

4) There is a real undercurrent in the novel regarding loss, specifically, boys losing their mothers. It really had a great deal of emotional resonance. Do you care to discuss what made you want to explore that particular theme in this book?

"My mother was very young when she lost her mother to breast cancer. I think subconsciously, I drew from that in my family history. My mother was raised by a tough, ex-POW father, and I am very cognizant of how her upbringing affected her for the rest of her life. I think when a child loses a parent, there's such a void there, and it triggers a lifelong search for a connection to their lost parent somehow. It was something I wanted to delve into, and it is a driving force for my main character, Zen."

5) The Story's protagonist, Zen, is stoic, innocent, compassionate, and, as far as I could tell, entirely without vice. You broke almost every rule of character creation I can think of, yet still made him an incredibly compelling lead. Tell me about him, and how you came up with this innocent warrior with the weight of the world on his shoulders?

"On the surface, Zen seems to be very one-dimensional. Yet from the very beginning, you see the cracks forming. Oh, and you left out one other personality trait: arrogant. He's an idealist and thinks himself as invincible. I think a lot of twenty year olds feel like that. I drew from mythology here, especially Odysseus and a young King Arthur. Many readers sense his arrogance very early on, and they can't wait for him to come down to earth. I enjoyed creating a character that was a living oxymoron: an innocent who has spilled so much blood. The second book, Shadow Warrior, is a continuation of Zen's journey and self-discovery. The world isn't so black and white, and the full impact of his "deeds" finally hits him. Hard. I put Zen through some big-time hardship, and he is taken down a few notches."

6) As soon as I put the finished copy of this book down, I was ready to read the next. How long do we have to wait for the next in the series? And how many books do you have planned?

"Shadow Warrior should be back from my editor any day now. My goal is to get it out there this summer. Hopefully, my readers can wait six months. The third book in The Mechanica Wars is titled Iron Warrior, and it's already 75% done, and I hope to get it out around January of 2015. Even through there's three books in this "Warrior Trilogy," I feel like it's really one big 1200 page novel since I worked on all three books at once.

"I plan to write a second trilogy in this world I've created, based on the feedback from my beta readers, and it will feature the further adventures of a wild and adventurous airship pilot and his crew."

7) You've managed to tell a complete story, but still show that there is a lot more to come. Any teasers you can share about what happens next to Zen and the rest of the crew?

"Other than Zen's innocence being stripped away and nothing but suffering around the corner for our hero, there is an element of romance in Shadow Warrior and Iron Warrior. That was the plan all along, and it's a vital part of Zen's maturity and journey. Like Odysseus who tries in vain to get back to Ithica, Zen's journey takes on a life of its own. Look for ninjas, airship pirates, and steam-powered mechas in action. Several of my beta readers also fell in love with a secondary character, Zapitoni. The wily pirate captain will be back for more."

8) On the craft side of things, I imagine that you've plotted out the story here pretty extensively, but do you care to share what your process for writing this novel has been? Did you write as the muse struck? Or is it a ritual that you stuck to every day? 

"I do my best to write every day, and for the most part, I'm pretty disciplined. But sometimes life gets in the way. There are times when things just click, and I can knock out 5,000 words in a day. I used to be a pantster, but I've learned to outline and utilize the 7-point story structure to build my stories. I often veer from my best-laid plans, but that's fun for me. You can still plan AND let your imagination go wild. I also use Scrivener, which has cut the time it takes me to write a 100,000 word novel by more than 50%. And no, I'm not a paid spokesperson for Scrivener!"

9) Any advice you have for folks working on their own multi-volume epic? Things you've learned along the way that you really wish you someone would have told you that would have saved you much heartache and grief?

"Even when I was a panster, I still had a written plan for not only each book, but my whole series. Granted, I've veered quite a bit from it. You have to be flexible to change things. And please, for the love of Thor, KEEP TRACK of those changes. If you don't, you will forget if your character has brown or blond hair. Or what day it should be. Or the name of his eldest daughter. Save yourself some heartache. Write all that stuff down, and if you change any of it while writing your manuscript, make those changes in your notes."

