Content note: In this interview, we do discuss illness in general, cancer in specific, and death. This can feel a bit heavy at times, though the overall takeaway is more positive than negative.
RJ Theodore joins me to talk about their trilogy of swashbuckling books with airships and aliens, The Peridot Shift! This series starts with Flotsam, continues with Salvage, and finishes with Cast Off, which was just released this month!
RJ, or Rekka, dives deep into the tumultuous process of deciding to self-publish, then getting a traditional book deal, then having that publisher fold before the trilogy was finished, and finally moving back to the self-publishing plan! It's a wild ride, and full of interesting info for anyone who is curious about the nuts and bolts of what goes into publishing a book.
They also talk about asexual representation and why that's important to them, the fun of blending genres, and how having cancer has changed their plans (and how it hasn't).
You can sign up for Rekka's newsletter on their website and instantly receive a free story in the Peridot world!
You can listen to this interview on Spreaker, and you can also read a full transcript below. As always, if you want to support me and the work that I do, including this podcast, you can become a paid subscriber to this website (and get early access and exclusive ebbok issues of Worlds of Possibility), or subscribe for free to the OMG Julia Podcast on the podcatcher of your choice.
Welcome to the omg Julia Podcast where we discuss creative lives and processes. I'm your host Julia Rios and today I have a special guest RJ Theodore. Welcome!
R J Theodore
Thank you! I'm so happy to be here.
Would you like to introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what you do.
R J Theodore
I am RJ Theodore and for the purpose of conversation, please call me Rekka, as you do behind the scenes. And I am a writer of science fiction and fantasy. Um, usually a blend of the two, and I have a few short stories out there in anthologies and magazines, and I also have some books out that are novel length. Currently self-published.
Yeah, okay so anybody who is deeply familiar with my work might recognize you from the short story that you contributed to Bridge to Elsewhere.
R J Theodore
I'm so appreciative that you love that story.
That was an anthology I did last year, co-edited with Alana Joli Abbott over at Outland Entertainment, and it was all stories set on the bridges of spaceships, and Rekka, your story, as you remember, is all about people having to clean up cat litter in space.
R J Theodore
Right! Ah, yeah, I was already working on that years and years and years ago when I kind of put it aside for a while while I switched to working on the novels but that is like the first spec fic short story I think I really ever finished and started circulating out there. So I'm very delighted that it found a home under your editorship and that that you got it. You know it's a hard story to love I think, but I think that's actually true of most of my shorts.
Oh I don't know about that, and I feel like you've actually had quite a bit of short story breakthroughs lately.
R J Theodore
Oh my gosh. Yeah. I mean, it was like a couple of years before I got my first short story sale. But then once I did I don't know if it was the fact that I had the credit. You know they say it doesn't matter. But you know once you have the credit, you can't help but notice that more people pick you up, and I definitely started running out of stories to shop around all of a sudden. At the beginning of like 2020 maybe the middle of 2020 all of a sudden I was getting sales and it was amazing. So I am so grateful for that momentum and it was really nice to have stuff coming out while I was waiting on the process of getting books out.
Yeah, okay so everyone who's listening can find all of the things that you've written on your website, right?
R J Theodore
Yep! rjtheodore.com. Just go to works and they're all listed there.
I know you also have a background in graphic design. You're an author you've done podcasts. So tell me a little bit about how... like what has your creative journey through life been like? Which thing did you start first and how did all of these develop and how do they all feed into each other?
R J Theodore
Oh goodness, that is a big question. You are in for it. Sit down. My creative life I'm gonna say goes back to cutting plastic gallon milk jugs into spaceships for my toys. So that would have been, you know, whenever I was allowed to handle the scissors, assuming I asked. Um so four or five. I Also know my mother is a writer. Hers is mostly poetry, but she probably got me going on short fiction and children's books. I know we wrote a story together about a chipmunk that lived near a house that we borrowed – our friends own a cottage up in Cape Cod and they let us stay there for one vacation and there was a chipmunk that appeared daily on top of the well on the street side of this little cottage. And we, my mother and I, made up this whole story about the chipmunk, and we turned it into a children's book and she illustrated it. I don't know where that is. I think it only exists on construction paper somewhere in our storage.
Writing and imagining science fiction for characters in my mind has probably always been there. I really was more into unicorns and and fairy stories and stuff as I got into fantasy. But I walked into Barnes and Noble one day and for some reason wandered out of the children section and the first thing you wander into from there is the fantasy section and I picked up whatever I found. I think I was drawn first to like Charles de Lint covers and also um, like you know, weird stuff.
