Friday, December 16, 2011

Friday Feature: Journeys Toward Publication and Beyond: Daniel McInerny's Kingdom of Patria

Welcome to today's Friday Feature interview. Today I am pleased to introduce Daniel McInerny. Daniel not only self-published his book, but he also launched a kingdom! 

The Kingdom of Patria went live on November first, and Daniel is here today to tell us about all the ins and outs of launching an amazing website and book. 


Go ahead, and click over to Patria, we'll wait! 


Now, sit back, enjoy the interview, and make sure to pose a question in the comment section--Daniel will be by later to answer any commoner's questions about his kingdom!

Welcome, Daniel. I first saw your enticing website when I clicked over from a tweet. And I have to say, I think it is excellent. Definitely draws in readers of all ages.

The keystone of your kingdom is the first book of the “Patria” series of humorous middle grade adventures, Stout Hearts & Whizzing Biscuits. Tell us about it.

My pleasure!

When Oliver Stoop, age 11, moves with his family to a remote piece of land in northern Indiana, he soon discovers that someone is already living there—an entire kingdom of someones, in fact. These are the good citizens of Patria, a secret land founded by refugees from the Trojan War who sailed across the Atlantic in a reconfigured Trojan Horse—3,000 years ago!



For Oliver, Patria is a land of wonders—and for the first time in his life, friendship. There's young Prince Farnsworth Vesuvius, inventor of the Magna-Pneumatic Whizzing Biscuit Blaster, and his formidable sister, Princess Rose, whose inedible, stone-hard biscuits provide the blaster's ammunition. But there's also the rest of the eccentric and lovable Patrian Royal Family, the boy warriors in the Potawatomi Indian Camp, not to mention the Viking kids from the Geat Village, newcomers to the area who only arrived 1,000 years ago.

Yet when the noble Knights of the Blue Sock threaten to drive off the Stoops by force of arms, Oliver has to decide where his loyalties lie, and whether he has the courage to undertake the quest that is both Patria's, and his family's, last, best hope of peace.

I am loving all of the fantastic middle grade elements there! Very funny! Tell us about the journey of writing this book series. What inspired you to write this story?

Some years ago, when my two daughters (now teenagers) were small, I was reading Humphrey Carpenter’s biography of J.R.R. Tolkien, where Tolkien is quoted as saying something to the effect that, in imagining a new world, it was important for him (the professional linguist) to start with a name.

So, for example, he began with the strange name “hobbit,” and extrapolated an entire mythological universe from there. That very night, in telling a bedtime story to my girls, I copied Tolkien, inventing the name “Twillies” for a microscopic guild of fairies who minister to their princess in various ways, by helping disentangle her hair, keeping soap bubbles out of her eyes, etc. In continuing to tell “Twillies” stories I elaborated upon the world that eventually became the Kingdom of Patria.

At that beginning, in these family bedtime stories, Patria was a magical world, deeply indebted (I believe the more usual word is “stolen”) from the imaginations of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. But as I began to think about how to approach a written version of my Patria stories, I found myself increasingly disinterested in writing about a magical world. 

I suppose I was afraid of writing clichés. But I also became very much attracted to the idea of a fantastic world that, given a rather wacky take on history, is very much part of our world. That idea is at the very heart of what Patria is today. Nonetheless, it took me a long time to bring this new world of Patria into focus. Stout Hearts & Whizzing Biscuits was begun in earnest about 2 and ½ years ago, and completed in the summer of 2011.

Twillies, by the way, being magical creatures, were left on the cutting room floor (as it were) in the re-imagining of Patria. But my daughters still miss them intensely. Perhaps there will be an occasion to work them into the series later on, to introduce the magical element. But at present I’m very happy exploring Patria as a tiny kingdom hidden in the midst of contemporary northern Indiana.

I find it immensely interesting that the very inspiration to the whole idea was cut in the final rendering. That speaks to me about getting to the crux of what works within our fiction. I love that you were able to do so! By the way, why northern Indiana?

I’m a native of South Bend.

Any other inspirations for the series besides Tolkien and Lewis?

I am a great fan of the comic stories of P.G. Wodehouse. In praising Wodehouse’s tales of feckless bachelors and wise butlers, Evelyn Waugh spoke of Wodehouse as creating a “fairy tale” world. It occurred to me that it would be fun to turn Waugh’s comment on its head and set out to create a fairy tale world that aspired to be as comical as the books of Wodehouse. 

My Patria stories are first and foremost meant to be laugh-out-load funny. Their plots revolve around adventure and mystery, but the tone is always light and fluffy. Their humor owes a lot to Wodehouse, but also to that of Roald Dahl as well as J.K. Rowling in the more whimsical portions of the Harry Potter books. One of my reviewers on Amazon compared Stout Hearts & Whizzing Biscuits to the film version of Ian Fleming’s children’s novel, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I like that comparison. Rob Reiner’s film, The Princess Bride, from a script by William Goldman, also masterfully hits the tone I am striving for.


