AC: Hi Derek, thanks for taking the time to chat today. First off, you’ve got several series out now. Can you tell us a little bit about them, and where should someone start?
DAS: Whew! I never planned on jumping around with so many different series when I first started writing but before I knew it, I had books going in all sorts of directions. I have three main series out right now, two that are completed trilogies (with more books planned in both worlds) and one – the first series I ever published – that I’m returning to, but in a different time period. My books vary between YA Epic Fantasy and LitRPG but overall my goal is to write fast-paced fiction with heart. Basically, books you don’t want to put down with characters you can’t help but root for.
The place to start is probably my Gryphon Riders Trilogy. They’re my best-selling series to date and you can grab them in ebook, paperback or in audiobook, narrated by the fabulous Kate Rudd. The story follows a girl named Eva who starts off as a shy girl that wants nothing to do with heroics or gryphons. Throw in some rune magic and a talking golem hold on!
My first (and unfinished) series is the Teutevar Saga. It’s a less grimdark Game of Thrones (pretty sure that comparison is worn to threads by now but I’ll use it anyway). The concept for the setting was “what if the Middle Ages happened in a North America?” I’ve had fun pairing wild west landscapes, animals and cultures with traditional fantasy in this series. I’m returning to this world – although a few hundred years earlier – in my next series: Wolf Song Saga. The rough draft of book one, A Spring for Spears, is underway as of the beginning of August 2019.
My most recently published trilogy was co-written with A.J. Cerna. We delved into the LitRPG genre but instead of doing a World of Warcraft-inspired story, ours was inspired by Pokemon, Digimon and Monster Rancher. I was a voracious Pokemon fanfiction reader growing up (fun fact: Pokemon fanfiction was the first thing I ever seriously attempted to write outside of school assignments). I always wished there were books in the Pokemon world that went outside of the well-trodden anime and game themes. I got tired of waiting so we wrote it ourselves! We made an effort to address some of the things that Pokemon likes to gloss over, while simultaneously paying homage to the things we love about the franchise AND putting our own unique spin on things.
AC: Why gryphons and not dragons?
DAS: I went through a serious dragon phase in middle school and read everything I could find about dragons. This amounted to Anne McCaffrey and, a couple years later, the Eragon series. I also had a huge collection of Mega Bloks Dragons as well. Dragons are awesome.
That being said…
I’ve told this story during interviews before, but around the same time – a few years prior to my dragon phase, actually – I got my first taste of Warcraft II playing on my next-door neighbor/cousin’s computer. Those who’ve played it will remember that the Alliance faction had a gryphon rider unit. Warcraft II That was one of my most influential gateways into fantasy and I was still young enough that whenever I played outside, I imagined I was a gryphon rider going on all sorts of quests and missions for the kingdom.
When I start to plan and outline what became the Gryphon Riders Trilogy, I wanted to blend well-known and beloved tropes with some fresh air. I thought back to my gryphon riding days as a youngster and voila! Everything just sort of took flight from there, pardon the pun.
AC: You have some really great artwork on your Gryphon Riders books. Really love the art on the 3rdone! Can you tell us a little bit about the process you went through with your cover designer?
DAS: Thank you! The secret is I have an amazing designer. I first hooked up with him for the cover of Into Exile, my Teutevar Saga prequel and he knocked that one out of the park! I usually take a scene or an image and describe it in as much detail as possible and then pull together a bunch of covers in the genre that I enjoy. I also send him movie character stills, video game screenshots – anything I can think of that captures the idea of what I’m looking for. My goal is to paint a vibrant picture before you even read the book description.
The designer just runs wild with it from there. The runestones on book one, for example, were something that he came up with and added in that really add a nice touch. Same goes for the swirling leaves – that’s all creative license from the designer.
AC: How about your writing process. What is it like from genesis of an idea to finishing that final draft?
DAS: My writing process has really evolved in the last two years. When I’m writing a solo book, I start spiraling out from a central idea or concept, sort of like when you throw a rock in a pond – the ripple effect. I’ll throw out a bunch of random scenes and things that come to mind and then try to put a framework on it all. I’m definitely a plotter, but I sort of plot by the seat of my pants, then go back and make sure I’ve got everything I need for the story to actually work. My solo outlines are usually a few thousand words with openings left to add in additional scenes as I start to get the feel for a story. I may do two or three revisions on the outline to get the story where I want it – it’s quite a bit easier to make big changes at this stage to save deleted words in the draft.
Once the rough draft is done, I try to let it sit for at least two weeks then I go back and make revisions and additions. I have a really hard time rereading through my own stuff but once I get through a second draft, I typically send it to a team of core readers (other authors, a couple editors who like more work, readers good at finding typos, etc.) From there I may do another round of revisions and a final polish and it’s done!
There are a few slight differences in my co-authored books. The outline is a collaboration between both of parties. In the case of Djinn Tamer A.J. then goes through the outline and really fleshes it out to 15-20,000 words. Then I do the rough draft and send chapters to him as I finish them. After his second (and usually third) drafts, I get the story back and we send it out to our team of readers/authors/editors.
AC: You have a small press called Undaunted Publishing. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
DAS: Undaunted started as a small press and has grown, evolved and changed many times in its six and a half years of existence. The original promise we made was to read and give abbreviated feedback to every submission we received. Then we opened up a writing blog called the Everyday Author, then we got into the book publicity service with a company called Book Review 22 and pretty soon I realized I was spending all of my “author” time running these other aspects of the business.
