Brian Gottheil is a University of Toronto Law alumnus and the author of Gateways, a self-published fantasy novel that he is launching March 29. As a journal for speculative fiction, The Spectatorial is thrilled to interview Brian about self-publishing fantasy fiction. This interview has been edited for length.
Your Goodreads page describes your work as being novel that reads like historical fiction. Is this due to your writing style or historical details that inspired your world?
When people say that Gateways is fantasy that reads like historical fiction, I think they are talking about the plotting and the world I tried to build. I wanted a world like George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) series, in which magic exists but is poorly understood with limited influence. In this type of world magic doesn’t drive the plot, as it does in, say, Harry Potter (of which I’m also a big fan, by the way). The plot is driven by the politics in the historical setting, and the struggles of people without extraordinary talent to achieve their goals in a harsh world—which is often the stuff of historical fiction.
Fantasy stories often look to the past for setting or inspiration (Medieval kingdoms, Victorian villages, ancient empires). What drew you to history when you were writing Gateways?
I’ve always loved history, and I’ve been drawn to it for as long as I can remember. I love history for what it teaches us about the world and how it came to be the way it is, and for the incredible stories it contains, which are all the more amazing for being true. But as a storyteller, one of the most fascinating things about history is how uncertain it is. Sure, everybody may know the basic facts of what happened, but there are always different interpretations and perspectives. There’s always a new story to be told.
Gateways is set in an alternate world that resembles Europe during World War I. A lot of fantasy stories draw on medieval or Renaissance worlds, but I’m not aware of much fantasy based on the early twentieth century. There was so much happening then! The most horrific war in human history; nationalist movements and the start of the decline of European colonialism; a sense of triumph in modern technology (ships that were “unsinkable” and such) at the same time as a sense of tragedy in the loss of traditional ways of life. It’s a fascinating world to explore.
Fantasy is such vast genre. What elements do you love the most about fantasy or speculative stories?
Funnily enough, it’s not the magic. In fact, when magic gets too powerful or the story focuses too strongly on it, that often ruins a fantasy novel for me. I really love fantasy that’s more than an escape, that tells us something about the world we live in. I think fantasy and sci-fi are very well-suited for that, because in the words of a friend who studies this stuff, they create “mirror worlds” that reflect the real world but allow extra room for creativity and exploration. So as far as elements go: strong world-building; realistic characters and situations; themes that are meaningful “mirrors” to the real world; and, just like in a non-fantasy story, a plot with enough twists and turns to keep you reading. I hope I’ve lived up to all of that in Gateways!
Here at The Spectatorial we know that a lot of work goes into designing a printed book. How did the design/printing process work for you?
It’s actually surprisingly easy to self-publish these days. I used CreateSpace, which is Amazon’s print-on-demand service. They have pre-formatted templates that you can download into Microsoft Word and just plug in your own text. Then you upload it back, they review it for compliance with their formatting requirements, and then you can either proof it online or order a proof copy that they ship to you.
The other aspect of design is the art for the cover and the map, which I am not at all equipped to do on my own. I found a list of cover designers through Smashwords.com (the non-profit e-book distributor I used), browsed the portfolios on their websites, and chose one whose other work had the feel I was going for. I filled out a questionnaire and we then e-mailed back and forth a couple of times, exchanging ideas and stock photos that could be adapted into the cover. Fiona was brilliant and I strongly recommend her. You can find her at: http://fionajaydemedia.com
What is the most difficult part of being a self-published novelist?
Self-publishing a novel is one thing; getting people to read it is another. As a self-published novelist, you have to do all of your own marketing. That isn’t, in itself, a difficulty; it can actually be kind of fun. The most difficult part is simply finding the time for it. I work a full-time job, and I also have a number of hobbies, friends whom I don’t see often enough, and all sorts of other things that make it difficult to prioritize the marketing.
What would you recommend to other fantasy or speculative fiction writers who are interested in self-publishing their work?
First, invest the money in a professional editor and a cover designer. The more self-published books you read, the more you will realize how much a well-edited book stands out from the pack. I’ve always seen myself as a very strong writer, proofreader, and editor, but even so, I cannot overstate just how much Gateways improved by working with my editor, Allister Thompson (http://www.allisterthompson.com). Then, go for it! Just be ready for the time and effort it will take on the marketing front.
Where can our readers find your novel?
At http://briangottheil.com/gateways/purchase-gateways/ you will find links to all of the places where you can buy Gateways. Or, just search “brian gottheil” on your e-reader’s bookstore.
Remember also to check out the launch party here: http://www.eventbrite.ca/e/gateways-launch-party-tickets.
You can pre-order your copy of the print version, which I will sign, when you get your party ticket, but only until March 9. Party tickets will remain open until the actual party, March 29.
-contributed by Miranda Whittaker