Russell Newquist isn’t just a writer, he founded his own publishing house and took matters into his own hands. He is an author, a husband, a father and a Catholic. He practices martial arts and also finds time to write his own stories. He’s got a lot coming out in 2017, so keep an eye out for the Silver Empire. You can also follow him on Gab at gab.ai/rnewquist
- So tell me a little about where and how you grew up. What was your childhood like? Where did you get your love of reading and books from?
I was born in Virginia, but we moved to north Alabama when I was seven. Huntsville was still pretty small then, and Madison (where we lived) was even smaller. I was the super nerdy kid who ended up going to some very country schools out in the county. It was rough at the time, but in hindsight I think it was actually really good for me. Growing up surrounded by nothing but nerdy kids would have probably just reinforced some of my less wonderful personality traits.
My family – particularly my extended family – is almost a kind of “Educational aristocracy.” We have a lot of schoolteachers in the family, several college professors, and one or two actual deans. So reading is just kind of something I grew up with. My parents encouraged it, too. We went to the library often, and on our frequent bookstore trips they would just about buy me any book I wanted to read.
SciFi and Fantasy are, of course, the primary genres I write in now. My earliest movie memory is of watching “The Empire Strikes Back,” which came out when I was two. I was enthralled with the entire trilogy. When I was in the fourth grade, we read “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” and “The Hobbit” in our gifted class. You can guess where those led. I’ve never looked back.
- You studied philosophy at U of Alabama. Did you chose that major thinking it would help you become a better writer or at the time was writing not on your mind?
First a minor correction. UAHuntsville isn’t the same school as the University of Alabama. The name confusion is unfortunate. [Edit: My mistake, I should have been more diligent in my research]
Writing wasn’t even on my mind at the time. I was there on a scholarship for computer science (which is my actual career now). Then I got three years into the program and didn’t feel like I’d learned almost anything useful. At the time, CS was still a fairly new field and a lot of the pioneers had degrees completely unrelated to it. So I thought, “hey, I know how to do a lot of this stuff already, these classes aren’t really helping, so why not switch it up?”
Honestly, at the time it was either change or quit. And given the family background I described above, quitting didn’t even really occur to me as an option. Philosophy interested me, and I was learning a lot in it. So I switched. And then it turned out that UAH (which was, at the time, a pretty small school) actually had a really good philosophy department. It was a much better fit for me, especially at the time.
- At what point did you know you wanted to be an author? What were your first stories like?
I’ve kind of thought about it forever, but the actual decision was relatively recent. I held myself back for a long time because I had hangups about having to produce something AWESOME AND AMAZING AND ORIGINAL. You know, a masterpiece like Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings.”
The blog posts of Jim Butcher and Larry Correia helped break me out of that. Their advice about sticking to something familiar and following the known formulas gave me a lot to think about. I read “Monster Hunter International,” which I loved, and thought, “Huh. I could actually write something like that.”
But the real kick came during a discussion with my wife about “The Dresden Files.” Our favorite character is Michael Carpenter. I made a joke that Butcher needed to wake up and realize that he was writing it all wrong and the story was ACTUALLY “The Adventures of Michael Carpenter as told through the eyes of Harry Dresden.” She laughed and said someone should write that.
Well, Butcher was obviously never going to give me the rights to Michael Carpenter (nor should he). But that’s how Peter Bishop was born. After thinking on it for a few years, the character started to become my own. Then his world became my own. Then his backstory… and eventually it just came down to, “hey, I need to write about this.”
But what really kicked it off was when I got the concept for “Vigil.” That will be my next project after I finish the forthcoming “Post Traumatic Stress.” I got the idea in my head after listening to a song and taking the lyrics FAR too literally… and it wouldn’t go away. And I knew I had to write it. It just somehow ended up not being the first project I actually wrote. But it’s probably better for that.
I’ve gotten a lot of great feedback over the existing Peter Bishop stories. If you like those, “Vigil” will blow you away.
