YOUR FUTURE FAVOURITE FILIPINA FANTASY AUTHOR!
K.S. VILLOSO IS A FASCINATING WRITER ON A ONE WOMAN MISSION TO OUTDO BRANDON SANDERSON IN THE WORD COUNT STAKES
I’m so pleased to have dragged another
victim interviewee into The Interrogation Room here on Another World; I don’t get to do it nearly often enough. Today it’s the turn of a fellow participant in this year’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off organised by Mark Lawrence.
Originally hailing from the Philippines, before emigrating to Canada in her teens, K.S. Villoso is an independent fantasy author who you may not be familiar with today, though that’s certain to change in the not too distant future.
It’s not often I find myself fascinated by someone (most people bore me, truth be told) but following Kay on social media over the last few weeks and months has given me a glimpse of a woman who intrigues me greatly. I feel very fortunate that Kay agreed to be interviewed as it has provided me with just a little more insight into a writer who is creative, passionate about her craft, and very funny. (Not to mention she is insanely prolific.)
Now all you lucky readers, please enjoy the interview. You, too, will learn more about Kay’s life and experiences, her writing and influences, her thoughts on self-publishing, why she loves fantasy, what drives her to keep writing, and her hopes for the future. I’m sure you’ll find her as intriguing as I do.
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01. At what point in your life did you realise that being a storyteller was your true calling?
I was a little kid and my parents brought me to the mall, where there was an exhibition for young writers. And the winner was a story in Tagalog, simply titled “The Princess.” It just clicked, like a shaft of sunlight and everything. I’ve always loved reading, loved “imagining” stories in my head—as soon as I got home, I stapled pieces of paper together and wrote some nonsense story about two kids and their dog. From there, I just never stopped.
02. As one of an increasing number of writers choosing to forgo traditional publishing in favour of self publishing, what prompted your decision to be an indie author?
Quenby Olson, who runs World Tree Publishing (www.worldtreepublishing.com), actually convinced me to jump ship (I published with them first before I went full-fledged as a self-publisher). I was reeling from another barrage of rejections from agents and publishers, and was really at a point where I just didn’t care anymore. I just wanted to finish my novels and get somewhere. It also helped that I was feeling down with life in general, and had given up on finding commercial or critical success—I just wanted to write stories, dammit.
03. At this stage of your self-publishing journey what has been the best thing about being an indie author?
Complete creative freedom. I love experimenting and switching things around, and being able to set my own deadlines and then adjust them as I see fit. Since I dabble in a lot of little things—I can do my own art, website, etc., it’s a bit like being a one-woman band and not having to answer to anyone. It’s probably a bit too overwhelming for some, but I love it.
04. What, if anything, have you found to be the biggest disadvantage of your decision to be self published?
Some avenues are closed to me—I’ve had a lot of requests from readers in the Philippines to have my books available in paperback, since e-books are not as big back there, but my hands are tied and I can only offer them the very expensive paperbacks from Createspace. I’m hoping that if I make enough sales, I can approach an agent and go hybrid in foreign markets. I feel like the demand and potential is there, it’s just not something I have any knowledge of, and I feel like the people who would know won’t entertain me until I’ve got meaningful sales numbers to back me up. I’m not in the mood to do the query rejection dance all over again.
05. What would constitute vindication of your decision to be an indie author, commercial success, critical acclaim or something else?
At the end of the day, it’s just me and the craft, really. If I did the story justice, the characters are happy with my decisions, and I feel content in having explored everything I could within the narrative, I’m pretty happy.
06. Drawing on your experience thus far, what advice would you give to aspiring authors thinking of going the indie route?
Be ready to do a lot of work…and just have a lot of fun during the process. It’s no shortcut to success, but it’s wonderful. Also, talent plays very, very little part in this whole thing—it’s always about how much work you put in.
07. What is the most beneficial advice you have received in regard to creative writing before you became a published author?
This is becoming so cliché, but “keep writing” really is important. Writers write. It seems so simple, but it’s true.
