Author Interview: John Robin
Today we’re talking with author John Robin about his upcoming hit, Blood Dawn!
Hi John! Please tell us about your current and upcoming projects:
I just finished writing Blood Dawn, an epic fantasy about the long-lost daughter of a god-king who must restore light to a fallen empire. Right now it is with an editor and beta readers, and I’ll be putting it through rounds of revision until the summer, but my mind is already on the sequel, which I’d like to begin writing in August. It’s called A Thousand Roads and it explores the idea that purpose in life is found within, not from without. There are a lot of riches lurking there but I’m trying not to get too carried away with it yet – Blood Dawn will still need my energy.
Summarize Blood Dawn in ten words or less:
Rena must master her gift and rise above the ambitious.
“I wanted to capture all the trappings of what make the great epics great, but I also wanted my own unique vision”
What makes your story unique?
Blood Dawn is a blend of many of the great elements of epic fantasy: the broken, deep characterization of Game of Thrones, the Victorian-esque feel of Tolkien’s Hobbiton, the dark echoes of paranormal vampire, werewolf, and zombie stories. I’ve taken the concept of Tolkien’s cave-dwelling Dwarves and blended it with the immortal elves, and worked in reincarnation. What I have with the Dwarf Men (who humans think of as gods) is kind of like what would happen if Vulcans cohabited Earth, but departed long ago when their technology superseded us. Likewise, I’ve taken the concept of dragons and blended it with the concept of the phoenix, creating a pantheon of gods who created the world in their fires then burned up in them, waiting to be born again. In writing Blood Dawn I wanted to capture all the trappings of what make the great epics great, but I also wanted my own unique vision, so in drawing on the roots of the great stories I also twisted in my own interpretation, making for a world that is one of a kind.
When did you realize that you wanted to be an author?
I would probably say as soon as I discovered Tolkien’s work as a reader. I was a paperboy and the moment I started reading his work, my mind turned at once to building my own world with its tales, peoples, maps, and languages.
I struggled with stories for twelve years before finally managing to complete a novel. At that point I really wanted to be an author. It took nine years and three novels before I started to write a novel that actually worked – Blood Dawn.
“An uncanny sense filled me then, as though I’d seen it before, as though the world there was real.”
What drew you to fantasy?
I remember distinctly as a little boy looking at The Hobbit on my grandmother’s bookshelf. When it was bedtime and my grandma was asleep and the humidifier was filling the air with cool mist, I would put the lamp on and pore over the book and stare at the map. An uncanny sense filled me then, as though I’d seen it before, as though the world there was real.
I hated reading as a child and by the age of 13 might have read about 3-4 books total. However, when I discovered fantasy books I couldn’t stop. When I discovered at last Lord of the Rings, it was like I was home. I entered that fantasy world and the overall impression the books made on me was that they weren’t done. By that I don’t mean the story wasn’t done, but the world Tolkien created was not mapped to its full potential. I felt, from that age, that it was my life purpose to finish what he started, whatever that meant, but it kept me coming back to my own world and has driven me ever since to create something like what Tolkien created but to push it to the limits, to go into that unmapped terrain and see just how far I can take my readers.
Can you tell us about the process of creating your own mythology?
It has been a layered endeavor. I don’t think I could explain my process, any more than one might explain how a tree grows throughout its lifetime. My world and mythology has grown as I’ve grown, changing as I change, getting stronger and deeper, retaining old elements while giving birth to new. The process of writing Blood Dawn was just a small piece of this larger picture, as the story begat details about the world. I find creating the world generates story ideas, while writing story generates world ideas, so I tend to focus mostly on the story and world building is a cleanup process.
At some point, what’s written in Blood Dawn will make for what is canon about the world, but until then I consider myself free to expand and elaborate. It’s a bit like playing chess (my favorite game), constantly assessing and coming up with better paths to checkmate. Until the move is played, I consider everything, and am often surprised by how a simple alternative presents greater riches.
“But you know what? I don’t regret it, not one bit.”
Are there any real-life experiences that inspired elements of your story?
When I chose to leave my old job, I had to face the unknown to pursue my art. In many ways, my art was like magic – a magic that could do wonderful things, but something I didn’t quite know or trust. Moving forward to succeed with my art has been very much akin to Rena’s struggle as she daringly explores her inherent magic in a world that has forbidden it.
Deeper than that, the theme of living for your deepest passion and dreams, and letting go of the things in the past that hold you back, echoes throughout other threads in my story – Manwen and his need to overcome his self-blame, Skippy and his need to prove his worth, Jane and her obsession with holding on to the fortress of a life she’s built for herself – this theme is very much a reality in my life and what led me to choose to jump into the water I’m in now.
There are no guarantees here. Some people think I’m crazy. All my credit cards are maxed out right now to afford the editing and coaching it’s taken to get Blood Dawn into the shape it’s going to be in. But you know what? I don’t regret it, not one bit. That feeling of elation and fulfillment for letting go and surrendering to the innermost calling of my heart, which has been the core of my life journey these last few years, echoes throughout the thread of every narrative in Blood Dawn and in the closing pages sings like the closing chords of a symphony. Even were Blood Dawn to flop epically and not sell, I would not regret what I’ve done and would pay off every cent of my debt – and then plan how to try again and do even better, because really, this is what I believe in.
