Category Archives: Characterisation

Meet Dirk Flinthart…

I first met Dirk around 15 years ago when he turned up at a Vision Writers’ meeting bare foot talking about ley lines. I soon discovered he was a wonderfully insightful critiquer and came to value his input to our writing craft discussions. When Marianne and I formed the ROR writing group to polish our novel length work we asked Dirk to join. He lives in northern Tasmania with his GP wife and three children, and he is a genius when it comes to food!

His new book Path of Night has just been released through Fablecroft.

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Q: First of all, why ‘Dirk Flinthart’? Your pseudonym reminds me of an episode of the Elizabethan Black Adder series when Lord Flashheart appeared. Were you a fan of Black Adder? What prompted you to use Dirk Flinthart as your writing name?

 

Long, complicated tale. It started – as many things have – at university. For the student newspaper, I wrote a column parodying the US ‘survivalist’ movement, with a friend. The putative writers were Dirk “Some Refuse To Die” Flinthart and Rambo Rockharde. We had a lot of fun, got paid, got drunk, and apparently developed a fanbase. A few years later, after John Birmingham’s He Died With A Felafel In His Hand made so much money that the publisher had to find a tax sink, I got invited to write gutter-level pulp crime fiction. (Brotherly Love, under Autopsy Press, later Duffy and Snellgrove.) All of us involved in that project used pseudonyms, and Birmo suggested I use Flinthart. Then of course that swine Birmingham actually caricatured me under the name of Dirk Flinthart in his sequel to Felafel (The Tasmanian Babes Fiasco). And I wrote a backpacker’s guide to the east coast of Oz in which I was quite rude to the city where my mother lived… so Flinthart took the blame there, too. And I’ve never quite shaken the bastard off.

 

I don’t mind, really. Flinthart has become more of an alternative identity. People who know me will know exactly what I mean, and people who know Flinthart… well, they know Mister Flinthart.

 

Oh! And yes, I’m a big Blackadder fan. Who isn’t?

PathofNightCoverSMQ: According to the back cover blurb for Path of Night: ‘Medical student Michael Devlin is in trouble. With his flatmates murdered and an international cabal of legendary man-monsters on his trail, Devlin’s got nowhere to hide. His only allies are a hot-tempered Sydney cop and a mysterious monster-hunter who may be setting Devlin up for the kill. If he’s going to survive, Devlin will have to embrace his new powers and confront his hunters. But can he hold onto his humanity when he walks the Path of Night?’ I get the feeling this could be a mix of the Jim Butcher novels and Simon R Green’s Nightside series. What did you draw your inspiration from and do you envision a series for Michael Devlin?

I can’t say where the exact ‘inspiration’ came from, but I can say this is intended as a series. Look, currently I’m most of the way through a Masters’ degree in creative writing, and I’ve been studying genre fiction. (Why not?) In doing the reading, I realised something very important.

All of us here in speculative fiction – we want an audience. We want to be published. And as writers, we are conditioned to think that the only effective tool we have is our prose, so we struggle and we strive and we polish and we edit and we critique… and then Dan Brown publishes something that is truly painful to read, and draws millions of readers. (Sorry, Dan. Your writing is awful, and your storytelling makes me cringe. But you’re entertaining a lot of people, so best of luck to you.)

The quality of our prose is important, but only to a certain degree. More important is having work out there, and entertaining an audience. Big publishers are constantly looking for the book that repeats yesterday’s bestseller. Writers want to be original. But audiences? They want to enjoy their reading, and there’s a lot of scope in that.

That was the real inspiration for Path of Night, right there. Realising that I’d reached a place where I could construct a novel and that it could be enjoyed by readers, I felt that I didn’t want to struggle and strive and  have the MS looked at for the next two years by big publishers who wouldn’t take it in the end because it didn’t look like a commercial prospect. I thought I’d write a book that was fun, and interesting, and a bit different, and that I’d approach a small, agile publisher and jump straight into the e-book realms.

Hey: we all started writing because it was fun, right? We tell stories because we enjoy it. But the more we have to compromise our ideas and chase after the here-today, gone-tomorrow will-o-wisp vision of the big publishers, the less storytelling and the less FUN we have.

You want to know something cool? Writing Path of Night was a hoot. I like the main character. I like the main support character so much that I didn’t wind up killing her, and she’s going to be at least as important in the next book, or two, or three. I got a kick out of the villains. I enjoyed adding a distinctly Australian humour to it. I enjoyed the plot and the ideas, and once the ball got rolling, I had the first draft done in less than six months and it didn’t feel like work at all.

Now it’s out there, and the folks who have read it are getting back to me and saying: hey, yeah! This thing is fun! It’s interesting and entertaining!

That right there – that is the alpha and the omega of why and how I became a writer.

No, I haven’t written off the big publishers. That would be silly. But rather than chase them with ever more elegant works, I’m simply going to spend some time enjoying my writing. The challenge of writing elegant, arresting prose remains, and I’ll keep working on projects of that nature, but after the sheer pleasure I got from creating Path of Night, there’s no way I’m making the elegant, poetic stuff my only approach.

 

Q: In a blog post on Ebon Shores you say: ‘I’ve been writing stories since I was a kid. I figure most writers would say the same thing. I started getting paid in University, writing articles for this and that. Being paid was cool, but the point was much more about having fun. I convinced magazines to let me go to Maleny-Woodford to interview feral babes. I got myself paid to attend the National Festival of Beer. I got paid to ride around in a 4WD-converted Rolls Royce. I made money, but more: I had a lot of fun.’ Sounds like your early twenties were a hoot but it is a long way from this kind of writing to speculative fiction. Where and when did the fantasy and SF element come in?

First and foremost, of course. What do you think I read when I was growing up? Smart, isolated kid with a funny accent in Far North Queensland – yeah, I read science fiction and fantasy. I got hold of the Ancient Greek and Norse myths when I was about six. I got the Myths And Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, and a huge volume of Robin Hood in faux-Elizabethan English when I was about eight. I stumbled onto the Robert Howard Conan books before I was ten, and vaulted from there to Moorcock in all his hallucinogenic glory. After that? I read anything I could find that had a speculative element. Horror. Fantasy. Lots and lots of SF, gleaned from school fetes and library sales and everywhere, anywhere at all. I read the Gormenghast books and The Master and Margharita when I was thirteen, at the same time (and from the same private library) as I found Tove Jansson’s marvellous Moomintroll stories.

Yes. I’ve written for magazines. And newspapers. I’ve written radio scripts and interviews and plays, and adapted stories for short films. I’ve published at least one peer-reviewed paper on the topic of online education in an international education journal, and I did that as Dirk Flinthart which I think is pretty funny. I’ve written a backpacker’s guide, and stuff on lifestyle and humour, and I expect I’ll write a lot more of all sorts of things before I drop dead…

…but I love telling stories. Imaginative, speculative stories. And that’s what I’m doing with Path of Night.

 

Q: Your Red Priest stories have been very successful with The Red Priest’s Homecoming appearing in The Year’s Best Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy Volume 2.  I know at one point you were working on a Red Priest book. Can we look forward to seeing a novel length story about the Red Priest?

Yep. Actually, I’d intended to break out with a Red Priest novel, but about halfway in I realised I was writing about more or less the end of the character’s career, and that seemed a damn’ fool way to introduce him in a big way. So I put that one on the back burner. My goal is to work through a few more quick, enjoyable books about Mick Devlin and the Night Beasts, and hopefully acquire enough of an audience that I can then turn around and introduce the Red Priest properly.

That’s the plan, anyhow. Who knows how it will go? I also have to finish that Queen of Bedlam novel pretty soon… and the Masters Degree with it. And more short stories. And… well, hell. Is there a writer that isn’t busy?

I love the Red Priest, though. I’m definitely not done with Tomaso Dellaforte. (Currently working on a story placing him in Iceland, as a matter of interest.)

 

9781875989935Q: Going way back you co-wrote How to be a Man with John Birmingham and I see you had a book called Brotherly Love published in 1995. What genre was this and why can’t I find an image of the cover? Is it out of print?

Brotherly Love is indeed out of print. As I mentioned before, Birmingham’s “Felafel” opus kind of scared the publisher, and he needed a new project to balance his books. Michael Duffy was a man ahead of his time. He figured there was a market for novella-length crime done quick and dirty… and of course, today he’s right. The novella is emerging as a real sweet-spot length for e-publishing. But back in ’95, the cost of printing a 30,000 word book was significant, and you couldn’t really deliver a throwaway price on the things. Meanwhile, the trend was towards doorstop sized airport novels, so after a half-dozen or so books in the collection (Birmo wrote another. So did Peter Robb. I can’t recall who else was involved.) they shelved the concept.

I really enjoyed writing it, though. Thirty thousand words in two weeks, followed by a revision. I can’t believe I made it work. We all did it, though. And yeah: it was fun. A lot of fun.

 

Canterbury-2100-coverQ: A few years ago you compiled and edited a shared world anthology called Canterbury Tales 2100. In an interview on the ROR site you say: ‘Canterbury was a major challenge. It was an homage to the Canterbury Tales: a collection of oral stories by travellers on a stranded train in the year 2109, on their way to Canterbury in an England trying to recover from a century of climate change, ecodisaster, economic catastrophe, plague – a collapse of the worldwide civilisation we have today.’ This sounds fascinating. Do you have any plans to do another shared world anthology?

I adored the Canterbury idea, and I loved working on this project. I picked up very early pieces from writers including Lisa Hannett, Laura Goodin and Thoraiya Dyer, all of whom have gone from strength to strength. Cat Sparks backed me to put it together to suit myself and I remain inexpressibly grateful to her for that.

This is a book that should have gone through a big publishing firm. The idea was not so much a shared world anthology as a collection of stories from the people of a shared fictional world. As a reader, you don’t get a straightforward depiction of “the future” from this book. You get the stories that the people of that future tell each other, and you have to piece together your own image of the future that created those stories. To me, that’s the essence of good storytelling: giving readers enough that they want to create more for themselves.

