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Thursday, September 12, 2019

SPFBO: Semifinalist Interview with Levi Jacobs (Interviewed by David Stewart)

Order Beggar's Rebellion over HERE
FBC's Review of Beggar's Rebellion is right HERE

Q] Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions, and congratulations on advancing in FBC's pool of books! 

LJ] Thank you! I was happy to land in FBC's section of the SPFBO, and even happier to advance! 

Q] Maybe you could start off by giving us some background - where you're from, who are your influences, what do you do when you aren't writing epic fantasy?  

LJ] I grew up in a succession of small North Dakota towns, and I think the lack of cultural variety or events  pushed my overactive brain to add variety through imagination. Then when I discovered Lord of the Rings, around third grade, it was all done, and the next decade was a happy wander through the literary imaginations of all the 80s and 90s fantasy icons: David Eddings, Terry Brooks, Margaret Weis, Tracy Hickman, Robert Jordan...  especially Jordan just because he wrote so much, and in such epic scope. I'm currently rereading the Wheel of Time and recognizing how much his writing has been an influence on mine. The biggest influence, though, is probably his fantastic successor, but more on that later...

When I'm not writing, I'm a lover of a few things: bicycle riding (mostly towing my year-and-a-half-year-old in a trailer, these days), board game playing (especially Agricola, Dominion, and MTG), food cooking (especially Thai + Indian), and time spent with friends and family. I also love to make things with my hands--most recently transforming a 1940s garage into a writing studio, complete with massive bookshelves and a wood-burning stove. I'm also a regular meditator and enjoy a walk in the wilderness.

Q] How long have you been working on the Resonant Saga? Is this your first series? What inspired your initial thoughts?

LJ] Beggar's Rebellion took me three years to really finish; I probably wrote 300,000 words to come up with the final 110K. There was a lot of painful revision and darling-killing that happened in that process, but as a result the two follow-up books, Pauper's Empire and Apostate's Pilgrimage, only took about three months each. The Resonant Saga is sort of my first series... I wrote two series-starters before it, but didn't give myself permission to keep writing them because I didn't think they were good enough. With Beggar's Rebellion I decided to push through it instead of starting over. Plus the concepts behind it resonated deeper with me than the other two books (one of which you can find on Amazon, under a pen name...). 

About the inspiration, I've always thought science fiction was best suited to exploring possible futures and the ramifications of technology, and fantasy better equipped to look at human nature and the impacts of our strange minds on nature, writ large in the form of magic systems. With the Resonant Saga I started out wanting to interrogate the limiting stories many of us tell ourselves, the things holding us back from owning our own power. I also wanted to do something different from the typical fantasy stories of the Chosen One/Chosen People, in which for unexplained reasons a few people have magical powers. To me magic has always made the most sense as a different set of natural laws, so it seems like anyone should be able to do it. That's a harder story to tell, because if everyone's throwing fireballs all the time the worldbuilding gets a little more complex... but I liked the challenge. Basically, I wanted the magic system to be an externalized metaphor for the power we can grasp in this world when we overcome the limiting we've accepted and actually do the things we've always wanted to--in my case, drop out of grad school and start writing. 

Q] How do you feel about comparisons to Brandon Sanderson? 

LJ] Ha! Flattered. Flattered that it would even come up. I am unabashedly a student of the informal school for fantasy writers that Brandon has made with his publicly available podcasts, YouTube lectures, and essays on writing. When I came back to fantasy in my 20s, after a decade or so spent not reading much, his were the first books that really caught me, and I've admittedly been under his sway since. He's actually the reason I'm rereading the Wheel of Time, because it bothers me that he has three giant epic series-ending novels I haven't read, even if it means rereading Jordan from Eye of the World on. It's a journey through my roots, I suppose. 

Q] How did you find your cover artist? 

LJ] For the afore-mentioned pen name book I'd used a site called 99designs, and you can get great work on there, but it's mostly photo-bashed stuff, based in digital images and made with manipulation. To me the best epic fantasy books have always had illustrations on their covers, actual hand-painted works of art, and I knew I wouldn't find that from cover designers. So I took a long sojourn through DeviantArt, finding artists whose work I loved, then messaging them to see if they'd do some commissioned pieces I could turn into covers. I was tickled when Mateusz Michalski wrote back, and blown away by the painting he made for Beggar's Rebellion (and the next two books). It was no surprise when his cover was chosen as part of the SPFBO's cover contest, and I hope it gets Mateusz some recognition. He's a very talented man, and though I don't doubt his prices will go up and availability down, as I write this I'm guessing he'd still be interested in doing some epic covers for up and coming writers. 

