Today’s entry into my “Friday 5 Questions with…” series comes from K. Anthony Pagano. With his Lion in the Dark series, Pagano is helping bring back the lost art of serial novels. K. Anthony Pagano has a lot to say about the art of writing and the challenges of being an independent author, so instead of wasting time with a bulky interview, I’m going to let his answers to my questions do the talking. So, without further ado, I give you K. Anthony Pagano!
1) With the advent of e-publishing, it seems as if the art of the serial has made a resurgence. Would you agree?
The serial is definitely enjoying its own resurgence! While readers by in large have a preference for the novel format, the serial is making a comeback. All it takes is a portable reader. And viola! Instant story. I like the serial format: it’s broken into several chunks. There’s a sense of mystery… cliffhangers… and character investment that’s unique to the serial. The other day I asked myself: What if Lord of the Rings was a serial? Right! Now that would be epic!
I also think the serial is getting some fresh air on account of the Renaissance the Comic Book industry is experiencing. People are more likely to stick around for the story that’s told in several parts rather than in one big story. And now that Marvel is doing so well adapting some of its titles into the Avengers story arc, readers are likely to stick around to see what happens and see how those stories integrate and spawn.
But that’s the power of the serial. The author can be inventive. Start at the end of the story and proceed backwards. Start in the middle and hop around. The serial can be, but is not required to be, rigidly linear. The author is free to take chances, much like the guys writing and producing The Walking Dead. The tone of that show has changed from the first episode to the current mid-season finale. Characters have grown. Some have devolved. Some have died. In a sense, loss and triumph can be felt even more potently in a serial. In a novel we know the pages are going to run out. We can turn to that point at any time. In a serial all we may ever know is how may installments there are.
Plus, there’s the added element of gap. A single novel can be read over a weekend. A serial is distributed over a longer period of time. Gap is one of the most powerful elements in the serial. I compare it to eating. We don’t shovel food in our mouth. We want to savor the different courses. In a serial we can explore those flavors, colors, textures… emotions, and
deeds in smaller bites.
2) What sort of challenges do you face as a serial author? Also, what made you want to write a serial? (As an aside, you have some of the best covers I’ve seen all year)
Thanks for the compliment. I drew my inspiration from TV sitcoms. I’m not sure what the technical term is, but as the theme song plays at the beginning of the episode we’re often introduced to the central cast. Well, I took that same idea and applied it to the covers. Only you’re not getting the full cast, just one character at a time.
As a serial author I face a different set of challenges than does a novelist. Most readers want the complete story in their hands. Because of that I think people might be a little but more hesitant to invest the time a serial asks, especially if they don’t know how long I’m going to ask them to hang out with me.
On the flip side, I’m not asking a reader to read a 300 or 400 or 1200 page-story. I’m publishing 40 or so pages at a time. Each installment has its own story but each story contributes to the larger story arc. So in a sense, I’m actually writing an episodic serial. There’s freedom in that, and opportunity.
Not too long ago, a fan asked me if I’ve already written the entire story but only releasing a part at a time. I thought about doing that when I first started to develop the story. But as I continued to sketch out the characters and the mythology, I realized that the serial format gave me enormous freedom the novel format did not. I am not beholden to any character, at any time, except the main character. I can swap characters in and out, introduce characters and then eliminate them or not, have a character leave and reappear later, but not as reflections of the main character. Although novelists do that all the time—reflect the main character—the serial format gives me the freedom to reevaluate the characters all the time. I can push them and test them and change them and the build them without reflecting the main character. If it happens, it happens. Having said that, I do know where the characters are headed in this first story arc, which will be told over 12 parts. So far I’ve released four and working on the fifth, A Long Embrace.
3) As an indie author, what challenges do you face on a daily basis?
Life. Family obligations. Personal commitments. Grad school. Weekdays have a schedule. It’s up at 7:30 a.m., driving the teenager to school, getting back for breakfast… catching up on domestic stuff, sorting out priorities with my wife and working out a plan of attack for the day… then getting the toddlers to day care and running errands, grabbing some lunch… you get the picture. By the time everyone is down for bed it’s around 8:30 p.m. and, if I’m lucky, my fingers will touch the keyboard at 9:30.
Really, it comes down to balancing life. As much as I would like to be sitting in front of the computer and creating all day, that’s not realistic. So I’d say that my biggest challenge is just actually writing—because as any creative person will tell you: we’re always creating in our head! If you have a creative friend and he suddenly stops in mid-sentence, turns away or has an abrupt glossy look in his eyes, it’s usually because he’s taken the Imagination Express to Story Land. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve done that. Takes my wife a few seconds to get my attention. And then it’s snap back to reality. Huh, what? Did you say something? She laughs and asks me where I went. I bring her up to speed.
