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#SPFBO Author Interview with Ryan Mueller

Empire of Chains

This week’s #SPFBO Author Interview is with Ryan Mueller. Ryan is an author of fantasy and science fiction for all ages. He enjoys talking about himself in the third person (who doesn't?). Currently, he has written all four books of the World in Chains series, with the first, Empire of Chains, scheduled for release on June 30, 2017, and the next three to follow over the course of the next year. He's a big fan of Brandon Sanderson, Brent Weeks, Jim Butcher, and many other fantasy authors. He first decided he wanted to be a writer at the age of 11 after he started reading Harry Potter. Between that and Super Nintendo RPGs, he was pretty much destined (or perhaps doomed) to become a fantasy writer, though he does like to branch out to science fiction occasionally. His fantasy is classic fantasy with modern twists. That is, you'll see a lot of familiar tropes, but he tries to put his own spin on them (hopefully with some success). For him, part of the joy of fantasy is the tropes, and as TVTropes would tell you, there is nothing wrong with tropes. It's all a matter of how you use them. He enjoys connecting with readers and other writers. You can find him on Facebook as Ryan W. Mueller, on Twitter as @RW_Mueller, and on various fantasy forums including Fantasy Faction, SFFWorld, and Best Fantasy Books.

Why did you enter #spfbo?

I didn't pay much attention to it the first year, but the second year, I became much more interested. I read The Path of Flames by Phil Tucker, and I was blown away. That series has been one of my favorite reads regardless of publishing method. I saw the success of authors like Tucker, Josiah Bancroft, and Jonathan French, and I knew I had to get involved. It's also a great way to find new books to read in general. Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?

Why not both? I like to give readers a lot of the familiar fantasy tropes. Quests. Magic. Dark lords. All those fun things that some people might call cliches. But what I like to do is take those tropes and put my own spin on them. For example, my Dark Lord figure in Empire of Chains is probably my favorite character to write because he is a very complex and conflicted character. You get brief sections from his point of view, and it sheds an entirely different light on his character. You see that he is no Dark Lord at all, even if that is the role he serves in the story. I enjoy playing with reader expectations like that.

What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?

So far, I'd have to say it's the money I spent on the cover art for Empire of Chains. Nearly everyone has praised the cover art, and I was even one of the three cover finalists from Fantasy Faction's group of 30 entries. They always say not to judge a book by its cover, but I think a cover can say a lot. It gives you an impression of how much the author cares, and if it's done well, the cover depicts the tone and mood of the story within the pages. A lot of times, when I'm browsing books, I can tell from the cover if I might enjoy the book. Obviously, I read the description and look at a sample, but the cover is often the starting point of my interest as a reader.

What did you edit out of this book?

Quite a bit, actually. It was originally 207,000 words long. During the editing process, I cut out about 40,000 of those words, possibly even more than that because I made some additions as well. At the time, I was cutting words because I was seeking trade publishing and everything I read told me that they wouldn't even consider a book as long as the one I'd written. Overall, this taught me a lot about being efficient in language and in moving the story along. I cut a lot of what you might call unnecessary transition scenes: things like characters going from one place to the other. I learned you can skip some of the traveling and move right into the next important part of the story.

What is your favorite childhood book?

At this point, it's probably cliched, but I was a huge Harry Potter fan. In fact, I still am. J.K. Rowling taught me a lot about the art of storytelling. She has a way of creating characters you care about and slipping in little bits of foreshadowing throughout the series. I can't quite do it the same way she does because I tend to make the story up as I go. However, I write an entire series before publishing it, which gives me the chance to go back into earlier books and slip in little clues here and there. Rowling also solidified my love of fantasy in all its forms. Prior to reading Harry Potter, I played a lot of Super Nintendo RPGs. Those started my love of fantasy. Rowling helped me realize that you could write the genre as well. Since then, I've moved on to a lot of other authors, but Harry Potter will always hold a special place in my heart.

How long on average does it take you to write a book?

The actual drafting process usually takes anywhere from one month to four months depending on the length of the book and my other commitments. I try to hit a goal of 1,000 words every day when I'm writing. More often than not, I exceed this goal, and sometimes I exceed it by quite a bit. The biggest reason I set this goal is so that I keep writing consistently and never lose momentum on a story. The editing process is a bit different. It depends on how clean my first draft is. Usually, I edit one book while writing another. I've also been known to draft two books at once, though usually, one will grab more of my attention.

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

You don't want to know. I've got so many folders on my computer full of half-formed story ideas and random first chapters. Then there are all the books I've finished that aren't suitable for publication. For example, Empire of Chains is something like the fifth version of the story I've written. Yes, I've written so many version of it that I've lost track. I originally wrote it when I was 15 and 16 years old. It was very bad back then. It had a cliched prophecy, a stereotypical dark lord, and a quest that read like bad Tolkien fan-fiction. Thankfully, I have grown a lot as a writer in the last 11 or so years, and I believe I've written a much stronger book now. If I haven't, then something is seriously wrong.

What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?

Too many to name. I've gone to Hogwarts. I've burned metals with Kelsier and Vin, run bridges with Kaladin. I've been there and back again with Bilbo. I've thrown a ring into the fires of Mordor. I've investigated Chicago's magical underworld with Harry Dresden. I've read hundreds of fantasy books and have no intention of stopping anytime soon.

Does your family support your career as a writer?

My parents are my biggest supporters. They serve as my alpha readers. In other words, they get to read my mostly unedited drafts. Thankfully, they aren't hesitant to tell me what's wrong. Usually, I look for the big picture out of them before fixing those issues and getting the book out to beta readers/critique partners.

If you didn't write, what would you do for work?

Well, considering that I am just publishing my first book, I still have to do the whole day job thing. Currently, I'm in school for Electrical Engineering. I have two years left. I'm not sure exactly what I'll do once I graduate. It would be great if I'm making enough money by then to write full-time, but I'm not expecting it. I'm too much of a realist for that.

Thanks, Ryan!

To learn more about Ryan, check out these links:

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