Some Thoughts with ... John Marco
I've been writing fantasy stories for as long as I can remember. Fantasy is such a vast and wonderful genre, and I still feel like a kid when I read a story about a magical place, heroic figures, and astonishing creatures.
Now I'm all grown up and have published numerous books, including the best-selling Tyrants and Kings series and the Bronze Knight saga. My latest book, The Bloody Chorus, starts a new, adventurous journey for me. I hope you'll join me!
Welcome to a new post in my favourite section of the website. Today we are interviewing John Marco, fantasy author with a long career, and writer of The Bloody Chorus.
Let's dive in!
1.- What made you choose self-publishing for The Bloody Chorus?
Oh man, this could be a huge answer, but I will try to keep it short. Originally The Bloody Chorus was supposed to go to a traditional publisher. It was under contract and ready to go, but–to put it politely–we just couldn’t agree on certain aspects of it, and to be honest I don’t think the publisher was completely onboard with keeping me around. I’m sure they had their reasons for that, but I always believed in this book and so did my agent, and so after a while I decided that the only way to publish it was to do it myself.
The best part of this is that self-publishing has come amazingly far in recent years. There are so many super-talented people self-publishing their work now. And of course, it goes way beyond authors. There are all sorts of creative people bucking the system now and going their own way. I applaud them all; they inspire me.
2.- Your writing career has been prolific, how would you say you have evolved along it?
I had to think about this question for a while before trying to answer it. First, there is no question that my writing style has changed and improved over the years. I’m completely convinced of that. I’m a big believer in that “10,000 hours” rule, which basically says you have to spend 10,000 hours before you start getting good at something. When I first started writing, I would put something down on paper and be really pleased with myself. Now, though, I struggle with every sentence. I want to find just the right words, and my ear for finding those words is better tuned now.
On the other hand, I don’t “write to the market,” and never have. I don’t really expect my books to be for everyone, even though I want them to be widely read and enjoyed. Of course, I want as many people to read my books as possible, but I still just write the kind of books that I want to read, and at this point, I care a lot less about how they perform. People who remember the “old me” might not believe that, but it’s really true. I don’t care about making money from my books, but I do care about them being the best that I can make them.
3.- What inspired the world of The Bloody Chorus?
The Bloody Chorus is just filled to the brim with things that interest me. There’s a dash of Japanese culture, some hints of Greek mythology, ships, and naval warfare, and a hefty dose of philosophy and religion, both of which are subjects that I love reading about and studying. In the book, some of the characters question their place in the world. Like a lot of folks, I have spent years questioning my place, who I am, what I should be doing, what to believe in... all that stuff. That angst shows through in some of the characters.
And to be completely honest, readers might see a bit of a kaiju influence in the story, because I grew up watching movies about giant monsters and I absolutely love them. I mean, there’s nothing as big as Godzilla in the story, but there are dragon-whales and giant sea serpents, and some of the deities in the story can transform themselves in interesting, almost monstrous ways. I’m always up for monsters!
4.- I find the mythology of this book quite interesting, could you tell us a little bit more about the Old Gods?
First, I’m glad that you find the mythology of the story interesting. It’s a big part of the book in that it sort of supports the whole story. Kids usually love mythology, and I was no different, so a lot of those cool old stories sort of made their way into this book, and they wound up being called the “old gods.” In this world, though, they’re very real. The characters can see and touch and talk to them. The old gods have complicated relationships with the characters and also between themselves. The central problem for the old gods is that their influence has waned over the decades, and now they’re sort of concentrated on the island nation in which the story is centered.
In The Bloody Chorus we are introduced to several of these god creatures, but there are others, and part of what I want to do in the sequel is explore some of these other, darker gods, the ones that are sometimes referred to as demons. I have some ideas about them, but a lot of that still needs to come together yet.
5.- Could you tell us a little bit about your other sagas for people that might be unfamiliar with them?
My first series is called Tyrants and Kings. That came out a long time ago. It’s a military fantasy series that explores a clash of cultures and what war can do to people. I tend to write a lot of anti-hero type of characters because I’m not really interested in black-and-white archetypes. The main character, Richius, isn’t particularly talented or handsome or clever. He’s very much an “every man” who is thrown into a war he wants nothing to do with, with pretty devastating consequences. Plus there’s a lot of cool war machines and fighting beasts and magic thrown in to keep things interesting, of course.
My other series is about Lukien, known as the Bronze Knight. There are a total of four books in that series, three really giant epics and the fourth being a much smaller volume told in first person. That book is a real departure from the others because I wanted to get deeper into Lukien’s character. Whereas Richius from my first series is kind of hapless, Lukien is a total badass–tall, handsome, a great warrior–and yet all those things can’t save him from the same type of terrors and loss that Richius faces. Lukien is probably the character I’m best known for, and I’m proud of that. I really enjoy him, even though I’m nothing like him.
6.- What part of the whole self-publishing process would you consider the most challenging one?
Wow, where to start? Honestly, there was just a ton I needed to learn. It was all so new to me. Thankfully, the self-publishing community has some very gracious people in it who are more than willing to help. There were so many people who gave me advice and guidance and were always willing to answer my questions, people like Debra Martin and Stephen Hubbard, both of whom are indie authors and good friends. And I had questions about everything! There are so many steps to take, and I’m sure I screwed up one or two along the way.
But one of the best things about the process was working with the cover artist and designer. At first, I didn’t even know what to look for, so I spent hours–weeks, really–figuring out what I needed and what I wanted. I reached out to a number of artists, some of who replied and some of who didn’t, but I was thrilled when Felix Ortiz got back to me and was excited about my story. We clicked right away, and when I saw his first sketches I knew I had found the right person. Same thing with Shawn King, who did the cover design. He’s another amazing person to work with, and he and Felix just work perfectly together. That whole process was a ton of fun.
7.- How much did it change The Bloody Chorus from its initial idea to the current version we are reading?
Not that much, honestly. I took some of the initial feedback from the early edits, but I also rejected some of it, as I said earlier. For one thing, I wasn’t comfortable with the suggestion that I make more of the characters female. I do understand the need for a book to be commercial for a traditional publisher, and I realize that a huge chunk of readers are girls and women, but my story was conceived with a focus on male characters. I didn’t want to change that, and I’m definitely not going to apologize for it. And in fact, the story does have three pivotal female characters, as readers will see.
Otherwise, there is always some tweaking to do, especially after a full read-through. Occasionally you discover after reading through a book that a point you felt you made well hardly comes through at all, and so you need to go back and fix that. Or maybe a character is too needy or whiney and you need to fix that too. But mostly this book was just a pleasure for me to write and it sort of wrote itself. That’s what happens when I have a story I really want to tell.
8.- What can we expect from John Marco in the future?
Definitely more books, unquestionably. I have found indie publishing completely liberating and I don’t intend to stop. At this point, I am starting to form the story for the sequel to The Bloody Chorus, and I have another book that I have been working on for some time, although I am not quite sure what I want to do with it. It may just be that it’s too derivative of what I’ve done before, and if that’s the case I don’t want to publish it. But I do want readers to stay tuned for more books from me. My readership has always been small but loyal, and I’d like to repay some of their enormous patience.