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INTERVIEW: Aidan Moher on TIDE OF SHADOWS, Self Publishing, and More

Photo Courtesy of "SF for Strangelove"

Photo Courtesy of “SF for Strangelove”

Aidan Moher is a writer, fan, publisher, and Hugo Award winner. Today, his debut collection is being published under his own A Dribble of Ink imprint.

Aidan and I have been online acquaintances for a few years now, and he chatted with me about his new story collection, Tide of Shadows.


Rob Bedford: How does it feel to be on the other side of the interview, after your years as the man behind “A Dribble of Ink?”

Aidan Moher: *laughs* Yeah. I’m waiting for the hammer to fall.

RB: Any nervousness on the role reversal?

AM: Of course. Being a critic for a number of years creates a certain level of expectations in your readers. Afterall, I’ve written tens of thousands of words analyzing other pieces of fiction, and now it’s time for the critical eye to fall on my work.

That said, I’m immensely proud of these stories and believe that readers of all types will find something to like in Tide of Shadows and Other Stories.

RB: How long have you been building this collection?

AM: The first of the stories, “A Night for Spirits and Snowflakes”, was written in 2010—so, five years in the making. The rest of the stories were written between then and the end of 2013. It was only earlier this year that I really started sketching out plans for a collection of short stories, and I began assembling it through February and March. So, the stories have been around for a while, but the collection itself is fairly new.

RB: Your first sale was for the Sword and Laser anthology, receiving that acceptance must have been exciting. Was that your first submission?

AM: Lord no. I’d been submitting stories for about three years at that point and could paper my walls with the rejection letters. Having “A Night for Spirits and Snowflakes” accepted for the Sword & Laser Anthology was a huge surprise and a wonderful honour. I’m a big fan of what Veronica and Tom produce—even appearing once on the show to talk about the Hugo Awards—and to know that they hand picked my story from over 1,000 submissions was unbelievable at first, humbling second, and, finally, a big source of encouragement.

RB: Self publishing was once a label that was, if not so much a dirty term, but one that maybe lowered the credibility of the writer whose book was self-published compared to a traditionally published author. There’s been a shift over the past few years and “self-published” sort of morphed into “independently published.” Why do you think self-publishing has risen in stature and respect?

AM: The obvious answer is that good writers are self/independently-publishing and readers are recognizing this.

However, that answer has a few layers to it.

First, the number of self-publishing success stories—from E.L. James and Hugh Howey, to Michael J. Sullivan and Anthony Ryan—is rising every day. Authors with a fierce belief in their work and the wherewithal to skip the traditional publishing circuit are finding huge, eager audiences who are willing to snap up books that might be too risky for traditional publishers. All of the above authors began their careers by self-publishing before making the leap to traditional publishers.

Second, you have the reverse scenario: traditionally published authors recognizing the verdancy of independent publishing’s fields. From Brandon Sanderson to Bradley P. Beaulieu, Kameron Hurley to Chuck Wendig—many of today’s most exciting and popular authors are choosing to self-publish alongside their traditional publishing deals.

Having such names associated with self-publishing immediately legitimizes it in the minds of a lot of readers. All of a sudden it seems like less of a ghetto and more like the wild west. “There’s gold in them thar hills.”

And that opens doors for a new wave of self-published authors—like Anna Spark Smith, Graham Austin-King, or Andrew Rowe—who are finding success by tapping into communities of passionate SFF fans, like /r/fantasy or Fantasy Faction, and building a dedicated group of readers who help promote their books through word of mouth. The interlaced nature of the online SFF community—through message boards, Twitter, Facebook, etc.—allows writers to interact directly with potential fans and hand-sell their books in a way that didn’t exist even five years ago.

So, it comes down to the fact that the big kids are playing in the pool now, and we’ve got more toys to play with than ever before.

RB: Touch on the copy-editing aspect of this collection a bit. We both know Richard Shealy through twitter, how helpful was he and what kind of suggestions (in brief) did you provide to you?

AM: Without Richard’s copyediting, I couldn’t have looked you straight in the eye and tell you that Tide of Shadows and Other Stories was a professional product. He took an unpolished stone and turned it into a sparkling gem.

