Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off
I'm leading off this post with some lovely news about my epic fantasy/adventure story The Amber Isle - I was thrilled to learn it was a semi-finalist in the opening round of Mark Lawrences' SPFBO (which you can read about here) and while I didn't expect a novella to fare to well against full length novels, I'm still very happy with how it went!
You can also see the great review from Lynn, the blogger assigned to the batch of titles I was up against - among which was the eventual winner, Outpost by F T McKinstry. Good luck to F T McKinstry :)
Two short interviews are also up - one is a quick promotional one which talks a little about the inspiration behind City of Masks and the other is part of Ambrose Hall's Gothic/Horror month, where I talk about A Whisper of Leaves and living next to cemeteries :)
(In fact, A Whisper of Leaves, my ghost story set in Japan, is actually $1 during the lead up to Halloween if you're looking for a suspense read)
Another Review :)
I was pleasantly surprised to find that a new review group Fantasia Reviews, found a copy of City of Masks and did an in depth review that featured pull-quotes, which I thought was ace :) They describe the writing as laconic and effective (which I liked :D) - check it out!
Greatmask is on track for its late November release and I'll soon be sharing a chapter from Seto too. I'm at around 15k for Never #5 and hope to announce a kickstarter for it soon. Next year, after Never #5 is out, I hope to be working on a sequel to A Whisper of Leaves and another dark fantasy/suspense story (Fallow-Man). Otherwise I'm also planning to get a lot more reading done over the ever-nearing Christmas break :)
Aurelia Maria Casey is a writer, speaker, editor, internet fairy godmother and owner of the AVBC podcast, which you can check out right here – a great series of author interviews and book reviews/discussions.
A while back Aurelia was kind enough to interview me about City of Masks and I wanted to interview her about her various writing projects and generally awesome things she’s up to. I hope you enjoy our chat!
Ashley Capes: At your site you mention speaking engagements geared toward helping science-minded folks break the misconception that they cannot write – what are the biggest challenges these people face? And personally, how does your expertise in engineering impact your own writing?
Aurelia M Casey: From my experiences collaborating with my fellow engineers I have noticed that many engineers and scientists are excellent at telling you what they do, but as soon as they have to write it down, they produce gibberish stuffed with jargon and even they themselves don’t understand the meaning of their sentences or paragraphs.
I think the biggest challenge these people face is the expectation of the academic and research communities that anything written down must be pure objective science. It is easy to say and write “I did this assay, and saw a really unexpected result: the bacteria all turned green when I thought they ought to turn blue.” Apparently, it’s much harder for most people to write: “Assay A was performed as specified in the methods, with 0.01% instead of 0.1% glucose. Observation of the bacterial colonies shows green fluorescence instead of the expected blue fluorescence.” The second biggest challenge is that most scientists and engineers are whole-heartedly convinced that they can’t write. It never occurs to them that first drafts aren’t supposed to make any sense, that that is why revision and editing exist.
Everything I do is intertwined: I’m all about imagining awesome stuff and making it exist. Sometimes I’m dreaming new technology into the world, sometimes I’m creating gowns to make people feel like Cinderella, and sometimes I’m telling stories. I have a few sci-fi stories planned, and I’m really excited because I want to make some of the tech that I have in those stories in real life. But from a writing craft perspective, even research reports and business grant proposals and technical papers are all stories. I think working on those writing projects has helped me to understand how central story is to everything we do. Sure, when I write something technical I have to be as objective as possible, but it’s still a story: a story about the experiment and results rather than a story about the people who do the experimentation.
The real answer is that I don’t see any difference between magic and technology. They’re simply different sides to the same coin and I like exploring the whole complexity of an idea.
AC: Fantastic, can you give an example about a technology you’ve featured in a story that you feel can work in the real world?
