Vance Pumphrey is a high fantasy author with five published books and more to come! I met Mr. Pumphrey a few months ago as one of the books I chose to read and review at random. I didn’t expect to like his books. I love fantasy, but I can be very picky! I didn’t expect the story. I didn’t expect the characters. I didn’t expect the themes. I found his novels progressed in unique and interesting ways, and I enjoyed the books so much I finished the first quartet within about six weeks. Without further explanation and adieu, my interview with a truly remarkable author. (Note: My questions are in bold and Mr. Pumphrey’s answers are in italics.)- Jennifer
I saw from your short biography, you started playing Dungeons and Dragons many years ago when you were in the Navy. Let me start by saying, thank you for your service. My own husband is an Air Force veteran, and I have a lot of admiration and respect for our veterans. Thank you for saying so. And, thank your husband for me for his service. And, while I’m at it, THANK YOU for your part in his service. I’ve always said that the hardest part of the military is done by those that stay at home while us military types wander the globe.
On with the questions! So, tell me about your first experience with Dungeons and Dragons (D&D?) What edition did you start playing? Do you still play? What’s your favorite edition of D&D? I learned to play before there were understood ‘editions’. At least by me. The books for 3.1 came out while I was learning the game, but we didn’t pick those up until later. I learned to play from a guy who had sat in circles on the floor with Earnest Gygax Jr when the game itself was in its infancy. Before that I was one of those that mocked those that played, calling the game ‘Wizards & Lizards’, far preferring other types of ‘partying’ to the floor-sitting variety. But, one fateful winter day in Idaho during the late ‘70’s I got invited to a ‘party’ where a game was in progress. After a beer or two I was asked if I was interested in playing. For lack of anything better to do (I rode with a guy already playing) I rolled up a character (a fighter named Ogmurt, who if you continue to follow my books, you’ll get to meet him) that died in the first battle. Hooked, I rolled up another (also named Ogmurt) and learned that the standard alignment class for a newly rolled character was ‘Chaotic Chicken’, and thus Ogmurt II lived MUCH longer. I played many, many nights/days after that until the school I was in for the Navy finished and I got shipped off to Hawaii. It was during those epic games/battles/dungeons that the underpinnings of my World were born. With the transfer, I thought my playing days were done, but far from it. One Friday evening after whatever job the Navy had me doing was done (probably chipping off the paint that I had just put on the day before), I ran into some guys who were poring over the ‘new’ Advanced D&D Handbooks/Manuals. I asked them what they were doing, and they said they were trying to learn how to play D&D. I told them they would never do so that way. They asked if I would teach them. I had never been a Dungeon Master (DM) before, but I told them if they would let me borrow their books, I would create a dungeon for them. Excited, they gladly agreed. We met back there the next morning and played for 36 hours straight. My DM’ing days were now underway and I never looked back. That is also where my ‘World’ was truly hatched. More on that later….
I do occasionally still play, mostly when some old-timers find out I’m a DM, my arm gets twisted and we dive back in… My son plays, and I recently played Pathfinder with him and his group. That was…interesting. My favorite is – by far – still 3.1. Probably always will be. Just call me ‘old school’ – I’m good with that.
I really understand the desire to put to pen the characters and epic tales D&D created, I am actually working on turning that desire into pages. For me, the characters and story have evolved to the extent I want other people to be able to experience the story, know the characters. What led you to start writing Valdaar’s Fist? The same. It must be a common affliction. More on that below. Follow your heart. Always write while you’re feeling it…
I love the evolution of the characters over time, my unexpected favorite is Sordaak. Who is your personal favorite? Is there one character you identify with? Wow, great question. And, the answer for me is SO complicated. This series of books was supposed to chronicle the story of Thrinndor (originally named Marmaduke – a lot of my characters had to get renamed in the interest of copyright laws – after all, who during the time didn’t have a wizard named Gandalf???). Thrinndor’s quest was to obtain his ‘Holy Avenger Sword’, as is the quest for any paladin. But, as you will have noticed, he is a ‘Dark’ (or Black) Paladin. After much haggling and research, we were finally able to determine that ALL gods can have ‘paladins’ as followers. So, a ‘Dark’ god would have ‘Dark’ followers. Therefore, Thrinndor became Lawful Evil. That quest – all the way through that final epic battle with Bahamut – lasted many months. That one battle took more than a week of playing every night to finish! It was AWESOME!
