Russell Newquist is a Viking disguised as a software engineer. Equipped with a BA in Philosophy and an MS in Computer Science, he spends a lot of time building really cool software. Because he enjoys a good martial arts workout with friends, he is also the owner and head instructor of a thriving dojo. As if that weren’t enough, he started the publishing company Silver Empire where he is the editor-in-chief and one of the published authors. On top of all that, he’s a husband and father to four small children.
His first novel is War Demons, an action-packed, unputdownable Urban Fantasy.
Driven by vengeance, Michael Alexander enlisted in the Army the day after 9/11. Five years later, disillusioned and broken by the horrors he witnessed in Afghanistan, Michael returns home to Georgia seeking to begin a new life. But he didn’t come alone. Something evil followed him, and it’s leaving a path of destruction in its wake.
The police are powerless. The Army has written Michael off. Left to face down a malevolent creature first encountered in the mountains of Afghanistan, he’ll rely on his training, a homeless prophet, and estranged family members from a love lost…
But none of them expected the dragon.
Q. Congratulations on publishing your first novel! Tell us about the book and why you decided to write urban fantasy.
Thank you, Susan!
Well, this book kind of grew organically into what it eventually became. I had a few scenes in my head that I started with. The prologue was the first bit I wrote. Then what is now chapter two. I kind of had the character in mind at first – a soldier returning home after he’s had some really harrowing experiences. The normal war type experiences, but also supernatural stuff.
Then it kind of grew into something. And then I had 20% of a book… but I didn’t really know what it was about. But I also knew that if I threw it out and started another project, I’d never have a book. I needed to finish one.
At the same time, I’ve had this character in my head that I knew I had to write about eventually. His name is Peter Bishop, and he’s been in a few short stories already. He’s heavily influenced by the Michael Carpenter character from Jim Butcher’s “Dresden Files” series. And I kept telling myself, “Just finish this book and then you can get to Peter.”
Then one day I realized that, quite by accident, this book was a Peter book. In fact, it’s his origin story. It didn’t start that way at all. But I got to a certain point and just realized that I needed the character to fill a certain role in the story. And bam, it all came into place.
Q. Your protagonist Michael Alexander is a fascinating character. What do you like most—and least—about him?
Well, as a character what I really like is that I did manage to convey what I wanted to with him. He’s coming home from war and he’s been through hell – the kind a normal soldier goes through, and some supernatural stuff… and even a few personal events that he doesn’t fully understand himself at the beginning.
And yet at the same time, he’s still fundamentally a decent guy. Not just a decent guy, a good man.
The parts I like least about him are more how I’d react to him as a person if I knew him. He’s kind of an asshole sometimes – only sometimes, really. But it comes out. And that’s actually mostly a result of him being broken, so it’s forgivable. But it’s not always fun.
Q. As the War Demons cover suggests, Michael Alexander has come back from war facing a difficult adjustment to civilian life. This story is infused with elements of horror and the supernatural. Without giving away too much, what can you tell us about your story’s bad guys?
Michael faces several threats throughout the story. He’s the sole survivor of a helicopter crash – except originally he wasn’t the sole survivor. He and a comrade survived, and had to fight a demonic creature in a cave. Michael made it. His friend didn’t.
Then the thing followed him home.
The demon is a ser na demon, from Tibetan culture. Why was there a Tibetan demon in a cave in Pakistan? Well, that’s a mystery that’s not fully resolved yet. The sequels will follow up on that exact thing.
As the blurb says, later on a dragon shows up. That was kind of fun because it’s not quite a typical dragon. It’s a Peluda dragon, although our hero doesn’t know that yet. He just knows that it’s furry. But that plays a big role in the novella I’m currently writing that’s somewhat of a sequel but not quite. The working title for that one is “Vigil” and it follows Peter instead of Michael, and it’s been crazy fun to write.
Q. If this is not a series of true events that you have chosen to disguise as fiction, what kind of research did you do for this story?
You caught me. I’m actually a dragon slayer. 🙂 No, it’s not autobiographical. If only my life were that exciting!
