Interview with Kevin Nielsen, Author of Sands

Kevin Nielsen is the author of the recently released Sands, published by my publisher, Future House Publishing.

Sands, by Kevin Nielsen

Sands, by Kevin Nielsen

This is a cool book, guys. It reminded me a bit of Dune, but more than that it reminded me of The Blue Sword, which is part of Robin McKinley’s Hero and the Crown series. Also, the world is so tightly realized and textured that it was nearing par with Brandon Sanderson’s world in The Way of Kings.

What I’m saying is that this is well-crafted stuff.

Kevin and I decided to do an interview exchange. He asked me some questions about Beat and I asked him some questions about Sands. I will warn you that this was two authors who love the craft kind of geeking out about stories they love. So this got a little long. That said, there’s great stuff about the craft, from world-building to language and from ideas to execution.

Here you go!

1. Did you find inspiration for the world of Sands from any specific other authors or books?

Most people immediately think of Frank Herbert’s Dune when they think of desert environmentsHowever, I didn’t draw on Dune itself as inspiration, at least not consciously. The novel concept began with the genesauri monsters, which were inspired, in part, by the chitauri in The Avengers movie – the environment then came as a natural consequence of what the genesauri could do and the effects that would have on any climate.  The rest of the world itself came together in pieces, drawing on bits from multiple sources (visits to the aquarium and looking at eels, trips to the Museum of Natural History at Thanksgiving Point to look at the model I used for the marsaisi, living through sandstorms in Arizona when I was younger, etc), but mostly as answers to questions I’d ask myself regarding consequences of previous decisions I’d made about the world. That’s usually how a world builds for me, a concept and then pondering the consequences of that concept until a world or setting unfolds.

2. You use pretty interesting names and language terms throughout Sands. As a guy with a Linguistics degree, I want to know if you had any rules to how names and language worked.

There were some rules, though they are loose.  Sands is the first book in a series wherein the past history of the world itself unfolds slowly within each book.  Many of the names (think the extra “h” in some names or the “shufari” term) derive from some language systems of the past which have been mostly forgotten over the centuries.  Some of the linguistics are based loosely off Portuguese, which I speak fluently, so I did pull from modern linguistics as well, just not English.

Language is a living thing, so not all the names and terms follow the same linguistic pattern (or any linguistic pattern) as those descending from past cultural laws because the language has evolved and is evolving.  So, yes and no.  Some of the origins of the language(s) gets explained and/or heavily implied through the rest of the series.

3. Your perspective and dialogue are really tightly crafted, with oaths and comparisons drawn from a richly textured world. Things like, “Trust is more precious than water,” for example. What was your process to honing this story so it was so tight like this?

World-building is where I start when I craft my stories.  I have notebooks I carry with me at all times in which I outline my ideas for world-building concepts. Once I have a few concepts mulling around in my head or noted in my main little notebook, I jot them down in another notebook (by hand) and flesh them out some more.

Those concepts and ideas take even more shape as I write and sometimes seem to simply come as a direct result of exploring the world through the eyes of each character.  Each point of view reveals a new facet of the world in ways I may not have thought about before.  This is one of the reasons why there are multiple POV characters in Sands.

A lot of the dialogue and “oath” tightness also comes from a speech by Richard Feynmann called, “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom.”  Though the speech itself has nothing to do with writing, it reminds me that a story is in the details, in the little things that make up “the bottom.”  For me, the tightness in language and dialogue are what make up the world.  The sand, the monsters, etc, those are the big things, but the language and the in-world references, the names, even the expressions (like the specific passage you quoted), are what make up the feeling and the texture of the world.  It shows how the characters within the world perceive it, which gives the world a sense of character in and of itself.  You can learn a lot about a culture by how they speak and especially how they “fake swear.”

4. I’m assuming Sands is the first in a series. Would you characterize it as epic fantasy? If so, what kind of promises does epic fantasy make to its readers and fans?

Yes, I would characterize Sands as epic fantasy.  More precisely, I would probably call it introductory epic fantasy.  It is the first book in a series, which is currently planned out to be five books altogether. Epic fantasy does come with some inherent promises, the first of which is an unspoken agreement to provide internal resolution within each installment in the series as well as resolution in the series as a whole.  This creates some challenges, but I’ll address those more in the next question.  Another one of the promises is that all the various storylines (since there are usually several) will come together at some point and relate to one another.  This creates a third major promise to the readers and fans, that there will be some measure of suspense to the novel, some puzzles to be figured out for which clues and breadcrumbs will be left throughout the story.  In my own series, there is a fourth promise, a promise that the story will grow more complex as it progresses through each installment so that the final resolution will have greater resonance.

5. Along the same lines as #4: What challenges do you think are unique to epic fantasy? Any advice for a writer trying to find her or his way through the first in their epic fantasy project?

Epic Fantasy has one major pitfall which comes from the series aspect of the majority of epic fantasies.  Continuity and consistency.  I put the two of these together since they are inseparable in epic fantasy.  As part of the promise of epic fantasy there comes the understanding that the overarching plot will stretch from the first book to the last, but will also have an internal plot unique to the particular installment (book 1, book 2, etc) which will garner resolution at the end of each unique book.

