A Slightly Tardy Interview with Josh Langston, Co-Author of the Druids Trilogy

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I’m a bad host – I went on vacation, so naturally I was busier than if I just stayed and worked.  If you’re wondering why I didn’t update on Wednesdays, I realized I was making technical mistakes with my charting of syntax – whine whine whine, I’m not about to do things incorrectly. Now, I’m bringing you this interview at the last minute. The good news: I only have banked time left for this year, so hopefully we’ll be back on track – Barb Galler-Smith too was very busy, so she’ll be answering these questions and we’ll get her answers in the near-future, possibly next Wednesday, but for now – here’s Josh Langston, co-writer of the Druids Trilogy, which debuted at When Words Collide just this past August. I need to swap with my beta to get my copy, so without further ado – Josh will tell you all about the Druids trilogy. 

Warriors is the third in the Druids trilogy, so this has got to be a momentous occasion for you, launching this book. What’s going through your mind right now?

Many thoughts are clamoring for attention right now, not the least of which is wonder at where the time went. It took 17 years from the day we started until last week, when my copies of Warriors arrived. When we began, my kids were still kids. Their lives were consumed by zits, spitballs, and the never-ending quest to be noticed by someone of the opposite sex. Big stuff, that, and I’m grateful for it; some of it served as source material for characters in the series. (Verisimilitude, thy name is teen angst.) Now they’re both grown with kids of their own, and I’m a grandfather three times over! Oy. Zits. The fascinating world of writers. The other big thing rattling around in my head is how we’re going to convince several hundred thousand people that they should drop everything, buy all three books immediately, and read them. Because we’ve got other stories to tell, too, and an adoring public has to start somewhere. It might as well be with books that were crafted, and recrafted so often that we feel as if the characters are tennants. Lord knows, they’ve been living in our heads long enough.

You both worked on all three books together. So who did what?

I used to answer this question by saying I did the plotting and dialog while Barb did the setting and history, and there’s still a good deal of truth in that. But over time we both managed to contribute to all aspects of the project. I became far more familiar with Plutarch’s histories and Caesar’s Gaulic War chronicles than I ever imagined possible, but we both wanted to insure that we got the history right. And based on the feedback we’ve gotten from knowledgeable sources, we nailed it. Barb, on the other hand, became adept at dialog and plot twisting. (I still don’t hold a candle to her when it comes to describing a place. Read any of the books I’ve written since, and you’ll see.) The fictional parts were just as difficult, not simply because we had to fit them in with what actually happened, but because our viewpoint culture — that of the Celts — has always been presented through the eyes of their conquerors, the Romans. If one assumes he or she is writing about a barbarian race, as the Romans defined the Celts, then one is immediately hampered by preconceived notions. We worked very hard to avoid that, and while much of what we claimed for the Celts isn’t strictly documented, it was based on solid research. Even our fantasy element, a magical form of hibernation called “woadsleep,” was based on Celtic mythology.

So, who did what? I’d like to say I wrote the sexy parts and the funny parts while Barb is responsible for anything readers don’t like. I know that’s not accurate because my son-in-law is still upset with me for killing off one of his favorite characters in book two, Captives.

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Had this project always been a trilogy? Was that the plan all along? If yes, how did you sell the idea to Edge? And if no, what was the evolution path of the Druids trilogy?

Originally, the series was intended to be open-ended, and the seeds for several later volumes were carefully planted in the first three books. One sequel had already been outlined, and we had done significant research and planning for another. When Barb initially approached Edge, that was our intent, though we only had the first three books completed. After Captives came out, Edge advised that they wanted to market the series as a trilogy. That resulted in a drastic re-write of the concluding volume, which was originally titled Lovers. We changed that and about half of the content in order to tie up loose ends. The resulting book, Warriors, is very different from the original, but it’s a satisfying read and should please anyone who enjoyed the first two books.

In your opinion, which is easier to sell, a set of books or a stand-alone?

I can’t fairly answer this since I’ve only ever tired to sell books in a series. Hopefully, a stand-alone would be easier, especially for an unknown.

You two seem to be separated by a large geographical area, one being based in Atlanta and the other in Edmonton. How did you two first get started on this collaboration? And how did you work together?