The ser na demon I stumbled across by accident. I was sitting in the audience of a panel at DragonCon on “Eastern Demons” one year with my book 10% done. A man named Kyl T. Cobb gave a really great presentation, although somewhat more dry and academic than the usual DragonCon fare. And he got to the slide on the ser na and I leaned over to my wife and said, “That’s it! That’s the thing in the cave!”
My wife is also the one who sent me the info about the Peluda dragon. She stumbled across it and it helped me make the dragon different and not just more of the same.
As for the location, I lived in Athens, Georgia for four years and went to classes on the UGA campus. So most of that is from memory, enhanced by Google Maps. And I picked the Sigma Chi frat house (which no longer exists, but did at the time of my story) because supposedly all that stuff I described in the basement was actually there for fraternity initiations. Go figure.
Michael’s aversion to school is 100% autobiographical, but every reader probably already guessed that.
One other aspect of Michael’s history is also, unfortunately, based on reality – but thankfully, not my own. I played World of Warcraft for a long time with a man who had joined the Army on September 12th because his fiance died in the attacks. He was more than a bit troubled, but a really, really good guy. He was also the best tank on our server, straight up.
To the best of my knowledge, he has only fought metaphorical demons and not the literal kind. I haven’t talked to him in years, but I pray for him all the time.
Q. What’s different or unique about your story from other urban fantasies?
Well, one thing I’ve done is that I’ve gone a bit old school. Modern UF tends to take a very syncretic approach to magic, trying to blend everything from every culture together. I’ve returned to the roots of titles like “Dracula” (which some might consider to be among the first UF), and I take a decidedly Christian theological view. But the book isn’t out to proselytize or convert anyone. It just takes it for granted.
For example, it’s specifically noted in the book that humans don’t have the power to kill demons. We can fight them, we can expel them, we can exorcise them. We can even win. But we can’t kill them. Why? Because demons, in the Christian view, are fallen angels. And angels are a “higher” power. Only the power of the Lord can kill them. And yes, that might be a plot point.
Another aspect that is more minor in this book but will play a big role later with some already established characters is the corrupting nature of magic. In the Christian worldview, magic is always and everywhere evil, even if it’s used for the best of intentions. And because of that, it brings a heavy cost. There’s one character in this book who has used some serious magic. The price will be coming due in the sequels.
Some people will really like that. Some readers will immediately decide they don’t want to read it because of the religious aspects. Others will be on the fence. That’s OK. You can’t write for everyone.
Q. Which works and authors would you say influenced the book?
Jim Butcher is the heaviest influence by far. Peter Bishop largely exists because I wanted to write about a character like Michael Carpenter but I knew that was never going to happen. Along the way, the character evolved a lot, though, and became truly my own. But there’s a huge influence there.
Larry Correia is another big influence on this book, in more ways than one. This book is far more action-heavy than most of Butcher’s books, and that’s got a lot to do with Correia’s influence.
Some of my readers may find it odd that Jonathan Maberry is another big influence. He’s another martial artist like myself, and I find his style of writing action to be a lot closer to mine. I’ve had the good fortune to meet him several times and actually discuss martial arts with him. He had a laugh because I brought a copy of an old jujitsu book he wrote to DragonCon for a signing one year. Everyone else in line had his zombie books or one of his technothrillers. I’m just weird that way!
Q. What was your favorite scene to write?
The car chase scene. That entire chapter came out in a white heat in probably two hours, maybe less. I had an absolute blast writing it, and I still love it every time I read it. It’s completely absurd, but it worked really well in context. And it gave me a great running gag for the characters from here on out. You will never, ever see Peter get anywhere near a car with Michael without bringing it up. Ever.
Q. What was the hardest part of the book for you to write?
The entire second half!
Seriously, action scenes are hard to write. They take a lot of work – and having some knowledge on the subject actually makes it worse, not better, because you want to have at least some semblance of believability to them. But the problem is this: real fights are short. Very short. Especially when they involve lethal weapons. But short isn’t interesting to readers at all. So trying to lengthen it out without making it totally silly is really tough.
