Introducing J. Lyon Layden who has recently signed his young adult heroic fantasy filled with ogres and ancient Chinese lore entitled The Unnamed Bears Favor with RCP. It is slated for release in September of 2018 under the imprint Legion. Rio will handle cover design. Editing, map-making, and more will soon be underway. For now, get to know J. Lyon Layden as an author.
First, tell us a little about yourself. When did you want to become an author? What inspires you to do what you do? Who are you?
Being told I should be a writer and wanting to be an author are both among my earliest memories, so it’s foggy which came first. I used to create stories for my toys and make up skits with my siblings, and I’d tell ghost stories to scare my cousins. I remember being told I should be a writer when adults looked at my drawings as well, so I’m glad I took their feedback the right way! Later on in school, I made up stories with my spelling words instead of just writing sentences for each one, and we had to read those assignments aloud in class. The kids got a kick out of it and the teachers encouraged me, so maybe those early nudges set me on the path.
What inspires you to do what you do? Who are you?
I dropped out of college as an English major going into his senior year because I’d found a new love—music. Also because I could barely afford to take the bus to class. I worked as a freelance music journalist and musician for years while also holding a job as a cabinet designer or installer, and gave up the construction and journalism about the time the housing bubble burst. People always need music and bars, even during a depression, so music kind of saved me financially. These days I tell ghost stories or play music for a living, depending on the night, and this gives me my daytime hours to write.
But the real reason I began writing fiction again is because I finally have the information I need to tell the story that’s been bugging me since I first learned about Neanderthals and Megafauna as a child. I was first made aware of these prehistoric creatures by the same person who’d read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings to me, my dad. One night, while we watched Ripley’s Believe it or Not or something like it, my dad said “With all these different cultures describing ogres and trolls and goblins living in the woods, there had to be something to it. It was probably Neanderthal Man…or something like him.”
At the time, however, civilization was only supposed to be 5000 years old, whereas Neanderthal Man was thought to have died out 35 thousand years ago, so no one would have taken such speculation seriously. But the more I learned about ancient hominids and megafauna, the more I realized they’d eventually be found at much younger dates. So I sort of had to wait until the science caught up with my dad’s theory in order to write these novels.
In the 20th century, man tried to use science as a tool to disprove the myth. In only the first few decades of the 21st century, science has proven many aspects of myth a reality whether man likes it or not. I believe science will continue to do so in the years to come. It’s about time—like Joseph Campbell said, modern man is in dire need of myth and legend. I’m compelled to share the great news with my fellow fantasy fans that the creatures they’ve dreamed about since youth were real after all, and that magic does exist, despite what the 20th century tried to tell us.
I feel driven in this endeavor because the scientists aren’t doing a great job of explaining the implications of their recent findings to the public yet. A few of them have called our prehistoric world a “Stone-age Middle Earth” or a “Fantasy World” in news articles, but no one has really connected the dots for the public or brought the findings into the limelight. No one has really brought it home to the fantasy fans like it should be, and I believe the best way to do this is through fiction. So my stories are the result of over 20 years of research into our mythological and prehistoric past, and I’ve worked hard to make sure every creature, technology, and culture depicted therein actually existed on the same continent during a particular period in our prehistory.
The Unnamed Bears Favor is set sometime between 8000 B.C.and 10,000 B.C. in a Pengtoushan village on the Yangtze River, where giant megafauna and archaic hominids still roamed the forest just miles away from walled settlements with primitive moats. The people inside these settlements practiced types of spiritual technology now lost to us, and in fiction, we can call this “magic.”
What are some quirky and or unique aspects about you and your writing?
Not only is the world in these stories based on conservative, peer-reviewed science but there’s a small chance the stories themselves could be true. I consulted the I Ching about the character arcs and plots.