This relates to my main piece of advice for a writer who wants to wet their toes in epic fantasy.  As much as I am not a very good outliner, epic fantasy needs some measure of cohesion and consistency.  If you don’t outline, this will mean a LOT of revisions to get the consistency correct and the plot to work.  However, something that is a MUST is an “in-world” encyclopedia of terms, phrases, expression, etc, including their origin and any deeper context to them that may come up in later books in the series.  Craft a world rich enough to have its own problems and the story will evolve consistently because it will behave consistently.  If you craft an arrogant character well enough, you’re not surprised when that character reveals their arrogance through their actions even when you’re not specifically trying to make them do arrogant things – it is simply a part of their nature – the character has a life of its own.  In the same vein, if you construct an internally consistent world, you’re not surprised when the world continues to reveal awesome, consistent bits of information about itself throughout your story even when you’re not specifically trying to doing additional world-building – it is simply a part of its nature – the world has a life of its own.


If you made it this far, awesome. Now go buy his book! Also, you can find his interview of me here.

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Writing Pays This Much…

Hey guys. I have self-published a book and my second book just came out, published by Future House Publishing.

I must be rich, right?

Nope. Let’s talk.

I treat writing like a job. It’s the job I want, the job I love, and probably the job I’m best at. What can I say? I write lies pretty well.

What I’m saying is that I take writing seriously. As should anyone who is working toward making their dream a reality.

But let’s talk numbers.

The concept for Beat came to me as I jogged very early one January morning in the snow and cold. I spent about 10 hours over the following week fleshing it out, throwing ideas at my wife, and finally settling on some pretty basic plot lines.

Now, keep in mind that Beat is about 90,000 words, give or take a thousand.

So I went to work. When I’m rolling and I know where scenes are going and what comes next, I type about 1200 words/hour.

Doing the math, that equals 75 hours of work. Plus the ten hours of fleshing things out.

85 hours, right? That’s all it took to write the book you are all going to buy right now, right?


Remember how I said “when I’m rolling etc”? That happens about 10% of the time. Beyond that, I am plotting, doing ad-hoc research, character mapping, scene mapping, brainstorming and lots of other stuff.

So really, it would be fair to say I end up with about 400 words/hour of actual writing time.

New math: 90,000 words divided by 400 words/hour = 225 hours. Plus the initial 10.

That’s probably a fair guess. That’s 235 hours of FIRST drafting. That’s four months of writing between two and four hours a night for four or five nights a week.

Now let’s talk rewriting.

I put Beat aside for about a half year while I worked on other books. Then I picked it back up, put about 100 hours of rewriting into it, moved house, and started working with a critique group.

We’re at 235+100=335 hours so far.

Critique group time spent= about six months workshopping Beat. We probably averaged about three weekly meetings/month during that time. That’s 18 meetings of about 1.5 hours. Sure, not all of that time was spent on Beat, but it was work toward the goal of a great draft of Beat, so it counts.

27 hours of critique group.

Of course I also spent significant time rewriting and editing and re-everything-ing Beat, probably in the range of 10 hours for each meeting we had.

Making another 180 hours.

The math so far: 335 + 27 + 180 = 542 hours spent on making Beat awesome. Yes, all of this time was necessary, because first drafts are not for public consumption. There’s all kinds of great stuff in a first draft, but it’s not a finished book yet.

Then I sent Beat around to agents and publishers. I spent 50+ hours on this over three months.

Bringing us to 600 hours.

I’m not done.

I set Beat aside, having gotten no traction due to the industry agreement two years ago that the market had enough dystopian YA. I call shenanigans on that- dystopian has been huge for years. 1984 and Brave New World anyone?

But then I went back early this year and spent about 20 hours fixing a few issues I still wanted to repair in Beat. 

620 hours.

I sent it to Future House Publishing, thinking that a scrappy, innovative publishing house like them were probably the best place for this book. They accepted it.

I spent 30-40 hours rewriting, reviewing, editing, and polishing Beat for publication. Let’s say thirty for fun’s sake.

So I put around 650 hours into creating and getting Beat into your hands.

There are 2080 work hours in a normal 52-week work year. I put a third of a year’s worth of work hours into Beat. 

Where’s my third of a year salary for that work? I mean, I sacrificed play time, time with family, sleep, hobby time, exercise, and more. Sounds like a job, doesn’t it?

Do you know how much I’ve made off of Beat so far?

Nothing. I’ll get royalties in about another 5.5 months. And so far, with maybe 50 copies of Beat sold at the high price of 99 cents, and I’m making at best 8 cents per copy at this price, I’ve reached the extraordinary earnings of $4.

650 hours of work. Hard, challenging work. The kind of work I love, to be sure, but work that takes effort and sacrifice. Work where I look around while doing it and know that getting paid for it is unlikely, but is the absolute goal.

So no, I’m not rich from my books. Not yet. I am looking to get paid, but if that was all I wanted, I’d go flip burgers. It pays better. For now. The point being of course that I love writing and writing is my career of choice. Burger flipping is not my career of choice.