Sigh, my mind wandered from the subject: Favorite character. Thrinndor was supposed to be. But, Sordaak kind of took over. The not-so-regal, grouchy dwarf barbarian is a close second. And…Savinhand. Who does not root for the multitalented thief? C’mon! And, Cyrillis….she was my first female character. So difficult to run in those days. Breunne was a badass to run, but never really saw much playing time. We’ll go with Sordaak as the favorite (for now. You need to see the second series. Ah…Golfindel!! I’m pretty sure you’re going to like him… Mesomarques has a pretty special place in my heart, as well. But, that tale is for another day!) Yes, I probably identify with Sordaak better than most. I should probably mention that his original name was Raistlin Majere…
I noticed right away with the first novel, something that really propelled me to read the books, is it feels like the reader is cheering for the bad guys, was that intentional? The theme of what is really good or evil? Most definitely intentional. You’ll understand more when you move on to the second series. ALL fantasies, in essence, are Good v. Evil, right? (And, don’t all fantasies begin in a tavern???) One of my big underlying motives is to get the readers to question what is good? And, conversely, what is evil? Read on….this topic gets far more interesting. (What happens when the ‘good’ start questioning their own motives???)
By the way, I may have exclaimed, upon finishing the last installment of Valdaar’s Fist, “This author is a sneaky hobbitses!” Tricksey indeed! I was looking forward to the finish line, to the end, to see the party achieve their goal! Without getting into spoilers, oh my Bahamut! While the story of Valdaar’s Fist is complete, it is clear the story and party members have miles to go before they sleep. How many more story arcs do you have completed and planned? How many books do you anticipate total for these characters? Another great question! There is only the one story arc (so far). But, that story arc, as you said, has much life in it, yet! There is a second series in progress (more on that, below). And there will be a third series following that. All under the ‘Valdaar’s Fist’ all-encompassing story arc. I have outlines for many ‘historical novels’ involving several of the characters in these books, as well as a background book (series?) of the battle between the gods, Praxaar and Valdaar. There is even an off-shoot series that explains what happens to Sordaak when he has those ‘episodes’. (Tease: he’s being summoned to current day Seattle where his services are required.) So, there is no end in sight for these guys. I have outlines and adventures for 18-20 books. Could be more…
When did you first start writing? In High School. My first book was a Star Trek novella titled The Klingon-Romulan Outbreak. I wrote another book before I graduated, a WWII story about a PT boat and her crew titled Shark Infested Waters (the name of the PT boat was “Shark”). I joined Uncle Sam’s Canoe and Yacht Club (Navy) while still in High School. There was a gap in writing while I got my sea legs under me before I started playing D&D. I played/DM’d for many years but over time the game was forced aside as my other interests in life grew. Wife. Kids. Family. Sports. Etc. But, my longing for my World remained. After some number of years, I decided that all the characters, places and adventures I’d ‘lived’ needed to have their story told, lest I forget them. So, I started writing down some of what had transpired over the years – a history, of sorts. That said, there was a pretty large gap between beginning Dragma’s Keep and finishing it – like, about 25 years!
How long does it take you to finish your novel from concept to publication? As just mentioned, Dragma’s Keep was way too long in the making. However, once I got serious about it (5 or 6 years ago), I finished Book One pretty quick. Like, in about 6-8 months. Publication was a bit longer because I originally tried the ‘traditional’ route – Querying agents and publishers. To no avail. I tried the writers conferences, but gave up on those two after 3 or 4. Self-publishing came to me in more than one form. That was expensive and I’ve finally settled where I am now, with Imagine House books. There’s lots of other stuff in there, but that tale is for another day (or question…). In general, if allowed some time to work on my books, I can ‘pen’ the 150,000 or so words in 5-7 months, whereupon begins the editing and other stuff associated with publishing. The whole process, for me, is generally less than a year, per book.
