ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Taylor Hartley is a Canadian fantasy author. He holds a PhD in English from the University of Western Ontario where he studied, lectured and wrote upon such topics as Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century literature, Gothic literature, queer theory and genre theory. He resides in Halifax, Nova Scotia with a loving husband who helps him with such things as building websites and coding eBooks. A Gallery for the Barbarian is his debut work of fiction.
Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Before we start, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Hello everyone at Fantasy Book Critic—and hello, reader! I’m Taylor Hartley, a Canadian fantasy author with an academic background in the literary arts, writing studies, genre theory, and queer theory. At heart I’m a big nerd with a love for everything fantasy, including gaming and general geek culture. Those who recognize me from social media will know my abiding love for Warhammer lore and my endless obsession with fantasy novels and worlds. A Gallery for the Barbarian is my SPFBO 9 entry and my debut work of fiction.
Who are your favorite current writers and who are your greatest influencers?
In terms of current writers, some that immediately come to mind are Travis Baldree, Steven Erikson, L. E. Modesitt, Peter Fehervari, Dan Abnett, and Aaron Dembski-Bowden. Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun was transformative for me, alongside the classic works of Nathaniel Hawthorne. While I don’t pretend to their scope, both writers channel an impeccable ability to offer flashes into the fantastic that are often as fleeting and liminal as they are beautiful. If I can say they have rubbed off on me even a little bit, then I think I’ve achieved something!
When and why have you decided to become an author?
Although I’ve been writing across different forms since childhood, I didn’t decide to get serious about authorship until my husband sat me down during one of the 2020 lockdowns and told me I was going to write something! I think being an author is at its core about sharing your headspace and your imagination with others—a surprising and commonplace act of psychic communion. It’s magical in and of itself to think my strange little world is finding new articulation in the minds of others, and it’s why I continue to write.
How often do you write? Do you have a set schedule for writing, or are you one of those who write only when they feel inspired? Do you aim to complete a set number of pages or words each day?
When I’m writing a draft, I aim to complete 2000 words a day. I allow myself breaks on days when I simply don’t have the time or feel my attempts are falling flat, and on days when things are flowing I tend to write 3000 words.
What made you decide to self-publish A Gallery For The Barbarian as opposed to traditional publishing?
Self-publishing, at a glance, is inherently anti-establishment. Self-publishing gives me the freedom to write to my heart, not to market. I never had to think—yes, but is this scene what an editor will agree to? Is it what will attract an agent? A Gallery for the Barbarian refuses to compromise its vision at any stage. It’s strange, it’s queer, it points to vintage sword & sorcery young readers have probably never encountered…and the protagonist is an obsessive, chatty skeleton who writes in the grievous, occasional run-on sentence. It’s a miracle anyone is reading it now, when I think too deeply on this.
Why did you decide to enter SPFBO?
SPFBO is a wonderful way for any independent fantasy author to gain exposure. Even the exposure I gained from simply entering was beyond my expectations. I’m grateful for it every day, and grateful for every new reader.
For those that haven’t read A Gallery For The Barbarian, can you tell us a bit about it?
A Gallery for the Barbarian is an aesthetic project with the aim of invoking the tone and subject matter of vintage sword & sorcery pieces (think Elric, Conan, Kull, Fafhrd & Gray Mouser et. al.), while also updating what I believe to be outdated in the subgenre. It’s an episodic fantasy novel that follows the individual adventures of Violetto, an undead painter who is the unreliable narrator, and his muse Brask, a greedy, ale-guzzling barbarian with an eye for glory he may or may not deserve. There’s also an overarching narrative concerning two competing cults and a cryptic pantheon. It’s set in a German-fairy-tale-inspired city in the raptures of a Renaissance-era focus on the arts.
What was your initial inspiration for A Gallery For The Barbarian? How long have you been working on it? Has it evolved from its original idea?
