(This is the second in a planned series of interviews of creative peoples that we admire and of whom we think highly. This interview is with Paul Genesse, the Author of the Best Selling High Fantasy Iron Dragon series of books. Full disclosure: Craig Nybo our Creative Director and CEO has appeared in two editions of Paul’s wonderful anthology series The Crimson Pact.)
Blogmaster 2000: Hi Paul and thanks for doing this interview. You are seriously just one of our most favorite people in the world. Full stop. No qualifiers. The endless positive energy you bring to everything in which you are involved is wonderful and we love the way you are sincerely supportive of everyone you encounter. We have been passing around the Iron Dragon books in hardback amongst the staff (we should all buy our own copies next). Plus your support of SLC Nerd (our Geeky Mini Anti-Convention) was absolutely priceless.
As we discussed briefly when I reached out to you about this interview, the main point for us is to connect with people we genuinely admire and try to dig in a little bit to get a better idea of what drives them (you) and how you got here from there. So, if you are ready, here we go…
So… How old were you when you first read The Hobbit? And did you read it first or the Lord of the Rings first?
Paul Genesse: I was ten years old, in 4th grade. I read it three times that year, sitting against a fence as the other kids screamed and chased each other around the field. I barely noticed them. I’d watched the Ralph Bakshi cartoon when I was five, and it scared the crap out of me. I hid under the couch when the goblins came after the dwarves and Bilbo in the Misty Mountains. Soon after I watched the cartoon my mom made a shirt that said: “Lil’ Bilbo” in green felt letters. The shirt was bright yellow. I wore it often and did not like to wear shoes, which I’m certain proves I have Hobbit blood in me, though I’m tall for a Hobbit now at 5’5”. As a short little kid I could imagine I was Bilbo’s ancestor for sure.
I read Lord of the Rings for the first time in 6th grade, as it was beyond me in 4th grade. Then I read it over and over again until I was seventeen, reading my favorite chapters multiple times and I also studied a Middle-Earth encyclopedia reading every entry more than once, and became a student of the world. The chapters in LOTR that I loved above the others were: “The Bridge of Khazad-dum,” “A Journey in the Dark,” “Helms Deep,” and “Shelob’s Lair,” along with many others.
Blogmaster 2000: That is awesome that the Hobbit influenced your fashion sense as a child. I think you should post some pictures.
I was about in 4th grade as well, when I first read the Hobbit. After that the librarian urged me to read the High King by Lloyd Alexander before I moved on to Lord of the Rings. I finally read LOTR about 7th grade after going crazy for a while on youth orientated fantasy like the Dark is Rising Cycle by Susan Cooper and The Tripods series by John Christopher, etc.
What are some other books or series of books that you read as a child that you feel had a formative impact on you and how you see the world?
Paul Genesse: I remember reading the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis, they were awesome and so engrossing. I also remember reading the first three Shannara books by Terry Brooks: The Sword of Shannara, The Elfstones of Shannara (my absolute favorite in that series which I’ve read four or five times), and The Wishsong of Shannara); also the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen R. Donaldson, and the Dune books by Frank Herbert. The Dragonlance books by Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weiss were big favorites as well in junior high. I don’t remember reading a lot of “children’s books” that made a big impact, aside from The Hobbit. As soon as I hit 4th and 5th grade I went for books above my age range. I probably shouldn’t have been reading The Thieves World books edited by Robert Lynn Asprin when I was twelve . . .
Blogmaster 2000: Who did you want to grow up to be like? Are the characteristics that those people had that inspired you as child reflected in the people that you admire today?
Paul Genesse: I told my mom I wanted to be writer when I was four, and I’ve always admired writers, as they create the objects of art that I think are the most powerful in the history of the world. Movies are great, but they’re not as immersive as books. I admired J.R.R. Tolkien, and wanted to be like him for sure, and even said I was going to study English literature like he did.
