Dan Eldredge is a new fantasy and historical fiction writer, but one of the many new writers who has turned to self-publishing to get their work out for readers to enjoy. He recently published his first full-length novel, The Pirates of Alnari, a fantasy epic set in a realistic world and, yep, plenty of pirates. I’ve reviewed already the book and I highly recommended it to people who enjoy swashbucklers and realistic fantasy worlds. He also recently published a WWII short story that we’ll learn more about later.
Here’s the book description for Alnari:
Martyn and Arycke are two young nobles forced into hiding after experiencing an act of unspeakable violence. They buy passage on the Isalian frigate Selene, but after a bloody battle against two pirate vessels, Martyn and Arycke find themselves shipwrecked castaways along with a beautiful young woman, her ever-watchful grandfather, and the rest of the Selene‘s crew.
Unfortunately for the survivors, they now find themselves stranded within reach of the pirate city of Alnari. In short order, Martyn and Arycke find themselves fighting for their lives, not only against marauding bands of savage pirates, but mutinous elements within the Selene’s own crew.
The shipwrecked survivors are dragged into a maelstrom of vengeance and intrigue, as rival pirate lords maneuver against each other for dominance over Alnari. Martyn, Arycke, and the rest of the Selene’s crew will need every ounce of courage, cunning, and strength they possess if they hope to escape alive…
The Pirates of Alnari is a gritty fantasy adventure story filled with bloody naval battles and vicious sword fights, combining the cutthroat political intrigue of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire with the dashing nautical adventures of Patrick O’Brian.
Dan took some time to answer a few questions about his writing inspiration and the fairly uncharted waters of self-publishing.
I always like to throw the softball Q first: What led you into writing?
In sixth grade English I was given a creative writing assignment: write a story about “Mount Marshmallow.” I thought the name was rather silly, and I was tempted to complain about the stupidity of the topic using my mastery of sixth grade-level logic, but then I had a breakthrough. I decided that I didn’t name the mountain; I just had to climb it. So my story became about a mountain climbing expedition on the treacherous Mount Marshmallow, where twelve prior expeditions had disappeared without a trace. The climbers of the thirteenth expedition soon find out why… Because I knew of no Mount Marshmallow on Earth, I quite reasonably decided that Mount Marshmallow was located on the planet Omega Centauri. And because it took place on another planet, that allowed me to draw…
…a map. Ever since I was a child I loved maps, and I collected tons of maps from my father’s National Geographic magazines. When choosing a new novel to read, I always looked for the map first, which naturally led me to science-fantasy. The maps in all of Tolkien’s works were inspiring, as were the colorful maps in other works such as Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf series of game-books. Right from the beginning I began drawing maps of my own. From there it was inevitable that I began thinking about the peoples who lived there, what their lives were like, and what problems they faced, what battles they fought. My writing grew out of that.
For The Pirates of Alnari, the map consists of a northern continent which has well-established nations, while the southern continent is mostly unsettled except for a few cities on a hostile shore, separated by a narrow sea. I began wondering how this arrangement of settlement could have come about. I came to the conclusion that the cities were originally colonies from the northern nations that went unsupported. The disgruntled inhabitants declared their independence and turned to piracy to support themselves. And where there’s pirates, there’s adventure.
Some people think writing a fantasy is easy because you can just make everything up and don’t have to worry about things like fact checking historical events and such. But I think that might be a naive outlook, actually. What challenges did you run into when creating this world?
You certainly can just “make everything up,” but in order to create a believable world you have to do it with a self-consistent structure. It is not enough to simply drop cultures, nations, and institutions on a map. You have to figure out how they got there, where they are going, and how they interact. When you run into a gap, you cannot simply look up the answer in a history book. You have to invent the solution, and it has to be consistent with everything you’ve created before it.
So Pirates of Alnari is definitely a fantasy novel in that it occurs in a fantasy world but there’s not any of the usual things one expects in your standard fantasy such as magic, monsters, etc. This world you created seemed to be a lot more grounded in a reality like our own. That’s not to say there aren’t fun inventions like the spitfires and the fire-globes.
It is easy for magic to overpower a story and become a deus ex machina. Originally I assumed there would be a magical element in my world as it is such a staple for the genre. In fact, when I submitted an earlier work to a publisher in the early ’90s, the submission guidelines stated it very clearly: “Magic must be integral to the plot.” The rejection letters I received had a similar theme, saying that any story where magic did not dominate the plot was not “fantasy” enough.
The more I wrote, however, I found that I was only including magical elements because I “had” to. I do not think that you have to have dragons, elves, or vampires in a story for it to qualify as fantasy. Those elements added little to the stories I wanted to tell, so I made the decision to eliminate them. Spitfires and fireglobes are probably the only surviving remnants, but I removed any magical element from them as unnecessary.
Our mutual friend Jack Badelaire described Alnari to me as pirates meets Game of Thrones and I can see the comparison in the way you setup one POV per character and you do a lot of bad things to your characters. Was GoT an heavy inspiration while writing your novel?
To me the biggest draw of A Song of Ice and Fire is the unreliable narration and character development. Major events may not have happened the way they are first described, characters may not be who their reputation says they are and those characters can grow significantly throughout the story. Moral characters fighting for what they believe in can end up on the opposite sides in a battle. So from that perspective I drew inspiration from GoT. Mystery in novels comes as much from what you don’t tell the reader as what you do tell them. With a third-person omniscient structure, it’s easy to be tempted to do exposition info-dumps that kill the mystery. With a more limited narrative, the different perspective each character brings to a situation is a way to shine a light on the true nature of things.
