Morgon Newquist is the second writer from Silver Empire that I’ve interviewed. The first was Russel Nequist not even two months ago. She has some interesting things to say about how to get yourself going, what challenges face indie publications in the future, whether you should pursue that MFA and a host of other interesting things!
- Tell me a little about your background. What kind of an upbringing did you have? Where you encouraged to read and write as a young person? What types of values were instilled in you as a kid that still resonate with you today as an adult?
I grew up in Huntsville, Alabama. I was definitely encouraged to read and write as a child. I still have the pink notebook my grandmother gave me to “write my stories in” when I was eight. I read all the time; I even hold the record for most accelerated reader points earned by a fifth grader at my elementary school! My father is basically your traditional nerd, so I was introduced to several aspects of geek/nerd culture when I was pretty young. I watched Star Trek and Star Wars with him, read the books, etc. He was a science guest at Dragon Con the year I was eleven, and he took me with him. My childhood was pretty good.
I had a really rough time my teenage years because of family upheaval, and it took me a little while to move past it. I won’t go into details publically about it, but it definitely impacted my life.
As for values instilled when I was a child…I am a very different adult than my parents, so it took me a while to figure out how to answer. My grandmother was very much the typical southern grandma – she emphasized politeness, respect, charity, restraint. Don’t put your hands on glass doors, always say please and thank you, and yes ma’am and yes sir. It doesn’t matter if it is your boss or the girl at the fast food drive through, you can be respectful and polite to everyone.
- When did you have that “Ah ha” moment that made you feel as if you could be a writer? And when did you think that writing could be more than just a hobby but also a profession?
I haven’t ever really had that moment, to be honest. I’ve been writing since I was very young. I had a hundred page Star Trek story (not fan fiction, but set in the Star Trek universe) in the fifth grade. I love doing it, and have been doing it forever. I have always wanted to do it. I sent off a number of manuscripts my last year of high school, and was very discouraged by the responses I got, and stopped submitting anything for a long time. I did other freelance work, and worked as a staff writer for a video game company for a while.
I finally just decided that I wanted to do it, and I would self-publish instead of waiting to get through the gates of trad publishing. I made it one of my personal goals in 2014 to just suck it up and publish something on Amazon…and on December 31st, 2014 I published Wishing Only Wounds the Heart. That actually began Silver Empire, because when I did it, my husband said we might as well make it a publishing company instead of me trying to do it all on my own.
- There has been a lot of discussion between the old guard who represent the publishing houses and
the new vanguard of self-publishers and indie publishers on who is a “real” writer. To you, what makes someone a real writer? What is the difference between an amateur and a professional writer?
Does someone other than your mother and best friend read your stuff, and do you get paid for it? If the answer to those questions is yes, even if you’re only making pennies, I think you’re a professional.
Actually writing is the only requirement I would put on being a “real writer”. You’d be amazed the number of people who kind of live the lifestyle, but in the end, never actually write anything at all.
- Tell me what your process is like? Do you wait for the muse to descend or do you sit down to write and trust that she will show up? Do you have to be in a particular head space to write?
For a long time I only wrote when inspired, and that meant I wasn’t amazingly productive. Of course, this was in high school (and was mostly fan fiction) but that was it. I got around it by having a lot of projects going on at the same time. Then I did a SoLoWriMo (like National Novel Writing Month, but on my own in a different month than November) shortly after graduating from high school, and that really helped me work past my hang ups about the first draft being really amazing.
I have a hybrid sort of process, I kind of work from outlines as well as improvising. I do need to be in a good head space to write, which makes it difficult with four children around. My ideal process is to be alone to relax for a bit, and then go on a walk while listening to my writing music playlist while focusing on whatever I am writing on. Then when I get back and sit down, I’m in the head space for that story, and I’m usually very productive that way. But I don’t get to do that very often, unfortunately.
- How has the writing, as a craft, evolved for you over the years? What do you do now that you wish you had done say five years ago?
