Some Thoughts with ... Joseph John Lee
Joseph John Lee
I am an author of fantasy, science fiction, horror, and whatever other strokes of creative genius (“genius” is a relative term, I guess) come to me at the time.
I was born November 14, 1991 in Attleboro, Massachusetts and have never set foot in that town since. I’ve lived most of my life in or near Boston (as I do currently with my fiance, our imaginary dog, and our robot vacuum who we named Crumb), except for the years when I didn’t. I’ve also lived in Scotland, a fact I use as party tricks that don’t particularly go anywhere. I’m great at socializing.
I’m something of a lapsed academic. I originally pursued a career in academia, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in history from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and two Master of Science degrees from the University of Edinburgh - one in Renaissance and Early Modern Studies; and the other in Religious Studies - before I realized that the life of an academic scholar was not for me. (Burnouts will do that to a guy.)
That being said, I enjoy integrating historical study into my own fictional writing that still creates a tapestry of my historical interests - just with more fireballs and less syphilis.
My literary influences include Brandon Sanderson, John Gwynne, Joe Abercrombie, Yoko Taro, Tetsuya Takahashi, and others. I’m as much drawn to huge, epic fantasy as I am to more grounded, grimdark settings.
Outside of my own writing, I am an avid reader (duh) and gamer, a certified Simpsons quote machine, a bad hiker, and either a happy or miserable Red Sox fan, varying from season to season. I spend too much time looking at dog accounts on Instagram.
If anyone’s looking to start a Wikipedia page for me, this should be enough to get you started.
Welcome to a new post on my favourite section of the website. Today we get to interview Joseph John Lee, author of The Bleeding Stone, the first book in The Spellbinders and The Gunslingers series.
Let's dive in!
1.- What made you choose self-publishing?
Initially, I had actually pursued being traditionally published. There were two manuscripts I had pitched to potential agents - one being a dark/urban fantasy, and the other being what would eventually become The Bleeding Stone - but I had little to no luck there.
What actually had me turn towards self-publishing was a virtual writers' conference I attended in 2021. I met with a couple agents for what were essentially “elevator pitch” sessions, and one of them had made the comment that what may have been giving agents pause on picking up The Bleeding Stone was its word count and, in order for it to be palatable as a debut author, I would have to shave off anywhere between 20,000 and 40,000 words.
Needless to say, I didn’t want to do that for I felt removing that much from the manuscript would diminish what I was trying to accomplish with The Bleeding Stone. I wound up sitting on the finished manuscript for the rest of the year before finally deciding to self-publish, where I didn’t have those limitations and had much more freedom to write what I want and how much I want without having to worry about it being less of a risk for a literary agent to take up.
2.- The Bleeding Stone is a book with a really complex timeline. How this affected the process of drafting and writing it?
It wasn’t so much of an issue while outlining. I had a fairly clear vision of what I wanted to depict for Sen’s flashbacks and the flash-forwards depicted in the interludes. When it came time to write in those different time periods, I simply treated it as I would writing any sequential chapter from my outline. I’m not someone who likes to jump ahead and group certain chapters together in the writing process if they’re in different time periods or different points-of-view; it works better for my process to write each chapter in the order I have them outlined because it allows me to more easily position and reference call-backs than it would be had I written them out of sequence. More than anything, the only issue I have is paying attention to continuity concerns; I definitely had a big plot hole or two in the main timeline that got worked out in the editing process.
Overall, though, I’ve found flashbacks and flashforwards to be extremely useful. The flashforwards helped set the thematic tones I was looking to explore, while flashbacks were helpful in providing character backstory without it feeling like a lore dump.
3.- The Bleeding Stone also features several indigenous tribes. Representation and how to portray these cultures tend to be a complicated theme, could you tell us a little about how you worked in this kind of aspect?
