Today we welcome Ian Nathaniel Cohen. He’s going to tell us a little about himself and his books, so grab a snack and meet your new favorite author.
What genres do your writings fall under? What age group?
My first book, The Brotherhood of the Black Flag, is a historical adventure thriller, mostly aimed at adults, although there isn’t much in it that young adults can’t handle. If I was going to rate it the way you would a movie, I’d give it a PG-13.
When and why did your start writing?
I’m not exactly sure when I started writing, as I don’t remember not having ideas for books and making various attempts at writing them. However, it was definitely during college that I found myself with enough time to actually write some of them out and share them with other people. The feedback I got was encouraging, and I got more ambitious with the kinds of stories I wanted to tell. It was also during college that I became a huge fan of H. Rider Haggard and Rafael Sabatini, whose writings have had a huge influence on the kinds of stories I enjoy writing. As more ideas for stories and characters popped into my head, I eventually decided to finally take the plunge and try and do something with them.
The same goes for my review blog, The INCspotlight. I’ve always enjoyed writing movie reviews, and I made more than one attempt at getting professional gigs in local and school papers. When I discovered the website That Guy with the Glasses, later Channel Awesome, and I saw that they accepted guest bloggers, I decided to give it a try. All the reviewers on the site had their own niche, and mine was less-familiar classic movies that I didn’t feel deserved to be forgotten about. A lot of these classic works inspired my own ideas for stories, and I guess I see the INCspotlight as my way of paying it forward. I’m no longer with Channel Awesome, but the INCspotlight continues, now hosted on my own website.
What do you enjoy doing when you aren’t writing?
I feel like all my hobbies are pretty old-fashioned, now that I think about it. In addition to reading, I’m a huge movie buff, classic movies especially, and I also like listening to old time radio shows (The Shadow, The Green Hornet, Abbott & Costello) and playing retro video games. I like collecting various stuff, such as vintage playing cards (or replicas) and comic books, older ones especially. My favorite kinds of music are jazz, swing, and blues, but I also like classical, folk, and Celtic music, as well as film scores.
What do you hope readers take away from your writing? Is there a particular theme in your work? Does your work have a moral?
At the very least, I hope readers find The Brotherhood of the Black Flag to be a fun ride, like a summer blockbuster. Beyond that, I hope that the book’s theme of how blind loyalty leads people to ignore logic and basic common sense will stick with readers. I also hope that my protagonist sets the kind of example more guys need to follow in real life, particularly in the way he tries to respect female characters (I’ll leave it to readers to decide if he succeeds) and doesn’t demand or feel entitled to their affections.
Which of your characters is your favorite and why?
Villains are fun to write, especially in adventure fiction where they’re allowed to be a bit over the top, so they’re always among my favorite characters.
What genre is your favorite to read?
It depends what I’m in the mood for at any given time. However, anything with sword fights is usually a winner, so historical fiction, heroic folklore, and high fantasy rank pretty highly. However, I like various other genres as well, and I’ll give most things a shot if it sounds interesting.
If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you would change?
I probably would have spent less time agent hunting and explored self-publishing options a lot sooner, given that publishers don’t seem that interested non-series historical adventure fiction. On that note, I probably would have done a better job putting together a marketing strategy, especially given limited time and financial resources.
How do you market your work? What avenues have you found to work best for your genre?
I use Facebook and Twitter, and I’m a member of various Facebook groups where us rookie authors can share our work and hopefully nab new readers. I’m still working on which ones work the best, though.
Have you written a book you love that you have not been able to get published?
For a long time, The Brotherhood of the Black Flag fit that category back when I was trying to get literary agents interested in taking a look at it. Eventually, I bit the bullet and decided to self-publish. It has its disadvantages, mostly having to market it myself and pitch it to total strangers to get them to buy it, but on the other hand, my book is out there and being read and enjoyed instead of taking up space on my computer.
Can you tell us about your book?
The Brotherhood of the Black Flag is a tribute to the classic swashbucklers I grew up on as a kid, books and movies alike. It’s set in 1721, the early years of the United Kingdom and the tail end of the Golden Age of Piracy. The main character, Michael McNamara, was an officer in the British Royal Navy before his unjust expulsion, and he falls in with Captain Stephen Reynard, a pirate turned pirate hunter out to earn a pardon. Not really having any other options, McNamara joins Reynard’s quest for redemption, and his travels pit him against untrusting shipmates, bloodthirsty buccaneers, and an international conspiracy that threatens thousands of lives.
Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?
When it came to plotting out The Brotherhood of the Black Flag and setting up character arcs, history cooperated with me beautifully. McNamara’s military history has him fighting in real battles during the War of the Spanish Succession and the War of the Quadruple Alliance – even the ship he was on at the Battle of Cape Passaro, the HMS Canterbury, was an actual ship. The same thing happened when it came to figuring out his reasons for leaving the British Isles and moving to Jamaica.
As for whether any of it came from my own experiences, some friends and I have had to go through not being able to follow the career paths they planned to, for one reason or another, and we’ve found themselves asking “well, now what?” It wasn’t planned that way, but once I got the idea that’s what was driving McNamara, it was easy to write him from that perspective.
