After reading and reviewing ‘Bayne’s Climb’, author Ty Johnston let me pick his brain about writing, Bayne kul Kanon and video games.
PureTextuality [PT]: First thing’s first, let’s get to know ‘Ty’. I checked out your site and didn’t really see much behind the scenes info so we are going to kick it off with the simple stuff. Where are you from?
Ty Johnston [TJ]: I grew up in centralKentucky, my family having moved toLexington from the mountains ofEastern Kentucky soon before I was born. I still have family who live in a few small towns in the mountains. I also lived inOhio for most of the 90s, and spent five years inWest Virginia. Nowadays I’m on the move every few months, traveling with my wife and our beagle and house rabbits. We’ve spent most of the last year in one part or another of the South, with stays inAtlanta,North Carolina,South Carolina andVirginia.
[PT]: Think back – do you remember the moment that you decided you wanted to be writer? Or was it something that was always with you?
[TJ]: I can’t ever remember not wanting to be a writer. Certain elements from my youth stand out for me, however. Comics books in the mid 1970s were a huge influence upon me as a kid growing up then. I also got to meet a few local writers when I was very young, and this had an affect upon me. As with many children of the ’70s, Star Trek and Star Wars drew my interests to the speculative genres.
[PT]: When did you start writing your first book?
[TJ]: Ha! Which time? The very first novel I ever wrote was back in the fourth grade, about 1979 or so. Today it would be called fan fiction. It was a James Bond story. I’ve still got it stuffed away in a box. No, I will never foist it upon readers. In 1989 I started my first “real” novel, a horror yarn; I got up to 70,000 words of it and had to set it aside because of college and life, and maybe eventually I’ll get around to re-writing and finishing it. My first completed novel as an adult was my epic fantasy novel City ofRogues, which I finished about six years ago.
[PT]: Were you a confident writer from the get-go? For example, did you show your friends your work?
[TJ]: My confidence as a writer has waxed and waned over the years. Early on it wasn’t so much a matter of confidence because I was mostly writing only for myself. In my 20s, I had a very difficult time writing anything longer than a short story, mainly because I couldn’t wrap my mind around being good enough to write a novel-length project. By the time I reached my early 30s, I snapped out of that and have been writing ever since. As far as showing friends my work, I did not grow up in an environment where writing was considered “cool,” so I never bothered passing around my short stories and projects to friends. As an adult, I’ve had a core group of friends who often see my writings, and who nowadays make up my beta readers and editors.
[PT]: What do you feel was your muse or inspiration for your first book?
[TJ]: When I was a young man, I had a lot of rage issues. No, I was never physically violent or anything like that, but I just remember being mad all the time. By my late 20s, that had melted away. Now in my 40s, it just seems like an awful lot of work to get mad. Ha! Not that there aren’t things in the world that make me angry from time to time. But what I consider my first real novel, City ofRogues, focuses upon a protagonist with similar rage issues. Those issues are not fully resolved in that book, but the character, Kron Darkbow, is a continual character of mine, and I will continue to explore his issues as he grows older. I’m not sure that answers your question, though I guess one could say “rage” was my muse.
[PT]: Is your first book in your available catalog or did it get scrapped?
[TJ]: City ofRogues is definitely available, and is the first book in my Kobalos Trilogy. A sequel novel, Ghosts of the Asylum, will be available Nov. 21, 2011.
[PT]: As an author, what is/was your toughest hurdle to cross?
[TJ]: Allowing myself to write badly. Yes, I know how that sounds, but it’s the truth. For too long, I felt every word I typed had to be perfect, had to be golden. This limited me from writing, because there was no way I could meet those standards. It was only after I realized not every word I wrote had to be perfect that I could move ahead and be productive as a writer.
[PT]: And now the cliché question – If you could offer one piece of advice to fledgling writers everywhere, what would it be?
[TJ]: Study writers you enjoy. Pick apart their prose. Figure out how they do what they do. Then take what you like and mix it with your own style (which will eventually show up, I promise) to come up with something unique, all while not being completely derivative. I see too many beginning writers who simply don’t know how to tell a story. I’m not saying I’m perfect, but I know the basics of storytelling. In my opinion, prose fiction writers would do themselves a service by studying screenwriting because screenwriting breaks storytelling down into formulas that are almost mathematical, but which can be followed for a certain amount of success. I’m not suggesting those formulas should never be tweaked or outright changed, but it helps to know the formulas first. Something as simple as the fact a story must have a beginning, a middle and an end, seems beyond some writers. And I do not mean to disparage writers who are beginners or who are struggling. We all have to learn.