When I started writing The Bleeding Stone, I knew I didn’t want to have my main protagonist be a white guy. There are a million fantasy stories out there where the central character is just someone who looks like me. I didn’t want to contribute to the pile. At the time I started outlining, conversations about representation in fantasy were starting to become more prevalent, and even though I’m white, I still wanted to do my best to include a character from an under-represented cultural group - and that eventually became much of the cast.
It was certainly a delicate line I was toeing. I was cautious not to be insensitive or appropriative as these are, naturally, not my own lived experiences and I would never personally know what it’s like to fall victim to colonization.
While I drew inspiration from the indigenous peoples of North America, I tried to do so in a way that avoided negative stereotypes or tropes from John Wayne westerns, and the only ones in the plot who try to reinforce those stereotypes are explicitly the villains in the series.
4.- Another of the themes that are touched on in The Bleeding Stone is how history is basically written by the victorious. How would you say this has influenced this novel?
To be honest, it was the theme that drove this novel from its inception. When I began writing The Bleeding Stone, it was, in its own way, my response to my personal frustrations with historical education here in the US. Growing up, we’re not educated on the atrocities committed against native groups by European settlers - hell, the stories we’re told of the first Thanksgiving and how indigenous groups were “happy to share their land” with the pilgrims are enough to make your stomach churn!
This was around February or March of 2020 when I began outlining and writing. A few months later, George Floyd was murdered by police and we as a country were having these conversations much more frequently while the resulting Black Lives Matter protests occurred.
And while I listened more and more to those conversations, they simply reinforced and further informed what I was setting out to write in the first place: historical erasure, anti-imperialism, the sins of the forging of a nation. None of those are things you read about from the victors’ point of view. And that’s what I wanted to tear down with this book.
5.- The Spellbinders and The Gunslingers has a really interesting world. From where did you draw the inspiration for some of the details on it?
It was largely inspired by the consequences of the Age of Exploration and the desire to examine those “discovered lands” from the perspective of those who already lived there. The first inspiration for the Tribes was native groups from North America though with a little Celtic and Nordic influence. The character Aritz was basically my interpretation of Christopher Columbus and I set out to make him as much of an evil, sociopathic dick as possible.
6.- This March, you are releasing a novella related to the saga, could you tell us more about it?
Pale Night, Red Fields is set about four hundred years prior to the events of The Bleeding Stone and focuses on the Haunted tribe, a group that’s sparsely depicted in the main series as they’ve nearly been wiped out.
When that tribe is introduced in The Bleeding Stone, their defining characteristic is their belief that they can commune with the souls of the dead, an supposed ability that none of the other tribes possess. This novella explores just how it came to be that they began to speak with the dead.
The “pale night” referenced in the title was actually first referred to in book two of the series - The Children of the Black Moon - and after completing the manuscript for it, I decided it might be best to have a story dedicated to that event.
The novella will be free for subscribers to my newsletter beginning March 1, or you can also order it on Amazon.
7.- Which part of the writing process would you say was the most challenging for you?
As much as I love writing from different points of view, I also find it quite challenging at times because I have to remember to change the narrative voice and essentially “think” as a different character. Some characters are not exactly “fun” to think as, but it’s rewarding just the same when you feel like you nailed the feel of them.
More than anything, though, just getting myself in the writing headspace might be the most challenging of all. Some days, the words will just flow, scenes are incredibly vivid, the action feels real. Then other days, all I can get out of my brain is something crap like, “She ran real fast.” Most days, I manage to just meet in the middle of all that.
8.- What can we expect from Joseph John Lee in the future?
Book two of The Spellbinders and the Gunslingers, titled The Children of the Black Moon, will be released in late spring, either late May or early June. You can expect book three at some point in early 2024.
I will also be writing a second Spellbinders prequel novella, which will focus on the Arrow Tribe, later this year, with publication somewhere between the releases of the second and third novels.
And finally, after Spellbinders is wrapped up, I will be returning to the first manuscript that I had tried submitting for traditional publication - the dark/urban fantasy I mentioned earlier - with an intended publication for late 2024.