This week, Write On! speaks to independent publisher Inklings Press. Four friends who decided to create their own e-publisher to provide an outlet for their stories, as well as showcasing other indie authors with a passion for fantasy, science-fiction, mystery and alternative history.
Leo McBride is a journalist and author. Born in Northern Ireland and now living in The Bahamas, he writes speculative fiction and is a co-founder of Inklings Press. He has had short stories featured in a number of publications and blogs at www.alteredinstinct.com.
Brent A. Harris is an author and full-time dad. While he claims the desolate sands of Southern California as his home, he currently lives in Naples, Italy, hoarding wine. Harris holds a Masters in Creative Writing and spends most of his free time playing board games with imaginary friends.
Ricardo Victoria is a Mexican author living in his hometown. An industrial designer by trade, he likes all kind of geeky stuff: action figures, board games, comics, and pop culture. He writes mainly science fiction and fantasy, occasionally dipping in to horror. Co-founder of Inklings Press, he is working on a science fantasy novel series Tempest Blades.
Rob Edwards is a British author and content creator and lives in Finland. Last to join the core Inklings Press team, he writes about sci-fi, superheroes, and coffee. Occasionally, at the same time. You’ll find his stories in the Inklings Press anthologies or on his podcast StorycastRob.
WO: What genres or areas of writing do you specialise in?
RE: I think it’s fair to say we specialise in the diverse! We tend to favour sci-fi or fantasy, but they come in all flavours and we are constantly changing genres or settings of our books.
LM: I always say I write speculative fiction; it covers a multitude of sins. It’s the umbrella that pops open and covers everything from science fiction and fantasy, through to horror. I grew up reading all of those and it’s what I love, so it’s what I explore in my own writing now.
BH: I’ve written everything from fantasy, to horror, to alternative history. I’ve penned scripts and podcasts. Being a writer means possessing a certain degree of flexibility. And certainly, you want to get out there and stretch your skills, like an actor taking on more challenging roles. Also, I can’t choose a favorite genre. I can’t choose anything, really. I’m still deciding on a tie to wear for a job interview a decade ago!
RV: Personally, I focus more on fantasy, science fiction and occasionally horror, but as part of Inklings Press, I veer towards speculative fiction.
WO: What would a typical workday entail?
RE: We each have our own roles in the team. For me, when we’re open to submissions, I will spend a lot of time reading. Once we’ve decided on the stories we’re taking for a book, Brent and I will provide developmental edits for the stories. Most of the stories we take don’t require much in that department, but it always helps to take a second look. Later in the cycle, I take more of a project management role, keeping track of how edits are going.
LM: I wish it entailed more fiction writing! Like many writers, I have a day job that pays the bills before I can get to my own writing thrills. I’m a journalist in The Bahamas, night editor at a newspaper (wait, did I say day job?). I edit stories, design pages and do whatever needs doing to get the newspaper on the press and out the door to the readers. The writing, or the editing for the Inklings anthologies, tends to get done in the afternoon before work, or in the wee small hours after the press rolls. It’s a challenge – especially during the pandemic – but that makes it all the sweeter when a piece of writing does get published.
BH: I run around like a chicken possessed by a rabid badger. Usually, that’s enough to frighten the other blokes into doing whatever needs doing. Typically my day ends as I lay awake at night, torturing myself over what stories to include. The lack of sleep over difficult decisions usually feeds into the rabidity the following morning. It’s a vicious cycle.
RV: As I spend most of my day at my day job, there’s no typical workday for me at Inklings; rather, using any break, free day or weekend to work on the cover design and occasional promotional graphics, when it’s time to create them. Sometimes, I help by reading the submissions and offering my opinions during the selection process. I also use my free time to write short stories or work on my own projects.
WO: Where does the majority of your work come from? Do you do anything else alongside your work as a publisher?
RE: We have a collection of authors we know we will get good work from for our anthologies, but we always like to expand to more with each new book. So, we’re grateful to the Internet for our submissions! As for other work, I write, of course. I have stories in most Inklings anthologies and I’m writing a series of YA sci-fi superhero books. The first one, The Ascension Machine, is out now; the sequel has a complete first draft.
