Today, I’ve got another SPFBO 9 Author for you! If you’d like to find out more about the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off competition, you can check the official page here. Otherwise, I’m just going to introduce you to James Dulin’s novel …
No Heart for a Thief
We are the stories we tell ourselves…even the lies.
The Thief, a great spirit, and her descendants have abused their ability to steal magic for centuries. When Kaylo starts to hear the song of other people’s magic, he must learn to hide from his people as well as the invaders. A gift or a curse, Kaylo may be able to save his people from the Gousht Empire that claimed their land with this stolen magic.
Eighteen years later, Kaylo still prays to the spirits, but not out of loyalty or love. He knows better than to rely on those selfish bastards for anything. While hiding in the forest from his foolish acts of rebellion, he encounters a girl, Tayen, being pursued by two soldiers of the empire. Against his better judgment, he risks facing the consequences of his past to intervene.
When Tayen attempts to run off seeking vengeance for her family, he offers to train her to wield her magic and a blade. If he can’t convince her to relinquish her need for vengeance and stave off the demons of his past, he’s going to get them both killed.
No Safe Haven, Malitu: Book Two will be out in Fall 2023.
Now onto the Questions!
As a Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO) Entrant, you’re not just independently published, but self-published. Can you start by explaining a bit about why you chose that route and how it’s been for you?
I had originally planned to publish traditionally. I started the querying process, made my agent lists, wrote my letter, and had my whole query packet ready. The first query I sent out got a partial then a full request, but it went downhill from there.
The querying process involves a lot of waiting and hoping for responses, and often getting form letters months later or no response at all. I invested a year in the process, querying off and on, editing my manuscript, and writing book two. However, the process made me dislike writing and hyperfocus on external validation. It was not good for my mental health.
The day I decided that I wanted to share my book more than I wanted a book deal and chose to self-publish, I unloaded a lot of mental and emotional stress. It helped me fall in love with writing again. Instead of letting other people tell me if my book was good enough, I decided to believe in myself.
That’s awesome you realized that, and could act on it. I feel kind of bad for so many people who must have been just like us, except they lived before self-publishing was a possibility for anyone except the very wealthy.
On a related note, why did you enter the SPFBO contest? How do you expect to find it? Refreshing your blog’s page every five minutes, or sit back and chill?
As soon as I decided to self-publish, I went into research mode. SPFBO popped up almost immediately, and I knew I had to enter. SPFBO comes with an audience, and I am in this to find people to share stories with.
My baseline goal is to try and have this be a positive experience. I don’t want to fixate on the competition, refreshing the blog every five minutes. I would rather focus on rooting for authors I know, and let this be a fun thing to do. That way I can focus on finalizing No Safe Haven (Malitu: Book Two) and writing Only a Grave Will Do (Malitu: Book Three).
That being said, I have difficulty not checking my Goodreads and Kindle Direct Publishing dashboards daily. So, I will have to work on being chill about the competition.
That’s a good focus! I hope you find more readers. Maybe if you find more readers, then you won’t be tempted to worry about whether you place in the Finals?
Now one of my favorite questions! Why did you choose the title you did for your book?
There is a three-phrase saying in Ennea regarding The Thief, a spirit, and her descendants who have her ability to steal magic: No heart for a thief. No safe haven. Only a grave will do. This saying is culturally significant for how spirit thieves or spirit dancers are treated within the world of No Heart for a Thief, and it greatly affects the way our main protagonist, Kaylo, sees himself. So, when I came up with this saying, I knew immediately that it had to be the three titles of my series. The titles have meaning beyond the saying within the world, which only makes them fit better.
That is soo neat! I love that kind of world-building and tie-ins!
I won’t ask for your favourite scene since I know some people don’t have those (like me; I never have favourites), but can you share a (non-spoiler) scene you really like and you just can’t believe how awesome it is every time you go back to re-read it? Alternately, you can share something about a character you really like. Or both, if you like.
