Welcome, one and all, to the second author interview of the week. Today, I’m excited to be welcoming Geaffrey Thomas, author of the Dreamkeepers spin-off novel, The Wayward Astronomer.
Geoffrey, welcome to the site! For those unfamiliar with you and your work, can you please give us a quick introduction to yourself?
Sure! Thanks for having me. My name is Geoffrey Thomas and I’m a 30 year old American author, blogger, and aerospace engineer by trade. My first published novel, The Wayward Astronomer, launched in May of this year, and hopefully it’s just the beginning of many more books to come.
The Wayward Astronomer is a spin-off novel to the critically acclaimed Dreamkeepers graphic novel series. The first thing that I wanted to ask about was actually something mentioned on the inside of the book cover. It mentions that you became engrossed in the DK world when you accidentally clicked the wrong ad banner. Can you elaborate on what happened there? What were your first thoughts when you saw where you ended up, and what attracted you to the series when you gave it a shot?
It’s really the most random occurrence that became quite life-changing for me. I was reading one of my favorite webcomics, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, and there were two banner ads on the side of the page. One was for some sci-fi spaceship thing, and the other showed the character Lilith from Dreamkeepers using her magical powers. What was confusing to me was there was no border or gap between the ads, so I mistakenly thought it was just a single ad for some magical space-cat sci-fi game. I figured, “That seems like an odd combination” and clicked on the ad banner for Dreamkeepers. When it took me to the DK website, the artwork that was showcased really blew me away. Just the detail, the color; it had so much life and vitality to it. I was intrigued about the comic, so I ordered digital versions of Volumes 1 and 2 right there… and the rest is history I guess. I became something of a superfan of Dreamkeepers, founded a fan group on DeviantArt, and started playing an active role in the fan community. That was back in 2010 I think.
When did you realise that you wanted to write something within the pre-established universe? And how did you end up working with Dave and Liz to make it an official part of the saga?
The Wayward Astronomer first started when I tried to answer the question “Who is my dreamkeeper”. I worked with some artists from the DK forums, and Hal was designed to be “me” in the Dreamkeepers world. After a few months of noodling around, Hal was born, at least visually. But I wanted to learn more about him, so I started writing the first chapter of The Wayward Astronomer, more as a character experiment than anything else. I didn’t have an entire plot outlined, I didn’t know who the cast of characters would be, but I wanted to see what would happen, so I started writing. It was slow going at first because I was just poking at it for fun, but the deeper and deeper I got into things I realized I was going into actual story-length territory and the snowball started to roll downhill faster and faster.
Dave and I didn’t begin working together in an official capacity until years later. I had showed him the first 11 or 12 chapters fairly early on and he gave me a lot of great feedback, but there were no promise to work together then. When I finished the 1st draft in 2015, I sent him the completed manuscript and I think the first line of his email back to me went something along the lines of “Holy shit, holy shit, this is one powerful novel”. He really liked it, and because The Wayward Astronomer featured an original cast of characters not reliant on the events of the main comic, there weren’t many canonical issues to iron out getting in the way of making it official. Credit to David for being a really easy going person to work with; It would have been easy to say “good work on the fanfiction” and leave it at that, but he was excited to move forward on bringing the book to print, and I couldn’t be more thankful.
Although the medium is slightly different, there is a lot of positivity swirling around the net in terms of the Dreamkeepers Saga. Did you feel any pressure in terms of living up to the quality of the graphic novels?
Honestly, no! I was writing The Wayward Astronomer for me, and while I hoped maybe it could become an official book, that wasn’t my main focus. I really just wanted to discover Hal’s story because it was important to me. So there wasn’t this pressure while I was writing “Oh man, I hope this is good enough” because that’s not where my sights were set. But now, writing a second book… hoo boy, way more pressure. I’m honestly a bit intimidated because now there are real readers and real expectations to meet or exceed, whereas the first time there was no pressure at all.
The book is published via your own Corvus Publishing LLC in collaboration with Dave and Liz Lillie’s Vivid Independent Publishing. A big part of getting it off the ground was through a Kickstarter campaign. Crowd funding has become such a useful tool for all manner of media, and the funding has certainly helped ensure that the physical quality of the book is high, but were you surprised to see the funding reach almost double the required amount?
