Interview with Stephen Gee, author of Wage Slave Rebellion
Posted December 15, 2014on:
Today I’m thrilled to be talking with Stephen Gee, who recently released his debut novel Wage Slave Rebellion. I’ve known about Stephen for a while, I just didn’t realize I knew him. Lemme ‘splain. My husband watches a lot of anime, reads a lot of anime reviews online, and talks about those reviewers whose reviews he follows and opinions he respects. The name “Stilts” kept coming up over and over again. So I started following Stilts on twitter, and we’d tweet back and forth from time to time (my anime preferences seem to be begin and end with Hiromu Arakawa, but whatever).
I eventually got a very nice e-mail from Stilts, and we chatted some more. Turns out his name is Stephen, he’s really cool, and he’s got a novel out!
Wage Slave Rebellion is Stephen Gee‘s debut novel, and you can head over to Random Curiosity for the big reveal party. Head over there, check it out, then come on back here for my interview with Stephen.
Ready? Let’s go!
Little Red Reviewer: Congratulations on your debut novel Wage Slave Rebellion! What’s the quick elevator pitch for the book?
Stephen Gee: Here’s what I’ve been telling people: “Wage Slave Rebellion is an urban fantasy adventure set in a sword & sorcery world. It’s about three friends who hate their crappy jobs, so they decide to become monster-slaying adventurers instead. It’s like Terry Pratchett spliced with a badass action anime.”
It’s sort of an old-meets-new, a medieval-style fantasy setting (swords, spells, monsters, etc), but with modern themes such as job dissatisfaction, refusing to accept mediocrity, and living life to the fullest that many people grapple with today. Add in explosive action and plenty of funny banter, and it’s a lot of fun!
LRR: Who is your favorite character in the book? Who was the hardest to write?
SG: That’s a hard question. Of my three main characters, Mazik is the most fun. He’s outgoing, outrageous, brash, and has confidence bordering on arrogance. He also tends to think before he acts, but he’s still dangerously clever, and far more wise than anyone gives him credit for. I stole a good bit from my older brother while developing Mazik, so I have a lot of experience with people like him!
Gavi (the female lead) was definitely the hardest to write, though she has the potential to be the most compelling character by far. It’s all about toeing a line with her. She’s serious without being stuck up, realistic while being willing to give crazy plans a shot, she has a good sense of humor and likes to banter just as much as the others, but because she’s the least powerful of the three, she also has the hardest time holding her own in a fight. She still kicks ass though. A lot. I don’t know how much people will relate to someone like Mazik, but I think people will relate to Gavi a lot, especially as time goes on.
I mentioned two of my three main characters, so I might as well mention the third. Raedren is the prototypical nice guy, and would be the healer in another setting, though here he mainly casts magickal barriers to keep everyone alive. He doesn’t get a lot of development this time, but the whole thing wouldn’t work without him. Literally … they would never survive all the trouble they get into with Raedren’s spells!
But probably my favorite character is the Tyrant of Houk (pronounced “Howkh,” like “how” with the first half of “cuss” tacked onto the end … that’s the name of the city the book is set in). She’s this whip-smart old woman who rules one of the most powerful cities in the world with pure piss and vinegar. She only shows up a little, but every scene with her is pure gold.
LRR: Without giving us any (or at least not too many!) spoilers, what’s your favorite scene in the book?
SG: I can’t tell you anything about my favorite scene because it’s the last scene in the book! It’s so good though. When you get to the last scene, just imagine me nodding and saying “See? Right?” It’s a catharsis for everything that came before it. It’s soooo much fun!
I will say that the first battle is really cool, there’s a fun chase scene later on, and there’s this touching scene between two characters in a dark, intimate place … but that’s getting too far into spoiler territory. I also really like the prologue. It gives a good sense of my writing style and the book’s tone, so if you enjoy that, you’re going to like the rest of the book. If you’d like to try it out, you can read sample the book on its Amazon page, and I also posted the prologue scene in full on my website.
LRR: Finish this sentence: “If you like __________ and __________, you’ll love Wage Slave Rebellion!