Canterbury 2100 is unique. Nobody’s done anything quite like it before, or since, and come what may, the writers and I own a little piece of science fiction history for that. I am extremely proud of this collection, and it was indeed a real challenge. However, storytelling is my first love. Editing is second-best, no matter how much fun you’re having with it. If I do another shared world anthology, it will be because I’m being paid for it!

 

Q: Your Young Adult stories have been shortlisted several times for Aurealis awards and This is not my Story appeared in the Year’s Best Australian Science fiction and Fantasy Volume 5. Are you particularly drawn to YA stories and if so, why?

YA? No special appeal. But think how much speculative fiction has been more or less YA. Look at Frank Herbert’s Dune: Paul Atreides is 14 years old at the outset. And Ged, in Ursula LeGuin’s wonderful Wizard of Earthsea – a boy who becomes a very young adult over the course of the tale. Think how much YA stuff Robert Heinlein did – and Diana Wynne Jones, and oh, how many others?

There’s a reason for that, you know.

This world we’ve created does a terrible thing to children as they grow up. When you’re small, the world is full of ghosts and fairies, witches and magic, Jedi masters and superheroes and all manner of marvels and wonders. But as you get older, they take these things away from you one at a time. They kill off the Tooth Fairy, and Santa. The fairy tales become… just stories. The witches become sad, misinterpreted and persecuted women from difficult historical times. The speed of light keeps the alien invasion fleets away from Earth forever, and keeps every space-ranger and free-trader planetbound.

All this they take, and they give back nothing but wreckage. Consumerism. Climate change. Mass extinctions. Trade wars. Terrorism. It’s not an equitable exchange at all: it’s vicious, and it’s cruel.

But there’s that one last joyful period in the life of a growing, thinking person: that time when you’re old enough to comprehend and enjoy complex storytelling, yet not so beaten and defeated that all the magic has gone from the world. That, right there: that’s why so much YA fiction is also speculative fiction. The audience is still young enough and strong enough to suspend disbelief, but they’re also old enough and smart enough to handle a good, strong, twisty story with teeth.

What’s that quote from Ursula leGuin? Oh, I remember: “The creative adult is the child who has survived.” Well, that’s what good YA fiction is for – helping keep alive the child that so very much of this appalling world seems intent on killing. And speculative fiction of all sorts is for people who can suspend disbelief and play along, so of course it frequently reaches out to a younger audience.

And who knows? If we do a good enough job as writers, maybe we’ll convince some of that audience to devise truths of our myths, and the world can become a better place.

 

dirks-cover1Q: Angel Rising was published by Twelfth Planet Press. You say: ‘Gordon gets to fall in love, fight lots of bad guys, discuss Zen and ethics, and maybe save his world. Oh – and he also gets to take sides in a pitched battle between ninjas and Zen Buddhist nuns. What else could you ask for?’ Sounds like fun. Proctor General Gordon has appeared in several stories tied into the New Ceres shared world. Will you be revisiting New Ceres and Gordon?

I’d quite like to, but… it’s complicated. I’m not really sure where all the rights are, or how it all works. There were a lot of people involved with New Ceres. Still, I’ve got several thousand words in which a typically sardonic and cunning George Gordon more or less single-handedly attacks an invasion fleet… It might see the light of day at some point!

 

Q: Not long ago you were writing a libretto as part of your Masters. It was turned into an operetta called Bedlam where Mab, the Queen of the Fey, and Lord Byron collided. ‘Bedlam is a legendary place of madness, and of course, there’s a long history of association between madness and the Faery folk. To be ‘elf-shot’, for example, is an old term for being mad. And then there’s the term ‘fey’, which is often used interchangeably with faery or fairy or elf – but also means eccentric, mad, ‘doomed’, ‘fated’, and so forth. I want to say it was an easy leap from there to trap an elf-queen in Bedlam, and to put the famous Lord Byron into the role of rescuer. And why not? Club-footed Byron (obviously marked by the faery at birth!) is as fine a role-model for the elf-shot, mad, romantic hero as ever you could want.’

(See a clip here)

This takes collaboration to a whole new height, working with a songwriter, director, dancers and actors. Is it an experience you would revisit?

As it stands, the piece is designed to be an opera. The company in Brisbane – Outcast Opera – are still intent on bringing it to life, but they have to grind their way through the funding process. I really, really hope they manage it: the trailer they put together for presentation to Queensland Arts was absolutely jaw-dropping, as you can see from that clip.

Now, my part in all that visual and auditory glory was small. I just wrote some words! But oh – to see and hear those words as they come back with all that music, those voices, those phenomenal dancers! How much more could a writer ever ask for?

I’ve done this kind of thing a couple of times. There’s a short movie from Dragonwood Studios based on a story of mine, and then there’s this opera. And I honestly cannot convey just how much I have enjoyed this. Writing and storytelling – that’s one process, one dimension, one interpretation of ideas and characters. As soon as you bring in other creative people to add imagery, movement, light and colour and sound… yes, you give away ownership of the words. But you get so much back! Seeing your own dreams come back at you, reshaped and re-coloured by the imagination and creativity of others – that’s a special kind of magic.

I’d do this again in a heartbeat. Any time at all. You know what would be a real dream? Writing for animation. That would be just too damned cool.

Still. I’ll be happy if the opera gets to the stage. I’ve promised I’ll attend the premiere in a proper tuxedo… although I think I’ll have to Steampunk it up in honour of the story itself.

 

Q: Your writing background is very eclectic. Was this a deliberate choice or did the stories drive you in their own directions?

There wasn’t a choice. I’m afraid that’s just me. I have an odd kind of mind. I have an unusually retentive memory (far from photographic; I just keep oddments and facts and trivia) and an odd propensity for forming connections and patterns. I have no idea how other people create stories, and even less on how they can keep creating in a single niche. Stories are everywhere! Just… join the dots, right?

I’m not explaining this very well, am I? Probably because I cannot. I think most of us are blind to the strange wellsprings of our own creativity, and I think that’s probably a necessary thing. If we understood where it all came from, it seems likely it would vanish.

 

Q: I understand you teach Ju Jitsu, are learning Iaido, and have been known to take your bow out and shoot a wallaby to cook for dinner, as well as write. How did your degree in Entomology prepare you for this? Seriously, what advice would you give aspiring writers?

Okay, this is getting silly. Ummm… yes, to all the above. (Except bow-hunting wallabies. That’s illegal. But I own a duly licensed firearm, and occasionally I use it to reduce the plague-proportion numbers of wallabies here, and yes – they’re delicious. But I only ever shoot targets with the bow.) I also take photographs, and play the Irish whistle and flute. Doesn’t everyone?

Advice for aspiring writers is simple, though: write.

Don’t expect to publish. Just write. Write because you need to, because it’s your joy, because it gets you through the day. Write what you like writing, and enjoy the writing that you do.

Yes, your prose has to work. But there are enough highly popular, thoroughly execrable books out there to prove beyond all doubt that deathless prose isn’t the secret.

What is? Well, if I knew that I’d be parked next to Dan Brown’s yacht, wouldn’t I? But I know this: if you’re not having fun, you’re wasting your life. So write, and take pleasure in the stories you tell, and once you’ve placed a few stories and maybe won a competition or two, just take the plunge.

Let the readers decide. They’re the ones you want to reach, after all.

 

Catch up with Dirk:

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Filed under Australian Writers, Characterisation, creativity, Fantasy books, Fun Stuff, Genre, Movies & TV Shows, Readers, Script Writing, Thrillers and Crime, Tips for Developing Writers, Writing craft, Young Adult Books

Hemming Award Shortlist Announced

The shortlist for the Norma K Hemming Award has been announced. ‘The Norma K. Hemming Award marks excellence in the exploration of themes of race, gender, sexuality, class and disability’ and I feel very honoured to see my books in such esteemed company.

In no particular order with the judges’ comments:

bitter-greens

The novel Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth (Random House Australia)

“Forsyth weaves together the stories of three vitally different women amongst the flavours and fortunes of 16th and 17th century France, exploring the themes of sex, sexuality, love, ageing, beauty, vengeance, jealousy and fear.”

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The novel Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan (Allen & Unwin)

“Sea Hearts takes us on a journey through what it means to be male and female, lover and loved, thing and person, and Lanagan’s rich prose goes beyond the fantastical towards new sensibilities and understandings.”

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The trilogy The Outcast Chronicles (comprising the novels BesiegedExile and Sanctuary) by Rowena Cory Daniells (Solaris)

“The Outcast Chronicles trilogyis a tour de force of extraordinarily detailed world building. Rowena has created political intrigue, attempts at genocide, a dangerous world of magic that many believe to be gods, with flawed, noble and ignoble characters on all sides. There is poetry and wit in the writing, and characters that stay with you long after you have finished this gripping trilogy.”

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The novel Winter Be My Shield by Jo Spurrier (HarperVoyager)

“Winter Be My Shield is a suspenseful, grim, and gritty heroic fantasy novel – the first of a trilogy – set in a cold, wintry land. Jo Spurrier focuses the events around a dangerously powerful young woman, a horribly wounded war veteran, and a cruel, yet strangely sympathetic villain, all of them coming to terms with their tormented pasts. The author is a remarkably accomplished storyteller who must surely have a huge career ahead.”

 

The winner and runner-up of the Hemming Award will be announced at the national SF Convention, Conflux, next weekend. Best of luck to everyone and you are already winners.

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Filed under Australian Writers, Awards, Characterisation, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Gender Issues

Juliet Marillier talks about creating Fantasy Worlds…

A whole new world?   

