For those who might not be familiar with you, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and The Wandering Inn?
I hate that question. Mainly because the answer is unsatisfactory to anyone who hears it. If I had to describe myself, I would say I’m a web serial writer, assuming the person listening knows what that is. A more complete description would be that I write a serialized, bi-weekly piece of fiction online, rather than publishing individual novels.
And yet, I’m not a blogger. What I do is a cross between novel writing and a type of writing that existed a few decades ago. There used to be a time when famous authors like Mark Twain would write serialized stories in a magazine. I regard web serial writing as a modern equivalent of that idea—in fact, you could say the current era allows for that kind of writing over more traditional novel formats.
Regardless of your opinion though, that all just goes to explain what a web serial writer is. And once I’ve explained that, you know all you need to know. I call myself pirateaba online, and I have a web serial called The Wandering Inn.
I write about a young woman who finds herself in another world, a fantasy world, where the idea of ‘levels’ and ‘classes’ isn’t just a concept in a game, but reality. It’s a world full of magic, monsters, and death. But unlike a lot of people, this young woman named Erin Solstice doesn’t become a hero. She doesn’t learn to use a sword, or cast magic. She becomes an Innkeeper.
That’s the basic premise of The Wandering Inn. It’s been classified as a new genre, known as ‘LitRPG’, or Game Literature. However, I think of it as another type of fantasy. And that’s it. I have a hard time describing myself or my work. Quite ironic, but it’s true. I prefer to let my story speak for itself.
You open an interesting discussion over genre. Quite a few aspects of your story mirror those that seem to have become quite popular recently. You have the almost “Slice of Life” aspect (similar to the Wayfarers novels), and LitRPG has been growing a lot recently with the likes of Sufficiently Advanced Magic doing very well in the SPFBO. Do you think you’ve managed to find a unique sweet spot in between all these different genres?
As with all things, I think the answer comes from a number of factors. Let me break down my reply into two parts. I’d first say that I was attracted to the concept of LitRPG after reading about it. The very idea that you could write a book about a video game, well, that concept’s always resonated strongly with me. No one knows this, but I actually wrote a book many years ago that had the core idea of a LitRPG in it. It didn’t have levels or classes mentioned overtly, but it was definitely as much game as fantasy world in a sense.
That would have been around…2009, I think. So long ago. But as I said, it was the first full story I wrote (and it was horrible, it will never be shown to anyone unless I change my mind), but even back then I had the idea for LitRPG in my head. It was only when I heard the word out loud—and what a silly word it is, in a way—that I realized what I wanted to write.
So you could say I’m riding a wave, of jumping on the latest trend in writing. That’s a fair statement, although I personally just look at it as finding the thing I truly wanted to write after all this time. If I didn’t have the idea for the Wandering Inn waiting in my head, I wouldn’t have been able to come up with the story.
Now, as to the Slice of Life aspect…honestly, that was also something I wanted to write for a long time. I hadn’t heard of Wayfarers until you mentioned the series, but I’m not surprised other stories are beginning to feature that element. It doesn’t exactly gel with the traditional idea of storytelling and quick, ever-ongoing plots, but I think it might be a reaction to the fantasy writing a generation has grown up with. I grew up reading epic tales like Lord of the Rings, or The Wheel of Time, and stories about knights and heroes like Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness. But always at the back of my head, I wondered what would happen if Rand al Thor wasn’t saving the world and instead went off and did something like gardening with the entire main cast.
Okay, maybe not things that silly, but I think the idea of a slower story where the entire world of fantasy is really looked at is something all writers love. Tolkien certainly came out with a number of books that describe his world. It’s just that they weren’t best-sellers because only a few people wanted to read that kind of story. I found a way of telling a story about a world as much as a character, and that’s it. It was fortune that people decided they wanted this kind of story right now; I would have told it regardless, because it was the story I’d been dreaming of for years.
Was there any particular reason you decided to opt for a web serial rather than a novel?
I wrote a novel, and it got rejected.
Two, actually. The first one I wrote many years ago and it got rejected for very good reasons. It was awfully written, although I like to imagine I had some good ideas in it. But it was terribly flawed, and I grew to realize that over time. The second novel I wrote completed less than a year before I began The Wandering Inn. And I think it was good.
Flawed? Absolutely. But it was incomparable to the first I’d written, mainly because I’d had years to grow as a writer and person between then. I sent it out to a few publishing companies, some agents, and received…what’s the term? Denials? No. Rejections. Harsher than it sounds, especially because there’s no real malice in it. The people just thought they couldn’t publish it.
