Some Thoughts with ... João F. Silva

6 May 2023

The Author/s

João F. Silva

João F. Silva

João F. Silva was born in a small town in Portugal but now lives in London, with his three feline co-workers/bosses. He writes Epic Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror and has been on the jury for the 2020 and 2022 editions of the Best Newcomer Award at the British Fantasy Awards. His short fiction was published in Grimdark Magazine and Haven Speculative.

His novel Seeds of War is the first installment in the upcoming Smokesmiths series.  

The Interview

1.- What made you choose self-publishing?
The option to self-publish was always there, which is what makes it so attractive, but that wasn’t initially my plan. I intended to be traditionally published when I first started, mainly because I hadn’t really read many self-published books and wasn’t aware of the massive leaps self-publishing made over the last few years. Then I read Kings of Paradise by Richard Nell and was blown away by how a story so grim and wonderful was just there, without me having heard about it. It really opened my eyes to the possibilities of self-publishing Seeds of War. My main deterrent at first was the cost--I didn’t want to have to front the costs--but then I also realised there are cheaper ways of going about it and started pursuing those avenues. That, and I wasn’t willing to just leave Seeds of War as a Word document on my computer. I think I needed people to read it.

2.- Could you tell us about your writing influences? Which books would you say marked you as an author and as a reader?
I think Seeds of War (and other unpublished work I have) is very influenced by an array of stories and even things outside of books. It’s not uncommon for me to be influenced by an album with really evocative song and lyrics that spark ideas, or for a scene in a movie to inspire a story prompt. The characters in Seeds of War in particular were very inspired by characters in shows I used to watch: Sopranos, Deadwood, Breaking Bad, Dexter, and Game of Thrones, just to name a few. What they all have in common is the fact that they’re not necessarily good people, but damn, they’re interesting to follow and I want to know what they do next. In terms of writing, I think I’m quite influenced by the grittiness in the work of writers like Joe Abercrombie, Mike Shackle, Peter McLean, and Ed McDonald, but all of those authors tend to write fantasy with relatively low magic, and I also like stories that are more high fantasy and have epic battles with lots of magic. That’s where I’m a bit more influenced by authors like Brian McClellan, mostly in relation to the magic system. I also really admire Brandon Sanderson’s dedication to creating a completely alien world, with alien ecologies and creatures, so I wanted to do my own tiny version of that.

3.- Why did you decide to write grimdark as a genre?
I never actually set out to write grimdark and while some people call my writing grimdark, I’ve also had others say things like ‘It’s not that dark’, so I’m happy just calling it ‘gritty epic fantasy’ and then let the readers make up their own minds about it. That being said, I do have a natural tendency to watch darker movies and tv series, and to listen to heavier music. I like stories where I’m searching for hope in misery. In a weird way, I feel like it’s empowering to rise from the gutter, like survival is the best revenge. Even in shows like those I mentioned above, I like how the characters have all had terrible things happen to them and still chose terrible ways to cope and survive. It’s part of humanity. We’re all deeply flawed people and I find that’s what makes us fascinating. I find joyfulness and goodness to be a bit boring in stories, so I’ve never really been interested in tales that assume a binary black-and-white morality of good versus evil (though Lord of the Rings is the exception). I’d much rather read about evil versus evil, or just people versus people, so why not write it too? I gave it a go.

4.- What inspired Seeds of War?
It’s a tough one to answer because the book was inspired by a lot of things. Some of the ideas for concepts, characters, and magic systems were recycled from old stories and unfinished novels that I had marinating in my head for years. It all mutated quite extensively until it ultimately became the book it is now. I think, unconsciously, I wanted to write a book about underrepresented people who are not often seen as protagonists. The initial idea was to write the three main characters as the total opposites of the typical ‘teenage farmboy who turns into a hero’ trope.
So, I thought to myself: what is the absolute furthest I can go from that? The answer to that was a single mother, an elderly man, and a chronically ill younger man. I find there just aren’t enough stories with these people as characters, especially not as main characters. But I also didn’t want them to be just victims for the reader to pity; I wanted them to be flawed, fairly competent, and striving for control of their own destinies. So, Gimlore is a single mother, but that isn’t her single defining factor: she is also a war veteran and a crime boss. Rednow is an elderly man, but he’s also the world’s most feared mercenary and someone with a gruesome reputation, and rightfully so. And Orberesis is chronically ill, but he is no saint; he is selfish, and manipulates people to get what he wants like a true con man.
At the same time, all these characters deal with a harsh, unforgiving world so the story was an exercise for me to figure out how people with their sets of skills, personalities, and backgrounds would survive. What would they do? How far would they be willing to go?
There’s also a looming sense of displacement and estrangement with their own environments, and the concept of ‘Home’ plays a big role. None of the characters live in the place where they originate and being away from home or not even having a home at all has an impact on them. Those are ideas I draw from my own experiences as an immigrant and from those of people I know and love who have similar lived experiences. It’s hard to survive and thrive in a new country without a real support system. It teaches us things and forces us to embrace discomfort, to learn more about ourselves. I wanted that to play a role in the book, if ever so slightly.