Richard is a copyeditor, so his entire role in the editorial process was to go through the manuscript line-by-line and clean up punctuation and grammar, spelling, tense, and typos. He’s not there to tell you how to spice up your dialogue, or improve the pacing of your action scenes—that’s what beta readers are for, since traditional editors don’t really exist in the self-publishing world—but he will make your manuscript sing.

The best money a self-published author can spend—alongside good cover art—is in hiring a professional copyeditor. They’re worth their weight in gold.

RB: You’ve expounded on some of your reasoning for self-publishing this collection, what is the quick and dirty reason?

AM: As you say, I’ve written at length about why (and how) I self-published Tide of Shadows and Other Stories, but the tl;dr is that the stories in the collection, even years after writing them, were still nagging at me, telling me they needed an audience of readers. My goals aren’t necessarily financial—if I break even on the project, I’ll be content—but after varying levels of success in the paying short fiction market, I determined that it made more sense to self-publish the collection myself, rather than continue to search for pro- or semi-pro-paying markets for each of the stories individually.

As you’ll find out later, publishing this collection is also a trial run for a few other projects I have in mind.

RB: The majority, it seems, of writers who self-publish under the broad genre of Speculative Fiction opt for publishing novels themselves, why a short story collection?

AM: Several years ago now, I wrote a novel. It was earnest, but not very good. (It was a first novel, after all.) So, after that experience, I turned my eye towards short fiction as a place to experiment with writing. I recognized flaws in my novel, areas which needed improvement, and felt like I could only correct those by writing more. A lot more. Short fiction gave me the agility to try new things, to take risks, and experiment. In the intervening years, I’ve written a lot of short fiction, and become quite taken by the format. I don’t have a novel to self-publish, so a collection of short fiction—of the stories I’ve written over the years that just won’t quiet down—seemed like a natural place.

Writing short fiction has taught me a lot about writing with a more concise voice and a focused eye towards plotting and character building. I feel like a much better writer because of all the stories I’ve written since completing that first novel.

RB: A Dribble of Ink (or “the Dribbs” as I’ve come to affectionately call it) is more than just a blog, one of the many reasons you received a Hugo last year. You’ve hosted many notable published authors (Kameron Hurley, Kate Elliott) as well as blogger/reviewers (Foz Meadows, Justin Landon)…will you be publishing other writer’s fiction or other non-Aidan Moher collections in the future?

AM: I’ll admit something to you, Rob. Aside from my desire to set these stories free to readers, another big goal of this project has been to introduce myself to the publishing side of the industry. I’ve been blogging and writing a long time, but I’ve never published a book before. I didn’t know how to create an eBook when I first started thinking about putting together Tide of Shadows and Other Stories, so I started researching the topic and speaking to other self-published authors and publishers with experience creating not just good eBooks, but great eBooks. I learned along the way.

I’d love to publish stories by other writers. I’m thinking long and hard about how best to do that. I’ll take the lessons I learn from this project, the success of the collection, the amount of work that goes into creating the book, publishing it, then marketing it, and see if there’s a fit for an anthology. It has to make sense, though—I have to be able to a) pay the authors, and, b) know that I can sell the book. If Tide of Shadows and Other Stories is successful enough to create a nest egg for an anthology full of writers I admire, you can be damn sure I’m going to pursue it.

RB: Our literary tastes overlap quite a bit (to the point where we might have to have a sword fight over who is a bigger Tad Williams fan), if you could hand this collection to any of your literary heroes to whom would you hand the collection? Or better yet, would you dole out each story to a different writer?

AM:  We have always been kindred reading spirits, especially in regards to secondary world fantasy and our love for old ’80s and ’90s epic fantasy. However, we’ll fight to the grave about Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor, so I guess it’s not always a honeymoon.

Picking a favourite writer to read my stories is incredibly intimidating, but I’ll give it a shot:

  • “A Night for Spirits and Snowflakes” was directly influenced by both Guy Gavriel Kay (setting, tone) and Joe Abercrombie (character dynamics), but I’d be much too intimidated to let either of them read it. *laughs*
  • “The Girl with Wings of Iron and Down” would go to Osamu Tezuka and Jim Carey. You’ll find out why when you read the story notes included in the collection.
  • “Of Parnassus and Princes, Damsels and Dragons” is a story about acceptance and finding courage in embracing who you are. Instead of a single author, I’d love to pass this story along to anyone who needs heartfelt encouragement to love themselves unconditionally.
  • “The Colour of the Sky on the Day the World Ended” is my little stab at a hopeful and diverse slice of fantasy, so I’d be remiss if I didn’t send this along to the aforementioned Sarah Monette (who writes under the pen name “Katherine Addison”).
  • “Tide of Shadows” (which you can read here) is my take on military SF, so I’d have to choose Joe Haldeman. His novel, The Forever War, was a huge touchstone for me while writing this story about the survivors of the genocide on Uwe’hhieyth, and the complex relationship between soldiers.

