Back at World Fantasy in November, I sat down with Kenny (Kennah) Soward, author of the GnomeSaga. We spoke of his upcoming projects, self-publishing, horse-sized ducks, zombies, and social media.
I highly encourage you to listen to the audio — lots of silliness and random discussions took place, but didn’t make it to the transcript below… and do ignore the fact that my voice completely changes near the very end of the audio.
[K = Kenny, and R = Rebecca (me)]
R: Alright, so, I am here with Kenny Soward, author of the GnomeSaga. Can you tell us something about yourself that we might not know?
K: Yeah, I work in IT. That’s something a lot of people don’t know. I work with Linux OS support, so I’m familiar with mechanics and different things that enabled me to write those steampunky, (or “gnomepunky” as Joe likes to call them), items in Rough Magick/the GnomeSaga series.
R: Very cool.
For the readers unfamiliar with your novels, the Gnomesaga, could you tell us a tiny bit about them?
K: What I tell people that come up to me in bars is that it’s like Harry Potter on crack. It’s magic – your typical magic and epic fantasy, drawn from the eastern-European, you know the GRRM, Lord of the Rings, type stuff. But, with the gnomes as a character that’s never been covered by anybody, I don’t think. I’ve never seen any gnome books.
R: And is that why you chose gnomes?
K: Well, I started playing gnomes in D&D. Gnomes, and dwarves, and hobbits, because I felt sorry for them. No body else would play them, and I thought my personality was always very like… rock, solid. I was always a hard worker in school. I was never flashy, so I never wanted to play the big strong ogres. I was like: I want to play the dwarves. Those guys are solid, man, they’ve got their axes, and armour and stuff. And then I sort of evolved to EverQuest. I was fairly addicted to EverQuest for a while. I lost like 10 years of my life to that game.
One day, I got tired of my dwarf that I had. I was just tired of tanking constantly. So, I started this little gnome called Nikselpik. The smart-ass in me came out, and every time I ran into a zone, I would just shout crap to my guild members and I would get everybody laughing. They knew I wrote stories, so they said, “When are we going to read some Nikselpik stories?”, which made me think “Hm.. That might be interesting.”
R: So, I guess that’s the origin story of the GnomeSaga.
K: Yeah, kind of. I actually wrote the first draft of that in 2001 or 2002. It was a completely different book. So yeah, definitely origins.
R: And it’s being rereleased by Rangarok?
K: Yes, I recently selfpublished it in 2013; Ragnarok wasn’t around at the time. It was just Joe Martin helping me edit the book. We were just doing it for fun and to see what we could do. We were encouraged by David Dalglish, who’d put out numerous titles, and then get signed with Orbit.
So yeah, that’s sort of how it started, and as Ragnarok developed, we just sort of said: “You need titles, and I need a publisher, so let’s just see how it goes.” So we put it together for that.
R: And the last book in that is actually coming out soon, Cogweaver. Do you have any plans after that? [It’s actually Tinkermage that’s coming out soon (i.e. today). Cogweaver will be out February 2015.]
K: Actually, it was an interesting conversation. I had wanted to get into some other things, some China Meiville type stuff, some sort of weird fantasy. I love China Meiville’s stuff. Another favourite of mine is Caitlín Kiernan. I love going down that weird fantasy route. I had a talk with Joe, and he said: “Why do you need to do anything different? You can fit in a lot of idea with GnomeSaga, or with your world of Sullenor. So why don’t you just be the gnome guy? Run with that.” I thought about it, and there are so many stories I want to write… and yeah, I’m going to do that.
The next series is going to be called The Order of Scorpion, and it’s going to be a GnomeSaga three-book series. I’m going to start working on that in January.
R: Cool! Will Nikselpik and Nikselbella be making appearances in that?
K: Definitely Nikselpik, but I can’t really talking about Nikselbella, because that would be giving spoilers as to what happens to her. It’s definitely more the adventures of Nikselpik and his band of wizards and odds-and-ends.
R: Fun. Also, you worked on the Dead West series with Tim Marquitz and Joe Martin.
R: Which would be a better introduction to your writing? You know, if gnomes seem a bit far-out to some people, would that be a good leeway into your writing at all?
K: If you like violence, yes. They’re extremely violent. There’s not a lot of the taboo subjects like.. The women characters are strong characters, in fact, half of the people who read my books are females. Even the Dead West series. Specifically because of Nina and the other female characters.
Nina can shoot a colt navy quite well.
R: Nothing wrong with a badass female character who can shoot.
K: Absolutely. So, an introduction? Maybe, if you can handle violence.
R: Alright, and if they can handle violence, I think they might be able to handle gnomes.
