Aderyn Wood is a fellow Australian fantasy author who has just released a great YA novel, Borderlands: Journey, which I raced through in a couple of days – I recommend it, it’s got that classic ‘coming of age’ feel.
Aderyn was kind enough to answer a few questions for the City of Masks blog, we chatted about being an indie author, music, villains and tropes – for more about Aderyn check out her blog here or follow her on twitter right here.
Ashley Capes: I’m curious as to the kinds of protagonists that you find most satisfying to write? Would you say you have a preference for any particular qualities in a leading character?
Aderyn Wood: Writing characters is always an interesting process. I find that plots are easy enough to dream up, but characters always evolve for me. I'm never certain of who they are until about half way through the novel, but I enjoy the surprise of learning more about characters as I write them. For me, a leading character has to be someone readers can form a connection with. This is not always easy to achieve. I found this a challenge when I first started Borderlands - the main character, Dale, is an adolescent girl with a bit of a chip on her shoulder. In the first draft of Borderlands, Dale came across as a bit 'whingey' to be honest. I had to work hard to have her critical world view come across as legitimate and something the reader might agree with or at least understand.
The characters I find the most fun to write are definitely the bad-asses. It's always fun to write a villain.
AC: Agreed! Villains are great fun to write. With that in mind, who’s your favourite villain, both that you’ve written and that you’ve read?
AW: In my own books, I had a lot of fun writing one of the main antagonists in 'Borderlands' - a school bully and popular girl called Prudence Feathertop. Brimming with vanity, she loves to look around wearing a "designer pout." I think we all detest those arrogant 'alphas' and Prudence certainly personifies them. But, she was fun to write, both in terms of characterising her and showing the protagonist's disdain for her.
In the first four books of Katharine Kerr's Deverry series there is an arch villain who remained unknown to begin with. It was very mysterious, not knowing straight away who the bad guy was. Clues were unveiled slowly for the characters (and the reader) to learn more about his identity. As the story progresses, and the evil of this arch villain grows, we learn more and more until he is exposed and brought down by the story's hero. It was very satisfying to see him die, but the mystery made this character so interesting.
I also think George RR Martin did a great job with Prince Joffrey. I don't remember hating a character as much as I hated him!
AC: What for you, is the greatest thrill – and conversely, the biggest challenge of being an independent author?
AW: I think the greatest thrill is probably the same for all authors whether an Indie or traditionally published author - positive feedback from readers. When a reader lets you know how much they enjoyed your book, nothing beats that feeling!
For me, the biggest challenge is the promotional aspect. It's very hard to get your work out there as an unknown author with few contacts and no automatic network to tap into that a publisher may provide. It means starting from nothing and building up a profile, all by yourself. It also means I have to spend time on promotion, and this can take away from writing time.
AC: Actually that prompts me to ask you about time, because the many hats worn by most authors can really impact writing time. How do you ensure you maintain a balance between timely output and other necessary tasks?
AW: I'm still trying to get that balance right, so I don't know that I have the answer (maybe I never will!). I always make sure that I do more writing than anything else. The writing must come first. Because of this I do my writing first thing in the morning, or as soon as I can get to it. Twitter, blogging, emails, facebook, etc. It all has to come second to writing. And reading for that matter. I once read that a writer should aim to write 1000 words and read 2000 words every day. That's what I try to do. But, I have given myself two days off a week. Fridays - because it's Friday! And Sunday - as that's when I usually try to do reviews and blogging. This seems to work for me, mostly.
I also think it's important to do things that make you switch off from writing. One author I know enjoys volleyball ;p I have a bit of land, it's a hobby farm I suppose, and I spend a fair chunk of every day managing my gardens and animals. I love it and when I'm engaged in it I have a good break from writing, which recharges my mind and my muse.
AC: I definitely agree about that switching off (thank you, volleyball :D), we need outlets, we need distance from our projects don’t we? Music is another way to switch off for me – though it helps me write too. Are you the kind of writer who can or needs to work with music? And if so – what sort of music do you use most? If quiet is more your thing, how do you achieve the required hush?
AW: I prefer to write in silence. But sometimes that's not possible, especially when my sports-mad partner watches television. So I do listen to music when I have to block out other noise. I mostly listen to soundtracks. But I have an app on my ipad with all sorts of nature sounds - stuff like rain, storms, forests, the ocean, etc. Sometimes I listen to this to get into the mood of the setting.
AC: I love soundtracks for writing too – I actually use the Vertigo OST sometimes, what’s your soundtrack of choice?
AW: My soundtracks are embarrassingly old or obvious! At the moment I use HBO's Game of Thrones or 'Bram Stoker's Dracula'. They both have dramatic tunes which can help me to convey the mood of a scene.
AC: Do you feel tropes and conventions are more of a hindrance or help to an author, especially one writing speculative fiction?
AW: My main interest as a reader and a writer is in fantasy fiction, and let's face it - fantasy is saturated with tropes! But I think the tropes and conventions in fantasy attract us to the genre. I love reading about an evil dark lord and the little hero or heroine who brings him down. But I don't like reading a story that becomes predictable because it may adhere too strongly to well known conventions that have been done to death. Therefore, as a writer, I don't necessarily shy away from tropes and conventions but I do take my own approach. And I also try to add twists and turns to surprise readers throughout the novel so that (hopefully) my stories aren't too predictable. I think it's important that writers challenge, play with and subvert tropes to provide different reading experiences of a similar theme. Otherwise we're serving up the same old meal.
AC: I agree, I think tropes and conventions are vital because, as you say, they leave room to create a sense of familiarity for a reader, but also to surprise when such tropes are subverted – such as the way Whedon does with the opening to the first Buffy episode. Can you give us a trope or convention you love to work with and one you’re tired of reading?
AW: I love Buffy because she subverts the 'damsel in distress' trope that seems to dominate Hollywood. But, disappointingly, this trope also has a strong foothold in many YA books for girls and young women. It's one of the reasons I don't pick up YA often. Even the strong female characters seem to require rescuing, by men. This is why Buffy was so refreshing. She was the saviour! I guess I've tried to challenge this trope in 'Borderlands' although it won't really be apparent until further in the series.
AC: Looking forward to it, Dale already has that spark I feel :)
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Ashley Capes is an Australian writer of fiction, poetry and very occasional non-fiction.
Imperial Towers (Never Book 5) - draft 1
Moss Dragon - draft 1
Reed Lavender (working title) - draft 1
Unnamed Spec Fic - draft 1
Whisper of Leaves (sequel) - Outline