L.A. Jacob (00:00:11): Hi, and welcome to Small Publishing in a Big Universe. I am your host, L.A. Jacob. Today’s interview will be with Ryan Southwick, science-fiction, and speculative fiction author.
Coming soon from our sponsors this month: Water Dragon Publishing has Corporate Catharsis: The Work from Home Edition and in the Dragon Gem Series, Gift of Silence by Alfred Smith and Way Crosser by Mia Ram.
L.A. Jacob (00:00:59): From author Ryan Southwick and Water Dragon Publishing is a series where modern technology battles against an ancient evil. In an alternate San Francisco, meet Anne and Charlie and a whole host of extraordinary people who fight against a vampire plague ripping through the city. The Z-Tech Chronicles series includes Angels in the Mist, Angels Lost, Angels Fall, Angels Found, and more to come. All are available in hardcover and paperback by Water Dragon Publishing. Once Upon a Nightwalker and Zima Origins are also available as short stories taking place in the same detailed world. Created by Ryan Southwick. See WaterDragonPublishing/product-category/book-series/z-tech-chronicles.
We have with us today, Ryan Southwick, who is the author of a multitude of very large books, mostly in the urban fantasy genre, but he’s also been branching out into science-fiction. So welcome to the podcast, Ryan.
Ryan Southwick (00:02:24): Thank you. Thanks for having me.
L.A. Jacob (00:02:26): First of all, what is your recent book about? Because I know you have a few.
Ryan Southwick (00:02:32): My most recent book, Holtendome, is about a farmer in a dystopian post-apocalyptic earth, living in an isolated dome where literacy and knowledge of the outside world is forbidden. Everything turns upside down by an unexpected visit from a city girl who’s far wiser than her years and really starts introducing things that this isolated farming dome hasn’t had to deal with in hundreds of years of traditions that they’ve formed. So, a lot of other strange things happen from there as well. It isn’t just a dystopian, there are several science-fiction elements, but that’s the gist of it.
L.A. Jacob (00:03:12): So some of the other books that you’ve written are urban fantasy, if I’m not mistaken.
Ryan Southwick (00:03:18): They’re urban fantasy, but also most of them have, and I think this is one of the things I learned after writing them, that they’re almost a little heavier on the science-fiction than they are in the urban fantasy. They have vampires and a couple of paranormal aspects to them. But my first series, The Z-Tech Chronicles, as the title implies, revolves around a company called Z-Tech, which is first and foremost a technology company. A lot of this series is kind of around the paranormal and technology clashing, all based in the Bay Area. Actually, I did recently publish a paranormal romance called Dragon Assassin, but I haven’t been advertising it too much because it’s kind of outside of my genre. At this time, it’s really a one-off experiment in the paranormal romance genre. There is one coming up, called One Man’s Trash, which is gonna be in the Truck Stop at the Center of the Galaxy series. And it’s a full novel. It’s around 43,000 words.
L.A. Jacob (00:04:13): So out of all the genres that you’ve been writing, do you have a favorite?
Ryan Southwick (00:04:18): You know, I think as even when I started writing the urban fantasy, a lot of it tended towards science-fiction. And then on top of the books that I’ve also mentioned, I have yet another science-fiction series that is called The Lost Colonies, which is again, pure science-fiction. 10,000 years in the future, uh, tend toward science-fiction more than anything else. I really think that’s where my passion is and I think I love it because I’m a programmer, so just almost at heart, I’m a very logical person, very systems-thinker, but I also like the freedom of science-fiction. It’s like, yes, it kind of has to make sense, but it can also be fantastical and really full of imagination.
L.A. Jacob (00:05:00): Do you think you’d be doing more science-fiction after the Z-Tech Chronicles is completed?
Ryan Southwick (00:05:05): Yeah, absolutely. I plan to finish The Timeless Keeper Saga, which is, uh, Holtondome is the first, and then the next series I have after that again is probably The Lost Colonies and that’ll probably be anywhere from three to six books.
L.A. Jacob (00:05:19): Why did you write Holtondome? Cause it’s different in the sense that it’s dystopian.
Ryan Southwick (00:05:25): Yeah, even as a programmer I really craved different things. And so, I think by the time I got to the end, I had felt, I had pretty much explored that genre as much as I wanted. So, when I got to the end of that, I was looking for something else to write and I had this idea about two people who were very, very different, but who were so compatible that their relationship could survive just about anything. I also knew that I wanted to do a different genre and so after I did a bit of analysis and I just started writing Holtondome.
L.A. Jacob (00:06:01): The Muse just kind of like gave it to you.
