My ALLi author guest this episode is Darby Harn, a science fiction writer whose work Publishers Weekly called an “entertaining debut that uses superpowers as a metaphor to delve into class politics in an alternate America.” He also co-hosts a pop culture podcast. It has been a long road for Darby to get where he is while also struggling with autism.
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Inspirational Indie Author Interview: Darby Harn. About the Author
Darby Harn is the author of Stargun Messenger and the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest Quartfinalist Ever The Hero, which Publisher's Weekly called “an entertaining debut uses superpowers as a metaphor to delve into class politics in an alternate America.” His short fiction appears in Strange Horizons, Interzone, and other venues.
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Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 35 years, and now amplifies the voices of independent author-publishers and works with authors as a developmental editor. Find Howard at howardlovy.com, LinkedIn and Twitter.
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Read the Transcripts — Inspirational Indie Author Interview: Darby Harn
Howard Lovy: My guest this episode is Darby Harn, a science fiction writer whose work Publishers Weekly called, an entertaining debut that uses superpowers as a metaphor to delve into class politics in an alternate America.
He also co-hosts a pop culture podcast. It has been a long road for Darby to get where he is while also struggling with autism. I'll let Darby Harn tell his story.
Darby Harn: I'm Darby Harn. I'm the author of Stargun Messenger, my latest novel, space opera, which FanFiAddict called empowering. So, that was wonderful.
I'm also the author of Ever The Hero, which was an order finalist in the Self-Published Science Fiction contest. I'm a writer, it's all I've done my entire life. It's all I'm good at, and I'm really happy to be on this particular podcast because I'm a huge believer in independent authors and independent publishing.
I was born in Iowa City. I've lived all my life, mostly in Iowa. Being from Iowa City, I suppose it was in my blood, as far as the writing goes. I'm also a graduate of the University of Iowa, and also attended Trinity College in Dublin as part of the Irish writing program back then, about 20 years ago now.
I've just always been writing. Since I can remember, I've always been reading. In my head, I walked out of the theatre from Star Wars right to the newsstand there at the grocery store, and was just sitting on the floor reading everything, comic books, magazines, anything that had to do with Star Wars. So, at the time, this is Chris Claremont on X-Men. This is very early Bronze Age comics, and I just inhaled everything.
I was making little comic books. I must've been four or five, making little comic books, making little stories, and I've just always been doing that, and that's really been my only real goal and dream in life, has been just to write and create and to make stories.
Howard Lovy: In college, Darby toyed around with the idea of writing films, but decided on novels. Still, there was something holding him back that he did not discover until relatively recently.
Darby Harn: As I got to college then, that really flipped over into novels, and the University of Iowa was transformative for me. Trinity in Dublin changed my life, but I didn't know then and I didn't know until a few years ago, about five/six years ago that I was autistic.
I had the drive and the talent, I think, I hope, and I had the wherewithal, but something was frustrating me, and something was limiting me, it felt like, to get over that hump, to translate all these ideas and thoughts and stories that were tangled up in my head onto the page. That took a very long time to untangle, and it wasn't until, like I said, about five or six years ago that I was finally able to do that and finally able to start to actually proceed with my career.
I think it was, for me personally, it was just the realization that I was tangled up. I didn't know. It wasn't that I wasn't writing, I was constantly writing, but it was just that everything I was writing was just this tangle and knot of ideas. I couldn't, for myself personally, just everything that was in my head was going onto the page, and it lacked cohesion, and it lacked clarity, certainly.
When I came to this understanding, it was for the first time in my life that I realized that this was happening to me, and that I could actually then identify, and this has taken many years. I'm still going through this; I'll always be going through this. But I could finally see how this was happening, and how one idea would get knotted up in another, and I could finally distinguish between the ideas. Okay, I want to do this, or I want to think about this, or I'm distracted by this, or now I'm just in love because I just read this, now I'm in love with this idea, or there's something constantly running in the background. I can distinguish from that now, and that took several years.
Howard Lovy: It also helped that he found a group of other writers who could help him along.
Darby Harn: I was very fortunate to be part of a group of friends and writers who are also neurodivergent, and who were just absolutely essential. They changed my life. They helped me out tremendously, and they were open and welcoming and let me grow, let me travel on my journey.
Howard Lovy: And when it came time to publish, going the indie route seemed to make the most sense to Darby.
Darby Harn: Part of it was, I think I've always been someone who has just gone my own way. Part of it was bitter experience I had early in my career with traditional publishing, which was very negative. I sold my first book to a traditional publisher in 2006. It was 2011 before I realized that they were just never going to release it, and it was just awful and it really did a number on me as far as my mental health, and my career, and all of it.
I still would like to try traditional publishing, but I'm also very content to do things my own way that I've found myself. I really enjoy the creative process of, not just writing the book but making the book. Working with Al Hess, who is the author of World Running Down, just a fantastic author and also illustrator, and the cover artist for my books.
I love the collaborative process. I love taking something that didn't exist and putting it into the world, and being responsible for everything, and that includes the good parts and also learning from my mistakes. You make so many mistakes, but so you learn so much.
The last three years or so, since I've really started publishing and really started getting over this hump, I've learned so much and each, like this year, 2023, there's just so many things I'm doing for the first time, whether it's a bookstore signing, or I'm going to be doing a radio interview next month or I sold books at a comic book convention this year.
