Luke R J Maynard Interview

Luke R J Maynard Author Biography:

Luke R. J. Maynard is a writer, musician, and wearer of sundry other hats in the arts and the law. He is best known as the author of the epic fantasy series The Travalaith Saga, whose second book, The Season of the Cerulyn, was released in 2020 by Cynehelm Press. Luke lives in Toronto, Canada.

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An interview with science fiction & fantasy author Luke R. J. Maynard

About (Who, why, when, where, what)

Tell us something about your books, including your genre and your characters and/or themes.


My flagship series, The Travalaith Saga, is traditional high fantasy in the long shadow of Tolkien & Company (with two middle initials, that’s a hard fate to avoid). In short fiction, I’ve worked more broadly—weird cosmic horror stories in a couple of anthologies for Martian Migraine Press, and a military sci-fi piece in one of the “We Dare” anthologies for Chris Kennedy’s Theogony Books imprint.

A key theme in my work is hard-won hope. I write a lot of “weatherbeaten” characters lately—even my young protagonists have some mileage on them. I think we’re all a bit weatherbeaten these days: I imagine readers who are hungry for hope, but may not believe in it if it’s too easy to come by. I definitely don’t do “grimdark,” and tend to avoid the brutal cynicism you get in something like George R. R. Martin’s Westeros. I deal in happy endings that always come at a cost: that’s part of what makes speculative fiction in unfamiliar worlds feel grounded and real to me.

Where are you based?

Toronto, Canada.

Latest releases and upcoming titles?

My most recent book is The Season of the Cerulyn, the second book of the Travalaith Saga. The first book in the series, The Season of the Plough, is a bit of a slow-burn as it introduces the world and the characters, and requires a little patience as the stage is set. I’m really happy with the way Book II ramps up the stakes and the action.

What are you currently working on?

I’m working on an original fairy-tale called Heartblood, which turns a traditional Snow White-style romance into a Gothic revenge tragedy from beyond the grave. I’ll have to get that to press before I finish up Book III of TravalaithThe Season of Rust and Rhyme, which is only just started.

What inspires you to write?

Writing is my way of coming to understand people, and making sense of a disordered world. Curiosity is a powerful antidote to alienation, and I find that getting closer to people and to the world by understanding it is a worthy goal of writing, whether you ever publish or not.

When and why did you get into writing fantasy?

My first writing as a child was derivative of the stories I took in: bad knockoffs of the movies and cartoons I watched, video games I played, that kind of thing. Speculative fiction was always my comfort zone, and it stayed that way even after I started writing less derivative material.

In grad school, I rebelled a bit against 300 years of academic snobbery that looked down on “improbable” fiction (the romance, in the old medieval sense) and “absurdities” relative to the sensible realism of a good literary novel. Maybe writers like Defoe, Richardson, and Fielding were actually reaching for realism when they imitated the non-fictional memoirs with their early novels. Since then, though, I think what we call “literary fiction” has evolved into a stylized put-on that’s every bit as far removed from realism as anything in Peter S. Beagle or Ursula Le Guin’s novels.

Who are your favourite fantasy writers/fantasy authors?

I’ve dropped the big names already: Tolkien, Ursula Le Guin, Peter S. Beagle, Neil Gaiman. I enjoy many other books as a reader: the bleak cynicism of George R. R. Martin, and Terry Pratchett’s profound sense of humour, but they’re farther outside of my wheelhouse and are less of a reflection on what I write myself.

What is your favourite fantasy series and why?

It’s impossible to choose. I’m a very big fan of the “recent” posthumous J.R.R. Tolkien novels: The Children of Húrin, Beren and Lúthien, The Fall of Gondolin. In spite of the overwhelmingly huge influence, these later books have not had anywhere near the same readership or response. I think Middle-Earth was in constant development, and the bleakness and sombreness of these books give them a completely different tone and feel. I enjoy their freshness because so many people have given us work that copies The Lord of the Rings, and these recent rediscoveries have far fewer imitators.

I’m also a big fan of good fantasy standalones, even if the other legacy of Tolkien is that everybody wants to write a trilogy or a long series. The industry rewards readthrough, and indie writers need every advantage they can get, so I think there’s a tendency to default to long sprawling series in a way that sometimes overwhelms the self-contained beauty of single books. I adore Neil Gaiman’s Stardust for what it is, but I’m very glad it’s an exquisite self-contained fairy-tale, and not “Book I of the twelve-book Stardust Cycle.” Nobody but the direct-to-video people at Disney ever thought we needed a Cinderella III, and I feel that way about most fairy-tales.

