Phil Tucker is a Brazilian/Brit that currently resides in Asheville, NC, where he resists the siren call of the forests and mountains to sit inside and hammer away at his laptop. He is currently working on the epic fantasy series, Chronicles of the Black Gate, launched in May 2016.
Interviews & Guest Posts
- SFFMP 96: Switching to Epic Fantasy and Rocking It with Phil Tucker (Aug 2016)
- SFFWORLD: Interview with Path of Flames author Phil Tucker (Aug 2016)
- GrimDark Magazine: Interview with Phil Tucker (Oct 2016)
- r/Fantasy Writer of the Day (Jan 2017)
- Tim Whitecastle's Blog: Where Is My Mind Series (April 2017)
- Grim Tidings Podcast: Grim Panel - SPFBO 2016 (June 2017)
- Devyn Jayse: Author Interview with Phil Tucker (July 2017)
- Fantasy Fiends Podcast: Worldbuilding (July 2017)
- Fantasy Faction Worldbuilding Round Table (Nov 2017)
- r/Fantasy Writer of the Day (Jan 2018)
My Journey So Far
There were almost six feet of snow outside when I came my closest to giving up on this whole writing gig. I was deep into the brutally cold winter of ’12, locked away in a drafty small house in Western MA, my car reduced to a hump amongst the snow banks, the roads like black ice, the sky the inside of a chalky kettle. My wife had reconciled herself to spending entire days alone as I locked myself away to write. I was desperately trying to find the end of Book 3 of a dystopian vampire trilogy. I’d funded it with a Kickstarter, had set up everything I knew to ensure success, and I couldn’t finish the damn thing.
Worse, when I finally crawled across the finish line, it was only by cutting Book 3 in two. I was burned out and broken. I published Book 1 to no acclaim, no fanfare, and no sales. Book 2 failed to change things a month later. Book 3 didn’t even cause a ripple when I dropped it into the ocean that is Amazon. I’d wrecked myself writing those books and, at my height, I was making about $25 a month from their sales.
I tell you, I nearly gave it all up right there. I fell into a funk, a deep funk that the coming of spring and summer barely alleviated. I couldn’t even force myself to write Book 4. Years of work had come to naught. My life’s passion seemed to have withered and died.
“You need to connect with other writers,” my wife said during one of my black depressions. “Go to conventions. Ask them how they do it.”
I scoffed. I might even have harrumphed. I turned away. I didn’t need anybody to tell me how to write. I was wounded and proud, disconsolate and irritable. And then one beautiful morning my wife came out of the bathroom with stars in her eyes and told me I was going to be a father. Everything changed, the world shifted on its axis, and I decided I would do everything and anything to make this writing thing work.
So I reached out. I came down from my ruined tower and started reading forums online. We moved back to Florida to be with our families, and while moving I discovered the Writer’s Café on KBoards. And I learned about mailing lists. I learned about launch strategies. I learned about promotional services, the importance of honing your blurbs, how to get reviews before your book goes live. In short, I realized that I’d only been wearing one hat. The writer’s hat. And that all along I should have been wearing two.
So I devoured everything I could read, success stories, musings, conspiracy theories as to how Amazon’s algorithms worked, autoresponder sequences to hook your readers close, everything and anything. And I put on my marketing hat and did the next obvious thing: I launched a female pen name and dived into Paranormal Romance.
This was during the height of Kindle Unlimited 1. Amazon was paying you by downloads, not page counts, so if you could publish two novella’s a month in a hot genre, you would make bank. I rolled up my sleeves and wrote my first werewolf romance. We needed cash, I’d always loved werewolves ever since playing Werewolf: The Apocalypse, so it all made sense.
And I crashed and burned. I didn’t know the rules. The tropes. I focused on plot and not enough on relationships. My characters didn’t have enough depth. So I rolled up my sleeves even higher and tried again. And again. And finally, something clicked.
