I’ve been meaning to put this interview up for a while, as it’s one of my favorites I’ve done. I met Derek Donais about a year ago at the Calgary Con and Entertainment Expo. We exchanged books – my comic Veritas with a copy of his amazing book Metalmagic – Talisman. Metalmagic was probably the nicest surprise of the year last year. I thoroughly enjoyed it and have had a chance to have a few conversations with Derek since. Derek is an overachiever. During the first week of this book, he managed to make the top ten bestsellers on Amazon.ca in epic fantasy. Look at the names on this list: Brandon Sanderson, Robert Jordan, Stephen A. Donaldson, Brandon Weeks…and Derek Donais. And he did it on his own, which is truly an incredible feat.
Now on his 40th birthday (happy birthday bud!) and the impending release of the second book of Metalmagic series Revelation pending, I had a chance to sit down with Derek after one of his signings here in Calgary and we managed to talk about his book, his accomplishments, and the challenges facing an independent author.
Joshua Pantalleresco: Where did the idea for Metalmagic come from?
Derek Donais: I like reading stories where there’s a very strong magical element. Just thinking about new ways to go at that theme, I thought, what if there’s some bridge between the magic and a the person doing it? I’ve read stories about crystals or magic talismans in other stories in the past and the idea of metal just came to me. It’s kind of a metaphor of technology. The more we rely on the technology to create new things the further we move from what we are; from our fundamental nature.
I thought it’d be kind of neat where people are doing the magic and it is an important element, but there is also a bridge to the magic. In metal magic it starts with talismans and it just evolves as you become more familiar with it; simple talismans are replaced by forged metal implements and other artifacts that compliment your gifts and talents, and the more you can do with the magic. I kind of liked that metaphor and that’s how the story began.
JP: I’m glad you mentioned talent. When I read Metalmagic that was one of the things I noticed going through it. One of the key themes in your story is the concept of talent and people having different gifts. Was that conscious?
DD: It’s one of the themes that is talked about in the later books, too. One of the things you’ve you’ll discover is that things aren’t what they seem. It comes back to that connection we have with technology. Where does the human part come from and where is the part where we separate from our more natural instincts.
JP: Considering the nature of faith that comes up with the main character, if you don’t mind my asking, what is your spiritual background?
DD: I was raised a Catholic. For my early years I went to a catholic school. But as I got into junior high and high school and I got away from it. It was a while before I practiced it; not until after I was in my mid-twenties. I looked back at those earlier years and I really admired fantasy, works like CS Lewis’s Narnia and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings really were my favorites. Considering their connections to faith, I think that’s what drew me to them in the first place. You can read them and enjoy them strictly as stories of adventure and magic, or you can go deeper.
You can follow Metalmagic in that way, or you can just ignore it and enjoy the story for what it is. I don’t want to impose my beliefs, but the themes are there if you want to find them.
JP: You made the top ten sellers in epic fantasy in amazon with some heavy hitters.
DD: It was cool to see my name with Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson, Stephen Donaldson and others…
JP: For the life of me I can’t remember who else was on the list at that time.
DD: The Way of Kings was Sanderson’s own work, and he was on the list with The Gathering Storm and Towers of Midnight with Robert Jordan.
JP: Could be.
DD: It was nice to be in that company. Grant you I wasn’t on that list for long.
JP: But who cares, you did it right?
DD: True. I didn’t set out to be famous. I was just interested in telling a story. If I make it back on this the list, cool. But if not, that’s okay too.
JP: Is there a definite end to your series? Do you have a set number of books in mind?
DD: Before I set out to work on Talisman, I had the series laid out. I had a general idea of where it went, the series of central events that I wanted to see worked out. Even though there were a few twists and turns I hadn’t expected, it’s they’ve all fit into the trilogy and haven’t changed the overall story arc.
JP: Can you tell me one of the twists and turns you didn’t expect?
DD: Let me think. Actually, I’ll tell you one from the sequel.
