StoryBundle currently has a heck of a deal available. For one low price you can grab all ten of the books selected as finalists in Mark Lawrence’s first SPFBO competition. Click HERE for details.
One of my fellow finalists, Barbara Webb, was kind enough to stop by for an interview. Barbara’s City of Burning Shadows was placed into the finals by Elitist Book Reviews, and named contest favorite by them as well.
David Benem: Congrats on your performance in the SPFBO finals and selection to the SPFBO StoryBundle! City of Burning Shadows scored consistently well with the bloggers. What do you feel are the biggest strengths of your book, both in terms of your writing and your story?
Barbara Webb: Most of the reviewers called out both the setting and the story itself–the way the mystery played out–as strengths of the book. Those are definitely two of the elements I put the most work into when I was writing. Shadows is urban fantasy, which traces its roots back to noir, so I wanted to make sure I did justice to the mystery element.
I like keeping people guessing. I like surprising the reader. And my goal is always to build a story that will reward on the second read as well as the first–making sure there are details and decisions that gain a whole new context when you’re rereading with the knowledge of what’s actually happening. These are the fun parts of writing for me, and I would like to think those are elements I successfully built into Shadows.
DB: Ash is an interesting character, bitter and sarcastic and hiding from his past. Yet, he possesses a resolve to save his dying world. What was your inspiration for him, and for the setting?
BW: As a reader and as a writer, I love stories about how we deal with loss. As a writer, I love stripping away everything a character has and seeing what’s left, what pushes them forward despite everything. Ash was definitely that character for me, and he needed to be in a world where he was in danger of losing everything.
I also love the notion of a soft apocalypse–a world that’s winding down, where things have gone wrong in a way that can’t be fixed, but people haven’t broken all they down to the Mad Max place yet. So these were the two shiny toys I was playing with when I started outlining this book.
DB: Many who’ve reviewed City of Burning Shadows make particular note of your world-building. What was your process for that? How did the world develop in your head and on the page?
BW: So…confession time. I’m a gamer. Like, old-school hardcore gamer. I came by it honestly. My parents played D&D with their friends, and some of my earliest memories are of watching them all sitting around a table throwing dice.
So world-building for me is an interactive process. When I come up with a world, when I start to have an inkling of the sort of story I want to tell, I run it as a game. (My friends are all aware of and supportive of this process that makes them guinea pigs.)
The great thing about running a game before I write the book is that generally, the players have a lot of the same questions readers have. As I answer their questions, as I fill out the world as they move through it, it gives me all kinds of useful building blocks for when I sit down to write the book. It forces me to think about the world in a three dimensional way. It’s a handy trick. I recommend it for any writer.
DB: Elitist Book Reviews selected your novel as their favorite of the SPFBO, stating there was no reason it couldn’t be traditionally published right now. What led you to indie publication, and to enter your title in the SPFBO? How would you describe your experience with indie publishing?
BW: One of the things I like best about indie publishing is knowing that I will stay in control of the story. No matter how well or poorly they do, I’ll be able to finish Ash’s story. That was important to me. There’s a freedom to indie publishing that’s appealing. I’m enjoying it so far.
I’m not saying if a publisher came to me with a contract that I’d turn them down out of hand, but one of the things indie publishing had done for authors is give us choices. In the old days, if you didn’t like the terms of a contract and you didn’t have enough clout to change it, your choices were either to deal with the bad terms or accept your book was never going to see the light of day. Now, if I don’t like the terms of a deal, I can walk away and publish the book myself. It gives writers more power to negotiate a favorable career, and that’s amazing.
Which is why experiences like the SPFBO are so critical, to writers, to readers, to the industry as a whole. The more people can see that yes, there are excellent self-published books to be found, the more people are willing to trust indie books as a reading experience, the more freedom writers will have to pursue the career path that works best for them.
DB: You’ve just published What Dreams Shadows Cast, the sequel to City of Burning Shadows. Congratulations! Do you feel your writing evolved from City of Burning Shadows, and, if so, how? Did the reviews from the SPFBO change your approach to writing in any way?
BW: It’s hard to judge, really. There are writing elements I think I handled better in What Dreams Shadows Cast. Ideally, we all improve over time with practice. But there’s a lot I love about Shadows, still.
Mainly what I got from the SPFBO reviews was a sense of relief! For the most part, the reviewers seemed to be reading the book I meant to write. They got what I wanted them to get out of the book. Which I think is the best thing a writer can hope for. Personal taste is always a thing, and some people will like the book and other people won’t, but the best case is they like or dislike it based on the book as you meant it to be, and not because of a failure of communication.
DB: What can readers expect from What Dreams Shadows Cast?
BW: What Dreams Shadows Cast finds Ash and his friends having to figure out their next steps. The immediate crisis of Shadows is over, but the gods are still missing in action and the world is still falling apart. In Dreams, readers will get to see more of Ash’s world as Ash digs into secrets that it turns out even the gods had wanted to stay buried. Also, we get to meet new people and take a field trip out into the desert! What could be easier or more fun?
Thanks to Barbara for the thoughtful answers! Her Amazon author page is HERE if you’d like to check out City of Burning Shadows and its sequel, What Dreams Shadows Cast.