Ask dedicated readers of fantasy, and epic fantasy in particular, what makes a book special for them, and I’d guess a majority would place good world-building high on the list. I’m talking about novels in which the secondary world is so well realised and so expertly woven into the story that the reader becomes immersed in it within the first few pages: a world that’s convincing, consistent and fascinating. Its parameters and its quirks won’t be set out for us in long passages of descriptive exposition, but will be integral to the plot and will emerge as the story unfolds.

Many fantasy worlds are loosely based on medieval Europe – horse transport, sword fights, kings and queens. Some are more exotic, like the version of feudal Japan that provides the setting for Lian Hearn’s Tales of the Otori. A writer who knows her history can play boldly with it, as Jacqueline Carey does in her Kushiel’s Legacy series. Some worlds have in-built anachronisms, as in steampunk; some add extras to known history (Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series does the Napoleonic wars with dragons.) Since we’re talking fantasy, it’s often a world in which systems of magic are a key plot element – think Garth Nix’s Sabriel series or the Britain of Hogwarts.

My novels are generally classified as historical fantasy – they contain elements of the uncanny, but they are set in ‘real world’ times and places. Known world events, such as Viking voyages to the north of Scotland or merchant trading between Romania and Turkey, take place in the background while the (fictional) story of the book unfolds. I do almost as much research for each book as I would if I were writing a straight historical novel – history, geography, flora and fauna, culture, language. And most important of all, mythology and folklore, since that’s where the fantasy elements of my books begin. I’ve written eleven adult novels and two books for young adults more or less on this model.

My new novel, Shadowfell, steps outside that framework. It’s the first book I’ve chosen to set in a ‘made-up world’.

So how did I go about creating this world? You won’t need to delve too deep to work out that the uncanny characters of the Shadowfell series, the Good Folk, are based on Scottish folklore, and that the realm of Alban is an alternative, magical version of ancient Scotland. History it ain’t. It’s a Scotland that never was, in which men and women mingle with a race of magical beings who inhabit the high mountains, the lonely lochs and the deep caves; a Scotland steeped in the uncanny. The map of Alban does resemble the Great Glen area, but it’s not a perfect match by any means. The human characters’ names are a blend of Scots and Pictish; the clans of Good Folk take their names from nature so, for instance, the mountain clan are named for Scots alpine plants – Hawkbit, Woodrush, Twayblade – and the fighting clan of the north, whom we meet in the second book, have names like Stack, Grim and Scar. The Good Folk speak Scots dialect – I must have absorbed a lot of the language growing up in Dunedin, New Zealand, as those characters’ speech pretty much wrote itself.

Creating the world of Shadowfell was deeply rewarding; a bit like going home after half a lifetime away. But for me a compelling story and engaging characters are far more important than world building. In Shadowfell, I set out to write a story about being brave when your world is falling apart; about finding your strength when you are at your very lowest; about having hope when you’ve suffered more blows than you can count. The protagonist, Neryn, starts the story alone, penniless and on the run. She’s not a ballsy superwoman; she’s tired, hungry and afraid. Alban is in the grip of a tyrant. It’s a place where speaking out for justice means your door gets kicked in and your family dragged away in the middle of the night. It’s a place where a magical gift such as Neryn’s must be hidden if a person wants to survive. It takes phenomenal courage to stand up to that kind of repression. Shadowfell is about finding that kind of courage.

 

Juliet has a copy of Shadowfell to give-away to an Australian or New Zealand reader. 

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Filed under Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, Characterisation, creativity, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Historical Books, Writing craft

Meet Simon Haynes, Hal Spacejock’s alter ego…

I have been featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) but this has morphed into interesting people in the speculative fiction world. Today I’ve invited the talented Simon Haynes to drop by.

Look out for the give-away at the end of the post.

Q: I discovered the first of your Hal Spacejock series  years ago and bought the whole set.  On your web page you have a list of humour SF series, Bill the Galactic Hero, Red Dwarf, Hal Spacejock, Stainless Steel Rat and Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy. It’s a very small pool of really brilliant books. It is incredibly hard to write humour and then to write humorous SF makes it even harder. What’s your philosophy about humour?

First off, thanks for buying the books. If everyone did that SF Comedy wouldn’t be such a niche genre. Then again, publishers would leap on the unexpected craze and the market would be swamped. So, whatever you do, don’t buy SF Comedy!

The problem with adding humour to any novel is that the gatekeepers (editors, publishers, bean counters) have to GET it. If the style of humour doesn’t appeal to them, they can extrapolate from that and decide nobody else will enjoy it, either. There’s also that whole ‘am I the only one laughing?’ thing with humour. If you’re the only one smiling, does that mean you have a keen sense of humour, or does everyone else just have better taste for fine comedy? (It’s like sipping wine and making appreciative noises while everyone else is pulling faces and emptying their glasses into pot plants.)

Hal Spacejock contains a fair bit of geek humour, with in-jokes about operating systems and computers, and pokes at genre classics such as Star Wars and Star Trek. If that whistles past the reader, they’re left with the next layer of humour, and they might think that’s all there is.

I guess this is why humorous novels polarise reviewers and readers, although it’s all too easy for authors to throw their hands up and exclaim that nobody ‘gets it’. You have to work hard to make sure as many people as possible get it, without dumbing things down.

Q: Your BIO says you… ‘returned to Curtin (University) in 1997, graduating with a degree in Computer Science two years later. An early version of Hal Spacejock was written during the lectures.’  Seriously, did you write your book during lectures? I lecture first year UNI students. I don’t think many of them are sitting up the back writing books. I think they’re texting or on Facebook.

By the time I signed up for my computing degree I’d been programming for over 15 years. The only reason I applied for the degree was because I was self-taught, and I figured the qualification wouldn’t do any harm.

A lot of the early lectures covered really basic stuff – peripherals, really trivial programming, etc – and so I sat up the back with my trusty old laptop, plotting and typing away.

Once the material moved ahead of me I put the laptop away and paid proper attention. I still managed to write most of the novel at uni though –  I used to finish work at 4-ish, go straight to Curtin and type in the library until the lectures or tutes started.

Q: I can see how Hal Junior would be heaps of fun to write. You say, ‘I drew on my childhood for inspiration. My younger brother and I grew up in a small village in rural Spain, and ‘untamed’ doesn’t cover the daily scenes of chaos and destruction.’  Do you have sons? Are they giving you grey hairs?

Two daughters, and yes ;-)  They’ve had access to a wide range of hobbies and physical activities, from archery to bike riding, martial arts to soccer, digital art to oil painting. There weren’t any frilly dresses or dollies, that’s for sure. They’re mad keen computer games, the pair of them. One’s running her own minecraft server, and the other is working on a graphic novel based on her favourite computer game.

Q: You decided to self publish your Hal Junior books. I’ve met a lot of authors who have been down the traditional publishing route and have opted for self publishing. What was your reasoning behind your decision?

There were several, and they all came to a head at once:

Fremantle Press have treated me well, so it was natural to offer them the new series first. After a couple of months they let me know they were going to pass on Hal Junior – not because it was a pile of crap, but because they felt I should take it to a bigger publisher who would be able to do it justice. This was just after several bookselling chains had folded, and Fremantle Press doesn’t have distribution into the big department stores.

So, I changed the title from ‘Hal Spacejock Junior’ to ‘Hal Junior’, and rejigged the book. I decided to change it so that it featured Hal Spacejock’s son (not Hal as a child). In June last year I sent queries off to three Aussie publishers. Honestly, it was a token effort: I would send out three queries, probably get rejected within a week, move on.

So, I started making plans to self-publish the book. I had a meeting with Fremantle Press because I wanted to discuss the Hal Spacejock ebook rights. None of the books were on Kindle, and I wanted to take them back and issue them myself. At the same meeting I confessed that all my time was going into Hal Jnr, and I didn’t feel Hal Spacejock 5 was anywhere near completion. We agreed to terminate Hal Spacjeock, and I got my Hal Spacejock e-rights back.

At this point (July), I suddenly had four new titles to self-publish, and it seemed crazy to give the Hal Junior series to another publisher instead of releasing it through my own imprint.

Then the kicker … Tehani told me Lightning Source had just set up in Australia. I checked their print prices and was instantly converted. I wrote to the Aussie publishers, who’d already had the queries for three months, and withdrew my submissions. Then I started tidying up Hal Junior for an indie release, including commissioning a cover artist and hiring an editor.

About two months after Hal Junior came out I got an email from one of the Aussie publishers expressing interest in the series and requesting a full manuscript. Oops, missed the boat, should have been quicker off the mark. (I honestly thought publishers would treat an enquiry from an established author a little quicker, but hey, it’s not my problem any more. And I’ve never really considered myself established, just perched precariously on the second rung.)

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy is a bit of a boy’s club. Do you think there’s a difference in the way males and females write fantasy?

The finished version of any novel depends on the writer’s skill, influences, tastes and the environment they grew up, not their sex. Take one aspect: sword fighting. Imagine a male writer who has never swung a sword in anger, sitting down to write a sword fighting scene. Now imagine a female writer who is a member of SCA, or a keen fencer, sitting down to write a combat scene. I’m betting the latter will be far more authentic, and the writer’s gender has nothing to do with it.

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?

Nope. I pick books based on recommendations, buzz, and my own taste. Most years my new book purchases are at cons, which means GOH books and those by fellow writers. Lately I’ve been reading a lot of junior (middle grade) fiction to see what I’m doing right (or wrong) in terms of tone, language, content and so on. I couldn’t tell you the gender of the authors, because I’ve been reading whatever I can lay my hands on.

Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?

It would be good to go back to certain moments in my childhood so I could correct a few wrongs. I’m saying no more.

 

Giveaway Question:  If you were ten years old and you lived aboard a futuristic space station, what’s the first thing you’d do?

The winner will receive an autographed copy of Hal Junior: The Secret Signal OR Hal Junior: The Missing Case. If your idea is better than mine I’ll probably steal it for Hal Junior 27: The Stolen Idea.