Daniel, why did you choose to write a middle grade series?

I love writing middle grade fiction because it’s addressed to kids ready for a more nuanced narrative and emotional palette, but who haven’t yet been inveigled out of their natural sense of innocent enchantment about the world. That sense of enchantment includes a robust spirit of adventure and mystery, as well as a love of comedy. All of those ingredients make middle grade the perfect mix for me.

Great, Daniel. Let's get into the publishing side of things. How did you come to the decision to self-publish these books?

Like many self-pubbers, I had been knocking on the literary doors of New York for years and had grown tired with the effort. I don’t deny that my work was not always up to the mark. But now I believe I have come to a point where I have material of substantial entertainment value to offer an audience, and that I don’t need anyone else’s permission to issue the invitation. 


I am not against traditional publishing per se. But it’s a lottery with very long odds, one that tended to make me, at any rate, very passive in regard to my work. I have found the self-publishing route—the pro-activity it demands, the audience it makes immediately possible, even the financial possibilities—to be exhilarating.


The new modes of distribution provided by Amazon and others, of course, have made self-publishing a very attractive option for writers. It’s an exciting new world in the publishing business and I’m excited to be a part of it.

I find it thrilling that writers have so many options today! Your company is called “Trojan Tub” Entertainment. Where does the name come from?

As I said, present-day Patrians are descended from Trojans who escaped from the burning city of Troy in a reconfigured Trojan Horse. With the legs cut off and sliced down the middle, the Horse made for a fantastic hull. This is the Trojan Tub, and a replica of it in the library of Patria Castle plays an important part in the climactic action of Stout Hearts & Whizzing Biscuits.

This is me, by the way, having a little fun with the Roman poet, Virgil. Just as in his Aeneid Virgil depicts Rome being founded by refugees from Troy, so too with the Kingdom of Patria. My Patrian Trojan ancestors were hoping to follow Aeneas, but they got a little off course and soon found themselves in the middle of the Atlantic on their way to the New World. Good thing they packed extra sandwiches!

How much prep did you give the book before putting it out there? Do you have a team of critters? Editors? How much did you do on your own?

I spent eighteen years in academia before starting Trojan Tub (I hold a PhD in philosophy). In those years I published a good deal of scholarly work and gained invaluable experience as an editor. So largely I edit my own work, though my wife is a tenacious and very helpful copyeditor, and more importantly, as I call her, my “Concept Girl.”

When it came to the final edits of Stout Hearts & Whizzing Biscuits, the best thing I did was to record it as an unabridged audiobook (available at worldwideaudiobooks.com for the absurdly low price of $4.99). Since high school my writing teachers had urged me to read my writing out loud. But did I ever listen? 

Well, in recording the audiobook I was obviously forced to read the entire manuscript out loud, and it was a revelation. Not only in terms of small-change copyedits, but also in terms of the rhythm of the sentences and diction. I would even say my sense of my own characters was vastly improved when I had to assign them their own characteristic voices. So my advice to all those editing their own books: read them out loud.

How did you connect with your illustrator? I am particularly drawn to those illustrations, by the way. They really bring the Kingdom of Patria to life!

Ted Schluenderfritz is immensely talented, and I am very proud to have him as a colleague in this project. I first encountered his work through a brilliantly funny illustration he did of G.K. Chesterton dressed in the costume of Mr. Incredible from the Pixar film, The Incredibles. “This man is a genius,” I said to myself upon seeing this illustration, and a visit to his website confirmed the hunch. 

Ted’s style is perfect for my Patria stories—it has just the right combination of whimsicality, broad comedy, and light satire. One of the joys of working on this project has been the back-and-forth with Ted on the details of illustrations. 

And not only is his character illustration fantastic. But he really brought Patria to life, even for me, with the illustration that serves as the central image on the homepage of the Kingdom of Patria website, an illustration which can be viewed without obstruction in the “Explore Patria” section of the site. Ted also did a marvelous map of Patria that kids can download from the “Explore Patria” section as a .pdf.


Very cool! The website itself is very professional. Did you build it yourself, or outsource the web design?

From the beginning I knew I wanted a website associated with my books, and as I was forming Trojan Tub early in the summer I became aware of J.K. Rowling’s efforts with her (yet-to-be-released) Pottermore website. That kind of interactive website, where fans of Patria could come and immerse themselves in that world, was very attractive to me. So with the Kingdom of Patria I’m trying to provide a Pottermore-like experience, with free content (both text and audio), clubs to join, character blogs—just without the billion-dollar, pop-culture icon platform underneath me!