08. What was it about fantasy literature that attracted you to writing in the genre?
The flexibility. I don’t like getting stuck in a certain country or time period. My world is a bit of a mish-mash because of this. There’s a silkpunk flavour in some areas, more medieval in others.
I also love the large scope and focus on politics and societies in my chosen sub genre of epic fantasy, in particular. I’m a bit of a worldbuilding fiend—I love creating cities, creating histories for them, and wondering how the people who live in them think and feel and how it all relates to the bigger picture. I also love nature and imagining how the wilderness looks like in all of my maps—tall mountains, dark forests, red cliffs, etc.
09. It is hard to stand out in a genre as competitive as fantasy, so what would you say to persuade fence-sitting readers to take a chance on you and your work?
I’m not sure I want to convince fence-sitters. My work is character-driven, and I know my intended audience specifically look for this sort of thing. Think Robin Hobb or Guy Gavriel Kay. If this doesn’t interest people (and especially if they hate emotionally charged novels), what I have really won’t interest them. I could say that despite being character-driven, my work is actually fairly outlined and the plots are all well-planned and eventually make sense in the end, that there’s lots of action and witty dialogue and epic battles to go along with it, but this is just icing on the cake. It’s always about the character growth, their relationships, and their lives against a fantasy backdrop. People can have mixed responses to my work, especially as I take a lot of artistic liberties with storytelling and I don’t always use the most interesting characters to work with, but one consistent comment is that the characterization is strong, which is really what I try to work on.
10. What do you think distinguishes you and your writing from the rest of your peers? Don’t be afraid to blow your own trumpet!
As I mentioned in the last question, I’m always about the characters. Especially in this genre, I don’t normally have the most interesting concepts or plotlines, and it comes off kind of boring when I talk about it. Hands down, I will lose on blurb contests.
I kind of think of my work as epic fantasy written through feelings. Emotion take precedence over description, plot, and setting. You may not know what colour a character’s eyes are, but you’re going to find out what they feel about everything. Relationships, interactions, introspection, the tangle of each characters’ lives—this is the life and blood of my work. So one of the most common comments I hear people say about my work is that the characters feel alive, that they’re almost too damned real—their motivations, the things they talk about, the things they care for, the way they talk or interact to each other. I’ve created characters that people love, or that people love to hate, and sometimes even both at the same time!
Another thing is that I do my best to make sure my published novels are well-crafted—everything is done a certain way for a specific purpose, always to do with the story and its theme, and not because I’m trying to copy how other people in this genre do it. If the pacing is slow, I had a reason for that. If there’s information being left out, again, it’s all done for a reason. If a character looks away when somebody mentions something, are they hiding something? If a character looks at an item and then hones in on the description, then it’s probably more than just to set the atmosphere—there’s something about it that will play an important part later on.
My characters hide things, they lie, they even lie to themselves, so I have to be very, very careful that their actions and even thoughts are consistent with reveals down the line. I feel like I have to point this out often because my storytelling often avoids exposition, so almost everything important is already laid out, and I just blindly trust that the reader will pick up on them. This may not always work out, and in fact, some readers downright hate it. Being human, I also sometimes miss things on occasion, or something may be obvious to me that isn’t to everyone else…but it’s all done with care, right down to each individual action and word.
11. As a writer from a non-white ethnic background (or POC if you prefer) do you feel any pressure to reflect that in your writing?
I do, particularly when I write something that may just be obvious or normal to me. I try to have outside opinion on these matters, but people respond to these things differently (some will just look it up, others just take it into stride), so I can really only do my best.
12. What (if anything) has your ethnic and cultural background contributed to your storytelling?
This is going to have a very complicated answer if I go in-depth, so I’m just going to say yes, my background colours every single aspect of my work, and then link to my blog (www.ksvilloso.com) where I’ve written a bunch of things on that subject.
13. Writing can be a very personal endeavour for some authors. How much of your personality and life experiences ends up in the themes, characters and narratives of a finished work?