So I started reading fantasy and science fiction right after like The Babysitter Club. Out of the children's section and into like Star Trek novels. I think I got really excited that there was more Star Trek, as if like a weekly episode for a like 25 episode season wasn't enough for me. I needed more. I mostly read, and I think I wrote a lot of stuff but never really realized that's what I was doing.
So coming into high school, they made me choose between the talented art program and the talented writing program even though they were in different days of the week and even though like there was you know, no expense I think for me showing up with my own notebook to the writing one. I chose art because I knew I was going to go to art school at that point and I think that like shut off my awareness of writing at that point.
My parents had already paid like some fee to have my poem included in a you know, like a collection somewhere. Um, so technically I was published at that point with a little love poem that was like 10 lines long. Probably not even that. But I just kind of forgot that I was a writer, even though for role-playing games and such I was writing my backgrounds for my characters that I would invent and it'd be at least like 3 to 5 pages each. I really got into that. But never really thought of myself as a writer, even as I was writing the screenplay for what eventually became Flotsam but at the time was a graphic novel titled Native. I didn't think of the screenplay as being a writer. It was just the thing I had to do so that I could film the speech bubbles.
I have a marketing background and so I was working at a marketing firm outside of college. By this point I graduated gotten a job as a designer, and my manager told me, "People don't read and they don't listen." And that's a fairly well-known marketing quote. And so I applied it to life in general and I thought people didn't read books and that if I tried to write a book, they weren't going to be there to experience it, and so I thought that I would have to make my story visual. And I think that's why I ended up making a graphic novel. That plus you know I had a background in illustration. Although I eventually majored in graphic design where they did not let you draw your own graphics. They wanted you to use stock images so that you weren't spending time on the illustration that should have gone into the layout.
So, suddenly I realize I'm nine years out of college. By this point I realize that I am reading this electronic reader device that I got from a certain you know, ah very successful River site, and these things were really hard to get at this point because people really wanted them and the only thing they were good for was reading. And I was reading a um ah series that was very popular and that everyone was reading after having finished another series that was very popular that everyone was reading and I'm sitting there at my desk at work having put down my ereader from lunch, and I'm like aching to pick it back up and wondering if anyone would notice if I propped it up under my computer screen so that you know I could keep reading for the rest of the workday.
And I realize people do read. So I decided that my graphic novel, which I had already restarted at one point because I realized the hand lettered hand drawn method that I was using was going to mean I would be doing this thing till I died and never finish it... and then I had already restarted it to try and do like a twice a week web comic, and that was not very fun either because it was incredibly difficult to get that out on time, and also you know like I had no audience. So I said what if I wrote this thing?
So like after working on this thing for almost a decade I realized that I would be much happier doing the part that I didn't think was the point, and then I gave myself permission to do that part as my my final product. So I worked on the book, the written book, eventually renaming it Flotsam, for another six years I think. And then one day my partner, my husband turned to me and said, "What if you actually finished it?" Which is extremely rude, but kind of a valid question, because every nano I was just basically like jamming more into the story.
So I decided to finish it and I was getting ready to move it out into the world in 2016 when David Bowie passed away. And I found out on the Monday following and I spent that day at work just listening to this album that had been released on the weekend of his death. The absolute astounding control he had of his creative output just floored me. And in listening to this album and realizing like how much his music had made an impact in the world, I decided that yeah I was I was gonna finish this thing and I was gonna release it and I was going to get it out into the world, and I think by the end of that week I had hired an editor to go over what had become this massive project and help me get it out.
So after having spent 2003 to end of 2015, this editor encouraged me to take all of that and put it in a drawer and start over and just write a fresh story, and I did that and aside from a couple of chapters and a few details and some character experiences, that book that I wrote in one month in June of 2016 became what is now Flotsam.
In my mind, it was going to be like sort of an unending series because I'd been listening to self-publishing podcasts and the recommendation was of course you know, keep something going because people will know your characters and want more and also you know like for marketing purposes, it's effective to keep the story going. So that was my plan at that time was to make the world of Flotsam go on for like at least 5 to 7 books and so um, that's where I landed that got me sort of on the path to where I landed today.
Wow! That's so much! So you started down an art path. Do you still do a lot of art, or have you pretty much switched at this point?
R J Theodore
For a while there I had switched. My day job is graphic design. So like the visual arts never went away, but most of my visual art was work for other people, and it's only within the last year or so that I have gotten back to doing my own illustration and getting a little bit more visual. I have gotten back into illustration, and that is just amazing to me. The illustrations I do are for my projects. I've done chapter art and some elements for like stickers and swag, and aside from that...