K: It’s hard to tell. I’m feeling out the horror/fantasy fans to see what they like. You really get surprised sometimes. You think people will like something, then you start hearing: “Yeah… I don’t like that in my books.” You know, certain levels of sex or romance.
R: Yeah, I was at a panel last night on “How graphic is your novel?” Some people want the gore, other people they don’t want it, but they like some horror.
K: I think mixing them is what gets you into a little bit of trouble. I think if people know the book they’re getting into is a gorey book, they’re excited about it, because it’s what they want at the time. But in your epic fantasy, people don’t always want very hardcore sex scenes, or necessarily different types of violence, and certainly not a misogynist feel to the book. You have to be careful.
For my books, I just love the straight-up epic fantasy. There’s some romance, but I don’t have a lot of sex scenes or anything like that. I don’t think people want that. I think they just want to read a nice, cool adventure, with some cool battles, and some cool magic, and cool characters.
R: Yep, epic battles, epic worlds and that kind of thing.
K: Yeah, absolutely.
R: What’s your writing process like? Are you more of a discovery writing, an outliner, or..?
K: I used to be a discovery writer until I overwrote Tinkermage by 30k words. I rewrote it, and I rewrote sections of it, and I just thought “I can’t do this again. This is crazy.” So, since the summer, I started to outline and I looked around at the way people do their outlines. Just a basic three-act outline with three blocks per act. I’ve been doing that, and I actually like it a lot.
People think it holds you back from the creativity, but I don’t think so. It’s like a metronome. It keeps you on pace, but you can always play around with the time-signature, so to speak. The middle of my last book that I did for Cogweaver, the middle was only supposed to be three chapters according to my outline, but it ended up being six chapters. I stuck to the idea that it should be a build-up though.
You don’t have to follow it all the way, but definitely I’m outlining for now. I might come back in a year and tell you that I’m full of crap.
R: Yeah, “Screw outlining!” I’ve recently started outlining as well, and I’m doing a 5-act structure type thing. I’ve totally veered way off track with that.
K: Well, at least you tried. Maybe somehow you can bring it back and land on your feet, so to speak.
R: That’s the plan, assuming I finish it.
So, you mentioned that you’re a huge fan of China Meiville, but do you have any other favourite authors?
K: There are so many authors to choose from. For example, right now I’m re-reading Swan Song by Robert McCammon, The book is from the 80’s, I think, or 90’s even. His stuff is amazing. Sometimes if I’m interested, I’ll look into a Stephen King book, if it looks good. He has his fingers on the pulse of America, he gets those characters distinctions so well. I love reading his stuff, and it’s fun.
Caitlín Kiernan is probably my favourite contemporary author, and China Mieville, of course. Neil Gaiman, I read The Ocean at the End of the Lane in one sitting. I just blew through it. So, of course Neil. And Neil and Caitlin are close. I know Neil supports Caitlín a lot, so I’m kind of into all the weird fantasy stuff. I like the idea of not necessarily having roles placed on you, and on the world, like Rail Sea by China Mieville. It blows my mind.
A lot of my peers – Jeff Salyards is really good, Teresa Frohock is awesome, I kind of put Teresa and Jeff into the same level. They’re both highly skilled and imaginative. Just really solid fantasy. I can’t wait to read Moses Siregard’s next book… If he ever finishes it. Moses.
R: Yes. Finish that.
K: So, I guess, being a writer now, I do tend to read more of my peers’ stuff, so that’s kind of a thing.
R: And do you have any advice for anybody who’s looking to go into self-publishing?
K: That’s a really good question. I still want to self-publish. Even though we put the GnomeSaga series through Ragnarok, I thought that the next thing I did would be self-published… But then I saw the print edition of Rough Magick, and I don’t think I could ever have done that. I couldn’t have pulled together the resources. I couldn’t have gotten Arman Akopian to do the cover. Joe pulled that together for me.
If you find a good publisher, and they know how to get the artist, the resources to do it right… It’s hard to deny going through a publisher. What I think I’m going to do, is that I’m going to take everything I learn off of these guys and gals, and maybe self-publish stand-alone works occasionally. I was actually talking to Kirk Dougal about this last night – just do the series through the publisher, the stuff that’s going to take a lot of work and promotion… but if you want to do something weird that no one is going to want, or if you’re not sure there’s a market for it… Go ahead and get your artist, and your editor, and put it out yourself. Plus, you’re getting direct sales, which is pretty cool.
R: Definitely, and a lot of publishers now seem to be going through the self-published content on Amazon… Authors such as Anthony Ryan, Michael J. Sullivan, and Hugh Howey have all been picked up by a traditional publisher at some point in time because of their self-published work.
K: Absolutely. It gives you a chance to be a professional. Before, you didn’t even have that opportunity because you were automatically told: “You can’t join our club.” But now you can force your way in by just being good, and professional, and consistent. I think publishers are smart to do that, to look at these folks who are doing this, and picking them up.