What are your favourite fantasy genres?

The subgenres I love to read are very often the ones I don’t write, whether that’s because I don’t have the right tone for them, or especially lately because they draw heavily on cultures I love reading about, but don’t necessarily feel are my sandbox to play in. Medieval fantasy with a Eurocentric thread is my wheelhouse even when I try to branch out and create more diverse worlds. Anything that steers away from that well-trod ground gets my attention. Books by Lian Hearn and N.K. Jemisin touch on worlds that aren’t mine, and there’s a pleasure to exploring them with a knowledgeable guide.

Generally, in all fantasy, worldbuilding is king: that doesn’t mean you have to commission your own maps and develop your own languages for all the place-names, as I’ve done (or worse, dip your hand into a bag of Scrabble tiles every time you have to name a new place, as many  fantasy authors seem prone to do). Charles de Lint’s Newford books are a beautiful example of worldbuilding even in a small town that feels like it’s firmly on our side of the Wardrobe. If you think about it, even the “New York City” of Marvel Comics is as much of a fantasy world as Narnia or Earthsea, no matter how much we crowd it with familiar places and everyday objects. What attracts me to fantasy across all genres is a devotion to that worldbuilding, whether it’s a completely alien world or not.

Who are some of your all-time favourite fantasy characters? And why do you think they became your favourites?


Samwise Gamgee wears the crown, for sure. King Haggard from The Last Unicorn. Iñigo Montoya from The Princess Bride, both the novel version and the iconic film version. Glaurung from The Children of Húrin, who is for my money better than Smaug, and may be the best-written literary dragon in modern times. But I’ve also developed a real affection for Artemis Entreri from R.A. Salvatore’s innumerable Drizzt books in the Forgotten Realms. He started off as a fairly one-note antagonist in Streams of Silver, a bad-guy mirror-image of Drizzt, like René Belloch was for Indiana Jones, who was mainly there to provide the whirling-scimitar fight choreography that drives those books. But he was such a fan favourite that over the course of the next 20-some books, he’s really had to develop the kind of complexity and “bottom end” that makes characters memorable to me. Characters that surprise me with their depth, who have a fully developed inner world, are the ones that stay with me.

Do you follow any fantasy entertainment outside of books? (Video Games, Boardgames, Comics etc)


Back when I had free time, I devoured fantasy video games. From childhood, I basically played them in an unbroken line from the NES Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy IV (that’s II in North America) to Dragon Age and Skyrim in this generation.

As much as I’ve enjoyed console games, I much prefer the social element and broader thinking of tabletop RPGs. I put aside the video games anytime there’s an opportunity to sit around a table with real life people and build a richer story together. I enjoy a good dungeon crawl, but as I’ve matured, I tend to do a lot more homebrew gaming and a lot less of the pre-packaged RPG systems. Generally, I feel the potential of fantasy role-playing is grossly understated. It’s somewhat limited by certain large companies who very much want to make their narrow product line synonymous with the idea of role-playing.

What’s going on in the next few months? Anything on the Horizon?


Right now the goal is to finish up Heartblood and then get back to work on Book III of the Travalaith Saga. It’s only been a year since Book II dropped, but I’m very conscious of the tendency of even the best high fantasy authors to slow down as their saga goes on. I really need to get ahead of that trend before I fall into the same trap. Otherwise I’ll end up dead at 85 or 90, and they’ll have to go down the hall at the Fantasy Authors’ retirement home and interrupt Brandon Sanderson’s pudding cup to make him finish the series for me: probably an improvement over mine, but I won’t be around to appreciate it.

I do feel I owe it to the people who bought & read the first two books to get them the third promptly. So I’m not thinking about any other projects until these two are done. But hey, I’ll reconsider if any premium cable networks want to take me on for a massively successful series. My inbox is always open, Netflix!

What kind of books did you read that contributed to your upbringing, as far as fantasy and science-fiction?


I’ve read a lot of classic literature just on the basis of a lot of years spent trying to become an English professor. So what I consider “fantasy” doesn’t stop at all the name-dropping from I’ve done here. Fantasy for me includes Beowulf, Middle English romances from Gawain to King Horn and Athelstan, the 18th-century Gothic novels like Lewis’s The Monk and Radcliffe’s The Italian, and then of course Malory’s Morte d’Arthur and all the Pre-Raphaelite stuff that tries to draw on.