LM: As far as Inklings Press goes, the majority of the work comes from submitted stories when we make an open call for an anthology. The others tend to do the first reads of submissions and pick out which stories they like for inclusion. I get involved when it comes to the time for storyline edits and laying out the book, plus some of the graphics work alongside Ricardo Victoria. Other things, apart from working as a publisher? Well, aside from that pesky day job, there’s all kinds of bits I do: ghostwriting and working for local groups in The Bahamas. Keeps me busy!
BH: I… uh… also write a sorta YA superhero series. But wait! Mine is steampunk and that makes it TOTALLY different from Rob’s wonderful work. Yes. Totally. I’ve also been known to write alternative history. Most recently, I’ve tried my hand at a horror novel. Scary.
RV: I have a day job as a lecturer and researcher at the university where I work, which is pretty consuming on its own. I also work on my novel series Tempest Blades, of which one book is already published and the second one is in the late stages of publishing as we speak. My share of the work at Inklings Press comes at the end, when I have to work on designing the cover for the anthology. Trust me, designing covers is just as hard as editing stories!
WO: What inspired you to become a publisher?
RE: I was the last to join the Inklings Press team. I’d submitted to a couple of the anthologies as an author first. I confess, I kind of fell into being part of the core group. Initially, by offering to help here and there, until it developed into my current role.
LM: I’d already been working in journalism for a long time – I’ve been a journalist now for more than 25 years – so when Ricardo Victoria suggested a writing group, the publishing part just kind of evolved from there. After a while, our writing group looked at the prospect of publishing some of the work, and that led to us creating our first book, Tales From The Tavern. It was a learning experience as much as anything – just trying it out to see if we could do it. And from there, Inklings grew to publish stories by all kinds of fabulous authors, with one even picking up the ‘Sidewise Award’ for alternative history. It really was a case of just giving it a go and seeing what happened. I’m delighted it paid off. The best thing is the number of writers who have gone on to be published elsewhere, or who have gone on to publish novels. It’s a real privilege to see.
BH: I place the blame for the creation of Inklings Press square on the head of Ricardo. It’s his fault. I only went along with it as a loyal frenemy. I knew he was going to get me into trouble over this. Now, we’re what, collaborating on our tenth anthology? See what a mess he’s made?
RV: I’m pretty sure the others would have pinned the blame on me for starting this mess. Especially that pesky Brent. But you know the old adage: you need two – or in this case three – to dance. Basically, it all came down to a chat in our incipient writing group, where we were discussing the difficulties we faced in becoming published writers, and decided to try our hand at self-publishing. It kinda grew organically from there. The funny thing is, we all met each other years before, not at writing forums or groups but at a board game tournament (Heroclix in this case). It was hosted in the UK university where I was studying and where each one of them took turns to beat me. But I’m not sore about that, why do you ask?
WO: The current issue of Write On! explores the theme of ‘Growth’ and how we navigate Spring as the season of change. With that in mind, do changes in the natural world change the way you work?
RE: We’re all over the world at Inklings Press! Here in Finland, the winter months are quite dark, which has its advantages: I spend plenty of time indoors behind my keyboard! But, come spring, as the world wakes up, I do too. It’s a good time of year to find energy for new projects.
LM: Living in hurricane alley here in The Bahamas and seeing the increasing number of hurricanes coming our way and with climate change in full effect, it’s certainly on my mind! On occasions, I’ve had to make sure all the important passwords are passed along to another member of the team in case of the worst. The pandemic hasn’t changed the way we work too much, though. As our core group is scattered across different parts of the world, we’d already been working remotely. If we were distributing more directly to bookshops, there’d have been more of an impact. Our print versions are print on demand, so there’s no change there. I think we have an awareness of potential difficulties and plan around them as much as possible, but sometimes we just get lucky that our way of working suits the circumstances.
BH: With Spring as the metaphor for rebirth and growth, I do find myself more motivated to reinvent myself. This Spring, for me, it’s about returning to my roots. Not only are we focusing on ‘Alternate History’ for Inklings Press, but I’m also returning to the genre myself in writing the follow-up to A Time Of Need. Much of this is spurred on by a desire to see if I’ve grown; if I’ve improved in a genre important and formative to me.
Of course, the world affects the way I work. Before the pandemic, I sat alone, isolated, at my keyboard. Rarely venturing out. Now, in lockdown, I sit alone… oh, wait. Never mind.
