Five Author Interviews - Round Two
Five Author Interviews - Round Two
From time to time on my blog, I host a series of interviews of other authors. Five authors, five days, five questions each, what could possibly go wrong? My past guests have come up with cracking responses to some pretty testing questions. Next week I'll be interviewing Sebastien de Castell, Teresa Frohock, Kameron Hurley, Anthony Ryan and Jeff Salyards. To keep you going until then, here are five interviews I did last year with Michael Fletcher, Tom Lloyd, Ilana C. Myer, Peter Newman and Adrian Tchaikovsky. They're well worth a read!
Interview with Adrian Tchaikovsky
This week I’m asking five different questions to five different authors. In the coming days I’ll be quizzing Ilana C. Myer, Peter Newman, Michael Fletcher and Tom Lloyd, but first to look frantically for the exit door is Adrian Tchaikovsky, best known for his Shadows of the Apt series that features the kinden – human races that each have a different totem insect.
Hi Adrian, and thanks for doing the interview.
1. Let’s start with an easy question. What is the secret to curing the common cold, and why have you been sitting on this information until now?
Robot nose. The reason why I haven’t spread this around is – would *you* admit to having a robot nose?
Only at gunpoint.
2. Your Shadows of the Apt series is an impressively long ten books. How much of the ending of book ten did you know before you started writing book one?
The first four books of SotA form a single plot arc, and it was that I had in mind when I set out. From book 5 onwards the plots arise organically – the logical consequences of things that have gone before, plus other parts of the world I wanted to bring in.The first four books of SotA form a single plot arc, and it was that I had in mind when I set out, From book 5 onwards the plots arise organically - the logical consequences of things that have gone before, plus other parts of the world I wanted to bring in.
3. 2015 saw the publication of your flintlock fantasy, Guns of the Dawn, and your science fiction story, Children of Time. Did you decide you wanted to try out something different from the ‘new heroic’ fantasy of Shadows of the Apt? Or did you simply have story ideas that fitted better into another genre/sub-genre?
During the years I was working on SotA I had a whole load of ideas for stories that were never going to be kinden stories, and other ideas I'd worked with previously got a fresh going over as well. I’d had Guns of the Dawn kicking about my head for a while, and that definitely needed something closer to a historical setting (because female soldiers amongst the kinden, outside the Empire, are common). Children of Time is wholly different – starting with some “what if-ing” regarding the remarkable capabilities of the Portia spider and working up from there.During the years I was working on SotA I had a whole load of ideas for stories that were never going to be kinden stories, and other ideas I'd worked with previously got a fresh going over as well. I'd had Guns of the Dawn kicking about my head for a while, and that definitely needed something closer to a historical setting (because female soldiers amongst the kinden, outside the Empire, are common). Children of Time is wholly different - starting with some "what if-ing" regarding the remarkable capabilities of the Portia spider and working up from there.
I hate spiders, but I still had to look them up. Now I’m desperately searching for the “un-click” button on my mouse.
4. Your next novel, The Tiger and the Wolf, is out next year, and has one of the most striking covers I’ve seen for a while. It’s described as “a sweeping fantasy, featuring warfare, shape-shifting, twisted politics and invasion.” Tell us something about the book that is not in that summary.
The world of The Tiger and the Wolf is as high-concept as that of the kinden, but probably in a way that people will “get” more quickly – there’s a lot of front-loading of ideas in SotA and that caused difficulties for some readers. Everyone gets shape-shifting, though, so it's a small step from there to a world where everyone has an animal form as soon as they hit adulthood. Also, the kinden have no real religions of any kind – even their magicians are materialists at heart. With the people of Tiwer & Wolf I wanted to write about societies for whom a numinous, spiritual dimension was enormously important.The world of the Tiger and the Wolf is as high-concept as that of the kinden, but probably in a way that people will "get" more quickly - there's a lot of front-loading of ideas in SotA and that caused difficulties for some readers. Everyone gets shape-shifting, though, so it's a small step from there to a world where everyone has an animal form as soon as they hit adulthood. Also, the kinden have no real religions of any kind - even their magicians are materialists at heart. With the people of Tiwer & Wolf I wanted to write about societies for whom a numinous, spiritual dimension was enormously important.