But I took it hard. I could have edited my novel more—and it needed more than I was willing to give at that point—and I could have tried more places. But I stopped, gave up, and sulked.
That’s embarrassing to say, but it happens, especially when you’re not mature enough to deal with rejection or consider you should improve yourself rather than blame others, or that your work might just not be up to scratch in any way. I took a few months to do nothing, and then I went back to writing because in the end, I still have a story to tell. And that was why I decided to publish online rather than go through the lengthy, stressful, and very scary route of publishing or even harder, self-publishing.
It’s funny; I thought I was doing something brand new at the time. I had no idea that web serials had already existed, but found they were there, much to my surprise. That only validated my belief that I could tell a story online, and because it was easy…ish, and because it was convenient and I wanted someone to read what I had written, I created a blog and uploaded my first chapter soon after.
It’s interesting thought; Web Serials are so convenient for both readers and authors, and yet they seem to be criminally under-read in a lot of cases. Do you think that there is the potential there for web serials to grow, and perhaps eventually rival traditionally/self published novels?
I think there’s not a lot of difference in the potential of web serials versus novels, especially given that they’re both telling a story. In fact, you could make the argument that web serials are even more accessible to an audience, given that they are free by and large. However, the key difference that leads to this low reader base is twofold in my opinion: awareness and accepted…ness.
Acceptability? No. Respect? No.
I’m drawing a blank for the right word. To clarify, what I mean is that I suspect the vast majority of readers, let alone people in the world, don’t even know web serials exist. It’s not surprising; I can’t say I’ve ever found a single news article or watched even the shortest news segment or read a magazine article even mentioning web serials. There’s no coverage by media, and as such, web serials are a liminal concept, where readers either tell people they know about a web serial, or jump into it after having read something similar from another culture.
Ah, by that I’m saying that Western culture is largely unaware of web serials, but it seems that the east Asia has seen them take off in recent years. I can only speak to Japanese and Chinese web serials, and I can’t say I’ve read many of either, but apparently they have huge audiences, even among non-native speakers who read fan-translated versions.
In those parts of the world, web serial writers can get deals with companies to have their works translated into books if they grow popular enough, or even made into manga/anime adaptations. They’re very lucky—I think one of the most popular web serials in the Western world, Worm, has just now come out with a published book since the author joined up with a publishing company, and that’s the biggest one.
As we stand, web serials are unheard of for the vast majority of English-speaking people despite their popularity among some people. What I think compounds and adds to that problem is the fact that web serials are going through what self-published authors always struggle with, and that’s credibility. That’s the word. Like self-published books, there’s a lot of pushback against anything not published by a company, as if that in itself is the only measure of credibility.
Don’t get me wrong; I think there’s a lot of truth to that. But right now web serial writers are working against ignominy and the stigma of their medium, which is limiting growth. Do I think this may change in the years to come? Absolutely. It could all change tomorrow. That’s how social consciousness works, especially thanks to the internet. For now, I and other aspiring web serial writers just have to hope more and more people begin to accept and talk about this type of writing so more people learn about us.
You mention that Wildbow is looking to publish Worm, and you’ve previously talked about publishing the first volume of The Wandering Inn as an ebook. Has there been any progress on that front? And how would you compare the mechanics of writing/editing a novel versus writing a web serial?
Here’s what I know: I can write a story, and apparently people like it. But I can’t revise. Or edit. Or find typos. Those are my flaws, and that’s magnified by the way web serials are written.
You see, novelists have a glorious, terrible lifestyle. They—and I’m going to assume they’re fully self-employed by their writing, if they’re working part-time or full-time jobs on top of all of this it’s even worse—write their novels out over the course of months and years. They labor over their work, and once it’s done some will write an entirely new novel again, just to make it better. They perfect lines, and revise dialogue. They do all that to make the best story possible.
I don’t have that luxury. And to be frank, it’s good that I’m working in a medium that doesn’t demand that kind of quality all of the time. Because I can write a decent first draft, indeed, I must to publish a chapter twice a week. But I have a hard time fixing my mistakes. I was never good at it, and now I don’t have time to. Happily.
You see, writing a web serial means I’m always thinking of the next chapter. Even when I’m not writing, I’ll sit up as I’m about to sleep with an idea, or come back from a walk with a bunch of notes on my phone about what I want to write. I have to devote a lot of mental energy to the next chapter, which means I very seldom switch gears and go back to try and rework what’s been done. Unless it’s a real problem.