Blogmaster 2000: When I was in middle school, the librarian at the local library (that was my favorite place in the world) told me about how Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were friends and often talked to each other about their book series as they were writing them. That built up in my head as a great adventurous friendship in which they would share ideas and tell stories and hang out together and solve mysteries. As I got older and learned how to research, I realized it wasn’t quite that wonderful, but still in my heart I know they were best friends that contributed to each others’ success.
You are very good friends with several other authors that live locally and have had a certain amount of commercial success. You connect with them regularly and go on adventures (with the help of multi-sided die, and small painted figurines). Do you think those times together with all of your varied personalities and tastes impact how you all approach, individually, your art?
Paul Genesse: Absolutely, my role-playing game experience has had a huge impact in my fiction. I’ve been running Dungeons and Dragons campaigns that I wrote for my friends since I was 12 years old. I’ve been dungeon mastering for 27 years+ now and all that gaming (not just D&D) has definitely slanted me a certain way and caused me to write the way I do. It also taught me how to perform and hone my reading aloud skills. As far as stories, I prefer heroic action, complicated storylines with an air of mystery, and I learned so much about world building and plotting while writing those adventures. There is a lot of tension in my games and the same goes with my books, as I want the reader to never get bored.
The specific people I game with for sure has had a big impact. My best friend, fellow gamer and college roommate, author Patrick Tracy, has been extremely important and I talk and brainstorm with Pat about all my books and stories. Without him and writer Bradley Beaulieu (author of the Winds of Khalakovo) I would be lost. Their sensibilities and opinions have greatly affected me and my writing.
My current gaming group (we play Legend of the Five Rings) is stacked with authors as well. New York Times bestselling author Larry Correia (Monster Hunter International and Hard Magic from Baen Books) is our incredible game master, and the players are Patrick Tracy (author of the novella “Darkness of the Sun” in The Crimson Pact Volume 4), Brad Torgersen (Campbell and Hugo award nominated author), along with beginning authors Steve Diamond, Zachary Hill and the only non-author, Tony Battaglino, who is rapidly learning to become a great one. We each write “fiction” about our games from our character’s point of view (journal entries and such) and we’re up to 23,000 words after only three games in our new Legend of the Five Rings campaign. We are hardcore and we definitely push each other to write awesome stuff. Larry Correia posts the entries on his blog where you can read about my character in the last campaign, Kuni Magatsu of the Crab Clan, the scariest shugenja you’ve ever seen.
Blogmaster 2000: Tell us a little bit about your day job. I love how open you are about it on Facebook, contrary to a lot of artists who try to minimize that part of their life as much as possible in public.
Paul Genesse: My day job is actually a night job—by choice. I work as a cardiac nurse and am a night shift supervisor on a cardiac floor at a big hospital. I run code blues and do whatever must be done to take good care of the patients. I’ve been a nurse since 1996 and it’s my calling and fits my personality better than being in the military, which is the other thing I was going to do. I love being a nurse most of the time and get a lot of satisfaction from it. My writing is my artistic outlet and I have to do it or I’d go crazy. I love writing but I do not want to be a full-time writer, which is too unstable for me. Perhaps someday, when I’m in my 50’s (I turned 39 in 2012), but right now I go to work and help people, and I get to work with genuine heroes, doctors and nurses. My co-workers are so awesome and it’s an honor to work with them. Many of the patients are quite inspirational as well.
Blogmaster 2000: We (mediaRif/Gangrene) met you through our wonderful friend Julee Litchfield, who had a very scary medical emergency and ended up at the hospital at which you worked. And even though you weren’t directly assigned to her, she was forever impacted by the fact that you went out of your way to visit her and support her and check in on her. She pretty much thinks you are the perfect man: artistic, creative, caring, intelligent, and a full time career. So thanks a lot for setting the bar there for the rest of us…
I often, in my various past professional selves, have thought a lot about how being creative isn’t limited to the arts. One of the most creatively fulfilling jobs I have ever had was when I managed a large team of sales people for a fortune 100 technology company. Balancing all of those personalities and helping guide them to success always felt like painting to me. Do you ever feel that way in your day job?