Was your upbringing pretty geeky?

Not in the circus-performer sense of the word. Absolutely in the sense that imagined worlds and imaginative stories set there were hugely important to me.

Why should anyone read your book?

I try to approach classic high fantasy through modern eyes, and mostly that means making my worlds radically inclusive. That doesn’t just mean increasing racial or gender diversity, though that’s definitely a benefit. It means that the world does not belong to stern, square-jawed men in armour, and I try to offer a richer picture of who the people in my world are and how they make it go around.
 
As a lapsed medievalist, I think a lot about how much of medieval history is left behind on the table when fantasy genres reach back to the late Middle Ages for their inspiration. George R. R. Martin is really well-read in medieval and early modern history, but history for him is entirely a history of war: famous battles, betrayals, warring families, Church feuds, and all the other interesting grisly ways people were awful to one another. But how people farmed and husbanded their horses, who and how they married, what kind of songs they sang, are every bit as important as whose heads they were chopping off. I try to build imagined worlds that really give readers a fullness of life. The big, lush war epics like Martin’s don’t always deliver that, and neither do the smaller pulp books which have and reward shorter attention spans.
 
There will always be a place for fantasy that provides a quick fix of swashbuckling pulp action. That’s not really what I do. There is a deep imaginative well behind the Travalaith Saga, and while that sometimes takes more work to get to the bottom of, I feel the rewards for doing it are richer as well. I encourage readers who enjoy that kind of book to check out my work.
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The writing process ( Inspiration, discipline, planning, software, editing) 

Do you have a process, do you plan or do you fly by the seat of your pants?

I’ve tried and failed to be a pantser. Sometimes I’ve succeeded with short stories, especially as they exist on a smaller bedrock of research and they’re more often written to a deadline. But I’m really a natural plotter, and not just for big epics like the Travalaith Saga that require a lot of organization. Heartblood started out as a fairy-tale, which I thought would require less of this: it’s the kind of world where a vast pile of gold coins is just “a vague but large amount of money.” You don’t need to know the metal content or the smelting and minting provenance of the coins in a fairy-tale, not the way you sometimes do for super-detailed epic fantasy. But I quickly found myself doing a lot of background research anyway. That might just be how I work now.

How has your writing process changed since you first started writing?

How I organize my notes has changed more than anything else. I work almost exclusively in MS Word, but when I met Brandon Sanderson at Ad Astra in Toronto a few years back, he sold me on a no-frills program called WikidPad for basically all my background notes. I’ve mostly moved on to an organizational app called Notion, but my notes and workflow have mostly stayed the same since then.

Have your previous vocations influenced your writing?

Writing has been a part of all my vocations. I’ve worked as a professional musician and singer-songwriter, an English professor, and a personal injury lawyer in that order: all these jobs have a substantial writing component to them. One thing I’ll say about personal injury law is that it gives you a really important perspective on injury and disability. This is especially relevant to writing action-packed stories in a pre-modern world, because you have a cast of characters prone to being injured in a world where medicine is usually not very advanced. Books in the Dungeons & Dragons tradition don’t take grievous injury too seriously, and often don’t have to. But understanding the full meaning of grievous injury, and the long-term cost of it in a pre-modern world, really changes your understanding of bravery in the face of dangers to life and limb.

As far as writing goes, what do you use? Software, Apps, Hardware, etc.?

MS Word is my workhorse. My notes and organization are spread across stray Word documents, Excel, Wikidpad, and now Notion. If I come up with anything on the fly, I just send an email to myself from my phone. There’s probably a smarter note-taking app for this, but I’ve never bothered to find it.

How do you overcome blank writing spells?

I can power through writer’s block fairly well with time. These days it’s a question of finding that time. A day-job at the computer makes it hard to maintain a night-job at the computer, without spending those hours on all the other parts of being a functioning adult human. The only blank writing spells I have, really, are where I don’t set aside the time to get the work done.

A number of fantasy/sci-fi authors have been known to use art, music, exercise, alcohol and even drugs as a way to find inspiration to enter the zone!  Do you use any tools to enter into your creative headspace?