SG: I sort of did that in my elevator speech. “If you like Terry Pratchett and badass action anime, you’ll love Wage Slave Rebellion!” But let’s do a few more:
For anime fans, “Fullmetal Alchemist and Slayers” is a good one. Or for a more recent vintage, “Hataraku! Maou-sama and Fairy Tail“.
For non-anime fans, don’t worry—I draw inspiration from anime, but I avoid a lot of its major eccentricities. For you, let’s go with “The Hobbit (book) and Guardians of the Galaxy (movie)”. Or any of the better action-packed Marvel movies, really. Explosions are fun!
LRR: What inspired you to write this novel? How did you get from “hey, this is a neat idea!” to “this is going to be a book”?
SG: The setting has been rattling around in my head for a while. A lot of the major set pieces—the city of Houk, the magic system, a few of the characters—I came up with a while ago, but I didn’t arrive at the central theme that knitted them all together until recently. But once I was mired in a crappy job myself, I realized that this was exactly the kind of impetus that would propel my characters into doing something truly outrageous (and entertaining for my readers)!
These are characters who are otherwise unimportant, I might add … they don’t receive the call to adventure (trope!), they choose their path when they could have easily done nothing. I think that’s a story that will really resonate, because it resonates with me.
But I always knew there would be a book. I can’t stop writing. It would be easier if I could. I’d probably have a much more active social life! But I can’t. Telling stories is something I have to do to feel like me. A book was inevitable, it’s just the details that needed figuring out.
LRR: Which authors have been the greatest influence on you? Which authors are your favorite to read?
SG: In the afterword, I cite Terry Pratchett, Seth Godin, and Akamatsu Ken. Akamatsu Ken’s Negima was the first (and only) story that excited me so much it made me go “I want to write a fanfic about this!” That was the first story I ever wrote, and it was horrible. But it got me started, and I wouldn’t be here if not for that.
Terry Pratchett has had by and far the biggest influence on my writing style. I started off trying to write like Terry, and while my style has morphed since then, there’s still a strong note of Terry in everything I do. I wouldn’t change that for the world. His writing is a lot of fun!
Seth Godin is a marketer, so it’s probably odd to have him on this list (I’m a marketer by day), but he had a huge influence on encouraging me to do the hard work that’s worth doing. To quote Seth:
“Just about everything worth doing is worth doing because it’s important and because the odds are against you. If they weren’t, then anyone could do it, so don’t bother.”
It’s words like those that kept me plowing ahead, because writing a book is hard, but I think it’s worth doing to make my readers’ lives just a little more fun. He also talks a lot about how to promote your work without being selfish and disruptive, which is advice I wish more people would heed.
As for favorite authors to read, other than Terry, I’m also a big fan of Neil Gaiman, John Scalzi, and Frank Herbert. Piers Anthony does good work as well. Lately I’ve been reading a lot of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files. (Any resemblance between Harry’s duster and Mazik’s robes is entirely coincidental, I assure you. It’s not unwelcome, though.) I also suggest Scott Meyers, who writes and draws the comic Basic Instructions. His Magic 2.0 series is a lot of nerdy fun. I’ve also talked to him a few times, and he gave me some advice, so I can safely say he’s a really cool guy as well!
LRR: You went the self publishing route. What made you decide to go this direction? Any “if I knew then what I know now” tips for authors who planning to self publish in the near future?
SG: I have a problem with creative control. I don’t like to give it up. I take feedback wonderfully when I have a choice, but if someone tries to make me do something, I rebel. I’ve always chafed under bosses, and the idea of exchanging a boss for a publisher seemed ludicrous to me. Why would I want to put someone else between me and my readers? It also seemed ridiculous to give up half of my profit so someone could dilute my work in order to make it sell better (maybe) (they hope). I’ve worked in corporate America. I’ve seen that too much.
I could fill up an essay with tips for authors who are planning to independently publish. What benefited me the most was being linked to JA Konrath’s blog early on, which led to Hugh Howey and other successful indie authors. I also suggest making sure your personal finances are in order, so you can afford the upfront costs of publishing a book. Any author (and everyone else) should read Mr. Money Mustache for all the in-your-face personal finance help you can handle.