As for things just getting worse and worse for the characters…well, that’s just fun. Combined with the character POV method of storytelling, it becomes less about “Will the good guy win?” and more about “Will my favorite character survive?” I don’t know that I’ll ever have either the courage or the ability to drop the heart-wrenching hammer blows that George R.R. Martin is famous for, but it is certainly an inspiration.
As much as I love GoT one thing I liked better about your book is that there’s no POV character who I can’t stand reading. Does anyone enjoy reading a Sansa chapter?
I have to admit that Sansa has grown on me with time, and I think she is destined to become quite formidable. Daenerys on the hand…her entitlement complex has worn on me, but perhaps recent events will turn her around. I have to give credit to Martin for taking on the characters he did. Not only does he make use of many POVs (and he has to, given the epic scope of his story), his characters are vastly diverse in their voices and worldviews. That level of versatility in writing is something I aspire to.
As it is, all of my POV characters are male, although each brings something different to the table. I do have ideas for female POVs in the future as I believe that they have good stories to tell, but I need to find their voices to do them justice.
As one who also writes piratical and adventure stories with heavy swordplay I know how hard it is to write a fight scene without it sounding repetitive or dull, or on the other end of the spectrum, be too technical. There’s plenty of times I want to toss in the historical fencing terminology I know but I bet 80% of the readers would be like “Aroo?” What’s your process for writing a good fight scene?
I certainly understand the urge to write excess technical details about fight scenes, and in my head at least (and frequently on paper!) I work out all the thrust and parry. But ultimately how I present a fight scene depends on the emotions of the characters involved. A character who fights stone-cold sober might have more technical details in the narrative, while a character experiencing sheer terror will have a scene that is more visceral. If I can get the reader to feel what the character does in a fight scene, then I have achieved my goal.
You also have a short-story that you have self-published — “Our Turn to Shoot” — which actually is a historical fiction piece during WWII. Tell us a little bit about that story and what led you to write a historical short instead of a fantasy piece?
I’ve always been fascinated with World War II, the Pacific Theater specifically, and time permitting I have many stories in mind. In particular I am interested in the early parts of the war, where the outcome was still in doubt.
“Our Turn to Shoot” is about the first raid by the US Navy against the Japanese in the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor. At that time the US was eager for revenge at the surprise attack, but not able to respond in force. What was needed was a raid to show both the Japanese and the American people that the US was not just going to roll over. Ultimately it was to have little impact on the war as a whole, but to the pilots involved, it was very real, very dangerous, and their first chance to strike back at the enemy.
What are you currently reading and who are some of your favorite authors?
Tolkien, of course. Naturally George R.R. Martin has been a big influence. Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series of sea adventures have also been a big inspiration to, and are the source of the nautical aspects of Pirates. From the science fiction perspective I am a fan of Clarke, Heinlein, and Greg Bear.
Right now I’m reading the novel Dauntless by Barrett Tillman, which was partly an inspiration for “Our Turn to Shoot,” and a few non-fiction books about World War II.
What made you decide to self-publish Alnari and your short story instead of going the more traditional route?
I wrote three novels back in the 90s, and submitted them all to several publishers. All were rejected, of course, but with each submission the rejection letters got more positive and encouraging. But an encouraging rejection is still a rejection. I did not want to compromise my storytelling by including magic just to appease the publishers, and since they did not seem interested in publishing the kind of story I wanted to write, I shelved my writing.
The rise of indie publishing a few years ago gave me a new option, however, and I never considered trying to publish Pirates any other way. In going through the process of indie publishing, I’ve learned a bit about the industry, and I feel like I dodged a bullet not being published back in the 90s. First, the traditional publishing industry is brutally unfair to authors, and second, my writing back then really stunk (which makes the encouraging rejection letters I received seem bizarre to me now). I needed time to grow for my writing to improve. By indie publishing, I can write whatever stories I want, and they will sink or swim on their own merits, without the dubious approval of a traditional publisher.
What projects are you currently working on?
My main focus is the sequel to Pirates, tentatively titled The Hesborean Masquerade. It picks up right where Pirates left off. Some events that transpired in Pirates will have large repercussions, and characters who thought they had gotten out of the woods will find that things have only just gotten started. Everyone who survived Pirates will have a part to play in Masquerade.
Other stories I have in mind are more World War II related stories in the vein of “Our Turn to Shoot,” and I’ve also been working on some military science-fiction in a world that I’ve been building on the side. As soon as I can manage it I’ll get it out there.
Anything else you’d like the Internet to know?
The indie publishing revolution these past few years has opened many doors, not only for authors, but also for readers. Good stories are being written and published now that never would have seen the light of day if they had to go through the gatekeepers of traditional publishers. Indie publishing has made the readers themselves the ones to determine a story’s worth without it being filtered first. Therefore I think there is a very bright future ahead for authors and readers alike.
I would like to give some props to a fellow indie author, Jack Badelaire, who has been far more prolific than I have. We both started the indie publishing journey at about the same time and have helped and encouraged each other along the way. That kind of support through the writing and publishing process is essential to writers, who can have notoriously fragile egos.