Author Interview: R.T. Kaelin

R.T. Kaelin is an accidental writer. In 2009, while in search for a hobby, he joined a local gaming group and soon found himself writing short stories for his fellow players. When urged to try his hand at something larger, R.T. threw caution to the wind and went at it. Progeny, the first volume in The Children of the White Lions series was self-published in late 2010. The book garnered critical acclaim and hit top 10 top-rated historical fantasy at Amazon. The second in the series, Prophecy, was published in September, 2012. R.T. has had numerous short stories appear in anthologies, including the charity collection Triumph Over Tragedy (which he edited) from which all proceeds are donated to the American Red Cross for Hurricane Sandy Relief. In February, 2013, he signed with a literary agent to pursue a traditional publishing deal for the series and other works. R.T. lives with his wife and two children in Columbus, Ohio.

Thank you so much for being a guest on The Indigo Quill. It is such a pleasure to have you here as I enjoyed your style of writing and the adventure you took us on through your book. Can you tell us a little bit about Progeny and what inspired you to write it?
First off, thanks for having me and I am glad you enjoyed the book so much.

Progeny is the entry volume in The Children of the White Lions series and a grand labor of love. Back in summer of 2009, I started writing little short stories for a gaming group of which I was a part. They professed their enjoyment of the stories and encouraged me to write something a bit longer. At the time, I had just finished reading three bad books full of stereotypical characters and predictable plots. I thought I could do better, so…I tried.

A little over a year later, I had finished Progeny.

Where did you come up with all those unique names? Do they mean anything?
I suppose it depends on the names about which you are asking.

The primary characters, Nikalys and Kenders, are named (and modeled) after my own children. Nikalys (yes, it’s really spelled that way) just turned nine this month and Kennedy turned six in April. He really has bristly, sandy brown hair and she has straw-blonde hair along with hazel eyes that change colors in sun or shade.

As far as everyone and everyplace else are concerned, it rather depends. Before writing the first book, I identified language origins and styles for regions and races. For the most part, I have stuck with them. I have been known to rename a character quite often during the draft stage. For example: I’m writing book 3 in the series now and have renamed one character five or six times and I’m still not happy.

Could you explain your format in which you mark time and what inspired you to do it that way (ie. 7th of the turn of Sutri 4999)?
I did a lot of upfront work on the world before I started writing. I believe the background of a story can be just as important as the story itself, even if only a fraction makes it into the book. It’s like a painting: the background informs the subject.

So, I spent a significant amount of time coming up with histories, lunar cycles, the pantheon of gods, and a calendar. And, actually, at the very end of the book there is an appendix section describing the pantheon of gods, the lunar cycle, and…the calendar:

The calendar of Terrene is symmetrical. Scholars suggest the gods altered the world and the moons to facilitate such a perfectly aligned set of dates. A year on Terrene is exactly three-hundred-sixty days, divided into twelve turns of twenty-eight days per turn. A week is seven days long; four weeks make up a single turn.

Between each turn is a two-day period that belongs to neither the turn before nor the turn that follows. They are commonly referred to as Days of Leisure, and throughout the year are used for feasts and other celebrations.

You seem to have gone far above and beyond with the land of Terrene. Please tell us more about this setting for your book.
Well, as I indicated in my previous answer, I spend a lot of time upfront on the setting when I’m starting on a new project. Here’s my basic approach:
  1. Come up with book/story/series concept.  
  2. Write out basic plot and characters.
  3. Flesh out the world/setting/background.
  4. Delve into plot details, adjust things based on world setting.
  5. Write.
Now, why do I do this?

Nature vs. Nurture.

Social scientists debate the question: are we who we are because of our genetic makeup, or because of the environment in which we are raised? In my humble opinion, it’s both (but more Nurture than Nature).  

My hair and eye color were dictated by genetics, of course, as was my general body shape and size. All those things certainly contribute to who I am. Yet, had I not grown up in Cincinnati, I would not be a Reds fan. Had I not grown up around horses, I might not find the beasts tedious, smelly, and a pain in the rear. Literally.

A character is as much a product of their surrounding as they are of their inherent nature. Having a rich, full world in which they live is important. So, I wrote it. History, mores, religion…everything that makes a culture a culture.

This theme is quite prevalent in Progeny, too. I do not want to give anything away, but…if you read it, you will see what I mean.

How many books should we expect to see out of this series?
The original plan was three. However, not too far into Progeny, I realized that I would more space to tell my story. So, as of now, the plan is five. Book three in the series (which I am about to wrap up the first draft and start editing) plays the traditional role of middle book: “all hope is lost and darkness is ready to reign.”

I see you’re from Ohio! Are you a Buckeyes fan? I look forward to my Wolverines beating you guys in the fall! :)
I am a lifelong Ohio resident, yes. I even live in a Columbus suburb. But am I a Buckeye? Nope.

I was born and raised in Cincinnati and went to college at Ohio University in Athens. That makes me a Bobcat, not a Buckeye. After graduation, I moved to Columbus and took a job in IT. And while I appreciate the locals’ fervor when it comes to football (you have no idea how many different ways there are to spell Buckeye on a license plate), I’m just not feeling it.

That being said: good luck, Wolverine fans. Michigan has no chance against the Bucks in 2013. 

Ouch! :) If you could be a character from Progeny, who would you be and why?
Wow. Good question.