Also, when I was learning stage combat, I specialized in rapier, and one time, I went up against someone who favored the schiavona. Now, I’m no expert at fencing, but I took lessons for six years, and rapier wasn’t all that different – even the stage combat version. But when going up against the fighting style for the schiavona, the blade comes at you from unexpected angles, and I was stumped. I had no idea how to defend against it or effectively counter-attack. As soon as that bout was done, I thought to myself “one of my characters for Black Flag has to use this sword and fighting style.” I actually consulted with that same guy in said character’s use of the schiavona, and he was very cooperative.
What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?
Any scene where I got to write banter was a fun scene to write. I’m also especially proud of McNamara and Reynard’s friendly duel when they first meet. There are a lot of sword fights in The Brotherhood of the Black Flag, and while I’m happy with how pretty much all of them came out, that was my favorite of the bunch.
How did you come up with the title?
During the Golden Age of Piracy, pirates were known as the Brethren of the Coast, but also as the Brotherhood of the Black Flag. The latter sounded like a good name for a pirate story (either a movie or a novel), and I just ran with it.
What project are you working on now?
I’ve got a bunch of different books of different genres in the works – a murder mystery set in 1930s New York, another one set in Chicago in that same time period that pays tribute to classic pulp heroes, a fantasy series I’m collaborating with my beta reader on, and a telling of the Arthurian legends from the point of view of Sir Gawaine, as well as a couple of graphic novel projects. However, The Sherwood Caper, another historical thriller starring Robin Hood, is the one I aim to finish, given how much of it is already written and planned out, compared to the other ones. I’d always wanted to write a Robin Hood novel, and I was struggling with what direction to take it for a long time until I decided to make it a heist story, kinda like Ocean’s Eleven or The Italian Job. The tone will be similar to Black Flag – realistic, historically accurate, but without making it “grimdark.”
Will you have a new book coming out soon?
What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?
I don’t know if I’ve ever gotten any criticism that was emotionally tough to deal with. The feedback I’d gotten from beta readers and my editor, even when harsh, ended up making the book better, so I honestly appreciated it. I’m sure negative reviews will come, and when they do, I hope I can likewise learn from the criticisms as best I can and try not to repeat mistakes in future books.
The only truly discouraging thing I’ve had to deal with when it comes to reviews (so far) is when they’re arbitrarily yanked from Amazon with no explanation, and Amazon refuses to provide any details – I’ve lost about a third of all the reviews I’ve ever gotten this way. I know many indie authors have had to go through this, more so than usual lately, and it’s tough to deal with. We have to scrape and claw for every review we get, and it’s frustrating to have them taken away and not know why. I don’t think I’ve found any aspect of writing more discouraging and “what’s the point?”-inducing than that, and I know I’m not the only one.
Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?
Take your time with your writing projects, and don’t rush them out the self-publishing door. Invest time in character development, world building, and writing craft, and get help if and when you need it. Your story will be all the better for it, and your readers will keep coming back for more. Also, most importantly, when people help you out, even if it’s a small thing, please make sure to show your appreciation.
Is there anything that you would like to say to your readers and fans?
Thank you to all of you who have taken a chance on a first-time author, especially those who have invested a few minutes of time into reviewing it! I’d also like to thank the folks at indieBrag for awarding The Brotherhood of the Black Flag a B.R.A.G. Medallion – I’m truly grateful for the honor.
Have you travelled to places outside your home town/country? Where did you go? What did you see/experience?
I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to travel all over the world, across six continents. When I was a kid, my mom took me on a Robin Hood tour in the actual Sherwood Forest and the Nottingham library, home to the largest collection of Robin Hood books. In college, I participated in the Semester at Sea program’s Fall 2000 semester, literally sailing around the world and visiting different countries along the way. Not only was it genuinely the adventure of a lifetime, but a learning experience and a unique opportunity to bond with people. In fact, I even dedicated The Brotherhood of the Black Flag to my Fall 2000 shipmates.
If you could visit any cartoon world, which one would it be?
Hmmmm…Tiny Toon Adventures, maybe? At Acme Looniversity, the main characters learn the fundamentals of animation, comedy, and cartoon-making from the classic Warner Bros. cartoon stars, such as Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck. I’d love to drop in on one of those classes.
If you could visit any fictional world, which one would it be?
Middle-Earth, particularly the Shire or Rivendell (although given my height, I’d probably find Rivendell more comfortable). Listening to elven music or ancient tales during a grand feast sounds like a great way to spend a day. Option B would be The Dreaming from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comic book series – specifically the Library of Dreams, where you can read all the books dreamed up by authors who never had the chance to write them, including works by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Lewis Carroll, J.R.R. Tolkien, and so on.
Who’s your favorite superhero?
I’m a huge fan of most DC and Marvel characters, and I don’t know if I have an overall favorite. Outside of that, I also love Mike Mignola’s Hellboy, Jeff Smith’s Bone, Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo and Kurt Busiek’s Astro City. I need to broaden my range a bit and discover more indie creators – it’s just a matter of having enough time to discover and read them all.