But even with all of that knowledge and preparation, I had plenty of challenges. The biggest one was finding and working with my cover illustrator. Not because of who I picked, but because I didn’t give them enough time! Since I had never commissioned illustrations before, I didn’t know how to find someone or when to start, so by the time I found my illustrator we were already in a time crunch. For a while I didn’t think I was going to get everything finished before my other freelancers went on holiday break!
My suggestion is to find your editors, proofreaders, illustrators, and formatters early. They might have a waiting list. The good ones probably will. Find them three months before you need them, and they will be there when you’re ready. Figure that out early on and talk to people early, otherwise you’ll be stuck waiting with your book all but done because you didn’t plan far enough ahead. That’s especially important for anything your unfamiliar with, because that unfamiliarity will make procrastinating soooo easy, even though those are the things you need to figure out the most.
LRR: I first heard about you from my husband, who reads your reviews and commentary at the anime review blog Random Curiosity. What are some of your favorite anime? for someone brand new to anime, do you have any suggestions for “gateway” shows?
SG: I watch a frankly embarrassing amount of anime a year, so I have a lot of favorites. For fantasy, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood and the Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works and Fate/Zero series are at the top. The recent No Game No Life was great as well. For sci-fi, Steins;Gate and Kyoukai Senjou no Horizon (not for the faint of heart … I wrote a 40,000 word primer on the first series) are stellar hard sci-fi.
For romance, Ano Natsu de Matteru (Waiting in the Summer) and Toradora for sure. Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is my favorite full-throated action epic, Gin no Saji (Silver Spoon) is the farming story I never knew I needed, and Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo is my go-to show for a shot of creative inspiration (and/or giving me a kick in the ass to get back to work).
Picking out gateway anime is much harder. The real answer is “It depends on the person,” which is hardly helpful, though it has the advantage of being true. The one I most often suggest is Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, a really well done action-fantasy series which had more than a little influence on my own writing. It’s very friendly to western fans as well. Cowboy Bebop is an old standard. I’ve had luck with Log Horizon, an excellent MMORPG-based fantasy series. Mirai Nikki (Future Diary), a supernatural killing game thriller, is both very good and approachable, provided you don’t mind some blood. (A lot of blood.) One other—I haven’t tried this as a gateway anime yet, but Steins;Gate, a sci-fi thriller about time travel, is one of the most powerful anime I’ve ever seen.
But honestly, the best thing to do is to go to Random Curiosity to find out more. We do season previews four times a year, where we introduce all the shows premiering that season, and at the end of the year we publish a Best of Anime post which gives some of our favorite shows of the past year. Take a stroll through those (especially the previews), and if anything piques your interest, try it out! Companies like Crunchyroll, FUNimation, and Hulu release most shows with English subtitles as they air, so anything you’re interested in should be pretty easy to find.
LRR: What’s next for you? Have you got more books or short stories planned in the world of Wage Slave Rebellion? Are there other stories/worlds you want to explore?
SG: First of all, thank you so much for taking the time to interview me! And for all the advice you’ve given me as well … Andrea is super awesome everyone, seriously. But you already knew that.
Wage Slave Rebellion is just the first in what I’m calling the Firesign series. Right now I’m working on a collection of shorter adventures that take place after Wage Slave Rebellion. I figure that not all stories take a full-length novel to tell, but I want to show them to you anyway! In fact, the first one, Action Politics, is available on my website now. For FREE! (Unless you want to give me a tip, which is always appreciated.)
Once I’ve written a bunch of short stories—some, though not all, of which will be released for free on my website first—I’ll collect them into a compilation volume, and then start on the next full-length novel. I’ve also got unconnected stories I’d like to tell, but I’m a fan of expansive worlds with epic plots, and there’s plenty more to explore in the world of Firesign before I’m done with it. If you’d like to keep up with me, you can find at stephenwgee.com, or on twitter @stephenwgee. I also have a newsletter for book updates. And of course, make sure to pick up a copy of Wage Slave Rebellion! (Smashwords & print-on-demand versions coming soon.) It’s going to be a lot of fun, so I hope you’ll all tag along.
LRR: Thanks so much Stephen!
Interested in learning more? Would you like to interview Stephen, have him write a guest post for your blog, or review the book? Give him a shout on twitter, where he’s @StephenwGee. Not on twitter? Get a hold of me, and I’ll put you in contact with him.