AMC: Well, it’s not out yet, but my second serial, which will be on my upcoming podcast Storytime (launching this September!) after Sorcerous & Beastly ends, is a science fiction tale called The Exclusives. It’s a little bit like Covert Affairs meets The Matrix. The main character gets into the best university in the world. This university specializes in cross-cultural conflict resolution and diplomacy as well as international business and emerging technologies. The campus is an airship that travels around the globe. I’m in the process of actually designing this airship. I know airships are steampunk, but this particular one uses new materials so that the frame and helium cells are lighter, there’s more space, you can see out better, and it’s more robust if it encounters storms. If I’m ever a bazillionaire, I’m going to found the actual university too, because why not? The Exclusives has a blend of tech that I can design with current technology and tech that needs quantum physics and other complicated and paradoxical things to work. But I do my best to make everything understandable. What’s the point of introducing you to a new device if you can’t imagine it being useful?
AC: I know you work across a variety of genres and while I think a lot of a writer’s attention should be focused on the reader, I don’t think we should overlook our own enjoyment. Is it fun to operate in so many sandboxes? The advice that a writer should write the story they’d enjoy reading springs to mind, would you say that is true for you?
AMC: Oh, I definitely have fun. Most of my story ideas started as dreams where I woke up before the end and after spending a few hours daydreaming what-ifs to find an ending I liked I realized that it was a bigger story that deserved more time. Reading is very linear for me: I devour stories and I read them over and over when I really love them.
Writing for me is more convoluted. It’s a very similar process to the stereotypical fantasy depiction of seers trying to piece together the possible futures to understand the implications of the past and present. I’ll know bits and pieces, but not necessarily how they connect. Or I’ll discover as I’m writing something fascinating. I have over sixty books planned out right now, and many of the series started sort of backwards: I start writing the “original” story and then realize that the parents of those characters have a story that would add important layers to the story overall so I add prequels. But I do try to publish things in an order that makes sense to read. I end up reading my “original” stories later, after I’ve worked on the prequels, and I love re-discovering my stories and realizing that they’re better than I thought they were when I was writing them.
AC: Yes! I use the ‘what if’ method too. I think it remains one of the most powerful questions a writer can ask, it seems to lead to the most interesting places in a story. Is there a favourite ‘what if’ that sent a story down a path you weren’t expecting
AMC: A favourite ‘what if’? That’s hard. I come up with so many every day and I only keep track of the most interesting ones in evernote. Hmm… I guess I’ll go with the one ‘what if’ which eventually let me to become a writer.
Back when I was twelve, I had just read The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter and I thought: what if there was a school like in Harry Potter but with elves and things like in The Lord of the Rings? That lead to my first epic fantasy story, which has been percolating and developing with me over the years. Elethiere, Lanowyn, and the rest of the gang are some of my favourite characters because in a sense they grew up with me. Chains of Destruction is a short story I published last year that was originally the prologue for the first Elethiere story. (I know, nearly a decade and a half later and I still don’t have a title that I like enough for this story).
AC: You’re also working in editorial roles and I noticed that part of the proceeds from one of your projects, Sticks and Stones... will be used toward supporting victims of domestic violence, which is fantastic. How hard is it to edit an anthology dealing with such a grave issue?
AMC: Well, for me it isn’t too hard emotionally. I’ve only experienced domestic violence second hand: many of my friends and family are survivors. Reading the submissions is educational, and I empathize deeply, but it doesn’t trigger any traumatic memories. Part of my goal with the domestic violence anthology is to make it less challenging to read about this issue: since the anthology is short stories and poetry, readers can take these stories in small doses. The other part of my goal is to foster discussion so that others like me can learn and understand how difficult it is to be in a bad relationship and victims can discover whether their friends are truly empathetic and supportive without having to be vulnerable by sharing their personal experiences right away.
As for actually selecting and rejecting submissions, I do what most editors do: I pick the stories and poems that I like and that I think are relevant to understanding broken love, and what love should be, and what victims of domestic violence go through. So far, it’s been challenging and fun, rather than hard.
AC: It must be really satisfying to work on the anthology too and I think the idea of short doses is clever. Is there also scope for longer works in the future?
AMC: I’m not sure. I don’t really have any hard and fast word count rules in my submission guidelines. Some stories are super short, around 500 words, and others are more than 10,000. I suppose it depends on the works I like for a given year’s anthology: if there are a lot of short works then there may not be space for a longer one and if there are a few long works there might not be space for very many short ones. Space in the physical print book, naturally. Ebooks don’t have that limitation.
AC: I wanted to ask you more about one of your works and something about Assassin caught my eye – can you tell me a little more about it? I notice from the blurb that your MC Lara faces some tough choices, one of which is the possibility of self-sacrifice. It’s one of my favourite themes and I wondered what draws you to it?
AMC: I’m not really sure. Maybe my experiences with unrequited love? Self-sacrifice is a core part of my personality: I would sacrifice everything for the people I care most about, so it’s logical for me that others would too. When I was in high school, my teachers led a number of discussions asking the question: what are you willing to die for? Everyone had something they cared about, but it was very academic, very theoretical. We all knew that it was highly unlikely any of us would actually be in that situation. So perhaps I write about it to understand the idea more concretely. It takes a lot of courage to do what’s right when you know that the world you love will never be the same afterward. Especially when you could just stay in your comfortable life and let the hidden evils spread. Sorcerous & Beastly deals with courage also, and the tension between duty and desire.
Assassin is almost the epilogue to Lara’s story. I decided to publish it as a short story because it was finished, but it takes place in the middle of the Intrigue series. Most of Lara’s story is in the second book. This series is definitely one of my darkest. I have to rate it R because it’s nearly as graphic as Game of Thrones, although that’s the only similarity (I think…I could be wrong...Read it when it comes out and tell me what you think). Intrigue is one of the series where I discovered prequels. I also discovered my “original” story was too long for one book. So that expanded into the last three books in the series and the “prequels” are the first three.
AC: Will do! Can you tell me more about Lara and her story – which aspects about her were the most fun to write and which were the most challenging? Were there characters around her who threatened to steal the spotlight? If so, how did you ‘deal’ with them?
AMC: I’m not sure I can answer this question without spoilers for The Eagle of Bar’Dhain, the second Intrigue book. Lara is one of the main characters in that part of the story, but is in the background more for the rest of the series. Between the end of her full novel and the beginning of Assassin, a lot happens to her. Assassin is more than twenty years later and she has become a famous assassin, although nobody knows her real name but her. One of the things that is so much fun about Lara is how dramatically she changes between her teenage years and where she ends up at the end of Assassin. There’s definitely space for more short stories about her.
Actually Lara was one of the characters who threatened to steal the spotlight from Rosalina. Rosalina is the main character for the last three Intrigue books, which I thought would be only one when I first had the story spark. So Lara and Raisa both were trying to steal the story, not because they are in Rosalina’s story but because their stories provide the context, the background, for Rosalina’s. Anyway, I dealt with it like I usually do: I gave Lara and Raisa their own novels. And Sebastian too. He’s in the first two Intrigue books, and is important to the beginning of Lara’s story and sets up the political landscape for Raisa’s and Rosalina’s stories.
AC: Thanks for agreeing to the interview, Aurelia :) Readers can also check out Sorcerous & Beastly in a variety of formats right here - check it out!
To learn more about Aurelia and her work, here's some handy links from Aurelia:
The first episode of Sorcerous & Beastly is out already in ebook format and you can find the links on this page, and the pre-orders for the complete season will be there as well. Or you can join my purple court and get the whole starter library free (Assassin, Chains of Destruction, and Sorcerous & Beastly Season 1 Episodes 1 & 2).
I'll be narrating each Sorcerous & Beastly episode on my upcoming Storytime podcast starting the first Monday in September (the 7th I think). So if you like listening to stories, you should check that out. You can also like my facebook page or follow me on twitter to get reminders when that comes out.
I recently completed an interview with the awesome Kristy at Book Frivolity and it was a blast! I had a heap of fun and even managed to explode a pixie - so I have to thank Kristy for creating such a great interview.
In it I talk a bit about fiction and poetry along with City of Masks and its forthcoming follow-up, The Lost Mask, but also about Cadbury and regret.
You can read the interview here at Book Frivolity and while you're there, if you'd like a chance to win a signed copy of City of Masks, you just have to scroll down to enter the giveaway that's running too :)
Excited to let you know that I'll be featured in a video interview/review series this Saturday morning at 10am (Friday evening US time) :)
Aurelia Maria Casey's Virtual Bookclub was kind enough to ask me to do the interview and discuss City of Masks, which I was of course very happy to do!
I'm hoping I don't ramble too much and remain coherent throughout - so if you'd like to see whether I'm able to summon up some ability to be articulate, visit the google plus event here or if you're happening across this post a bit later - you can see the interview over at youtube or below.
Wish me luck!
Finally back with part 3 of the ‘double interview’ where Ryn Lilley (a fellow Snapping Turtle author) and I talk about writing, music, conventions whatever else comes up! This time we've focused on heroes and tropes and authenticity.
RL: What tropes do you find yourself running afoul of as an author, how do you ustilise them in your own work?
AC: I think the one I notice most in my writing is the ‘save the world’ trope because I simply like big stakes in fantasy. Not to the point of excluding other stakes, but that’s generally my favourite as a reader and a writer.
I’ve left that particular trope alone at times, so as to provide the reader with that sense of familiarity, the epic scale, but what concerns me about it is how many big threats are there really? And how many ways can you save the world anyway? There’s always going to be a certain amount of repetition in fiction in terms of themes and plots and characters, but I often remind myself that not every reader has seen it done as many times as the next reader – and so I try and make some aspects of the ultimate threat new and still stay happy with that particular trope.
AC: The big tropes have led me to heroism so I thought I’d ask you, who’s your favourite hero/heroine and why are they so memorable for you?
RL: I have a few, though often the hero/heroine of a story aren’t necessarily my favourite characters. Anghara Kir Hama, from Alma Alexander’s Changer of Days duology is a favourite. I’ve said of Alma’s work before that if she wrote a lunch menu, I’d read it! Why is Anghara memorable? From child of high position, to having to flee for her life, she carries both incredible power, and an inner serenity. Even when totally lost and in a foreign land, she learns and adapts. She is lovable, even when she comes back to reclaim her throne; resolute and about to change even the Days of the Gods – she is still just Anghara. There is an authenticity to her that allows the reader to accept her ability to talk with ancient and harsh gods, and to see her as a Queen in her own right, but still need to be loved for herself.
RL: Back along the same route, who is your favourite hero/heroine, and why?
AC: Nausicaa from Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, a manga and anime from Hayao Miyazaki. She strikes me as a girl with conviction, bravery and kindness, a difficult balance to write I feel. She’s one of those characters who is open and while she’s very capable, she’s also very quick to put herself at the mercy of enemies in the pursuit of peace – which seems another difficult thing for some heroines to do.
AC: In your response to heroes I noticed you mentioned ‘authenticity’ and I’ve always been attracted to this quality in poetry and fiction, over say, any idea of ‘originality’– how do you strive for authenticity as a writer?
RL: The key to authenticity, for me, is a character who learns and grows through the circumstances they’ve been placed in, but their core character remains. They are not all things to all people, they are human and fallible, but true to the beliefs the author has built into them. Originality is a term I am uneasy with, for there are only so many plots, so many situations ... but there are alternative universes; each choice can lead us somewhere different. A character who is authentic goes down the rabbit hole and is changed, but not unrecognisable. This is most apparent, I think, in villains. Think of Antonov Latanya in Jennifer Fallon’s Second Sons series; his belief that he is acting as a good, and utterly righteous man, pervades his every action. That his actions, approved by the High Priestess, further his ambitions and increase his wealth is merely a happy coincidence. You can’t just hate him for being a bad guy. He has far too many layers, and holds to that central tenet of righteousness throughout all, making him a thoroughly authentic bad guy.
RL: I’m tempted to ask you questions on villains, but your mention of authenticity in poetry intrigues me. What, for you, makes for authentic poetry?
AC: Tough question, really glad you asked it! I don’t know how well I’ll be able to answer it but I’ll try start by looking outward for a second. Authenticity seems to be something hard to see at first glance. In fact, it strikes me that only across the oeuvre of a poet that we might truly see artifice, appropriation or the kind of obfuscation that exists solely to exclude readers, to see poetry that feels unauthentic.
