Six Elementals Author Interviews will introduce prospective readers to some of the best writers in their genre you may, or may not, have heard of, via a series of six questions. I encourage you to check out the work of these phenomenal creatives! Links to their websites and purchase links will always appear, accompanying the interview. Check them out!
Today I have the distinct honour of speaking to one of the most popular, emerging epic fantasy authors on the Indie scene today, Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO7) Semi-Finalist, Daniel T. Jackson!
Daniel’s currently published works include: Illborn.
P.L.: Such a privilege to be able to interview you, Daniel! Welcome to Six Elementals Interviews! My understanding from your biography is that you are living the dream of many an author, in that you left your regular job and have devoted yourself to a full-time author career? Can you tell us how that came about, and how that’s been going? What are the advantages of being able to focus exclusively on your writing efforts?
Daniel: Hi P.L. Thank you so much for inviting me to do this interview.
It has been fantastic to be able to dedicate myself to writing. When I was growing up, my dream was to be an author and a published novelist, and I wrote my first novel on an old typewriter at the age of 16 (titled Silver Knight – it is not very good, and shall forever remain unpublished!).
Unfortunately, at that time I did not have the confidence that I could make a successful career out of writing, so I embarked on an entirely different field of study and career path (more business-orientated). For the last 13 years of my non-writing career, I was an owner-manager of a couple of businesses. My work life was very busy and demanding, and while I continued to write as a hobby (and created stories for my 4 kids), I never had close to the amount of time I would have required to work on a novel.
However, throughout my life I always intended to get to a position whereby I would be able to do what I had dreamed about, which was to create stories and to write. I have always loved fantasy and historical fiction, and the idea for The Illborn Saga has been in my head for years.
In 2018, I was fortunate to be able to significantly reduce my time commitment to my business roles. At that point, I started to dedicate a chunk of my week to writing ILLBORN, in addition to volunteering more, and being able to spend a lot more time with my family.
I am quite a slow and meticulous writer, so it is definitely an advantage for me to be able to devote a significant amount of time each week to my writing. I would never have contemplated trying to create something as complex as ILLBORN whilst working full-time in another job, because I personally do not think that I would have been able to deliver the novel to the standard I wanted to achieve. It is also great that I can now find time to write without sacrificing family time.
I am loving my new role as a writer and author. I had always dreamed of creating epic stories that a wider audience would enjoy, and it has been wonderful to see the positive reaction to ILLBORN.
P.L.: Illborn is one of the hottest fantasy books out there at the moment. Numerous top reviewers have praised your debut novel, and your readership is climbing rapidly. It was one of my personal favourites and in contention for my best book of the year. From the standpoint of you as the author, what’s the big appeal for your book? Why do you think it resonates so much with readers?
Daniel: Thank you, that is very kind of you to say. I have been blown away by the reaction to ILLBORN from readers, and it has been amazing to see that so many people have enjoyed the novel and have recommended it to others.
As the author, when I set out to write the book, my aim was to create a story which I personally would love to read. As I mentioned, my favourite genres are fantasy (particularly epic fantasy) and historical fiction (particularly epic historical fiction).
I love rich, intricate, epic stories featuring interesting and diverse casts of characters. If you add into the mix features such as war, intrigue, religion, politics, love, miracles and magic, set within an interesting world and taking place over a period of years, then I am in reading heaven!
Those were my high-level criteria in crafting Illborn’s story, and I do not think that I am alone in finding those things to be of interest.
For me as the author, central to the book resonating with readers is of course whether the characters are interesting and the story is exciting. I believe that all 4 of the main POV characters of ILLBORN are interesting (with varying degrees of moral greyness), and I am delighted that the story has been able to captivate readers. I developed the plot for The Illborn Saga series over a number of years, and I believe that it is genuinely original. I also think that the central mystery differentiates the book, and a lot of effort was put into creating the cliff-hanger format for the chapters.
I also set out to write a novel which I hoped would make people feel and think. I want my writing to elicit emotional reactions in the reader, and to make them ask questions. Again, I think that is part of the reason why the book has developed a following. It has been very interesting to see some of the theories developing across my readership about what certain aspects of the book mean, along with speculation about where the story is going next. I believe that if a story and its characters can create those emotional connections, the book is much more likely to resonate with a reader and to stay in their memory afterwards.
P.L.: Religion was a very compelling and fascinating theme in Illborn, and I found the way you dealt with it to be extremely intriguing. What inspired you to address religion the way you did in the novel?
Daniel: My key question in deciding any aspect of what went into the story in ILLBORN is this; does it help to make the book more interesting and exciting? That challenge also applied to the decision to address religion the way I did in the novel.
I am a keen student of real-world history, and for much of our own history at a societal-level, war and politics are closely intertwined with religion (particularly organised religion). I therefore wanted to capture all three aspects of war, politics and religion within the story.
War and politics are fairly common themes in fantasy novels, but the treatment of religion in my novel (in particular, with the dominant religion being monotheistic) is probably a bit less well explored. That helped me to hopefully create a story which feels fresh and original.
I think it is very important for me to state that I am very respectful of faith and religion in the real-world, both at an institutional and personal level. The book is a work of fiction in a made-up world, and is absolutely not intended to be a criticism of real-world organised religion. However, in any institution (including organised religion) which has power over a population, while there will be many people who will use that power for benevolent and altruistic purposes, there might also be some who will use it for their own selfish, fanatical or even malign ends.
I hope that the introduction of religion in the story has also allowed me to raise some interesting questions for the reader. Further, it has enabled me to introduce different challenges and conflicts for the characters, than might otherwise have been possible. If those questions and challenges contribute to making the reader feel and think as they are reading, and enjoy the novel more, all the better!