 

Catch up with Hal Junior on Facebook

Catch up with Simon on Goodreads

Catch up with Simon’s blog on writing and publishing

Follow Simon on Twitter @spacejock

Check out Simon’s free writing and reading software

And finally, the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior website

 

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Filed under Australian Artists, Australian Writers, Characterisation, Children's Books, Covers, creativity, Fun Stuff, Gender Issues, Nourish the Writer, Promoting your Book, Publishing Industry, Readers, Story Arc, Tips for Developing Writers, Young Adult Books

Meet James Maxey…

I have been featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) but this has morphed into interesting people in the speculative fiction world. Today I’ve invited the talented James Maxey to drop by. (Further disclaimer, James and I are both published by Solaris).

Look out for the give-away at the end of the post.

Q: Your series is called Dragon Age and the books are called Bitterwood, Dragonseed and Dragonforce. Your new series is called Dragon Apocalypse and the first book is GreatShadow- who is a ‘primal dragon of fire, an elemental evil whose malign intelligence spies upon mankind through every candle flame, waiting to devour any careless victim he can claim’. Can we take it from this that you really like dragons? 

The first thing you should know is that dragons are constantly stalking me in my bedroom. (See the photos of the shadow dragons I’ve attached. I swear these are not photoshopped.) Since they have yet to devour me, I assume they’re instead whispering subliminal messages in my ears filling me with urges to write about them.

As an author, I’m fascinated with dragons for their mythic impact. I think humans are hardwired to be on the lookout for dragons. If you think about it, we evolved from small monkey-like creatures who had strong evolutionary pressure to watch out for big snakes, big cats, and big birds. Blend these animals together, and you get a dragon. Dragons provide a path into the deep and primal instincts of readers. The small mammals inside us feel compelled to keep their eyes fixed on these ultra-predators.

Q: In an interview on Shimmer you said:  ‘My books feature dragons as the oppressive rulers of humanity, and Burke is a rebel who hates dragons.  Anza is his only child, and, while he might have wanted a son, he’s decided to turn his daughter into a dragon-killing machine.  After I decided that Anza had been trained since she could walk to be a fighter, I wrote a battle scene where she kills someone in complete silence.  It was then that the character revealed to me that she never talked; she’d been mute since birth.  I had to go back and rewrite all the scenes where she spoke, which was a pain, but completely worth the effort.  With a lot of my best characters, I don’t so much design them as discover them.’ From this I take it you are not a plotter so much as a pantser? (Pantsers write by the seat of their pants. ie. they let the story take them where it and the characters want to go).

I normally go into a book with some sort of broad outline, but outlining only helps me think about the big plot points and the most obvious character motivations. So, in Greatshadow, when I’m thinking on the outline level, Infidel’s motivation for wanting to slay the dragon Greatshadow is so that she can steal his treasure and have enough wealth to retire from her life as a mercenary and live the rest of her days in peace. That sort of straight-forward, big picture motivation is all I need to start writing. But, if I only wrote down the big picture stuff, I’d have a book about 20 pages long. So, I’ve got to fill in each scene with detail and dialogue, and the more the characters talk, the more they evolve, and I’m able to start drilling down deeper and deeper into what really, really motivates them. To the degree that I’m a pantser, it’s because I’m willing to toss out my outlined plot points and let the characters go where they want to go as my knowledge of them increases. Sometimes I wind up back exactly where the plot required them to be (for instance, Infidel still has a climatic scene where it all comes down to her facing off against the dragon). But, other times, my plot does a 180 turn as the character rejects my master plans and tells me what they really want to do, and I wing it and charge blindly into terra incognita.

Q: Do you think that writers are in a unique position to explore and process the major experiences of their life through their writing?

Hmm. I don’t know about unique. Certainly an actor or musician or artist would have similar opportunities to channel their emotion into their chosen careers. But, an accountant or a mall security guard… maybe not so much.

I process a lot of pain through my writing. Greatshadow is dedicated to my best friend Greg Hungerford, who passed away two years ago. The novel is narrated by a ghost named Stagger, who is sort of a wastrel poet intellectual who looks back on his too-short life with a mix of fondness, cynicism, and black humor. Anyone who knew Greg will probably recognize a bit of him in Stagger. But, my writing isn’t informed only by loss. Greatshadow is also a love story; Stagger is secretly in love with his best friend, a butt-kicking female mercenary named Infidel. They spend almost all their time together, but Stagger is so addicted to her friendship he’s terrified of telling her of his romantic feelings, worried he’ll drive her away. As I was writing this, I happened to have a female friend who I spent a great deal of time with. Her name was Cheryl, and we liked to get together and go for hikes, but early on we’d decided that we weren’t dating and were just friends. This opened up a whole new level of conversation between us, as I wasn’t trying to impress her, so I was a bit less guarded. The more time I spent with her, the more I realized she was perfect for me, only now I was stuck. I enjoyed spending time with her so much that I was terrified that if I told her I loved her, she’d skedaddle. So, we were “just friends” for about three years. As I was writing Greatshadow with its “friends in love” plot, I kept thinking, “What if Cheryl reads this and thinks it’s about her?” Which eventually forced me to ask, “Is this about her?” Suddenly the book sounded very much like a secret message to tell myself that I really needed to man up and tell her how I felt. I did , learned she felt the same way, and we were married on 11-11-11.

Q: On a completely different note your book Nobody Gets the Girl is a superhero story. This looks like a heap of fun. Were you the sort of little boy who crept away to read comic books in a cubbyhouse?

What do you mean, little boy? I still sneak away to read comic books. I’m a hard core superhero junkie. I’ve followed up Nobody with a novel from the villain’s perspective called Burn Baby Burn. And, the not so secret secret about Greatshadow is that it’s a superhero novel as well. All the main characters have superpowers. Infidel is super strong and invulnerable, Lord Tower flies and wears indestructible armor made of prayer, the Truthspeaker can edit reality with his words, and Menagerie can shapeshift into any of the animals that are shown in his head-to-toe tattoos. The book is kind of X-men meets Tolkien, supermen verus dragons. It’s an unapologetic orgy of geekiness.

 Q: You seem to be very keen on music (See Favourite Albums I discovered in 2011). Are you also a musician?

I wish! Alas, somehow my fingers are capable of banging out a hundred words a minute on a QWERTY keyboard, yet completely unable to master five strings on a guitar. My voice has a vocal range of three notes, which only takes me so far when I’m singing. But, my tastes in music are strongly related to my literary urges. I’m drawn toward singer songwriters who confess all, like the Mountain Goats, and to dazzling, daring lyrical juggling acts like the Decemberists. Melody is important, but for good lyrics I’ll devour any musical style or genre.

Q: I notice you have several books up on Smashwords. Are you experimenting with self publishing? What have you learned from this?

With the exception of Burn Baby Burn, all my e-books are traditionally published books where I’d either never sold the e-rights or else they’d reverted back to me. Self-publishing e-books is a headache. All the major e-book outlets have completely different format requirement for listing your work, and you don’t really appreciate such subtle elements of cover art as the font choice until you’ve had to design your own covers.

However, the rewards are definitely worth it. Amazon has completely upended the whole career path for authors by offering 70% royalties on self-published e-books paid monthly. I’ve published four novels through traditional publishers, with three more under contract, and for the most part these have earned me more money than e-books… so far. But, traditional publishing usually only brings you two paychecks a year, and you’re in the dark on sales all the time. When you self publish an ebook, you get most sales data in real time. I not only know how many books I’ve sold this month, I can tell you how many I’ve sold this hour. I know when and how much I’ll get paid for each book sold, and usually get paid about a week early. It’s pretty amazing, and I think that any author with a back catalogue of existing books is foolish if they don’t self-publish it.

The big question is whether or not it makes sense to pursue self-publishing and ignore the more traditional path. Right now, I’m not quite willing to make that leap. I still get a thrill out of walking into a bookstore and seeing my books on the shelf. And, while ebook royalties are wonderful, the reality is that ebooks reach a smaller pool of readers right now than traditional books. So, if you want to be read widely and get broad bookstore distribution, selling your work to a traditional publisher is currently the best path to that end. But, this is changing rapidly. Getting your books into bookstores might not be as valuable ten years from now, since there might not be very many bookstores left. Readers who insist on paper books will probably persist for decades, but they will increasingly become like audiophiles who insist on only listening to music on LPs when everyone around them is streaming songs through their phones.

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy is a bit of a boy’s club. Do you think there’s a difference in the way males and females write fantasy?

I assume you are talking about epic fantasy? Because I would argue that the fantasy shelves of most bookstores are dominated by female writers, mostly writing urban fantasy. At most conventions I go to, the mix of male to female writers seems to be pretty well balanced. As for a difference in the writing, I don’t think I can point to any difference in male and female writing that isn’t completely masked by the variations between individual authors. I don’t think an average reader could read one of Gail Z. Martin’s novels and one of my books and come away thinking they were written by the same writer. But, the same is true of me and any male fantasy author as well.

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?

Not really. I suppose that there might be certain sub-genres where I might make an assumption on the likely gender of the writer; i.e., if I was told a book was military science fiction, I might assume the writer was male, and if I was told the book was a bodice-ripper romance, I might guess that the writer was female. But, for the most part, the gender of the author is just not a factor at all when I’m deciding what book to read next.

Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?

How is this fun? If genuinely presented with this choice, it would torment me. Should I spend time with loved ones I’ve lost? Should I go back to my younger self and offer advice on what stocks to buy? Could I settle some big question once and for all, like whether Shakespeare wrote his own plays or if there really was a historical Jesus? Should I go to the Library in Alexandria before it burns and scoop us as many scrolls as humanly possible? What did dinosaurs really look like? What was Gobekli Tepe really used for? Could I come back with a dodo? A Tasmanian tiger? A snap shot of Cleopatra? Could I find out where the %#@$! Genghis Khan was buried?

I would forever be haunted by the ghosts of the choices I didn’t make.