Again, it’s difficult to judge whether poetry is or isn’t authentic and a certain amount of biographical knowledge about the writer might help, but I think what the avoidance of those aspects and techniques could well leave behind is both honesty and bravery.
Poets who write what they fear cannot or should not be said, poets who do not lie to themselves, who understand and work with their obsessions and poets who do not censor themselves strike me as most authentic.
Today it's part 2 of a ‘double interview’ where Ryn Lilley (a fellow Snapping Turtle author) and I talk about writing, music, conventions whatever else comes up!
Hope you enjoy it and feel free to ask either of us a question in the comments : )
RL: What defines a great writing group for you?
AC: Great question – for me it’s definitely size and the flexibility of the group, and to an extent, a familiarity with each other’s genre. For size, I usually prefer a smaller group typically because the time and support that group can offer each other is more concentrated. In terms of flexibility I think of the way that my Alchemy group understands that there is no one, single way to write or revise etc. We each appreciate the varying degrees between plotting and pantsing for example, and can help each other with either approach. And in terms of the last criteria, I don’t think it’s necessary but just really useful for your partners to be familiar with your genre, especially when it comes to specifics.
AC: Tell me how important you think genre conventions are to a writer?
RL: I live in a rural area, and the closest writers group to me is a 100 km round trip, which kind of puts it a bit out of contention for regular interaction. So one of the few times I get to mingle and interact with others on various stages of their own writing journey, is at conventions. As I write science fiction, and inhale science fiction and fantasy as my preferred reading, genre conventions tend to be where I gravitate to. That said, I have only been able to get to a few over the years I have been learning the craft. If you look at the panels as a chance to take notes in a uni lecture, they can be enormously instructive. But a new writer always needs to remember that each author can only tell you how they work, and therefore their methods are not necessarily going to work for everyone else.
A writer isn’t going to get “the magic method” for guaranteed being published by their dream publishing house from a genre convention – but they can learn how to improve their writing in general, and the inspiration that can come from being around like-minded people is incredible. I have never come away from a convention without my head full of plans and ways to make my work better. And you do get to see how very many different methods there are to write – while there are some general rules that can be learnt, your own style is something you have to discover. And you only do that by writing.
However, with the last few questions regarding the learning process - I’m going to be a bit cheeky here and put in a plug for one of our fellow Snapping Turtle authors. When looking at advice from beta readers, or writers at conventions, it’s also helpful to know the credentials of those who are offering writing advice. Jennifer Fallon has taught master classes at Supernova and not only is she an internationally published author who has sold over 750, 000 books world wide, she holds a Masters in Creative Writing, and has been working in adult education for a couple of decades. Her general writing advice is definitely worth the investment as a valuable education resource How to Write a Bestseller.
RL: What have you found to be the best and worst things you have taken away from a genre convention?
AC: Hands down the best thing would be the connections made, sometimes it’s just great to chat with like-minded people, huh? Next would be the sense of motivation – the exposure to ideas is really inspiring and so I usually find myself keen to write after leaving one. I actually can’t think of a big negative – perhaps the occasional microphone hog, but there haven’t been too many of those that I’ve seen (blessedly!).
AC: So, not much of a segue this time, but how important, or how dangerous even, do you think tropes are to our writing/genre?
RL: Tropes have their places; you have to know them well to be able to break them successfully. I can think of occasions where an author has written in a genre without having the slightest idea of the reasons for the tropes, or even that the tropes existed, and found commercial success, but the kind of fans that stay with a genre from teenage to old age, won’t touch their work. In most cases the tropes developed for very specific reasons, for example: research into folklore tales across the UK, Europe and Scandinavia shows a common diagnosis today, existed in those tales. We call it autism, they called the children with behavioural and developmental problems fairy changelings (Or troll changelings etc etc, depending on the country). It is likely that porphyria sufferers may have lead to the creation of the Vampire tropes.
