Hello Readers and Writers!
Today we would like to introduce you to an author who got into fantasy writing after noticing a void in the genre that he believed his stories could fill. He loves to subvert the trope that every fantasy battle is an epic one and that fantasy can happen even in small settings. His modest writing goals allow him to stay on track while also jamming out two books a year. Partnering with a well organized publishing company doesn't hurt either!
Introducing Dan Fitzgerald!
When did you start writing as a career?
I’m not sure I’d call it a career at this point, but I’ve been writing seriously for about twenty years. I used to write crime fiction, and I also wrote an urban fantasy novel not too long ago. All of those went unpublished, and it wasn’t until I switched to fantasy that I found a publisher. My goal is to be able to retire in ten years and make enough from writing that I don’t have to get another job.
What's your current work in progress?
It’s called The Living Waters, and it’s High Fantasy, which is quite different from the Low Fantasy of my Maer Cycle trilogy. It involves painted-face nobles on a raft trip down a polluted river, with mysterious swirls in the water, long-necked river ogres, beings made entirely of water, and a magical form of social media. It involves a lot of meditation-based magic, and the feel is very metaphysical/ethereal.
You write Fantasy. What led you to write in that genre?
I am an old-school D&D nerd, and I read fantasy growing up, but at a certain point (in the early 90s) I became disillusioned with the quality of the fantasy that was available. I hadn’t read a fantasy book for a long time until I decided to dip my toes back in a few years ago, and boy had things changed. But I still felt there was something missing—everything was so epic, so over-the-top, and I wanted something with that classic feel, but on a smaller scale. So I decided to try my hand at writing it.
Do you have any plans to write in different genres?
At this point, not at all, but who knows? I have a great love for crime fiction, especially the grittier style, and science fiction has always appealed to me as well. I’m more likely to write some form of speculative fiction at this point, but if you’d told me five years ago I would be publishing fantasy novels I would have been quite surprised, so who knows?
Tell me about the Maer from your Fantasy series, The Maer Cycle, and how their return motivates the other characters in the series.
According to legend, Maer and humans once lived side by side, two separate but equal civilizations. At some point there was a war, and the humans won, but the details are lost to history, and the Maer were believed to have disappeared from the continent. The Maer are now considered mythical creatures, said to be covered in hair from head to toe, savage and fierce, and prone to kidnapping anyone who strays too far into the mountains alone.
In Hollow Road, the three main characters are taking an old friend’s body home for burial when they discover the Maer are more than just legend, and the reality is quite different than what the stories told. Their encounter with the Maer raises as many questions as it answers, and we dig deeper into these mysteries in the second book.
The Archive, book two in the series is here! Talk to us about the challenges and benefits of writing a sequel.
I really enjoyed writing this story as a trilogy, which allowed me to explore a larger narrative in the form of three smaller, more personal ones. The first book is centered around the human characters, while in The Archive the Maer characters become more important, until in the third book, The Place Below, the humans are important side characters, but it’s all about the Maer.
The challenge for me was creating three books that work together as a whole, while making sure each one is distinct. I use different POV structures in each book, though all are multi-POV. Hollow Road has a regular rotation of three human characters. In The Archive we follow a mixed group of seven Maer and humans traveling together, and we also get the POV of the antagonists for a while, for a total of thirteen POV characters in total. In The Place Below, we alternate between the protagonist and the antagonist. Each book has a different vibe, a different style, but there are common threads between them and, I hope, a satisfying arc for the entire trilogy.
How do your books rebel against the status quo?
I don’t know that they rebel, but there are several trends I am fighting against.
One is the trend toward stories being so terribly epic. Must the world always be at stake? Can’t it just be about some specific group, one place, one objective? To be fair, The Archive has a bit more of an epic feel, but it’s still a personal story about the people involved, and the larger historical clashes are in the background. And even its most “epic” battle involves fewer than a hundred souls.
Another thing I am fighting against is the lumbering heteronormativity in a lot of mainstream fantasy. To be sure, there are many excellent examples of queer fantasy stories being told, but there is still a lot of fantasy that ignores or minimizes queer characters. My goal is not to tell queer stories—as a cisgender heterosexual male, that’s not my role. My goal is to tell stories of people living, fighting, and loving side by side, whatever their identities. You won’t read queer characters in my books struggling to understand their identities or fighting against prejudice, but you will read about them fighting baddies, surviving the bitter cold mountain winter, forming friendships and relationships, and discovering the many wonders of their world.