Can you give some insight into the self publishing process? What is your process? Ah, such a difficult question for me. ‘Self Publishing’ means so many things. A person can self-publish by writing a book and submitting it to Amazon (and/or other services) for publication. Or, you can sign up with one of the now many hundreds (thousands?) of ‘publishing’ houses that will gladly take your money to print ANYTHING you might want to write and have published. Providing you pay them up front.
As mentioned, I’ve settled into a ‘niche’ way of doing things. I have a publisher who is also my editor. But, she’s not who I started with. More on the editing below in the question designed for it. She’s not my first publisher, either. But, again, I’m not going there. My process is to write, submit the manuscript to her (Crystal Burton of Imagine House). She edits the book, I approve/disapprove the edits, she formats and then publishes my books in the usual online places (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Nook, others). I ‘market’ by word of mouth and Facebook. I’m considering other methods, but…. I may even go back to the ‘conventional/traditional’ way of annoying agents/publishers when I finish my current book (Book 7 in the series, btw). Maybe…
Is there anything you would have done differently in reference to these books differently? Yep. I would have done more research into this self-publishing quagmire before jumping in. At least check, self-publishing is a 23-billion-dollar industry of which the author makes less than .1 percent. The bulk of the money goes to editors, ‘publishers’, marketers, etc. – the list goes on and on. Where there’s money to be had, there are lots of people to take it from you. Sorry, a bit jaded on the self-publishing industry. There are a lot of people/places out there that want to help – for a fee. There are even some (like Imagine House) that genuinely want to see the author succeed.
Who edit’s your novels? I haven’t found a single error! Now it’s the aforementioned Crystal Burton of Imagine House. I’ve had a couple of editors over the years/books. The one before Crystal decided our political views (we pulled for different presidential candidates) were too different to allow us to continue to work together. Strange bird, but a good editor. There was a ‘charlatan’ before that. A guy who took my money and manuscript, fed one to a word processor (any guesses as to which one?) and gave me back a marked-up document telling me to make the word ‘it’ go away. Or some other such word/phrase/ideology. I fired him after actually reading what he’d edited. A waste of money and time.
I get a great sense that you grew a lot as a writer from book one to book four, would you agree with that statement? Absolutely. I feel that I’ve done the leaps and bounds thing, as it pertains to my writing and ‘voice’. So much so that I’m considering going back to rewrite Dragma’s Keep after my current book is complete. But, there is SO much to still write! It pains me to give up 6-8 months to go back and redo that one…. Sigh….
I grew up reading Toilken, DragonLance, and Forgotten Realms. Who or what inspires you? Do you have favorite authors? Do you read fantasy novels and series? Do you have a favorite? Oh man… So many! I started reading at an early age, falling in love with worlds outside of my own. So many books! So many authors. My favorites? Louis L’ Amour, Jeffery Archer, Tom Clancy, David Eddings, Margaret Weis/Tracy Hickman, Robert Ludlum, Anne McCaffrey, Leon Uris, Clive Cussler, Donald Hamilton and Stephen R. Donaldson – to name a few. I could go on and on. Dragonlance was one of my favorites. But, so were The Sacketts. Jack Ryan (Clancy) is another. Sigh… Star Trek. Moving on….
What do you consider the biggest mistake you’ve learned in this industry? Any cautionary advice for people just coming to the writing and publication world? The aforementioned quagmire/jumping in thing. Do your research. Know what you want to do and map out a plan on how to get there. BEFORE giving up any of your money!
Your covers are really beautiful! Who’s your artist? Thank you. Joe J. Calkins of Cerberus Art. He’s fantastic! Check out his website.
Even though i’ve been writing for decades, I’m incredibly new to this whole industry. I believe we all measure success in different ways. Let me say, I look at your works, and see success, achievement. For me, I believe success is a lot of things, but a large part of it, is whether or not the reader finishes the book, closes it, and still wants to read more. What do you personally consider success? Truly? A ‘thank you’ is my success. Sure, I’d love to make the Bestseller List. Or, to get Peter Jackson out of the unemployment line long enough to put my books on the big screen. But, I started writing because the characters in my head demanded it. I love to write. That someone actually wants to read what I write??? Ah, that is the stuff dreams are made of!!! My books get wonderful reviews, even from people who normally don’t read the genre (Adult, Epic Fantasy). That’s because Louis L’ Amour and Clive Cussler provided the foundation for my imagination – among others (see my favorite authors list above). Someone stopping me to say that they’ve read my first book and just bought the second one because they can’t wait to see what trouble the characters get into, next. Or, someone begging for me to get on with publishing the next one. Stuff like that. However, I continue to write because I’ve got to give the people in my head a platform on which to stand. The get grouchy if I don’t.