Q] Why did you decide to enter the SPFBO? Had you ever entered before?

LJ] This is my first time. I entered for visibility: indie publishing these days is like treading water in a sea crowded with other authors, all of us waving our hands wildly to catch the attention of readers circling so far overhead we kind of all blend into the scenery. Quality can be hard to see from that high up, especially as good covers and design work and editing become more accessible. SPFBO is ultimately about the strength of the writing, so I think it's a useful shorthand for readers looking for something outside the mainstream but not willing to wade through kindle samples to find it. Previous years of the SPFBO have certainly lead me to some books I've loved. So my hope is that the contest puts some sand under my feet, and I can stick a little further out from the crowd as I wave my hands and shout at the flocks of readers flying past.  

Q] Beggar's Rebellion is full of political turmoil and class warfare. Is this something you've always thought about, or have events in our own world inspired you?  

LJ] Both. Economic inequality has always bothered me, and was a focus for a lot of activism that I did in my twenties, from protests to nonprofits to living in Uganda, trying to understanding poverty on a personal level. Exploring political and economic conflict is something fantasy is good at, at least secondary world stuff, because we come at it with no expectations or allegiances. Sometimes one side is obviously evil (see Tolkien), but other times the depiction is more nuanced, and hopefully in wading through the gray areas alongside the main characters we get a better sense of what being on different sides of these conflicts can be like. That's why it was important to me to have viewpoint characters from both sides of the conflict in Beggar's Rebellion, and as the series progresses and more 'sides' show up to the fight, I want to keep giving them all equal representation. I don't write with some current topic in mind (though I used to, inspired by pre-Sanderson author crush Paolo Bacigalupi) and I don't have a point to make; the personal and ideological conflicts in my stories seem to come up by themselves, and I end up feeling like I've learned as much from my characters as that my life or opinions have been embossed onto them. 

Q] The notion of "imaginary friends" talking to one even into adulthood is never something I've read about in fantasy, and I think your take on it is brilliant in its intrigue and scope. How did this idea originate?  

LJ] Thank you! Without naming names, I have a good friend who told me about hearing voices when he was younger. My first reaction was, "That's nutty." Then, partially through practicing meditation, I started to realize this was more common: people talking to themselves, my mind rehearsing or rerunning conversations with people not present, and ultimately the negative messages we internalize from society about not being smart or attractive or whatever enough (and thus, usually, that we should buy a thing that will fix it). I wanted to explore that internal conflict, and the power in overcoming it, in a more literal way--thus the internal voices and the powers tied to them.

Q] Where is the Resonant Saga heading? Is it a trilogy and done, or is that a world you want to revisit for a while to come? 

LJ] It's more than a trilogy. When I started writing, I thought I needed to write short stories to get published, and they always read like novels. Then when I started writing novels, the ideas in them always felt bigger than a  book could hold. So I've accepted it: I'm a series writer. The Resonant Saga is likely to be seven books or more, with some spinoff novellas (there's one already, for free at my website) and maybe even spinoff series. As to where it's heading, well, I have some general ideas, but that would be spoilers. Let's just say that it's going to be epic. 

Q] What would you do if you won the SPFBO? Would you like to write full time? And if so, do you see yourself staying in SFF, or would you branch out? 

LJ] Writing full time is absolutely 100% my dream and goal. If winning the SPFBO did that for me, I would dance and sing and generally make a fool of myself for an extended period--then sit down and keep writing. SF/F has always been my love, and though I could see a few experimental things in other genres, I think the speculative will always be my home. 

Q] What attracts you to the SFF genre? 

LJ] Its remarkable blend of escapism and allegory. Getting hit with loveable, oh-so-human characters in strange environments that give us new perspective. Epic storylines. Stand up and cheer moments. Getting so lost in fictional worlds I forget the one I'm in. And now as a writer, the challenge of taking those experiences and making them new, to tickle the fancies of another generation of readers. 


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