November ’13 I made more than I’d made all year. Then that December I tripled what I’d made in November. January I made a killing. It was surreal.
My daughter had been born that August. My world turned upside down, but even through that sleep deprivation and craziness, I kept writing. I’d get up at 5 a.m. and drive to work. I’d get there early, fire up the office lights, make some coffee, and write hot werewolf action till 8:30. Then I’d smile and greet everybody as they walked in, do my job till 5 and head home. Afternoons, evenings and nights were spent with my family. Not much sleep. But regardless of how many times my daughter would wake up, I’d peel myself with a groan out of my bed at 5 and head back to work.
Maybe I overdid it. Halfway through January something in my system broke and suddenly I was sick. I saw a series of specialists and none of them could tell me what was up. Writing became an ordeal. My momentum teetered. Finally, I self-diagnosed myself as having developed a wicked gluten intolerance. I cut out everything delicious and clawed my way back from the edge.
But I’d lost my stride. I’d burned out on werewolves and PNR. My income continued strong into that summer, but my heart wasn’t in it. And my readers could tell. My sales tapered. KU1 became KU2. My model broke down, and finally I sat back and decided my PNR run had come to an end.
But what next? I was now armed with all kinds of knowledge. I knew how to launch. How to market. What worked and what was a waste of time. Better yet, my stint writing PNR had honed my writing skills. My characters had a new level of interiority and depth that they’d never had before. I appreciated the importance of their relationships. How if you broke their hearts just right, you just might break your reader’s heart as well.
My wife and I decided to leave Miami. We wanted to get out of the big cities and return to the countryside. So we decided on Asheville, North Carolina. We geared up to move, and I thought long and hard about what to write next. Under my own name, I decided. No more pen names. But what? Go big or go home, I thought. Go back to your roots. Tackle those books you always loved but never thought you’d have the chops to write. David Gemmell/Raymond Feist/Guy Gavriel Kay/Elizabeth Moon kind of books. Not just fantasies, but epic fantasies. Something you could sink your teeth into. Something I could write forever.
So we packed up our house and I started dreaming up worlds. Started asking questions that led to more questions. Started taking notes, creating characters, mapping out journeys, both external and internal.
It took me about three months to come up with the world of The Chronicles of the Black Gate and about two months to write the first book. My beta readers were amazing and helped me knock out the kinks. I was on fire. I stole time where I could find it to write. I stopped watching shows, reading books, going for walks, brushing my teeth, going to sleep. I sacrificed every minute so that I could both spend time with my daughter and write 160,000 words.
Then I pulled together all my launching skills and fired that sucker into the massive world of Amazon. And to my unending delight it took off. Better than I’d ever dreamed. It hung in there, sticky like all get out, and people liked it. They wrote amazing reviews. I started to get lovely emails. My mailing list began to grow.
To cap off my wonderful launch, I got an aw-shucks kind of review from Pornokitsch who selected me to progress to the final round of the Self-Publishing Fantasy Blog Off competition. This led to meeting a bunch of other great writers, forming my first ever online community, and connecting with new readers even as I placed second out of three hundred contestants.
But I didn’t waste any time. I got to work on Book 2 and published it about two months after Book 1 had gone live. Did all the right promo’s, and it blew up again. Huzzah!
Book 3 came out in November, Book 4 in May '17. Now it’s July and I’ve just finished Book 5. Sleep deprivation caused by the arrival of my son made finishing the sucker tougher than I'd expected. That threw me for a loop. But I doubled down, shades of trying to finish Book 3 of that original vampire dystopia haunting me, remembering those harrowing cold days of chasing an end that wouldn’t come.
Once The Chronicle are finished I won’t rest. I won’t stop. I’ll barrel on through to my next series. Gotta keep throwing wood in the fire.
It’s been a heck of a journey. But throughout it, I’ve been fueled by my love of writing and the love of my family. There’s nothing you can’t do if you want it bad enough. And I want nothing more than to become a full-time author.