An Interview with JW Golan, author of the Stormfall Chronicles
What is your favourite Dragon in literature?
I will name two favourites: very different dragons, with very different reasons for appreciating each of them.
On the one extreme was the dragon Glaurung from J.R.R. Tolkien’s the Silmarillion. Glaurung was everything that you should expect from an evil, malicious dragon of legend. He was not just a great, fire-breathing monster, but a crafty, greedy, manipulator who took delight in how much misery he could inflict on others. Glaurung was the perfect embodiment of what an malicious dragon antagonist should be.
At the opposite extreme, were Anne McCaffrey’s dragons of Pern, who were depicted as partners with humanity with individual personalities of their own. Among the dragons of Pern, Ruth stands out by virtue of his intelligence and practical sense.
Why did you choose to become an author? What drove you to devote the hours needed to produce and polish a book?
As someone who has published both non-fiction, through a traditional publishing house, and fantasy as an indie author, I can say that in both instances I wrote because I had something that needed to be said. In both examples, there was a story that needed to be told, a story which fate had chosen myself to relay. In a very real sense, I was merely the conduit for its retelling. The story was already there, struggling to get outside. My only responsibility was to relay the tale to the best of my ability.
From among your published novels, is there one that is your own personal favourite?
I have released or will soon have released the first two installments in the Stormfall Chronicles. Comparing between the first two books, my beta-readers have concurred that the second novel is the better of the two. The first novel in the series really lays the foundation for everything that follows, and is a relatively short read – 300 pages in paperback versus 497 for the second book. The second book in the series, on the other hand, is where the tale rises to become an Epic Fantasy and not merely a High Fantasy.
Everyone has a ‘first novel’, even if many of them are a rough draft relegated to the bottom and back of your desk drawer (or your external harddrive!). Have you been able to reshape yours, or have you abandoned it for good?
My first attempt at crafting a fantasy novel came when I was in high school, decades ago. There are certainly elements and characters from that era which have remained with me and which found their way into my current series of fantasy novels, the Stormfall Chronicles. Many of those characters and elements, however, have evolved and changed over the years.
One of the reappearing characters of the Stormfall Chronicles, for example, is Eirlon. In his original incarnation, Eirlon was depicted as a powerful human mage. In his current incarnation, however, I have retained the character as a sage, whose knowledge and wisdom prove invaluable, but I have downplayed his own magical capabilities and have cast him as a gnome to further de-emphasize his role. On many levels, he has been overshadowed by other characters in the story. The result, I believe, is a more nuanced portrayal and overall story development.
Over the years, what would you say has improved significantly in your writing?
The most important changes in my writing abilities and style over the years have come from changes in perspective. When you’re experimenting with writing fantasy fiction as a high school student, your writing style and area of focus will naturally be heavily influenced by the novels and sources which you have most recently read.
With time, however, comes distance. And with distance comes perspective: the ability to see the larger picture of the story and how different story-telling techniques and elements can affect the reader’s experience. You become more self-aware as a writer, which places you in a better position to combine story-telling techniques and plot elements from a wider variety of influences.
Some authors are able to pump out a novel a year and still be filled with inspiration. Is this the case for you, or do you like to let an idea percolate for a couple of years in order to get a beautiful novel?
The Stormfall Chronicles was, for me, percolating for some time. The story combines some elements that I had experimented with decades ago, and others of more recent pedigree. So while it still takes me many months to compose and polish each novel, the story-arc which connects them was really developing across a decade or more.
The second novel in the series will be released in December of 2019, for example, eleven months after the first. And I’ve already begun the first draft for the third book. I’m expecting the original characters and story-arc to span a total of four novels, with material still remaining for both a prequel, and a stand-alone sequel set decades into the future.
So I suppose that for me, the ideas need to develop for some number of months or years, before the elements are mature enough to set the stories down.
I have heard of writers that could only write in one place – then that cafe closed down and they could no longer write! Where do you find yourself writing most often, and on what medium (pen/paper or digital)?
As a parent with a full-time job, I find myself writing whenever and wherever I can. Over lunch, at the table at home, while waiting for my daughters to untack their horses at the barn, wherever I happen to be.
I usually try to get my first draft down in digital form so I can begin to edit it, but it sometimes doesn’t work that way. If I have a particular scene that’s been brewing in my mind and nagging me to write it down, I’ll sometimes just write it out with pen and paper if I don’t the laptop at the time.
For editing, however, I always prefer paper medium. I need a quiet place where I can review and mark-up the printed copy, a process which will be repeated countless times before any scene is ready for my beta-reviewers to read.
