I ran across AE Marling when he left a comment on this guest post. I thanked him for his comment and he pointed out that his book, Brood of Bones, has a very uniquely disabled protagonist. I decided to give it a shot and I’m glad I did. Marling is a fantastic writer. You will get a small taste of his impressive wordsmithing in this interview. Brood of Bones is set in a unique world, with fantastic cultures and wonderful characters. The other aspect of the book that caught me off guard was the fact that the book is self-published and it’s one of the most professional looking self-published books I’ve read in a long time (meaning gorgeous cover art, wonderful editing, etc. It’s the whole package.) Thankfully, Marling was willing to answer some questions about his self-publishing journey as well as about his fabulous book.
Thanks to Marling for being so willing to do an interview with me. Please welcome him warmly, and then check out Brood of Bones here.
About the author
Alan wrote his first fantasy novella after his freshman year in high school. In college, he found nothing gave him a greater urge to write than science lectures, and he sat through a lot of ‘em. He has yet to repent his fascination with fantasy and is intrigued by its grip on the human imagination.
Both ambidextrous and word-voracious, his diet ranges from Arthurian legends to Jane Austen. He denies being a running addict, though he has to shout it over the noise of the treadmill. His best writing ideas pounce on him when he would rather be sleeping, thanks to insomnia.
His current lair is in the shadow of San Francisco, and his thoughts touch ground there between flights.
Onto the interview…
Questions about the author
When you aren’t at your computer, what are you usually doing?
Dancing with a fury, reading with a faraway look, playing Magic cards without mercy, or trading heckles with friends.
Your bio says you enjoy reading a wide variety of books ranging from Arthurian legends to Jane Austin. If you had to pick a favorite book or genre, what would it be?
Nice try, but you won’t get me to betray the fantasy genre so easily. I may have flings with other genres for wit (Austin, Wilde) or for the pang of tragedy with a whiff of magic (Arthurian), but there’s only one true source of beautiful nonsense that recaptures the lost spirit of childhood playfulness and celebrates the creative spark of humanity.
I encourage everyone to touch the sky of human imagination and read fantasy.
You say you are a running addict. Have you ever run a marathon? Would you want to?
To me, running is meditation in motion, a time to scheme and plot. (About story concepts, not about world domination involving addictive cheeses, I swear!) I don’t feel the need to run a marathon because I write them.
What is your background and previous experience with writing?
I have read a dozen or so books on the craft of writing and have found those detailing the four-act story structure as valuable as bars of platinum. Brood of Bones was my fifth written manuscript.
Questions about being self published
The choice to self-publish is becoming more and more common. I’m sure there are a lot of factors that go into making this decision. Would you care to talk a little about the things you considered before you took the self-publishing plunge?
Many factors do go into the decision to self-publish: madness, hubris, and an indestructible belief your story will entertain and carry people through a journey of wonder and emotion.
What are some of the pitfalls associated with being self-published, and what are some of the benefits?
I did mention hubris, and I always say that to begin writing a novel takes overwhelming pride. To edit it takes overwhelming humility. I could say that self-published authors should hire a professional illustrator and editor, but some succeed without having either. To be fair, though, I question some of the editing decisions in Big-Six-published books.
The benefit is a greater variety of stories available to readers. If you want to read a novel about a thief every week, or a dragon, or an enchantress, you now can by supplementing your book list with Indie.
I absolutely love your cover art. On Goodreads you talk a bit about your illustrator. I think a lot of self-published people get stumped with cover art. How did you go about finding your illustrator and what advice would you give to other self-published authors?
I found my illustrator through her Dragon Age fan art. Tracking her down in Russia was well worth the frostbite. (My detour through the Himalayas to challenge a yeti to a footrace wasn’t strictly necessary, but I found it invigorating.) I would mention the artist by name, but she is not currently accepting commissions, much to my woe.
I may need to browse the artists on DeviantArt to find another who matches the tone of my writing. Otherwise, I may consider trying to commission an artist who has illustrated some of the more beautiful published books or Magic cards.
Marketing is incredibly important to any author; however, I think it must be doubly important to a self-published author. Do you feel like marketing is a challenge? How do you adequately market your book?
I suspect that adequately marketing Brood of Bones would take twenty hours a week. I spend at most half that because at this point I wish to focus most on writing, on bringing new stories into existence and fleshing out the Lands of Loam so readers can attain greater immersion.
Amazon offers promotional options through KDP, and Goodreads also provides opportunities for book promotion. I also use twitter to meet people who follow the same authors who I enjoy. I do NOT use twitter to flagellate my followers with ads for my book every hour.
Self-publishing seems to be a hot topic to many reviewers. Do you think self-published authors are over/under represented with reviewers, or suffer from misperception? How do you think authors and writers can best find middle ground?