- What have you written that you are most proud of; could be anything from a high school essay to an epic novel you haven’t yet finished.
So far it’s the first Peter Bishop story, “Who’s Afraid of the Dark?” That story was completely inspired by my oldest son, and “Little Johnny” is heavily based on him. A lot of stuff that goes through his head in that story is the way he actually talks and thinks in real life, and especially the way he did at the time I was writing it. I set out to capture that in the story, and I really felt like I succeeded. Based on the reader feedback, I think they agree. Out of everything I’ve written so far, that’s the one where I really and truly achieved what I was going for and it came out great because of it. It was also a ton of fun.
- You also run the publishing house Silver Empire. What impelled you to start your own publishing house? Do you think the indie publishers will have an edge with authors in the future? Where do you see publishing going in the next ten years?
Rank opportunism. When Morgon and I decided to start putting our stories out, we figured it made more sense to band together our efforts with others. We didn’t feel like fighting rejections, even from small and indie publishers. But we also didn’t want to go it alone. And a lot of things like marketing, web sites, e-mail lists, etc become a lot more valuable when you have more properties to spread them across. It makes a lot more sense to spend a weekend selling books at a con when you have 10 of them to sell than when you only have one. So it was a way of getting a lot more out of the work we were already doing.
I’m not sure what you mean by the second question, but I’ll take my best stab at it. I think that in the current market, indie publishers or self publishing is the only way that makes any sense. Most of our authors so far have joined on with us less for money and more because it eases the stress of going it alone. We’re there to help deal with the headaches, like flaky cover artists, copyright registration, book layout, dealing with vendors and printers, getting tables and booths at conventions, etc. None of that is super hard work, but it all adds up and it makes it a lot easier on the authors to have help.
In ten years, the big 5 will be either dead or the walking undead zombie versions of themselves. Their business model doesn’t work anymore and they haven’t adjusted. Baen is the only big publisher that will survive, and it’s nothing to do with their politics. They see the future and they’ve altered course for it. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be big publishers. They just won’t be the big publishers of today. Castalia House will be one, for sure. I couldn’t tell you who else will be, but I’m sure hoping Silver Empire is on the list!
- What is the role of self-publishing in today’s marketplace? Are self-publishers just off their rocker, or is it a kind of proving ground to be picked up by a publishing house?
Neither. Self publishing is a completely viable market In its own right. And for anyone who feels comfortable doing the work and funding it themselves, it may actually be the best way to go. I don’t think that’s going to change 10 years out from now, either. The hardest part about self publishing is to find a way to stand out from the crowd. But that’s tough even with a big publisher. If you have time and/or money, everything about the publishing process can be done yourself now. Most of it’s not even that hard – and the parts that are can often be had cheaply thanks to the Internet.
- What does Silver Empire look for when considering a new author? What types of stories are you interested in publishing in 2017?
First and foremost we’re looking for work that’s good. If the work sucks, we’re not going to try to put lipstick on a pig. Beyond that, we’re in a “slow and steady” growth model, so the biggest thing we’re looking for is, “does this fit with our current plans?” For instance, we’re finalizing a deal with another author you’ve probably heard of to take his work on. He’s published the works himself previously, but in this particular case the works fit very well with the marketing plan we already have for some other books. It’s another case of, “we can get more bang for our buck this way.” We’re too small to just publish every good book we find, unfortunately. We have to make the business case for it.
We’ve got plans for two more anthologies of short stories in 2017. The first one, in the spring, is themed around “superversive superheroes.” The second one, in the fall, will be about mysterious stairs appearing randomly in the woods, with each author submitting their own version of why, how, and what’s going on. We’ve got a few stories for each work already, but we’re still accepting submissions. Information is at the links below.
