Derek Alan Siddoway is the author of the Teutevar Saga, a ‘medieval western’ series combing epic fantasy with the ideals and themes of the American West. His newest series, Gryphon Riders, is a fast-paced coming of age YA trilogy. He’s written novels and novellas, short stories and trilogies. Oh, and apparently he likes peach lemonade.
I’ve had the good fortune to work with Derek on a few projects (both Swords for Hire and Lone Wolf). He’s in the midst of releasing the first volume of a new trilogy, Windsworn, and was gracious enough to answer a few questions for us.
James: First, I’ll ask a little bit about you. Just the basics for now… How long have you been writing? Have you always been drawn to fantasy and/or westerns?
Derek: Hey James! It’s been great working with you guys over the last couple of years and I really love what you’re doing with your Legacy of Ash world. Thanks for the interview!
I’ve been writing since I learned how to write ;). As far as creative writing/fiction, however, I got my beginnings with Pokemon fanfiction around the age of ten. I grew up on a steady diet of John Wayne westerns and a variety of fantasy books, some of my biggest influences then and now were The Hobbit, The Chronicle of Prydain and the Redwall books. I love the sense of escapism offered by fantasy worlds. When you combine that with the heroism and grit of westerns, you’ve got a story that packs quite a punch. Both have well-worn tropes, but with a little creativity you can make something unique out of those building blocks.
D: Windsworn is out now! It’s exclusive through Amazon at the moment but will have a wider release down the road. This new trilogy, Gryphon Riders, is set in a completely unconnected world from Teutevar Saga. I wanted to create a new sandbox to play in, although many of the frontier fantasy/medieval western concepts made it to Altaris from Peldrin. Teutevar Saga has such a large scope that I wanted to take a step back and really drill down some of my storytelling skills with a simpler tale that could be wrapped up in a trilogy.
The single most defining feature is probably the gryphons. Dragons are great and all, but going with gryphon riders instead was another way to breathe some fresh air into my fantasy tale. I’m always looking for little tweaks to make my books stand out to readers on the fantasy shelves.
Talking about the story itself, Windsworn follows a teenage girl named Eva who gets thrust into this hero role, but its not one she necessarily wants or even fits. She’s caught up in these other events, both from the past and ongoing around her and goes from keeping her head above water to coming into her own. I think it sells the books a bit short, but I’ve often called Windsworn “Harry Potter meets Eragon.”
J: You’ve written short stories and full-length novels. Do you prefer one over the other, either as a writer or a reader? Money and all that stuff aside, do you feel one offers something the other can’t?
D: As a reader, I love a well-written short story, but its hard to make them truly memorable. When done right, I love that a short story hooks you and, even though there’s a resolution, it leaves you wanting more. Joe Abercrombie is an absolute master with his shorts. You can read them standalone or as easter eggs to his larger world.
As a writer, I’ve done everything. Short stories, novellas and full-length novels. Right now, I’m a fan of novella and short novel length books (25-75,000 words). My style right now is writing punchier stuff that cuts the fat you’ll find in a lot of fantasy without sacrificing the world building. Windsworn fits that model in that we follow a single point of view character and get a somewhat limited view of the world through her eyes. That worldview and stage grows in books two and three. My Teutevar Saga books are longer but they feature more character POVs, so the aim is still a tight story.
J: The ‘medieval western’ is a compelling concept. It kind of feels like a no-brainer, those two styles just seem to fit together so easily in my mind, but I don’t see it very often. Do you think it’s a unique concept, common, or one that’s just beginning to emerge in the markets?
D: I think it’s a unique niche but you can find it if you look hard – sort of how “grimdark” was to mainstream fantasy readers before the pop culture rise of Game of Thrones. I don’t think medieval western is primed to reach that scale anytime in the near future but its out there. My books, obviously, all fit this mold, as well as many of the Legacy of Ash shorts that you guys put out. If you’re looking for other examples, I recommend looking at the frontier fantasy art of Ryan Pancoast or, specifically, Red Country by Joe Abercrombie. I just (as in a few hour ago) finished The Tiger and The Wolf by Adrian Tchiakovsky and its another great example of YA/coming of age frontier fantasy. SM Stirling’s Emberverse books are more post apocalyptic but the resulting world is absolutely medieval western.
For me, it’s about taking the traditional medieval fantasy story out of Europe. I live in the American West, going back three-plus generations. I want to write things that pay homage to my ancestry, culture and homeland in addition to my love of fantasy. I believe it helps focus your story and focus is where you can really shine as an artist. George RR Martin did the same thing by specifically drawing inspiration from the War of the Roses. George Lucas did it with a blending of western themes and the traditional hero’s journey in Star Wars.
J: Merging the ‘western’ theme to sci fi has been done a little (in things like Star Trek, Firefly, Killjoys) but do you feel fantasy has something different to offer to the gritty and rugged themes of the ‘western’?
D: I think that technology can sometimes take away from character in stories. Examples I would cite are Starkiller Base in The Force Awakens and thinks like gatling guns in some westerns or the radioactive magical weapon in the First Law Trilogy. What really interests me as a reader and a writer is the mano-a-mano stuff. Situations where your skill with a sword or six-shooter is what determines if you live or die. You obviously still get that with x-wing piloting but I like my epic battles to be filled with people going at each other, not some uber-tech that replaces people. Its cool to watch but it doesn’t speak to me in the same way. To paraphrase Obi-Wan, I like my battles fought with elegant weapons from a more civilized age, or something like that.
