Interview with Eric Bakutis, author of Glyphbinder

Last year (2013) saw the release by McBryde Publishing of T. Eric Bakutis’ debut novel, Glyphbinder. Strongly influenced by his experience as a game programmer (see below for details), Bakutis’ novel is suitable for fantasy fans from young adult through seasoned citizens (like myself). A revealing author’s note which follows the story prompted this reader to want to learn more about Eric’s journey. To learn more about Eric, visit his website at http://www.tebakutis.com/books.htm.

 

Q#1: Glyphbinder is your first published novel. In your author’s note, you reveal that it took multiple drafts and 15 years to get published. That shows remarkable perseverence. What kept you going?

I started writing Glyphbinder in 1998 and finished the first draft in 1999. It then went off to several agents, all of whom told me it wasn’t ready. They were right. I still had a great deal to learn as an author, and the next ten years of writer’s groups, constant practice, and feedback from advance readers pointed out all the places I had fallen flat. My editors at McBryde Publishing subsequently pointed out many more areas for improvement, and this feedback improved both my book and my writing.

In all those years after I finished that first draft, I never stopped writing, and each time I tweaked, revised, and outright rewrote Glyphbinder improved upon the last. I also continued writing short stories and other novels. I had small successes (a fanfic that got extremely popular, two short stories that got honorable mentions from Writers of the Future) and it was those small victories that kept me motivated. All the while, constant practice and critiques from other authors improved my writing.

Oddly enough, when Glyphbinder was finally published, it wasn’t because I was actively submitting it. Another of McBryde’s authors, Bill Benners, had been a friend and collaborator of mine for many years, and we had kept in touch. When he mentioned that McBryde was looking for new material, I jumped at the chance to submit. Fortunately, they liked my book, and also helped me do quite a bit to improve it.

 

Q#2: By profession you work in the gaming industry. How did your gaming background influence your choice of subject matter and your writing style?

Gaming (particularly early RPGs) has had a huge influence on me and provided much of my early inspiration. For example, Glyphbinder features an academy where students learn magic. That was inspired by Vane, the magic academy in Lunar: Silver Star Story. The four elemental schools in my book were inspired by the magic system of the early Final Fantasy games–Flame, Ice, Lit, and Quake became Heat, Life, Breath, and Land. Finally, many themes I first encountered in RPGs or other games still make appearances in my work. The dramatic arcs I first experienced with characters like Kain, Celes, Fei Fong Wong, and Dart have heavily influenced the themes and arcs I explore in my books and short stories.

In addition to games, I owe much of my early inspiration to 80s media. As far as character arcs, plots, and general themes, my earliest influences were ground-breaking shows like Starblazers and Robotech. Even the Americanized versions of these shows explored more interesting themes and presented more complex characters than most media I was consuming at the time, and they were my first exposure to flawed heroes, sympathetic villains, and conflicts that were not black and white. These are elements I still enjoy and always work to incorporate into my own stories.

 

Q#3: Did you have a target audience in mind when writing Glyphbinder?

I write the type of stories I find interesting and create the type of characters I personally like reading about. So, my target audience is readers like me. The games I played, books I read, and shows I watched growing up shaped what I enjoy, and I now write in those same veins. I’m one of those people who can’t pick a single favorite book or favorite movie–I find things to like about them all.

As far as what I actually enjoy, you have everything from Robotech to A:TLA to Final Fantasy to Silent Hill to Tron to Young Justice to Mass Effect to dozens more. The stories I find most compelling feature small groups of strong, distinct characters, understandable villains engaged in gray conflicts, plots with many moving parts, and big fights with lots of “F yeah!” moments. That’s what I do my best to write.

 

Q#4: Your protagonist is a young woman. How did you come to choose a woman as your hero and did you find it easy or hard to pull it off?

In the first draft, Kara (Glyphbinder’s protagonist) supported Trell as the lead. As I completed later drafts, Kara became such a strong character that she soon took over the narrative. I didn’t set out to write a fantasy book with a female lead, but the book was simply more compelling from Kara’s POV.

As far as writing a character of the opposite sex, I’ve worked with a number of talented female authors (my first writing group was all women) and every one of them offered solid, constructive feedback. They were able to point out where my female characters fell flat and offer tips to make them more compelling and believable. There are many lessons and tips I could offer about writing the opposite sex (for either men writing women or women writing men) but I think the biggest would be to be extra conscious of gender clichés so you can avoid basing your character’s thoughts or decisions on them.

For example, a lead character shouldn’t choose cooperation over conflict because she’s female—she should choose it because she sees the value in making allies. A lead character shouldn’t refuse to ask for directions because he’s male—he should refuse because he’s stubborn or proud. Once I became aware of gender stereotypes and began making a conscious effort to avoid them, I found (through feedback) that I did a consistently better job of writing the opposite sex. I do my best to ensure that every thought my characters have and every action they take is motivated by who they are, not what sex they are.

To put it simply, a lead character is a lead character, regardless of gender. I try to write them that way.

 

Q#5: You are a member of the critique circle at the Baltimore Science Fiction Society. How has participating in that group impacted you as a writer?

Writer’s groups are, in my opinion, one of the single most valuable tools available to any writer at any level in their career. Early feedback is key in calling out plot holes you may have missed, character motivations that break down upon close examination, and plot elements you think are blindingly clear but which anyone else reading your book won’t understand at all.

I had to leave my old writer’s circle when I left Texas, and I was without one for a good while until I discovered BSFS. The talented writers who attend the circle have improved everything I’ve brought in for feedback, and I learn how to be a better writer every time I bring in a story. As a game designer, I work best when brainstorming and collaborating with others, and I find that’s true of my writing as well. I hesitate to give anything to an editor without getting it critiqued, and BSFS authors give great critiques.

 

Q#6: Tell us about your next project?

I’m constantly working on new things, and I usually have anywhere from four to ten completed short stories making the rounds among different magazines. Thus far this year my work will be published in two anthologies—a collection of stories that correct the slander against many classically maligned fairy tale villains (Fairly Wicked Tales from Angelic Knight Press) and a collection of short stories featuring the many variations and aspects of fantasy magic (The Ways of Magic from Deepwood Publishing).

If I had to pick one project to highlight, it would be that McBryde recently cleared me to write a sequel to Glyphbinder, tentatively titled Demonkin. When I wrote the first book, there was no guarantee it would be anything other than stand-alone, so I tried for a complete tale with only tangential loose ends. Now that I know there will be other books in the series, I’m excited about the chance to explore the aftermath of Kara’s narrow victory in the first book and the cost it inflicted upon her and her friends.

Demonkin will, as its title suggests, explore the most insidious type of magic in the Five Provinces from multiple perspectives, and I already know it will end up being a much darker book than the first one.

If Glyphbinder is my Star Wars, then Demonkin will be my Empire Strikes Back.

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