Like my my mother's just ... like she would be so happy if I did my own book cover. But I keep telling her you know like in order to dedicate myself to illustration in a manner that would make me satisfied with the output, I would have to put aside my writing. Because I can't fully dedicate myself to both. You know, Jack of all trades, master of none kind of thing. So if I want my writing to be my major output, then the illustrations I do are kind of a side thing, and there's only so much that I would use them for. But if I were going to get into like become a cover artist, I don't think I could do it unless I was doing primarily visual design cover art, not illustration.
This year I participated in like an October drawing challenge, which I haven't done in a very long time. I've said I was going to do it in the past, but this year I said if I can come up with a simple character design and then just draw that character every day for this challenge and make it so it takes me like less than 10 minutes, then I'll do it. And I did manage to come up with something and then instantly made it harder on myself by saying oh, well I'm a few days behind. Let me combine all those into one image and, oh, let me give it a full background and render it and you know like trying to do accurate shading and all this stuff... and then I realized like oh that time saving single illustration for 6 prompts turned out to take me another week and a half, and I'm behind 10 prompts.
Do you find that doing this sort of visual art stuff takes the same kind of creative brain space as the writing, or is it different?
R J Theodore
It definitely draws from the same bank of energy that I use for creativity. I won't say it takes the same brain space. One of the benefits of drawing is that I can listen to an audiobook while I do it. As opposed to you know writing which obviously anything with words is going to tangle my brain up a bit, even more so since I, which we haven't gotten into yet, but in the beginning of 2020, I was diagnosed with a stage four cancer, and that is affecting my brain. Although I'm not sure whether it's the cancer or just you know the various medications they have me on...
Focus has been something I really have to work on. So I definitely cannot listen to podcasts while I'm doing anything that takes my focus more than, you know, drawing. Drawing is basically the only thing... and driving and and grocery shopping, that kind of stuff. But I cannot listen to podcasts at work anymore while I do graphic design, definitely cannot listen to podcasts while I'm trying to problem solve php issues, you know. But as far as ah, taking the same energy, it's really, it's more the time, you know like if I'm going to draw today I'm probably not going to write today. Things like that.
Yeah, okay so it's it's more of a time and maybe an overall energy reserve issue.
R J Theodore
Yeah, yeah, my bank of energy that I'm trying to be kinder about how I use it, but I'm still overdrawing on a daily basis.
Okay, so I do want to get into lots of the things that you've mentioned that you said we'll talk about later like the marketing questions and how your overall health affects things. But before we do that, I feel like we kind of talked around this but we haven't gotten into it. Let's talk about what the Peridot Shift series is actually about. I've heard them well so I've heard them described as science fantasy I've heard them described as sort of like swash buckling meets aliens. And I think what you're doing there. You said you said that you feel like a lot of your stories are hard to market, and I don't know that I think this is specifically hard to market. But what I do see is that you tend to straddle a lot of different genre conventions and tropes in one piece.
R J Theodore
Oh yeah, if you can imagine the messiest um repair on like a ah long incision where the stitches just make all these bumpy... you know Frankenstein's monster style um scars, I mean like those... That's how I straddle the line of my genres.
I started out, as I mentioned, listening to a lot of podcasts about self-publishing and what they were trying to tell me was to pick something very popular with a very specific genre trope set of rules and then follow those rules and I'd make it easy for myself to market. What I think I took away from all these self-publishing podcast episodes instead was, "You're doing this. You make the rules."
So I totally broke all the rules that I could find in traditional publishing. And then made it very challenging for myself according to everything else I was learning. But um I mean they're fantastic stories and anyone who reads them loves them but getting people to pick them up in the first place is the challenge that I've set myself.
So what is the Peridot Shift? I think my favorite comparison is Treasure Planet meets Firefly because we have the fun wacky kind of magic and irreverent science of the Treasure Planet movie that Disney did where you know don't ask us how we breathe in space... just don't worry about it. We're here, we're doing it, move on. And then you know, Firefly, where you have this little ship that's barely held together and a little crew that like needs the ship each for their own reason and you know they form a family even though that was hardly their intention in the first place.
Although, I am happy to say that it's in updated Firefly where we have queer characters nobody is a villain in the family of the crew just to add tension, you know, and hopefully far less appropriative in nature than Firefly. It's it's hard to go back knowing what you know now. But you know I hope that that's kind of the feeling, the enjoyment that you had when you first saw Firefly. I'm hoping that is what I'm giving you with the Peridot Shift. And then aliens... You know what? Just because it's a planet with magic doesn't mean there aren't other creatures zooming around out there in the stars, and so what if it's a first contact Lord of the Rings style world. I adhere to no rules. If you give me a rule, I'm going to break it. So um, here's where we are.