The dangers, I think comes from how others outside the genre view it. If they think of all horror as being like a bad 80s slasher film, then they are unlikely to ever read the darkly charming stories like Fluke, by James Herbert. If they perceive all fantasy to be a boys own adventure with wizards to save the day, then they miss out on the unique works by the likes of Glenda Larke, with Havenstar, or Jennifer Fallon’s more political, tightly plotted works with characters you can’t help but love, even if you suspect she’s going to kill them off, or Dave Freer’s highly technically, and wonderfully light-hearted alternate universes. Marketing has a role to play in how these books are perceived, and of course from a marketing point of view you want a book to be instantly recognizable to those who are already interested in that style of book. But it does limit the potential audience.
Today I’d like to present the first part of a ‘double interview’ where Ryn Lilley (a fellow Snapping Turtle author) and I talk about writing, music, conventions whatever else comes up! Hope you enjoy it and feel free to ask either of us a question in the comments : )
And for those of you looking for a new YA sci-fi series check out Ryn’s Underground books (two are on special right now here & here) for a fast read, great lead character and an alien world that has me deeply curious, especially about the gender politics at play. You can also visit Ryn here at facebook and twitter.
I’ll go first!
Ashley Capes: Music plays a big role in the lives of many writers – can you tell me a bit about how you use it when writing? What genres do you favour? Is there a different style of music required for different phases of the process – say, writing vs editing?
Ryn Lilley: For me, music is as essential as breathing. Even when I’m writing, I need to have my guitar nearby, and music playing. I’m a fan of guitar driven rock, and Australian punk from the 70s and 80s, but there are very few genres of music I don’t like - so have a huge array of music that helps keep my energy high while I’m creating. A lot of The Underworld books have been/are being written to some fairly dark music: Alice Cooper, X (Australian punk band made up of the late, great Ian Rillen, Cathy Green on drums and Steve Lucas,) Nick Cave, Johnny Cash, T-Rex, and The Stooges.
There is actually a scene in Episode 3 - The Fosterling, where I had X’s 'Don’t Cry No Tears' on repeat while I was writing it. It’s a beautiful, haunting piece and when I read back over that section while editing, despite having other music playing, I could hear that song as I read.
For editing, I tend to like smoother, more mellow music that can just flow over me, so I’ll put on J.J. Cale, or Lou Reed. I also find I can come back to my work with a clearer mind if I take regular breaks to play my guitar.
Ryn Lilley: You know I’m going to turn this one back on you, as a former muso yourself, what influences do you find most helpful to your own creative efforts, and do you find any real difference between what you listen to while writing, and what you listen to while editing?
Ashley Capes: Deal! I do find that when writing it’s often about pace. A fast beat really keeps me going and I listen to a lot of metal while writing first drafts, along with hard rock like Sabbath and Zeppelin. Sometimes it’s any music I know so well that the lyrics don’t bother me and for some scenes I’ll switch to something tense – for instance, in some parts of City of Masks, where I wanted more tension, I looped ‘The Battle Remembered’ by Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble and it worked really well.
And like you, for editing I ease off a bit too. I might go with Miles Davis’ cool era or sometimes a game soundtrack, something from the Sega Megadrive perhaps. One of my favourite albums to edit to is actually the Howl’s Moving Castle soundtrack, it’s beautiful and just works so well when I’m revising. Like you said, it gives more space to the thinking process I think.
AC: I know a lot of writers get asked about where ideas come from and it’s an old question perhaps, but I hope I can flip it on its head a little and ask instead, what makes you pass on an idea? For instance, maybe when it comes to you at first it seems exciting but you go to write and it just isn’t? Maybe it’s too small, too big? I’m curious :)
RL: My usual answer to where I get my ideas from is that they come from breathing; I’m an inveterate people watcher, so as long as I’m breathing, I’m getting new ideas from the world around me : ) However ideas that I don’t use? I can’t think of any that haven’t been used, or notes taken for use in other stories, if the idea requires a lot of research or isn’t suitable for the story I’m working on. An idea may not always be used in the way I expected – they might turn out to be not big enough to carry an entire story, but they will shape a scene or a chapter, or work in as a sub plot. Of course, the original spark can always be improved on, I’m currently writing Season Two of the Underground series, and I re-wrote the first chapter five times as a better way to begin telling the story occurred to me.