Ryan Southwick (00:06:03): That’s exactly what happens (laugh). So, I think when I first started writing it, I had kind of these grand idea of all the things that this couple would go through, but as normally happens when you’re writing a book, I, once I started fleshing out Holtondome and the government, Holtondome itself really took on its own life.
L.A. Jacob (00:06:24): Do you find you have a hard time, you start big and you end up small?
Ryan Southwick (00:06:28): Yeah, yeah. And actually, The Z-Tech Chronicles was the same way. It was originally supposed to be three books (laugh). Okay. And, and that became six. So yeah, absolutely. I think the, the lesson that I’ve learned, and thanks in no small part to Water Dragon Publishing who really helped me with this, is understanding where to draw the lines and not necessarily abandoning my big ideas but taking those big ideas and breaking them into smaller, more digestible chunks.
L.A. Jacob (00:06:55): What about Dragon Assassin?
Ryan Southwick (00:06:57): That was actually, there was a list aiming box set group that I participated in the original premise for the story. I’d kind of had this story in the back of my head about a shapeshifting dragon who becomes romantically involved with just a normal guy just trying to think like, gosh, what the heck does that look like when you’ve got this creature or person that is hundreds of years old, powerful and all that stuff. But then trying to think of also what on earth would draw somebody of that? How special would that one person have to be to draw this creature in, even to be interested in a relationship? What would those circumstances have to be? But when this opportunity for this box set came along, I’m like, you know what? What the heck, let’s try it out. I also figured since the set was paranormal romance focused, it also gave me an excuse to try out that genre and take the romance aspect a little bit further than I normally would.
L.A. Jacob (00:07:55): Do you have any writing quirks?
Ryan Southwick (00:07:59): A few. I’m sure the one that jumps to mind (laugh), and I think this is one of the things I’ve found about as a reader and an author that when I’m reading a book for some reason that I’m always drawn to, I wanna say like the most human aspects of stories. So, in some instances you have authors like Tom Clancy, a lot of it is about the strategy and about the technology and all that stuff. For me it’s always been about the relationships. And so, I’ll find myself, if I’m reading like it doesn’t matter whether it’s science-fiction or urban fantasy or whatever, I’ll see these two characters who really look like they should be together. And if that relationship doesn’t go anywhere, I get very frustrated. I think what I’ve found is that I really enjoy writing, engaging characters with engaging plots, but that always have some romantic element to it. Whether it’s the protagonist or some of the primary characters or whatever. There are relationship complications that mix in with a story, not that it’s a romance. With the exception of Dragon Assassin, I don’t think I’ve ever written a romance before, but I prefer to write books that have really strong, engaging plots, preferably with science-fiction or supernatural elements to them, but also kind of have that underlying romantic theme to it. Because to me it just feels like without it, it feels like there’s a critical human element that’s being missed.
L.A. Jacob (00:09:24): So you’re a romantic, I guess.
Ryan Southwick (00:09:26): Sadly, yes. Whether I like it or not, I think that’s definitely where I go. So pretty much in any book that you read, no matter what genre it is, I think in fact, I think there’s only one that I’ve ever written, and it was a short story. Actually, two, I take it back. Once Upon A Nightwalker and Zima Origins, those are the only two I can think of that don’t have some underlying romantic theme to it.
L.A. Jacob (00:09:47): What is your passion project?
Ryan Southwick (00:09:50): Honestly, and this is gonna sound stupid, it’s writing, if you mean my passion writing project, it tends to be whatever I’m currently writing. So right now, honestly, it’s the book that comes after Holtondome, which is called New Denver. I am almost done with that one, and I get very into those books. Writing books doesn’t feel like a chore to me. To me, I’m excited because just like the reader, I don’t necessarily know what’s gonna happen until the book is actually finished. I usually get about halfway through the book, reevaluate where I am, find out that it hasn’t gone at all like I originally planned, chuck the rest of the outline, rewrite it, get about three quarters the way through the book, do the same thing because it doesn’t quite gone. And usually by that time enough has happened and there’s enough history where I usually don’t have to chuck it a third time, but every once in a while I do. And so, for me, part of the adventure really is seeing what happens and seeing how the book ends.
L.A. Jacob (00:10:52): So, you basically let the characters drive the bus?
Ryan Southwick (00:10:55): Absolutely. I firmly believe that. So, I use plotting and outlines to get me unstuck. So, if I get to the point where I can tell that I’m kind of like waffling or stalling or whatever, to me that means that, well, it’s probably just because I have not had a chance to really think about the rest of the book and where it might go. Um, now that doesn’t mean that’s where it’s going to go, nor am I gonna try to shoehorn it into right that particular outline. So, I’ve also found, in my opinion anyway, the best way to make a book feel natural and for the characters to feel genuine. For that to happen, they have to be allowed to respond in the moment. And if you’re trying to work towards a prescribed outline, it’s too tempting as an author to change what the character would have said to what you want them to say, which sounds stupid because they’re all technically coming out of the same place.