Do you plan writing goals?
I never really did until I got signed by Shadow Spark, but now I absolutely do. When I’m not editing, I set a modest daily goal of writing 500 words, double that on days when I’m not working. It might not sound like a lot, but it averages out to two books a year at my current pace. And that is my goal: to publish, on average, two books a year. I do the math, look at calendars, all those little things, to track my progress. Jessica Moon and Mandy Russell, the two mad geniuses behind Shadow Spark, are very consistent about their deadlines, which has helped me become so as well. I know exactly how long it will take them to send me the next round of editing notes, when the covers will be ready, how long between final version and publication, all of that. Not having to worry about these details allows me to really focus on achieving specific goals in my writing.
Talk to me about the path you choose in publishing.
I’m not sure if ‘chose’ is the proper term. I queried agents unsuccessfully for 15 years before I signed my first contract. But in a sense, I did choose, because I realized what I was writing might be less appealing to an agent, but more so to a small publisher. After about my 50th rejection on Hollow Road, and after completely revamping the opening 50 pages, I sent out queries to a few small publishers, in late February/early March of this year, just as Covid was looming. Shadow Spark responded very quickly, and within a week of submission we had a contract for the trilogy.
I said before I didn’t exactly choose, but what I was coming to realize through the querying process and what I was learning from Twitter is that the traditional path of agent-to-publisher is a narrow, fragile one, and that it takes a looooooong time from writing a book to seeing it in print. Small publishers can be much more agile, and in the case of Shadow Spark, their energy and dedication and support are everything I ever wanted in a publishing partner. I went from a querying writer to a published author in the space of six months, and not because the book wasn’t put through the editing wringer—believe me, it was. But Jess and Mandy’s drive is just that strong, and it’s contagious. If I had signed with an agent in March, my book would most likely not have seen the light of day until 2022. By that time, if things go as planned, I may have 5 or more books published with Shadow Spark. I couldn’t be happier about the path that chose me.
You are very active on Instagram and you share some amazing nature images! Tell us how your time exploring and photographing nature has inspired your life and writing.
Thank you for your kind words. I discovered Instagram because Shadow Spark told me I needed to get on there. I was very resistant at first, as I didn’t see what it had to do with writing or publishing, but once I was there, I never looked back. I discovered a love for photography that will no doubt continue to the end of my days. I don’t know if there’s a direct connection between my photography and my writing, but they both come from the same source: a sense of wonder at the infinite complexity and variety of the natural world. Being out in nature stirs the imagination, and my books all take place in natural settings. I also have a love for the small details, the veins of a leaf, the way a bird twitches its head side to side, the pale cast of the sun piercing the clouds. I love showing these details in my photographs, and, with some restraint, in my writing.
What are you reading currently?
I keep two books going at all times, one for bedtime reading and one for other times. My current bedtime read is River Magic by M.A. Phillips, a fellow Shadow Spark author. It’s outside my usual reading zone but has proven a delight. It’s about a modern druid discovering her spirituality and falling in love with an old friend, with the help of a mermaid in the Saint Lawrence River. My current downstairs read is Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas, an amazing coming of age story with a trans MC, tight writing, and supreme world building.
What can readers expect from you in the future?
Lots more books. I don’t know how successful I will be in selling them, but the fire is currently raging inside me, and I have many more stories to tell, and I now have the tools to tell them better and more quickly than I ever have before.
I mentioned my work in progress The Living Waters, which is 2/3 drafted. It’s part of a planned duology I’m calling the Weirdwater Confluence, which will be two separate, standalone novels with intersecting plot points.
Beyond that, I have 4 books planned, though others may take over my imagination before then. The Ward would be a Low Fantasy novel, the story of Theo, who is dead when Hollow Road begins, and would tell about his recruitment into a secretive organization and his eventual mission, where he was killed. I also have plans for a trilogy called The Time Before, which would tell of some of the historical figures mentioned in the Maer Cycle, almost 2,000 years before. I don’t see it as a prequel, since it’s set so long in the past, and the feel would be very different. I want to tell about the Maer civilization at its apogee, so it would be very much High Fantasy.