Harley J. Sims

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Who are you, and who does your hair?

Why did you self-publish? 

It wasn't my first choice, I admit. But it allowed me to publish the Unsung. as I wanted it to be  - and, most importantly, to publish it at all.  Like the majority of aspiring writers, I spent years on and off submitting queries and manuscripts to agents and publishers - people I didn't know from Adam or Eve, but whom I needed to validate my work.  They are exactly like talent agents for amateur athletes, and other aspirants needing to be 'discovered' to make it. They are dreambrokers. 

Even as the Unsung. grew and improved, however, the publishing industry was changing. Books play different roles, and have different values,  at different times in history. In the hectic and information-rich electronic age, fewer people are reading print - and the fiction they do read is becoming more casual. Everyone seems to be scrambling to write, publish or (when they have time) read the next unputdownable phenomenon, with less and less time for what is different. 

Even as a Fantasy novel, the Unsung. was always going to be different.  This seemed the best way to go.

Is the Unsung. standalone, or is it part of a series?

It's the first part of a story, for sure, but it's nothing so formal as a series. There's no trilogy or tetralogy, or anything like that. SmaĆ° is an alternate reality, and a confluence of worlds at that. It can hold as many stories as a bottomless sack.

The stepping stones laid down by the Unsung. are indeed following a path.  But because Fantasy creates worlds even as it tells stories, the landscape through which the path leads will disorient, and lead pathfinders astray.  I have big plans for it - bigger, perhaps, than time and fortune will allow.  

Isn't the Unsung. just a fancy piece of Game Lit?

Yes, but mostly no. 

The influences  and inspirations of gaming (both video games and tabletop RPGs) are clear in the novel, as I would expect of any book written by a lifelong Fantasy fan and student.  Gaming is  fun, sure, but it's also homework when it comes to this genre. This might not always have been the case, but it is now - just like when sommeliers used to be able to ignore New World and Australian wines. The material has proliferated, and found new territory. If you don't know gaming, you don't know Fantasy.  Just listen to how Andrzej Sapkowski sounds when he bashes Witcher 3, or video games in general. He's an incredible Fantasy writer, but you can hear his rocking chair creaking in the background.


But Game Lit is self-conscious, and the gaming influences in the Unsung. are elemental rather than systematic. Elements (and cameos) aside, the Unsung. is a literary novel, with the themes, echoes, and vocabulary of a serious work of fiction.  

This is not to imply that games, as well as Game Lit, can never be literary. Game Lit, at least as a genre, didn't exist when I started the Unsung., though there were already plenty of books inspired by gaming.

What other writing would you compare it to?

I would hope the Unsung. is unique enough to resemble nothing too closely, but I know what I love to read, and we tend to emulate what we most admire. I do read a lot, however - or, I have, on and off - and the influence of certain readings during certain parts of the Unsung. is clear, at least to me.

I am a Tolkien scholar, but I prefer the formidable majesty of The Silmarillion to the Hobbit-mediated grandeur of The Lord of the Rings. I'm drawn to the archaic prose of William Morris and E.R. Eddison,  but also any writer who takes stylizing language beyond gimmickry into craftsmanship (William Gibson, Salman Rushdie, Susanna Clarke). Jorge Luis Borges is a big favourite; I keep Labyrinths at my bedside. H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard and Raymond Chandler are also hugely inspiring. 

As for the living, I'm a big Andrzej Sapkowski fan (The Witcher), and I've really enjoyed certain books by Neil Gaiman, Patrick Rothfuss, and John Crowley. Clive Barker is a more recent discovery.

I'm a huge Harry Potter fan. Is this book for me?

I got this repeatedly at the Vancouver Fan Expo (often from people in Hogwarts robes).  It's a great question.

My answer is yes --- if you've matured as a reader and are now tackling more challenging literature.  J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series got millions of young people reading again, and brought Fantasy into vogue in a way that has never been seen before.  Its popularity has bolstered other franchises; George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire novels (A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, etc.) were being published at the same time as the Harry Potter books, but did not catch fire until after the Harry Potter films had ended.  

The Harry Potter books are primarily for younger readers, however - this despite the darker themes and  material  their  popularity encouraged their author increasingly to emphasize.  the Unsung., while still a Fantasy about monster-slayers and magic-users, is for those who love language, as well as the deep power of fiction to enchant, immerse, and disorient. As much as they narrate too, the words are an incantation.  

Why write Fantasy? Why not write something serious?

I've been getting this one since grade school, when writing Fantasy was a much more forgivable pursuit than it is for a grown man. Then as now, I'm not sure any answer I could come up with would ever satisfy a person who would ask it. Fantasy is a wavelength some people just never tuned in to, or never had the antenna to pick up. I can respect that. Myself, I'm not big on Erotica, but I would be a fool to dismiss the genre. 

The question is more a black hole than a slippery slope, but I'll answer it this way (for now). 

It's often been said that we should write what we know, but we cannot ignore the fact that different experiences have different values in the world. For example, someone who grows up globetrotting, speaking several languages, and leading a mentored life of deliberate purpose and value has a lot he might put on the table. For those (many more) of us who led relatively private and insular lives, however, such glaring cosmopolitanism stands to outshine the home fires we've bled to tend.  We cannot - despite all the slogans - be other than who we are, and we can be forgiven for not wishing to proffer our lives as Dickensian theatre.

Fantasy - whatever else it can be called - serves as the mythology of the dispossessed. As such, it is subversive, defiant, and ever prone to mockery by those who don't understand or need it.  It works to recover and to reactivate meanings of which the reader has been deprived - hope, purpose, design, significance. Its apparent whimsy would make no sense otherwise. Its constructs are desperate and audacious. They seek to reanimate things our deepest minds remember somehow, but which we only find elsewhere as fossils.

So, yeah. I am writing something serious.

I'll admit, I'm finding your book a little difficult to get through. It's like another language. Why didn't you write it in a more straightforward way?

I've heard that - whether from friends who mentioned it outright, or implicitly from friends who got the book, but didn't mention anything about it ever again. It's become the elephant in the room in some cases. As I've said all along, the Unsung. is different - and approaching such a popular genre as Fantasy in a different way may throw people off. 


A couple of things. First off - I recorded the audiobook both for people who don't have much time to read, as well as for those who may have a hard time dragging their eyes through the text's more cultivated brambles. I've been told, over and again, that the Unsung. is easiest to listen to, since the story keeps moving, regardless of those brambles. You don't get hung up. To be honest, I first got through Tolkien's Silmarillion this way, and it taught me the value of audiobooks when it comes to certain titles. And let's face it - this is how stories were delivered for the vast majority of human history. With an iPod and Mp3 files. 

Second off - I am a literary and linguistic scholar who sacrificed a great deal to acquire the kinds of training that make the Unsung. a little difficult to get through.  All the best books we read are like this - and I mean the ones that stick with us, not the Vampire-weekend ones we stay up overnight to finish.  I understand, as I've specified above, that we live in a new time when it comes to books, and that readers are less likely than ever to stick to something that isn't instantly pleasurable or comprehensible.  Traditional publishing - now up against the ropes - has never been more desperate to cater to existing tastes, and this has shaped the way we see books, especially genre fiction.

So, I guess what I'm saying is that I wrote the Unsung. this way because this is how I meant it be. It took twenty years to pound out, and I'm honestly not sure who should try to accommodate whose standards more politely. All I can ask is that you give it a good try, and ask yourself whether there was anything - one or more insights, quotations, characters, scenes - that made the effort worthwhile. I guarantee there will be.