10) And finally, is there a question that you've been anxious to answer, but I've not thought to ask? Whether it be about this novel, the series, or anything else?

"Sure. I'm often asked, why steampunk? Not only have I loved the genre long before it even had a name, but I love the PUNK aspect of steampunk. Whether a book is steampunk, or dieselpunk, or cyberpunk, they all have one thing in common: they all deal with revolution and questioning authority. One major theme of The Mechanica Series is the impact science and technology has on our world. In my series, the country with the biggest, baddest machines rule. My books are fun and full of action and adventure, but underneath it all, I still want to question humanity's progress. It's easy to see all the good that came out of the Industrial Revolution, but what's the price we pay for all of that technology? Oh, and steam-powered mechas is a damn fun way to explore that theme."



Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

One every six months? Fast writer, Jay!
Yes, most twenty year old guys are cocky and arrogant. (My character started out the same way.)
And as a military brat, I understand some of what your mother endured growing up.
Good stuff, guys!

Sean McLachlan said...

I love books that slip between genres. Indie publishing seems to be best for many of those sort of books because the big publishers tend to shy away from them. Glad you got a pro to do the interior. That's vital! I do the same with my books. I suppose I should learn how to do all that eventually but that would take time away from my writing!

Jay Noel said...

Alex: I know. I really do think I've gone insane. And I see a lot of similarities between Byron and Zen actually.

Sean: Exactly - leave it to the pros. I'd rather focus on the writing part, for now.

David P. King said...

Great interview, guys! DW is next in my reading list, and I tell you, it's screaming at me to hurry up. :)

M.J. Fifield said...

It just so happens that I am in between books at the moment, and it sounds like this one would be right up my alley.

A Beer For The Shower said...

What Sean said. I love books that you can't define with a particular genre, and frankly, it's a little sad that for the most part you have to be in a definitive genre to get a big publishing contract. A lot of great stories slip through the cracks that way. Glad to hear this one isn't slipping through any cracks. I'll definitely check it out.

Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

Jay is everywhere today! Glad to see Dragonfly Warrior getting a lot of love. I hope it becomes an Amazon best seller.

J.L. Campbell said...

Hi, Rusty & Jay,
The more I hear about Jay's book, the more I want to read it. Sounds quite fascinating.

Brinda said...

This is one of the best interviews I've ever read. Seriously. Kudos to both of you. And that formatting. Wowza. That is beautiful. If JT is the same JT from Arkansas who does formatting (I'm behaving like this is a very small world), then I may have to use him if I self-pub in the future.

Jay Noel said...

David: Hurry!!! Lol

M.J. Hope you'll give my book a read.

A Beer: Yes, that's why I read a lot of small press/indie books these days. Still like some of the big names, but I need variety.

Michael: That would be somethin'!

J.L.: Hey there! Hope you're enjoying your release day!

Brinda: I loved his questions, and I had to answer them right away. JT Formatting is out of MA. She's incredible.


Great interview Rusty.
Love the cover.

Andrew Leon said...

I am not a steampunk fan, but it is on my list.

Jay Noel said...

David: Thanks for reading it!

Andrew: I've been fortunate that most of the readers to give me feedback aren't steampunk fans. It always boils down to the story.

Jo said...

If only I didn't have such a huge TBR list. This sounds like a book I would enjoy.

Lady Lilith said...

How interesting. I am so glad to see that he answered all of your questions. They were very informative.

Christine Rains said...

Fantastic interview! Loved learning more about Jay and his writing process. Can't wait to get my hands on Jay's book.

Cindy said...

I have this book on my list as I've been wanting to read more steampunk novels.

Emily R. King said...

I enjoyed hearing about the emotional side behind your book, Jay. You're such a nice guy. Great interview!