R: Zombie apocalypse survival plan.
K: Well, probably perish quickly, is going to be mine.
We would probably do okay, I think. I kind of laugh with my girlfriend about it, because we do own guns, and we shoot occasionally. So, as far as guns and stuff, we would be okay. As far as the important stuff, like food… We would be pretty bad off. We would have to go around and offer our services of protection in exchange for beans and such.
I think that’s probably our plan, because we’re horrible preppers. We have no stocks or anything. We would probably starve in like two days.
R: Just stock up on Twinkies!
K: They last forever. And I’ll eat anything… So if it’s old or whatever, I’ll still eat it.
R: Yes.. Penicillin! That grows on moldy bread.
K: There we go! I’ll be healthy.
R: I have a really weird question. I asked it to Mark Lawrence and his answer was boring.
K: Okay, well shoot.
R: If you were a talking box of cereal, and a horse-sized duck wanted to eat you… How would you convince it not to?
K: Holy shit. Actually, it’s kind of a mathematical question in a way. I would plead merciless. I would just plead for my life. I’d be just like “Look, I have no arms or legs. I can’t defend myself. So, I’m just going to plead to your conscience and hope you allow me to live.” Then I would try to convince them that the cereal over there was much tastier. And that’s how I would do it.
R: When I originally asked this to Mark, I had it as “a horse-sized mercenary duck”. His response was along the lines of: “Well, I’m a talking box of cereal. I’m paying that thing to not eat me.”
K: Well, if he’s a good cereal I mean… It’s like publishing, you never know who’s going to like you.
R: A talking box of cereal though.
K: Yeah, you would have endorsement deals. You know, Mark is always straight to the point. He’s very quotable. I always look at his stuff, and there’s like a quote every page, and every paragraph… and my stuff is not quotable really.
R: You just need to wait until people start getting Gnome Saga tattoos!
K: I am making little promotional coins and stuff. It’s important to promote yourself… I don’t rely on publicists, they’re great and stuff, but I’m not the kind of guy that’s just going to sit and go: “Promote me! Why don’t I have 10,000 sales yet?” I like getting involved. I’m going to start doing giveaways for collectors’ sets, like the Gnome Saga collectors’ set will have a coin, which you can make into a necklace, or you can put a chain through the loop… You can also use it as an iPad charm. Mugs… Just little things. Bookmarks.
I like fridge calendars too, and magnets too. I like magnets. My favourite is kind of like JAWS but it’s a little kitten, and it’s swimming to the surface and it saws PAWS.
[We continued talking about magnets for a while. If you’re really intrigued, it’s around the 18-19 minute mark. Otherwise, I’m not including it here. We also discussed the fact that I’m secretly famous. I had a paper nameplate from a mass-signing the night before.]
K: This whole weekend has been interesting, because even sitting at the signing table yesterday – and I’ve noticed that we haven’t gotten a lot of traffic. They’ve sold some stuff, but I haven’t personally sold a lot. You get a lot of interest though, and people have come by, and they’ve taken pictures of the book. Last night, there was a lot of that. It’s interesting, and I realize that there’s a lot of competition.
It makes you humble, and it makes you understand that it’s very competitive… You just have to be as nice as you can.
R: Big thing I think here, and at other conventions, is for new authors to make the connections, go to conventions and conferences in your area. Just meet people.
K: I’m a little older now, where maybe I was more ambitious before… I’m still ambitious, but, I really do want to know what people are up to. I’ll go through Facebook if I have 15 or 20 minutes, I kind of want to know what everybody is up to, so I will go, and I’ll ‘like’ something, or comment on it. Social media is such an interesting thing, because a lot of people look at it as “It’s just me, throwing my crap out there”, but really it’s supposed to be interactive. I always reply to people who comment and post on mine. It’s more fun that way, and I think it’s great.
I would never have known half the people, or half the things going on, if I hadn’t just involved myself. So, it’s an eye-opener for sure. I’m definitely a Facebook, Google+ person. I haven’t tried Ello yet.
R: Alright. And do you have any other comments to add to your readers? Beginning writers? Horse-sized mercenary ducks? Zombies?
K: It’s a horse-sized duck, right?
K: Saddle that thing up, and ride it man. If it can fly…
R: Don’t even ask where that came from.
K: That would be my advice to writers, saddle that horse-sized duck, and ride it. Ride it as far as you can take, until you just get too old to type.
Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed our wacky, and hopefully interesting interview.
Tinkermage (Book 2 of GnomeSaga) was released TODAY. Go check it out!
If you’re not too sure about all this gnomish business, check out an excerpt from Rogue Magick here.