Paul Genesse: I totally agree with you. Managing all the different personalities at the hospital where I’m often the charge nurse (the shift supervisor) is totally an art. While I’m the charge nurse I help out with many of the patients during a shift, which can be lots of fun, and I constantly have the opportunity to use my creativity when interacting with people. My imagination is a big help when trying to solve complex problems as well, and being able to communicate well with patients, nursing staff, and especially doctors is a huge strength, which my writing has influenced a lot. Nursing is both an art and science, and I find that the art is the most difficult, and usually the most rewarding.
Blogmaster 2000: Did you have dream job as a kid?
Paul Genesse: I don’t think I did, unless it was “toy play-tester.” The more I think about this question, I think the answer is “fantasy writer.” I also thought about architect, soldier, and movie director. I definitely wanted to do something that had an impact on people’s lives.
Blogmaster 2000: So, in no more than 100 words, share with us a little the Alternative Universe life of Paul Genesse – Architect.
Paul Genesse: Great question. In an alternate universe I would have built tombs in ancient Egypt, or temples in ancient Greece, castles in the middle-ages, skyscrapers now, and space stations in the future. If you want to pin me down to now, I would have gone to one of the most awesome architecture programs, studied my butt off, then probably ended up designing buildings with a neoclassical style, lots of pillars and arches.
Blogmaster 2000: What do you see was the turning point in your professional life that has gotten you to where you are now?
Paul Genesse: The turning point for me was a couple of years after college when I decided to pursue getting published. It felt like jumping off a cliff (seriously), because when I put my mind to something I do not quit and do not stop until the goal is accomplished. I decided on a very tough course of action and it took eight years of struggle before I realized my dream and sold my first novel. Eight years is a long time to work at something. Once I made the decision to get published, there was no turning back. Going to the World Fantasy Convention in 2002 and meeting editor John Helfers was a big turning point as well. He bought my first novel four years later after I’d become a much better writer.
Blogmaster 2000: How many short stories and novels did you write before your first sale? How many rejections?
Paul Genesse: My first novel was rejected like five or seven times by publishers and agents before I rewrote it and sold it. I guess I wrote manuscripts of the whole Iron Dragon Series (550,000 words) before I sold anything. My first sale was a short story, written by request from an editor I had met. All of my short stories have been written by request of an editor. I’ve never had one rejected and would rather not submit stories blindly.
Blogmaster 2000: How would you describe your creative process – is there anything that you do or a process that you have that helps get you into the right mindset to work?
Paul Genesse: I walk through my fantasy art gallery in my basement, which has over eighty fantasy art prints of dragons, castles, heroes and more. Seeing the art gets me going. Also, watching awesome movies, listening to great music, and reading awesome books. I wish there was an easy way to get things going writing wise. It’s sometimes very tough to make things flow creatively, as the perfectionist in me is very critical. Usually, it goes like this: I choose to write, then I write. Sometimes it starts out in a sputtering fashion, but eventually it gets done. I’m happier when it’s done.
Blogmaster 2000: When I write, I am always relieved when I am done, but I absolutely dread the uncertainty that comes from letting others read me more. Do you have a small or large circle of first readers? And how do you choose those who you let into that circle?
Paul Genesse: My first readers are authors Pat Tracy and Brad Beaulieu, so a small circle. They are my alpha readers and they act as editors and help me shape the novel or short story. I trust their opinions, which is why they are a part of my circle. I have other friends who have helped me as well, as sometimes I need feminine input. I’ve sent out one novel to a larger circle of editors and writers, and got great feedback from them all, but the larger the group, the harder it is to incorporate all they said to do. I recommend a small group of two or three alpha readers.