I envisioned a novel that would capture the diction and feeling of Weird Tales-era sword & sorcery while giving it a fresh coat of modern queerness and the reversal of certain tropes and generic expectations. I also wanted it to be an experiment in voice—Violetto’s personality is the goal, and I think it became a very character-driven narrative. I thought deeply on telling a Conan the barbarian story…through the eyes of someone who isn’t the protagonist of such a story. I believe I stayed consistent with these ideas through the drafting and editing processes, and it took three years from conception to release.
Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers will sympathize with them?
Violetto is an artist who believes blindly in Brask’s barbaric glory, and sees him as a faultless, enviable subject. Because of Violetto’s fixations on art and on his muse, he does not necessarily understand the reality of the events transpiring about him. Brask is vainglorious, a foreigner in the civilized city, and overbearingly human. He’s unapologetic in his desires for more money and more food. I tried to balance the classic sword & sorcery “nobility” of the barbaric protagonist with these more satiric and painfully human desires, so Brask is just as likely to be kind and protective of Violetto as he is liable to see his way through any problem with his axe. I wanted to present a buddy pairing not only reminiscent of classic sword & sorcery but one that runs against contemporary tendencies toward grimdark cruelty and “grit”. I hope readers find the book full of kindness and wonder.
How many books have you planned for the series?
The Violetto Papers’ overarching plot is currently planned to conclude with book 3.
Alright, we need the details on the cover. Who’s the artist/designer, and can you give us a little insight into the process for coming up with it? How does it tie to the book?
I’m so glad you asked! The cover art is by Luciano Fleitas, while the logo is the work of masterlootdg. Because A Gallery for the Barbarian is a novel concerned with imagery and painting, the cover art was absolutely vital. The process was shockingly smooth. I sketched it out, with my near-zero ability in the visual arts, and Luciano seemed to know exactly what I needed from that sketch. I knew the cover needed to invoke the illustration-focused covers of sword & sorcery and pulp fantasy from the 70s & 80s (I told Luciano—Frazetta!!), while also flipping the script a little: so we receive the scene not of the barbarian in action, but the artist painting him after the fact. Violetto’s gaze with the viewer is key. The book is us encountering the artist’s perspective of his subject—the process of aestheticization. And that’s what the cover became.
Would you say that A Gallery For The Barbarian follows tropes or kicks them?
Kicks them! I hope. In trying to “update” sword & sorcery, I needed to remedy some of the genre’s inherent problems. I did this with a mind of making the book inclusive, firstly, and secondly to address individual tropes and make them my own. I feel I can’t explore the ways I did this without spoilers, so please—read it and tell me whether or not I kicked them!
Have you written A Gallery For The Barbarian with a particular audience in mind? In your opinion, what subgenres does it fit, if any?
I wrote the book with two audiences in mind: one, those who love classic sword & sorcery. To those of you who know your Moorcock, your Howard, your Leiber and Wagner: I hope I haven’t played around too much for you! Secondly: my dream reader is someone who despises hand-holding in fantasy as much as I do. A good author, in my mind, is someone who offers you glimpses, not a guidebook. A Gallery for the Barbarian is not full of action or hard magic. It does not explain and it does not info-dump. It does, however, offer lyrical glimpses into the mind of a character caught up in magic he does not understand—and hopefully a number of scenes magic in their own abstraction. If any of this sounds like you…this book is for you.
Can you tell us about your editing process? Do you proofread and edit your work on your own or hire professionals?
Because of my own background in professional forms of writing, I was able to copy edit the book myself. On the other hand, I am extremely lucky to have a support network and crack team of eagle-eyed beta readers who were thorough and careful beyond my wildest imaginings. Honestly. This book would not have been released without them.
What are you working on at the moment? And what’s your publishing schedule for 2022/2023?
I’m currently working on book 2 of The Violetto Papers, which I hope to release in 2024.
Thank you for taking the time to answer all the questions. In closing, do you have any parting thoughts or comments you would like to share with our readers?
Thank you so much, Fantasy Book Critic, for selecting A Gallery for the Barbarian as a SPFBO semi-finalist, and for the interview. Thank you to the readers of this interview and to the readers of Barbarian. I really am over the moon that new readers are befriending Violetto, a character close to my heart. And moreover, thank you for offering a new author a chance and a voice.