So, there's all these things that are happening for the first time, and each one is an education. Each one is I'm learning for the next time, and I'm learning how to be the best writer and publisher that I can be, and learning that, especially for me, the most important thing is just to be true to myself.
We're inundated, one reason I really enjoy the podcast and ALLi in general, it's because it's such a great resource. I think independent authors today are inundated with advice from every sector about this is what you need to do, or this is how you do it, or etc, and I think the most important thing is to be true to yourself and the stories you want to tell, and then taking that and trying to realize that in the best way possible.
Howard Lovy: And Darby's books have garnered great reviews, including from Publishers Weekly and a growing group of devoted fans.
Darby Harn: I don't know, it feels like there are definitely people who are, I'm very grateful, I'm very grateful, there seems to be a few people who are hanging around and hanging out with me and pre-ordered the book, and Stargun has definitely reached a bigger audience. The biggest audience I've received so far. She's done very well. She's opened all these doors for me this year. She's only been out for two months, and it's very different from, obviously the last couple of years with the pandemic, I wasn't doing anything other than writing and releasing books. But that said, Stargun really feels like a little bit of a change and a growth, and I'm really happy for that, and I'm really happy that the book has reached people and I've gotten such lovely reviews and just lovely comments from people who seem to enjoy it and appreciate it. That means the world to me.
Howard Lovy: Darby also co-hosts a podcast where he talks about pop culture and advises other indie authors.
Darby Harn: So, I am the co-host of the Shellformers podcast with my friend Sugu. We met in Trinity in Dublin many years ago, and we basically talk all things pop culture, books, movies, TVs, comic books. We talk a good deal, and we approach it from a critical lens, and we also talk a lot about writing.
So, I share, where it makes sense, I share my experience as an independent author in terms of writing, the publishing, doing things like the comic book convention, or things like that. So, I really enjoy that because I benefited so much from peers and teachers, and people who helped me along the way to get to this point, and I really believe in giving back and sharing. So, I want to share as much as I can, just my own experience. I don't think I'm going to be able to ever tell people how to write a great book or a bestseller, or anything like that, but I can share my experience from my journey, and hopefully there's something of value in that for people.
So, we're available on all the platforms and everything, and so you can check that out and see hopefully there's something interesting in people for it.
Howard Lovy: Part of Darby's marketing strategy is to go to as many live events as possible, which is getting easier now.
Darby Harn: A little easier now. I wanted to not be completely dependent upon Amazon, be completely dependent online. I was also seeing, I'm a huge comic book fan, I was also seeing at these conventions that there were authors who were selling books at the conventions, and that had never occurred to me, and I think for some people it's, for quite a few of them, it's their livelihood, to the exclusion of say online. That doesn't interest me so much, but I wanted to try it. I wanted to see if I could reach new readers. I wanted to see if I had it in myself to do something like that, to set up a table and put your books out, and just put yourself out there. So, the first show was in May, maybe the first week of June.
It was a good show. I learned a lot. I sold books, I made money. The most important thing is that I met all these potential new readers, and just such great young aspiring writers who were curious. I sat in on a couple of panels that were about the creative process, and so I met so many people that way, and I really enjoyed it. So, I'll be doing more of that, but I think it'll be just part of the experience as opposed to every weekend.
Howard Lovy: As for the future, Darby is going to enter the world of crowdfunding.
Darby Harn: Another first that I'm going to try, is I am going to do a Kickstarter for this, probably early next year it feels like at this stage in terms of the timelines, but I'm excited to try that. So, I've been paying an enormous amount of attention to what people are doing with that, and also then thinking about, well, what can I do? What do I want to do?
It's another way to reach readers and a new audience for someone like me. I don't have natural marketing, anything. I think this is a challenge for most independent authors. It's like, how do you find readers? I think all of these things together, I think social media, live appearances, if that's your interest, Kickstarter, they're all ways to do that.
Maybe collectively you can find those, there was a podcast recently about super fans and that sort of concept, and I hear that a lot from a lot of independent artists, not just writers, but musicians and etcetera, and I think if you can find those people, if you can find those people who really connect with you, if you can make a connection with them, I think that goes a long way towards making, not just making your career, but making all this creative endeavour that you're doing and making it worthwhile.
Howard Lovy: Darby says that he's proof that if you stick with it and stay true to your particular calling, you will find success.
Darby Harn: Be true to yourself. I think you're constantly confronted by the advice and pressure to do this or to do that, but be yourself. What kind of stories do you want to tell? What kind of writer do you want to be?
Then also, maybe more important than that, is just really to stick with it, because I'm pro-positive. It's been a very long journey. I've been writing all my life. It's only been the last couple of years that I feel like that all that time, and effort, and want, and desire has finally come to any kind of fruition.
I feel like, in many ways, I feel like I'm just starting. So, I feel a little bit left behind. I feel a little bit like I have an enormous amount of ground to make up. But at the same time, I also know that it's not a race, it's not a contest. So, you'll get there when you get there, but the most important thing is just to get there and to give yourself the time, the patience, and the room to grow, to learn, to fail, and just to keep striving, even when some days it seems pointless, because some days it does.
But if you keep at it, if you keep growing, if you keep faith and trust in yourself, you'll get there, I think.