Ryan Southwick (00:11:56): But it’s very different. As an author, I’m sure you can, you can agree, right, that each of the characters in that book, they have their own voice, they have their own personality, they have their own motivations and their own desires. And so, me as the writer is really just being a window to each of their personalities to making sure that it’s coming out and they’re reacting like they would react. And to me, that’s also part of the fun of writing a book is as these situations come up and as these events happen, seeing how those events play out and how the characters react, not only the individual characters to those events, but how they react to each other and how their different responses to stress or responses to whatever, get in each other’s way and how it affects their relationships and how sometimes those relationships evolve in ways is that I never imagined.
L.A. Jacob (00:12:48): Angels in the Mist was your first book; was it self-published or was it a small publisher?
Ryan Southwick (00:12:53): It was originally self-published. Okay. So, I went through the entire process of writing the book, formatting, finding a designer, finding an artist, self-marketing, all of that stuff all by myself the first time. And then not long after that, I got through the second book, which actually became two books. Eventually the second book was actually split into two books, and then the third book, Whispered, split into three books, which is just goes to show how out of touch I was with how big books are supposed to be in the genre. And I had finished the second book, I had the cover art, I had everything, I had my finger on the publish button on Amazon and I was just about to publish and I’m like, you know what, let me pause for a second. And so, I started doing a little bit of research into smaller publishers and while I was searching, I found there’s a local bookstore here who had an author who was appearing.
Ryan Southwick (00:13:50): I’m like, oh, that’s cool. I’ve never actually been to an author signing and here it’s at the local bookstore. And I looked at the book, I’m like, wow, you know that that book really sounds cool. And I started digging into it and I saw the publisher, it was like Paper Angel Press and I’d never heard of it. So, I’m like, you know what? I did some research into it and I found that it was a small publisher and so I went down to the author signing and I had a chance to talk with the author. And you know, she had nothing but good things to say about this press. I’m like, oh, that’s great. You know what, let me take a chance. And so instead of getting published and like, again, everything was ready to go, I had everything. I reached out to the publisher and engaged them instead.
Ryan Southwick (00:14:28): And after a little bit of back and forth, they agreed to publish my book, which was fantastic and fantastic in a lot of ways. I had taken it pretty far on my own, but I got just a lot of wonderful feedback from the editor on just style and ways to break things up and, and things that I think I just, even as an avid reader, I just didn’t realize I was doing wrong as a writer. That just having somebody point that out to you was great. And I think the other thing I really enjoyed was having somebody else, and not just somebody else, but like a professional to bounce ideas off of. Even as a programmer, I always worked very collaboratively. I love pair programming. I like sitting at the same workstation with a person I’m working with and just being able to constantly bounce ideas off of people.
Ryan Southwick (00:15:16): And so being able to do the same thing with my writing, although not quite to that extent, was just an amazing experience. And so, I don’t regret that in the slightest. It was definitely the right choice in that same breath. Holtondome is not through Water Dragon Publishing, and it’s not that I don’t like Water Dragon Publishing, but there are certain aspects of self-publishing that I did like, and so I learned a lot from the publishing process with Water Dragon Publishing. I’m also, because the publishers have limitations, they have, they have schedules and deadlines that they’re working on, but for me it’s a passion. I just keep writing. I’m unfortunately, I think, writing faster than the publisher can keep up with. And so having another avenue for me to actually get that out there and to experiment with has actually been kind of fun.
L.A. Jacob (00:16:08): Where can people contact you?
Ryan Southwick (00:16:10): So best place to reach me is probably my website, which is RyanSouthwickAuthor.com, all one word. Again, RyanSouthwickAuthor.com. There’s a Contact Me form, I’ve got a newsletter. You can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
L.A. Jacob (00:16:43): From Water Dragon Publishing comes a new anthology, The Future’s So Bright, come along with our authors as we explore the hopeful side of the future from all the good things provided by Advanced AI to the innocence of exploring new worlds. Join our authors as they present uplifting stories of science, fiction and fantasy. For more information, see the website, Water Dragon Publishing: The Future’s So Bright.
L.A. Jacob (00:17:28): Thanks again to our guest, Ryan Southwick.
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This podcast was recorded and edited by L.A. Jacob. Executive producer is Steven Radecki. This month’s episode was sponsored by Paper Angel Press and its imprints, Water Dragon Publishing and Unruly Voices. You can hear our podcast on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Stitcher, Amazon Music, and most of your favorite podcast services. Visit our marketplace for more information about books that are mentioned on this podcast. Thanks very much for listening and talk to you soon.