Interview with Ryan Kirk
Ryan Kirk is an author and entrepreneur based out of Minnesota. He is the author of the Nightblade series of fantasy novels and the founder of Waterstone Media. He was an English Teacher and non-profit consultant before diving into writing full time in 2015.
At what point did you know you wanted to be a professional writer?
I’ve always wanted to be a professional writer. When I was young, I used to write stories that were essentially mash-ups of all the television I was watching and all the books I was reading. They were basically three or four fight scenes connected by a few sentences of plot. They were horrible, but fun to write.
Unfortunately, growing up, I never believed I could make a living as a writer. I spent about a decade after university hopping from job to job, writing only as a hobby. It wasn’t until 2015 that I decided to give writing a real chance, and even then, I took only tentative steps until I was sure I could support myself and my family.
You have self published all of your work through your own company Waterstone Press. Describe your personal experience with self publishing.
Technically, this isn’t quite true. Most of my work has been self-published, but my Blades of the Fallen series is traditionally published with 47North.
Independent publishing is a very mixed bag. Like most of life, it comes with incredible benefits but difficult drawbacks. On one hand, there’s no need to go through the steps of traditional publishing. There are no query letters, no loss of creative control, no agents, and no rejection letters. Nothing stands between authors and readers now, and in general, I think that’s a very good development. As a reader myself, there’s never been a better time to be alive. Genres that never would have seen wide-scale publishing before are now as easy to find as the latest bestseller.
One of the benefits of traditional publishing is the amount of support you receive from a team of people trying to get your book to sell. When self-publishing, you need to find (and pay for) that same team. You need to find cover designers, editors, and more. When you’ve finished the marathon of writing a book, your work has only just begun. You still need to market, advertise, and promote your books.
Fortunately, I love every aspect of being an independent writer. I don’t think the business is for everyone, but I’m grateful for the opportunities that self-publishing has made available.
Your Nightblade series is incredibly popular. Why do you think so many people have connected with the series?
That’s a fantastic question, and the best I can do is guess at the answer. I’m sure that many people find different aspects of the series to enjoy, from the fight scenes to the world.
I would like to think, though, that the enduring popularity of the series has more to do with the characters than anything else. I think that Nightblade has a diverse and interesting cast of characters whose dreams bring them into conflict with one another. I know that when I started writing Nightblade, the character of Ryuu was my favorite, but by the time I finished the series, he was only one of maybe a dozen characters I loved writing.
The Nightblade series features incredibly detailed battle scenes and martial arts description. How much research went in to the series?
I’ve been very fortunate in my life to be able to dabble in a wide variety of martial arts. I would never claim to be an expert (or even close to an expert) in any of them, but they’ve given me a well-rounded view of different styles of fighting.
I’m also very lucky to be connected to several martial arts communities in my area, and several experts were able to guide me through some of the fights in the books. One of my favorite research methods is to join an expert on the mat and get tossed around for a while.
Nightblade seems to have a strong all-encompassing theme of perseverance and overcoming one’s fears. Can you elaborate a bit on what you set out to accomplish thematically with the series?
When I first started writing Nightblade, long before it became the story it now is, I was fascinated by a single question: How would a young person react to knowing they essentially had superpowers in a world where those powers no longer existed?
However, by the time the series ended, it was a very different story, and I think a much more interesting one. I’m not someone who plans my books out before writing, so I can’t say that I set out with any theme in mind beyond the one I’ve already mentioned.
That being said, I think the themes you’ve identified are very prevalent in my work, as they are reflections of some of my own thoughts. I think all of us deal with fear of some sort on an almost daily basis, and a lot of our growth comes from how we handle that fear. I like writing about characters who have no choice but to confront their fears, and I think I have a bias toward writing characters who always push forward, no matter how great the challenge.
Which of your Nightblade characters was the easiest for you to write and why? Which presented a bigger challenge?
I really, really enjoy writing antagonists. Two of my favorite characters, and ones that were easy to write, were Orochi and Nameless. I absolutely love a relatable antagonist, and with Nameless in particular, I had a lot of fun.
I personally had a harder time writing Moriko. Of all the characters in the story, she is probably the least like me, and there were definitely times where I felt it was almost impossible for me to get inside her head.
Your Blades of The Fallen series takes place in the same world as Nightblade. Can you describe the series for new readers and for fans of Ryuu’s story looking to delve in?
Blades of the Fallen takes place in the same world as the Nightblade series, but at a very different time. Blades begins over a thousand years before Ryuu is even born, so there’s a huge jump in time. Outside of being set in the same world, a reader will find little overlap, and while there are a few cookies hidden inside the books for observant readers, either series can be picked up and enjoyed on its own.
For those readers who are familiar with Ryuu’s story, Blades of the Fallen tells the tale of how the Kingdom collapsed into the Three Kingdoms in Nightblade.
Who are some of your biggest influences as a writer?
I’m an avid reader, and there are a number of writers that I would love to be even half as good as. Patrick Rothfuss and Brandon Sanderson are some of my favorite writers in the realm of fantasy. I’ll read pretty much anything either of them write.
In terms of the Nightblade series, I was strongly influenced both by regular exposure to anime and Tales of the Otori by Lian Hearn.
There’re so many other writers that influenced me, it’s hard to keep them straight. I love Robin Hobb, William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, Brent Weeks, and Fonda Lee, among many, many others.
As a non sci-fi reader I confess I haven’t read those offerings of yours. Feel free to talk a little about those series as I’m sure there is quite a bit of crossover,
I’m big into both sci-fi and fantasy, and so I couldn’t help but write both. Right now, I have two different sci-fi series.
The first is called Primal, and tells the story of a unique case of first contact. The stories are short novels, and the series is halfway finished.
The second series is called Code, and deals with the implications of artificial intelligence in the near future. That one was completed as of this past summer.
When you are not writing, what takes up most of your time?
Being a parent! I’m a stay at home dad for a beautiful and often frustrating two year old daughter. Almost all of my non-writing time is taken up by her. When I do have some time to myself, I really like being outdoors. My current favorite hobby is to play some disc golf, which can get challenging when winter comes through.
What’s next for you in the near future? What can we look forward to?
In November, I’m going to be releasing the first book in a new fantasy world! Unlike most books these days, this book is not a series, but a complete standalone. I’m really excited to be releasing it soon.
Right now, I’m working diligently on yet another fantasy novel, one that I hope to get traditionally published.
Thanks for joining us, Ryan, and good luck with your latest release!
Ryan Kirk is the author of the NIGHTBLADE trilogy, the BLADES OF THE FALLEN, and the sci-fi series PRIMAL and CODE. His latest fantasy novel, RELENTLESS SOULS, is released today.