So when I tell you I’ve commissioned cover art and am looking into fixing typos and revising poorly written chapters (like the first few), take that with a bag of salt. Take that with a truckload of salt. I work slow when I’m not actually writing, and motivating myself to fix chapters is hard. I want to come out with an ebook of Volume 1 and self-publish it so people can buy it and to raise awareness for my story, but it’s going to be hard. I’ll probably come out with the ebook and say that it’s a work in progress and only to buy it if you want to support the story, because I’ll be updating it with typo-corrections and even plot corrections and new chapters as time goes on.
So…an ebook may be coming out, but it’s still very much in progress. And the problem with a web serial like the Wandering Inn is that the next chapter and the monthly chapter always goes first. If I have to, I put everything aside to get that done. I juggle my other responsibilities, which means I work on stuff like an ebook last. And the worst problem of all? I can’t juggle.
Cover art? Who? What? Where? When? Can we see it? Can we share it?
Ah. I haven’t share it around too publicly (because I forgot to mention it), but I had some cover art commissioned for the ebook whenever I release it! I hired the amazingly talented John from JAD Illustrated to draw me up a cover. It’s great. It’s got colors, and shading, and even some Goblins!
That is absolutely gorgeous. JAD is fucking incredible.
It isn’t the first time you’ve seen it though, is it? Let’s not feign amazement, Mr. Gregg…
Well, no. I make it my business to seek out pretty cover art.
I completely agree. And I’m jealous, to be honest. Some people think in terms of words, others can see images. I’d love to be able to draw like JAD, but sadly, that’s not one of my talents. I’m just very grateful to him that he was able to take my words and turn them into something so captivating.
So, getting back to the specifics of writing… The sheer number of words you manage to write in a week is bloody ridiculous. How do you do it? What is your process?
Practice. That’s the heart of it, really. I used to write 2,000 words per chapter. Soon I was writing 4,000, then 6,000…you don’t get to 10,000 words per chapter (roughly my average right now) overnight. The second thing that goes into it is that this is my job. I can devote a lot of my time to thinking about the next chapter. In fact, I have to. As for the rest, it’s also about scheduling my days. I have two days a week where I write all or almost all of the chapter. So I’ll spend 6 hours at least on Friday and Monday, writing. I plan my entire day around that one task, and I do it.
Also, I have readers who expect me to update. I’ve formed a habit, and I have not just a deadline, but a commitment to the people who read my story. It’s a job, a passion, an agreement, and sometimes, it’s fun. All that helps, but in the end I also have to thank my poor keyboard for putting up with me through all of this. My second keyboard, actually. The first just couldn’t handle it, or rather, my hands couldn’t. Ergonomic keyboards are the best.
Let’s talk about the really interesting stuff now: the story. The majority of The Wandering Inn has a very happy, almost wholesome tone. Was this a deliberate decision on your part?
The majority. What a wonderful word. It’s as if the majority decides everything, doesn’t it? Like some sort of filthy democracy!
Hah. The majority of The Wandering Inn is indeed pretty happy. But that’s the majority, isn’t it? It’s like saying Harry Potter was mostly happy, except for the parts where people died, or Lord of the Rings was an exciting tale of adventure not counting the parts where…well, actually almost everyone lived in Lord of the Rings, so I guess that actually was a pretty uplifting story.
But I take your point. The Wandering Inn doesn’t even have the tension of death in a lot of its chapters that you expect from other tales. Some chapters are devoted to the ergonomics of bee-based cooking and constructing half-Giant accessible outhouses. But that’s because of the genre, again. When you have slice of life, unless your life is pretty horrible, it’s not going to be a largely intense or violent, upsetting story.
But that’s largely, like the majority. It’s when things go wrong, or something bad happens that the value of a Slice of Life story reveals itself; your favorite characters face hardships, and as we know, bad things can happen in The Wandering Inn. So you ask if it was deliberate for me to make the story happy. I say: of course! Happiness and sadness need each other. Tragedies only exist because bad things happen to people who weren’t in trouble to begin with. Whether that means this story will be happy on the whole or sad, or anything else I can’t say. The Wandering Inn has a happy tone right now. But like the majority, that’s too general for you to conclude anything about the big picture. Am I messing with you in saying that? Perhaps. But perhaps not. That’s the thing about expectations and guessing.
If I can gush for a second… I love your characters. Do you have any particular favourites? Are any of them harder to write than others?
