Indie Spotlight is our monthly column on self-publishing. This month Siobhan Daiko interviews Pierre Dimaculangan, who was born in Manila, although he now lives in the States. Pierre has just published The Sage, the Swordsman and the Scholars, the first in his projected historical fantasy trilogy, Trials of the Middle Kingdom (China).
When enigmatic nonhuman visitors arrive from the sea, the very foundations of the Middle Kingdom are under attack. The evil agenda of the invaders sparks a war that will determine the fate of the Ming Dynasty and the nations beyond. A young, legendary swordsman allies himself with a banished Shaolin monk, a defeated bandit chieftain, a carefree Mongol, and an unknown philosopher who knows the only hope for victory. Together, this band of misfits strives to be proven worthy of the impossible task before them. Determined to combat the invaders' initial offensives, they must also repel countless internal enemies who have rallied to bring down the mighty Ming Dynasty.
So: over to Siobhan and Pierre…
What inspired you to write a historical fantasy set in China?
History has always been one of my passions, along with the sci-fi and fantasy genres in movies, games, television, and books. Ancient and Imperial China has tremendous untapped potential for those genres. China has a very rich and long history that continues to amaze me. Chinese civilization is still largely a mystery to people outside China and I want to play a small role in helping people gain interest and some basics in the culture and history. There are not many historical and cultural Asian themes in popular fantasy books, movies, and TV shows, which tend to have European cultural themes, or are Eurocentric in nature. There is nothing wrong with that but there is so much more to offer the fantasy genre. This is why I wrote The Sage, the Swordsman and the Scholars. I decided to write the book I would want to read.
Why do you set this novel at the time of the Ming Dynasty?
The Ming Dynasty is one of China’s most powerful and wealthiest eras. It began after the Han people ended a century-long occupation by the Mongols, at a time when global interactions were accelerating. Trade, travel, and communications within Asian countries increased and tributary missions to the Emperor became frequent. The world was becoming more aware of itself. It’s truly a unique time in history. The Ming Dynasty was like its own little world with its own comings and goings and great events. It had many guilds, secret societies, and village associations to protect common folk from the exploitation of corrupt officials, wealthy merchants, and other powerful people. Vigilantes and a strong martial arts, or kung fu, culture also added colour to this dynasty. The timing of the arrival of the antagonists fit well with this period in history when many nations were sailing to other parts of the known world.
Can you give an overview of The Sage, the Swordsman, and the Scholars?
It tells of how an unlikely band of misfits come together to defend the Ming Dynasty against nonhuman invaders and the rise of the rebels of the Underworld who are rallying in favour of them. There is a genre of Chinese fiction called wuxia, which features itinerant warriors of ancient China, often depicted as capable of superhuman feats of martial arts. Mine is not necessarily a wuxia novel but it definitely was inspired by wuxia books and movies. I use elements familiar to mainstream fantasy such as the emergence of mythical creatures and the minor inclusion of certain elements of magic or spiritual powers. My novel has scenes of epic warfare, and martial arts style duels. Most wuxia novels are philosophically driven by Buddhism, neo-Confucianism or religious Taoism. My book takes a different approach: it borrows heavily from Mohism – a Chinese philosophy developed by the followers of the scholar Mozi, in ancient times.
Where did your inspiration for the characters come from?
They were all based on the kind of people who did exist in medieval China: the wandering vigilante, or swordsman; a shaolin monk; a traveling merchant; a weapons engineer; an outlaw; the teacher/ philosopher. The characters are clearly diverse in their backgrounds, abilities, goals, and personalities. Each of them represents the different aspects of my own personality. They include the “hidden angry and serious”, “the profound”, “the proud”, “the crazy”, “the happy-go-lucky”, and “the innocent/ naïve”.
Are you a full-time writer?
No, I also spend much time in digital art and design. Perhaps in the future, I can release a short book of concept art and illustrations related to the books in my trilogy. I do my own artwork,including for my book trailer:
What can you tell us about your writing process?
I create an outline with the biggest and most important elements of my story as the main points, and then I create sub points in between them. I then fill in details like the dialogue and scene descriptions and action sequences. I am currently doing this for my sequel.
Do you like to read books set in Asia? If so, which ones have you enjoyed most?
I do read a lot of books about Asia. They are usually history textbooks or are historical in nature. I have not read many novels with Asian-inspired themes or settings. I enjoy translations of the classics like the Daodejing, the Confucian Analects, Book of Mozi, etc.
What led you to choose self-publishing, as opposed to taking the traditional publishing route?
Self-publishing gives more control to the author and lets him or her take freedoms with how the book is published, marketed, and distributed.
Any advice you can give to authors thinking about taking the indie route to publication?
Do early marketing and advertising and build a fan base well before the book comes out. Have people excited and anticipating the release. Ask them to review the book once it comes out. Get in touch and keep in touch with your readers.
How do you reach out and connect with your readership?
I made a profile on Goodreads and do my best to participate in the discussions and forums of the various groups there. I try to contribute to the conversations and build a good friends list. I see what my friends read and write on their pages and try to interact from there. I also made a Facebook account relevant to my book.
How would you describe your target readership?
I wrote my book with the martial arts enthusiasts, epic fantasy, history, and sci-fi fans in mind. Teens and young adult males would really enjoy this book.
How do you approach marketing?
Multimedia plays an important role in marketing. People need visual stimulation and they respond well to music and some good dialogue. I put those elements in my book trailer. It helps potential readers explore the mood, the look, and the feel of the book.
Can you tell us a little about your work-in-progress?
The sequel is a direct continuation of the first book. The conflict has just gotten worse, and my band of misfit characters has to deal with it. The backgrounds and histories of the characters are now revealed in more detail.
What are your plans for developing your career as an indie author?I look forward to completing my trilogy. I love writing and plan to do it for the rest of my life. Alongside writing, I hope to enhance my skills in art and design to promote future books and projects.