Honestly? I think Jak. His attitude and “voice” are closest to my own. I like him for his loyalty and his “normalness.” Life dealt him a crummy hand and he’s doing the best he can with it.

My wife has remarked that she reads Jak as though it were me talking. I could slide right into that role, no problem.

How did you keep so many story lines going without creating any major plot holes?
Revisions, revisions, revisions.

Here’s a dirty little secret: authors don’t write the story from beginning to end and have it all be perfect the first go around. At least this one doesn’t.

While I have a goal in mind, I personally like to see where the story takes me. Sometimes, that’s in directions I never intended. So, I adjust. Then, I must edit, tweak, cut, chop, massage, streamline, rewrite…whatever.

A perfect example: Nundle Babblebrook, many people’s favorite secondary character, was an accident. A 100% accident. I intended him to be a throwaway character I used for one chapter to revisit the antagonist from a different point of view for a chapter, but then…well, I loved writing him. Loved it. So, I adapted.

Writing is often balance between careful planning and organic spontaneity. Focus on one or the other and you are sunk.

What do you think sets you apart from other writers?
I have been asked this question numerous times and always struggle with it.

My cop-out answer is: I shall leave that up to my readers.

After stalking you a little bit…uh...I mean...after reading up on you through the internet and finding information that just so happens to be available to the public, I noticed you use your talents for some philanthropy. Please tell us about that.
Hooray! I have a stalker!


Anyhow…I assume you must mean the Triumph Over Tragedy charity anthology.

Well, that was sort of an accident. In the days immediately following Hurricane Sandy last fall, I was watching coverage of the destruction on the news and knew I wanted to do something to help. Sure, I could have simply donated a couple bucks to a charity and been done with it, but that seemed inadequate.

Then I had an idea that I thought might end up doing more good: a charity anthology for the victims of Sandy.

Now, you must understand that at that moment, I was an indie writer. Still am, technically, even though I have an agent now and some interest from a couple publishers. As an indie, your pull amongst the author pantheon is less than weighty. One crosses a line when a big house publishes their work.

That being said, I have met a fair share of authors in recent years and so I reached out to a couple, pitching the idea. Oh, my…it was like holding a flame to wood shavings soaked in gasoline.

Within a week, I had about twenty authors signed onto the effort. Within two weeks, we were at forty and I had to stop taking submissions. I had NYT bestsellers, Nebula award winners, giants in the industry—all wanting to contribute a story. The final list included Robert Silverberg, Mark Lawrence, Timothy Zahn, Michael J. Sullivan, Michael A. Stackpole, Tobias S. Buckell, Bradley P. Beaulieu, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Elizabeth Bear, Maxwell Alexander Drake, and thirty more.

Thank goodness, a couple editors reached out and offer to help else I would have been in deep trouble. Bryan Thomas SchmidtSarah Chorn (blogger and excellent reviewer), and Rob Rogers.

The anthology went on sale in January and will be available until early July. All proceeds have gone/will go to the American Red Cross.   

I hear Progeny went through a second edition. How do you utilize constructive criticism?
Actually, it is in its fourth incarnation.

The first edition was the result of me having no idea what I was doing. Having never written much of anything prior, silly me went and wrote a 312k word behemoth of a book. The end result (something I did not realize until much later) was a good story but a bad book. Yet I managed somehow to start building a fan base.

In the fall of 2011, I had an opportunity to get Progeny in front of an agent via a friend of a friend. I sent off the original and waited. By the time I heard back from him, I had the rough draft of the second book done, along with over a dozen short (and not so short) stories. He said “no, thanks” and gave a long list of reasons why. His criticism stung—a lot—but I realized it was dead on. So, I took an honest look at the book and went to revising it.

That produced edition two. I hired Rose Fox (awesome editor), got some feedback from her, and then revised again. Edition Three.

That edition is the one with which I queried agents. When I signed with Andrew Zack in February 2013, I asked him to give me a month and I edited it ONE last time before he sent it out to editors.

If you want to get better, criticism is critical. It can sting, but the pain dulls. You take what you can from it, learn, and get better.

Your book sucked me in from the beginning. I mean, you began with a significant life-changing event in the first several pages! What made you decide to have that as your “introduction” to your readers? 
I don’t like books with four chapters of setup. I wanted something big and bad to happen right out of the gate, ripping the protagonists’ world apart. Then they, along with the reader, get to learn the “why” behind what just happened. It’s more fun that way.

Who’s your favorite villain from Progeny?
Well, Progeny only really scratches the surface of the big, bad evil that is ongoing in the world of Terrene. Jhaell is the book’s villain, but by no means is he the driving force behind everything that is happening. As the series goes on, we learn what the true threat is and the cast of villains expands. I have my favorite in the series, for sure, but don’t want to mention who that is here for fear I would be giving away too much.

Are you reading anything right now?
At the moment, nothing. But the next two books on my to-be-read list are Inheritance (by Christopher Paolini) and Name of the Wind (by Patrick Rothfuss). I have a panel in a couple weeks with Rothfuss and am thinking I should probably read something of his.

Lastly, what would you like your readers to know before reading your book?
Reading Progeny will end all wars and solve world hunger.

Nah. Not really. Just hop in and enjoy it.

Haha! Again, thank you for the opportunity to have you at The Indigo Quill. I’ve really enjoyed Progeny and look forward to reading the next installment (Readers: The next book in the series 'Prophecy', was published last fall, so be sure to grab a copy of that one, too!).

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