My writing is extremely personal. If I’m not using parts of me, I’m certainly using bits and pieces of people I’ve met along the way. My whole life, it’s all in there.
14. It’s been impossible for me not to notice what a prolific wordsmith you are (you could give Brandon Sanderson a run for his money); what is it that keeps you motivated?
Desperation! Also, habit. Also, love—shit, I love this craft, I love storytelling, I love studying people and getting to know characters…I think I’ve got enough passion for this to fire up a sun, no kidding. My brain writes while I sleep.
I also don’t believe in motivation. I believe in planning—in knowing exactly what I’m trying to write, how I’m going to approach it, and so on. I also believe in setting schedules for myself, and just doing it, even when I’m crawling or hating everything I write or wanting to do anything but write (of course, my brain is always writing, so it’s not like I’m ever really full out of it). After twenty-four, twenty-five years of this, it’s just a matter of being realistic (I don’t sit at night after an exhausting day and expect myself to belch out 2000 words in one go) and working towards certain goals.
Also, being able to read very fast and type 120 WPM is very, very useful. 😊
15. Who or what would you say have been the biggest influences on your creative writing in terms of how and what you write?
I’ve got a lot of favourite writers, some who are more influential than others, but definitely Guy Gavriel Kay and Robin Hobb are at the top of this list, also Fyodor Dostoevsky. Le Guin, too—she taught me to be careful in using words, which may be why I have a sparser style than usual and tend to write in a way where I expect people to pay attention to everything.
16. Is there any one book you read when growing up that you credit with being ultimately responsible for your journey to becoming an author?
Not particularly. I was reading mostly children’s books when I started writing, so by the time I started consuming novels, I was already a writer. That said, I really loved Jack London’s Call of the Wild and White Fang novels as a kid. And I started writing novel-length fanfiction set in Richard Adams’ Watership Down in my early teens, so that probably contributed quite a bit to my journey.
17. There is a tendency for up-and-coming authors to be likened to established authors. Which author(s) would you most like to be compared favourably to?
I don’t want to say this because it’ll sound conceited and I’m nowhere near her genius, but Robin Hobb is probably the closest just because of the focus on flawed characters and their difficulties, thought processes, growth, and relationships, while at the same time writing stories set against epic fantasy backdrops (large stakes, magic, and so on).
18. If you could collaborate with another author on a novel, who would you chose to partner with?
I can really only do this with people I’ve worked with in the past and whose own writing and styles I know like the back of my hand, so in no particular order: Quenby Olson, Julie Midnight, and A.S. Bohannan (who hasn’t published her works yet but she’s almost there).
19. Which book(s) penned by any other author(s) do you wish had been written by you?
None. Books are each author’s personal journey, and I wouldn’t want to intrude on anyone else’s.
20. Which prestigious literary award(s) would you most like to be nominated for, and win?
I have no idea, I’m ignorant about these things.
21. You submitted your novel Jaeth’s Eye as an entry for this year’s Self Published Fantasy Blog Off organised by Mark Lawrence; what are you hoping to gain from your participation?
Uhhh, I joined it because everyone was doing it, and I wanted to fit in…? So just community, really. I have no hopes of placing even in the semi-finals of the damn thing. I just want to talk to people…
22. Jaeth’s Eye is the first book of a trilogy called The Agartes Epilogues; can you tell us what the story is about?
There’s two threads running through this series. The first one is the “epic fantasy plotline” which is happening in the background regardless of what’s going on in the main characters’ lives. This, in a nutshell, is about a rich merchant who is trying to revive a creature from years ago for his own purposes. And now you have descendants of the man who destroyed that creature trying to stop the rich merchant. The creature was actually cut into several pieces and sealed off in secret places—Jaeth’s Eye is the creature’s eye, entrusted to a man named Jaeth. It turns out that these parts can function independently, and even grow on their own…
Now, the main focus of the series is actually three normal characters, who I’ve described as “minor characters in an epic fantasy plot.” There’s Ylir, who is assisting the said rich merchant in reviving the creature, but he’s doing it for his own personal ambitions. You have Kefier, a mercenary who fails at everything he’s ever done in his life—every time he’s tried to seize something for himself, he’s screwed it up, even though all he really wants is something to hold on to, something to give him a purpose. And then you have Sume, daughter of a merchant who lost everything—she wants nothing more than to just see her family through their day-to-day, even if it means sacrificing herself.