5. I understand that you have some “real-world” experience of sword fighting. How much of that experience do you bring to your writing, and what are the common mistakes that other authors make in portraying duels? I’m asking for a friend. *Takes out manuscript and red pen*
Knowledge is never wasted. It’s always useful to know the mechanics of something, as it gives you a better toolkit to write about it. As for common mistakes – most often these are mistakes which will set off that portion of your readership that knows about the art – although with fighting arts that’s a fairly large segment. Misuse of armour is a big bete noir – in many books (because, I think, it’s that way in so many films) armour is basically just a cardboard uniform to mark out the bad guys. The Jorah Mormont fight against the Dothrakai in Game of Thrones is very satisfying because he turns up wearing a coat of mail and Martin shows him being very hard to kill because of it. Of course the other common mistake is, when you’ve learned a little swordcraft, to let it get away from you so that the fight scene becomes a dry treatise on swordsmanship. Know a lot, say as little as possible.
Thanks again for the interview!
Interview with Ilana C. Myer
This week I’m asking five different questions to five different authors. Yesterday I spoke to Adrian Tchaikovsky, and next to look to the heavens for inspiration is Ilana C. Myer, author of Last Song Before Night.
Hi Ilana, and thanks for dropping by.
1. I always like to start with an easy question. In your recent AMA at Reddit you said that you liked wine. So, red, white or rose? (Hint: the correct answer is red.)
It looks like we are going to be in agreement right out the gate! I do prefer red wine.
I can see we’re going to get along just fine.
2. Music forms an important part of the subject matter of Last Song Before Night, but did it also play a part in the writing process? Do you play music while you write, and if so, do you pick a piece or song that matches the mood of a scene?
There are a number of ways that music plays a part in my process. One is simple bribery: since most writers would rather do anything than sit down to write, I use music as a bait-and-switch on the reptile brain. I tell it, “Look, we’re not working, just listening to music.” Sometimes it even works.
Another purpose I’ve found music can serve, for me, is an effect similar to wine: it lowers the barriers between the rational mind and the imagination, which can be useful for creative work. It’s a very first-draft process, getting the work out from one’s depths before the logical brain has a chance to sneer; in contrast, editing and revising call upon an entirely different set of tools.
3. In your book, women are not allowed to be poets or musicians. To what degree did gender roles in our own society influence your writing? *Opens can of worms*
So this is interesting because I am asked about it a lot, or it’s commented upon in a derogatory way—“Why is she perpetuating the usual sexism.” When I was in my early twenties and began this book, nothing felt more natural to me than creating a society in which women were not treated as equals. I came from a strict religious upbringing with which I was grappling quite intensely at that point in my life; at the same time, I was working in Midtown Manhattan as an administrative assistant, during which time a highly-placed executive thought it appropriate to rest his hand on my hip in a meeting in his private office.
Inequality was the air I breathed. While I don’t always agree with the cliché “Write what you know,” art was my way of contending with life as I experienced it. Of understanding reality, as I experienced it. I don’t come to the page with a message to impart—I come to it with questions.
I think that’s a useful attitude to have. If someone comes to the page with answers, they’re probably the wrong ones.
4. I understand that Last Song Before Night took you years to write. How have you found the process of having to write a sequel in a much shorter time frame, and what can you tell us about that book?
The next book, which is a sequel to Last Song Before Night, was largely inspired by a trip to southern Spain. I’d had no plans for that to happen, and in fact assumed that the next book would be unrelated to Last Song Before Night, since it is a standalone novel. But Seville and Cordoba awakened a fascination. Soon it came to me how rich were the opportunities if I used the world and characters already at my fingertips. My contract with Tor was for three books, so the second and third book will tell one sweeping story, of larger scope than the first book.
