Harry Connolly is the author of the TWENTY PALACES urban fantasy series featuring Ray Lilley. He’s also about to conclude a very successful Kickstarter campaign to self-publish a new epic fantasy series, so I grabbed the chance to chat with him about that and help boost his signal as the campaign clock winds down.
ANTHONY: You’re currently in the closing days of a Kickstarter for a new epic fantasy trilogy called The Great Way, and the project has an interesting origin. Can you share that genesis with us?
HARRY: This whole trilogy started as a homeschool project with my son. When he was nine, almost ten, I dug out a book I’d bought years before, written by a LAUSD elementary school teacher, that promised to teach kids to write a fantasy novel. It was also full of lessons on grammar, punctuation, word usage, narrative structure, and so on. Lots of work sheets. I wrote about it here: http://www.harryjconnolly.com/blog/index.php/a-special-project/
And my son being who he is, I had to do the exercises along with him.
He finished his “novel” (actually a comic fantasy about 10K words long) the next summer. For me, the book I was writing ballooned into three books and took me much much longer.
ANTHONY: You said that your project “ballooned into a 350,000 word trilogy.” Can you give us your take on the tropes of epic/high fantasy and why it lends itself to books of such size? Is it even possible to write a “short epic fantasy?”
HARRY: I do think it’s possible to write short epic fantasy. People used to do it all the time, and some still do it now. However, I think modern epic fantasy fans prefer very long stories. At least, those are the books that dominate the bestseller lists.
ANTHONY: The Kickstarter for The Great Way has been super-successful. Initial goal of $10,000, and as of when I’m typing these questions, you’re at $36,000. What are some of the stretch goals you’ve added in to enhance the project as that pledge amount has climbed?
HARRY: So far we’ve unlocked two stretch goals: Thanks to the enthusiasm and generosity of my backers, all three books in the trilogy will be getting covers by Chris McGrath. That’s a pretty big deal for self-published novels.
The other goal we’ve unlocked is for extra ebooks: one is a pacifist urban fantasy called A KEY, AN EGG, AN UNFORTUNATE REMARK (working title: The Auntie Mame Files). Basically, it’s an urban fantasy with a protagonist who is in her mid-sixties. I think the world needs more books like that. Folks can read more about that book here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1179145430/the-great-way-an-epic-fantasy-trilogy-by-harry-con/posts/628459
Also, unlocked is the ebook for TWENTY PALACES, which is the self-published ebook that kicks off the books (published by Del Rey) that earned me so many fantastic readers. Folks who are new to my work might be interested in that. And there’s some other work, too.
The next stretch goal in sight is an rpg supplement that would allow gamers to play in the KEY/EGG setting with FATE Core rules. I have already promised a FATE Core supplement for The Great Way, for folks who pledge at that level.
ANTHONY: What are some of the rewards backers can still sign up for, in the closing hours of the Kickstarter?
HARRY: Well, at $12 they’ll get KEY/EGG, TWENTY PALACES and the first book in the trilogy, THE WAY INTO CHAOS. At $25 they’ll get the two extra novels plus the entire trilogy. That’s three or five books, which is a pretty decent deal if you like ebooks. Gamers who play FATE can add $5 to get the supplement.
There are also trade paperback editions of The Great Way (which will have the McGrath covers) and a hardcover omnibus edition. The omnibus edition is for Kickstarter backers only. Once those rewards are sent out I won’t be making any more of them.
There are also other rewards like a fiction critique. And cookies.
ANTHONY: In the 1,000 backers Stretch Goal, you mention that your upcoming short story collection will include a new Twenty Palaces short story. So I have to ask, as a fan: after this successful Kickstarter, have you considered doing one to continue the ended-too-soon Twenty Palaces series?
HARRY: Sorry, but no, I don’t.
I know people hate to hear that because they love those Twenty Palaces novels. I myself am amazed at how devoted the books’ fans are.
But the truth is that Kickstarter, for all its benefits, is just a way to *start* working toward success. Yeah, my KS campaign has been astonishingly successful–certainly more successful than I ever expected–and right now the number of backers I have is climbing toward 800.
However, my real goal is to grow my readership to a thousand times that number, or more if I can. If I wrote another Twenty Palaces novel now, while my readership was still too small to sustain a series, I would never find the kind of success I’m aiming for.
I have ambitions, let’s say. I talk about it in depth here: http://www.harryjconnolly.com/blog/index.php/let-me-tell-you-about-my-ambitions-and-why-they-dont-include-kickstarter-right-now/ but the gist is that I tried Twenty Palaces novels out in the market and they came up “devoted fanbase that is too small to sustain a career.” Writing another now would be treading water.
Besides, I’m hoping that my new books will please those readers just as much, if not more, and they won’t mind missing Ray and Annalise too much.
ANTHONY: I’d forgotten about that essay, but I’m glad asking you the question might direct people to it who missed it when you first posted it. Speaking of posting: you published your son’s project on your website. Any plans to bring it out as an ebook or limited print run, as part of the stretch goals for your Kickstarter?
HARRY: There is! Above, where I was talking about backers receiving “other stuff” in that unlocked stretch goal, one of the things I was talking about is the comic fantasy my son wrote. It’s, you know, a novella written by a kid, but it’s very funny (deliberately funny, I mean) and I’ve already convinced fine artist and children’s book illustrator Kathleen Kuchera to make a cover for it. http://www.pinterest.com/kathleenkuch/my-art/
I’m a big fan and I think readers will be delighted by how bright and beautiful her work is.
ANTHONY: Once the Kickstarter is over, how can people who didn’t back the project purchase The Great Way?
HARRY: The current plan is to offer it as ebooks in All The Usual Places, plus POD editions. In fact, I plan to make the POD editions returnable and high discount so bookstores can stock it, if they want. I know there are a few Twenty Palaces fans out there who are booksellers.
ANTHONY: And my usual closing question: What is your favorite book, and what would you say to someone who hasn’t read it to convince them that they should?
HARRY: Hah! My normal answer to this question is that I don’t have favorites and don’t believe in them, but I won’t do that here. Instead I’ll just recommend RED HARVEST by Dashiell Hammett. It’s a mystery and a crime novel and yeah, it’s nearly a 100 years old now, but the story is compelling as hell. Hammett may have invented a new plot when he wrote that book.
And while it doesn’t have the sf bling or fantasy magic, it does have one character, a flawed but Competent Man, who risks his life to stand up to corruption. The protagonist is tarnished but heroic, and my first novel sale came about because I was trying to translate the frisson of that book into contemporary fantasy.
You can follow Harry on Twitter @byharryconnolly, check out his website, livejournal, Facebook … and most importantly, you can journey over to The Great Way Kickstarter and help Harry reach some of those stretch goals … and get some solid fiction in return!