I am pleased to welcome back Aidan Moher, best known as the man behind Hugo-winning blog A Dribble of Ink. I interviewed Aidan some months ago about his blogging activities, but today we will be talking about something very different: Aidan’s book of short stories entitled Tide of Shadows and Other Stories, just released on May 4th.
SCy-Fy: Welcome back, Aidan.
AM: Thanks, Stuart! It’s great to be back, though I’m speaking from a different perch this time!
SCy-Fy: I devoured my pre-ordered copy of Tide of Shadows on launch day – very good it was, too! For my readers and anyone else who is interested, what are the buying options?
AM: The collection is currently available on Amazon in many regions of the world for just $2.99! It’s also available as part of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program, allowing Amazon Prime members to read the whole thing for free.
For those who want a taste of the collection before they buy, readers can also read an excerpt for free on Medium.
SCy-Fy: This chat is part of your blog tour for Tide of Shadows – what else have you done on the tour so far?
SCy-Fy: And what is still to come?
AM: I’ve got a guest post coming tomorrow on Beauty in Ruins, and another interview with Harry Connolly, an author who’s made the move to self-publishing himself, and then it’s back to focusing on writing more fiction!
SCy-Fy: Tide of Shadows consists of five short stories. Which sub-genres do they cover?
AM: It runs the gamut, really.
“A Night for Spirits and Snowflakes” is a gritty, low fantasy about a young soldier burying his fallen comrades; “The Girl With Wings of Iron and Down” is a steampunk/science fiction mash-up about a broken family and a girl with mechanical wings; “Of Parnassus and Princes, Damsels and Dragons” uses an over-the-top fairy tale motif to explore themes of love and belonging; “The Colour of the Sky on the Day the World Ended” is a magical realism story about a fascinating woman and hunt for light during a dark time; “Tide of Shadows” is military science fiction, but not as one normally thinks of it.
SCy-Fy: What is the past publication history of these stories?
AM: Of the entire collection, only “A Night for Spirits and Snowflakes” has been previously published. It appeared in the Sword & Laser Anthology, edited by Veronica Belmont and Tom Merritt. Everything else is lickety-spit new!
SCy-Fy: Do you see recurring themes in these stories?
AM: Before I began working on the collection – and the stories all lived on my computer in their own little silos – I would’ve answered no. I didn’t really expect there to be any thread throughout the collection that connected one story to the next. However, as I assembled the stories and read through them all in their collected order, I realized that there absolutely are themes that run throughout, connecting the stories to one another in sometimes subtle, sometimes obvious ways.
SCy-Fy: I thought so as I read the collection, but I’m very keen to hear what you have to say…
AM: The collection opens with “A Night for Spirits and Snowflakes,” a story about a young soldier, survivor of a vicious battle, burying his dead companions, and closes with “Tide of Shadows,” a story about a group of genocide survivors on a years-long voyage back to their home planet, where – hope beyond hope – they will take revenge against the alien force that killed their families and destroyed their society. In both of these stories, you can see ponderings about war and love, homesickness and passion. When is war justifiable? When is it honourable? When is it not?
I didn’t intentionally write these two stories to reflect one another – in fact, they were written four years apart – but they provide a nice cyclical feel to the collection, which makes me happy.
SCy-Fy: Which writers would you say have most influenced the style and type of stories in the collection?
AM: My short fiction is often overtly influenced by whatever novels/authors I’m reading at the moment, and I can clearly see the impact of certain writers on certain stories in this collection. For instance, I wrote “A Night for Spirits and Snowflakes” as a direct reaction to Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay (tone, soldier burying the fallen) and Joe Abercrombie’s First Law novels (band of misfits, gritty setting).
“Tide of Shadows” is military science fiction, in a sense, but it’s also set entirely on a spaceship before the soldiers are ever dropped in a combat situation; I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but this was very much an exercise in channeling my love for Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War.
“Of Parnassus and Princes, Damsels and Dragons” was influenced by The Brothers Grimm and Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn.
SCy-Fy: You are well known as a blogger. How different is the experience of writing short fiction?
AM: Despite this being my first book, I’ve been writing fiction for longer than I’ve been blogging, so it’s been a fairly natural transition to switch focus from one to the other during this release period for Tide of Shadows and Other Stories. I’ve been on one side of the industry for so long as a reviewer/blogger/reader that it’s been a lot of fun getting a taste of what it’s like to live on the other side as a writer/publisher/marketer. Interacting with readers has been a blast, and the early reviews have been positive, taking some of the edge off of the whole experience.
I’ve found that switching from blogging to writing stories provides a great balance, so when I’m feeling a little burnt out on one of them, I can switch gears and become motivated again by focusing on the other. Blogging is a very reactive format – you’re responding to news, analyzing someone else’s work – so that the more proactive approach to fiction writing can be very freeing.
SCy-Fy: Apart from the writing, this is a very well-presented volume with a striking cover. Which professionals did you work with in the editing and design process?
AM: I believe that there are two major contributing factors to the reputation that self-publishing has for being a place of bad, unprofessional books (besides, admittedly, the bad, unprofessional books that are self-published): poor copyediting and ugly cover art. So, I set myself a budget at the beginning of the project and used it to procure work from two professionals to ensure that those issues didn’t weigh down my book.
Richard Shealy is a wonderful copyeditor who runs SFF Copyediting. He’s worked with many of the best names writing in science fiction and fantasy – including Kameron Hurley and Chuck Wendig – and helped me to take my manuscript from an unpolished stone to a sparkling gem.
I did all the design and typography on the cover, but the gorgeous illustration is by Kuldar Leement, a digital illustrator and graphic designer from Estonia. I found his work via DeviantArt, and immediately knew he was the artist I wanted representing the collection’s title story, “Tide of Shadows.”
SCy-Fy: What about beta readers?
AM: I’ve gathered together a group of several beta readers throughout the years, and they’ve all had a great impact on the stories in the collection. I’ve found it incredibly useful to include both writers and non-writers in the process, since they approach stories from different directions and often provide a wide range of varying feedback. The tough part then comes from figuring out which points of criticism dig down into a fixable flaw in the story, and which come down to the reader’s personal taste.
Some stories change more than others as a result of beta readers – “Tide of Shadows” wasn’t altered much structurally, but character motivations and prose were cleaned up substantially, whereas “A Night for Spirits and Snowflakes” is much different in its final form than its first draft. No matter how much a story changes, the input from beta readers is invaluable.
SCy-Fy: Based on your experience, what advice would you give anyone planning on self-publishing?
AM: Hire a good designer/illustrator to make your cover art – this will ensure that someone buys your first book. Hire a copyeditor to make sure that your manuscript is clean and professional – this will ensure that they buy your second.
Second, give yourself time to judge the success of the project. It’s a slow burn. Enjoy the release euphoria, then move onto the next project.
SCy-Fy: Thanks for dropping by again and all the best for the collection, the blog and everything else.
AM: Thanks so much for all the support! I hope your readers find something they like in Tide of Shadows and Other Stories.
SCy-Fy: I am sure they will. See you next time, Aidan!