Diagnosing Dr. Fantasy

From Writer Unboxed:

If you’re a fan of epic fantasy or of Fantasy BookTube, our guest today will need no introduction. For the rest of you, Philip Chase is medievalist with a PhD in English Literature. He has taught courses on writing, medieval literature, and fantasy literature, among other things. His special interests include Old English, Old Norse, Middle English, nineteenth-century medievalism, comparative mythology, and fantasy. Other inspirations include time spent in places like Germany, the United Kingdom, Nepal, and the Northeast and Northwest of the United States.

Those of us who are fans of his eponymous YouTube channel, which is dedicated to exploring fantasy literature, have come to know him affectionately as Dr. Fantasy (after a regular segment on his channel). Many of us have also recently come to know him as the author of The Edan Trilogy, which begins with his recent debut, The Way of Edan. I was lucky enough to get an early chance to read, and I can tell you that his expertise and dedication shine through in every sentence of this wonderful book. I’m a fan twice over!

I also had the honor of hosting the discussion below, in an effort to ascertain the root causes—and lifelong consequences—of an affliction I share with today’s interviewee: a fervent love of fantasy. Please help me to welcome Dr. Fantasy himself, Philp Chase, to WU.

Vaughn Roycroft: You and I met in the comments of your YouTube channel. You’ve gained quite a large following there (rightfully so, in this fan’s humble opinion). Can you tell us your Fantasy BookTube origin story, and a bit about how running your channel fits into your writing life? It seems the channel has been a boon to the recent release of your debut. Did you have publication or platform-building in mind from the onset? How do you see the channel fitting into your career going forward?

began a little more than three years ago as an attempt to enhance a course I created and had been teaching for years at my college on fantasy literature. In the beginning, I imagined the channel as a forum where my students and I could exchange ideas on readings and on fantasy as a genre. I was completely ignorant of the community of book lovers on YouTube – I had no clue what a “TBR” or “tag video” was – but was delighted to find myself suddenly in the midst of so many people who love the genre that I believe is incredibly rich and deserving of critical exploration. My channel has always been part of the same passion that feeds my teaching, my reading, and my writing. It has turned out to be a lot of work to run a YouTube channel, but it rarely feels like work because of how much I enjoy reading and discussing fantasy literature and writing. Since I recently self-published the first book in a trilogy that I’ve been working on for more than 18 years, the channel has indeed become a boon for getting the word out. I would like to continue the conversations that take place on my channel within the “BookTube” community as a way to affirm my passion as a student of fantasy but also as a writer since it has become a wonderful way of interacting with my own readers. Most of all, I enjoy the meaningful friendships I have made while bonding over books on the platform.

VR: I can only imagine how much work goes into making your BookTube channel such a great resource, as well as a pleasure to watch. I often find myself marveling over it. If someone reading this was thinking of starting their own BookTube channel, what advice (or perhaps words of warning) might you offer them?

PC: Running a BookTube channel can be as time consuming as a full-time job, so it’s something that is, for me, fueled by passion for the subject. For a few people with large enough channels (much larger than mine), it is a full-time job. One key thing to know, I think, is that most (or all) of the things you can try to attract viewers and subscribers – to “grow your channel” – are things that take a lot of time and no small amount of determination. One example is putting out consistent content. Though I cannot claim deep familiarity with the mysterious algorithm, it’s common knowledge that regularity helps your views. Another example is the amount of content. In general, three videos per week will get more clicks and fuel more growth than one video per week. Yet another is putting production value into your videos, meaning lots of time spent editing and money spent buying nice equipment. And then there’s being responsive to folks who leave comments, which takes more time. And don’t forget thumbnails that grab people’s attention! You don’t have to do all these things, but I think you would have to do at least some of them very well to achieve a large following. That said, not everyone wants a large following. I’m on YouTube to exchange ideas about the fantasy genre and discuss books. Believe it or not, these are not the sexiest topics on the internet, and long form discussions (my favorite thing to do) are currently not in fashion, apparently. Deep analysis does not drive clicks. But I stick to that sort of thing anyway because it would be inauthentic — and likely a catastrophic failure — for me personally to make TikTok style videos.

VR: Your writing journey and mine are similar in that we’ve both written epic fantasy for a lengthy period, and have both completed several manuscripts in a series prior to publication. How long have you been writing your own fiction? Can you tell us why you chose fantasy, and what makes the genre special to you? I’ve noticed that several reviewers refer to your work as providing a fresh take on classic fantasy. Does that description match what you aimed to achieve? What advantages does the genre provide to what you’re seeking to accomplish in your storytelling?

PC: I feel like, rather than choosing fantasy, fantasy chose me. Or grabbed me and tossed me through a threshold into worlds of peril, beauty, and wonder. I haven’t felt much like returning ever since I wandered in the Shire, but of course fantasy also has much to say about our world and its struggles. When we return from imagined worlds to the one we inhabit, we often do so with a sense of clarity and new perspectives that help us in our struggles, even with an affirmation that we have meaning in a world that often tells us that we lack meaning. So, in some way, I have been working on my fiction ever since I read Lord of the Rings as a 12-year-old boy and found myself wanting to do for others what he did for me — something I would later learn is often called catharsis. I suppose that going off to learn Welsh, Old English, and Old Norse and becoming a medievalist was part of that journey too. But I actually began writing in 2004, and I started with a map. Not knowing what was going to happen in my story, I nevertheless felt the need to imagine a world in which it would happen. And I knew my protagonist’s name – Dayraven – which I stole from Beowulf (it’s not the only thing I stole from it, either).

I’m not entirely sure what puts the “classic” in classic fantasy, but it’s safe to say that my influences include not only older writers in the genre like Tolkien and Le Guin, but that they go all the way back to the really old stuff, like the Old Norse sagas and The Mabinogion. So, perhaps some of the “classic” vibes rub off from there. More modern fantasy writers have also played a role in my ideas about storytelling. Some that I admire and read while I was writing include George R.R. Martin, Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence, Robin Hobb, and Steven Erikson.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed