This week's guest writes books. So of course that means Justin has to ask him about writing books in Canada and if that means anything!
Ok, let’s get this week’s guest out of the way. I’m super consistent right now, I hope it stays that way!
Justus R. Stone is an indie author who, after the success of his first book, Harbinger, started The Bleeding Worlds series and is currently working on the final book, Ragnarok, before the year is over. He’s very much into tons of media, and also very much into LNs, which is something he discussed on the site some months ago. Now he’s back to talk a bit more about how he knew about it.
Justin: There’s one thing I definitely wanted to ask you out of almost everything: you mentioned on your website that you once wrote 15 pages for a school assignment in 6th Grade that was supposed to be 2 pages. 1) Do you remember what that assignment was 2) You did give that to your teacher right? *laughs*
Justus: *laughs* Absolutely! It was supposed to be a “short story” and I just came up with this idea and just kept running with it and couldn’t stop until I gone about 7 or 8 times she had requested! *laughs* It got a good mark if I remember right too!
*laughs* Well to be fair, 15 pages is short, that technically is a short story.
Yeah yeah, definitely by today’s standards right? *laughs*
So generally, I’ve talked to people that’s been in the US. You’re Canadian. It makes me wonder, how did anime and manga come to the forefront for you?
Well I’m a bit older so when I first got into anime I didn’t even know it was anime. When you go back to early 80s shows like Voltron, Robotech, they called it Star Blazers but it was Space Battleship Yamato, they showed it on TV. Of course we didn’t have the internet at the time so we couldn’t look anything up about them. All we could do is tune in and think, “Hey this is really cool.”
It wasn’t until Sailor Moon came out and it was shown on a channel called YTV. I got into that…and they just all of a sudden cancelled the show for some reason. I can’t remember the whole reasoning, but they got halfway through an arc, then all of a sudden it just disappeared off of television. So my girlfriend at the time and I went on to the internet – early, early days of the internet – started looking things up and we went, “Oh my god, this series is massive! What’s going on?”
So we went down to our local Chinatown, got bootleg VHS tapes of Sailor Moon—
Like we’re talking like A) these were dubbed in Cantonese because it was Chinatown of course and B) anime…I wouldn’t say it really hit big at that point, so they didn’t even have English subtitles on them. We had to download the scripts from the internet and then we’d watch the episode, then read ahead in the scripts so we knew what the heck they were saying.
Oh my god. *laughs*
Yeah back in the bush days of anime! But so, we just kept going back of course and getting more tapes, stuff like that. Eventually I guess they got to know these crazy kids that were trying to figure out what was going on because they started getting them English subtitled. So the girl got to know us who worked at the store, she started pushing series at us. “Oh you like Sailor Moon, you’ll like this series,” It’s just really indoctrinated us from there. *laughs*
Did you happen to know other people who knew about anime or manga, or not that many people knew about it?
No it wasn’t a big thing. I don’t think until it was a couple of years later until you got sort of all the university campuses seem to have anime clubs now. But they really weren’t this big a thing. I think it was really DVD when things sort of started to take off all of a sudden. Like I even remember my local comic shop had a few anime VHS tapes but once DVDs came out it seemed like they had tons and tons of stuff and they actually rented them. So that was I how I saw a bunch of other new series soon after that.
One of the series you’ve been working on is The Bleeding Worlds series. How did you get the idea to work on your first book, Harbinger?
Well, again, writing was a thing that I sort of came to, but then would go away from, then would come back to over the years. For Harbinger, with The Bleeding Worlds, I try to tell people when I explain it that if you know what anime is, because often the people I’m talking to don’t, it’s almost like Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series and anime had a baby. That’s kind of what the series is. And I think I had this idea initially of these people that were super powered, that had served as the template of gods throughout human history, and I started fudging around with the idea and everything.