Yeah I think it's really interesting that you say that it's so hard to get people to pick these up when it sounds like to me when you're describing this what you actually did was just take a lot of things that you thought were really cool that you've always enjoyed throughout your life. And put them into stories and you mentioned like as a kid really liking Star Trek and like I kind of think Star Trek does the same thing.
R J Theodore
Oh yeah, it definitely does that, and the nice thing about the Star Trek series being episodic the way it used to be at least, You could go to a planet and this planet just has its own set of rules and you can even make the episode about figuring out those rules and then move on you know, as soon as you figured it out move on to the next one. Reset.
All right, so give us a quick pitch. Lead us into this story tell us tell us something that will make us want to pick it up and keep reading.
R J Theodore
What you have is a world where the people in charge are supposed to be keeping people safe, but things have been slipping to the wayside. So we start off with a crew of ah... Look, they don't want to be pirates. But if the world's rules say they're pirates, then so be it. They're just trying to make some money because they've got repairs to make to their ship, which is their home because they are their family. They're offered a contract with an anonymous client that goes a little bit sideways. They immediately are cast into a much more world saving plot than they ever would have been interested in in the first place, involving them with aliens, and it gets them wrapped up in a plot of talking to the planet's gods... because of course I've got aliens, I've got steampunk airships, and I've got gods in charge of the magic of the world... and all of this they have now tangled themselves in with, and the plot becomes how do we untangle? Because really, we just wanted to make some money get that part to repair the ship and move on with our lives and keep our heads down, but as often happens when you're a nice person, you get involved in something much deeper when it turns out no one's going to save the planet if you don't do it yourself.
And yeah, okay, so definitely sounds like people who enjoyed Firefly back in the day might find more of that found family crew on a ship vibe.
R J Theodore
And also saving the planet because nobody else is going to.
I feel like you have a lot of really cool world building stuff going on in here. So this is a good series for anybody who's really excited for interesting worlds.
R J Theodore
Oh Yeah, I mentioned airships that's because you know there's no solid ground to get you across the planet. Before the story even started, those gods that I briefly mentioned managed to blow the planet up in order to get the power that turned them into gods, so in order to move across the world, you need airships.
I know you have some other pieces of the Peridot world that aren't part of Flotsam and Salvage and Castoff. Do you recommend that people start in one specific place? Do you think that any of them stand alone, or do they all need to be read together? What do you recommend here?
R J Theodore
I mean, obviously I'd like you to read them all together. Please. But the newsletter subscriber instant bonus that you get is a combination of like how the planet got to the point where it is at the beginning of Flotsam. So if you aren't ready to dive into the novels (which is otherwise where I'd say it's a good you know, safe spot to start), you could read this little prequel. I mean the side stories, the only one I would say don't read on its own before you've read the others is Hunger in the Green, which contains just straight out spoilers for books 1 and 2.
So I mean it's up to you I mean the way that you could read them in a temporal way if you wanted and that would start you at the newsletter story, and then I guess I'd have to make a map or something for somebody who's trying to read these in chronological order. But aside from Hunger in the Green all those side stories could come in wherever you like and um, you know obviously the main trilogy is the focal point of this universe. But you know the side stories do stand alone as little adventures, like if you wanted to get a taste of how rule-breaking the crew was willing to be, the side story Love and Pickpockets, that's one that is you know the crew but unrelated to the trilogy. It happens before everybody's in the mess that we get to at the beginning of Flotsam.
There's a story that I really love called God's Rotted Escort Mission. And that is a side story that again includes the main characters of Flotsam but it's just like a little um you know side mission gone wrong, and it's very queer. That's one of the queerest of the side stories. But the cataclysm short story that you'll get for signing up for my newsletter will be the creation story for the world of Flotsam, so it will be the earliest of the facets series in the chronological order.
Okay, and in order to get that cataclysm, you go to rjtheodore.com and subscribe to the newsletter, right?
R J Theodore
Yep, that one's free with the newsletter and of course you can subscribe and then escape again. That's fine. I try to keep the newsletter focused just to the stuff that people would be interested in if they signed up to hear from me in the first place. If you want more of my life and you know what the cats and dogs are doing. Um, there are no living cats currently, but they are definitely haunting me. Um, then you know I've got Patreon and you know at that point I figure if you if you're on my Patreon. Love you bless you? um you you are really into what I'm doing and I appreciate that, but the newsletter you can kind of hold me at arm's length however, much you'd like to. There's a couple different levels there like only when there's a new book release or you know like hey tell me whatever you consider blogging about just you know, send me that blog notice.
