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Friday, July 27, 2018

Interview with Ian Gregoire (Interviewed by Lukasz Przywoski)

Official Author Website
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Exercise Of Vital Powers

Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic. To begin with, can you tell us a little about yourself, your background & your interests?

IG: Thanks for having me. First of all, I was born in London into an immigrant family from the so-called “Windrush Generation” who arrived in the UK in the late fifties from the Caribbean. Being born into poverty really limited my options for hobbies when I was a child, and that was a significant factor in my interest in reading and writing; it didn’t cost a penny to go to the local library every weekend to loan out lots of books.

For whatever reason, I’ve always been very introverted which has made me a bit of an outsider and a loner throughout my life. I’m that person who never quite fits in comfortably anywhere. In many ways being a writer is the perfect vocation for me because it is such a solitary one.

Q] What inspired you to be a writer in the first place, what experience you went through in finishing your book, & why you chose to go the self-publishing route?

IG: The inclination to be a storyteller was kindled when I read C.S. LewisThe Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe, for the first time when I was seven years old. This was how my love for reading and writing began, but it wasn’t until I was eleven that I realised I wanted to become an author when I grew up. In school, for an English assignment, I had to write a short-story to be entered into a national literary contest. I can’t remember what my story was about, but it was one of several runners-up, and I was subsequently awarded a certificate that was presented during a morning assembly. From that moment I knew what I wanted to do with my life.

Finishing my book was a mostly unpleasant experience, but a rewarding one, nonetheless. My decision to favour self-publishing over traditional publishing was primarily the result of a blog post by the author John L. Brown in 2013. He revealed that while writing the second book of his Dark God series he requested to be released from his contract with Tor Books, allowing him to self-publish the series. This blew my mind as Tor is one of my top three fantasy/science fiction publishers, and I would consider it an honour to be published by them. But when I thought more about his reasons for doing so, it became easier for me to understand because I would do the same thing if I was in the same position.

Q] Please elaborate how the genesis of The Exercise Of Vital Powers occurred. How long have you been working on it? Has it evolved from its original idea?

IG: It began life in 2007 as a fan fiction story I came up with after I re-watched one of my all-time favourite TV shows on DVD. Several years later, in 2014, I set myself a goal of having a novel published by the time I turned forty, and I decided to use this “fanfic” as the basis for the story that eventually became The Exercise Of Vital Powers. Although the basic plot of the two stories is essentially the same, the end product is so different I don’t think any reader could successfully guess the TV show that inspired the original fan fiction story.

Writing the book was a bit of a stop and start affair. I began in 2014, but personal problems got in the way so I had to abandon it. I resumed work on it in 2015, but again life got in the way. At the start of 2016 I knew I had only a year left to finish writing the book before my fortieth birthday so I really knuckled down and got on with it. I wish I could say it was an enjoyable experience, but it wasn’t. I had so many difficulties throughout the year and, at times, both my mental and physical wellbeing really suffered, so it was a huge relief when I finally completed my story in early January 2017.

Q] Many writers have a muse, who directs their writing, and others do not seem to be affected the same way. Which group do you fall into? What is your main motivation and source of inspiration?

IG: Music is definitely my muse. Listening to music while writing helps me in a lot of different ways. Principally, it helps set the tone and mood of the scenes I’m writing, but there are also times when it is responsible for inspiring ideas for scenes. One notable example is a pivotal scene in The Exercise Of Vital Powers that was inspired by a verse from a song by a British band (who are, coincidentally, called Muse). I won’t mention the name of the song or the verse in question as it’s potentially a spoiler.

My main motivation when writing is a desire to craft stories that live on in the hearts and minds of readers long after I am dead. To leave behind books that are not only memorable, but also capable of having a profoundly life changing influence on those who read them―in much the same way as C.S. Lewis had such an impact on my life. I can’t think of any greater reward for my own writing than to have a similar effect on a reader, even if it’s only one person.

Q] Can you tell us about your SPFBO 2017 experience? I like to think it gave you a push to improve your book and invest time and money in making it look professional. Was it the case?

IG: I almost didn’t enter SPFBO 2017, but even after I talked myself into doing so I had no expectation that my book would make any kind of impression. I assumed it would be eliminated at the first hurdle without anyone noticing. For a number of reasons, I wasn’t willing or able to spend a penny getting The Exercise Of Vital Powers published, especially as I didn’t believe I’d earn that money back. Consequently, it didn’t have the benefit of an editor, and the cover artwork was obviously a DIY effort. At most, I was just hoping to get a half decent review from my participation.

The review eventually arrived in mid-August. I logged into Goodreads and was surprised to discover that not only had Kaitlin (Kitty G) finished reading my book, she had written a very complimentary review. Despite its editorial issues she liked it enough to award it a 4.5 stars rating. It was a big relief to have a positive review so I was no longer bothered about being eliminated early. But that wasn’t quite the end of the story. I still remember watching Kaitlin’s video, a couple of weeks later, wherein she selected her first semi-finalist. I was shocked when she picked The Exercise Of Vital Powers; I couldn’t believe it.