Readers get it in their heads which characters they want to live happily ever after, “ships,” is the slang for it nowadays. At first, I really wanted Savin to end up with Cyrillis. Still, I’m happy with the way things turned out. How did you determine who you wanted Cyrillis paired with? This one wasn’t tough…. She’s paired with who she paired with when she roamed my world. She was ‘destined’ for Sordaak. But, that wasn’t always the clear choice. Originally, she was brought into being to be Thrinndor’s mate. But, there are other things working there. Savinhand had a shot, but he got too big for his britches. The Guild. It will always be The Guild for him.
I have to be honest. As a gamer, reader, and writer, I really think the world and the characters, the mythos, you’ve created is worthy and would make an exciting table top role-playing game module and setting. Is this something you’re pursuing? Have you thought about creating it yourself as open gaming license material? What is SO funny is that what you speak of already exists! These characters, these ‘dungeons’, the quests – all already adorn the 3×5 or 5×8 cards in many, many card-files. There are notebooks bulging with character sheets. I wrote these books as a history of events that have already happened. However, that stops with my current work. Book 8 – the first book in the third series – is where my world is currently. It will all be new material, even for me!!! I can’t wait!!! That alone is one of the reasons I began this journey, too see where my world goes. However, that third series is dark. War will rip The Land apart. Those 3 books are outlined, but the pages in between are a miasma of fog and light…
I’ve considered gaming rights. That second quest, The Library of Antiquity in particular, would probably be well received (I’ve been told so by many). However, taking the time to put all of that together would take me away from my story, and that cannot be allowed. Not yet, anyway… Now, if TSR came knocking, I could probably be convinced to put down the writing laptop for a time…
I myself and other authors often put hidden ‘easter eggs’ in our works? Did you? Any you want to share? Honestly? Not really. There are hints that lend themselves to ‘things to come’. But, not much else. I’m not that good, yet.
Cheesy question time! If you could have dinner with any author living or dead, who would it be? Oh man (again!). Only one? I’d like to line them up…. However, if it MUST be only one, then I’d have to say Louis L’ Amour. Then Margaret Weis. Then… Sigh, I’ll stop. I lied, David Eddings. Stephen R. Donaldson. NO MORE!!! (Maybe Mr. Tolkien!)
When is your next book coming out? That next book (Die & Don’t – the 2nd in my 2nd series), is currently waiting for me to work on the edits from Crystal. It is complete. I just have many, many hours of work to do on it. And, I’m too busy retiring from real life for my ‘world’ to get in the way. The characters in my head are waiting semi-patiently to continue. In May I’ll be retired and headed south in my shiny new bus of a motor home. Then, finally I should be able get back to my stories. Book 7 should come shortly after that. The art work is complete. The story is complete. Just have to get them together. Edited…..
What’s your website and social media links for fans? I have a website: vancepumphrey.com However, it hasn’t been updated in a while. I’m supposed to work with my editor on that. Maybe this summer…maybe. (Did I mention I don’t like doing stuff that takes me away from actually writing??? OK, this interview is kind of fun. Just saying…)
Last but not least, is there anyone you want to thank or give a shout out to? Lot’s of people! I feel like I’m giving a speech for an Oscar, or something. My wife, of course. Her support over the years have made these books possible in so many ways. Without her, they would have never seen the light of day. Or printed page. The US Navy. That august organization took a green 17 year-old and helped shape him into something I’m proud of. My two boys for helping me to grow up fast(er). Their love and support also played a big part in these books. Ken McMillian as my first DM – he opened the doors (or floodgates, as it were…). And, Crystal Burton of Imagine House – one of the good guys in the business. And, last, but certainly not least, my readers. Of which you are one. Readers keep the process going. Those that post reviews are the cake AND the icing. Authors absolutely LIVE for reviews… 😊