Okay, cool. So everybody should go and subscribe to that, all right? So I want to take a minute to get into a couple of subscriber questions that I've had. I Always give my subscribers a chance to ask questions ahead of time and one of my subscribers had read your story in Lightspeed, "On the Application of Strawberry Lip Gloss in a Low Gravity Environment." is that--
R J Theodore
The application of Strawberry Lip gloss in a Low Gravity Environment. Yep, that is the one.
Yes, Okay, so this subscriber wanted to know for you personally, why did you choose to write this, and how important are different kinds of representation to you?
R J Theodore
Ah, well, being an asexual person, representation becomes very important, because I guarantee that you know in terms of the queer spectrum, we are going to be one of the last ones to really get accepted, even though you know there's the A right in the middle of the lgbtqia. Not really so much in the middle is it? It just seems like every conversation I see on social media around asexuality, someone's coming in with a whole list of you know, bullet points why it doesn't matter or why you're not really asexual. So I definitely would like to put in an asexual person wherever I can, and I've got them in Flotsam, I've got them in some of my short stories.
Anywhere there's romance, you're probably going to find that one of the partakers of this romantic journey is going to be asexual because I want people to understand that asexual people are not excluded from finding or experiencing love and romance. Oobviously. I do not speak for aromantic people because that is not me. I am incredibly romantic. I fall in love with pretty much everyone I meet who is a good person. Most of my friends I would say yeah I'm in love with you. But you're never going to have to worry about me coming after you because that's just not who I am.
I'm also bi-romantic which, it took me a long time to come around to that term because being non-binary myself, and in the terms of I am trans away from gender as opposed to trans toward a different gender. So being non-binary, I have had a long history of trying to decide do I like the term biromantic, or do I want to be panromantic? I have finally settled into biromantic even though I genuinely mean like omniromantic or whatever. So that term I've had a history with. I mean like I've already complicated it. So when I write stories, I try to write a person in their queer journey with a unique and individualized experience that is somewhat reflective of mine, even if it's not reflective in a, you know, like exact way. It's not a clear mirror. It is a very foggy mirror.
It's important to me that it be out there, and that it not be the plot necessarily. In Strawberry Lip Gloss, It is kind of the plot. But only in a constant undercurrent sort of way because that's kind of the way romance feels to me as an asexual person who is in love with everyone that they think is a decent being. That is how it is. It's a constant undercurrent.
The representation is is crucial to me, especially in this story. I did set out specifically to write a romance that would not end in a kiss or a shut door or you know fade to black. It ends in, "we are together and that that is a culmination of everything we want." So you have this character who could touch people and does and probably has had physical romances and then you have a person who has condemned themself to wear a medical armor suit so that they never have to be touched by a physician because they are not interested in having someone else's hands on them. I needed people to understand that everyone is worthy of love and relationships and they find their way to what works for them. And I am happy to say that that is the ending of this story. Spoilers that people find each other and they make it work! Probably my most successful romantic story that I've written.
It is very cool. Okay, so the next question that's kind of ah two different questions from two different people, but they're both about your process of moving from traditionally publishing Flotsam to then rereleasing it as a self-published volume. USo I guess the the first question is really specific. So I'm going to start with that and that is when you decided to re put things out, how did you decide to choose the cover art specifically?
R J Theodore
So part of that question that they don't realize they're asking is how did I move from self publishing to traditional publishing and back to self-publishing? Flotsam was originally going to be self-published, and the reason that I submitted to Parvus Press was because the editor that I hired to help me with the process of finishing the book ended up, while we were still working together, becoming the editor at Parvus. So I said to myself that I should submit the book to Parvus Press when they opened for submissions the following winter. I assumed rejection. It wasn't because I thought Flotsam was a bad book, but just because you never landed on your first submission. What are you thinking?
So I sent it off to Parvus and then I got back to work moving toward the self-publishing route, and I thought of it more as a practice in writing query letters than anything else. So I went back to work, and part of that work was having hired Julie Dillon for the cover art.
One day I got a phone call and it was Colin Coyle, the publisher at Parvus. And he had seen an update on social media that I posted about the cover process with this artist that I had hired, and he called me to beg me to stop spending my money until they had a chance to approach me about my submission. So it wasn't an offer of representation, but it pretty much was a promise of an offer representation. And his concern of course was that I was spending money out of pocket that it was up to a publisher to spend on their authors who they take on. I had a very good day that day.