P.L.: Who are some of the authors who have influenced your writing?
Daniel: Within fantasy, the three writers who have probably had the greatest influence on my writing are George R.R. Martin, Robert Jordan and Tad Williams. The first three books of A Song of Ice and Fire (by GRRM) are for me fantasy perfection. Wheel of Time (by Robert Jordan) and Memory, Sorrow and Thorn (by Tad Williams) are both incredible series which I started reading as a teenager, and they are probably the ones which originally inspired me to buy a typewriter!
In historical fiction, Ken Follett and James Clavell are both writers who had a very early impact on me. I love The Pillars of the Earth series by Ken Follett (POTE and World Without End are perfect examples of blending love, war, politics and religion in an epic tale), and Shogun by Clavell is one of my all-time favourite books. The Poldark Series by Winston Graham is another wonderful series of books (Graham writes with such easy-to-read and clear prose).
The other genre I read is horror. I have read more Stephen King books than any other author, and I think he is a genius at storytelling (including epic stories such as The Stand). I have read his book On Writing three times, and I keep it to hand when editing. Anne Rice was also a big early influence, and her books are wonderful at evoking a sense of ancient mystery, power, lust and threat.
P.L.: What do you feel are the challenges with writing sweeping epic fantasy, especially a novel of the breadth, depth, and length of Illborn (coming in at around 700 pages)! What are the advantages of writing a BIG fantasy novel?
Daniel: I believe that the main challenges of writing such a long novel are to keep control of the story threads, and to keep the reader interested for the duration of the story. The challenge was exacerbated for me because I was approaching the first book in my own mind as part of a 2,500+ page full story (across the intended 4 book series), but I needed to try to make the first book satisfying in its own right.
I am a detailed planner, and I do not think I personally could have written ILLBORN with a pantser approach, because I do not believe I would have been able to keep control of the various story threads and of the interaction of the multiple POV’s.
Keeping the reader interested in such a long book (and series) presents the challenge of striking a balance between gradually telling the overarching story, and also introducing sub-stories where the reader can have some excitement and satisfaction of resolution as the main story progresses. I purposely set out to use the alternating POV’s by chapter format (with cliff-hangers) to maintain the pace of the novel and to try to address this.
The prime advantage of writing a BIG fantasy novel is the sheer scope of the story which you can try to tell. In ILLBORN, I wanted to tell a meaningful story attaching equal weight to 4 different POV’s, and I know I would have struggled to do that in 300 – 400 pages. By having a longer novel, I was able to properly introduce all of my main characters and the world they live in, and I was also able to tell an interesting story about each of them which covered an extended period of time, whilst also progressing the overarching plot.
Finally, I LOVE big novels, so that is what I always wanted to write!
P.L.: You have been extremely successful in the early stages of your career, by most people’s definition, as a self-published author, enjoying both sales and acclaim. Does this give you incentive to remain self-published? Can you speak a bit about why you elected to self-publish, and if you can, can you disclose if you plan to remain self-published? Why or why not?
Daniel: Thank you P.L., again that is very kind of you to say. Certainly, when I originally self-published the book (with no social media presence or marketing plan!), I could only have dreamed about the book achieving the success which it has had so far. That success is down to readers enjoying the story, and then recommending it to other people, and I am very grateful to everyone who has read, positively reviewed and recommended the book.
After I had finished writing the novel, I had very little idea about what to do next. I had no clue about what self-publishing involved, and I actually tried to find a literary agent and traditional publisher for the book (in the UK) before exploring the self-publishing route. The traditional route was a very dispiriting process, and I got absolutely no interest from the 10+ UK literary agents who I approached (to this day, I am still not sure if any of them got as far as reading to the end of the prologue!).
After that, following a period of self-reflection and self-doubt, I decided to self-publish, because friends and family were telling me that ILLBORN was a good story which deserved a wider audience. I also wanted to find that audience, and did not want my novel to sit as an electronic file on a PC forever, unknown and unloved.
I am so thankful now that I self-published. It has been an enormous learning curve since then (see above re: having no social media presence at my publication date, and generally being terrified of social media!), but it is wonderful to see the book gain a readership, and to receive feedback that tells me that many of those readers would like to continue with the story onto book two.
I have also overcome many of my original fears of self-publishing, and I know now that I have a route set up through which I can potentially produce and sell thousands or tens of thousands of novels worldwide in years to come, without any need for a traditional publisher.
As of today, I intend to remain self-published. As I mentioned, I have never had any interest in the book from either literary agents or publishers, so it is not as if I have much of a choice about that anyway!
I definitely enjoy the control and freedom which self-publishing offers, after having been my own boss for much of my prior career. ILLBORN was the result of my own efforts, and the sequel Aiduel’s Sin will be the same, with no one around to tell me to change things that I don’t want to change (apart from my wife and my beta readers, perhaps!). I also love being part of the indie and self-published author community, which is full of many warm-hearted people who are very willing to offer advice and help.
However, my attitude with regard to traditional publishing is never-say-never. I will not be doing any more rounds of literary agents, but nor will I ever close my mind to the opportunity which traditional publishing represents to access a wider readership. I am always happy to listen if someone has a mutually beneficial proposal for me!
Hope all of that makes sense! Thank you again for allowing me to witter on at length. I have enjoyed answering some really interesting questions! Best wishes.
P.L.: Daniel, it has been an honour to speak to you for Six Elementals Interviews! Thank you so much!
Buy Illborn here
Daniel T. Jackson linktree: https://linktr.ee/danieltjackson