Take this burden away from me. I do not have the strength to bear it.

Giveaway Question: 

Which superpower would you rather have: Flight, invisibility, mind-reading, or regeneration? And, as a follow up, which of these powers do you think science is likely to bring to you via a wearable device in the next twenty years?

I’ll award a copy of Greatshadow to the most interesting answer.

 

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Meet Tom Taylor …

I’m expanding my series featuring fantastic authors to include fantastically creative people across the different mediums, which is why I’ve invited the talented Tom Taylor to drop by.

Watch out for the give-away question at the end of the interview.

I usually put a photo right here, but I couldn’t resist this:

Artist Harrison Chua draws comicbook writer Tom Taylor

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dCDGPRKdn8A]

Q: Not only do you write for comics, but you’re also an ‘award-winning playwright who has written for radio, musicals, film, magazines, satirical news and sketch comedy. (For a full list of Tom’s works see here). Tell me, did you sit there doodling in your school books while daydreaming about what you’d do one day? Did your teachers encourage you, or tell you no-one ever makes any money from writing? Did you ever dream you’d see your work performed in the Sydney Opera House?

Yes, I absolutely spent all of high school doodling in books, especially in Geography, where I just drew and drew… in-between sleeping. My geography teacher wasn’t very engaging. He’d probably have far less-kind things to say about me.
Outside of the arts, the education system was never really my friend. I did have a few teachers who encouraged me, and one in particular who used to let me leave class and do creative writing up a tree.

No, I can’t say I ever thought my work would be on at the Sydney Opera House or at the Edinburgh Festival. However, being involved in theatre from the age of 12, and in a singing group before that, I probably thought I’d have a better chance of having something on at the Opera House than to be writing in a galaxy far, far away.

Q: I’ve interviewed authors who write books for Star Wars, Star Gate, Doctor Who etc. And many of them start out as fans, so it is no trouble for them to immerse themselves in the world. You’re currently writing for Star WarsBlood Ties with Chris Scalf, Invasion with Colin Wilson published by Dark Horse Comics, with more on the way. Looks like you are thoroughly immersed! Is there a huge ‘bible’ of information you have to refer to? Do you get to add to this ‘bible’ as you develop your stories?

Absolutely. Star Wars canon is immense. On top of the movies, you have the cartoons, computer games, short stories, role playing games, novels, and more, and almost everything that is created becomes canon. So yes, all creators need a bible and I think everybody becomes fast email friends with a man known as Leland Chee, Lucasfilm’s keeper of continuity.  He’ll be called on a lot in the next year as I work on the next instalment of Star Wars: Blood Ties ‘Boba Fett is Dead’ and some other Star Wars work.

Q: You also write your own original material. The Deep: Here be Dragons has just come out from Gestalt Publishing, art work by James Brouwer. In a review on Broken Frontier Kris Bather says: ‘Comedy in this artform can always be tricky, but the pair know what they’re doing and elicit the most laughs out of each comedic moment, thanks to great pacing, expressions, and dialogue’. Comedy can be challenging. Did you have to work at developing your relationship with artist James Brouwer, or did the two of you just click?

I’ve written a lot of comedy over the years – musicals, sketch comedy, and plays, including for the Comedy Festival, and generally I don’t really have to think about, or analyze, if something is funny. With James, I found a guy who also just gets it, and just as importantly, is a fantastic storyteller. I used to direct theatre back in the day, and for me the characters on the page need to react appropriately to situations, and need to react to whatever people are saying, just like actors. There are some fantastic artists in professional comics who think that 22 pages of some dark superhero, switching between the same two expressions tells a story. James isn’t one of those guys. James puts so much character and life into the Nekton family (The main characters of The Deep). No character stands around blank-faced while someone else is talking. Every page he sends me has me smiling. So yes, James and I did just click. And, thanks to that click, The Deep is the most joyous comic I’ve been a part of. Seriously, get this book for Christmas, for yourself and for your children. It will fill your heart with rainbows. It will fill your heart with exactly six rainbows. Any more than that and your arteries would begin to clog with rainbows and that would end messily… but probably very colourfully.

Q: Rombies (written by Tom Taylor, illustrated by Skye Ogden, Colours by Mikiko Ponczeck) is a historical paranormal tale set in ancient Rome. What inspired you to set a story in ancient Rome? Have you always been fascinated by its history?

Skye Ogden inspired me. Honestly, this was originally his idea. I just ran with it, and I’m very glad I did. Gestalt actually asked me to write this very early on in our working relationship and I said no.  I’m not a massive horror fan and I wasn’t sure this was the project for me. The night after I said no, I had a dream about Gladiators fighting zombie lions beneath the Coliseum. I called them the very next morning to say yes. I wanted to see Zombie Lions come to un-life. We made that happen. Where we plan to go next is epic.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=9eVw0wPd7vI#]

Q: Example (written by Tom Taylor, Illustrated by Colin Wilson) is being made into a short film. Newsarama said: ‘This book should be used in writing classes everywhere, and should be the primary example (no pun intended) for aspiring comic writers to reference when trying to learn how to write dramatic and compelling dialogue.’   This is quite an accolade for any work, let alone a graphic novel. (I see it is an adaption of your award-winning play Example. I always tell my kids a play needs to be really well written because it has to hold the audience with the power of the premise, characterisation and dialogue – no special effects).  Do you do a lot of train travel? Do you listen in to people’s conversations or does it all spring from some deep dark part of your psyche?

The Example was written in the wake of the London Bombing. And it was these events, along with a typically appalling, fear-mongering ad for A Current Affair, which inspired the play. The government in Australia at the time was pushing the ‘Be alert, not alarmed’ slogan and that was also driving me insane. A lot of my writing is a vehicle for vent – an outlet for outrage. Almost all of my short plays stem from this.

On the surface, The Example is a story about a man, a woman and their reactions to an abandoned briefcase on a railway platform. Below the surface, it’s an exploration of terror and racism. It’s essentially a prejudice versus preservation story. And it’s just been optioned and filmed.  Yay!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K1KCYq11GHY&feature=player_embedded]

Q: Flinch is a collection of stories including Shaun Tan, Justin Randall, James Barclay, Terry Dowling and yourself among others. The stories all revolve around each person’s interpretation of the word ‘flinch’. One of your stories White Dove 111 is about a colonist ship leaving a dying earth. This looks like an SF mystery from the description. Did you grow up reading Science Fiction?

I did read a lot of sci-fi, but I was far more into Fantasy. White Dove III was another great excuse to work with the man, Colin Wilson.  I also wrote another short story in Flinch called 96,000m, illustrated by Tom Bonin, which was my first published underwater story. It was the first time I’d publicly shown my fascination for all things underwater and squid-like.  Although, that story was a far cry from the joyous all-ages adventure of The Deep: Here Be Dragons. 96000m is pretty disturbing. If you like disturbed, or are disturbed, you’ll probably like 96000m.

 

Q: You are working for DC comics (Green Lantern and Sinestro). Is this one of your childhood dreams to write in the DC universe?

Yes. So many times, yes.

I grew up with DC comics. I loved all of these characters as a kid and never stopped loving them (except outwardly when I was a teenager). Superman is my absolute hero and writing him is one of my ultimate goals. I’m really proud of The Brainiac/Sinestro Corp War which is the story I’ve just written in DCUO Legends #16 and #17 and I was very lucky to get to work with a great artist like Bruno Redondo (another guy who, like James, just gets it). I’ve written something else unannounced, and I’m also still staggered I got to write The Authority for a year. The Authority was the super team that made me realise that superhero comics could also serve as an outlet for outrage.

Q: Looking at your published works you have been amazingly productive. In an interview on HYPERLINK SciFiBlock you say: ‘Like any work, there are times when it’s a hard slog and things get very hard, but then you just have to pick up the nearest blunt object, smash yourself in the face, and remind yourself that you’re writing Jedi and superheroes for a living.’ Do you have a work routine that helps you meet these deadlines?

I’d like to say I have a routine but, really, I have kids, including a baby who doesn’t sleep very well, and that throws all routines out. My only real routine is that I stay up very late to write. The rest of the world needs to be asleep before I can do my best work. The Example was written one night between 1am and 5am. I started writing this very interview at 2am, it’s now 4.27am… and the baby’s already been up twice.

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy (in books) is a bit of a boy’s club. I’ve come across quite a bit of talk on the blogs recently about female comic artists and writers, and their lack of representation in large companies like DC. Have you come across this in your professional life?

I have heard this, and I do know this was an issue for DC in the announcement of the New 52, one they’re trying very hard to rectify. I think mainstream superhero comics have the perception of being a boys club, but the comics medium absolutely isn’t.

This year alone, I’ve worked with four female artists on eight different projects, which is possibly more female creators than some of the majors are working with.

I’m not sure superheroes have the same appeal for women. And I’d argue that they are often narrowly written and illustrated with men in mind. For every brilliantly written and lovingly illustrated superhero book like Secret Six by Gail Simone and (Australia’s own) Nicola Scott, there is a book with a scantily clad superheroine tearing her clothing while scratching the face of… probably another scantily clad woman who is tearing her clothing.

But outside of the Superhero genre, there are a lot of women telling brilliant stories.

Keep an eye out for Believe, which is set to be published soon, to see the incredible work of Emily Smith (and two other huge unannounced things we’re doing together). On top of Rombies, Mikiko Ponczek has just handed in the last pages of a 22 page story she has illustrated and coloured. I can’t wait for that one to be announced. It’s a script I’m very happy with and Miki has just smashed it.
Kate Moon has already finished the story Poppins which will be included in Brief Cases (whenever that comes out) and I have a small, but very cool story coming out with someone else who must remain nameless for now. She knows who she is. Hi, you!

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer/artist change your expectations when you approach their work?

Nope. I never really think about it. And, when I do, I actually tend to get genders wrong.

Sorry, Robin Hobb.

Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?