5.- Let’s talk about the magic system, because it’s quite original. How did the idea appear? 
I was listening to a song by a band called The Sword in their album Warp Riders. The song lyrics said something about a sacred smoke and I started imagining a smoke-based magic system from that small prompt. Then I thought about other hard magic systems I like and why I liked them. That was the case with the Powder Mage trilogy and the Mistborn trilogy and decided I liked a magic system that had to do with smoke inhalation, but not just any smoke. Then I thought about the details. Having characters carrying cigarettes was too weird and modern. It needed to be something that they could activate quickly, so that’s how I came up with the concept of burning herbs in a pouch, and instead of people having to inhale the smoke, the smoke follows them around as long as the herbs are burning. 

6.- If I’m not wrong, you have also written some short stories. Could you tell us a little bit more about it?
I find writing short stories is a great way to get out of writing slumps, to try new ideas and concepts, or to practice styles with which I’m not very comfortable. For example, in my short story The Cavalry (published in Grimdark Magazine), I wanted to force myself to write a closed point of view character in first person, present tense. This was out of my comfort zone, since I normally write in third person, past tense. My other short story ‘A Dead Man’ (which is free for whoever subscribes to my mailing list) is my attempt at exploring other literary genres and seeing how well I could blend them together with fantasy. I don’t want to spoil too much, but the story has a mix of fantasy, horror, sci-fi, and historical fantasy. I had never attempted to write horror or blend in historical elements, but it was really fun to write. Writing short stories teaches me a lot and helps me develop as a writer. It’s also good being able to write satisfying stories in just a few thousand words, and I like how I can just write them in a day or two without the big time commitment a novel requires.

7.- Outside of writing, what does Joao Silva like to do in his free time? 
Besides working, writing, and reading, I like to go out to watch live music or stand-up comedy with my wife and my friends, to watch movies, documentaries, TV series, and combat sports. And play videogames, though the time for that these days is almost non-existent. I love traveling as well, but haven’t done much of that recently.

8.- Which part of the publishing and writing process did you find more challenging? Why?
To be honest, every single part of writing has challenges and publishing is no different. Early on, I really struggled with confidence and with finding the right beta readers and the right community. Once I found the right kind of beta readers, who love my subgenre, and their feedback was generally positive, I was able to build confidence and that has really allowed me to let loose and keep going without listening to the naysayers who don’t really understand what I’m trying to do with my writing.
This lack of confidence came primarily from the fact that English is my second language and I only became fluent in English around the age of 22, so that was only nine years ago. So… writing in English at a level where I thought go toe-to-toe with native English speakers was a very big challenge. It required complete dedication over the past nine years and absolute immersion in the language. I now read, write, think, and even dream in English. As a result, I paid the price and lost all ability to write fiction in my native language.
In terms of publishing, I feel like I’m still an infant at this stage. I’ve spent a whole year researching and doing due diligence, learning about different methods and best practices, and building a helpful community. And yet… there’s always something that slips away. Always something new. As self-published authors, we can never rest on our laurels and get too comfortable, but I’m a bit of a control freak, so accepting that I’ll never be able to know everything and control everything is pretty challenging. I suspect it will continue to be, even as I go further into my journey.

9.- What can we expect from Joao Silva in the future?
I’ve written the first draft of Book 2 in The Smokesmiths, and I’m also working on a prequel novella for the series titled Ruins of Smoke, which I’m expecting will be out by the end of this summer. Then I’m going to focus on writing other books in the series until I feel like the series is done. That being said, I also have many other ideas for other stories. Some of them are long series, others are just standalone or little novellas in fantasy, sci-fi, and horror.