To be honest, we ended up almost exactly where I expected at the start of the campaign. We did beat the minimum goal, but I was hoping to beat that initial goal by a bit going into things. The Kickstarter was a really big learning experience for me, and probably took a year or two off of my life from all the stress. We did great in the end, but the middle of most Kickstarter campaigns is very slow, and I was worried up until the last week that I might not make it. Thankfully, it all worked out great in the end.
I’m really glad tools like Kickstarter and Patreon exist now to enable people to create with the support of ordinary fans. While it may have been possible to pursue a traditional publisher for the book, I wanted to do the book my way and ultimately keep more of the profits in the end. Kickstarter made that possible, because printing enough books for retail requires a significant investment of money, and I would not be satisfied just releasing an e-book or a print-on-demand book.
The Wayward Astronomer features an original cast of characters and follows a story that runs separately from the that in the graphic novels. What inspired these characters and this particular tale?
As I mentioned before, Hal was originally designed to be “my dreamkeeper” and he also has my real-life sense of humor and wit. I used to think of him as my avatar in the Dreamkeepers world, but as I started to write the other characters I discovered that Hal is really only one small part of who I am. Miri, Hal’s companion, is a big part of who I am too, as are several other characters. I didn’t think too much about the design and personality of each before I started writing. I was really discovering them as I went along, allowing them to react naturally to the events they were confronted with.
This might not be the best advice for other aspiring writers, but I need to be honest: None of the plot was outlined ahead of time. I had kind of a vague idea for the climax; more a feeling of the mood of it. How to get there, what would happen before and after, I knew almost nothing. Because the story was written in 3rd person limited perspective, all from Hal’s point of view, I only had to really worry about how he would react to each event. By simply asking myself “What would Hal do next?” the story slowly fell into place, and grew into something truly special. Each of the characters is a part of me, and their struggles and eventual conclusion taught me an awful lot about who I am, what I believe, and what I’m hoping to get out of life.
In terms of writing, are you currently working on any other projects? Are there any other non-writing projects that you’re throwing yourself at?
I’m slowly starting to lay some elements for a second book. Not a sequel per se, but another almost parallel story to Wayward. I don’t have any details to announce yet but in the coming months I hope to have some concept art and some writing samples to share with my followers online.
As for non-writing projects, I’ve been enjoying studying Japanese as a second language. I’ve been studying on my own with Rosetta Stone and other learning books, but starting in October I’ll actually be studying abroad for a year at a language school in Tokyo so I can actually achieve my goal of bilingual fluency. It’s an exciting and terrifying prospect to think about all at the same time, but I think I’ll be a lot better for it in the end.
Over on your blog, The Adventures of Geo, you’ve primarily been blogging about your travel around the globe. I’ve gotta say, I’ve always admired people who manage to travel about and experience the big wide world out there. Do you have any favourite travel destinations or travel memories that you can share?
I’m by no means the most seasoned world traveler, but New Zealand was an especially beautiful country to visit. I rented a motorcycle and toured across both islands for a little over two weeks, and there was so much natural beauty to take in. It’s not a very populous country either, so that added to the sense of discovery and adventure. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a new place to visit.
My favorite memory from that trip was when I visited Milford Sound. I rode my motorcycle an hour through the rain to get on a ferry that would take me on a tour through the fjords of the southern island. My ferry was almost 100% filled up by Japanese tourists, and early on in the trip most stayed below decks out of the weather. I was already properly soaked though, so I went up top and watched the waterfalls and the only people with me were these two Japanese women. One of them was really energetic and was shouting to her friend “Daijoubu! Daijoubu” (It’s alright!) trying to get her companion to come out into the rain. They were looking at their tour map together, but the rain made it soggy and the wind ripped a big chunk off and sent it into the sound. They cried out in alarm and then looked around embarrassed as if to see if anyone else had spotted them, and there I am in my day-glo riding jacket smirking and waving. They come over and strike up a conversation since one of the two speaks some English. I tell them I’m learning Japanese and they ask “What words do you know?” to which I simply reply “Daijoubu” and we all have a big laugh. It was just a really positive human experience, three people in the rain in some far off corner of the world laughing and enjoying the moment. I’ll always remember that memory, and it makes me want to have more of them on new adventures if I can.