I think it’s ridiculous that a time-machine company needs to take bookings. You can be anywhere and anywhen! Why do you need me at the time-machine depot at 9.30am?? It’s a disgrace!

Having gotten over my rant, and glared at the Time Machine operator who apparently couldn’t come to my house at 12, I would take a trip a very long way back.

I hypothesized earlier tonight that a pterodactyl may have eaten a missing link which would have caused humans to have one extra thumb. I would go back in time and ride that Pterodactyl into a live volcano before it ate our three-thumbed ancestor, thereby making all of us fifty percent more opposable.

You’re welcome.

Give-away Question:

For your chance to win a copy of The Deep: Here Be Dragons, and the six rainbows in your heart that come with it, answer this question.

If you had three thumbs, what would you do differently?

 

 

Follow Tom on Twitter:  @TomTaylorMade

See Tom’s Blog

Catch up with Tom on Facebook

 

 

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Meet Kim Wilkins …

As the next of my series featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) I’ve invited the talented Kim Wilkins to drop by.

Watch out for the give-away question at the end of the interview.

Q: I once heard you describe yourself as a girl from an average family in Redcliffe (a bayside suburb of Brisbane). For someone who won the University of Queensland Medal for Academic Achievement and went on to do a PHD, this is a long way from the long hot summers of your childhood. If you could go back to that little girl and give her one piece of advice, what would it be?

Chillax, little girl. I grew up with an alcoholic dad, we never had money, I was unpopular at school, so all I ever did was fantasise about escape. I was drawn to books because I could disappear into them, and found the disappearing act was a billion times more brilliant if I was writing the story instead of reading it. I was so desperate to get away from that horrid life, and I worked so hard to be free of it. I still have a tiger on my tail, and still wish I could chillax even as a grown-up.

Q: Your first book The Infernal won the 1997 horror and fantasy awards. In an interview on Tablua Rassa you said: ‘I’m still waiting for someone to describe my work as Stephen King collaborating with the Brontë sisters. There’s such a strong feminine element, and often a strong historical element, and horror as a term isn’t elastic enough to cope with those extra elements.’ I love the description f Stephen King collaborating with the Bronte sisters. With your love of history and literature were you ever tempted to take the Bronte sisters and give them a more exciting life? (I’m thinking what you did in Angel of Ruin with the Great Fire of London and Milton’s daughters).

I was tempted, yes, but then somebody did a similar story (something about Charlotte being a murderer?) and I’ve never been all that interested in writing about the 19th century. I’d already written Grimoire, which was partly set in that period, and that had scratched the itch sufficiently. I tend not to go back to a historical period twice without a compelling reason. That would be like going to the same place over and over on holidays.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8GubOhvDxvE]

 

Q: You wrote 7 dark fantasy books in 8 years. Since Rosa and The Veil of Gold came out you haven’t written another adult dark fantasy. Have you been letting the ground like fallow so that when you come back to the genre you’ll feel refreshed?

I started writing another, but every time I sat down to work out how it might end, or what kinds of events might structure it, I kept repeating myself. I found this utterly dismaying and lost my confidence and hid in my bed for a while. Then I came out and said to my agent that I wanted to do something else for a while. That’s when I started writing the Kimberley Freeman books, which are epic romances, I guess, or adventure books for women. The problem (if it can be called that) was that Kimberley Freeman has done very well, so I was signed up for more of those. But I have recently finished a novel, a straight-up historical fantasy (nothing dark or urban). I published a novella that is kind of a prequel in 2010’s “Legends of Australian Fantasy”. I would like to write at least one more book set in that world. I still think I might come back to my original dark fantasy idea, but we’ll see where life takes me.

One thing that does annoy me is when people say, “you ought to write a book with angels in it” or the like. I have to say, “I already did.”

Q: You write for both Children and Young Adults. Your stand alone YA book The Pearl Hunters is set in 1799. I know have a deep love of history. In your YA series The Sunken Kingdom there are castles and ships and children in peril. Does having a good grounding in history help you produce well rounded fantasy worlds?

I’m just too lazy to create fantasy worlds from nothing. Seriously. The thought makes me feel completely drained. So I find a historical period and add magic. I find historical research easy and stimulating, and it makes me great at Trivial Pursuit.

Q: The Gina Champion Mysteries were contemporary YA with a supernatural twist. ‘From witchcraft to ghosts, from curses to spirit possession, the Gina Champion books are smart, sassy, and very scary.’ There were five books in the series and the last one came out in 2006. Are you tempted to dip into Gina’s world again?

No. I’m too busy. Too busy. I work at UQ, I teach at QWC, I am two authors. I can’t write for children as well. I feel as though I have the brakes on when writing for children or young adults. I find it very stifling.

Q: You also write women’s fiction as Kimberley Freeman. That’s a big leap from horror and YA paranormal-crime. Do you feel like you have to think yourself into a different head-space to write the Kimberley Freeman books?

Yes and no. Wildflower Hill is just The Resurrectionists without ghosts. The stories are very similar, just some of the conventions are different. I love being Kimberley Freeman some days, and other days I want to kill her. But it’s still writing; it’s still that immense pleasure of making up stories that I have adored for as long as I can remember. There doesn’t always have to be dragons.

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy is a bit of a boy’s club. Do you think there’s a difference in the way males and females write fantasy?

I couldn’t say with any confidence. I don’t think fantasy is a boys’ club by any stretch of the imagination. When I think of contemporary fantasy writers, the first 10 names that pop into my head are women.

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?

It’s nothing to do with the writer. It’s to do with whether the book has a female lead. I have to have a female lead. Women generally write better about women. So in a roundabout way, maybe the answer is yes.

Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?

England, 8th century. But just for a few days.

Kim has a copy of Rosa and The Veil of Gold to give-away. The Give-away Question is: If you could meet one of the Bronte sisters,  Jane Austen or Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, who would it be and why?

 

See Kim’s Blog

Catch up with Kim on Facebook.

 

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Filed under Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, Characterisation, Children's Books, creativity, Dark Urban Fantasy, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Gender Issues, Genre, Historical Books, Publishing Industry, Readers

Meet Kim Falconer …

As the next of my series featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) I’ve invited the talented Kim Falconer to drop by.

Watch out for the give-away question at the end of the interview.

Thank you, Rowena, for inviting me here to chat. What a wonderful idea, fantastic female fantasy authors!

Q: In a post on Nicole Murphy’s blog, you talk about having a dream and realising your potential. Your dream was to be published. You list a series of questions starting with – Why do I want to be published? That culminated in the realisation that you wanted to ‘be of value’. This was a dream exercise from Jeanette Maw, the @goodvibecoach. Do you use exercises like this in your everyday life to understand what is motivating you?

Absolutely! I live by the old Delphi motto, (recently cited by the Oracle in The Matrix) Know Thyself. These are the two magic words for living an authentic life.

We always have a choice to either live by our ‘default’ – the cultural conditioning, expectations and assumptions – or to take time to really know our genuine core values (which may be wildly different than our cultures). Like writing a character in a book, when we know the motivation, we know what’s driving the action and when we know what’s driving the action, we know the destiny. At that point we can ask, is this what I want? If not, we can change course. We all have the power to be who we are and it begins always with know thyself.

Q: Your first trilogy, Quantum Enchantment, you splice DNA and travel between parallel worlds. It seems to be a mix of SF and fantasy. And your second trilogy, Quantum Encryption, picks up the threads again. With such complex story lines and time lines do you have a huge flow chart to keep track of everyone?

Much of my creation process takes place in my head but I do keep a little booklet for each series with pertinent data like my character’s sun signs and other relevant astrology, their histories (which may not appear in the book itself) and places, familiars, memories, dreams, appearance, and, most importantly, time lines. When you write time unfolding in both directions, it pays to keep a close watch on it or things can get away!

I ran into a bit of trouble in Arrows of Time, book #2 in the Quantum Enchantment series. For starters I found the English language lacked the words to express the meaning of symmetrical time (time flowing in both directions simultaneously). In a way Arrows was my answer to the hard problem of time at the ‘quantum’ level. It does go both ways and this books shows us what that might be like to live out.

You could say there was a flow chart for Arrows. For twelve months a whole sliding glass door next to my study was covered in it. Wild!

Q: In an interview on The Fringe you say: ‘People don’t realise writing is as challenging and complex as brain surgery. You have to work on the cadavers first, learn all the anatomy and physiology and bio-chem of prose and storytelling before you cut a live one! It takes practice. I mean, nonfiction is objective, intellectual but fiction asks for more. It asks for your whole heart.’ Writing from the heart, do you find yourself exploring similar themes in your books?

The themes in my books are multilayered. There is an adventure component which simply invites the reader to immerse and come along for the ride. There is also an intention to expand my readers’ consciousness through the experiences and conflicts they encounter. Some of the philosophies are heady, I am told. But the true essence of the books is the heart. Everything from the heart. I came from a nonfiction and academic publishing background and the whole enchantment for me in writing novels is to get out of my head and into my heart!

Q: You have your own astrology page, Falcon Astrology. You say astrology has always been a part of your life as your father used to ‘use horoscopes in conjunction with financial adventure and business management’. Your interest in astrology has taken a different path. You say you are interested in ‘ancient wisdom, mythology with mystical traditions, art and poetry’ and are ‘ever seeking the hidden worlds of the inner self’. I read somewhere that the constant connection to the internet (people in offices dipping into social networks on and off all day, people constantly using their phones to keep up with social networks), has led people away from connecting with their inner-selves. They live on the surface, never delving deep. This person recommended turning off all electrical devices for a weekend, every now and then, just to take the time to be in the present. Do you do this?

This is a good question. I don’t think superficiality and the internet are synonymous. I’m actually doing the Deepak Chopra Centre’s 21 day meditation challenge, and that of course, is online. It’s amazing. The meditations are wonderful and just knowing you are participating with hundreds of thousands of other mediators makes is quite a powerful collective exercise.