My web design company, Snap Design, located in Bellevile, Ontario, has played a huge role in making this happen. I encountered their work via a website they designed for another self-published author whose illustrator and I belong to the same LinkedIn group. In talking with my wife about how much I admired this author’s site, my wife urged me to contact the web designer, and by that afternoon I was enjoying a wonderful conversation with Dan Ireland, the major technical force behind the site.

The entire team at Snap has been very creative and fun to work with, and their marketing wisdom has also been invaluable. I would recommend them to any author looking to expand his or her marketing efforts.

I think we all would love to spearhead something in the vein of Pottermore! How exciting that these avenues are available to us. What type of marketing has yielded the best results for getting the word out about your kingdom?

For marketing I use the Kingdom of Patria website, of course, but also my Twitter account (@kingdomofpatria), my Facebook page, and my email account. I also have a blog, High Concepts, devoted to the arts, entertainment and culture, on which I sometimes talk about Trojan Tub. I’ve also just started using some print advertising.

But the point of all these instruments, as I learned from John Locke’s How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 3 Months, is not simply to fire at will with “Please Buy My Book!” missives (though I’m certainly not above them), but to form friendships with people who will have a natural connection to my writing.

That takes more time and effort, but the reward is greater. Not only does one make a new friend, but one finds really dedicated readers. Just yesterday on Facebook I received a message from someone who told me that he went out and bought an e-reader just so that he could read Stout Hearts & Whizzing Biscuits. And he loved it, and can’t wait for the next book in the series. That’s a customer, to be sure. But it’s also a potential friend, and it’s important for me never to lose sight of that second fact.


I love that facebook story, Daniel! Do you have self-publishing mentors that have given you good advice about how to go about doing this? If so, who would you recommend to others going this route?

John Locke’s book, which I just mentioned, was pivotal for me this past summer when I was preparing to launch Trojan Tub. I would also single out David Gaughran’s blog, Let’s Get Digital, which is one of the best blogs out there on the self-publishing world and one I read regularly. Dave’s book, also called Let’s Get Digital, is extremely helpful for self-pubbers just getting started. The folks at Kindle Book Review have been especially generous in reviewing Stout Hearts & Whizzing Biscuits (three reviewers so far have agreed to do so).

Overall, I am deeply impressed by the sense of community and collegiality in the self-publishing world. Heather, your blog is certainly a great example of this!

Thanks, Daniel! So, tell us, what does success look like to you? Do you have a target number of sales? Or is success the positive feedback from readers? Or are you focusing on getting the next books out there, and sharing the books with the widest audience? Or all of the above?

My goal with Trojan Tub and all my writing is clear: I aim to establish a full-time, family-sustaining career as a writer of fiction. It is deeply satisfying to have even one reader respond enthusiastically to my work. But my aim is to be a professional author, and for me that means generating sufficient sales so that I can support my family entirely by writing.

What a great goal. What has been your highest high, and lowest low, during your writing journey toward that goal?

In 2003 the very first screenplay I ever wrote, entitled I Am Not Prince Hamlet, was taken on by a reputable L.A. agency and shopped around to some very big production companies in Hollywood. I thought that was the beginning of my professional screenwriting career. Alas, although the script received some admiring comments, there were no buyers, and my follow-up script unfortunately didn’t excite the agent. All that amounted to a pretty low moment. But I continue to write screenplays.

One of the highest highs in my writing career occurred very recently, on November 1, 2011, when the Kingdom of Patria site launched and Stout Hearts & Whizzing Biscuits went on sale. That was a very exciting day.

For sure! I love those early brushes with success--I think they keep us aiming high. So, what’s next for you?

Right now I’m finishing up work on the second book in the Patria series, Stoop of Mastodon Meadow, which picks up on Oliver’s adventures a couple of months after the events of Stout Hearts & Whizzing Biscuits. It’s a school story (Mastodon Meadow is the boys’ school in Patria), complete with a mystery involving an underground student newspaper and a wily capybara.

As soon as that is done, I will be putting the finishing touches on a comic novel for grown-ups, which I have been calling Donnie Pilgrim: High Concept. It uses the time-honored plot device of a philosopher who stumbles into Hollywood and unwittingly becomes the hottest screenwriter in town. I hope to have that available at Amazon and other outlets in January or February, 2012.

Ooh, the capybara is my favorite rodent of unusual size! And, just because I’m curious, dogs, or cats?

Kids, actually. The house-training period is longer, but if you stick with them, they tend to make better conversationalists.

Awesome! Daniel, thanks so much for taking the time out of your day to talk with us! I really appreciate it. Everyone, please make sure to give Daniel some thoughtful questions in the comments! What would you like to know about the Kingdom of Patria, the books, and their creation? And, make sure to check out his website on your way out, if you haven't already! 