Writing while under contract is very different psychologically. I used to agonize that all my work would be for nothing, since publication seemed an impossible dream; now I have different worries about “middle book syndrome” and the rest. I don’t want to hit the marks I hit before. I want to surpass what I’ve done and grow as a writer.
5. On your website, you mention that you come from a family with a long history of writing. Which family members were writers, and what did they write?
My German family, who mostly perished in the 1940s, claim two famous writers—Heinrich Heine and Leon Feuchtwanger. But I also cherish the story of my mother’s father, who I never met as he died too young. He worked for the US Postal Service and wrote fiction whenever he could, including the complete manuscript of a novel. While writing my first book I often thought of him—of his determination to write despite the demands of work and life, knowing his book would most likely never see publication.
Thanks again for your time!
Interview with Peter Newman
This week I’m interrogating five different authors. Adrian Tchaikovsky and Ilana C. Myer have already taken their turn. Next to try out the thumbscrews for size is Peter Newman, author of The Vagrant, and butler in the Hugo-nominated podcast, Tea & Jeopardy.
Hi Peter, and thanks for joining me.
1. I always like to break the ice with an easy question. So, what do little birds see when they get hit on the head?
2. What made you decide to make your main character in The Vagrant a mute, and how often in the writing process did you regret that decision?
I’d been worried that I was relying too much on dialogue in my writing and I wanted to work more on showing the story through action and atmosphere rather than having the characters tell it to us. Around that time the Vagrant appeared and it felt right to not have him speak. I just ran with it (or rather, I plodded very slowly along with it, the book was really hard to write!).
I don’t know if I ever regretted it exactly, but I did curse myself on a regular basis.
Let’s hope no one ever asks you to do an interview in character.
3. What can you tell us about book two in the series? Will the Vagrant be returning as the POV character? Will we be picking up immediately from where events in book one left off?
*SPOILERS IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE VAGRANT*
Book two is set several years after book one and starts with a new threat rising from the Breach. It also explores the consequences of the Vagrant's actions, and you get to learn a lot more about the Empire of the Winged Eye and how it came about. The Vagrant is in it but he isn’t the POV character (this is also true of the goat).
4. I understand that you’re writing a book for a new fantasy MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online) game, Albion Online. How have you found the process of writing a tie-in novel compared to writing in your own story world?
A lot of fun! It’s been quite liberating because Albion Online already had large chunks of its universe established when I came on the scene. This meant that when I was world-building a large part of it was coming up with fun ways to join the dots. It’s also nice having a team of people I could fire questions at rather than having to go and find out for myself. But the best thing was that I got to play the Alpha test in the name of research.
In terms of what it was like compared to writing in my own world, the challenges were very different. With Albion Online it was very important to me that the book captured the feel of the game, so that a player would feel familiar reading and a reader would feel at home in the game.
5. I note from your blog that you’re a gamer. What is the best fantasy role-playing game of recent years, and why is it Skyrim?
Ha! I loved Skyrim for its scale and the fun of exploring. However *dons fighting trousers* it is not the best fantasy role-playing game because it isn’t Dragon Age: Inquisition. Dragon Age: Inquisition is what Skyrim would have been if it had had proper characters and the ability to interact with them.
And on that note… *runs away*
*Splutters in indignation* *Lines up fleeing figure in cross hairs*
Thanks again for the interview! Peter?
Interview with Michael Fletcher
This week I’m asking five different questions to five different authors. Today, no doubt already wishing the ground would swallow him up, is Michael Fletcher, author of Beyond Redemption.
Hi Michael, and thanks for being here.
1. I always like to start with an easy question. So, how does the non-locality of a quantum fluctuation/entangled system turn into a localized interaction?
Einstein talked about "spooky actions at a distance," but I prefer spooky actions up close. If you want to get all entangled and interact, I'm cool with that. Hell, I've got an econo-sized bucket of Cool-Whip I can bring.
