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Q&A with Steve Hubbard

Steve Hubbard, like so many of my author contacts, came to me by way of Alex Wallace. Seriously, Alex, you're basically my agent at this point! Steve is a fantasy author and avid reader. In our conversation he shares his deep knowledge of ravens, essential fantasy stories to add to your collection, and his writing journey.

1. If you had to describe yourself as an ice cream flavor, which would it be and why?

I love this question! As an ice cream lover, it is a great way to start off. There’s no way I could limit myself to one flavor. To boil myself down to one would be so bland and repetitive. But if we’re sticking with the wider ice cream multiverse, I’d categorize myself as a banana split. It has everything and is so varied and wide ranging, and I think that encapsulates me pretty well. The base vanilla is very much just me as a normal everyday guy. But then you get all these other flavors: strawberry, chocolate, pineapple, banana, whipped cream, a cherry. Perfect representations of my varied tastes, so to speak, and my passions and interests which, when combined together, make one fantastic presentation. And come on, it’s fun.

2. What books do you feel have made the biggest impact on your life? Similarly, what books have made the biggest impact on your writing? Why?

A tough question after the ice cream topic. A few titles that moved me deeply and caused me to assess things and view things differently just in terms of life would be Unmeasured Strength by Lauren Manning. Lauren worked for Cantor Fitzgerald in the North Tower of the World Trade Center, and she was walking into the building when it was hit during the terror attack on 9/11. She was engulfed in flames and was burned over 82% of her body. Miraculously, she survived. Her story is such a tremendous well of endurance, resilience, and fighting spirit as you can ever come across. It really shook me. I had to write a review for the book, and it literally took me days to compose my thoughts and get them out. The novel The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien is another one. It is set during the Vietnam War and is a series of connected stories that are loosely based on the memories of the author from his time serving. It is an extraordinary work. Lastly on the life side of things is a memoir by Craig Ferguson called American On Purpose. Most people know Craig as a comedian and former late night host, but his book is very candid and introspective, looking at his own life in Scotland as a raging alcoholic, and ultimately it centers on his move to the United States and his love for the country growing so much that he becomes a citizen.

As far as writing goes, some of the books that have had the biggest impact are J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. No brainer there. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a modern fantasy writer who doesn’t have some sense of appreciation and inspiration from those volumes. Stephen Donaldson is absolutely there with his Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. It was the first time I really saw fantasy as dark and its heroes not so perfectly clean and neat. There were greys, and sometimes they were downright despicable. And I loved his style of writing. It was very reminiscent of Tolkien, though not in tone. But he is the one that really set fire to my notion of writing for real. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury is incomparable. Such beauty and enough of a touch of horror to keep you on edge. And lastly, Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks, though not for reasons you might expect. It took me years to actually finish Sword of Shannara. The first three or four times I tried to read it, I could not get over its blatant Tolkien footprint. And so Sword of Shannara affected me by showing me what I didn’t want to ever do, which was replicate someone else’s work so distinctly. Okay, now, to be fair, I eventually did finish the book, and I don’t have nearly the contempt for it that I had over the years when I was younger. In fact, I do have a small level of appreciation for it now given what it succeeded in doing for fantasy on the whole. However, I do think Brooks did some incredibly amazing work once he left that book behind him and expanded his Shannara universe — all of them actually in my library here at home. He is an extraordinarily good writer and following the adventures he wrote was wholly rewarding. I’ve even met him a couple times and enjoyed chatting with him.

3. What fantasy books do you think are essential reading for someone new to the genre? Do you have any fantasy recommendations that you wish more people read?

Essential fantasy for new readers is always tricky because you have to meet people where they are in terms of reader age. Younger readers can always work on such titles as the Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis, The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander. They were three keystone entry points for me, along with a ton of other scattered stories and mythological tales, like the Oz books by Frank Baum, or Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Heck, I’d even include the Pooh series from A.A. Milne. Charming childhood fantasies, to be sure. Those teen years are prime for things like the Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, the Legend of Drizzt Do’Urden by R.A. Salvatore (I actually started reading his book, The Crystal Shard, while I was in the hospital after having my appendix removed a few days after my 16th birthday), Earthsea Cycle by Ursula K. LeGuin, the Chronicle of Pern by Anne McCaffrey, and The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle. Essential on the adult side would definitely be The Lord of the Rings, though you can read that earlier if you’re reading skills are up to it, but then it bears rereading when you’re older. It is so deep and so rich. The Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series by Tad Williams is one I also think is essential, moreso even than A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin. T.H. White’s The Once and Future King is also vital.