Coming at it from another angle, when you look at the early settlement and exploration of the American West, people had no clue what was out there. Just like Frodo, they saddled up and left home without an idea of what they were getting themselves into. Discovering the unknown is what fantasy is all about.
J: Forgive if I’m wrong, but you’re from the west, right? Midwest? (Where are the borders of midwest/west anyway?) Do you feel you’re writing has been inspired by your location?
D: West! I’m not sure where the technical line is, because once upon a time the Great Plains of the Midwest were west. I think it just depends on the culture of your area. Midwest to me is corn belt and flat ground. West is mountains and high plains. I’m on the eastern tip of the Great Basin, which is also the western side of the Rocky Mountains. We’re the descendants of pioneers, trappers, farmers and ranchers.
I’ve already touched on this but yes, my location definitely inspires me and I try to incorporate natural features as well as wildlife into my books. Often times its just sprinkled in but its still there. A half a day’s drive or less in most parts of Utah will take you into backcountry and untamed wilderness – getting out and adventuring in these areas has provided me more ideas than I could ever write about.
J: From what I’ve read, you seem to write about young main characters. Revan in the Teutevar Saga, and now Eva in Windsworn. Is this a conscious decision, or do the tales just naturally flow from the perspective of these characters?
D: Both Revan and Eva are in that late young adult to new adult age, which I’m just coming out of at 26. There are definitely themes I explore with these characters and similar experiences they face that are ways for me of exploring them at the same time. Although Guinevere is within that age range during Into Exile, she’s a middle-aged woman in the main Teutevar books and I’ve enjoyed writing her as well. Other characters in my books span quite a few age ranges and I try to mix it up to test my character-building.
I think writing younger main characters who are discovering themselves for the first time is an easy place to jump into their point of views. You can hit the ground running because you’re figuring them out as they’re figuring out themselves. I do the same thing with my older characters (Langden Hawke in my short story, Valiant, has a TON of backstory no one will ever read about) but that’s more to inform me on where they’re at when they actually come onto the story stage. I also think that everyone can relate to characters in this 16-25 age range – either they’re preparing to go through that stage, they’re in that stage or they’re past that stage but no matter what it’s a defining focal point in our lives.
J: Of all the characters you’ve written, which one has stuck out the most for you? Which person do you connect with the most? Which one do you enjoy writing the most?
D: Maybe this is cheating, but I love writing about certain traits that all of my characters express. I love how Eva works to overcome her timidity, how Revan is proud an determined no matter the odds, how Guinevere keeps getting up no matter how many times she’s knocked down, how Arund truly believes he’s not the bad guy. I could go on and on. I put a little of myself in all of them: pride, vanity, aspirations, insecurities and so forth. I think this helps readers connect with my characters.
As far as pure enjoyment to write, Shamus and Brinhold are a blast (I actually have a spin-off novella featuring those two that’s just waiting on a couple more rounds of editing to be released). So are several of the Windsworn characters such as Ivan, Sigrid and Aleron. I would love to go back and do more with each of them down the road. Nikoma is up there as well and I have promised myself to go back and travel with Langden Hawke again sometime.
J: Other than your own work, what are you reading lately? Are you inspired by any authors in particular?
D: I mentioned The Tiger and The Wolf by Adrian Tchaikovsky. I used to blast through books but since I got more serious about writing I haven’t made as much time to read as I used to. I started this book on vacation but absolutely blasted through it like I haven’t done with a book in quite awhile. The second one comes out in November and I can’t wait to pick it up.
I’m also in the midst of Plague of Swords by Miles Cameron and am listening to Legion of Flame by Anthony Ryan on audiobook. I just finished Scott Sigler’s The Rookie, an interesting sci-fi football book that was a nice break from fantasy. In non-fiction, I also recently finished ( I swear, I don’t read as much as it sound even though I’d like to) Walt Disney: An American Original which was excellent.
Although I haven’t started this second round of books coming out before The Last Jedi, I love the authors that are writing all of the new Star Wars books: Chuck Wending and Claudia Gray are two of my favorites. Looking forward to checking out Delilah Dawson.
Aside from books, I’m drawing a lot of inspiration from other media: Game of Thrones on HBO, Ryan Pancoast’s art, History’s Vikings, Rogue One and, coming up, I’m sure The Last Jedi will be in there too. Studying good film with a storyteller’s eye as helped me tighten up my writing and I’m paying much more attention to what works and what doesn’t compared to passive consumption.
J: Finally, what’s next for you? Windsworn is the start of a new trilogy, but are there any other projects on the go?
D: Now that summer is winding down I am hoping to crank out Windswept and Windbreak, the final two Gryphon Riders books, by the end of October. After that…I’m taking a little break until the start of 2018. Windsworn is doing excellent so far and the plan was to have all three out in 2017 but to accomplish this, I’ve used up a lot of creative juice. I’m hoping to get through my TBR pile and recharge a little.
After that…I hesitate to say. There are a few things on the horizon and part of my break will be sorting out what opportunities to pursue. Watching Season 7 of Game of Thrones really inspired me to wrap up Teutevar Saga. That’s three more books, though, all of which are much larger than the Gryphon Riders books. At the very least I’ll probably work on some outlining for that, regardless of where I decide to go with things. I’ve also considered doing some shorter sword and sorcery-type stuff but that’s still under wraps.
A huge thanks to Derek for taking the time to talk with us. Always a pleasure.