[PT]: And now a completely random one – as an author, what are your feelings on the eBook craze? Do you feel that it is a good thing for the book industry as a whole or a bad thing?
[TJ]: Oh no! The dreaded e-book question! This topic seems to split writers, publishers and editors as much as the subjects of politics or religion. But, I’m in the pro e-book department. E-books are here and they are going to keep coming. Fighting it is like standing up against a giant wave with a plastic spoon as your only weapon. The professionals who ridicule digital publishing will only be hurting themselves in the long run. As far as whether e-books are good or bad, I don’t really look at them that way. They simply are. We writers have to adapt to survive. I would like to add, however, that I am a former newspaper editor of nearly 20 years, and many of the arguments I’m now hearing against digital publishing are the exact same ones I was hearing five and 10 years ago in the newspaper business, and we all know what condition newspapers are in nowadays having cut their staffs down to the bone in the last few years, circulation numbers growing smaller and smaller, and advertisers fleeing like rats from a sinking ship. But news still sells, just not as much in the print form as it used to.
[PT]: Now let’s talk about Bayne’s Climb. Bayne is a true (pardon my language) bad ass. Who or what was your inspiration for the character of Bayne kul Kanon?
[TJ]: There is no direct literary inspiration for Bayne. I suppose he somewhat falls into the trope of the barbaric warrior, along the lines of Robert E. Howard’s Conan character, but that’s only upon first glance. Bayne is no barbarian, after all, though he might appear that way to others. As for outward inspirations, Bayne somewhat continues my own personal studies of the rage issues, but more than anything I wanted to look into the mind of a potential killer who has a blank slate for memories. How would such a person react to the outside world? What elements tip off his destructive moods, but which don’t? Can he have a certain level of honor, or is that just hogwash to cover over his sins?
[PT]: Did you start out writing Bayne’s Climb with the intention of continuing on with a trilogy?
[TJ]: Yes and no. I originally had the idea for the trilogy, but it also occurred to me I could wrap things up in the first novella if I wanted. That would have meant two very different pasts and fates for Bayne, and I had to decide which I preferred as I have plans to use the Bayne character in future novels. Bayne exists in what I think of as my “Ursian universe” in my “Ursian Chronicles,” a series of novels that eventually could number as many as 40 to 50. These stories will take place over about a 2,000-year period, with Bayne’s early tales taking place near the beginning of that period. So, Bayne will appear again. Because of my future secret plans for him, I decided to go ahead with the trilogy because its ending ties in well with my future use of the Bayne character.
[PT]: How long did it take you to write the story that spans over the three books?
[TJ]: About six months altogether. They are fairly short e-books, each approximately 40,000 words, more long novellas than true novels. I did not write them all at one time. I finished the first, published it, then moved on to the second. And then the third. However, I did pretty much know what was going to happen in each book. I don’t normally do outlines, but for the Bayne trilogy, I wanted to focus on a sort of a linear story with only one character, so it kind of outlined itself due to the simplicity of the basic plot. The third novella is a little more complex, but not by much.
[PT]: It’s no secret that half of the appeal of this book, for me anyway, is that after years of playing 1st person RPG games such as the God of War series, the Legacy of Kain series, etc, I could genuinely SEE the landscape and story line play out. I would LOVE to see the Sword of Bayne series be made into an epic video game. Be honest – are you a gamer?
[TJ]: Ha! I love this question! One of the reviews for my City of Rogues novel said something like I had played too much Final Fantasy, but the truth is I’ve never ever played Final Fantasy and have no clue about anything having to do with the games. Am I a gamer? Yes, but not a hardcore gamer. It kind of comes and goes for me. A few years ago I was hooked on all the Grand Theft Auto games (GTA: San Andreas is one of my all-time favorite video games), but lately I’ve stayed away from console games because they suck up too much of my time. I played the first God of War game, and the first Max Payne, but of late it’s only been Plants vs. Zombies, which is a very low-key type of gaming experience, one which doesn’t make me lose hours upon hours of my life. It’s funny you mention video games in conjunction with my Bayne stories because these tales are told in such a linear fashion, almost like a video game. This was intentional on my part, but I hadn’t thought of it in relation to video games until now. Each novella ending even has a “boss” of sorts, so I could easily see how the Bayne stories could be made into a game.
I want to thank Ty for the opportunity to speak with him and I greatly look forward to finishing the series!