People will be connected or disconnected regardless of whether they have the internet or not. It’s a tool. It only matters how we use it.

For me, I’ve researched and written 7 books in four years and that’s pretty much an everyday dedication – me, a quiet room, my word processor, the internet. I do take time out daily to meditate, run on the beach, walk in nature, work on my rooftop garden  and be with friends, familiars and family. It’s all about creating balance, at least in my case (I can be a real workaholic!)

Q: In an interview on Beauty and Lace, while talking about growing up in the 60s and 70s you said: ‘I had to outgrow my cultural conditioning and adopt less biased beliefs to feel fully empowered. Having my son at age 29 was a huge turning point. When you have the creative force of Mother Earth flowing through you, it’s hard to feel like an underdog. Seriously enlightening transformation!

Currently being female brings to mind the Strength card in the deck of Tarot. Do you know the one? A woman is depicted with a lion, Ishtar’s beast. It’s an image of power and seduction, wisdom and instinct. I think that sums things up nicely.

Being a woman has also given me quite an edge writing these last six books. There are issues of gender that ring all the more true because they are written from direct experience.’ I notice you have strong female characters in ‘Journey by Night’. Was this something you set out to explore or did it just evolve as you wrote the book?

Journey by Night is the sixth and final book in the series and tells the story of Kreshkali and Nell, characters introduced in the very first book. Because of the incredible fortitude and strength of these two women already established, telling their story involved showing how they go that way, how they became the people readers know them to be. Already I have reports of a lot of tears and ah ha moments as some of those reasons behind their quirks, strengths, fears and magical inclinations are revealed. Very satisfying to read and write.

Did I plan them to be strong from the beginning? You bet!

I don’t know many women who really enjoy reading about victims that never find the wherewithal to beat their odds, at least, I don’t! My women are heroic, both vulnerable and hardened, smart and streetwise, loving and imaginative. . . you know. Women!

Q: The list of all the things you’ve studied is fascinating. ‘Alternative health, Jungian Psychology, art history, quantum physics theory, metaphysical philosophy, self-sufficiency farming, marine biology, veterinary nursing, dressage, animal husbandry, SCUBA diving, and nursing mothers counseling. I hold diplomas in herbal medicine, nutrition, vet nursing, farrier science, literature and am a board certified lactation consultant. I’ve also studied yoga, music (banjo, mandolin, guitar), mythology, tarot and of course, astrology’. You’ve been studying Iaido for seven years. I did five years Iaido. I loved it for the beauty of the movements and the philosophy behind it. Have you done other martial arts? (I also love yoga!).

I love that you found Iaido relaxing. I can see how, once the incredible awkwardness of the samurai sword is a little under control, it can be that way. But I had true warrior woman sensei and she was anything but relaxing! Having said that, my worlds, she was good and what I learned went well beyond the mechanics of the practice. Like you said, the philosophy and the heart of the sword –  so empowering and beautiful. I’ve done Aikido, Hop Kido, yoga, chi kung and archery. All very beautiful and centring disciplines. It’s the sword work that has supported my writing the most. I took it up so I could write authentic fight scenes!

Q: That’s a cool ‘time portal’ on the front page of your web page. Do you have a background in graphic design? (Reading on I discovered your son is an artist).

KimFalconer.com is a collaboration with my son. He’s the animator and graphic artist. I am the coder. I learned all the html/CSS in a  socio-technology degree through Open University Australia (another point for the internet – the course was offered at Curtin University on the other side of the continent!) I love web design. Having such a fabulous artist is a wonderful bonus!

John Waterhouse – The Siren

Q: John Waterhouse Painting, The Siren inspired your new trilogy Amassia.  It’s co-written with your cover artist/animator son, Aaron Briggs. (I love the Pre-Raphaelite artists and Waterhouse’s The Lady of Shalott is one of my all time favourites). I’ve discovered there are visual writers and aural writers. Aural writers like to play specific music while they write to get into the right frame of mind for each book. I’m guessing you are a visual writer?

Visual yes, but it’s more than that.

I’m really transcribing. The story plays out in front of my eyes. It’s like watching a film only I am fully immersed in all five senses. My only hope is that I can type fast enough to keep up with the action and the dialog!

I like silence and quietude. The more isolated I am, the more the inner world comes alive!

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy is a bit of a boy’s club. Do you think there’s a difference in the way males and females write fantasy?

 

I would probably have to read a few thousand more books to answer that with any authority but with my experience, I can give you a firm, yes and no. Yes when we think of stories with first person protagonists like Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stakchouse. A guy could write her (think of the men writing romance under pen names) but Charlaine’s perspective is very much a product of her society and very biased female. Just the way sookie stops to put on makeup (between vampire and were attacks), shave her legs and think about her sex life rings ‘female’. I don’t see Jim Butcher writing a woman that way. His Dresden, on the other hand, is American male. We see inside a man’s head, and it’s brilliant. (Same with China Mieville) In the case of these authors, you can feel the female vs. male style in the writing.

Then there are authors like David Eddings and Fiona McIntosh. They have both written fabulous fantasy tales and though there is a strong feeling of gender in the characters, you could swap author names and not know the difference in terms of being written by male or female.

As in any genre, the author brings themselves to the work and that means every book will be different, a unique expression which adds to the whole of the field.

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?

Ah, not until I begin to read. As I said above, sometimes the gender of the author seems relevant and sometimes not so much so. It depend a lot on the tense it’s written (first person and male by a male author gives us some hints right ways – we are in a guy’s head!). Stories that are more epic where the politics of the worlds drive the plot, the focus is off the characters, to some degree, and more on the stakes. With new authors, and familiar, I like to leave my expectations behind and let them surprise me.

Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?

That’s easy. I would go back to 575 BCE to ancient Mesopotamia and stand in front of the Ishtar Gate of Babylon. To walk into that city under the Ishtar Lions and visit the hanging gardens would be a trip of a thousand life times!

 Give-away Question:

If you were a young witch (male or female) training at Treeon Temple and about to meet your familiar – a creature you would be bonded with for life, in constant communion with and able at times to ‘trade places’ with, what would that creature be?

 

Follow Kim on Twitter:  @KimFalconer

Catch up with Kim on Facebook.

See Kim’s Daily Astro Flash here.

Subscribe to Kim’s New Moon News Letter.

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Filed under Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, Characterisation, creativity, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Gender Issues, Inspiring Art, Nourish the Writer, SF Books, Writing craft

Meet Robin Hobb …

As the next of my series featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) I’ve invited the talented and prolific Robin Hobb  to drop by.

Robin at Supanova with Cinderella

Q: It was great to meet you at Supanova. As a best-selling fantasy author you must get invited to a lot of conventions. How do you juggle writing to meet deadlines with the pressure to attend these events?

Truthfully?  Usually, I just say, “No, thank you, I’ve a deadline.”

This year, I didn’t.  I went to Supanova and absolutely loved it.  I havenever seen a pop culture festival that treats its professional guests so well and with such thoughtfulness. And then I went on, to Trolls&Legendes in Belgium, and Imaginales in Epinal, France and to Etonnants Voyageurs in France.  And I had a wonderful time and met many people, but now I’m behind on a deadline.  So.  I think I need to go back to saying “No, thank you” to most of the invitations, and staying home and getting the books written.

Q: You started out writing as Megan Lindholm and even though your Robin Hobb books are really popular, you’ve continued to write under your original name. Have you come across readers who only read Robin or Megan’s books?

Most definitely.  The two pseudonyms have vastly different writing styles and also differ in choice of subject matter.  So I’m now getting notes from people who enjoyed one and not the other, or seeing posts about it on-line. And such letters and posts very much validate my decision to write under two different names. Readers do want to know what they are riding into when they open a book. On the other hand, I also hear from readers who enjoy the contrast and have enjoyed both sets of stories.  My best experience was with my French translator, Arnaud Mousnier-Lompre.  He was delighted with the Lindholm stories and told me that it was like translating a completely different writer.

Q: With two names and numerous trilogies/series under each name, (Robin Hobb: The Farseer Trilogy, The Liveship Trilogy, The Tawny Man Trilogy, Soldier Son trilogy, The Rain Wild Chronicles. Megan Lindholm: The Ki and Vandien Quartest, Tillu and Kerlew, as well as stand alone books), how do you keep all the worlds, characters and narrative threads straight in your mind? Do you have a giant cork board with flow charts? Do you only work on one series at a time?

OH, do I have to admit this?  When I re-read some of my earlier work, it’s like someone else wrote it.  Often I encounter minor characters I’ve forgotten completely, or plot twists that I don’t recognize as my own. I think that one book just crowds out what has gone before.  When I’m writing on a long book, or series of books, as I am now, I do have glossaries of characters and place names and even timelines for books that run for years and years.

My greatest fear is that I will contradict myself on some key point.

Q: In an interview at Shades of Sentience when asked how you create such believable minor characters you said: I try to remember that no one is a minor character in his or her own life. I love this sentiment. It made me laugh when I read it. Do you find your characters take on a life of their own?

Inevitably. And sometime a minor character, such as the Fool, refuses to take a back seat but jumps up into a major position. Then there are lesser characters, such as Hands, who really had his life twisted by events so far outside his control that I still feel bad about his very last encounter with Fitz.  Not that I could have done anything to change it.  He reacted as he did because he is Hands, and that was how Hands would have reacted. And that is the best part of characters taking on a life of their own. In some ways they make the writing easier.  In others, when they insist on doing something that is contrary to the outline . . . well, that is when the writing gets very interesting.

Q: In an interview  on Pat’s Hot List you talk about how you start out with one intention for the book and by the time you’ve written it, the book has veered in a different direction. Can I take it from this you are more of a Pantser than a Plotter? (For non-writers Pantsers just sit down and write, while Plotters plan).