But I had this cover, and I was contracted with Julie Dillon, and honestly if Parvus wasn't interested in this cover, then I wasn't really interested in Parvus, to be honest with you.
I had known in my heart of hearts that the person that I wanted to do my book covers was Michael Whelan, who did a lot of covers for a lot of the science fiction that I had read, so in my mind it seemed obvious that if these are the stories that I had enjoyed reading, that was the artist that I needed to have do my covers. and I I have ah reached out. To Michael Whelan's assistant and gotten the price, and obviously it was excessive compared to my budget. Because you know he is creating two foot by three foot oil paintings. He is at the point in his career where he can say pay me this, and what are you going to do? If you want Michael Whelan, you pay him that.
The assistant was kind enough to mention that he did have some that he offered as non-exclusive, kind of like stock imagery. Not really stock, obviously, but you know non-ex exclusives – if you signed on, someone else might also be able to buy it and there be no exclusivity, but you would have a Michael Whelan cover.
But meanwhile, I was trying to put together a vision board. Something to look at to help me stay on track every day, and be aware where I was moving toward. So I was looking for an image that Michael Whelan had done to put on this vision board. It was going to be small, so it had to be a really impactful image, and every time on my Google image search that I found one, it wasn't him. It was this other artist. And finally, I realized every time I did that it was the same artist, and it was Julie Dillon. And I said maybe I don't want Michael Whelan. And I moved to working with Julie Dillon.
And then, as I said, later Parvus stepped in and offered me publishing, and they were happy to take on the the cover that Julie Dillon had created for me, and I was compensated in my advance for having paid for my own cover at that point. They also promised that they would keep using Julie Dillon as the trilogy progressed, so that was another stipulation. I was very careful to make sure that my trilogy had the same artist to the end of it, especially if it was only going to be a trilogy and not a five to eight book series, like I envisioned it originally.
Okay, so Julie Dillon did the cover that was originally on the Parvus Press version.
R J Theodore
Right. And she did the cover that was on my self-published version. Now, I had the rights to use the original one again, but in planning out the covers for the full series, I had a couple of tricks that were tripping me up. One was that the cover that Colin commissioned from Julie for book two featured a ship that didn't exist yet in book two, so that always bugged me. So if I reused that cover, I was going to need to use it on book three. And then I thought, well that's going to be confusing to suddenly have the cover of book three look a lot like the cover of book two if anyone'd bought that yet.
And then I was sort of trying to imagine what the progression of coverers would be. Book one at that time had Talis standing on the bow of Winds Sabre, her back to the reader, facing a union ship. The aliens in front of the giant orb at the center of the planet known as Nexus. (The orb is known as Nexus. The planet known as Peridot.) And so for book two to suddenly be focused entirely on a ship and have no characters on it, I sort of was stuck with where do I go from here?
Finally, carrying through on the promise of self-publishing, I just decided that I definitely felt that Julie Dillon was the right artist, but that these were the wrong covers. Through no fault of Julie's, of course. This is, you know, under the art direction of myself for book one and Parvus for book two.
So I started over, and I took to heart a comment that a reader had made once where they said, you know, Talis wasn't the main character. And I said no, she isn't. But in having that mental response, I realized that the cover told you she was, so I decided in this new set of covers to really draw attention to the fact that Maron is who these books deal with and Maron is the center of Peridot, like literally. So that was why we relaunched with brand new covers from the same artist. I knew that I had to create a series of covers that told the story. So that's where we are now, and if you have seen the cover cast off, oh my god does it does it tell the story. It's amazing.
All right! Yeah, all the all the covers are beautiful. Just sort of following up on threads just a little bit before we move on, you use different art and that's fine, but you also had to do cover design, because the artist doesn't usually do the cover design. So how did you do that? Did you do it yourself? Did you hire someone?
R J Theodore
I am a graphic designer and that was something I was definitely confident in approaching myself. The original covers, I did the illustration that went behind the text of the title, but this time I felt like adding any more illustration to the cover was not going to be to its benefit. So just very simple text and really just letting the artwork shine and do all the work. Sometimes being a graphic designer means knowing when not to get out there and and be fussy.
Certainly. So I kind of feel like you've almost certainly answered a lot of the second larger question, which is what was the process like of going from from being traditionally published to self-publishing these? You kind of dived into that in your last answer, but is there anything else that you kind of left out of that that you want to add?