RV: Always. I’m of the belief that SFF has to be topical and political. Beneath the fun layers, a good story should make you reflect upon your own world. Also, given that you write what you know (you might have not faced a dragon in real life, but you have encountered stressful situations, for example), a lot of what I see and experience tends to appear in what I write. That includes drawing a lot from how I see the world around us changing, sometimes for good, sometimes for bad; imagining how my characters would react at such changes and how they would evolve. That’s the beauty of speculative fiction; it allows us to analyse how we would change, and in which ways, so that we can become that change instead.
WO: What one piece of advice would you give a writer?
RE: I have too many answers for this! Or not enough. “Keep at it!”, “Keep your POVs straight!”, “Understand the rules before you break them!” and, “If the anthology is looking for a sci-fi story, your gritty kitchen sink soap opera pastiche won’t be accepted, even if it’s amazing.”
LM: Simply write what you want, and measure your achievements against yourself, rather than others. When you start out, you’ll be learning about your writing as you go. The more you write, the more you’ll understand what you’re good at and how to make things tick over the way you want them to. Write what you enjoy as you start out and don’t worry about others getting more reviews than you, or more attention than you. Worry about that later. For now, just write, and have fun!
BH: The importance of this question overrides my desire to answer light-heartedly. Read. Seriously, reading is more important to a writer than writing. You cannot create that which you do not possess. Reading will provide you with the foundation on which to craft your worlds.
RV: On top of what Leo, Brent and Rob have said, I would add, trust your ideas enough to put them on paper. And keep practicing and polishing them until they work.
WO: What have you found is the hardest aspect to being a small/independent press?
RE: We all have calls on our time outside of Inklings. I think the hardest part for all of us is finding time to allocate to it. I wish we could find a way to shorten our development cycle, reach a point where we could look at releasing more books in a year. However, we also want each book to be better than the last, so I’d never want to sacrifice quality to speed. It’s tough.
BH: We have amazing talent in our anthologies. As a small press, the hardest part is finding a way to get our author’s voices heard loud and clear. In our own small way, we’ve helped some, providing a stepping-stone towards bigger and better things. But it’s not enough. I’d like to see all our authors on the shelves of bookstores and on the reading lists of book clubs. We also want to lift #ownvoices and improve author diversity, including in our anthologies. It’s challenging, because many will simply self-reject before their stories land in our inbox. But we want to hear them!
RV: I see three key areas: time allocation, marketing and funding. Getting to be heard is tough, and time-consuming, especially when you have a day job and a family. We are a really small outfit, so we make do with the resources we have and make time whenever we can. On the bright side, that has taught us to be creative in the way we do things.
WO: Can you tell us what you are currently looking for, or whether there are any current publishing trends?
RE: Brent? You want to talk about this one?
RV: I think Brent should take this one.
LM: We’re publishing our third alternative history anthology next: Tales From Alternate Earths 3. The alternative history books have been our most popular, and they’re also very close to the heart of Brent A Harris particularly, who has been itching for a third volume to come out. I’m really keen to see what submissions we receive for this one. It’s always great to explore the different paths history could have taken!
BH: Tell us the worlds that might have been. Alternativee history is a vital genre for holding us accountable to our past, while enabling us to see ourselves presently in the reflection of this new, alternative Earth. It’s much more than terrors and tragedies. We want fresh takes on popular culture, climate change, geography, and anything else you can think of. What could have led to a better world? Did the Beatles have to break up? What if there really was a Northwest Passage? How could the SF imaginings of the 1950s have existed as reality today? Shy away from wars, Civil or otherwise (though if they are well written, we will consider anything within the genre). Surprise us and create a whole new world from one simple twist to the past. Whew! *Breathes out heavily*.
WO: Lastly, if you could choose one fictional animal/creature to be a pet or companion, who would it be and why?
RE: I’m not really a pet person; for a start, it would need to be something I’m not allergic to. Maybe one of the Pern dragons? Flight and instant long-distance travel would be great once the pandemic is over, so I could visit my family in the UK. Against that, the dragons do seem like a lot of effort to feed and care for, so… maybe not!
LM: Cthulhu. All those tentacles are great for helping to tidy up the house.
BH: A baby dinosaur. Obviously. You can have your Muppet Baby Yoda. I’m quite smitten by Bumpy the Ankylosaur from Camp Cretaceous.
RV: I’m gonna be the conservative one here, so probably a dire wolf or a winged lion. I think my wife would love them as well.
Read. Seriously, reading is more important to a writer than writing. You cannot create that which you do not possess. Reading will provide you with the foundation on which to craft your worlds.