For recommendations, I think more people should read The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany. It should be essential, in my estimation. A true gem of high fantasy fairytale. Read anything from Ray Bradbury. Seriously. Anything you can find. All of it. I dare say more people should look into the work of Robert E. Howard. He’s the man who created Conan the Barbarian, and his pulp stories are absolutely worth the time. The man had a way with words in short order, and it is such a shame he left us so soon. Who knows what he might have done had he stayed with us longer. I’ve also championed the Quickening Trilogy by Fiona McIntosh since the moment I read the first book, Myrren’s Gift. An extraordinary author and just a sweet person who has encouraged me in my own writing journey. And I think more people should hunt down the Bronze Knight series, beginning with The Eyes of God, by John Marco. John is such a tremendous writer, and sadly he has walked away from publishing. I’m doing my best to pull him back with the limited power I have, but the writing and reading world is lesser for his absence. Lastly, while Tolkien is known for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, I do think more people should read his short story "Leaf By Niggle." It is currently available in a collection of his other stories called Tales from the Perilous Realm. It is a story of absolute beauty and is quite moving and thought provoking. It may be one of the finest short stories of the twentieth century, and yet is pretty much overlooked save for diehard Tolkien readers. All of these works get my highest recommendation.

4. Tell me a little about your writing and publishing journey! How did your book grow from concept to completion to publication?

That is a very, very long story. So I’ll give you the short version. I was in elementary school when I wrote my first story. I don’t have it anymore and I don’t remember it, but my mom remembers and she’s told me about that time. But I was inspired by the original Star Wars (yes, I’m old enough to have seen it in the theater), plus reading The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, the Chronicles of Narnia, and a host of others. My real idea to begin writing emerged around 1983. That’s when I started reading The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, and when I received my first Dungeons & Dragons set. I started writing then and still have an old map, a thick stack of handwritten chapters and fragments that graduated to typed sheets, then dot-matrix printings, to inkjet, to unprinted files. It’s a veritable time capsule of technology. Some of it is downright horrible, some charming but naïve, and some even I admit was not to bad when you consider the age I was at the original writing. I did a lot of dabbling, and I have segments of the larger story written. Much of it will be borrowed from and written better now. But one of my failures was I did not engage in it seriously for any number of reasons. Which is why it took me until last year, when I finally sat down and devoted my time to the work, to complete A Conspiracy of Ravens. I sat down in April 2021 with just pieces of the story, and I started writing. Every week day, no weekends. I gave myself a goal of putting down 3000 words per day, and I forced myself to hit it. By the first week of June 2021, I was done. Two months was all it took. I took off June for my wedding and honeymoon and to just let the work sit. Came back recharged, did an editorial pass, had beta readers go through it, hired an editor who helped me polish it up all nice, hired a designer to make my cover, which I absolutely love and have gotten amazing feedback on, and then made the book available. And now here I am.

5. What writing tips would you give to new writers? What about publishing tips?

The best tip I can offer for writing is the simplest and most overused answer, but it is the most true. Sit down and write, and do it every day. And that’s advice I ignored for a long long time. But if you’re serious about it, if you want something from your work and you want to improve, you can't do it by dreaming about it. You have to do it. Hand in hand with that, read. A lot. Especially in the areas of writing you are interested in. See what is out there and how the work is put together, how other writers create sentence structure and flow. Writers can learn so much just by reading. Then merge what you’ve read and learned into your own style and voice and start putting pen to paper every day.