Writing! I wish I had just kept writing. I stopped to go to college because “being a writer wasn’t a real job” according to my parents and the people around me. I wish I’d just spent all that time writing, especially before I had children. That is my best piece of advice for everyone. The key to writing is very simple, but also very hard – you just have to sit down and do it.
- Do you believe in things like MFA programs and writer retreats? Or are they a waste of money for most writers?
Above all things, I believe in doing what works for you. It will be different for everyone. And while I think some people may get value out of writer retreats, I would advise against it. Above a certain point of proficiency, the best thing you can do for your writing is just to write. The more books you publish, the more potential you have for becoming successful. At some point there is no other way to learn unless you start actually writing.
Also college is ridiculously expensive, and I imagine it would be exceedingly difficult to repay student loans on a typical writer’s salary.
Taking classes on the business and advertising side of things, on the other hand, I think is very useful. Unfortunately those aren’t really the type of writing classes that are usually offered.
- What is talent? And do you need luck if you have talent in spades?
Everyone can always do with a little luck! I think talent is being able to weave stories, of whatever type, that hold everyone’s attention. I think there are different types of writing talents as well – some writers are gifted wordsmiths, some write vivid and amazing characters, and some craft detailed and excellent stories.
But it doesn’t matter how wonderfully talented you are if no one reads you – there are writers more talented than say, J.K. Rowling or Stephenie Meyer, or even George R.R. Martin. But you don’t know who they are because they didn’t have the luck to propel them to those heights.
- What types of lessons and values do you try to infuse into your work? Or do you leave that aspect of your books perfectly blank (or as close to it as possible) so your readers can insert their own values.
Though a handful of my stories are very Christian, I think the values and lessons that end up in my stories are pretty universal. Bravery, courage, loyalty, logical thinking, kindness and devotion are all themes that are in my work.
That said, I don’t want to preach, I want to tell a story, so sometimes I dial it back a little to allow others to lay their own experiences on top of it. I think there is more emotional impact that way.
- Give me your best sales pitch for Down the Dragon Hole. The holidays are coming up, people will be buying presents. Talk to me like I was a book buyer and give me your best pitch.
Down the Dragon Hole is a sword and sorcery romp, a story that celebrates the genre and is just a fun read. Alis is spending a regular day working in the library of the School of Spells and War, dealing with all those annoying warriors, when the library is blown apart and she’s forced into an adventure. It has wizards, dragons, warriors, ancient shadow monsters, as well as incompetent academics. No message fiction to be found! Also a bonus is that it is a series, so you’ll be able to continue enjoying Alis and Cahan’s escapades.
- Your work has been compared to Terry Pratchett. Are you a Pratchett fan and if so what are some of his works that have most influenced you?
I am a Pratchett fan! I have read a lot of his works, though not all of them. I love how he writes human nature so well and accurately – the good and the bad of it – without being negative about it. I have often said that he is one of the more interesting modern philosophers. My current works have the same tongue in cheek kind of tone to them, and I’m very pleased to be compared to him. Believe it or not, the School of Spells and War series did not start out the way it ended up; it was not a series, for one thing, and the original plan was much, much darker and more serious. I like the way it ended up better.
The School of Spells and War is obviously influenced a bit by the Unseen University, but my favorite works of his are the ones involving Death & Susan (Reaper Man, Soul Music, Thief of Time), as well as Small Gods, Interesting Times, and the books of the Night Watch.
- I think a good writer is always reading something. What are you reading right now and what drew you to it?
How long do you have? I have a very long list of in progress books right now! Many of them are non-fiction, and I often skip around between non-fiction books to make sure I stay interested. Notables on that list are Mike Cernovich’s Gorilla Mindset, and the giant tome Nutrition and Physical Degeneration.
As for fiction, I’ve been reading a lot of submissions for our Lyonesse project, as well as A Pious Man by Declan Finn and the manuscript for my husband’s novel Post Traumatic Stress. I’m reading them for story editing and review.