I always knew that they would be going to a group of islands in the south where the original group of mainlanders were relocated. Centuries ago they were forced to leave. I knew Jaren was going to go there and something very important would be discovered. There’s a lie that overhangs everything and that’s where the truth comes out
This deception affects everyone, whether they know it or not, and the ones that do know about it are on edge. I knew there were some secrets revealed, which is why the second book is called Revelation. I introduced a third character that became part of the JaredJaren/Iselle romance triangle.
I knew I wanted there to be a little subplot dealing with Jaren and Iselle and their feelings for one another. But I didn’t plan for this person to complicate matters. It just sort of happened — she needed to be there.
JP: The second book is called Revelation and it’ll be out March/April this spring?
DD: I’d like to say March, but for sure April.
JP: Are there any kind of objectives or goals with Revelations Revelation that are different then with MetalmagicTalisman?
DD: When I set this my initial goals, my biggest aim was to land an agent and get a publisher. That’s not quite the case anymore. I found that I can do fairly well on my own. I’d still like to get into an agent and a publishing house, though, but it’s not the most important item on my list now.
JP: That you’ve done it?
DD: Kind of. Self publishing still has that stigma to it. There are still people who refuse to touch any book that’s self published. Originally, I had this goal of selling 1000 books. I didn’t know what to expect but it seemed like it was reasonable. I’ve nearly hit that now, so now I really want to see how well it does and to once again throw the line out there and see what happens. Not because I don’t think I can make a go of it, but just to have that extra credential.
I definitely wouldn’t do anything differently if I had it all to do over again. I’m glad I took the route I did. I learned a lot about the industry and what authors have to do to get out there, whether published in by a traditional house or not.
JP: There are a lot more platforms for self publishing. What is your biggest piece of advice?
DD: Before you make that decision, make sure it’s the best work you can do. In my case I went through either a freelance editor or the editor from my old publishing house. Again, self publishing has that negative stigma. You don’t want to give people who don’t think highly of it more ammunition. Try to catch as many of your mistakes as you can. Then get an editor. Read, Read, Read. Revise. Revise. Revise. Then repeat.
JP: What advice would you give to authors to brand yourself?
DD: One of the biggest things I’ve faced is distribution and obscurity. I’ve had people come up to me and look at my cover and say “Hey! I haven’t heard of that one!” Identity and recognition can go a long way. I’m trying to build a local readership and if it goes somewhere it does. I enjoy being a local author and I appreciate the support people have shown me here in Alberta, and in the Calgary area especially.
JP: What’s your favorite scene in book one and your favorite you are working on right now?
DD: For book one, it’s the scene in the canyon when Jaren and Morgaine are against the witch’s minion, Andra. It was the moment when Jaren finally broke through the barrier and tapped into his power. I was rooting for him and all along, but I made things difficult so it was nice to see him finally get to realize his power.
For book two, without giving too much away, I like the beginning when Jaren and Iselle are off to rescue King Aldrain. He’s been through a lot in the first book, and right here he’s finally forced to stop and think. He’s forced into dwelling on what has happened to him. It affects him psychologically. His nemesis had devised an interesting torture for the character and it all plays into the deepening mental turmoil he faces.
It’s almost painful to write. I cringed a little writing those scenes, but they have to happen in order for the character to develop.
JP: You enjoyed it a little.
DD: A little, but there’s a point where you try not to be sadistic. I know where it’s going, otherwise I’m not sure how much I should enjoy being cruel. There’s a reason I put my characters through the things I do.
JP: Is there anything left you like to add?
DD: I very much appreciate the time you’re taking to do this. Getting recognition is the biggest challenge an indie guy has to face. And I want to thank everyone that’s bought a book and supported me, especially those who took a chance on an unknown author. They’re a growing group and I want them to know how much I truly appreciate their support.
For more information on Derek Donais and his books, check out his webpage at http://www.derekdonais.com. Feel free to click it here or with the rest of my links on the main page. Check out Metalmagic – The Talisman and stay tuned for Revelation. You won’t want to miss it.