Interview with Justin Fike

Michael Evan interviews Justin Fike, the author of the Farshore Chronicles.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I was very fortunate to grow up in a family that loved to tell stories, so I think I always loved it too. I took a creative writing class every semester of college purely as a personal outlet while I studied something “serious”. The idea of writing and publishing professionally didn’t really register with me until I began to see the growing indie author scene. The traditional publishing route always seemed like such an exhausting lottery system, but the idea of writing books that would succeed or fail based on how much readers enjoyed them rather than on what a publishing house needed for their catalog that season really appealed to me.

By 2014 I’d been working hard on a book for several years, but still just thought of it as a hobby. It wasn’t until my mom asked me over coffee one day why I didn’t just admit that I wanted to be a writer. “You light up when you talk about your book in a way you don’t for anything else.” Thanks to her I finally committed myself to seriously improving my craft so that I could consistently write and release the kind of quality stories I’d been dying to create my whole life. Fast forward several years, one Masters degree in creative writing, two babies, one cross-country move, and more cups of coffee than I care to admit, and here we are!

What were some literary interests that inspired The Farshore Chronicles?

The Farshore Chronicles was inspired by my love of 90s fantasy masters like R.A. Salvatore (his more obscure Sword of Bedwyr trilogy, especially), Raymond Feist, Mercedes Lackey, David Eddings, and too many more to name here. I love that era of fantasy for the joy it took in the unfolding adventure on the page. I enjoy gritty or dark fantasy too, more so as I’ve grown older, but something about the delightful abandon of a quest to save the world or conquer evil has always connected with me, especially these days. I hope that readers of the Farshore Chronicles will get swept along in the mystery, action, and adventure right along with our scrappy band of outcasts.

When you wrote Charity as your main character, what did you hope to achieve with her characterization? Were there any inspirations behind the character?

I usually plan out my characters, but Charity sort of kicked down the door and made her presence known right from the beginning of the story. I think she’s a bit of a mash-up of Parker from the TV series Leverage (one of my all-time favorites), with some of Wesley from the Princess Bride and Harry Dresden from Jim Butcher’s Dresen Files mixed in. She’s smart, quick on her feet, and knows how to take care of herself. But she also doesn’t take herself too seriously, either. She’s a realist who knows just how tough the world can be and doesn’t trust easily, but at the same time, she wants to find a family she can trust and a place where she belongs in the world, more so than she even realizes herself. Charity grows and changes massively over the course of the series, going from a scrappy thief determined to look out for herself to a reluctant hero who is increasingly willing to go to extreme lengths to protect the people she’s grown close to and the crazy home she’s grown to love.

You recently signed with Fallbrandt Press and recorded and released your books in audio for the first time self-narrated? How has this year been for you? Did you enjoy self-narration?

I can honestly say that working with Fallbrandt has been a dream come true for me. They’ve done an excellent job with the first boxset release, and knowing that they’re on top of all of the marketing and promotion efforts has made it possible for me to focus on writing the next three books in the series instead of managing ads and finding new promos.

The learning curve required to record and produce the audiobooks was really high, but I honestly loved it. I did a lot of theater in high school and college, so all of those old acting skills and habits came back quickly. I had so much fun bringing each of the characters to life. The technical side of recording and editing quality audio files was more time consuming, but now that I’ve done it once I’m even more excited to record the audiobook of the second boxset soon.

What takes up most of your time when you are not writing?

For my “day job” I work with my wife on digital content development for various clients, so we spend our workdays doing everything from developing websites to creating virtual courses to managing product launches. Our actual workload various a lot from month to month depending on what projects we’re tackling, which I really enjoy.

Outside of work most of my time these days is spent with my two daughters. The girls are 3 years and 6 months old, so it’s a lot of playing on the floor, watching My Little Pony, building legos, jumping on trampolines, changing diapers, making food, and so on. They definitely keep us busy, and I love every minute of it, although I’ll admit I’m looking forward to being able to take them out to places like zoos and museums and playgrounds again.

The Farshore books are rather fast-paced and shorter in length. What made you decide to release the books as a series of shorter novels?