There’s a posting over on your site where you mentioned that, after watching Zootopia, and in particular after hearing Shakira’s song contribution to the film, that you had an interesting revelation. That was: “We have a limited number of days to call our own. It is that limited window that pushes us to strive for more. To really embrace life for everything it is. It’s something I’m only starting to learn.” This is something that I actively promote myself, hence my ‘the reason that life is interesting’ post. Has adopting this thinking led you to any interesting new experiences, or caused any significant changes in how you approach life?
It’s definitely given me the confidence and courage to step outside of my comfort zone some more. It’s really easy to dream about the things you’re going to do “someday”, but it’s a lot harder to make someday “today”. Everyone has all these dreams about things they’d love to do someday, but not everyone finds a way to act on those dreams. I don’t want to wake up one day at 45 years old and think that I’ve wasted half my life because I deferred my dreams too long. My book helped me discover that while life doesn’t always give you what you want, life itself is special, and the world is vast and beautiful and waiting for you to discover it. Even if you don’t end up where you thought you would be, if you can be willing to face every new dawn with a smile and keep moving forward, life will be rich and fulfilling.
I’ve had a number of people come up to me saying “That’s so cool you actually wrote a book! I’ve always wanted to do that!” As if I had some superpower that made me a writer and they did not. I’m not the smartest guy in the world, I’m not the best writer in the world, and honestly I had no idea what I was doing when I started. But I did start. And I did continue, even if it was slow progress at first. Anyone can do what they dream of doing: you just need to start. After you start you need to continue, and eventually after enough half-steps forward without giving up, you’ll look back and go “Holy cow. I wrote a book!”
I don’t want to bore your readers with sappy motivational speaker talk, but it’s really just a shift in mindset and getting more comfortable with the unknown that has helped me the most. The caterpillar doesn’t build a cocoon so it can stay warm and safe within the confining walls forever. It is meant to destroy those walls and emerge as an entirely different creature, a butterfly, capable of spreading its wings and flying far beyond anything it experienced before. I think of my life in analogy to that. I don’t want to be a caterpillar crawling on the ground. I don’t want to spend all my days hiding away in a cocoon. I want to be a butterfly, and I want to see where my wings can take me.
You work as an aerospace engineer. Was that something that you always wanted to do? What drew you to that as a profession?
As a kid, I grew up on Star Wars and Star Trek. Science Fiction was my main interest, and I loved anything relating to space, the stars, technology, things like that. One of my favorite films growing up was Apollo 13. It was so inspiring to think of what we were able to do in such a short period of time with the space program, but I was frustrated that now it was decades later and people weren’t walking on the moon, or visiting new worlds, or doing much at all to reach the things I dreamed about in sci-fi. I wanted to become an aerospace engineer so I could make a difference, and in some small way turn science fiction into science fact.
Do you have entertainment recommendations for readers? It can be anything; anime, tv, film, music, video games, just anything that you’d recommend people check out.
Well in terms of movies, Pulp Fiction is by far my favorite film of all time. The varied and rich characters and the patchwork of individual stories that come together in that film is simply brilliant. Great cast, great directing, just cinema at its finest. If we’re talking video games I highly recommend the Persona series of RPGs for the Playstation systems. They have a lot of heart, symbolism, and big payoff catharsis that you don’t often find in entertainment nowadays. Dreamkeepers is also a fantastic comic series with a ton to offer pretty much any reader; It literally changed my life, so you never know, maybe it’ll make an impact on you too.
Finally, I wanted to thank you for both taking part in this interview, and for the entertaining read. Did you have any final messages for readers? Also, whereabouts on the web can everyone find you if they want to know more? Feel free to link to anything you want.
It’s my pleasure to be here. Thank you so much for having me! Already hit on it before, but as a message to any readers out there it’s really simple “Don’t ever give up on your dreams. Embrace them, and go after them!”
My official Twitter and Facebook page is @TheWaywardGeo
Thanks for reading!