Stan Gooch lost his tenure and died in a camper because he insisted we’d mated with Neanderthals in the 20th century when it wasn’t cool to say so, and predicted many other things we’re only now discovering to be true after all. He believed the I Ching to be one of our only surviving remnants of the neanderthal’s “intuitive” technology. I thought it would be fitting to let the oracle tell it’s country’s tale if it could, so I’ve used it for the outlines of all the stories in this series. The I Ching has its roots in oracle bone fortune telling, and what the oracle bones tell the boy at the beginning of the story is similar to what the I Ching told me about him when I began to write his arc.
RCP “was founded in 2016 to showcase quality fiction, diverse stories, and unexpected protagonists.” What does that mean to you?
I know you guys publish quality fiction because I had the good fortune of winning a critique from Amber Duell on Twitter, and she gave me some excellent suggestions. A few months later, you can imagine how stoked I was that RCP liked my pitch during one of the Twitter events, especially when I saw you’d only picked a few from the thousands posted that day.
Diverse fantasy to me can mean the work is outside the cliche of the European medieval setting. Neolithic China, with its walls and moats, seems on the surface to have similarities with the feudal society that’s become familiar to fantasy fans, but underneath the veneer, the cultures are vastly different. The peoples of this time period were unlike any who exist today, in both appearance and behavior.
Diversity can also be about giving a voice to the cultures and peoples who have gone extinct, who don’t have a voice to be heard anymore, mostly because our civilization silenced them. Remnants of their genes and traditions can be found scattered among many different modern populations with diverse backgrounds, but as a people, these populations are gone forever. There’s still a lot to learn from them, however, and their story is not only fascinating but may prove useful to our own society in the future.
My protagonist in The Unnamed Bears Favor is an altogether unexpected hero, but that’s also part of the twist I can’t reveal, and I’m thinking this may have been the reason the tale caught RCP’s eye.
What do you think makes a great historical fantasy story?
I like the fantasy aspects to be just on the edge of civilization, just on the edge of reality in a sense but it needs to be plausible fantasy. I’m with George Martin when he says dragons should have only two legs, at least if they evolved on the same planet as the two-legged amniotes, whether someone wants to insist they’re really wyverns or not. I want at least pseudo-scientific explanations for fantasy elements, whether it’s the creatures or magic systems, in order to retain my suspension of disbelief.
But a great story also needs a powerful character arc and a mind-blowing twist. The latter can be tough when you’re trying to stay true to reality, but when I have a good one I know I also have the potential for a great story.
How do you think your piece The Unnamed Bears Favor fits into or varies from that description?
I can tell you that even though this will seem like a bizarre fantasy world to most readers, such a world existed right here on Earth not too long ago. I believe my protagonist’s transformation will resonate with most readers because their ancestors likely went through something similar and a piece of our ancestor’s experiences remains inside of us if Rupert Sheldrake’s experiments and Carl Jung’s archetypes are any indications.
I don’t want to give away the twist though—that’s the whole problem with convincing people your story really has one!
How has writing affected your outlook on things? Has it made you take chances or see things in a different light?
Many people use the terms “prehistoric” and “primitive” interchangeably when talking about human culture, but those two words aren’t really synonymous. The cultures I write about existed in the Neolithic or Paleolithic Periods, both considered prehistoric because they predate recorded history or the written word. I think it’s important to remember that some of these cultures only predate written records because we haven’t been able to decipher their forms of proto-writing yet.
Paleolithic man had symbols we can’t translate, cultures in Neolithic China used a type of proto-writing called Jiahu script, and other East Asian and Pacific cultures used a form of artificial memory involving the knotting of string. It may have been similar to the Celts use of leaves on a string to make sentences.
Many aspects of civilization arose during our prehistoric period, and the ancients used methods of making glue, fire, cement, and megaliths that were either unable to duplicate or only just now learning to duplicate in the 21st century.
For some of these cultures, like the Pengtoushan of China or the Natufian of West Asia, we’ve recovered as many artifacts as we have for historic cultures, who’s writing we are able to read. However, we know history is written by the victors and is often exaggerated, so it’s possible we don’t know any more about what really happened 5000 years ago on the Tigres and Euphrates than we know about what happened 10,000 years ago on the Yellow River. Yet one is historic and the other prehistoric.