What really sort of brought it to a head with me was my dad passed away from cancer. He had all these plans for retirement and everything, and he was actually gonna write a book, that was one of his plans. None of that stuff happened because of it. It kind of kicked me into gear, that I thought to myself:
“You know what? I need to stop talking about all the things that I want to do and the book that I want to write, and I actually need to sit down and make this happen.” That was kind of what pushed me forward to finally get it done.
And that led you to consider writing more books.
Absolutely. When I started The Bleeding Worlds, like right now I’m working on the 4th and final book in the series. I think like the first book I really did for myself, and I decided I’d let a few people read it. They were like, “This is a lot better than I actually thought it would be!” *laughs*
So I thought, “Well, I’ll put it out into the wild and let the world see if it’s any good or not.” And I’ve always had sort of in the back of my head that it could be a series. That was sort of my intent. When I started selling some copies and got some feedback from people who didn’t know me, didn’t have any reason to be kind to my feelings, and they were like, “You know, this is good, we enjoy it!” That was really the point where I really thought I want to continue with this and sort of see the series through and get it finished.
Can you share a little bit about your progress on Ragnarok? It’s going to come out at the end of the year correct?
That’s my goal right now. I wish at this point that I was one of those writers that no matter what kind of a day I was having or how tired I was or whatever that I could sit down and pump out a 1,000 words I probably could have the book written 5 times by now. But unfortunately I do still have to have a day job that keeps a roof over my family’s head and food in the fridge and all these other things that life just kind of comes up.
So the progress on Ragnarok: I’m about halfway through the manuscript, I’ve got it plotted out roughly to the end of the book, so I’m really hoping to hunker down now that my kids are back at school and I actually have some time during the day. I’m kind of hoping that by the end of this month or a bit into October I’ll have the first draft done. It will probably be towards the end of December that the book will finally release.
And just to point this out, you’re self-publishing this correct?
Yeah. Like I said, with Harbinger I had really no idea whether the book would be a success or not. Trying to sell it to people, like I didn’t really even know if they’d understand what I was trying to accomplish so I thought, “you know what, first of all I just want the book to sort of live.” Because at that point I thought, well, I’ve done this thing and I kind of wanna put it out into the world because it’s something that I accomplished, it’s something I’ve wanted to do.
And the other part of it was, I think maybe I’m a little bit of a control freak? *laughs* Well, being able to control what’s in the books, and being able to control what the covers look like, being able to control when they come out and…the thing to was that, when you start looking into the traditional publishing route, the likelihood that you can make enough money to survive off of it is not really as high as what a lot of people make it out to be. I was concerned that if I tried to go the traditional route that there would be demands on my time and everything else, and would make it difficult to keep the job that keeps a roof over our heads and keeps us all fed.
So I thought, “you know, if I can control it myself, and I can do sort of expose myself more online to readers and stuff like that, that I can be available that way,” then it doesn’t completely disrupt my life and I can sort of keep doing what I’m doing.
Has that been your biggest challenge, since you’re also trying to do everything?
Oh yeah. It’s…I mean you don’t have that support system really. Like you’re responsible for doing all of your own marketing, responsible for doing your own editing. You have to outsource who you’re gonna have read the book, who’s gonna try and be an editor for you…
I mean I’m kind of lucky, in the fact that my wife is probably as big a geek as I am. So she’s very well read and has watched a ton of anime, played a ton of video games. So she has no problem telling me when I’ve done something that’s crap so I can hand her the book and she can say to me, “You know what you’ve totally ripped this off, you need to get rid of that or rethink it!” or, “This is a part you need to get rid of because it’s not good.” So she’s been a really good sounding board for kind of the content of the books. And then I use several programs and everything else to try and double check the grammar and so forth.
So yeah it is a little bit of a challenge because you are trying to do every single step of book production yourself. I had to teach myself how to do interior book design so I could do physical copies of it. I had to learn Adobe InDesign. So yeah you’re teaching yourself computer programs, software, all these things. Then on top of all that, you gotta try and be out there so that people actually know that these things exist and can find them.