As for publishing, first would be to research everything you can about publishing. Right now the world is much more accepting of people who publish for themselves where they used to get sneered at. Sure, you’ll still find some of that, but there are so many great and successful self-published people out there right now. It is a viable option as opposed to going the standard submit and pray route. What is going to work for you? If you do go the route of self-publishing, you have to be willing, without question, to invest in a professional editor and, I would highly recommend, a quality cover designer/artist. The old adage of you can’t judge a book by its cover is pure hogwash. People judge books by the cover every minute of every day. It’s the cover that attracts a browser to pick up a book and inspect it more. That’s why artists and designers get paid well. But then it’s the content that secures a sale. And you’ll need a good, quality editor to make sure your story hits all its marks and is clean and polished. And ultimately, beware of predatory contacts looking to make money off of you, promising all manner of success for you. If it sounds too good to be true then it probably is.

6. What kind of research did you complete for your first novel? Did you, for example, research sword fighting or medieval battles?

Honestly, not much. For years and years I’ve done some background type research on simple things, like how far can a horse run before needing a break, castle design, weapons and clothing, etc. But given that my work is in its own fantasy world, I don’t feel utterly compelled to follow every single age old design and rule. That’s not to say I don’t include elements because you do need a little bit of commonality to ground the work in some semblance of the real so a reader doesn’t feel entirely detached. You stand to lose some people if they don’t have those anchor points scattered throughout.

7. What drew you to the idea of ravens?

Initially, when first conceiving of the idea way back when, I did not consider ravens at all. In fact, my first chapters referencing my rogues and assassins as a group I referred to I them as Crows. It was only when I sat down to officially write out the first full draft of the novel that I made the change to ravens, and that change was made for a couple of reasons. One, due to the conspiracies woven throughout the story, the phrase conspiracy of ravens kept popping into my head. And I liked it the more I thought of it because it bore a double meaning — one in that it described the story, but two because of the naming of a group of ravens is known as a conspiracy. Two birds with one stone, so to speak. But the second reason I opted for ravens is because of how incredibly intelligent they are and because of this symbiotic relationship they have with wolves. The two of them work well in tandem, with ravens acting as watchers, alerting wolves to incoming threats but also informing them of possible prey. Wolves have been found to react to the calls of ravens and respond accordingly, even following their flight knowing that food will be found at the other end. And, of course, wolves return the favor by allowing the ravens to feast on the carcasses. But that’s not even all of it. The two actually engage in play. Ravens will fly down and pull on the tails of wolves and have them chase them, and they will engage in tug of war with pups, each of them pulling on the end of sticks or twigs. Ravens will even poke and prod wolves with sticks just to mess with them. There has even been documented studies of individual wolves and ravens developing longtime bonds. The social aspect of these two creatures and their unity is incredible. And all of this tumbled through my head and confirmed my desire to change from crows to ravens because Book 3, in particular, will be focusing on my ravens working alongside another group — shadowy hunters known as the Wolves of the Unworthy.

8. Who was your favorite character to write and why?

Honestly, I haven’t had a favorite character for Book 1. Other than King Galisair, who emerged during the writing, most of these characters have been with me for a long time. I’ve been quite comfortable with them, and I enjoy each of them for the individual things that they bring to the story. Galisair may have been the most fun just because he was new. But it’s like the old saying how can you pick which child is your favorite? I know it is very cliché, but it’s true. All of them are equally important and loved. Even the bad ones. That said, I have been incredibly excited writing a character in Book 2 named Sildrigar Prax. He is easily my favorite person to write. So far. He’s just so damned cool.

9. When you're not writing, what can you usually be found doing?

I can be found doing any number of things. I love movies, and so spend a good part of my time watching them. My 4K disc collection is growing all the time. I don’t read as much as I used to but I do carve out specific time each day for that purpose only. I wish I had more time for it. Of course I love just unwinding sometimes with some video game action. Ever since the old Atari 2600 days I’ve enjoyed gaming, and I do still hop on and enjoy that. When hockey season starts, however, all bets are off. Hockey dominates everything. I’ll watch any game, anytime. My kids were all involved in hockey at one point, plus I played as well. And spending time with my wife and family are of paramount importance.

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Also, the book was excellent. It's a good mix of low and high fantasy and it gets better and better as you read it. Full disclosure: I'm friends with Steve which doesn't lessen what I wrote above. The book is great.

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