RB: What’s next after this collection?

AM:  I’m currently working on four or five other short stories—from a sword and sorcery romp about a thief with a sea glass knife, to a contemporary magical realism story about childhood and living toys—that are in varying states of completion. Frankly, I think they’re even better than the stories in Tide of Shadows and Other Stories, so, with any luck, people will be able to read each of those stories sometime later this year.

I’m also working on the early stages of the first draft of a novel, set in the same universe as “A Night for Spirits and Snowflakes”, but that one’s a long ways off yet.


About Rob H. Bedford (62 Articles)
Rob H. Bedford writes The Completeist Column and curates Mind Melds here at SF Signal. Elsewhere, he is the Lead Book reviewer for SFFWorld, where he is also a Moderator in their discussion forums. In addition to over a decade’s worth of reviews at SFFWorld, his reviews and articles have also appeared at Tor.com and in the San Francisco/Sacramento Book.

3 Comments on INTERVIEW: Aidan Moher on TIDE OF SHADOWS, Self Publishing, and More

  1. A trial run for a few other projects? Consider me intrigued!

    I’m planning to sit down to give the collection a read over the weekend, but you’ve really got me looking forward to “A Night for Spirits and Snowflakes” and “The Colour of the Sky on the Day the World Ended.”

    Congrats again, Aidan.

  2. Thanks, Bob! I can’t wait to hear what you think, especially of the two stories you’ve mentioned. They’re very different from one another.

  3. Mark Stephenson // May 5, 2015 at 9:49 pm //

    I am intrigued by this collection and will give it a look. I sense from the interview that this is a new writer with a genuine interest in artistry and style, a rare commodity in today’s SF publishing “wild west.” However, as someone who grew up in SF at a time when authors who are now recognized as the field’s major voices of the past were still very actively publishing, and every other book cover was illustrated by Freas or Lehr or Gaughan or Frazetta or Dixon or DiFate, I have to say that I am fairly horrified at what I see happening to the genre. I spend a lot of time commuting and hence am checking Audible.com every day to see what’s new that might be worth hearing. What I see is a tsunami of ridiculously derivative military SF “novels” (always with a colonized title like “Galactic Marines: The Sundering: Volume 1 of a trilogy”), zombie novels, apocalypse fiction (again, colonized with a title, a sub-title and a sub-sub-title”), and on and on. Occasionally, you will find a Hamilton or Reynolds or Steele or Rusch or Buckell in the flood, but less and less by volume. I see the same thing whenever I get Amazon Prime recommendations for ebooks and even print editions. Derivative, sound-alike, often painfully amateurish military SF novels about renegade starships with iconoclastic commanding officers single-handedly holding off an entire alien invasion force. How do I know? All you have to do is click on the sample chapter and take a deep breath. And zombies. Lots and lots of zombies. Don’t get me started on the vampires.

    Back to the audio side, I once made a purchase from Audible that was so bad that I ejected the CD I had burned it onto and threw it and its companions out the window. I once wrote to Audible asking if anyone ever actually edited their releases before committing them to a recording session. No response. Fancy that.

    That’s not to say that some classic authors never turned out works that were equally questionable, such as Robert Sheckley’s “Mindswap” (sheer idiocy) or almost anything by Ron Goulart. But the current environment in SF (I’m not into fantasy, but I assume the same trends are in play) is basically a mess, driven by purveyors who seem willing to put anything out there if the money is right.

    I realize that Clancy’s “The Hunt for Red October” was self-published, and the rest is history. Yes, there are good self-published works out there and it sounds very much like Aidan’s work is in that class. But it is getting harder and harder to determine which works deserve a serious look and which really belong scattered on the side of a back road somewhere.

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