Wait. Is this a BDSM question?
Okaaay. This is the point where I back away slowly. And learn my lesson about asking smart alec questions (until the next interview, at least).
2. Beyond Redemption features men and women whose delusions become manifest, twisting reality. The third book in my Chronicles of the Exile series includes a man who is able to make his dreams manifest in the waking world. I quickly realised that I needed to set some rules on his abilities, else he would run roughshod over the story. Did you encounter something similar in Beyond Redemption? If so, did you make up those rules beforehand or develop them as you went along?
The rules came with the idea, they were damned near unavoidable. In part my background as a nerd of the first order (I've been role-playing for over 30 years) is to blame. I couldn't help but think of it as a magic system for a game and that meant I needed rules defining how everything worked. And, as a long-time Game-Master, I knew that the power of the delusional had to have both limits and come at a cost. Much of the background behind the story can be found on the wiki I created to help me keep track of everything: http://michaelrfletcher.com/beyondwiki.
3. I understand you did a lot of role-playing when you were younger, inventing your own adventures as Games Master. Do any of the characters or story lines in Beyond Redemption originate from those adventures?
I will say that some of the characters in Beyond Redemption are based on people I know.
Wow, I’m guessing these people aren’t the sort to get on the wrong side of.
4. Several reviewers have suggested that Beyond Redemption is the darkest fantasy they’ve read. Were you ever tempted to turn the tables on grimdark with an ending filled with fluffy kittens and smiling babies?
Dark? That's crazy talk!
I had the title before writing the first word; I knew how it would end even if I had no idea how it would get there. The sequel, however, is all hugs and fluffy bunnies.
I never set out to write anything darker than anything else. I had this story idea and the rest pretty much decided itself. If you have a world where belief and delusion manifests as reality, I don't see how else it will turn out.
Yeah, sure, we could make it a utopia. Will we?
I think not.
5. I notice from your website that you used to be in a goth/rock/metal band. If Beyond Redemption were to be made into a film, would your band’s music make an appropriate soundtrack?
Most of our music, while metal, contained some bounce. The sound track for Beyond Redemption would—to my mind—need to be far darker. The one song we did that might be close was Epic For Manon.
Thank you again for your time!
Interview with Tom Lloyd
This week I’m asking five different questions to five different authors. Adrian Tchaikovsky, Ilana C. Meyer, Peter Newman and Michael Fletcher have all taken their turn. Last, but by no means least, to blink into the glare of the spotlight is Tom Lloyd, author of The Twilight Reign series, the Empire of a Hundred Houses series, and the forthcoming The God Fragments series.
Hi Tom, and thanks for stopping by.
1. As with the other authors, I’ll start with an easy question. What advance were you paid for The God Fragments, and why was that far too little?
Aha ... Broadly speaking, twice as much as my best-selling book and half as much as my worst-selling book. Or to put it in a slightly geekier way – half as well as I should like and less than half as I should like to deserve.
As for why that’s far too little, easy: I’ve sold a decent number of books over the years, nothing to boast about but more than I ever expected when I started out, and this is I think my best and most commercial so I fully expect a bitter and savagely conducted auction for the US rights to start any time now ... Ahem, also it’s my shortest novel (100k shorter than my longest), it’s my simplest (bearing in mind I’ve lost the odd readers due to complexity), it’s my funniest (not that it’s a pun-fest, but there’s a light-hearted tone compared to the brutal epic series or the sober fantasy techno-thriller), and the ideas I’ve given for cover art could be summed up by the phrase “You shall not pass!”
I’m impressed you actually answered that question! I was expecting a nimble side-step.
2. I’ve seen Moon’s Artifice described as a book that blends epic fantasy and mystery. Was that a conscious decision on your part? If you ever stray outside the fantasy genre in your reading (shame on you), is it to pick up a whodunit book?