Blogmaster 2000: What do you see as the single most formative moment that has created the “you” that exists today?
Paul Genesse: There’s no one moment for me. It’s a million individual moments involving my imagination, which can almost never be turned off. I do often say the first time I read The Hobbit changed my life forever, but I was born a creative person, and The Hobbit showed me what was possible.
Paul Genesse: My most rewarding project has been the response to my first novel, The Golden Cord, first published by Five Star Books in 2008. All my short story publications have been great, but with The Golden Cord I’ve connected with so many readers. This accomplishment has opened many doors for me, allowing me to do the things I’ve always wanted to do. I finally became and am known as a writer. My goal was accomplished at last, but it was only the beginning.
Blogmaster 2000: Your Iron Dragon publishing story is really pretty unique. The first and second books were contracted and put out by a traditional publisher and sold very well for them, and they offered you the third book as well. But then a change in content focus moved them away from the fantasy and science-fiction genre and left you out in the cold so to speak. So you bootstrapped it and have self-released the third book, and plan to do the others as well. Do you mind sharing a bit of your feelings in that direction and some of the pros and cons you see between each world – traditional publishing and self-publishing?
Paul Genesse: I’d much rather have a traditional publisher, as doing all the work yourself is tough. It sucked so bad to get orphaned after having so much success and not being able to find another decent publisher. Big publishers don’t pick up orphaned books and small presses will give you almost nothing and bad contracts. I’m thankful that my first publisher, Five Star Books, put out my first two novels for me and gave me credibility as a writer. They got my books reviewed by Library Journal and Publishers Weekly, and getting that kind of press is excellent. They also put out a great looking product in hard cover. Now, self-publishing is great in many ways. You get the majority of the profit, 70% rather than the usual 10% from traditional publishers (with the Amazon.com model), and you have freedom to do things the way you want it done, but you don’t get much distribution, aside from the internet. Overall, I plan on keeping my hand in both areas for the rest of my career.
Blogmaster 2000: What are some words of advice that you would give aspiring authors who are trying to get published?
Paul Genesse: Write because you have to. There are no shortcuts. Write a lot. Write even though you suspect it might be bad. It probably is bad, but you can’t fix a blank page, and the real magic happens with editing anyway. It’s super easy to get your work out now. You can self-publish whatever you want for very little money invested on your part, but a lot of time figuring out how to do it. Resist this urge to self-publish. Don’t self-publish until people who are not your friends and family tell you the work is good. You probably need a published writer to help you on this final step and give you their blessing if you’re going to self-publish. Better to make some short story sales to semi-pro and pro markets, then move into novels. Selling a novel to a major publisher is almost impossible . . . until you’re really, really good. Don’t worry about that now. Just write. Enjoy what you’re doing and write what you love.
Blogmaster 2000: What other projects, that you are free to talk about, do you have on the table currently?
Paul Genesse: I’ve just finished editing the fourth volume in my Crimson Pact anthology series, and now am finishing up some research for my novel, Medusa’s Daughter, which is set in ancient Greece. I need to revise the manuscript one more time and then I’ll get it to an agent, and soon I’ll rewrite the fourth book in my Iron Dragon Series, The Crystal Eye. Also, I’ve recently turned down an offer to write a computer game, because for me, it’s all about the time I have to work on creative projects. I only have so much time and energy, and would rather only work on what I want to work on. If I did this writing thing full-time I would have to take whatever project that came up or do what I was offered to do. Life is too short to spend your time doing stuff you don’t really want to do. I want to write what excites me, and work on what I’m excited about. Being excited about a book while you’re writing it is like nothing else in the world. I love books and collect them constantly. I just wish I had time to read more.
Blogmaster 2000: Word, my brother.
Paul, thank you so much for participating in this interview. You are definitely a scholar and a gentleman, and most importantly a friend and one of the family.
Learn more about the work of author and editor Paul Genesse at www.paulgenesse.com.