I love the long, “doorstop” style of epic fantasy where you really commit to a huge story, but I’ve been really inspired by the way that Netflix and other streaming services have re-imagined storytelling over the past few years. There’s something awesome about the combination of a strong immediate payoff for each “episode” combined with the slower burn of the whole series building towards an amazing conclusion. When it’s done well it’s incredibly satisfying, and that feeling is what I’m aiming for with The Farshore Chronicles. I like the tighter story structure of a shorter book because it pushes me to stay focused on the core of each story and I’ve heard from a lot of readers that they love the fast pace of the books. But tying each book into a larger storyline lets me build up the stakes and the larger themes of the story, reveal new parts of the world, and develop the characters and their relationships more naturally over time so that you can really get to know them and become invested in their lives. I think that seeing all of those threads come together when we hit the end of the first full story arc in Book 6 is going to be really satisfying.

What is a strong female protagonist to you? How important was this in conceptualizing Charity?

To me I think that a strong female protagonist is just a strong protagonist who happens to be female. They should have the same kind of complex wants, needs, and goals. They should take decisive action that drives the story forward, including making mistakes. They should be capable in specific ways, but also flawed, just like we all are. In other words, they should be real people capable of incredible highs and lows that need to grow and become something more than they were when the story began, just like every great protagonist. I don’t think that setting out to write a “great female character” is the right approach, because it too often leads to stereotyping that feels forced or unnatural.

That said, when writing Charity I often draw on my experiences with the amazing women in my life. My wife, mom, sister, grandmas, and more are all strong-willed and smart as hell, but they’re also generous and quick to notice others’ needs. They tend to be a bit more thoughtful or reflective about their experiences, and sometimes suffer from more self-doubt or internal critique than men do, and I think Charity has inherited a lot of those traits.

How important is reader interaction to you? How do you enjoy interacting with your readers?

Reader interaction is a huge part of the payoff of being an indie author for me. I love connecting with readers not just about my books, but about fantasy and reading in general. I’ve found that most fantasy readers are a lot like me, so interacting with them has always been fun and encouraging.

The two primary ways I like to connect with readers is through my Farshore Chronicles fan group on Facebook and through my regular newsletters. Those are the places where I share more behind the scenes about my experience of writing, my approach to the books, and other things I find fun or interesting. I’ve honestly become friends with a lot of the people that I initially connected with because they enjoyed my books, and that’s something I’m very grateful for.

Your covers are astounding. Give a shout out to your cover designer, and then tell me how important a great cover is to you in the world of indie publishing?

The Farshore covers are a two-part collaboration between the amazing artist AnnDr (you can find her on Facebook and DeviantArt) who draws the illustration for each cover, and Janelle Fike who designed the custom font, graphic layout, and everything else that makes the covers come together into something amazing every time. I owe them both so, so much for helping to bring Charity and my stories to life.

I think that great covers are essential, especially for indie authors. There are so many books out there, and even if you run a lot of ads or do a lot of promotion your cover needs to not only catch someone’s attention when they see it but immediately give them a taste of what it will feel like to read your book. I think of book covers as the first promise that you make to a reader, and then you need to start to fulfill that promise right from page one. Hopefully, I’ve managed to do a good job of that with the Farshore Chronicles.

What’s next for you in terms of writing? Any plans to revisit the Farshore world or are you off to new adventures?

Charity and her friends definitely have a lot more adventures ahead of them. I’m hard at work on books four through six of the series, which will be released in September and October of 2020 and will bring the story of her clash with the Mad King Tyrial to determine the fate of her new home to a suitably epic conclusion.

After that, I have another six-book story arc planned that will reunite Charity and the gang a few years after the events of Volume 1 to face an even greater threat. To avoid spoilers I’ll just say that Volume 2 will take our heroes to new corners of the world and see them facing down even bigger stakes than ever before.

What one piece of advice can you offer new and aspiring writers?

Start before you think you’re ready, finish the book before you think it’s perfect, and move on to the next one before you have it all figured out. It’s easy to stay “safe” while working on the same story for years before you finish and release it (I certainly did). But you learn so much more from finishing a project and starting a new one than you ever could be going back over an existing book to try to make it 2% better. Trust that new worlds, characters, and stories will come to you as you finish the current ones. But, most of all, start!

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