What do you think people who have ideas about writing should consider before they actually start getting into it?
Well, I think if writing is something you really want to do, or you have that great desire to do, I think it’s something you can sit down and do. But, that said, I think the few things you have to walk into right away knowing is that what you put down on paper in the beginning is probably not going to be as good as you want it to be or imagine that it should be. I think lots and lots of authors go through with that, and if you look at most authors, really big name authors, all of them say the same thing: the first words you write are probably gonna be crap, and you’re gonna have to go back and edit, fix it and figure it out. So you can’t be beating yourself up as you’re writing. You need to get just your ideas out and see where it goes from there.
And I think too, the other that I know definitely when I’m finished with The Bleeding Worlds and look to start something new, I think the thing that you really need to do to is sitting down and having a bit more of a plan. Like when I wrote Harbinger I had some very rough ideas on where the series might go afterwards. But it wasn’t like I had a guideline to tell me. So there’s some things that have happened in the book that I kind of sat there and went, “You know, if I really thought it out I would’ve done it a slightly different way that would’ve made life easier for me in the later books.” *laughs*
So I’d definitely say planning and also the whole idea of don’t beat yourself up. Just let your ideas come out and you can fix them down the road.
So light novels have been the newest wave in the past few years. I guess first of all how did you discover light novels?
Well I came to them because of anime. That was really the gateway for me. Now that we have the wonderful internet, like you watch an anime series, and the two that really come to my mind were Accel World and No Game No Life. Both were anime series that I really liked but just kind of ended. You knew there was a lot more to the story, but where the heck was it?
There was no news about future series or anything like that so I started looking it up and you realize, “Ok, there are these novels that this was all based on.” And unfortunately I don’t read any of the writing forms in Japan. So you start looking to see if there’s fan translations, and the first one that I found were REALLY horrible—
I don’t know if I just got unlucky in that, but the grammar was, I could hardly even decipher what was happening. It was almost like I was reading Japanese, that they were written so poorly. So I just kind of twiddled my thumbs and said, “I’m out of luck.” It’s either A) hope one day these things come out in English or B) that they more of the anime.
As time has told us now, the anime not so much but definitely the light novels have arrived. So it was just a fluke, I was at the bookstore and they had Sword Art Online, the Yen On release, on the shelf. I grabbed it, and even though I’d seen the anime, I wanted to read it and see what it was like, and then I started researching and saw that they (Yen Press) were putting out more of these titles.
So at that point I was sold, especially when one of the second titles they were putting out was Accel World, and I saw that No Game No Life was coming. So all these titles that I thought or wished I could see more of the story. So I think that started the whole thing for me, by just trying to pick up the anime that I enjoyed and find out what happened after the anime ended.
Did you happen to know LNs were published once before (in the West)?
Well I don’t think – like I had some idea, I believe TOKYOPOP did some back a number of years ago. Like they did Crest of the Stars and that kind of stuff. I think at that time it was more that I guess the titles that they had weren’t ones that I immediately recognized or was interested in. And I think even then, a lot of the anime that they put out…like it seems to me now, when you watch a lot of anime series, half the time it seems they’ve been done more as an advertisement for the LN series than to do an actual complete anime series. They don’t seem to have a problem with just ending it with a whole bunch of the story left untold. It’s kinda like this “wink-wink, nudge-nudge, go read the book.” I didn’t notice that as much when TOKYOPOP was publishing light novels that they did. It seemed like most of the anime I was watching at the time, I don’t think there were quite as many LNs adaptations.
So most of the anime I was watching at the time had a complete story. So there wasn’t as much as I think, that sort of drive to go running out and trying to find the rest of what happened next. But definitely in the last couple of years that seems to be more and more of the way anime are going. That one or two arcs done in the LN, boom, they animate those two arcs. But then that’s it, and unless the series is a massive hit like Sword Art Online, you can’t really count on the rest of it being done.
