Courtney Schafer is a Mountain climber, figure skater, engineer, mother to an equally energetic preschooler, and dyed-in-the-wool SFF geek. More pertinently she is the author of the Shattered Sigil trilogy: The Whitefire Crossing (Night Shade Books, Aug 2011), The Tainted City (Oct 2012). She is currently running a kickstarter for The Labyrinth of Flame.
Courtney answered some of my questions about her work and the Kickstarter for The Labyrinth of Flame.
Paul Weimer: For those who are tl;dw for the video: What’s the elevator pitch for The Labyrinth of Flame?
Courtney Schafer: My Shattered Sigil trilogy is a tale of blood magic, intrigue, a reluctant but enduring friendship, and a climber’s take on wilderness adventure. In this third and final volume, smuggler Dev and his mage friend Kiran take on not only their worst and oldest enemy, but creatures out of legend that have taken an unhealthy interest in them. It’s my hope readers will find the conclusion to the series every bit as exciting and satisfying as I do.
PW: How did you prepare to launch a kickstarter? Who were your models in organizing your kickstarter?
CS: I first thought about crowdfunding The Labyrinth of Flame when I saw Brad Beaulieu run a successful Kickstarter for the third novel in his Lays of Anuskaya trilogy. Like me, Brad was a Night Shade author, but he decided to put out the trilogy’s final book himself rather than continue with them. When Night Shade was in the throes of its near-bankruptcy, talking to Brad about his Kickstarter experience helped me decide to take a similar path.
As far as preparing for the Kickstarter, the biggest step was to write the book. I wanted the novel to be as close to completion as possible, so backers wouldn’t have to wait around for me to draft the story. The most fun step was thinking up rewards! Since I’m a climber and the books involve mountaineering/climbing/canyoneering, I wanted to offer something a little more adventurous than just signed books and art prints and manuscript critiques. So for some my higher reward levels, I’ve got climbing lessons and figure skating lessons and guided peak ascents. Not sure how many people will have the guts and spare cash to take me up on the more active rewards, but it’ll sure be fun if some do. (My coworkers are running a little betting pool on whether anyone will sign up for a peak ascent!)
In organizing the kickstarter, I looked at Brad’s and other successful Kickstarter projects like Michael Sullivan’s The Hollow World, Tim Pratt’s Marla Mason novels, and Ragnarok Press’s Blackguards anthology. I also attended an excellent workshop on crowdfunding given at the 2014 World Fantasy convention by Ron Garner of Silence in the Library. I reached out to talk to other authors who’d run crowdfunding projects, and they were all incredibly helpful and generous in sharing their experience and advice. Robin Sullivan (who ran her husband Michael’s Hollow World Kickstarter) not only gave me excellent suggestions, but some great feedback on my Kickstarter project page; and Tim Marquitz of Ragnarok helped me work out a solution that let me offer ebooks of all three novels in the trilogy to Kickstarter backers, regardless of country, even though my former publisher Night Shade had declined to work out a direct-sale agreement with me. I’m tremendously grateful to Brad and Robin and Tim and everyone who took the time to help me. I’m hoping now I can pay some of that forward to other authors.
PW: Where did you film the Kickstarter?
CS: The aptly-named Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. The original plan was actually to film at Emerald Lake, which is a bit higher up. But my husband and I were racing against time. We had to snowshoe into a suitably scenic spot, film all the clips I needed, and get back to Boulder before our son finished school for the day. So when we got to Dream Lake and the wind was already horrendous, I said, “This is good enough!” That was a good move, given that even at Dream Lake the wind was so loud I had to throw out about half the footage we filmed.
PW: Tell us about the fabulous cover art for the series, especially Labyrinth of Flame
CS: It’s all thanks to the amazingly talented David Palumbo. I still remember how delighted I was when Night Shade first sent me his art for Whitefire Crossing. He’d taken such care to get all the little details right (the charm dangling off Dev’s wrist, the rope linking the two men, etc.) When I decided to put out Labyrinth myself, I knew I absolutely had to get Dave to do the cover. Not just so the trilogy would be a matched set, but because he was certain to come up with art that captured the book’s tone. Sure enough, I think he’s done an incredible job – the cover for Labyrinth might be my favorite of the series. Working directly with Dave was the most fun part of self-publishing so far. I sent him sample scenes and a synopsis and a whole bunch of pictures of Utah canyons that had inspired scenery in the book, and he worked up three rough concepts. I picked my favorite, and we went from there. It’s pretty rare in traditional publishing for the author to have much say in a cover, so it was a really neat experience to develop the cover in partnership with the artist. Especially one as talented as Dave!
PW: In writing LOF, you’ve had two books under your belt. How did your writing style and ideas evolve for the third novel?
CS: Ha. Boy, it’d be nice to say that after writing two novels, I totally had this writing thing down. But every book brings new challenges – which is a good thing, in my view. If Labyrinth of Flame had felt easy to write, I’d have worried I wasn’t pushing myself enough as an author. Endings are hard, and I really wanted to get this one right. You ask about style and ideas evolving, but in my view it’s the characters that must evolve for an ending to feel truly satisfying. This book took me a long time to write, and a big part of that was the time I spent digging deep into character dynamics and rewriting scenes to get the emotional beats the way I wanted them.
PW: What can prior readers of your work look forward to in LOF? What’s your favorite bit?
CS:This is the big finale, so readers can expect fireworks both magical and emotional as Dev and Kiran take on Ruslan and discover the truth about Kiran’s past. Plus there’ll be canyoneering adventures, and new faces and places in addition to those readers have seen before. Dev and Kiran didn’t get to spend much time together in The Tainted City, but here they’re very much a team, albeit recovering from the blows dealt to them in the previous book. Their partnership was my favorite part of the book to write. They’ve been outclassed and on the defensive for so long, it was really satisfying to write scenes in which they use each other’s strengths to kick a little ass.
PW: Any final words for your readers?
CS: Two words: THANK YOU. I’ve been blown away by all the support readers have shown for this final book. I never expected my Kickstarter to pass its funding goal so quickly. Now that it has, I’m overjoyed that I can put out an edition of The Labyrinth of Flame that’s just as beautiful and professional the first two books in the series. That’s purely thanks to readers’ enthusiasm and generosity. Everyone who backs the Kickstarter or helps spread the word about the book has my undying gratitude.