Some Thoughts with ... Mark Howard
I’m thrilled you’re here, about to go on this crusade with me. It’s been a long pilgrimage already, writing this book. It started as a few short scenes I typed out during my freshman year of college when I probably should have been studying. Looking back on it, the first draft wasn’t exactly what I would call good now. I spent the rest of my undergraduate chasing girls, playing video games, and wondering why my grades weren’t better.
I had this story in the back of my mind, but I wasn’t sure how I wanted to change it in the second draft, so I kept putting it off. In 2014, I had my bachelor’s, and I decided to start writing again in earnest. There were only two problems. I now had a wife and a small baby to provide for, and I also decided to pursue a master’s degree at this time. This, and that I scrapped most of the ideas from the first draft outside of a couple of characters and the setting, meant that the next draft took another five years to complete. I think the work in front of you is much more mature thanks to my experiences in the interim. My master’s degree gave me a much greater depth of historical and literary knowledge to draw inspiration from, and my time as a husband and father working through grad school broadened my personal experiences enough to give my characters the depth they deserved.
I’ve always wanted to be an author. My wife shares in this ambition for herself, and we intend to make this book the first in several series of books set in this world we’ve created. If you enjoy what you read, please post a good review online. That will help us bring more books to you, and in a more timely manner. Thanks!
Welcome to my favourite section of the web. Today we are accompanied by Mark Howard, author of The Griffin Legends series.
Let's dive in!
1.- What made you decide for self-publishing?
Like countless authors before me, my publishing journey began by querying various publishers and agents. Rejections swiftly followed, but I didn’t let that stop me from making more submissions. We can all point to some pretty bad novels that have somehow made it through big publishers, and I felt that, if they could make it, so could I. I also knew that some of the most famous authors out there had received dozens of rejections before they finally got their lucky breaks, so I was determined to keep going until I got mine.
After about a year of querying, my views on publishing started to change. Many people told me my writing was good (beyond the few close friends and family members who might feel obligated to say such things), but I still could not land a publishing deal even after getting very close a couple of times. I slowly became more open to the idea of self-publishing as I realized just how much subjectivity was involved in making it past the editors’ slush pile.
One day, I received an envelope in the mail. It was the submission packet I had sent to one of the larger publishers more than six months prior. I had addressed it correctly. I paid the proper postage. All the contents were in order, and nothing was included that was not requested. I followed all of this publisher’s instructions to the letter, and yet they had decided to leave my submission on their desk for six months before sending it back without even opening it. That was an infuriating day.
Using the most polite language I could manage (I have spent significant time in call centers, as a middle school history teacher under a hostile administration, and other forms of customer service, so believe me when I tell you I know how to grovel), I sent an email to this publisher inquiring what had happened. Was there a step in the querying process I had missed? Was the address in their submission guidelines inaccurate? Could someone please help ensure that my query makes it to the right place?
After two weeks, their only response was silence. I double-checked to make sure I had sent my email through the proper channels. It had been. I started a new email with an apology for appearing impatient, I included a statement about recognizing that their time was extremely valuable, and I used every other means I thought appropriate to convey my good faith in simply trying to submit my book to the right place. Even after all that followed by a thorough explanation of what had happened to my manuscript submission packet, I still have not received a reply to that second email. Maybe they’ll respond someday, but it may be a little late by then.
After all that, I decided to strike it out on my own. I felt my story was good. I had a solid editor give the manuscript his best effort, and I found a cover artist whose work looked better than a lot of what I had seen out in the wild. My marketing budget was far more modest than even the smallest publishers’, but an author’s strongest marketing tool has always been good reviews anyway. Self-publishing has not been as daunting as it might have appeared at first, and I intend to stay on this path for a while.
2.- The world in Godfrey’s Crusade is heavily inspired by s.XI Europe, what made you choose it?
I grew up consuming a lot of fantasy media with settings that were vaguely European in character. They used words like castle, king, and knight, but I often felt the creators of these stories only gave such ideas superficial treatment at best. As I studied medieval history in greater depth, I wanted to write a story that dove into the nuances of ideas like knighthood, feudalism, and crusading.
3.- Which one of the characters you wrote would you say became your favourite?
I think some of the antagonists were the most interesting to write about. One fan told me he could not decide if Tancred was really a jerk or if he was just looking out for his daughter’s best interests. I said he’s supposed to be both. He is a jerk, but that doesn’t mean he’s not looking out for what he thinks are Madeline’s best interests.
4.- Why fantasy? Why not historical fiction as a genre?
Writing in a secondary world is important to me for a few reasons. First, it offers more creative freedom in the plot. My research in ancient and medieval history is strong enough for me to write a work of historical fiction set in the crusades, the Roman Social War, etc… but I didn’t want my narrative to be constrained by too many historical facts or to lazily change those facts to suit my story. Even though I wanted to accurately portray things like feudal society and medieval combat tactics, I also feel that there are limited kinds of stories you can tell in historical fiction if you want to remain true to what really happened.
Second, fantasy allows us to explore characters, themes, and settings while only carrying a minimum of our real world biases with us into the story. However, in a discussion about history, most adults, and even some children, are already heavily invested in their perspectives and are far less open to seeing the world from another point of view. I think readers should largely be able to drop all of that real-world baggage while exploring important ideas in new contexts.
Third, writing fantasy generally allows for the greatest amount of creative freedom possible. I can be as accurate to certain real world details as I want to while also having no obligation to make it so. I’ve used several historical inspirations to help build up what I hope is a very immersive setting while also allowing for the possibility of dragons and witches.
5.- After having written a second book, how would you compare the process of writing the first one and the second one?
Some parts of writing a second book were harder. I had set a standard with the first book I hoped to meet or exceed. I was also pushing myself to finish as quickly as possible before fans lost interest. And I was often frustrated that certain things in life kept slowing down my progress. However, in a lot of other ways, writing Godfrey Under Siege was far easier than Godfrey’s Crusade. I understood a lot more about my own writing process. I had a clear vision of where I wanted the plot of the sequel to go, and I had the confidence of many fans eagerly awaiting the second installment to motivate me to keep writing. I grew a lot in the process of writing my first book and I think I had to grow even more through writing my second book. I love writing this series, though, and I plan to keep at it for many years to come.
6.- Which aspect of the whole process of writing and publishing would you say is your favourite? And your most hated one?
I generally like writing a lot. Some authors really like the exploration that comes in a first draft. Others prefer the refining process that happens in the editing stage. I think I appreciate both stages for what they are, and I look forward to improving on a current work-in-progress just as much as starting a new story.
If there is anything to hate about the writing and publishing process for me, it’s simply that I still have a day job to pull me away from writing. It’s a tough balance between my day job, family life, writing, and hoping to maintain any kind of hobbies.
7.- I love the vibe of both covers. Who is responsible for them?
As I was researching cover artists, Jeff Brown’s work immediately stuck out to me. His work is very high quality, and I enjoyed working with him. He’s a great person too on top of his devotion to his craft. I’d highly recommend Jeff to anyone looking for great cover art in the sci-fi and fantasy genres. Check him out at www.jeffbrowngraphics.com
8.- What can we expect from Mark Howard in the future?
At this point, I’d say I’m committed to at least a few more books in The Griffin Legends series. The overarching plot is developing in such a way that I think I’ll need at least five books in total to reach a satisfying conclusion. Godfrey’s adventures may go well beyond that, and there are many secondary and tertiary characters who I think deserve their own books too. My wife, Summer, is also currently working on a prequel series to Godfrey’s Crusade. I think it’s safe to say we’ll be building up this universe for many years to come with many novels and short stories