Kaylo’s home of Ennea has been occupied by an invading nation since he was a child, and their presence, in many ways, is the defining presence in Kaylo’s young life. Early on in his backstory, he witnesses one of the leaders of the occupying army publicly punish a woman for hiding her magical ability. What affects me about this scene is how the cruelty of Kaylo’s every day experience has become commonplace, until he sees how this man can break one of his people in public, and no one, including Kaylo himself, will do anything about it. That feeling of powerlessness is such a driver for the person he becomes.
As for a character I love, I would be lying if I didn’t say Nix was my favorite character in No Heart for a Thief. She has a smaller role in this first book, but I think she has such a complicated existence. Being the captain of the guard for a city of refugees and living as a Kamani person (essentially Ennea’s version of trans and gender-nonconforming people) puts her in a position to have to make complicated decisions about who to trust. She isn’t shy about saying she doesn’t trust Kaylo.
I won’t spoil anything, but Nix is a character with a lot beneath the surface, and I love writing her.
She sounds fun. And characters with smaller portions, who nonetheless breathe that complexity, can be super neat!
What are some elements or themes, or combinations thereof, that really make No Heart for a Thief stand out to you?
There are some common themes in my book around colonialism, power, and understanding one’s self. I think they are each approached in their own unique way, but I think one thing that sets No Heart for a Thief apart from many epic fantasies is who it focuses on. Kings, emperors, generals, and others who make the decisions in ruling and warfare only exist in the background. This is a story about the effects of colonialism on everyday people who have to survive it. There is no chosen one. No one is the secret heir to a kingdom. There are things that make Kaylo rare, but he isn’t anyone of consequence in this world, at least not by birth or decree. The focus is on the people who have to bear the weight of powerful people’s decisions and actions.
That focus on ordinary people, not kings or chosen ones, is a trend I’m noticing in epic fantasy, at least in self-published epic fantasy, at the moment. And I must say that I like it a lot!
What else would you like to share with us?
I am a competitive person, so this incoming rant is as much for me as anyone who happens to read it.
As much as SPFBO is a competition in which authors are searching for readers and potential success, whatever that may mean to them, this annual event is about community even more so.
When I get obsessed with analytics and sales, I force myself to remember that storytelling is older than commerce. Storytelling is something innately human that we do to connect with others, and that is what I love about it.
If my books make me some money, or could even help me break even on my publishing costs, that would be amazing. But I didn’t get into writing to break even on costs or even make a few extra dollars. I published No Heart for a Thief because I wanted to share myself with others through a story. I wanted that connection.
If SPFBO helps me connect with readers or fellow authors, I won.
Now, when and if the day comes that I get cut from this competition, this connectedness philosophy will be hard to reach for in the moment. However, as Disney movies and parents all over the world will tell you, just because something is hard doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it.
So this is me inviting you to join this community as a reader, writer, or both. Engage with stories that move and entertain you. Be part of this with us.
And you just touched on a lot of my reasons for organizing these Spotlights! I want to help connect authors to readers – as you said, if you find readers, you won, and I know readers feel the same way about finding that book that’s just for us! And that’s really the main point of the whole thing. And my hope, too, is that with this series of Spotlights that will be open to anyone through the year – cut from the competition, or Finalist – will make that connectedness community aspect a little easier for people to reach for, even inevitably most of us are cut. So thank you so much for sharing that, James!
James is a nerd with a head full of stories and limited time to put them on the page.
He grew up in Grand Rapids, MI, spending an excessive amount of time at a local community theater where he developed his affinity for storytelling. This affinity grew into a deep admiration for language and spoken word poetry while studying mathematics and education at the University of Michigan. A few hundred mediocre poems and lackluster performances later, he decided his dream of writing a novel might not be as ridiculous as he once thought. He firmly believes that art—even silly books about magic, or maybe especially silly books about magic—has the ability to tell stories that sink beneath the surface.
You can visit his website here, check out The Fantasy Review Podcast on YouTube, or follow him on Twitter and TikTok.
And if you’re more of a mind to leap into No Heart for a Thief without further delay, you can check it out on Goodreads or StoryGraph, or just jump in and GET IT!