Thursday, March 7, 2013

A Talk with John Phythyon

Today we talk with John R. Phythyon, Jr., author of Red Dragon Five. 

Tell us a little about yourself? Perhaps something not many people know?

I’m an independent author living in Lawrence, Kansas. I started out as a game designer, working in the hobby games industry. I didn’t work on anything that became famous, but I did win three awards for my designs over the course of an eight-year career, and I was nominated in the best game-related short fiction category a couple of times.

Some people might not know? I’m getting married in two weeks!

What made you want to become a writer?

I’m a storyteller. I’ve been one pretty much from the time I’ve been able to talk. I’ve always enjoyed creating my own stories. Becoming an author was a natural fit for my talents.

Could you tell us a bit about Red Dragon Five and why it is a must-read?

Red Dragon Five is part of my Wolf Dasher series. It’s a thriller set in a fantasy world. Wolf is a Shadow – basically a spy with magical powers. He’s on assignment in the elf nation of Alfar, where he has fallen in love with an elf named May Honeyflower, who is the captain of the Elite Guard – the top military unit in the country. When a top secret weapons program is sabotaged, Wolf goes undercover without backup to find out what happened. He disappears on the mission, so May essentially abandons her post to go looking for him.

Why is it a must-read? I’d like to believe several reasons. First, RD5 may be an action-adventure story, but, at its heart, it’s a romance. There are all sorts of politics and fundamentalist terrorism woven through the novel, but it’s really about the love affair between Wolf and May and how these two people try to love and relate when they both have really dangerous jobs.

Second, it isn’t just an adventure yarn. I examine religion and politics in the book. Prior to leaving to rescue Wolf, May is caught up in a political maelstrom wherein liberals and conservatives in her government refuse to agree on anything, and a charismatic, manipulative religious figure takes advantage by sowing the seeds of a civil war between one sect and another. The book takes a hard look at partisan politics and the role of religion in society. There’s a lot more going on than in a typical action story.

Finally, it’s a pretty taut read. I had to read many times over the editing process, and I enjoyed it every time. Particularly when things get tense, I had a hard time putting it down. I figure if I can entertain myself like that when I know the story, people reading it for the first time will enjoy it.

You called your character, Wolf Dasher, James Bond in a fantasy setting. What attracts you to Bond? And why did you choose to model your character on him?

One of the things I love most about James Bond is his resourcefulness. He gets into all sorts of hairy situations, and he always manages to find a way out. He doesn’t have super powers, so he has to use his wits and his skills.

I also like the formula for a Bond film. There’s always a megalomaniacal villain with a plan for world domination. I’m not sure why a British spy would constantly be going up against people like that, but somehow it’s fun. Anyway, the fact that a Bond movie is always over the top makes it enjoyable.

I’ve wanted to write that kind of story with that kind of character for a long time. I created Wolf and his world as a means of doing so. And, from a marketing perspective, it seems to me there are people who like Bond and like fantasy and would dig on books that marry the two. One of the reasons I wrote the novels is because they are the kind of thing I like to read.

The elves’ religion in Red Dragon Five seems to be based on Islam. How much of it did you base on the research/knowledge of the actual religion and how much of it is your own invention?

It’s really meant to be evocative of Islam, not a reflection of it or a commentary on it. Alfar (and its neighbor Jifan) are meant to be reflective of the Middle East in terms of the political volatility and the cultural differences from the West. But I’m not educated enough to write authoritatively about Islam or Middle Eastern culture. What I wanted to do was draw a parallel between our world and Wolf’s.

The religious aspects of the story are more a comment on fundamentalism and extremism than they are on Islam. So, to answer your question, much of it is my own invention. The rituals and dogma of the Freyalan and Shendali religious practices are mostly created for the story. They’re based about equally in Christian and Islamic traditions. For me, the important part is the debate between progressivism and fundamentalism.

Besides James Bond, what gave you inspiration for your book?

Fantasy allows the author to create a situation similar to our own world but the distance to comment on it. The politics in Red Dragon Five may be unique to Wolf's world, but they evoke problems in our own government and those of our allies. By writing a fantasy novel, I get to tell a fable for the reader to consider.