If I’ve got something to write with I’ll jot down notes. Sometimes I’ll make an audio note. I also have a word count goal: 750 words a day. Different authors have different perspectives on this. But for me, the word count isn’t about the number of words. It’s just a reminder to keep writing. Most days I’ll surpass that target but I don’t keep a log, because on many days I never write. Family comes first.
4) Tell me a little bit about Lion in the Dark.
It’s no secret that I’m a Smallville fan. During the last season I started to reflect on the series’ ten-year history. Somewhere around season threeor four it became clear that the story arc wasn’t actually going to be about Clark Kent as Superman. I know that seems obvious to say but what we saw was him becoming Superman. I liked that approach. Smallville was Kal-El’s coming of age story. And that was the seed for Lion of the Dark.
I like everything supernatural, from the troubled ghost to the frustrated werewolf to the fallen angel to the compassionate demon, but what would
I write? I gave it some thought and finally settled on vampires. There’s something about vampires that’s interesting. Unlike most supernatural creatures that try to leverage their humanity or salvage their humanity or don’t have one, vampires are constantly trying to preserve every layer of it, while feeding off people. Talk about your irony!
Although I’ve never read any of the vampire narratives I have seen just about every vampire film and most of the anime. My favorite vampire character really isn’t a vampire. It’s Vampire Hunter D. He’s a dampyr, half-human, half-vampire. I like him. He’s torn. He’s strong. He has a code of conduct and ethics despite himself. Twilight fans may not realize this but Renesmee Cullen is technically dampyr. Although I don’t think Meyer actually calls her that. I think she came up with different terminology.
At its core, Lion of the Dark is a coming of age story about a boy named Leo who is born into a vampire family, a breed, if you will. They’re called dräcul. As the story opens he hasn’t completed his conversion into a vampire. He’s been converting for a year. In other words, he’s experiencing his first teenage identity crisis. There’s more of that in the story but I won’t spoil that here.
I will say this: Leo has had his first kill. And he’s really tormented by it. Currently in the story he’s with Wendy. She’s his first crush but he’s not creepy about it. They’re friends, and although he has feelings for her, she doesn’t reciprocate them. He’s cool with that. What’s important to him is that he’s around people who understand him. Leo is also with another vampire by the name of Christof. He is a fumari, a vampire that feeds off the emotions of others. The three of them form the central heroic triad in the story. I knew that from the very beginning.
In the first installment Leo had to make a choice to help his dad and brother escape from a band of crusaders. He sacrificed some of his blood. This precious energy source is in the hands of the enemy, but for what purpose. No one knows exactly. Not even the crusaders. Or their leader. What is known is that the werewolf Marcus wants vampire blood. The crusaders suspect he wants to harvest it. I’ll answer that question soon enough. No spoilers here! In the meantime, I am preparing for the next year. I’m not sure how long that arc will be. It may be 12. It may be fewer. Not sure yet. However, I’ve got six years planned out for the overall storyline.
5) After you wrap up this story, what’s next for you?
I have writer’s unblock. Yeah… I have way too many story ideas and not enough time to write them all—although a few of them seem to keep grabbing my interest more than others. I find myself thinking about them while I’ll running errands or cooking.
Back in high school I ran a D&D campaign with a group of friends. It was an epic quest with some classic dungeon crawls, and modules I wrote, all set in a world that I created. A few years back (2010, I think) one of my friends asked if I had plans to adapt it into a novel. Admittedly, I had thought about it but without the source notes felt I couldn’t do it justice. I’ve moved so many times that I lost all of my original notes, all the binders of adventure material, the notes, characters, maps and monsters. All kinds of stuff. Well, recently, I started to piece together from memory what I could about the setting and some of the major highlights that I could recall. I gave myself a deadline to write it but since then dropped that end date. I didn’t want to hold myself to that deadline. You know? I didn’t want the pressure. When the story is ready, it’ll be ready.
In the meantime, alongside Lion of the Dark, I’m in the process of editing a short story series, which has since been turned into a single novella with three connecting parts. It’ll be published by Deepwood Publishing and will include a fourth short story, which was originally slated for another project with Deepwood but the publisher felt that story should be included with the novella since they stories are all about the same group of characters.
I’m excited about that project too. Been working on that for a while. It’s set in a post-apocalyptic low-magic fantasy world. In other words, magicians, but no magic weapons or dragons, or the typical fantasy elements that might include elves and dwarves… the setting includes only humans and some degenerates and the landscape. The setting isn’t immediately post-apoc, but enough time has passed that the survivors have no memory of the apocalypse. Kinda cool.
Plus, somewhere in there I’m a graduate student in psychology. I know, I know, I must be out of my mind thinking I can do all of this. But in my
defense I’ve always liked telling stories. And now for a shameless plug: Lion of the Dark is available on Amazon and Smashwords.
Thanks again for having me! I had a blast.