I think there’s a lot of dangerous mythmaking around neurodivergent authors who used both writing and substance abuse to self-medicate. There are plenty of cases where those two things coexist, but I’ve never seen convincing evidence that one causes or helps the other. Even Hemingway, who’s notorious for giving aspiring writers an excuse for becoming successful alcoholics instead of successful writers, never touched the stuff while working. “The only time it isn’t good for you is when you write or when you fight. You have to do that cold,” he said.

Art and music, though, are a regular part of my writing process in the way that other vices aren’t. They can be a fundamental window into understanding people—a lesson that Timothy Zahn passed on to us through Thrawn, which is probably even more important to writers than it is to Imperial Grand Admirals.

Do you prefer to write in silence and or have some sort of sound in the background?

I often listen to music, but any really iconic music or anything with lyrics is too distracting. 

 

For sci-fi, I enjoy electronica, synthwave and vaporwave. For fantasy it’s mostly symphonic scores. John Williams is of course the best, but most of his scores are too inseparable from their iconic films to write to. I can’t listen to Superman or Jurassic Park in a neutral context anymore. Luckily, I’ve collected a few of his forgotten soundtracks—really obscure stuff like The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing, Cinderella Liberty, The Eiger Sanction, and other movies I know nothing about. As long as I never watch those films, and never associate those scores with other people’s stories and characters, it’s like having John Williams scoring for me personally. If that doesn’t inspire creativity, nothing does.

Publishing (formatting, cover design, formats, marketing)

Describe the road you took to publishing your first novel? And how that has changed.

I had The Season of The Plough finished (so I thought) on the agent-querying circuit for about a year before publishing it through Cynehelm Press. I got a nice tall stack of form rejections, and a few really thoughtful letters with some powerfully good feedback. When I ultimately published it, as it turns out, I made almost all of the revisions recommended by the near-acceptances. I’m grateful for the time those agents spent on me: it wasn’t something they had to do, and it made a big difference in the quality of the final product.

Will your next book be traditional or indie published? 

This is a tough question. The Season of Rust & Rhyme will be indie published through Cynehelm, just like the rest of the Travalaith Saga. But Heartblood is a really good candidate for tradpub, so I may give it some time on the agent/slush pile circuit before I go ahead with it. The logistics of marketing, coupled with the cost difference between indie print-on-demand versus major-press offset printing, means that standalone books are much harder to make profitable as an indie versus long series.

I think the plan is to go straight to indie publishing with Rust & Rhyme but give Heartblood some time on the agent track. Technically, even though I’ll finish Heartblood a year or two earlier, that means it’ll be a toss-up which book gets published first. It could easily take two years for a tradpub book to go from manuscript to bookshelves, so by that measure it’s hard to even know which one will be the “next book” from the perspective of readers.

Would you recommend self-publishing to aspiring authors, or would you suggest a more traditional path?

It depends what kind of ancillary skills you have. Between law school and a lot of English degrees, I’m lucky enough to have a lot of the tools to be my own advocate, write my own ad copy, manage my own ISBNs and IP rights, keep my financials straight, and do A/B testing of my own ads and promo campaigns. That’s a lot of balls to juggle.

Self-publishing is different now than it was even 5 years ago. The beauty of self-publishing in 2021, but also the danger, is that you can put a book on shelf that’s completely indistinguishable from professional books put out by Big-5 publishers. The print quality, design work, editing, and premium production are now within your reach as an indie, especially if you can pay upfront for them. The tradeoff is that because we can do that, now we have to. A cover that looks like it was made in MS Paint is going to sink an otherwise excellent novel. So is one whose line spacing is funky, irrespective of the writing quality.

If you’re an obsessive micro-manager who stands in the aisles at Barnes & Noble checking the line count and trim size of other books in your subgenre when deciding how to manage your own typesetting and layout, self-publishing may be for you. But if all you care about, and all you’re willing to care about, is writing and telling great stories, you might be happier working in the context of a publishing world that takes a moderate cut of the profits to take that work off your desk.

What sort of input do you give to formatting, cover design, marketing?

I’m that guy who stands in the bookstore measuring the trim size & line spacing, and handling my own layout and formatting in InDesign. I’ve chosen the path where I have absolute control over these things, like the power-mad dictator of a tiny one-bedroom nation. It’s a great privilege to have the decision-making power that I do: a lot of first-time writers are genuinely surprised when traditional publishers completely ignore them on all these fronts. But it comes at the cost of a lot of non-writing work.

Marketing is so important nowadays, what’s your best advice to fellow authors?