Q. I was privileged to read an early version of War Demons, and it’s a great, pulse-pounding start to a series. Can you give us a hint of what we can expect in the next books?
Well, if you’ve read the ending of War Demons then you know that Michael and Peter (who is almost but not quite a co-protagonist) go their separate ways at the end. And I’ve got two follow-up projects going on next.
The first is a novella tentatively titled Vigil. It follows Peter down his path. The first draft is about 90% done now, so it should be out by the end of the year. This one came about because I heard one particular rock song and took the lyrics far too literally. And it’s also been in my head for a while, so I’m glad to get it out. But basically, Peter Bishop, Knight of the Sword of the Archangel Michael, has to rescue a damsel from a dragon. Under a church. In France. During the Easter Vigil mass. It’s insane, but fun.
The second project is the actual direct sequel to War Demons. Again, if you’ve read the end of that book, you know that Michael has entered a brand new world – a world that will introduce him to many rich, powerful connected people. This book is going to be about that world, how depraved it is, and how Michael reacts to that and deals with it. It’s tentatively titled Spirit Cooking, and if you know what that is, it’ll give you a decent idea of what the book’s about. If you don’t know what that is, don’t Google it at work. And prepare to be horrified. There’s a reason Michael needs to take on that kind of evil.
The outline for that book is almost done, so I should be able to hit the ground running on it as soon as I finish Vigil. My goal is to have it out in early 2018. I’m busy enough that I probably won’t make that. But I have a much better idea both of what I’m doing and of where I’m going than I did with War Demons, so it should go much faster.
Q. War Demons also gives us Peter Bishop’s personal history. I’ve enjoyed reading that character in several of your short stories. Tell us about him and if you have plans for more Peter Bishop adventures too.
Well, obviously, there’s Vigil as I mentioned above. The current series, centered on Michael, is a trilogy, with a definite ending. I know pretty well where that’s going. I’ve also got plans for a fourteen book series starring Peter. I had originally planned to interleave them – hitting the first Peter book next, then coming back to the Michael books.
For business reasons, I’ve decided to finish this series first. But the timelines will still be interwoven as originally planned. The first Peter book is tentatively titled Unholy Vows. The story takes place with Peter’s wedding as a backdrop, and it fits in between War Demons and Spirit Cooking. The outline for that one is coming together very nicely as well, and I’m actually kind of chomping at the bit to write it. It’ll be introducing some very fun new characters.
Why fourteen books? Well, there’s a method to my madness. 😉
I also have a very good idea of where that series is going overall, including an idea of the ending so clear that I could write the last couple of chapters immediately if I chose to. Very little would change. I’ve got about 6000 words of plot notes for the entire series so far. I expect that to grow quite a bit over time.
I’ve also got another Peter short story in the works for our upcoming Stairs in the Woods anthology. It involves a park ranger and a Boy Scout troop, and the fae again.
Q. You are the editor-in-chief of Silver Empire Publishing and your wife Morgon is also a writer. Why did you decide to become an indie publisher? What genres do you publish?
Well, the general idea behind becoming a publisher rather than just self-publishing was one of scale. Making money in any business is largely a factor of scaling up. In the modern economy, scaling up helps in a ton of different ways.
Most obviously, selling more products means more revenue. And selling more books largely means publishing more books. And since I can only write so fast myself, publishing more books means getting more people involved.
Then there’s also the factor of reaching fans. If I have five authors with small fan bases, but we can work together, we can turn those five fan bases into one substantially larger fan base. We get one giant e-mail list instead of five small ones, and so on.
But there are a ton of other factors, too. Advertising is cheaper in bulk. Covers can be cheaper if you work a deal with an artist to pay him for five covers instead of one. Web hosting is cheaper if we only need one server. Etc.
But lastly, and perhaps most importantly, my experience in other businesses has taught me that going alone is very seldom the best way to do anything. My dojo wouldn’t be half what it is without the wonderful assistant instructors I’ve got.