Honestly, I can’t say if it was or not. I know that sounds stupid, but half of the problem is that I don’t remember what gave me the idea more than a decade ago. I did consciously try to do something different to The Twilight Reign though – have a more normal protagonist with a job in a fantasy world, rather than the deliberate hero caricature that was Isak.
Paul Weimer described it as the fantasy equivalent of a technothriller which I think works quite well too – it sits on the line between fantasy and a certain type of SF, fine to read with either in mind depending on your preference; with mystery being a third point of reference there. Mostly I didn’t want a world-spanning epic series, I wanted a stand-alone set in one place (ignoring the fact there could be follow-ups). Once you throw in the amnesiac assassin trope you’re naturally edging towards a mystery plot, but I never said “right, I’m going to push this as a cross-genre story”. I wrote the story that was in my head rather than the story my agenda required – if I had done the latter, I think both Moon’s Artifice and Old Man’s Ghosts would have been more spy thriller in style. I toyed with the idea, but didn’t want to let one idea dictate everything else.
3. Congratulations on the deal for your third series,The God Fragments. Did you ever consider setting the books in the same world as The Twilight Reign or the Empire of a Hundred Houses series? Are you sad to leave old characters behind, or excited to start out with new (or both)?
Thank you! As for the characters: Both – I’m always sad to leave characters behind, for different reasons in this case. Isak was with me the whole time I learned to write, sitting in my head for almost fifteen years. There was certainly a period of mourning after that, but I’ve always said I wanted The Twilight Reign to be a complete(d) series for people to read whole if they want. A finished product in a world where long series often drift away and leave frustrated readers in their wake.
For Empire, it was a bit different because the vague ideas I had for future stories were set to one side even before Old Man’s Ghosts was finished. I knew sales wouldn’t justify writing any more so I didn’t let myself daydream on those, just made sure the final chapter served as a goodbye to my characters from me.
But of course, if you’re not excited about the new characters you should never start the new book. It’s great to note that even when I’m feeling fatigued and uninspired, just setting the new set of characters to talking can drive me on. I like them and I enjoy writing the scenes even if nothing is happening plot-wise – they’ll take me back to that soon enough and in the process they get the juices flowing.
As for setting the books in one of those worlds – nope, never an option. The ideas stand alone, the power structures, gods and magic in all the worlds are too set to allow the other stories to fit in there without being changed beyond recognition.
4. On your blog, you said you were having fun writing about a collection of “foul-mouthed, childish and trigger-happy mercenaries” in Stranger of Tempest. What makes this type of character so enjoyable, and who among your nearest and dearest did you draw inspiration from?
Well I’m a guy who’s played sport (at not a very high level of quality) all his life and doesn’t enjoy overly serious or intense friends. I’m at my happiest surrounded by food, booze and friends talking bullshit – they know who they are! Lynx, the main character in Stranger, is a loner and naturally suspicious of mercenaries. There’s a lot of me in him unsurprisingly, so if he’s going to plausibly stick with their group there has to be a reason for him to do so, a place to fit there. If drunkenness and childish idiocy comes naturally to me on the page, so be it.
You say that as if drunkenness and childish idiocy were bad things.
5. You’ve published a collection of short stories entitled The God Tattoo. Do you prefer using shorter fiction to fill in some ‘gaps’ from your novels, or to explore something completely new?
Mostly the gaps, although not always in the way you’d expect. The focus and direction of Ragged Man in particular was dictated by a novella I’d written years before, so it’s not always the novels solely providing the structure. The more you immerse yourself in a fantasy world the more there are stories and lives to look at beyond the tight-focus of your central plot. The more freedom you have to explore those the better, but that’s not always easy in a time-pressure world and I’m not particularly inclined to the shorter forms.
To step away from the current world and write something else isn’t that natural for me. Often when I do so it’s to shake things up and set myself a challenge, but the plan for the new series was always novel, novella, novel, novella. The novellas will be e-only so I can’t put much series-plot-dependent stuff in them, but the first has proved an entertaining aside that I think readers of Stranger of Tempest will really enjoy.
Thanks again for the interview!