We follow the personal storyline of the characters while the epic stuff is happening in the background, and we just see how the epic storyline affects them—at least in the beginning. They slowly get drawn into the main plot, reveal after reveal, until we get to the final book.
23. For marketing purposes, many writer’s will describe their story as “this title, meets that title.” Using the same template, how would you pitch Jaeth’s Eye to potential readers?
GRR Martin meets M. Night Shyamalan. Mostly because there’s shades-of-grey characters and epic fantasy elements (some politics come into play in the 3rd book), and also because I use a Shyamalan “deep character introspection and drama bordering on melodrama, but also pay close attention to everything or you’ll miss the clues to the big reveals” method in storytelling.
24. If The Agartes Epilogues was adapted for film or television, who would you like to see cast in the main roles?
I don’t really have anyone in mind, especially as POC actors are not as common I’d like. There’s a couple of Filipino actors with the right “look” for some of the characters…I’ve drunkenly talked to family about how a young Sid Lucero could play Ylir, or Junjun Quintana could be Kefier. I haven’t found the right Sume yet…
25. Where do you hope your writing career has progressed to ten years from now?
Hopefully at least the damn novels start paying for the groceries.
26. What would you be doing with your life now if you weren’t pursuing your writing ambitions?
I’d probably still be in engineering—I was taking a lot of interest in city planning and municipal development before I realized, hey, who am I kidding, I’d rather be writing.
27. Which unfulfilled life ambition do you most want to accomplish before you pass away?
To be honest, at this point? I’m ok. I just want to finish these stories, but I’m at peace with having done everything I could’ve done with my life to this point. Every day is just another day to do a bit better.
28. When I was a child I tried to get to Narnia through my wardrobe. Which fictional setting from a book would you most like to visit?
Ah, God, I don’t know. Hobbiton, I guess. Wait, I can do that in real life, too. *books a trip to New Zealand* Wait, I have no money. *cancels trip*
29. Which fictional character from a book you’ve read would you most like to spend a day with (or night if that works better for you)?
30. If you were the owner of a time-travelling DeLorean car, what time period would you like to travel to?
The diseases scare me, so none, either…
31. In the 1982 film Tron, Jeff Bridges got sucked into a video game. Which video game would you like to be sucked into?
Dragon Age (any)! (As long as I’m level 100 and have super battlemage prowess).
32. Finally, if you were granted three wishes by a genie in a bottle, what would you wish for?
I’m suspicious of wish-granting genies. I’d rather not deal with those bastards.
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Thank you so much for your participation, Kay; I really appreciate it. I look forward to following your career progression from here. I have no doubt all your dedication, hard work and passion will be rewarded sooner rather than later. And I promise I will try to squeeze Jaeth’s Eye into my reading schedule sometime this year.
ABOUT THE AUTHORK.S. Villoso was born in Bicol, Philippines, and immigrated to Canada at age 13. Her work borders the real and the fantastic, with vivid cultures and backdrops inspired by her Asian heritage. She is endlessly fascinated with the sprawling worlds and branching plotlines of epic fantasies.
Currently, she lives in the woods of Anmore, BC, with her husband, two children, and dogs. When she isn’t writing, she can be seen hauling her family around the British Columbia backwoods in search of the ever elusive Sasquatch.
If you want to know more about the author and her work check out the links below for her website and various social media hangouts.
THE AGARTES EPILOGUES
All three instalments of The Agartes Epilogues are available now from Amazon.
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