We’re focused on heroic, wondrous adventure stories. Which is kind of vague. 😉 For the next 12-24 months, we’re focused on the subgenres we’ve already got: urban fantasy, sword and sorcery, historical fantasy/sci-fi, and political/religious thrillers. We’re also seriously considering an expansion into space opera in the near future. We want to expand beyond that, but probably won’t do so for a while for business reasons.
Q. You published a couple of anthologies of short fantasy and sci-fi stories as well as my novel Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key before you published your own full-length novel. How did that happen? Wouldn’t most authors want to publish their own work first?
Most authors might, but I’m a businessman first and an author second. For many reasons, it made sense to publish other stuff first. The anthologies were a great way for us to reach out to other authors and make connections, and that process has really paid off.
And sometimes good opportunities drop in your lap, like when someone randomly approaches you with a really interesting sword-and-science novel! We have a very definite plan for Silver Empire’s growth and future, but you also have to be ready to react when good luck comes your way. We got lucky with The Origin Key, so we seized the opportunity.
Q. What advice do you have for authors who are trying to decide if they should a) go the traditional route with an agent, b) self-publish, or c) connect with a small, indie publisher?
This is a very, very individual decision and you should make it very carefully with no illusions.
Traditional publishing (the agent route) is not a dead option, but it’s becoming more and more so every year. It’s probably your biggest chance at “winning the lottery” and really making it big. But a big chance is still a crappy chance. It’s also really only got about three channels: no deal at all, a deal but you’re really not making much, or JK Rowling. The mid-levels are especially drying up these days, because all the big publishing marketing dollars are going to keep their big names alive.
Also, beware: the traditional publishing business model absolutely depends on physical bookstores. And the vast majority of brick-and-mortar sales these days are coming from two places: Wal-Mart and Barnes & Noble. Wal-Mart only sells a handful of books. If you’re not one of the absolute top blockbusters, you’re out. And Barnes & Noble has been flirting with bankruptcy for the last year or so. They’re struggling hard right now. The day B&N goes down, my guess is that at least two of the big five publishers go down with it. (Don’t ask me which two – I have no idea.)
So it’s the path with probably the highest possible payout, but even if you get a good deal it’s by no means a “safe” route anymore.
There are some really interesting things going on in indie publishing right now. I can’t even keep up with 10% of it. The royalty percentages are usually better, and there are a number of indie publishing houses on the rise.
However, you’re still taking a risk with indie publishers (even us). Indie publishers are small businesses without a huge resource pool behind them. They can fold in a heartbeat. And selling books is tough – so you might be excited to have that book deal, but have no sales behind it.
And that’s the honest ones! Be careful! I can’t stress that enough. Since getting into this business I’ve heard some real horror stories from other authors about “publishers.” My simple advice is this: if they’re charging you money, they’re not a publisher no matter what they call themselves. They’re a publishing service. The distinction matters. An honest publisher might not sell many of your books, but they’ll at least treat you fair and do the things that a publisher should be doing: get you a cover, get you in Amazon, etc.
Self publishing has a lot of pros and cons these days. I know a few folks doing very well self published (including one writing pair that had a $28,000 month with one particular novel). But if you’re self publishing, you basically have to learn the entirety of the business yourself. You’re on your own, which carries its own risk. It’s your money on the line for the cover, etc.
On the other hand, the risk can be pretty small. Even with a good cover and a good editor, you can get a novel out for under $1500. Maybe a lot less. That’s a number that most of us wouldn’t like to lose, but we could live with it.
So it really depends on a few things. What amount – and what kind – of risk are you willing and able to tolerate? And how much of the work are you willing and able to do yourself – or pay someone else to do out of your own pocket? The answer to those two questions is going to point you in the right direction.
Q. Tell us about Lyonesse, your short story subscription service.
Frankly we’re doing everything we can to save the dying market of short fiction. We’ve adopted a bit of a new business model that kind of resembles NetFlix or Kindle Unlimited. For the crazy low price of $6.99 a year, you get 52 science fiction and fantasy adventure short stories – one every week. You also get an extensive back catalog of short stories. They’re all in convenient formats, all DRM free, and no advertising.