Before going on to hire an editor, most authors use beta-readers. How do you recruit your beta-readers, and choose an editor? Are you lucky enough to have loving family members who can read and comment on your novel?
My teenage daughters, and in particular my two older daughters, have been my beta-readers for the Stormfall Chronicles since the beginning. They were really the audience whom I was aiming at when I wrote, and there are elements in the books that grew out of their personal experiences or the experiences of their close friends. Their added perspective has been invaluable, pointing out areas where I needed to add explanations, or scenes, or where additional atmosphere or character development was needed.
As for editing, my first published book was non-fiction, published in hardcover through a traditional publisher. It was an historical recounting dealing with a particular chapter of the Cold War era, and was ultimately published by a university press. Producing and editing a book for that audience was an exacting process. I went through countless revisions to get the manuscript ready for submission to the copy editor – who is expected to be the final step in the editing process. The copy editor is the one who formats the manuscript for the printer. If they find the manuscript to insufficiently polished as of that stage, they are expected to reject the text – not edit it for the author.
From that experience, I came away with an appreciation for how much editing and review was needed to prepare a manuscript for publication. I knew that if I could polish a scholarly manuscript until it was up to a university’s publishing standards, then doing the same for a fantasy novel should prove easily within my reach.
I walk past bookshops and am drawn in by the smell of the books – ebooks simply don’t have the same attraction for me. Does this happen to you, and do you have a favourite bookshop? Or perhaps you are an e-reader fan… where do you source most of your material from?
As someone who grew up with book shops and printed books, from before the digital age, there is a certain nostalgia for the printed medium. There are a number of book shops that I have fond memories of, most of which are long gone. I’ve had to learn to adapt to the e-reader medium, and have read a number of novels in that fashion now. But for certain books there will never be a substitute for having a hardbound or paperback copy on my shelf.
I used to find myself buying books in only one genre (fantasy) before I started writing this blog. What is your favourite genre, and have your tastes changed over time?
If I’m reading purely for entertainment, then I have an appreciation for both fantasy and science fiction – depending on what mood I am in.
I appreciate fantasy for its ability to transport us away from the everyday cares of the world we live in. That escape is a large part of I want out of fiction. I have to deal with enough real world consequences in my day job – and expect the fiction that I read to be worlds apart.
Conversely, I appreciate certain science fiction works, for their ability to comment on the world in which we live – and how technology has created new challenges and questions which humanity is still struggling to face. Which is why I am less drawn to the “space opera” genre, and more drawn to stories with a message about the world in which we live or may soon be facing.
For me, both fantasy and science fiction have a place – but with very different expectations and roles.
Social media is a big thing, much to my disgust! I never have enough time myself to do what I feel is a good job. What do you do?
Most of my social media energy is focused on either my blog page, or my Facebook page – the latter of which often mirrors whatever I have most recently posted to my blog. I do have an author’s Twitter account, but I make minimal use of it in comparison. I prefer both Facebook and the blog page, because they allow me to write at more length and in greater depth on the topics at hand.
I try to post an update at least once per week. If I’m in the midst of writing the next novel, I will usually post short articles describing my progress, or my observations about the writing process or perhaps about publishing in general. I did try to take a couple of months off between when I finished the first novel and when I started on the second, to catch up on other things which I wanted to do. Things like reviewing a novel or two, reviewing whatever anime I had been watching with my daughters, or writing short stories.
Answering interview questions can often take a long time! Tell me, are you ever tempted to recycle your answers from one to the next?
Although there is probably a certain amount of overlap in some of the general questions, I have been gratified to see many new or unique questions being raised. Coming at topics from different angles helps us to keep the subject fresh and allows for perspectives which might not otherwise have been added.
About the Author
A writer, father, and aeronautical engineer, J.W. Golan lives in New England together with his wife and three daughters.
The opportunity to write fantasy stories was once a youthful dream of his – something that he first experimented with in high school. In the intervening years, however, life happened: university, jobs, marriage, and children. Although he never completely ceased writing, he also had neither the time nor excess energy to complete a full-length novel.
It was his three daughters who reintroduced him to the world of fantasy fiction. Literature was something that all of them could share, discuss and compare – together with other fantasy and literary influences. He was able to introduce some of his favorites to his daughters, and they in turn, introduced him to some of theirs.
It was this latter experience, sharing and discussing stories and literature, that convinced him to try his hand at composing fantasy novels once again: weaving together tales and ideas that had been circulating in his mind for decades. It is his hope hope that the resulting stories and characters are as fun for others to read as they were for him to write.