Volume 4 Number 1
Jonathan Fesmire is a fantasy writer with a growing fan base. He has written three novels, Children of Rhatlan, Tamshi’s Imp, and Amber in the Over World, and Seeds of Vision, an anthology. His short fiction has appeared in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine, Jackhammer, and elsewhere. He is also a fantasy artist with two art books, 3-Rotica, and Fantasy in 3D. This year, he won second place in Venus Press’s cover artist contest. His web site is at http://www.jonathanfesmire.com/.
Describe the steps involved in creating your stories.
Generally they start with an idea, a character, or both together. I get an interesting character in a situation with a magical dilemma, and start musing on what it might lead to. One of the best "tricks" I've learned is to get into one character at a time. Find out what that character wants and what he'll do to get it, then do the same for the other characters. Conflicts emerge, scene ideas present themselves, and interesting things happen.
How did your anthology come together?
I had written over twenty short stories that I felt were good enough to submit to magazines. Several were published before appearing in the anthology.
At the time I decided to compile "Seeds of Vision," the now defunct ebook publisher, Crossroads Publications, had just accepted "Children of Rhatlan." This was right around the time when the Rocket eBook was new, and it looked like ebooks might be the next big thing. People still prefer print books though, and I can't blame them. I do, too. Anyway, with "Children of Rhatlan" accepted, I thought it might be a good time to publish my short stories as a collection.
The current edition of "Seeds of Vision," which I published through Lulu ( http://www.lulu.com/jonathanfesmire ) also contains my short story, "L'Autre Margot," formerly published in "Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine."
Do your works share a common theme?
There are a couple of big ones that come up frequently. One is that of duality. I'm fascinated with twins. I came up with a magical condition that happens on Taibril, the fantasy world of "Tamshi's Imp," "Children of Rhatlan," and many of the stories in "Seeds of Vision." The condition is known as duality, and people with it are duals. This happens when somehow in utero, twin babies are magically joined in such a way that only one can be present in the world at a time. The other is pushed back into another dimension, the "dual realm." They have to switch regularly, the overt one going covert. This looks very much like shape shifting, though they actually have two separate bodies. They also share an powerful telepathic bond; the covert dual experiences all of the overt dual's sensations, and they can speak to each other through their thoughts.
After I came up with this idea, around 1994, I started to see over time how much potential this idea had for conflict. Eventually, I wrote "Children of Rhatlan," my first duals novel.
A second theme is open mindedness, or the willingness to challenge one's cultural suppositions. In "Children of Rhatlan," this takes the form of characters having to look at their own prejudice against duals. In "Tamshi's Imp," it challenges the nature of religious faith.
Ultimately, I think my books encourage individuality, freedom, and compassion.
What do you think makes good writing appealing?
The two things most important to writing are a good story, and good prose, in that order. There seems to be a misconception among new writing students that you can start putting words on a page and a fully realized story will emerge. The words are just the surface though. In my experience, a lot of preparation has to go into writing before you commit words to paper. Characters and setting need to be created and relationships need to be explored. The story is everything that happens within it. The words are a tool to get the story from the writer's mind to the reader's.
I think that's why so many writing books focus on prose. Great prose conveys a story better than bad prose. Still, great prose can not disguise a bad story.
You've published several novels and an anthology. In terms of professional goals and artistic ideas, where do you plan to go with your writing from here?
I plan to keep writing fantasy, as I've been doing for most of my life. Currently, I'm writing a novel with a dark elf protagonist. After I finish the first draft, I'm thinking of finishing the sequel to "Children of Rhatlan." Then, I'll have two first drafts to revise.
I have a great idea for an art book, but I need the help of fellow fantasy writers to do it. Hey, fantasy writers out there, drop me a line and I'll tell you more!
Are you part of a writing community and why or why not?
I have been in writing groups, but currently I have a few close friends who are also writers, and we help each other with critiques and ideas. With writing, art, reviewing, and family, I really have to squeeze in reading the work of other writers. If I were in a critique group, I fear I wouldn't be able to do much else!
I was in a writing group in 2004. Members didn't so much critique each others work as talk about different agents and publishers, and so on. For various personal reasons I dropped out of that group, and haven't joined a new one since.
Also, I have been a member of SFWA (the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) and HWA (the Horror Writers' Association). Perhaps I should renew my memberships.
In a busy world, how do you make time to write?
I'm very blessed. My wife has a great job and makes a solid living. Essentially, I'm a house husband. My job is to watch the kids when they're home from school, keep up on most of the housework, write, and do art. I've worked full time jobs in the past, but I think I work more now. I work on my art, writing, and promotion every single day.
How have you overcome fear in your writing, or have you never had to?
Like many writers, I had to overcome the fear of rejection when I decided to start submitting short stories. Since rejection slips are inevitable, I got it in my mind that they were something to collect.
Is it ever daunting, nursing your projects through to completion? Why and what do you do about it, or why not?