But, fingers crossed, I’m trusting my gut assessment that Blood Dawn is not going to flop!
What sort of books (genre, writing style, etc.) do you enjoy reading most?
Epic fantasy, all around, or any kind of immersive fantasy such as what’s found in Song of Ice and Fire, Wheel of Time, the Shannara or Malazan Empire books, and of course, who can forget Middle-Earth? I occasionally deviate to other fantasy, for example the Harry Potter books. Also, because I am an editor for my day job, I experience almost every genre imaginable in the fiction books I edit for publication, which I feel keeps me well-rounded.
“Stories are as much a part of us as an our arms or legs are.”
What advice do you have for aspiring writers out there?
Don’t be afraid to take that insane extra step that’s needed to get to your dream. You can work your day job all you want, but when the weeds of it invade your time and energy and suffocate your creative spark, what will you regret more? Watch out for those things that eat your time, because writing is not the kind of sport that you master in a one-foot-in-the-water way. It requires total immersion and often that means sacrifices to create the time needed – sometimes even crazy sacrifices and radical redirections.
Now, this might be bad advice because it’s really the advice I’ve taken and the philosophy I’ve lived by, and maybe I’m wrong. But I’ve been on that side of the fence where my day was so full of commitments that I had to squeeze in whatever time I could to write, and my creative work was strained for it. I truly believe that in writing, you get out what you put in; call it a Jungian mind trick, but really, I don’t think ideas are arbitrary. Stories are as much a part of us as an our arms or legs are.
When I left my old life to pursue writing, I knew I had everything to lose. From that other side of the fence I once stood on, I would have thought it was foolish, that I’d fail in no time. But guess what? I found that being there where I knew failure was not an option made me push hard and invest all the mental, spiritual, emotional energy in what I was doing that I needed. Blood Dawn glowed like one of Faenor’s Silmarils and still to this day the light is waxing.
You’re something of a leader amongst the Inkshares authors. Most would agree that you were the biggest influencing factor that took the vibe from competition to community. Can you tell us about your philosophy when it comes to that approach?
I am plain obsessed with building meaningful relationship and engaging with people through my work. For me, publishing is not about getting a product out there and making money while I get busy making another. It’s about the community and social experience that grows up around the process of writing, refining, producing.
I bring that on board all the time, and I do that mostly through email. I don’t send bulk “hey guys” emails. I email people individually and get to know them, and I don’t just say “thank-you”, I see where we can take an extra step and work together. It’s a small action that has enormous results, and really at its heart it’s a simple philosophy: look around you when you’re forging ahead toward success, rather than down only at the ground in front of your feet.
What have you learned about yourself, your book, and/or self-promotion since joining Inkshares?
I’ve learned that I’m really good at getting people to come together. I don’t think I realized this was an actual asset until what I’ve seen happen with Inkshares over the last six months. What’s been absolutely amazing is to see how sending thank-you emails that take an extra step to create an invitation to connect / discuss / collaborate has set an avalanche in motion as each person jumped on board and brought their own leadership forward. There’s so much great talent coming together, and that for me has been the core of why I find Inkshares valuable: it’s become a place where authors not only can connect with readers, but where authors can come together and build a well-bridged network to help them synergistically connect with even more readers than they would working alone.
“I always like to seek out more adventure”
Once your book is printed and in your hands, how are you going to celebrate?
I seriously can’t even think about this! I don’t know how I’m going to react. Will I cry? Will I jump with joy? Will I sigh with content? More than likely, I’ll sit in the same sofa I sat on numerous mornings when I first dreamed up Blood Dawn with my morning coffee, before I had anything other than rough notes on 6”x4” sheets of paper – I’ll sit there and hold the printed book and flip it open, look at the printed map, smell the printer ink, look at the awesome font and see the shape of the chapters, and I’ll drink more coffee and think, “Wow, what a milestone.” I’ll definitely write another, because, like in any fantasy story, I always like to seek out more adventure. But I’ll definitely enjoy that moment for all its richness.
Off the top of your head, give us three writing prompts:
1. Three powerful magic practitioners walk into a tavern and have a secret meeting. What are they about to discuss and where will it lead?
2. The end of the world came like the gentle drop of a feather. Tell me of the little girl who witnessed it and how she changed as a result?
3. If the gods of your world had a war, what would it entail? What would be the result?
Do you have any other creative outlets, besides writing?
I am a hobby artist, mostly with pen and ink. I especially love drawing trees and maps. I’m also a hobby pianist and often at midday I stop my work to play some piano for a bit. My favorites are the Beethoven Piano Sonatas and Chopin Etudes, which I’ve been playing since I was 14.
And last, but not least, Coffee or tea?
Coffee. Komodo dragon from Starbucks on a Saturday morning with Scrivener and my novel open. And when I’m feeling sinful, a chocolate croissant.
About John Robin:
John Robin is an epic fantasy author and full-time editor. He left behind a career in academia and adult education to pursue his love of maps and words and hasn’t looked back since. His work has appeared in the Tantalizing Tidbit Anthology (“One Who Waits”), and his debut novel, Blood Dawn, will soon be available to readers. When he’s not writing, he’s playing piano, drawing maps, running or lifting weights, or evading the whims of his devious cat, Wizard.