The truth of it is that book reviewers face a deluge of books. They cannot read everything, nor should we expect them to. They choose what they will review from the Big-Six, and I would wish for them only to extend the same opportunity to Indie books. Stonewall policies of refusing even to consider Indie books strike me as behind the times and may be a disservice to the readers of their blogs.
That said, the burden of proof must be more on the Indie writer. Authors without a publishing house at their back should not expect their book with zero reviews on social media and a cover illustrated by their nephew to be accepted with the same eagerness as Gollum for his Ring.
Questions about Brood of Bones
One fascinating aspect of Brood of Bones is that your lead character, Enchantress Hiresha, suffers from something that is much like narcolepsy. I’ve honestly never read a book that has a disorder play such a central role to the plot. I’d love to hear a little about your inspiration behind having such a unique disability in your book.
I wanted enchantresses only to be able to cast spells while dreaming, requiring in most cases that they transfer their power to the waking world through gems or precious metals. When my research uncovered hypersomnia, I knew I had an attribute that could fit a masterful enchantress. The condition is more or less the opposite of insomnia, only worse. Someone with Idiopathic Hypersomnia will sleep ten hours a night, wake up feeling exhausted, and struggle to stay awake for the rest of their unfairly shortened day. Imagine getting up at four AM for a plane flight. You feel drunk with sleep. Those with hypersomnia must live in that stupor for much of the day.
I like my characters flawed so they’ll shine all the more when they overcome their downsides, triumphing in spite of them, while growing as people. Also, part of the adventure in reading is seeing the world through new perspectives. I wanted to introduce people to the trails of having an invisible illness, where you are accused of being not sick but lazy. It is my hope that in some small way my readers will gain an increased sympathy for those with psychological conditions.
Hiresha is an incredibly powerful woman both with her magic and in her city, yet she is also very isolated. You do a wonderful job at showing her strong public face, but letting the reader see her inner, lonelier emotions. Further, her dresses seem to be as much of a prison as a sign of status and power. You really show a much more realistic side of having power and authority than I’ve read in many other books. Was it hard for you to put yourself in the shoes of an incredibly powerful woman, and realistically portray how that power would affect her? Was there any trick that helped you accomplish this so realistically?
With a rare condition that no one else in her society understands, Hiresha might have been happier as a leper. However, this desperation (and her strength in sleeping) gives her immense strength in her profession as an enchantress. Brood of Bones is as much a story about her accepting herself and coming to terms with her condition. I’m not sure that I’d call it a trick, but I accumulated four pages of notes for her as a character before beginning.
As far as portraying a strong woman, I must mention that the majority of my beta readers are women. They delight in pointing out my mistakes, and I listen to them.
Pregnancies are a source of power in Brood of Bones, in a very chilling fashion. I can’t help but wonder, what made you use pregnancies in the way you use them here?
Epic fantasy battle is a mainstay in my genre, but I feel one can grow numb to it. I wanted to feature something altogether different. Also, I believe biases in the culture put more of an emphasis on war and fighting than the similar feats of courage and resolve that women require on the Odyssey toward birthing. Historically, Mesoamerican cultures awarded the same status in the afterlife to women who died while giving birth as men who died on the field of battle.
This is not to say that strong woman cannot kick ass, but neither should we only accept a woman as strong if she can decapitate. I would like to see more fantasy literature that portrays protagonists as mothers. Why should breastfeeding be more taboo than slicing open viscera?
Has anything about the success of Brood of Bones surprised you?
I expected more people to object to the sinister nature of the pregnancies. They scare me even on a theoretical basis, and I had my doubts about writing them. Though the focus on magic and an alternative world classifies Brood of Bones as High Fantasy, one could make a legitimate case for Dark Fantasy due to horror elements. The story might work because it portrays a fantasy version of the fear all parents must have for their unborn children.
Pregnant women may wish to delay reading the book until after their successful delivery.
Do you have any other projects in the works? What other books can your readers expect from you?
I have a completed YA fantasy locked in literary Limbo. A few agents have expressed interest in it. It is also set in the Lands of Loam. The next adventure of Enchantress Hiresha is being professionally edited, and if the demons hear my prayers then it’ll be released in September.
Any parting words for your readers?
Your generosity in recommending Brood of Bones to others, your kind tweet, and thoughtful reviews have been duly noted by my army of good-luck leprechauns. Thank you for granting me the privilege of sharing a journey of imagination with you.
Great interview Sarah. I am adding ‘Brood of Bones’ to my list 😉
Oh, this sounds rather interesting (and wow, that is a beautiful cover). I admit I’m a tad worried that the originality of the concept might be a bit calculated, and as such appear forced, but it’s not like the fantasy genre was suffering from an over-abundance of fresh ideas, so I think I will give this one a try. And the connection of magic and dreaming is of course very compelling…