I need to finish the sequel to "Children of Rhatlan." I got over half way through the first draft, then decided that, unless "Children of Rhatlan" were picked up by a new publisher, there was little business sense in finishing the sequel. I wrote "Amber in the Over World," hoping to break into the young adult market. I had so many troubles with a couple of agents, that I ended up not writing for months.
I decided that I had two paths to choose from. One choice was to keep struggling to get noticed by editors--who are only interested in publishing what they think might be a best seller--and live with that stress and worry. The second was to self publish, write the kind of stories that I wanted to write, and not worry about what some high and mighty editor might be looking for. I took my writing career into my own hands, published my books myself, and am happy with the decision. I'm getting fantastic reviews, interviews, making new friends, and am more productive than ever.
So, at the time I put the "Children of Rhatlan" sequel on hold, the prospect of finishing it was daunting. There seemed to be no point. Dealing with the publishing industry though was most daunting of all, and for a short while, stopped me from writing all together.
How do you look out for your business interests as an author?
First, my books are as good as I can make them before they see print. Self publishing needs to be approached as a serious business, like independent film making or record producing.
Now that I have six books in print (four fiction, two art), I'm constantly looking for new marketing strategies. In general, I don't consider myself much of a salesman. I have to strongly believe in a product to promote it, and I'm passionate about my books.
Looking back on where you've been, what would you differently?
That's hard to say, because any change could alter everything else. I think I would avoid my first two publishers though, and publish through Lulu sooner. Still, if I did things that way, I might not have the contacts I have today. I might still be looking for reviewers to read my books, and I might have missed out on meeting some of my closest friends. Over all, I think my writing career has gone how it was supposed to.
What do you want from your writing?
What my writing gives me is the freedom to explore all sorts of ideas. When I'm writing a story, I generally have a fair idea of where it's going, but the characters often surprise me. I also love to hear about it when people enjoy my books, love my characters, or are surprised by a particular twist. So, these are things that I get from my writing, and want to keep getting.
I hope that my writing will bring in a supplemental income to help my family. Marketing is tough, but I'm seeing sales come in, and with each one I think, "Cool, someone else is going to read my work." I don't expect huge fame and fortune, but a moderate amount of each would be nice. I want to entertain people, and maybe even get them to think a little differently.
What's the most nerve-wracking part of the work?
I would have to say the middle section of any novel. There's a feeling of having accomplished a lot just getting that far into a book, and the knowledge that there's still a huge chunk more to write. That's about the time when I'm eager to get a book finished and feel the exhilaration of knowing I finished the first part of a big project. The next part, of course, is the revision.
What unsung heroes play a role in your creative process, and how?
My wife is so supportive, I have to say she's the number one unsung hero. Well... unsung to most of the world, maybe, but not to me. I dedicated my novel, "Tamshi's Imp," to her. My parents are unsung heros as well, for raising me to pursue my own interests. It hasn't always been an easy path, but it's the right one.
When and where do you do your writing?
Usually, I write at my desk at home, on my computer. Sometimes I'll write longhand. I especially like it when I can go to a cafe and sit there for a few hours, nursing a mocha and writing. The stream of people, background chatter, and the smell of coffee are oddly conducive to writing. I discovered this in my early teens actually, when I had violin lessons. Afterward I would go to a cafe and write for a couple of hours, until my mom picked me up. That may be why I feel especially comfortable writing in cafes.
How does being a cover artist help market your writing or vice versa?
The funny thing about marketing is that you can only guess at which methods of promotion are working. I post covers I've done--for my own books and for other writers--in one or more of my online galleries, and talk about them in my live journal ( http://jfesmire.livejournal.com/ ). Also, I get artist credits in the books with my covers. Essentially, it gets my name out there.
When it comes to my own books, I don't have to hire a cover artist, or use stock images for my covers. I can then use the cover image for marketing in any way I want, or sell prints. For example, through Vista Print, I printed "Tamshi's Imp" and "Amber in the Over World" bookmarks, using a portion of the cover art from each book.
Your work has been reviewed in a number of venues. What do you think makes a good, honest, and fair review?
I think it's valuable when the reviewer not only states his opinion on a book, but also why he feels that way. In other words, it helps to know why a reviewer is biased one way or the other toward a story. Then the person reading the review can decide if they might share the reviewer's opinion or not.
What about your writing appeals to 'the universal' - to something that crosses lines of difference and is understandable to people with very different past experiences?
For those not familiar with my stories, I'll attempt a general description of what you can expect when you read something by Jonathan Fesmire. Maybe this will help answer the question.
Some of my stories take place in modern society. Some take place in fantasy worlds. In all of them, magic is very real. Many of my characters can use magic to a greater or lesser degree; wizards abound. Most of my characters are essentially good, some are downright evil, and all are flawed. You can expect a twist or two, and varying degrees of darkness and humor.
I think that readers can relate to my characters, even in the context of strange situations.
We look forward to further works from Jonathan Fesmire. Meanwhile, if you're interested in his writing, do visit http://www.jonathanfesmire.com/