TN: Welcome to Ian, an aficionado of swashbuckling adventures. Ian, when did you know you were a writer?
INC: I don’t remember ever not having a knack for writing, and I’ve always had ideas for all kinds of stories in various mediums. However, now that I think about it, I probably latched on to writing a lot more seriously when I was in college. I found myself with time to actually try writing my own stories and parody poems, on which I got positive feedback. I was a Radio/Television Production major in college, and more than one professor mentioned my stronger aptitude for ideas, conceptualizing, and writing than certain technical capabilities. Rather than being resentful, I think it’s what led to me embracing writing as at least one of my particular niches.
I’m always hearing about how important it is to brand yourself professionally, and I’ve made writing a core part of my professional brand, beyond my novels and blogging. I’ve written user guides, process documents, training manuals, and developed an entire online course, and before that, I worked as a writing tutor for college students. In some ways, it’s not all that different from writing a novel – you still have to communicate your ideas in a clear, concise manner that engages the reader.
TN: What is your writing style?
INC: I don’t know if I have a distinctive style. There are certain tropes and character traits I like to use and re-use, if that counts. I don’t like long stretches of the protagonist being on their own with no one to play off of, so I try and avoid those when I can, and I’m not one for overly flowery prose. I’m big on dialogue and banter, and I love any occasion where I get to throw in a sword fight or a card game. I also don’t like writing protagonists who are heroes in name only, who act like monsters and are only the “good guys” because the villains are so much worse. I want my protagonists to be empathetic and likable. As for romance between my main characters, I think it’s important that they enjoy each other’s company beyond just the attraction that draws them together. They have things in common, individual tastes, and they can talk about stuff with each other beyond just being lovey-dovey. (Not that I have anything against them being lovey-dovey – I just want them to be more than that with each other.)
TN: Why did you write your first book?
INC: The Brotherhood of the Black Flag was one of those ideas I just had to get down on paper. In addition to being part of what I call the Princess Bride generation, I’m a lifelong fan of classic swashbucklers, both books and movies, and they inspired me to come up with loose ideas for stories like that of my own. I fueled that not only with more books, movies, and the occasional video game, but also researching different historical periods. Eventually, certain pieces fell into place, and a semi-complete idea for a book was eventually born. Once that happened, I couldn’t not do something with this idea. I had to write it.
TN: Why did you decide to self-publish?
INC: For a long time, I tried to get representation with an agent, mostly so I wouldn’t have to be responsible for distribution and marketing. However, finding agents that represent historical adventure fiction in and of itself was hard, let alone one who’d agree to represent it. Getting represented by an agent has only gotten harder, given how many writers are self-publishing these days and the higher standards agents now look for. They go by what they think is marketable, and I guess they didn’t see much marketability in a possibly one-shot book in a genre we don’t see much of these days. And to be perfectly honest, from a business perspective, I can’t blame them. Historical fiction simply isn’t as trendy as YA, romance, mystery, and so on.
TN: How did you come up with your cover design?
INC: Since The Brotherhood of the Black Flag was written as a tribute to Hollywood swashbucklers and the classic literature they drew from, I wanted the cover to have that same feel. I wanted it to look like a movie poster from the 1930s or 1940s, or at least like a vintage adventure novel, and I think my cover artist, Luke Reznor, did a spectacular job on that front. He’s known me for a long time, knows of my love for classic films, and he understood exactly the kind of aesthetic I was going for. Also, while I know it’s not the typical book cover we see these days, that was kind of the point – I thought that this particular sort of design would stand out more.
TN: What software did you use? for print? for eBook?
INC: Nothing fancy – I just used Microsoft Word, and my editor helped with formatting.
TN: Do you have any tips for someone who is considering self-publishing?
INC: Don’t just throw your work out there on Amazon and expect instant success. First of all, there’s a lot of competition out there, and building and cultivating an audience will take a lot of time, so it takes a lot of patience. Second, readers have standards, and if they’re going to invest time and money in your book, they’re going to want to see that you likewise put time and effort into your work. Use beta readers and hire an editor, if you can afford one.
Also, when people help you out – research contacts, beta readers, cover artists, reviewers, etc. – be gracious about it, and make sure to thank them for their efforts and assistance, even if it’s only a small thing.
TN: What do you do when you are “stuck?”
INC: It depends on why I’m stuck. If it’s because I’m trying to fill a plot hole or figure out a particular character arc, I’ll bounce ideas off my regular beta readers to see if I can find ways to get unstuck. Other times, I’ll immerse myself in whatever genre I’m working on at a time, or do some research, and hope something triggers an idea. I’ll even work on other projects – a different WIP, an INCspotlight review for my blog, just to keep the wheel’s turning. Sometimes I’ll be stuck for months, no matter what I try, just because the well’s run dry, and then inspiration will randomly pop into my head.
TN: Describe the plot for one of your books.
INC: The Brotherhood of the Black Flag is set in 1721, when the newly United Kingdom is dealing piracy in the Caribbean, Jacobite rebellions, and an economic crisis. Michael McNamara, wrongly kicked out of the British Royal Navy, has become a victim of the last of these, and he decides to relocate to Jamaica in search of new opportunities. Soon after he arrives, he falls in with Captain Stephen Reynard, a notorious pirate turned pirate hunter in order to earn a pardon. McNamara’s adventures alongside his wily new captain pit him against harsh seascapes, battle-hardened buccaneers, and into a treacherous web of intrigue and conspiracy that threatens thousands of innocent lives.
TN: Which one of your books is your favorite?
As of now, The Brotherhood of the Black Flag is the only one I’ve completed, so I’ll always have a soft spot for that one. I feel a great deal of pride that I took an idea and followed through with it all the way to full completion. It’s also given me the confidence that if I can complete one book, I can do it again. One of my works in progress (and likely my next one to be finished), The Sherwood Caper, is shaping up nicely. I’m really enjoying the dialogue and the way all the characters play off each other, I’m trying to surpass the action scenes from Black Flag, and I’m having lots of fun incorporating different versions of Robin Hood lore into my story. So when that one’s done, maybe it’ll be my favorite, or maybe Black Flag will keep the top spot. We’ll see what happens.