R J Theodore
Well, you know, in addition to doing the cover, I also did the graphic design from you know the interior, pages 1 to the end. And so there is a lot of work that goes into self-publishing as it is. And when you also have some of the skills that you would normally hire out to do that, that only adds to the work pile.
There has been just so much to do and you know definitely if I had thought that I could pitch this to like Tor.com and sell it to them, I would have done that in a heartbeat. But I knew that a series where two books had already been released was not going to resell if I didn't have something else already on the counter that was being considered for publication. So I felt like the only option once Parvus closed their doors was to self-publish Flotsam and Salvage, and finally release Castoff, because we haven't covered that.
When Parvus closed, my trilogy was unfinished, and so I was just not going to let that stand because I knew that readers weren't going to understand that that was because of the publisher. They were going to think I didn't finish my story. Well, the thing was already written. It was in a word file on my computer. There was no way we were going to leave it there. So that was a decision that I made very quickly, and yes, I could have used Vellum and gotten my book out there in significantly less time and labor than it took to do the layout to myself, but I am a finicky person and there were just a couple of tiny things that Vellum would not do for me with regard to how I saw the pages laid out. So I hitched up my trousers and I did it myself.
R J Theodore
And yeah, I mean aside from that, you got marketing. You've got social media. You've got newsletters. Amazon ads, which I have basically decided not to do because I feel like Amazon ads are a cycle of paying them a lot, hoping that your royalties coming back from them outweigh what you paid them, and then being happy about your royalties, but then realizing 95% of them were paid to the advertising again. So I just decided with the difficulty and complexity of Amazon ads and the very lackluster results, that I was not going to go there. I also don't do Facebook ads. I think they're great for like romance and mystery. I am not that kind of author, and I just don't think that advertisement helps me find the readers I want. Every time I've run ads, I've gotten readers who had a complaint about the book in their review, and I realized I am pulling in the wrong readers.
My goal is not to make a fortune. I would like to not lose a fortune, but I am not here to make a fortune. I really just want to hear what people think of my stories when they've read them. That's why I do it. I want to share. So self- publishing has made that possible, basically.
You've been working a day job this entire time. So you're basically supplementing your publishing journey with your day job money?
R J Theodore
Oh yeah, basically um I'm still paying more to be a writer than I'm earning although this year with re-releasing the trilogy, I have actually seen money come in. It's the most bizarre thing! Really bizarre.
Hey, that's exciting!
R J Theodore
Yeah, I have to say as a member of SFWA, I had access to their story bundle and was able to re-release Flotsam. As it launched, it was also in a SFWA story bundle. Kindly, it was included in the core bundle, so everyone who got the bundle got my book. So I got a ton a ton of new readers who I hope just didn't shove it in the tbr pile... and um, you know I've had luck with experiences like that this time.
Parvus got Flotsam in a Bookbub, and that helped a little. I got like number 1 in steampunk one day, and that was cool, but you know, having gone through a publisher, I got very little of the final output of that. So it's really weird now to be so totally self-publishlishing and any any profit that comes in, I actually see. And that was a very strange, and I will say positive experience. At that point, I thought of it as marketing. I was like, why aren't I paying you for this? Because I just wanted to reach readers. And then I got a deposit and I was like what is going on here? This is this is absolutely absurd. I need to speak with somebody.
Obviously some of that money also went back into my publishing costs for Salvage, and, you know it's funny to have three books in a series, and you constantly are marketing your first one and not marketing the one that just came out. When Salvage came out, I was still pushing Flotsam because 1) I don't want you to read Salvage without having read Flotsam, and 2) Flotsam leads you to Salvage. So. It's a very strange experience as a self-publisher kind of be like posting happily about the process of getting it out, but when it comes time to actually submit to a Bookbub, or submit to some other bundle, I'm still riding that first book that came out in January, and and like you'd think nobody would want to talk about anymore.
But you've got to get that first if you're going to read that trilogy.
So I feel like we should wrap this up because we've been going for quite a while, but the last question that I want to ask, because we talked about it a little bit earlier and we said we would come back to it and we haven't, is the health question. So you've had this big experience with cancer, and that's huge. But I know that a lot of people listening, even if they haven't had that specific experience, there are people like me who have had long covid. There are people who have other issues. How has dealing with this affected your creative process, and what are some of the things that you've done to keep yourself encouraged and able to do anything?