19 comments:

  1. Daniel, thanks so much for the great interview!

    Is this book solely in ebook and audio formats? If so, do you think that there will be a great rise in middle graders with e-readers in their hands soon?

    Do you plan on publishing a paper copy?

    Have you considered developing an app?

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  2. Great interview. I loved the website and downloaded a sample onto my Kindle. Good luck Daniel!

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  3. Good morning, Heather and Laura!

    Yes, Heather, the book is solely in ebook and audio formats. I have no plans for paper publication at this point, mainly because I believe that if the self-publishing enterprise is going to succeed, it's going to be purely electronically.

    I appreciate the kudos, Laura! Thanks for visiting the website and downloading a sample. I hope you like it and will come back for more.

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  4. Daniel,

    Heather introduced me to your site a few weeks ago and it inspired a thoughtful conversation about our own writing endeavors, so thank you for being a pioneer.

    The idea behind your story is so well developed! Thanks for sharing the details of your process.

    I am daunted to some extent, but even more so you have inspired me.

    Thanks!

    -Jonathon

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  5. Hi, Jonathan!

    Thank you for your very kind comments. I don't know if I'm a pioneer...I'm just trying to learn from a lot of self-pubbers and writers who were busy blazing the trail long before I arrived. And as I said in the interview, J.K. Rowling's Pottermore site was a big inspiration. Last summer, as I was puttering around with ideas, news of the Pottermore launch really helped congeal a lot of thoughts in my mind, and pointed me in the direction I wanted to go.

    Don't be daunted! Dream big, and then take one practical step at a time to make it a reality.

    Thanks for chatting today!

    Daniel

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  6. Hi Daniel!

    Thanks for the great compliments about Snap Design. I showed Dan the article and he loved being known as the technical mastermind, hopefully it doesn't go to his head too much!

    It's great working with you, and I have already purchased my own copy of Stout Hearts and will read it this holiday season!

    Troy Stewart
    Marketing Strategist, Snap Design
    www.snapdesign.ca

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  7. Thanks, Troy!

    Enjoy Stout Hearts & Whizzing Biscuits around the Christmas fire...

    Tell Dan it's O.K. being a technical mastermind, just so that he doesn't turn into a criminal mastermind!

    And any writer out there looking for a fabulous web company, go directly to Snap Design!

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  8. Yay! Love this...will go check out some of the links. Thanks!

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  9. You had me at Magna-Pneumatic Whizzing Biscuit Blaster. This sounds great! Thanks for such an in-depth interview, Heather.


    (And I do love the ROUTS mention. Haha)

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  10. Jon--I second Daniel's "don't be daunted". Don't be daunted!!

    Troy--thanks so much for stopping by! Very cool work on the website.

    Thanks, Daniel for being such a great host for the comments section!

    Anita--his website definitely rocks!

    Tracey--I know, his elements are fabulous. Great job finding the reference. LOL :)

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  11. Heather- Thanks Heather, I'll pass that along to Dan and the rest of the team :) Dan, the technical mastermind, had trouble fitting his head through the doorway on the way out :D hah!

    Great blog here too Heather, I'll add you to my RSS feed!

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  12. I've read Stout Hearts and Whizzing Biscuits and can attest to the good humor. My 8 y/o son enjoyed it as well.

    My question for Daniel; did you conceive the Patria stories as a series from the start? If so, are there characters and elements introduced in the first book for which you already have planned a story arc?

    There must be something significant about blue socks, for instance.

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  13. Hi Matthew!

    Thanks so much for the kind words about Stout Hearts & Whizzing Biscuits! It's especially gratifying to hear that your 8 y/o son enjoyed it, too.

    It's a good question whether I originally envisioned my Patria stories as a series. I suppose I did, but not the kind of series in which each the series is one long, continuous plot-line (as in the Harry Potter books). Once I determined to self-publish Stout Hearts and create the Kingdom of Patria website, by then I had committed to a series, but one in which the stories build on one another in a fairly loose sense. "Stoop of Mastodon Meadow," which will be released in January (sorry, I'm late it with!) picks up on Oliver's story a few months after Stout Hearts, and almost all of the characters from Stout Hearts are involved (and some new ones, too!), but the plot is completely distinct from Stout Hearts. It's its own story, even thought the "world" of Stout Hearts is still in play. Again my inspiration has been from P.G. Wodehouse, specifically in his series of comic novels about Blandings Castle.

    Blue socks? A silly play on the "Knights of the Garter."

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  14. I answered that last question too fast...apologies for all the typos...I mean typos! :)

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  15. Thanks, Robert! So come along with them on an adventure in Patria!

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