I’m a part-time indie author and, with only so many hours in a day, I realized something had to go. We’ve basically shut down Book Review 22 and things are relatively silent from the Everyday Author as well. Now, Undaunted is more of a publishing cooperative than a true small press. Aside from my uncle, Mike LeFevre, who founded the company with me, we have two other authors and two author assistants that run ads, marketing and other tasks. Aside from two anthologies, 2019 is actually the first year we’ve published books by someone not named Derek or Mike. It’s been a long and winding road, but I’ve learned many valuable lessons about running a business and publishing books in the Age of Amazon along the way. We’re finally gathering some momentum and have the most amazing team of individuals that are all great to work with.
AC: Is Undaunted open for submissions right now?
DAS: Undaunted isn’t open for submissions right now. We’ve got a core group of authors in place that form the foundation of our co-operative and we’re working hard to help them be successful. Once that foundation is in place, we’ll look at taking on additional authors. In addition to having a great book, we also want people who are a good fit on the team. It’s become a tight knit group.
AC: What inspired you to get into writing?
DAS: As I mentioned before, it really started with a desire to take a story that I liked and change parts of it so I would like it more. The original Pokemon Fanfiction I wrote was actually a reworking of someone else’s story that I thought I could improve. Don’t worry – none of it ever saw the light of day so I was only an eleven-year-old closet plagiarist. From there is blossomed from stories based on things I like to stories with my own original spin on them. I started what became Out of Exile, the first Teutevar Saga book, in high school. What you see now is almost a completely rework, but that’s when the seed was first planted.
Like many authors, I write because of those who came before me. Brian Jacques, Lloyd Alexander and J.K. Rowling were huge influences for me.
I first started down the indie author route after reading an interview by Michael Sullivan that was published in the back of his first big hit, Theft of Swords. He talked about his own self-publishing journey, something I didn’t even know was possible before reading that back in 2013. I owe much of where I am to him – Michael was kind enough to reply to my email and answer many rookie questions about self-publishing and being an indie author. I’ll always be forever grateful to him for getting me off on the right foot.
AC: Michael J Sullivan and his wife have been an incredible resource for a lot of budding authors (including me!). In case there’s some other aspiring writing out there trying to figure it all out, what’s one piece of advice Michael gave you that really stuck?
I still have my original email thread to him saved – he was the most patient, gracious person and too the time to give me cover advice tips and help me with my book description, too. I would say the best advice he’s ever given me is some on marketing that he’s shared on Reddit in a post called Author’s Guide to Self-Promotion (https://www.reddit.com/r/Write2Publish/comments/1aqjxy/authors_guide_to_self_promotion/). Essentially, it boils down to how you divide you available time depending on how many book syou have out:
· 1 book released: Divide time 90% writing / 10% promotion
· 2 books: Divide time 90% writing / 10% promotion
· 3 books: Divide time 50% writing / 50% promotion
· 4+ books: Divide time 80% writing / 20% promotion
AC: I saw in your bio that you’re a rancher. I’m picturing weeks on the range overseeing a cattle drive. How far off am I?
DAS: (Laughs) I’m sorry to disappoint, but pretty far off. We raise hay, cattle and sheep on about 120 acres, so we’re a small operation. It’s been a side operation since the 1950s – that was when the Bureau of Reclamation took most of our property to build a reservoir. Most of our fields from the original farm my great grandpa worked are underwater now, sadly.
We have about thirty sheep, a few goats, a dozen cows and two horses. Last May, I bought a registered longhorn and an working to build up a small herd of that breed. The cow I bought had her first calf a couple weeks ago which was exciting!
Farming/ranching is a tonof hard work but I’m proud of my family’s legacy and heritage. We recently received recognition for becoming a Centennial Farm and Ranch. When you stop to think about the amount of blood, sweat and tears that goes into 100 years of running a farm – that’s something.
AC: If you hadn’t started writing, what else do you think you would have gotten up to? Was the family ranch always in the picture?
DAS: I would probably read a whole lot more! And be caught up on my video game to-be-played list, too. I think I would have probably attempted to make an income as a YouTuber or Podcaster, honestly. I host a podcast through my day job and it’s been a lot of fun. As far as the ranch goes, it’s always been in the picture. I grew up doing it and don’t think I could walk away from it if I tried. Even though we do it on the side, it’s still something that gets in your blood – sort of like writing. Sometimes its not fun at all and you just throw your hands in the air but you still keep at it.
AC: What do you do for fun when not spilling your brains out on the page?
DAS: It’s not always “fun” but working on the farm and ranch takes up quite a bit of my time. There’s always something that needs to be done!
When I do unwind, I love spending time with my wife, whether that’s reading, watching a movie or TV show, cooking, hiking – whatever it might be. I enjoy the outdoors and am also a volunteer member of our county’s backcountry Search and Rescue team.
I don’t have as much time for it anymore, but I love video games, especially real-time strategy or RPGs. Some of my favorites are Age of Empires II (and oldie but a goodie), Skyrim, Banner Saga, the Pokemon franchise, and others.
AC: What are your favorite shows and books?
DAS: My wife and I just finished the second season of Dragon Prince on Netflix and really enjoyed it. There was some surprising depth to the wide cast of characters and I’m looking forward to where the show goes next. My favorite movie of all-time is probably a Knight’s Tale, followed closely by… it gets tough after that but I remember thinking how genius The Dark Knight was the first time I saw it. I don’t really have a Top 10 ranked or anything. Westerns are always great as well!
As far as books go, I’m a big Joe Abercrombie fan, but not really because of the grimdark genre. I just absolutely love the voice he uses in his books. I love tons of the books that everyone has probably heard of or seen on the Top Fantasy lists and I also enjoy nonfiction about American Football, especially this time of year. One book I like to plug that people usually haven’t heard of is The Builders by Daniel Polansky. It’s like a Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Western took over Watership Down or a Redwall book.
AC: And that’s all, folks! Reminder, the first book in Derek’s Gryphon Riders Trilogy is on sale today! If you want to find out more about Derek, you can find him at derekalansiddoway.com.