R J Theodore
Try to take your medication on time is like the first thing. I know there are plenty of people out there who would not blame me if I said oh my gosh I have cancer I need to step back from doing all this. David Bowie died and released an album in the same weekend, and if I had any model that I would put myself in, that would be it. I don't want to stop. I think the minute I stop, I'm dead anyway. However, I want to enjoy the time that I have. The first thing I did was decide I'm never going to ask anybody, "How much time do I have?" I don't know if any family member asked that question. They have not told me, and I don't want to know because I think that's my choice, and I know that the minute I stop expressing myself creatively, I am not going to feel like I have any time left.
I think I really need to take a nap some days, and I don't allow myself to do that. I definitely am still pushing myself too hard. But that's just who I am. That's just what I do. I find that the more I say to myself, you know you really need to rest more and you can't work as hard and you need to stop a little earlier than you do, as soon as I add that into my thought process, I swear I'm like a cat clinging to the blanket that you're trying to lift them off of. I dig in harder.
I need to just accept that that is who I am and like yes I spend a lot more time at a desk than you would imagine a person with stage 4 cancer would do, but that's how I enjoy life. So like why not? You know, my best days are based on a completed task list. So if I'm going to be kinder to myself, the thing I need to do is not pull myself away from what I love doing, but is to set my expectations more realistically for what I can achieve with what is now clearly a lower energy level. So I need to write a shorter task list. You know, like 3 items at the most, versus what might have been like 15 to 20 items before, and still was up to a few months ago.
I'm still trying to get into the process of learning how to leave myself room to feel like I've done what I set out to do each day, and if I have a long task list, then I will press myself too hard and I will give myself a bad report at the end of the day based on what I got done. Whereas if I set realistic goals each day, then maybe I can do it, and at the very least I can feel like I came damn close as opposed to seeing the 15 things I didn't do instead of the 1 enormous thing at the top of the list that I did do.
I've been having to change that. Not change where I am in the house, not change how many jobs I have, not, you know, say, oh well I did my day job, so no time for writing tonight. It's all me. I still want to be me, so I'm still learning to do all these things, but I am going to slow down and appreciate the fact that I am doing them, because if I'm just racing toward the end of the day – and you know, let's be honest, we don't know how many days we have left, any of us. You know, I have cancer, but I may die in a car crash, so who knows? And someone else may not have cancer, but they end up with a really bad case of something else going around because people aren't vaccinating... So the idea is not to get a certain amount of work done, but to make sure I am allowed to enjoy what I'm doing. And if I allow myself the time to enjoy what I'm doing, and I'm not enjoying it, that needs to go. Because every moment I now have some appreciation for that I don't think I had before.
So that's where I've changed as opposed, you know, oh no I'm sick I better, you know, stop early and spend all my time in a recliner. I want to be creating, so I make it, hopefully, so that I not only get to create, but I get to be aware that I am in the act of creation. So that I can appreciate it in a way that I might not have said like, "wow, look what I get to do every day" before all this hit me. And, obviously the fact that Bowie died of cancer is digging in deep these days. It not only went from being a model of inspiration, but like a mirror of my current process. You know, I've got a copy of the Blackstar on vinyl framed right over my monitor. If I'm starting to get bogged down in the productivity value of what I'm doing versus the creative value of what I'm doing, that's that's there to remind me I'm here to live this life and do what I want with it and leave behind what I think I would be proud to see as a finite encapsulation of who I am.
All right. I mean, that's awesome. So it sounds like for you, self-care looks like allowing yourself to do the work that you find most meaningful.
R J Theodore
Exactly. Yeah, I really did try to make self-care be you know, stop before I ran out of energy. But I just don't think that's me.
Well thank you so much for having this conversation with me. I loved hearing all of the different things about your creative process. Remind everyone – I know we've talked about it a few times – where can they find your work? Where are you online? What what can they do if they want more of you?
R J Theodore
More of me, haha, um, get in line because I'm using it all. rjtheodore.com is my author website, and if you go to the about page, you will find all the social media links there under my portrait. And you will of course also find my newsletter signup on the bottom of every page of that site, and I really hope that's something you're interested in because then we can get in touch. And you know I'm on Patreon. I'm on various social media sites... you know, wherever. Just check that author about page for whatever icons are there. That's probably the best way to find me is just catch a ride on rjtheodore.com.
All right. Well, thanks again so much for talking to me. Thank you, listeners, for listening. If you want if you want to support R J, or Rekka, you can go sign up for their newsletter at rjtheodore.com. I will put links to that in the show notes. You can check out all of their books, including the Peridot Shift trilogy, which is Flotsam, Salvage, and Castoff.
If you would like to learn more about this podcast and me, you can find me at juliarios.com. There will be show notes for this with a full transcript, and all the links that we talked about. And thank you again. I'll catch you next time.