Sunday, June 29, 2014

What I did on my summer vacation (fangirl squee!).

Me, asking Donaldson his opinion of indie publishing.
I may have mentioned once or twice that my all-time favorite fantasy series is The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever by Stephen R. Donaldson. I read the first three books when I was in my 20s, just a few years after they were published. A college friend recommended them to me, but it wasn't until after I had graduated that I ran across them at the library, checked them out, and was hooked. The main character, Thomas Covenant, is an anti-hero: a cynical leper who finds himself plopped down in a wondrous land where he is cured of his disease, amidst people who believe he is some kind of hero. He fights the temptation to believe it's real, all the while pondering whether his own actions matter in a place he may have invented in his own head.

Those first three books redefined the genre of epic fantasy, which up until then had consisted of Tolkien's work and not much else. Donaldson followed up a few years later with the second three books of the Chronicles. He put off writing the final four-volume set until about twelve years ago; the final Covenant book, The Last Dark, came out last fall. In between, Donaldson wrote a high fantasy duology called Mordant's Need; the Gap cycle, a five-book sci-fi series; a couple of short story collections; and, as Reed Stephens, three mystery novels. (The mysteries, including a new fourth book, were republished under his real name a few years ago.)

In 2000 or so, not long after I started at my current day job, I ran a web search for information on the Chronicles. Donaldson didn't have a website (he does now), but I found a couple of fan sites. One of them was Kevinswatch, and among its features was a discussion board on the EZ Board platform. I joined more or less immediately. A couple of years later, when the EZ Board ads became too annoying, a member in New Zealand offered us space on his server, and that's where the Watch has been ever since. Over the past decade and a half, more than 3500 people from all over the world have joined the Watch, including Donaldson's webmaster, his beta readers, and the camera operator for the hilarious public-access TV show "Fantasy Bedtime Hour" (you can watch the episodes here -- Donaldson appears in three). The board has grown as well, expanding from the original Chronicles discussion threads to include separate forums for food, history, literature of all types (Donaldson fans, it turns out, are quite the well-read bunch), fan art, music, sports, writing, politics, philosophy, and games, including our own role-playing games. (And I've probably left something out.) In short, it's a community. Watchers have been known to remark that the Watch is one of the nicest places on the internet. Even our political forum is less rough-and-tumble than others of that ilk (or so I've been told).

It's entirely possible that had I never joined the Watch, I would not be a published author today. In 2006 and 2007, we created three anthologies of our own work. When our editor, Joy Calderwood, set up Calderwood Books, she asked me for the reprint rights to two of my stories from those anthologies. Then she published The Maidens' War in 2010. Thanks again, Joy, for believing in me.

One of our members lives in Albuquerque, where Donaldson also lives. In 2004, Danlo offered to host a sort of mini-convention at his house for whoever could make it, with the big draw being dinner with The Author. I missed the first Elohimfest, but I've made all the others, as well as a couple of regional gatherings. Many Watchers are now among my closest real-life friends.

Last weekend, we gathered in Albuquerque for Elohimfest 4. Nearly 40 Watchers from across the US and around the world (Australia, Ireland, the UK and Finland) attended. And on Saturday night, during the Q&A, I finally got up the nerve to ask Donaldson what he thought of indie publishing.

Maybe it was the venue, or the fact that I've now met him several times. But his response was much less dismissive than comments I've seen from many other traditionally-published authors. I can't give you a direct quote -- the video isn't up at his site yet, and I was too distracted to take notes -- but he recognized the sorry state of corporate-owned trad publishing, and he said indies and on-demand publishing might well save the industry.

Bless you, sir, for your kind comments, and for your books, and for being the catalyst behind the creation of the Watch. 

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Edited to add a link to fellow Watcher Rob Hope's take on E-fest, just so y'all know I'm not the only person who waxes rhapsodic about the Watch.

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These moments of bloggy fangirl squeeing have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.
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