I just finished John C. Wright’s Iron Chamber of Memory, as well as the first book in his wife L Jagi Lamplighter’s YA series, The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffith. I’m also working on Vox Day’s A Throne of Bones, and the Joe Ledger series by Jonathan Maberry. Son of the Black Sword by Larry Correia is on deck, as is Jim Butcher’s new series.
- What are some of the weaknesses with independent book publication that you would like to see fixed in 2017? And are you happy with the direction indie media is going in general?
Honestly the biggest problem with indie publishing is making sure anyone knows about you! Except for maybe some small book stores or convincing your chain to carry you as a “local author”, you lose out on the browsing traffic that books get in a physical store. But that isn’t just a problem with indie books; it’s hard to break through all the noise.
I am happy with the way indie media is going. There is so much more of it now, and you only need a computer and an internet connection to get yourself out there. It’s great to not have gatekeepers anymore, even if it is hard to stand out in the throngs of other indie creators.
- Can you talk a little bit about your religious or spiritual values since those tend to play a big part in any artists work? The things we learn when we are young tend to stick with us. What is faith (or unbelief) to you and how does it work into your fantasy worlds?
Silver Empire (the indie press I work for) has a preference for Superversive Fiction, so that is a lot of what I have been writing, which is often influenced by my faith.
I am a traditional Catholic, but I have only been so for about five years. I converted with my husband in 2011. I grew up in a shall-remained-unnamed protestant denomination that had no firm requirements on anything. As a result of this and the life upheavals mentioned earlier, I felt adrift and lost spiritually. I can’t say that I have anything other the very basic tenants of Christianity that stuck with me until I was an adult. But the uncertainty and shyness that comes from wanting to lead a faithful life, but not knowing how, is a powerful journey that I know weaves itself into what I write.
But the world is beautiful and wonderful and awe inspiring, and life is bright and amazing and also tragic and dark. This is what I want to capture in the stories that I write; not the defeat, but the brilliance of it all, and how the light and the dark complement one another.
Faith is deciding that something is the Truth, and deciding to follow it and discover ever more about it, even if you cannot see it, or if you never find the complete answers you are looking for. It is also believing in this truth whether it is real or not, because it is worth believing in. Outside of Christianity specifically, how can things become if you do not have faith in them?
- Why has fantasy become so popular in the last decade and a half or so? Is it just the political and social conditions of the world or is it that we’ve got a generation that doesn’t understand and doesn’t want to understand, the real world? Or maybe it is something else altogether.
I am no expert, but I think it is a couple different events that brought about the increased popularity of fantasy and associated geek cultures. I think movies made it all more accessible to many people who might not have considered it before it was introduced to them by that medium. I think fantasy has always been a part of our societies, it just used to be less delineated than it is currently. There are fantastical elements to Shakespeare and he was very popular.
I do think there may be some mass retreat from the world happening now, though I don’t necessarily think it is confined to fantasy fiction. You see it with video games, movies, and even reality TV.
- Geek culture kind of came on the scene around 2000 with Spiderman and Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings adaptation. Since then we’ve seen some good and some bad geek culture. But given the sluggish performance at the box office this year for geek films, do you think geek culture is withering?
Well, I will make a distinction here. I think actual geek culture is fine. Mainstream geek culture may be leveling off or withering, as you put it. But a lot of so called geek movies are still at the top of the heap right now – Captain America, Dr. Strange, etc., all seem to have done quite well. Don’t misunderstand me; I have no problem with everyone enjoying nerd culture, but there are many people that will drift away from it as it falls from the height of its popularity, which may already be beginning.
I think audiences are becoming weary of reboots and origin stories, (which are often one and the same). I also think there is a degree of convergence (properties becoming vehicles of progressive message fiction rather than actual stories) in many geek subjects – Star Trek, Ghostbusters, etc., that is affecting it. No one wants to spend money to see a fun fantasy movie but get lectured on how they’re an awful person instead of having fun.
- What inspires you?
Lots of things, really. Other books, movies…music, history. I often pull entire story ideas out of one line of a song. I’m open to getting my ideas from any source.