Writer JRVogt is one of the site’s pioneers. I distinctly remember landing on the Book Country site for the very first time two years ago, looking at the Top Books carousel, and checking out Josh’s book RAETHE (now renamed to BLOODSHADES). I thought to myself, “This is cool! Now someone explain to me what traditional fantasy is…” Josh writes different types of fantasy–from traditional to urban to epic–and I recognize his writing for the complex worldbuilding, wry humor, and snappy dialogue. Today we chat about his urban fantasy THE UNFAMILIARS and his overall approach to writing fantasy.
Nevena: Thanks for being our guest, Josh. To get started, tell us more about yourself and how you became a writer.
Josh: To a certain degree, I became a writer because I started out as a reader. I find this is common with many other writers that I encounter. We write because we discovered the joy of stories and storytelling early on in life, and we eventually decided to become part of that creative process in the long run—for the rest of our lives, if possible. I read an enormous amount of fiction (especially fantasy) over the years, and that likely influenced the genres I decided to write as I grew older.
Nevena: Why fantasy? What about it appeals to you as a storyteller?
Josh: Writing fantasy means I don’t have to abide by anyone else’s rules. Even when writing urban fantasy, where the world is modern and there are certain rules or expectations one would look for, you can still adjust things to fit within whatever perspective or world-building framework you need. Maybe it’s a form of laziness on my part, but instead of having to research physics, and other areas of science, or aligning with modern technology, instead I decide which of those things are necessary for the story and which can be subverted for the fantasy elements that I’m trying to convey. It gives me more freedom, more flexibility, and—for me at least—allows me to employ more imagination.
Nevena: I find the world in your urban fantasy THE UNFAMILIARS, about a scorpion demon, really fascinating. What techniques did you use to develop the world and the paranormal creatures in it?
Josh: The core idea for THE UNFAMILIARS came from a random thought that I had while brainstorming a variety of story concepts. I was thinking about familiars in the context of witches and wizards and their black cats and frogs and demon companions…that sort of thing. And the word “unfamiliars” just popped into my mind. That immediately triggered a shift in my thinking towards familiars. What if they didn’t want to be familiars? What if they all weren’t necessarily happy serving the magicians and wizards and witches that they did? What if there was a faction of familiars striving to be free from this sort of bondage? That was the main concept I started out with, and fleshed it out from there. Beyond that, I researched various creatures that have traditionally been known as familiars in mythology, and otherwise made up the rest.
Nevena: You post great writing and publishing resources on your site “The Fiction Writers’ Toolbox.” Can you share your favorite ones when it comes to fantasy worldbuilding?
Josh: For the worldbuilding links, one of the more helpful ones is the SFWA link. It’s pretty comprehensive and will probably ask you to consider plenty of questions you might otherwise not have thought of (such as cultural body language or diet or aspects of commerce). Definitely worth using whenever you’re building a world from the ground-up, and you can be as surface-level or detailed as you want!
Nevena: You write both epic and urban fantasy. Can you describe your approach to these different subgenres?
Josh: I’d say the core of my approach is pretty similar, actually. The epic fantasy may require a bit more world building and background development before I get into the story and the characters themselves. Urban fantasy comes with more of the society built into it, because much of it is based in modern settings, with modern technologies and modern social standards. The contrast with current fantasy is that you have to figure out how to blend fantasy elements into that familiar context; whereas with epic fantasy you can build everything from scratch. Different challenges for different genres. So epic fantasy definitely requires a bit more upfront work for me, with outlining, and developing new magic systems, or determining the way certain societies work. Urban fantasy, however, requires more thought on how the characters and magic integrates with experiences we may already consider as “common.”
Nevena: Writers constantly come up with story ideas. How do you know when an idea is “the one” and is worth developing into something bigger?
Josh: First of all, I’ve come to recognize that every shiny, new idea that I come across will eventually dull and at some point will feel tiresome to continue writing (though if I push through this phase, it’ll often turn fun again by the end). So I don’t base my writing on how excited I am about a particular idea or not. Nor do I limit them to any particular length.
I’ve had novel ideas turn out to be only worth a short story. And I’ve had short story ideas turn out to be worth exploring over a much longer timeframe. Really it’s not so much deciding if an idea is worth more than any other idea. I just keep all ideas around until I can decide what best to do with them. For that, I have a document that I keep updated with any new idea, however big or small, that comes across my mind. If it ends up being a novel, great! If it becomes a short story, also great! If it becomes a flash fiction piece, I’m just as happy about that.
Nevena: Now let’s talk about Book Country. How did you become part of the community?
Josh: I connected with Book Country when it first started up, enjoying the opportunity to interact with other writers as well as exchange reviews for manuscripts folks posted. It’s great to see it constantly evolving, drawing in fresh writers, readers, and those who just love a great story or improving their craft. The genre map is pretty incredible and a great way to sort through all the offerings. While I’m not as active as I used to be, it’s fun to dive back in from time-to-time and discover what’s new and exciting.
Nevena: Well, thank you. I dig the Genre Map myself. Share something fun about yourself that’s unrelated to writing!
Josh: I love to stay active throughout the day. I find that when I’m doing something even lightly physical, it gets my thoughts kicked into a higher gear and I’m more all-around productive. Usually this involves taking several walks, going to the gym, a cross-fit routine, or even just putting in a few miles on my treadmill desk. I’m lucky that, as a full-time freelance writer, I can work from home and have a pretty flexible schedule. If I’m ever too restless or distracted, walking or working it off helps me re-focus.
Oh, and I’ve taken up fly-fishing! So there’s that…