I also wanted to make sure the book wasn't a thinly veiled treatise for one position or another. I tried to make both sides of the argument sympathetic and detestable.

In fact, Wolf himself is a flawed character. He may be the hero of the story, but he makes several stupid mistakes over the course of the that get him (and consequently May) into all kinds of trouble.

Of all the characters you have created, which is your favorite and why?

I’m not sure I could choose. I’ve been writing for a long time, and I have a list of characters I really enjoy. At the moment, I’m fond of Wolf and May. I like them because they are imperfect. Wolf especially like to fly by the seat of his pants, and he’s operating in a theater where that causes a lot of problems. He generally saves the day in the end, but he creates all sorts of unintended consequences.

May is a good foil to him. She is much more sensible and reliable than he is. But she’s also in love, and she makes decisions based on that that might not be the right thing.

Your novels are Indie published. What made you decide to take that route?

I had been trying to go the traditional route for several years with no success. I’d written three other novels I’d queried agents on, but I couldn’t get anyone to bite. I was getting ready to repeat that process with the first book in the Wolf Dasher series, State of Grace, when I stumbled across an article by a friend of mine who had branched out into indie self-publishing. That led me to Joe Konrath’s blog, and, after reading enough articles on the subject, I decided that the world had changed enough to make self-publishing a viable business model.

It basically came down to doing all the production work myself – which I had learned during my years in the hobby games industry – and doing all the selling myself. I’d been in marketing and sales for some time, so I wasn’t afraid of that, and everything I’d read suggested I would have had to do it anyway, even if I’d been traditionally published.

What is the biggest surprise that you experienced after becoming a writer?

I'm not sure I've been surprised. It's really, really hard being an indie author, but I expected that. I was hoping to be further along in the advancement of my career than I am by now, but I'm not terribly surprised it's been a slow build or a lot of work or extremely time-consuming.

Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?

I’m a big fan of Albert Camus, both as an author and as a philosopher. I’ve read most of his books, and I like both his message and his writing style.

I also admire Hemingway for his concision and Stephen King for his descriptive detail. I’m not very good at either, and I aspire to write more like the both of them.

Do you have a day job in addition to being a writer?  If so, what do you do during the day?  

My fiancĂ©e and I have three children between us. Fortunately, they’re in school during the day, enabling me to write. But my “day job” is taking care of children.

What is your favorite writing tip or quote?

Just get it written. I love Throw Momma from the Train, because it’s funny and clever. But you’re not a writer if you’re sitting there trying to figure out the exact-right phrasing for the first sentence of your book. Just write it. Write every day. Get 1500 or 3000 words down into the computer. When it’s finished you can go back and craft and shape and make it read really well. But during the writing process, you need to just write.

Tell us a little about your plans for the future.  Where do you see yourself as a writer in five years?  Do you have any other books in the works?

My goal is to make writing a self-sustaining business that provides well for my family. I would like to be an Amazon bestseller, but I’ll be happy being read enough that I’m making a steady, comfortable income.

As for other books, I’ve got plenty in the works. My third novel is in editing now. It’s outside the Wolf Dasher series and concerns the poet son of the world’s most powerful wizard. The two are estranged, but, when the sorcerer is murdered, the son must sort out his father’s affairs. He’s drawn into a giant conspiracy designed to change the balance of power in the world, and he wants no part of it whatsoever.

My most successful book to date is a modern re-imagining of “Sleeping Beauty.” I’m currently writing a modern version of “Beauty & the Beast” to complement it. I like fairytales, and I’m having fun exploring classic stories in a whole new way.

And after that, I’ve got the next book in the Wolf Dasher series. I’ve tentatively planned Roses are White to come out at the end of this year. We’ll see if I can get that all done before 2014.

Any advice you have for other writers?

Follow your dreams. It sounds clichĂ©, I know, but there’s a lot of wisdom there. I spent years not doing what I loved (writing) for various reasons. I’ve wanted to be a novelist since I was in college. It took me 20 years to get around to really doing it. Don’t wait that long, or, if you have, stop. If you want to write, make it happen. Do what you love.

Where can we find you online?