RL: I’m going to tweak your question a bit further – with your writing, have you ever been ambushed by an idea that was really essential for the story you were trying to tell, but required a great deal of re-writing to make it fit in?
AC: A few times, yeah! It’s always exciting but frustrating too – and if I was a hardcore plotter I think it would be a rare thing, but I generally pants within a framework and so it’s definitely happened. In City of Masks I had to do that for Sofia, one the leads. Her opening chapters were scrapped between draft 1 and 3 and it included removing a mentor character and changing her personality a fair bit for the rewrite – but I’m happy I made the changes!
AC: The changes above were spurred on by some great feedback I got from my writing group actually, and it brings to mind what I hope is a Stephen King quote, to ‘write with the door closed, revise with the door open’ and so I wanted to ask, when do you let first readers see your work? At planning? Only after a draft is complete?
RL: You are correct, it is a Stephen King quote from On Writing, and I’ll put the whole quote in as I think its good advice to remember:
‘Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open. Your stuff starts out being just for you, in other words, but then it goes out. Once you know what the story is and get it right — as right as you can, anyway — it belongs to anyone who wants to read it. Or criticize it.’
I tend to do this, a few people are allowed to read over my shoulder now as I write – but these are people for whom my Underground world is as real is it as for me, they have known the characters and the set up since I first wrote it. It has undergone a great deal of re-writing since that first early work. But those who are allowed to read over my shoulder will always get a defensive answer to criticisms, and it takes me a day a two before I accept they are right, and I act to make the work better. At research stage I will talk about specific needs for research, and I find some research and some conversations lead to future story ideas, that I write a rough plan for, add in the links of any sites that I might need, and file it til I have finished the work I’m on. Mostly I write without others seeing the first draft til it’s done – and then send the whole story out to be beta read. Then the rewrite process begins, until it’s ready to send to the publisher, which is of course, never the end of the story : )
Stay tuned for Part 2 & Part 3 coming soon!
Today I’m thrilled to share an interview with Australian Speculative Fiction author Joanne Anderton, whose genre-bending Veiled Worlds Trilogy was recently completed with the release of Guardian.
You can read more about her at her blog, follow her on twitter right here and sample the first novel, Debris, in the trilogy here. Big thanks to Jo for agreeing to chat with me and hope everyone enjoys the read!
AC: Setting is such a vital aspect of speculative fiction – and all good fiction really – and I wondered if you could tell me a little of the inspiration for the setting of your Veiled Worlds Trilogy?
JA: Strange and vivid worlds are what I love most about reading fantasy and science fiction. Getting lost in them is what I love most about writing fantasy and science fiction!
The setting for the Veiled Worlds came about because I wanted to write a story about industrialised magic. I've always wondered why the worlds in the big fat fantasy trilogies I devoured as a teenager were usually rural, agricultural and feudal. Why would a culture get stuck there just because it has access to magic? Why wouldn't technology keep changing and developing -- and why couldn't magic become part of that technology?
That's where the idea of pions and debris came from, and they are the driving force behind the setting. Tanyana's world is industrialised, and powered by pion manipulation instead of coal. It's urban, militarised, and it struggles with pollution too -- except instead of smoke or sludge, they get debris.
Of course, if you've read Guardian you know Tanyana's world is a little more complicated than that, and nothing about it is quite as it seems. But I won't get stuck into that, because spoilers :)
AC: It sounds awesome, I’m really keen to get in to it (Debris arrived in the mail last week) and wanted to ask, what sort of research did you undertake for the setting?
JA: Thank you! Hope you enjoy it!
Most of The Veiled Worlds is set in a kinda-steampunky, industrial-age, Russian-inspired setting. Sadly, I did not travel to Russia. But I did do a lot of reading on Russian history, architecture, climate… you get the idea.
The other major setting is… a spoiler :)
AC: How important – or dangerous – do you think tropes are for the speculative fiction writer?
JA: I think it's important to know them, and why they've persisted -- what is it about them that speaks to us, and why do they work? That's part of being a reader and a writer, reading widely within and outside of your own genre. Avoid tropes if you want, but don't do so at the expense of story. Ultimately, story is the most important thing anyway (in my opinion at least).
