Books

With African epic The Rage of Dragons, Evan Winter wrote the book he'd want to read

The debut author discusses how he wrote his epic fantasy novel, which was originally self-published and is now the bestselling beginning of a series.
Evan Winter is the author of The Rage of Dragons. (Orbit Books, @evanwinter/Twitter.com)

Evan Winter is an author based in Markham, Ont. In his fantasy novel debut, The Rage of Dragonsa world with an African-inspired setting is caught in an eternal war — and the book's main protagonist Tau is his people's only hope for survival.

Described as a mix of Game of Thrones and GladiatorThe Rage of Dragons follows Tau as he attempts to get revenge and become the greatest swordsman to ever live.

The self-published book was a bestseller and was acquired and re-released by Orbit Books as part of a four-book deal. It is the first book in a planned series.

Winter spoke with CBC Books about how he wrote The Rage of Dragons.

Driven to write

"My parents are from Guyana. For many black people within the African Diaspora the idea of success is that you need to go be a doctor or an engineer. At the same time, my parents never ever once tried to push me off the writing path that I was heading down. Not to sound cliche, but I've always wanted to be a writer.

"But I got older and life kind of starts to beat you down a little bit. I had to find a way to actually make a living and it seemed that writing wasn't an easy way to do that. So the plan was to become a lawyer, but I got involved in filmmaking and I figured it would be the way to hopefully make a living and still get to tell stories.

"I did that for many years. Then I had a gap in my schedule and had a year-long break between jobs. In that time, I decided I was going to write the book that was in my head and heart. I had to just get it out of my system. I sat down and wrote it but I had no idea how it would turn out."

A need for representation

"In the story the main character is Tau. He is from the Omehi people and comes from an oppressed class in the story. From the get-go, the obstacles are stacked high against him. I wanted to explore the hidden obstacles that are placed in front of people that often go unrecognized by those affected by them — and probably more to a greater degree those not affected by them. I wanted to have a story that examined the actual effects of that kind of pressure on a person.

I wanted the characters in The Rage of Dragons to represent and feel like me and my family, but in a way that didn't need to draw attention to it.

"I wanted the characters in The Rage of Dragons to represent and feel like me and my family, but in a way that didn't need to draw attention to it. My family didn't exist for some greater plot point. My family just exists, we just are."

The view from above

"For every 100 pages in the book there's about 20 pages of outline that I have stuffed away. I approached the novel, in the beginning, from the outside in — where I have an idea, a theme or subject matter that I'm trying to address or explore. The people, the world, the map and the culture all comes out of that deeper exploration. 

"At that point, I've found my way into this world completely. I quite like this process. It lets me start from that 30,000 feet above perspective and then I just keep going deeper and deeper."

Exceeding expectations

"I originally self-published The Rage of Dragons. I was very fortunate in the response it got. The book did better than my wildest hopes for it to do. By the time a publisher contacted me, the book was doing well enough as a self-published project that I didn't need to look for another job. My plan at that time was to keep writing and put up a series that was entirely self-published.

For me, success is continuing to make a living and supporting my family through my writing. Beyond that, the most important thing is being able to tell stories that I would love.

"I originally didn't want to give up too much control but they really seemed to believe in the project and the editor I've been working with has been great. Her passion for the genre convinced me that working with a publisher was something I should try.

"For me, success is continuing to make a living and supporting my family through my writing. Beyond that, the most important thing is being able to tell stories that I would love."

Evan Winter's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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