Interview with Shawn Speakman

This month I have the pleasure of welcoming Author and Web Druid extraordinaire Shawn Speakman to talk about writing and publishing over coffee and apple pie.


1. Your first novel, The Dark Thorn, came out recently and is finding many fans. What was your inspiration for this urban fantasy - historic novel? I’ve only just started reading it but am already hooked. 
Happy to hear you are hooked already!  The inspiration behind The Dark Thorn is a crooked road, I’m afraid.  I have always been interested in faith and religion and how they don’t often equal one another.  When 9/11 happened, the world got an ugly look at the worst that religious extremism can offer.  I was heartsick from it.  But I was actually more shocked at the extremism that replied to the attack.  I heard Americans raging, Americans becoming just as extreme as those who attacked us.

I was fascinated by that ugliness.  Where did it come from?  Why?  Are we really better than the extremists?  Or are we just one side of history and we are right and everyone else is wrong?

That’s where the inspiration for The Dark Thorn came from.  What if the first religious Crusade was not against the Middle East but instead against very real fey creatures living in ancient Britain?  What if Henry II sent one of his sons to quell the fey?  And more importantly, how would those fey creatures respond over time?
2. Rather than walk the traditional path you’ve opted to start your own publishing company and publish your book(s) through that. What made you decide to do that and how has it worked out?
It was a tough decision.  The Dark Thorn was at two different NYC publishers when I was diagnosed with cancer in 2011.  I lacked health insurance and knew I was going to have a huge medical debt, one I would have to do something about.  Unfettered is that response, a fantasy anthology I am editing featuring some of the biggest names in the genre.  They came to my aid, donating stories so that the proceeds would go against that debt.

I realized though that Unfettered would garner a great deal of publicity, publicity I could put to work for me beyond just the anthology.  I took The Dark Thorn away from those NYC publishers and decided to publish both books on my own.  It has worked out better than I expected.  People are buying both books and The Dark Thorn has gotten great reviews.  Better yet, that debt is dwindling.  So a smart move in retrospect.

3. You also maintain the websites for at least 3 other authors, how does their work inspire you and what, if anything, have you learned about writing and publishing by working with them.
Working with Terry Brooks, Naomi Novik, and David Anthony Durham has been great fun.  I have learned something from each of them but Terry is driving force in my life.  We have been friends for thirteen years now.  His work has influenced me all of my life.  He has taken on the role of mentor in the last few years, guiding me like Lester del Rey used to guide him in the early days of his career.

Obviously, I have been a part of the publishing industry for a decade now and have learned more than I ever imagined I would about it.  But something fun has happened recently.  Since I have self-published The Dark Thorn and Unfettered, I am teaching my writer friends about the trials and tribulations of self-publishing.  It’s been fun because I feel like I am giving back in some way.

4. ebooks vs. traditional publishing?
Both.  They both have a place.  I knew when I went live with my own publishing press, Grim Oak Press, that I would do both ebooks and physical books.  They go hand in hand.  Right now, the industry is in flux, trying to find its balance again with the relatively new inclusion of ebooks.  That balance will be found and we’ll still have traditional publishing and ebooks.  The industry will look different but physical books aren’t going anywhere.  There are too many bibliophiles like myself who love them!

5. Pen & paper or a computer?
I’m a computer guy.  Always have been.  I can’t imagine writing a book with pen and paper.  I know several writers who do.  I’m just not built that way.  I type at a high word rate and I plan my books in advance—meaning I know exactly where I am going and I have the fingers to get me there!  Ha!

6. What do you think is the most important thing a writer can do, aside from write well, to increase their odds of a successful career?
Read.  Without a doubt.  Writing is important.  Finishing something more important.  But beyond that and getting adept at editing, reading is the most important thing.  Reading in the genre one is working in; reading outside of the genre.  Reading teaches a writer different ways of constructing a sentence, a paragraph, a story arc.  It really is the best way to learn and have a successful career.

I’m also fond of how Terry Brooks answers this question:  “Ten words: Read, read, read. Write, write, write. Repeat.”

7. What secret talent do you have, which everyone reading this blog will keep secret, and does it help in your writing?
I am bendy.  Quite bendy.  While that has its practical uses in the real world—I’ll try to keep this PG, kiddos—it also helps me do hot yoga.  I do hot yoga every other day as a stress reliever.  Sitting in a chair and typing for hours a day is harmful to your health.  Seriously.  It is great to take that bendiness I have and use it in a hot room with other sweaty people.  The stress just melts off and not having that stress the next day when I sit down to write can only help my chances of writing something good.

Thank you and happy writing!