It’s a pretty killer deal, and folks are absolutely raving about what we’ve done so far. The service as a whole is pretty slick in how it’s put together. But it’s really the stories that make it, and we’ve had some very interesting ones. My personal favorite so far is by Hugo Award nominee Cheah Kai Wai, but we’ve also got some really amazing stories by some authors you’ve probably never heard of.
Q. Are you open to submissions right now? What kinds of stories do you look for?
Well, we have to put out 52+ stories per year for Lyonesse, so we’re always looking for submissions for that. We’re really looking for stuff that highlights heroism and adventure, but we’ve slipped in a few other things as well, when they’re good enough.
On the novel side, we’re a little more tightly focused. We’re currently actively seeking a space opera or military sci-fi novel. Other than that, we’re really focused on the four genres we already have a toe-hold in: urban fantasy, sword and sorcery, historical fantasy and religious thrillers. And we have a strong preference for works that are the beginning of a series. It’s OK if future books aren’t written yet. But the blunt reality is that series are where the money is made in this business.
Q. How do you define success in indie publishing?
Living in a house made of gold bars?
Kidding aside, I have a really great day job. So for me, generating a nice side income to supplement that is really great. Anything beyond that is a bonus.
Q. As a reader, what about a book turns you away?
The same things I’m not really interested in publishing right now, honestly. There’s a heavy modern and post-modern trend toward deconstruction, darkness, and nihilism.
Deconstruction can be interesting, but our culture has reached the point where deconstruction is almost the main thing we do. Sooner or later you run out of interesting things to deconstruct. You have to start constructing again. I’ve had a handful of books recommended to me that I’d probably enjoy if I read them, but these days I can’t muster enough interest to read yet another deconstruction.
Darkness is good in fiction – to a point. You need darkness to emphasize the light, and Lord knows I’ve got enough of that exact thing going on in War Demons. But when darkness is all you have, or when the darkness is so deep that it swallows the light, then what’s the point? It’s not entertaining anymore, it’s just depraved. I had a place for a certain degree of that in my teens. I think most of us go through a phase where we kind of need to stare into the abyss. But I’ve been through that phase and I’m not really interested anymore. From a publishing perspective, I feel like there are plenty of outlets for that these days. I want to put out something that builds the world up, not stuff that tears it down.
Even on its own terms, Nihilism is pointless. Our modern culture has rejected the religion of our forefathers. Well, OK. I’m not going to sit here and try to convert everybody back. But we also haven’t replaced it with anything meaningful. And when you remove that religion without a strong replacement, you leave a void. If nothing else fills it, nihilism will. And it’s creeping into our culture everywhere. Again, it’s literally pointless. It’s a waste of my time as a reader and as a publisher. The meaning and depth doesn’t have to agree with my worldview. In fact, I like having my worldview challenged. But put some actual meaning into it.
Note that this doesn’t mean that I want to read, write, or publish a bunch of message fiction. I hate that crap, too. And it doesn’t mean that every story has to be “deep.” But if a story is pretending to be deep and it’s “great message” is, when distilled down, simply nihilism, then I’m out.
Q. What’s your all-time favorite book? Why?
The Lord of the Rings, hands down. I’ve read it at least two dozen times. For a long time I read it once a year. These days I’m too busy… but it may be about time to dig it out again.
Why? Largely because it’s a tale that showcases the best in humanity. And it’s a great example about using darkness to emphasize the light. In the real world, the worst situations are what bring out the absolute best in people. The best literature reflects that. Tolkien creates a world where real evil highlights true heroism. And one of the great things about the book is the way it shows almost every kind of heroism, not just one kind. From the simple, “I’ll stand by my friend through thick and thin,” of Samwise Gamgee to the sacrifice of personal power of Farimir to the battle prowess of Aragorn, it really hits on everything and on every level. It’s powerful stuff.