Definitely flying through Story by the seat of my pants, with only a glance or two at the instruments and charts from time to time.  I get to land in some very interesting places that way, and sometimes I’m in completely uncharted territory, and wondering just as much as the reader might about exactly where I am bound.

Q: We’re around the same age. In an interview you speak of reading Fritz Lieber and learning from the terrible things he did to his characters. (He was one of my great inspirations when I first discovered fantasy). How do you feel the genre has changed since the 70s?

Oh, my Fritz Leiber.  How I loved that man’s characters and writing, and still do.

Since the 70’s, I think Fantasy has changed by finally being allowed the page space we need to fully enjoy plot, setting and characters.  I am still amazed at the talent of those writers who conveyed such strange settings and unique characters within such a tight word restriction.

Nowadays, too, there are far fewer restrictions on what we can write in terms of sex scenes, gender identity, race, violence and, well any other former taboo you can think of. And that isn’t always good, at least in my opinion.  Just because you can shock or brutalize the reader and get it published doesn’t mean that you should.  But in the stories that require it, where it’s there for a reason, we suddenly get fantasy and SF with great emotional depth to it.

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy is a bit of a boy’s club. Do you think there’s a difference in the way males and females write fantasy?

I think there’s a difference between any two writers who write fantasy or sf or romance or poetry, and that that difference is far greater than can ever be explained by gender. In my opinion, yes, there are differences between

male and female writers.  But the spectrum of sexuality is so broad that it’s impossible to make any generalized statement about it.  “Men write about sex and women write about romance.”  That’s the sort of thing I hear, and I think it’s just silly. Which men, what woman?

And I really don’t understand the idea that fantasy is dominated by writers of one sex or the other. If you look at the book racks, I’d almost say there are more women writers of fantasy right now than men.  I don’t think I’ve ever made the sex of the writer part of the criteria for choosing a book in any genre.  When I was a younger reader, I could seldom tell you the name of the author of a book I’d just read.  I didn’t care about the author, only the story.

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?

Oh, I think I accidentally already answered that!

If you look back through the history of our genre, you will see that yes, there were women who used men’s names or only initials as a way to conceal their gender. And at one time, doubtless it was harder for a woman to be published in SF.  But I think that barrier fell so long ago that it’s scarcely worth worrying about any more.

Now with that said, I’ll add that when I chose my pseudonym, Robin Hobb, I deliberately chose an androgynous name.  I knew I’d be writing at least the first three books from the first person view point of a young male, and so I chose to lower the threshold for ‘suspension of disbelief’ by using a name that left the gender of the writer in doubt.  But if I’d been writing a story told from the POV of an ultra-feminine woman, I’d probably have been tempted to choose a name that reflected that, as well.

I’d never want anyone to choose one of my books on the sole basis that I was female.  I’d feel really insulted if that was the only reason a reader picked up my book.

Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?

I’d go home.  I’d want to be dropped off in the late 60’s by the mailbox on Davis Road, in December about 8 at night, when the darkness in Fairbanks, Alaska is absolute.  I’d want to walk down the lane with the snow crunching and squeaking under my boots and the birches arched down over it with the weight of snow on their bare branches. I’d want to see the lights through the trees and then finally see that log house again.  And all my dogs would start barking and they come racing through the snow to challenge me. And then they’d recognize me, and I’d get hit in the chest with 120 pounds of malemute and I’d be with my best friends ever again.

Follow Robin on Twitter: @robinhobb

Follow Robin on GoodReads.

See an interview with Robin Hobb on You Tube.

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Filed under Characterisation, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Nourish the Writer, The Writing Fraternity, Writing craft

Meet Duncan Lay …

Today I’m interviewing Duncan Lay because he’s an Australian fantasy writer who’s just signed with Voyager to produce his second trilogy, and I thought I’d ask him the same questions I’ve asked the female writers about fantasy writing and gender, to get his perspective as a male writer.

Look out for the give-away at the end of the post.

Q: On Voyager, you say you were seduced to the dark side of reading fantasy by a friend who gave you a copy of David Gemmell’s Legend. Do you still have that book? Did you end up reading all of David Gemmell’s books? (I can see why he’d appeal to a fifteen year-old).

I do indeed have that copy of Legend, dog-eared and yellowing though it may be! I have read all of Gemmell’s books, which take up an entire bookshelf!

Q: Lucky you! I see you interviewed Raymond Feist in 2002 when he was here on his Talon of Silver Hawk tour. You say: ‘we began talking about writing, and he described how his characters sometimes take his story threads off in different directions to the one he planned. That they almost tell the story for him. The way he described it they begin at A and have to get to Z but they don’t go there via B, C, D etc – they might jump to H, then back again and so on.’  You say you walked away with your head buzzing and mind afire. Seven years later, your first book, Wounded Guardian came out. But you’d spent many years before that, writing and getting rejected. (Which we all do). If you could go back twenty years, what would you tell that younger aspiring writer that was you?

To be honest, there is very little I could tell myself that would enable me to “jump the gap’’ and write the way I do now. My growth as a writer is definitely an organic, ongoing process. I had to suffer pain and anguish, take myself to my own borders, to see death, to watch my children being born and hold them in my arms before being published.

I’m not saying everyone has to do these things to be published – obviously they don’t. But I had to.  Seeing more of life, experiencing highs and lows is what I needed to do, to unlock the characters in my head and merge them with the stories that I have carried around with me since I was a small child.

I could tell the younger me about those things but some things must be experienced to be understood.

On a practical note, I would tip the younger me off about some winning Lotto numbers …!

Q: Your fantasy trilogy, The Dragon Sword Histories, has been described as gritty with characters that are neither good nor evil. Do you think that fantasy as a genre is maturing?

Firstly, I would say there ARE characters who are good, and others who are evil. But they are not distinguishable by white and black hats. The point about Dragon Sword Histories is the “good’ characters have made mistakes, continue to make mistakes and definitely don’t always act in the way a “typical’’ good character might.

Secondly, I don’t think I’d say fantasy is maturing. It is certainly growing, splitting off into all sorts of sub-categories and gaining more and more acceptance and popularity. Maturing, to me, implies a slowing down and  a certain level of comfort.  I don’t  see that – rather it is, by turns, exciting, innovative, annoying, thrilling, funny, wise and thought-provoking. I hear mature and I think beige cardigans and tartan slippers – fantasy is more a pair of purple Doc Martens and a loud T-shirt!

Q: In an interview on Voyager you say that you wrote while travelling on the train to work (as a layout designed and headline writer at the Sunday Telegraph). Did you find that you could dip into the world of your story for half an hour each day, or was it hard to get back into the right mind-set to write?

Sadly, my train trip is far more than half an hour! It’s between 75 and 90 minutes on the train each way! I find writing on the train a really useful exercise – about 2.5 to 3 hours a day of quality writing time that enables me to compartmentalise my writing, work and family lives!

Q: I see you have a new trilogy coming out:

Book 1 (currently called The Cursed Tears but may well become Bridge Of Swords or indeed something else entirely!) will be out in August 2012.
Book 2 (now The Grieving Son but hopefully Pass Of Arrows) will be out February 2013
Book 3 (now The Raging Night but perhaps Hill Of Shields) will be out August 2013.

I guess we can take from this that writers don’t have much say over what their books are called. Did you get much input into the covers and titles of your first trilogy?

Writers do have plenty of say over what their stories are called – mine has been evolving rapidly over the last few months and so what seemed the right and proper emphasis has shifted. I can’t comment on other publishers but HarperCollins has been fantastic about letting me work out the right titles for my books.

As for the covers, they had the original ideas but I had plenty of input into how they came out and was able to get them altered until I was happy with them – there are earlier posts on my Facebook page that show the development of those book covers, if anyone wants to see!

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy is a bit of a boy’s club. Do you think there’s a difference in the way males and females write fantasy?

I find that perception quite amusing, as in Australia 70% of fantasy readers are women. I’ve made more than 60 bookstores appearances in the last three years and I find I get many more sales from women than men.

Of course there is a difference in the way males and females write fantasy – but those differences are often relatively small and it would be natural for fantasy readers to have a stock of favoured male and female readers. You can read and enjoy both, for different reasons.

Australian Bookseller + Publisher said I write the “best battle scenes since the late (David) Gemmell’’. I took that as a huge compliment – but I know I also appeal to a female readership with two of the three main characters being strong females.

I haven’t read enough female fantasy writers to offer more than a limited, and generalized opinion, but if there is one area where they perhaps fall down is in the last 5% of a male character – the x-factor if you will. Testosterone, as well as an instinct to win and be dominant often make men do strange and foolish things for what seems to be no good reason. It’s something I have found often lacking in my –admittedly limited – reading of fantasy male characters written by women.

I’m sure the reverse is true as well. I have three sisters, a wife and a daughter but as much as I like to think I understand women – perhaps my female characters are also missing that top 5%!

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?

The gender of a writer does not change my expectations – it’s what the blurb suggests they are writing about and what they are hoping to achieve that sets my expectations. Two of the worst fantasy books I ever read (to the point where I gave up on them before I even finished the middle of the first book in the series) were written by men. There’s another male writer who annoys me intensely and I regret ever buying his books.

Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?

I would go back to about 500AD, when the Saxons were slowly conquering Celtic Britain but were turned back for a generation by a British (as in Welsh) warleader or King. Some have called him Arthur, others claim no such man existed. Given history is written by the victors, we’ll never know for sure. But I’d like to go back and find out for sure!

Giveaway Question: 

The hero of The Dragon Sword Histories is Martil, a warrior whose life is changed and forever defined by one mistake that he hopes, yet fails to atone for. He longs for the chance to go back and make a choice again. What one thing would you change in your life – if you had the chance to go back in time and make a different choice in your life, what would it be?

 

Catch up with Duncan on Goodreads

Follow Duncan on Twitter. @DuncanLay

Duncan’s  Blog.

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Filed under Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, Characterisation, Fantasy books, Gender Issues, Genre, Publishing Industry, Readers