We’re finalizing a deal for five books from one author – three novels, a short story collection, and a non-fiction book, all related. So we’ll be putting some of those out next year as well. My own debut novel, “Post Traumatic Stress,” will either drop in December or, more likely, in early 2017. I also plan to have “Vigil” done and published next year. My wife Morgon has more of the “School of Spells & War” saga already on deck, and we’re planning to get a bunch of those out next year. Depending on how audiobook sales of “Down the Dragon Hole” go, we’d like to do more of those. And we’re hoping to get the sequel to S.D. McPhail’s “Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key” out next year.
But our biggest news in 2017 is going to have to be Lyonesse (http://lyonesse.silverempire.org/) – our online subscription model for short stories. It’s a brand new business model meant to replace the pulp magazines of yesteryear. We’re going live with the Kickstarter for that on November 15th, and we plan to have the service live in 2017. Short fiction has been dying along with the magazine industry. We’re going to make it great again.
- About how long do you think it takes for a writer to go from green to ready-to-sign? What do you look for in terms of a writer’s progress when you sign them?
I don’t think there’s any one single answer to this. Like kids, every author evolves at a different pace. While we try to establish long term relationships with all of our authors, we sign individual works, not authors. So the main thing we’re looking for is, “is it done and is it good?”
- How does one know they should be a writer? How does one know when it’s just not going to happen?
I don’t know. I’ve never really experience either case. I didn’t decide I should be a writer, I just decided I was going to.
In this day and age of self publishing, I don’t really think there’s any reason at all to decide, “it’s just not going to happen.” But don’t quit your day job.
- What is the difference between a professional writer and a wanna-be hobbyist? Work ethic? Financial success? Lots of books written?
My answer is simple, and it’s the one I’ve always used for the term “professional.” If you get paid for it, you’re a professional. Period.
- What work that you’ve published are you most proud of? Which book did you work the hardest on?
I’d have to say that the thing I’m proudest to have published is the story “Negev” by Josh Young, available in the anthology “Between the Wall and the Fire.” That story is AMAZING. I still can’t believe that we got a work that good. But in a few months when Lyonesse goes live, Mr. Young is going to have some stiff competition from Hugo award nominee Cheah Kai Wai. His submission for Lyonesse simply blew me away. In both cases, I couldn’t believe that, as small as we are, we were so lucky as to have gotten material THAT good submitted to us. Both of those guys are authors to watch. They’re going places, and they’re going to be big names someday.
“Work the hardest” could mean a lot of things, but for me the answer is very clear: “Post Traumatic Stress.” Writing a novel is a vastly different undertaking than writing short stories. I think the next one will be a lot easier, but this one took me about twice as long as I’d planned on. The good news is that it’s a much better book for it. I think readers will really enjoy it. I just had a lot to learn.
- Tell me about where you stand on politics? How would you classify yourself and what are some of your core beliefs?
How much time do you have?
The short version is that I’m a Catholic Nationalist Libertarian – in that order. I’m not idealistically libertarian, it’s just that “live and let live” is how I want to… live. It’s the life that I like, and that I thrive in. But I’ve learned the hard way that it doesn’t work in society without Christian values in the culture, and those values can’t survive mass immigration and multiculturalism.
- I know you attend a Roman Catholic Church, do you consider yourself to fall in line with the Catholic teaching on social issues such as abortion, gay marriage and contraception? Are you a happy Catholic?
I don’t believe the Church’s social teachings because I’m Catholic. I became Catholic because I believe their social teachings. So in short, yes.
I’m a bad Catholic. I love my sins, I’m terrible at confession, I don’t pray enough, and I miss mass too much. But yes, I’m happy at it.
- What inspires you?
My kids – and in two ways. First, there’s the inspirations like I got for “Who’s Afraid of the Dark?” My kids are just funny – and fun. I love watching the way they play together, and the sheer, unrestrained imagination they have. I had my imagination nearly killed in my childhood, and I’ve had to fight to get it back as an adult. I’m trying hard to keep that from happening to them, and they’ve helped me in that fight.
On a completely different level… I think about quitting my job every morning. Then my kids get up and start demanding breakfast. I don’t have a muse, I have mouths to feed.