I’ve talked about this in my after-chapter comments a bit, actually. I do have characters that are harder to write than others. As for favorites, I feel an author shouldn’t say. But I do like Erin. That’s why she’s the main character. And Klbkch. I like him. Ooh, and I have a soft spot for Rags, even though she’s hard to write.
I dunno, I shouldn’t actually go into details, because part of what I love about characters (and there’s something nice to be said about every one, except maybe Persua), are the things I know. The little details I might never write in, or how their stories will change. I can’t say, honestly.
But as for hard characters…oh yes, there’s a list. Ryoka’s on that list. So is Magnolia, Ressa, Rags, Teriarch, Ivolethe and all the damn Frost Faeries, Laken…but if I had to order them, only one name stands at the top of the list. Flos. Right now he is the hardest character, simply because he’s the newest.
And that’s how it goes. New characters are hardest to write well. Characters I know from writing them a lot I can write even on a bad day, because I know how they’ll jump, or rather, I can let them jump and surprise me, but I still know they’ll jump. With newer characters or complex ones, I can’t even tell if they’ll jump or wander off and eat a ham sandwich.
As to the last part of your question, I think it ties into the difficulty. I can hang out with Erin because I know her, but writing from the perspective of a [King] or someone with a lot going on? Hard stuff. I get into my character’s heads by imagining what they’ll do, how they’ll react, and thinking of events that shape them. I can’t be more concrete, although I will say there’s a trick to some characters.
I have to know what informs their decisions. So for Laken, some thing are predictable because he’s blind. He’ll never say ‘oh, what a nice flower’, but there are so many thing he can say when told there’s a flower in front of them, including ‘so that’s what I stepped on!’ Eh, well, I’d probably only write that for laughs. Laken would probably be able to detect the presence of a flower with his walking cane, which of course he’d be using if he was out in a forested area. Actually, what’s he doing out there to begin with unless he’s letting someone else guide him?
You see? I sometimes have to intensively research what it might be like to be blind, or get into the head of someone who’s shorter than normal, or living in a situation they have to be constantly aware of. It’s not so much finding that ‘aha’ moment—it never really is—that tells you all you need to know about a character. It’s more creating a world and looking at it from their perspective. A simple version of it is the phrase, ‘what would ___ do?’ Some substitute Jesus, or someone they know in there and ask one question. The difference between that and writing a character is that I ask that question a thousand times when writing them. And in time, I know.
I love that you seem to have a relationship with your characters. If you were sucked into the world of The Wandering Inn, which characters do you think you’d want to be friends with? What class would you want to have?
I think I’d die. Honestly, I have a realistic image of my ability to survive in a place like that. You ask where I’ll be? In the belly of a Flesh-Eating Goat, five seconds after landing.
And characters? Just because I write them, doesn’t mean any of them would like me. My personality is not theirs. Ryoka would probably hate my guts, and I might annoy even Erin. Who knows? I think the one person I’d be best friends with completely is Pyrite. He’s a pretty cool fellow.
Yes, that’s a non-answer. I think the only answer would be going there and seeing what happens. If that occurs, I’ll let you know. As for classes, let’s be honest, the one class I’m good at and would probably get is [Storyteller], or [Writer]. But if I had to fend for myself, I might get the [Scribe] class just so I can earn enough to survive. Then again, my handwriting isn’t that good…
But I’d love to be a [Mage]. What kind? Well, there are so many amazing ways I could go from there, and half of those ways would probably be a spoiler to dive into. Let’s say [Mage] and go with that. If I even have talent for magic, that is.
Which I probably don’t.
Aaaaand, I think that’s us! 2 hours later! Anything else you wanna talk about to wrap up?
Not really. Can I talk about my incredible readers and how they’ve allowed me to do this for a living? I think I must. Without the people who read my story, comment, find typos, and yes, pay me to write, The Wandering Inn might not be the story it is. Or it might be here, but in a different form. If I had to keep working, I wouldn’t be able to write as long, and probably not half as well. It’s people who like my story, and you, who wants to interview me of all people, that make it what it is.
I’m a flawed writer, a lazy one at times, and I’m always improving. Just like the story. And I hope to continue making it better. I have no promises about when it will end, or what will happen next, or even when the ebook is coming out. I know better than to do that. But I do promise to always keep trying to write something new, original, and entertaining. Twice a week. I hope you enjoy the next chapter and thanks for reading!
You can also support Pirateaba on Patreon, which will earn you early access to the latest Wandering Inn chapters, and the ability to vote on bonus stories.