We met through the good offices of the IMPs an on-line writing group developed on CompuServe. While neither of us was a founder, we were both early members and enjoyed many years of (usually) good-natured abuse in the pursuit of our craft. Working together on a project of this scope required an absurd amount of time on-line. Modems were dial-up, transmission speeds were pedestrian at best, and applications like Skype were about as likely as Faster-Than-Light travel or dehydrated dragons. We did have MS-Word, however. Most likely the stylus and tablet edition, but it did what we needed it to do. And, it maintained records of all the changes we made in every version of every chapter (we rarely needed more than a dozen, but our record was over twenty). Yes, there’s a little bit of OCD in every writer. We had an opportunity to acutally meet each other long after we started working together. The 2,000 mile commute was a serious pain. Fortunately, we attended many of the same writer’s conferences and fan conferences. These provided ample opportunities for face-to-face arguments about why we should do things my way. And, of course, we always did. (Except for when we didn’t. )

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Based on your interests, backgrounds, home towns and other stuff, you two seem to make for an odd partnership. How do your differences impact your working relationship?

Aside from the simple differences inherent in a politically conservative Southerner and a politically liberal Canadian, we tend not to agree on anything. Except ice cream. We’re both HUGE advocates of ice cream, especially the official ice cream of the IMPs: Ben and Jerry’s Phish Food. We also both like Celtic music. What really helped to keep us working together was an early realization of our differences. We didn’t talk about ’em much. It was easier, and way more productive, to talk about things we agreed on, like Celtic culture and good writing.

Let’s say I want to partner up with someone else for a work of fiction. What should I look for in a partner? And what should I do to make sure I’m a good partner, too?

First off, I’d urge you to think long and hard about doing a collaboration. While there can be some significant advantages — prompt feedback being #1 — there are complications you can’t even imagine. Writing solo, while difficult, is infinitely easier in the long run. For one thing, you can change anything you’d like, whenever you like, for any reason or no reason. Just do it. Try that in a collaboration, and you WILL run into trouble. Every time. Count on it. Some writers don’t bother with outlines. I’ve written several books without ’em, so I know it can be done, and done well. But in a collaboration, if you don’t have an outline, you’re begging for trouble. Our outlines were exhaustive. We broke every scene down by point of view, what had to be revealed and by whom, where it fit in the timeline, what characters would be involved, and why it was essential to the plot. Anything that wasn’t essential got jetisonned early, no matter how cool it might have been. Changes had to be addressed from all those points, and ditto for any ripple effects they might create. By the time we got around to actually writing a scene, we knew exactly what had to go into it and why. For that reason, and because we revised each scene so many, many times, it’s virtually impossible to tell who wrote what (except for the funny bits and the sex, and all the boring setting stuff, of course). But, if you’re absolutely determined to write collaboratively, the first thing you need to do is park your ego at the door. You won’t be needing it. At best, it’ll get in the way. A collaborative effort means that the goal is the finished work, not your part of it. Your part should disappear into a complete and smoothly flowing whole. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and I’m unlikely to do another.

Since yours is a cross-border partnership, how does that affect your marketing?
Local marketing remains local; getting books in libraries and on the shelves of local bookstores is an ongoing proposition, often involving constraints that seem mysterious and/or diabolical. Sometimes, however, such roadblocks can be overcome, usually only after considerable effort. (Barb’s been more successful in this than I). National and international marketing is accomplished via on-line marketers: Amazon, Smashwords, and the many ereader-specific websites. The internet provides marketing opportunities that largely ignore geo-political structure. Our books are available world-wide, and as soon as another million or so readers step forward, we’ll know we’ve arrived. Until then, however, we’ll just have to keep writing and building our respective platforms.

And for that matter, who makes for a wider, more enthusiastic market? Canadians or Americans?

Without some seriously in-depth royalty reports, it’s difficult to say whether Canadians or Americans have been more receptive to our titles (we’ve also written a contemporary romantic comedy that has nothing to do with the Druids trilogy). What we do know, however, is that Captives reached two Best Seller lists in Canada: Edmonton and Calgary. Now, if we could just reach the handful of folks living further east of the Rockies….

Sure it’s a trilogy…but do you think there’s a chance of a book four? Or is there a brand new project on the horizon?

We’ve already outlined a fourth book. The working title is Saints, and it’s set in about 600 AD, but neither of us is actively working on it. I’m intrigued by a couple themes we discussed for an immediate successor to Warriors. These were set in the first century AD and focused on the Roman occupation of Britain. Alas, it’ll be a long time before I have time to think about it further. I’ve got at least two sequels of contemporary thrillers to write, and at least two other titles to finish before I get back to the sequels. I have no current plans to write anything more about Mallec, Rhonwen, and company. Does that mean I’ll never want to revisit them? I wouldn’t go that far.

You can learn more about Josh at his online journal. To learn more about Edge and their catalogue, check out here. A cheerful reminder that Tesseracts 18 guidelines will be up tomorrow – so Canadian Spec-Fic Authors, be on the alert.

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