One thing I hear very often from self-publishers is that they “can’t afford to advertise.” This is not how advertising works…at least, not how it should work. The whole point of advertising is that you spend a certain amount of money, and get back more than that in sales. It’s not that you can’t afford to advertise; it’s that you can’t afford to advertise ineffectively. There is sometimes an initial cost to figuring out what works and what doesn’t. Anywhere outside the first 2-3 months of advertising, though, you should be turning a profit when you ad-spend. If you’re not, consider whether this is a job you should outsource to someone.

 

What legal publishing advice can you give?

Don’t crowdsource legal advice on social media. Almost all the advice you will get is wrong. A Google search in most provinces and states for “arts and IP volunteer lawyer organizations” will lead you to free or low-fee summary advice from a lawyer who’s bonded in your area. If you have concerns, talk to an expert who is sitting there waiting to help you, and mostly doesn’t get calls because not enough indie artists are ever told these services exist.

Inspire

Advice on making an impact in today busy Scifi and Fantasy markets. 

“Impact” is relative. If you want to be a world-famous million-seller, chase traditional publishing at any cost because that’s still how it happens. But you don’t need to be a celebrity on the NYT bestseller list to make a decent living and have a powerful impact on readers’ lives. If you have a devoted fanbase who buys everything you release, you can earn a six-figure income as a self-publisher with just 12-15,000 of those fans if you publish regularly. That’s far from being a household name. You don’t need to sell ten million copies of every book. Maybe Stephen King does, but he’s got to pay his agent, his room full of lawyers, his appearance manager, his publicists. His books probably keep a whole floor of the Simon & Schuster building well-staffed with the lights on before he gets a cut. New York City office buildings are expensive. If you’re not paying for an office building there, you don’t need anywhere near Stephen King’s sales numbers to find success on your own terms.

If being world-famous through writing is your dream, that’s your road, and it’s a hard one. It won’t be accessible to you starting in 2021 the way it was for him starting in the 1970s, and it wasn’t easy for him either. If celebrity is your goal, consider acting or being an “influencer” or something. But if you want to make a decent or even an excellent living through your work as a storyteller, and to change the lives of the people who do find and love your work, that’s still more possible to achieve than you might think.

Most prized fantasy book in your collection?

I have a UK First Edition of The Silmarillion that was autographed by Guy Gavriel Kay. I’m sure a few readers are thinking of the classic Simpsons quote: “That is a rare photo of Sean Connery signed by Roger Moore.” But Guy Kay helped Christopher Tolkien put it together in around 1974-75, long before his first Fionavar Tapestry novel launched a remarkable career of his own. On a personal level, as much as I enjoy his books in their own right, we attended the same law school about forty years apart, and his success story is a reminder to me that fantasy writers can still enjoy a life of wonder and imagination to be had after being called to the Bar. And of course, there’s no escaping Tolkien either, especially as a lapsed medievalist turned fantasist. I think I’ve made my peace with that, too.

What are some encouraging words you’d give to another author/writer?

To write professionally is to choose a career of memorable successes outnumbered by forgettable failures. This is normal, and you are normal.

 

When you’ve had two rejections, Rejection #3 is brutally painful and upsetting. When you’ve had 104 rejections, Rejection #105 is an inconsequential stepping-stone on the way to Rejection #106. Since you can’t control when and how success comes, except by doing the best writing you can, do that first. Write the best material that you can, and then go to work acquiring rejections with it. Once you achieve enough rejections, they become much less painful—and you may even encounter a few successes in the process.

Keep in mind, though, that every failure is an ending, and every success is a beginning. That’s as true in writing as it is in life.

Get in touch with Author Luke R J Maynard

Social Channels?

Follow me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/lukemaynard. I’m probably too active there.

My Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/lukerjmaynard. I’m less active there, but occasionally post about my writing & music.

Author Luke R J Maynard Website?

www.lukemaynard.com is my home base for both my writing and my music.

www.cynehelm.com/luke-r-j-maynard is my author page at Cynehelm Press.

Book links?

My Amazon author page is https://amzn.to/3yG9eJB This is currently the only place to get my ebooks, but that will be changing in the futures as I shift to wide release!

If you prefer not to send Jeff Bezos into space while buying fantasy books, you can get my physical books through an independent bookstore near you at https://bookshop.org/contributors/luke-r-j-maynard.

Newsletter?

My newsletter releases occasionally (very occasionally) through Cynehelm Press. You can sign up on their main page at www.cynehelm.com

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