Q. What’s your all-time favorite TV show? Why?
Babylon 5, and again it’s an easy one. Having a single story line that spans dozens or even hundreds of episodes is common in Anime, but it’s completely non-existent in live action television – except for Babylon 5. I’m not talking about a season-long story arc, where there’s a new story every season. That’s really common now (and a huge improvement over how TV used to be). I mean one story line that spans 5 years and 110 episodes of TV.
On top of that, the show was extremely well written and it happens to be sci-fi, which is one of my favorite genres. So what’s not to love?
Q. What’s your all-time favorite movie? Why?
This one’s tougher, and I’m going to have to go with more than one because there are several films in different genres that I love equally but for very different reasons.
In the action realm, I absolutely love The Dark Knight. It’s not just the best superhero movie, it’s one of the best movies of all time. It’s got great characters, portrayed well, put in impossible situations, and the ending is painful. And yet it’s not nihilistic at all, because the painful ending is also full of hope and heroic sacrifice. On top of that, it has that wonderful moment on the boats where you see the amazing heroism of ordinary people. Put all that together with one of the tightest scripts I’ve ever seen and you have a true masterpiece.
In romantic comedy, there’s nothing that tops The Princess Bride. It’s a chick flick made for guys, and it somehow manages to pull of both. And not in a minor way, either – it pulls off both flawlessly. It’s got action, adventure, pirates, and true love. The story is simple – fairy tale simple – and yet powerfully moving. Which is exactly what the best fairy tales do, as well. And it’s absolutely hilarious, all at the same time. I couldn’t even tell you how many times I’ve seen that film, and it never gets old.
In drama, I’d have to go with Secondhand Lions. It’s a coming of age story that’s actually in many ways reminiscent of The Princess Bride, and yet it’s a completely different film at the same time. It’s another story that really highlights heroism at all levels – very big and extremely small all at the same time. The only problem with the film is that I’m still waiting to here the rest of the “What every boy needs to know about being a man” speech. What they included is one of the best speeches ever told in any human tongue, but I’m very bothered that I haven’t heard the rest. I’m not sure I know everything I need to know!
Q. If you were a superhero (and I’m not saying you aren’t), what is your superpower? What is your superhero name?
Apparently my superhero name is “Tai Pan” and it was chosen for me by some fellow writers. I’m not entirely sure what superpower they’re trying to claim that I have with that and I don’t fully get it, either. But who am I to argue?
Q. I’ve heard you say that “sleep is for the weak.” Honestly, though, how do you find the time to do so many things so well?
Well, I say that as a joke, but one thing is that I really don’t sleep as much as I should. I’ve always had trouble sleeping. I made a conscious decision in my early 20s that if I wasn’t sleeping, I wasn’t going to simply lie in bed not sleeping, either. So now when I can’t sleep, I get up and do something productive. Or, more often, when I know I won’t be able to sleep yet if I lie down (and most of the time I can tell), I just stay up and keep working.
I also get bored easily. Really bored, really easily. And when I get bored, I get depressed. So staying busy is mostly just self preservation. It bugs my wife sometimes that I spend so much time working.
And speaking of that last, I get an awful lot of support from my family, and my wife Morgon in particular. What the outside world sees as my productivity is often really a combination of the two of us. I’m just the face we present to the public.
Q. Is there anything about the writing life that you think is misunderstood by the public?
Yeah, people think it’s all fun and games, that words just magically appear on the paper, and that you make a ton of money. It looks like the best job in the world, right? No boss, no hours, just make up stories and stuff.
But the reality is that it’s very hard work, especially if you actually want to make any money at it. The words don’t write themselves. And beyond the actual writing part, there’s a lot of marketing and business work that goes into it – even if you have a publisher behind you. And for most authors, the pay is absolutely terrible. The number of authors in the US who make a full time living at it is depressingly small.
But on the other hand, it’s the best job in the world because there’s no boss, no hours, and you just make up stories and stuff.
Author Name: Russell Newquist
- War Demons – coming soon!
- Who’s Afraid of the Dark? – http://amzn.to/2v0mW91
- Knight of the Changeling – http://amzn.to/2v2ARtA
Lyonesse Short Fiction: https://lyonesse.silverempire.org/