So now thankfully we’re starting to get LNs in English because now we can read and go beyond the series that you have available.
So far Vertical, Yen Press, One Peace Books, they’re releasing LNs. Do you think it’s about time other publishers join in or do you think it’s still too early to say where the market’s going?
Well, we’re nowhere near the number of titles that are being released in Japan. Like the amount of product out there is almost mind-numbing. And there’s been quite a few anime series that we’ve had that have extensive LN series that still haven’t been brought over. So I know Viz is doing one or two. They seem to be doing one shot series, or doing more through their Haikasoru imprint. Like Legend of the Galactic Heroes, they’ve put out on that imprint. They’ve been doing more adult Japanese Science Fiction and stuff.
But definitely One Peace Books, they haven’t done a lot. Like Rising of the Shield Hero is the biggest series they’re translating, but other than that a few one shots and some manga. A company like that has a lot of room to grow with the titles they can bring out. And I mean the Rising of the Shield Hero doesn’t even have an anime to go with it. So to me they took a bit of risk on that series compared to, say, Yen On, who has primarily been putting out series that already have an existing fan base, either through anime, or all of the above.
So I can see One Peace picking up a couple titles. Vertical the same thing. Like Vertical’s been doing series that are based on existing series, like Seraph of the End prequel novels, the same thing with Attack on Titan, so a lot of series that tie into anime, but are kind of standalone series by themselves. I think both of those companies certainly have room to grow. I mean Vertical is bringing the whole Monogatari series, starting I guess in December. So definitely they’re ramping up their releases.
Final question: LN recommendations…that US publishers should consider publishing here. Is there stuff you possibly want to see over here? Just for everyone to know, you did participate in the Great Light Novel Experience post a couple of months ago, and you recommended Alderamin in the Sky, which has the anime series. Think you have a few more recommendations?
Well I think at this point in terms of specific series, my focus has been on what’s been officially released here in English. I don’t follow as much because like I said I can’t read Japanese, and for the fan translations I don’t even have time now, like between Yen On and these other companies they’re releasing so many it’s getting hard to actually keep up with all of the new releases.
But what I would really like to see at this point more genre type things. We got initially a lot of the trapped in a video game type stories like Sword Art, Log Horizon, even Rising of the Shield Hero is very similar that way—
Yeah, we got a lot of those series. Now we’re getting into the sort of high school battle ones. You got Asterisk War, The Irregular at Magic High School, Index, you got all these ones. The ones I’m looking forward to is My Teenage Romance SNAFU, so we’re kind of breaking the mold of Fantasy, Sci-Fi, we’re starting to get more of the slice of life Rom-Com stuff, which I think is cool. I would really love to see some Mecha LNs come over. I’m a bit of a giant robot fan *laughs* like going back to my days of Voltron, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and all those kind of series, like genre wise I’d like to see something like that because there’s really nothing like that right now that we have in English.
In terms of very specific titles, I’d be interested to see what the Heavy Object LN is like. It’s kind of like a mixture of war, slightly kinda mecha, and it’s got all the pre-requisites to get an English release: it’s got an anime, a manga…
So like I said, I wouldn’t mind seeing titles come over, I just want to see different titles come over. I would love to see titles that I just have no idea what they are, and because there’s no even hint, and all of a sudden we have this new title. Like Yen On put out this title called Psycome. Not a series I knew anything about, and I really have no idea how Yen On even discovered it because as far as I can tell there really isn’t much that would make it “popular” and it was just a lot of fun, and I loved that it was something completely unexpected. So I really would love to see companies, I guess Yen On will be the best poised to do that because they seem to have a big share of the market. I think it’s Kadokawa that they have a deal with, they have such an access now and I would love to see series come over that are just complete surprises. Like maybe if you’re really deep in the know as far as fan translations or you can read Japanese, I would love if you know about them but the general English speaking audiences, I’d love to just see and get these cool series that no one really knows about.