But I will keep writing good stuff and you’ll keep reading and talking about my good stuff and this thing will happen. Within five years, I’ll be writing full time, making enough to support my family.

What can you do to help? Remember that writing is a job. It’s my first job, and my day job is where I’m moonlighting. And keep reading my books. Buy them, borrow them, share them– I don’t care. Just read them and tell people you love them. I love writing books and I think you love reading books- I think this is the beginning of something beautiful.

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BEAT on June 18 and a CONTEST

Hey everyone. Much silence of late here, since I’ve been focusing on:

  1. Starting a new job in Seattle with Amazon
  2. Moving the family from Utah to Seattle (sell the house, buy a house, blah, blah, blah)
  3. Starting work on a new Old West Urban Fantasy novel, currently titled Dragon Hunters

And I’ve been more active on my Facebook author page than here. But this website is still the best place to get everything you need that is at all related to me, this guy, Jared Garrett, and my stories!

So with Beat coming out on June 18th (on Kindle only for now- the paperback is soon to come too!), my publisher, Future House, is running a really cool cover reveal contest. You just have to guess what the book is about on one of these places, and you’re entered.

1. Facebook:

2. Twitter:

3. Google+:

Now, I should say that the cover is pretty dang cool. I think everyone will love it. But you’ll love the book even more, and what’s better than free books?

Also, let’s make a splash! Share this post everywhere and hand out donuts to everyone you know who participates and shares.

Disclaimer: Author and author's page makes no offer to provide said donuts but really really really encourage you to do this anyway because everyone loves donuts or at least donuts that aren't plastered in coconut. Just saying.

So go to Facebook and comment and share. Then go to Twitter and reply and then retweet. Then go to Google+ and notice how actually cool it is and comment and share.

Kermit flail


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My Tomb Rolls Recipe

I make Tomb Rolls for Easter. These are rolls that, when they’re done and you open them, have a nifty open space in the middle.

Empty space. Like Christ’s tomb. So Tomb Rolls.

Here’s the recipe. The water and yeast are the only exact amounts. Everything else, I don’t really measure but have estimated for the purposes of this recipe. This recipe will make around 24 rolls.

2 cups warm, not quite hot, water
1/2 cup olive oil (or melted butter- don’t use margarine because gross)
1/3 cup sugar
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp lemon juice (or yogurt-it helps the chemical reaction in the gluten)
1 tbsp active dry yeast
whole wheat flour (I dunno, six cups? four cups?)
white flour (enough to make the dough the right consistency)
24 large (not the huge ones) marshmallows


  1. Put water, oil, sugar, salt, lemon juice, and yeast in a bowl. Mix until really well combined.
  2. Let it sit until the yeast is clearly working: the mixture will be milky and have visible places where the yeast is growing.
  3. Add whole wheat flour, one cup at a time and mixing well between each cup, until the mixture is the consistency of just cooked, thick oatmeal. Let it sit for ten minutes.
  4. Add white flour, one cup at a time etc, and mix in and then knead until the consistency can be worked with. A good test is to squeeze some between your thumb and forefinger. If it is the softness of an earlobe, you’re good.
  5. Put dough into a greased/oiled bowl and cover. Allow to about double in size.
  6. Divide into 24 equal balls. I go for about 50 grams per dough ball (yes I weigh them).
  7. Grease a baking pan. I use a stoneware pan. It needs about a half inch+ of height on the side.
  8. One at a time, take a dough ball, flatten it in your hand, place a marshmallow in the center, and wrap the dough around the marshmallow. The marshmallow will keep the ball round. Pinch and seal the dough ball closed on the bottom and put it on the greased pan. Do this for all of the dough balls.
  9. Cover the pan of rising rolls with plastic wrap.
  10. Let rise for about 30 minutes, or as much time as it takes the rolls to nearly double in size.
  11. Bake in an oven preheated to 350F for 35-40 minutes, until golden brown.
  12. Let them cool in the pan for about 5 minutes. Then serve.
  13. Open the rolls to reveal the empty tomb. Enjoy the slight gooeyness left by the melted marshmallows.

Pretty easy, no?

If you have extra dough, make a loaf of bread!

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Help Me Support Operation Underground Railroad

Friends and fans, I need your help supporting a cause I’ve been wishing I could support more. It’s a group called O.U.R.- Operation Underground Railroad.

This is an organization that is dedicated to seeking out and rescuing kidnapped children from slavery– all too often from sex slavery.

Here’s their website:

Find them on Facebook:

And on Twitter:

Here is a video of them rescuing 12 child slaves.

So I am going to donate every penny, every dollar– everything I make from sales of BEYOND THE CABIN for the rest of February to this group.

I’m not going to wait for the royalties to arrive either, I’ll simply total things up and send this group the money.

I need you to share this as far as you can. I love these guys and want to give them as much money as possible.

Here’s the Amazon link to BEYOND THE CABIN:

The best way to help is to simply share a link to this post. I’ve had some wonderful people help spread the word about O.U.R., but without a link about this effort and also missing a link to the book on Amazon. Thus, no money!

Let’s see what we can do. I’ll update you with tallies at least daily.

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