By the time its SPFBO adventure came to an end in November my book had received a handful of positive reviews, making me wonder how much better it could have been if I had invested money getting it edited by a professional editor. Finally, I was starting to seriously think about the possibility of a revised second edition, and by the end of the year the decision was made.

Q] TEoVP was intended to be standalone but you plan to develop it into a series. That’s good news. Could you talk about what the readers can expect next in the series?

IG: Now that The Exercise Of Vital Powers is book one of a series, readers who are interested will have four more stories to look forward to. Each additional installment has already been outlined and I’m currently still writing book two. The principal reason for my decision to write a series was how much I enjoyed writing the two main characters, and how much I liked the dynamic between them. As a duo, Kayden and Fay really compliment each other; they are like the Ying to the other’s Yang, and they both have a void in their life that the other fills, though neither of them realises it yet. This is ultimately why I wanted to write more of them―to explore and develop their relationship.

In terms of what to expect from the first sequel, I will reveal the title and plot details later in the year, but I can say that book two picks up two years after the events of The Exercise Of Vital Powers, and is about how Kayden’s apprenticeship to join the Order comes to an end.

Q] Kayden is difficult to like. I believe one of the reviewers described her as an ultra-bitch. Why did you make her your hero? How did she develop as a character?

IG: Kayden was an original character I created for the fan fiction story I mentioned previously, and her unlikeable disposition was the result of needing her to be a major source of antagonism for the character whom Fay is based upon. Beyond that, she wasn’t a character I developed much because she wasn’t the protagonist.

When I decided to write The Exercise Of Vital Powers I knew I didn’t want to alter the nature of the character so it became necessary to create a detailed backstory for Kayden to help me understand why she is the way that she is at the start of the story. It was particularly important to do this as she was now going to be the main character.

I realised early on that she would be a difficult character for many readers to like, for much of the book, yet it’s my I hope that this initial reaction changes by the time they’ve finished reading. I wouldn’t describe the story as a redemption tale but the character introduced at the beginning does change as things progress.

Q] Cover art is always an important factor in book sales. TEoVP’s first cover was weak. The new one looks stunning. I would like to hear how this cover came to be?

IG: First of all, after drawing up a shortlist of potential designers I eventually approached to take on the job of giving my book a makeover. The application process made it easier for me to convey my idea by making me describe key elements in the story that I wanted depicted on the cover. I was also required to provide links to book covers I like that feature similar motifs.

Using my descriptions the design team created two book cover candidates for me to choose one to be developed further as the final design. I couldn’t decide between the two as they both had elements I liked and disliked, so I opted for an amalgamation of those things I like from each. After a few more iterations I finally had a new cover I was happy with.

Q] Apart from getting great, new looks, your book was edited by a professional editor. Can you talk about the experience and the scope of changes?

IG: Despite the unavoidable delay in getting the job started it proved to be a real learning experience. Liz (Elizabeth M. Hurst) brought to my attention issues such as my overuse of adverbs, as well as a small number of potential problems/mistakes in my narrative that I hadn’t noticed. Her revisions really improved my sentence structure, helping numerous paragraphs to flow better.

In response to some of her helpful advice I re-wrote a number of passages (either because sentences were too long and needed to be broken down into several smaller ones, or to make ambiguous things clearer to the reader), while also adding a few new passages to increase the impact of important scenes. She also advised me to remove certain passages that she felt were unnecessary, and more often than not I did just that.

There isn’t a huge difference in the narrative, but there is a significant improvement in the quality of the writing. All in all, Liz’s edits and notes really helped me to identify areas where my writing can be improved, and I know I will become a better writer as a result.

Q] Please tell us about the books and authors who have captured your imagination and inspired you to become a wordsmith in your own right. Similarly, are there any current authors you would like to give a shout out to?

IG: It all started with C.S. Lewis. If I hadn’t read The Chronicles Of Narnia as a child I don’t think I would have grown up wanting to be an author. Philip K. Dick is another author who really influenced me once I reached my teens. The way he pulls off unexpected twists and turns is something I’ve always tried to emulate in my own storytelling. Finally, discovering Jacqueline Carey in my late twenties really changed how I viewed fantasy literature. If not for her I’d probably be writing urban fantasy books right now.

There are a host of other authors and books across several genres that have provided inspiration over the years (notably Trudi Canavan, and her Black Magician Trilogy) but far too many to mention here.

In terms of contemporary fantasy writers I’d like to give a shout out to, there are three whom I consider to be head and shoulders above everyone else: Jacqueline Carey, Guy Gavriel Kay and Lois McMaster Bujold. There are no other authors whose abilities I envy more. They are the standard by which I judge myself, having raised the bar to a level that I would like to reach with my own writing. Each of them has made significant contributions to my list of all-time favourite books, and I always recommend them and their work to readers.

Q] Thank you for taking the time to answer all the questions. In closing, do you have any parting thoughts or comments you would like to share with our readers?

IG: Never give up on your dreams, and please buy The Exercise Of Vital Powers.

 NOTE: Author picture courtesy of the author himself.


Anonymous said...

Nice interview. I would love to know what that TV show that inspired you!


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