Paleoanthropologist don’t speculate like historians do, and they rarely combine scientific sources to paint a vivid picture of what life might have been like for a neolithic priestess. We think we know what ancient Romans looked like. In contrast, scientists are loath to speculate on what Pengtoushan people looked like before 90% of Y DNA haplogroups died out during the spread of later agricultural societies. Likewise, at least one population of hunter-gatherers in Spain had blue eyes and brown skin before the Agricultural Revolution.
Their fossils are 10,000 years old and we’ve extracted their DNA, but their Y Haplogroup is present in only a fraction of a percent of modern Europeans. Scientist only found the marker in living people after they extracted the DNA from fossils. They then did a search for the haplogroup in modern peoples.
This represents a whole genomic population that was absorbed by the spread of agricultural, and their innovations and struggles are lost to us. Europeans didn’t look anything like modern Europeans until the Iron Age and the invasion of the Beaker culture or later. The paternal ancestor of most modern Europeans lived in Central Asia during the Ice Age, and before that in South-East Asia, and before that in Africa. So there are whole populations of people in our prehistoric past whose cultures were wiped away by the Agricultural Revolution and later events.
I think these lost cultures are important, and I think a lot of speculative fiction writers subconsciously try to fill the gaps in our past often using clues from our mythos.
Even more amazing, Archaic hominids survived in Sri Lanka, China, Mongolia, Africa, and South East Asia, and maybe even Europe and the Americas right up until the dawn of civilization. We don’t even have names for all of these peoples yet, mainly because some are thought to be homo sapiens sapiens/archaic hominid hybrids. They may or may represent separate subspecies from homo sapiens sapiens.
The public has no idea about many of these new finds, and scientists vehemently debate their various implications. So, since science has refused to give us an adequate model of these time periods, even though the evidence is available in scattered sources, I’ve been forced to use logic and reason to deduce which scenarios prove most likely. That’s the only way I could piece together a sufficient model to write novels with.
Because I’m looking at these things from a perspective of a writer and journalist rather than as a scientist, I can use the laws of probability, logic, and reason rather than just the scientific method, so I think it’s given me a unique perspective that’s allowed me to figure out some really intriguing realities about mankind’s mysterious past.
What are you most excited to share when it comes to The Unnamed Bears Favors? Ex). The world, the characters, a specific scene?
The ogres of Chinese legend existed, as did other cretures of myth. The ogres liked to steal women just like the myths told us. They began transporting homo sapiens sapiens women into the Tibetan plateau 10,000 years before the first male descendant of Mito Eve and Y Adam even arrived there. Because of this, modern Sherpas have a Denisovan gene that allows them to thrive at altitudes at which most of us would not be able to survive. But similar occurrences happened the world over during our prehistoric past, and from this we may derive our fear of the dark. Also, ancient rights of adulthood held more magic than the modern mind gives those rituals credit for.
Finally, do you have any advice and or tips for aspiring writers out there, especially those who are experimenting with multimedia?
I believe we live in an exciting time for writers, not just because publishing has become easier and we have more ways to market ourselves, but because tools to enhance and draw attention to our work have become more available. We have freeware like GImp, Blender, and Audacity to produce quality videos and audio. If you can’t read your own audiobook or create art and music to supplement your work, you can find talented artists for cheap on Fiverr.
Fiverr is a good place for Beta readers if you need something critiqued in a rush. I’d also encourage everyone to embrace social media, from Twitter to Youtube. Whether you’re going the indie, traditional, or self-publishing route you’re going to need to grow a following if you want staying power. Plus, Twitter still has many opportunities for writers. Both presses publishing my works next year found me on Twitter Pitch Parties. I’d also encourage spec fiction writers to enter the Writers of the Future Contest. Concentrating on short stories can really hone your skills, and winning is probably one of the easiest ways to a publishing deal.