AC: I agree, the story as a whole is more important to me as a reader than a single trope – and some tropes are quite endearing. Actually, that prompts me to ask, do you have a favourite trope, and if so, why do you think it remains favoured?
JA: Hmm, not sure if this counts as a trope or not, but I love stories set on fantasy worlds that are actually built on the ruins of advanced civilisations. It's even better if their magic system uses that technology in some way, and 'gods' were really these super-advanced people who disappeared… or did they? Part of the plot should involve uncovering what happened to these people, and it's going to be tragic.
AC: I noticed you’re a fan of the brilliant Devin Townsend – what other music do you find inspirational when it comes to writing? (And what do you think of his Infinity album?)
JA: Ha, that's got to be trick question right? Because obviously the answer is Infinity is brilliant! I love them all, but my current favourite Devy album is Epicloud and that's because I have a deep, deep obsession with "Save Our Now". I may have gone a little insane when he played that live!
Music definitely plays an important part in my writing. I always listen to music as I work. Music does this whole 'transport me to another place' thing, where the rest of the real world just falls away. It really helps me focus on story-world instead.
Mostly I listen to metal (heaviness depends on the scene I'm writing), j-pop and soundtracks. I love a good anime or video game soundtrack. I know the Persona 4 soundtrack back to front and inside out I've listened to it that many times.
AC: I still haven’t got to Epicloud – added to my list – that’s his fifteenth, sometimes I forget how prolific he is! And speaking of j-pop, what did you think of Babymetal? Novelty or awesome?
JA: Ok, I'll wait here while you go get Epicloud. Seriously, GO.
Ha, Babymetal's hilarious. I think it's a little of both! Novelty AND awesome!
AC: You switched publishers between Suited and Unbound, what were the most positive aspects to come from the switch?
JA: It was just wonderful to have the opportunity to get Guardian out there and complete the trilogy. I was very lucky to be able to work with Tehani Wessley at Fablecroft, who is such a talented editor and a very supportive publisher.
AC: It must have been stressful for a while there, did you write other projects during the gap or stay with Guardian? (Assuming, of course, you’re not the style of writer who finishes a whole trilogy before submitting the first book?).
JA: There are always other writing projects. I did have a lot of short stories to keep me busy -- my (award-winning) short story collection The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories was released in this period. I also spent a lot of time watching the Giant Bomb Persona 4 play through, and that helped!
Stay tuned for a review of Debris in the near future!
Very excited to present an interview with Glenda Larke, one of my favourite fantasy writers and all around awesome person! I did a short post on her Stormlords series earlier and will be posting on her latest work soon - in the meantime if you're curious about her work, check out her books here and her blog Tropic Temper is packed with great travel pieces.
Thanks again, Glenda for agreeing to the interview - hope readers enjoy your answers as much as I did!
Ashley Capes: Fans will be well aware that you recently went to WorldCon in London and also visited Wales and Scotland too, and not long before that, the Pilbara region in WA (and WA comes to mind in the Stormlord series actually) so I wanted to ask, how important is travel to your writing, to evoking that sense of place that’s so powerful in your novels?
Glenda Larke: I think it’s been very important — quite apart from the fact that it was travelling that perfected my ability to write anywhere, from tents to aeroplanes to fishing boats!
Travel provides the seeds of ideas for stories. My love of deserts came from an Australian childhood, yes, but remember the slits in the garden walls for the water to run into underground cisterns in The Stormlord books? That was from an Algerian Saharan village. The bricked underground water tunnels came from seeing Iranian qanats bringing water to remote villages.
Perhaps even more important than providing ideas, though, is the fact that I lived forty years away from my Australian roots: in Asia, in Africa and in central Europe. Those years fostered an awareness that there are many ways to live one’s life, every one valid and fascinating. Fitting in as an outsider is sometimes not easy, and I had to learn cultural signals and subtleties, sometimes even unlearning behaviours which were acceptable or even encouraged elsewhere. (Possibly studying a couple of units of anthropology at uni helped with this too.) There can be no better way to build an imaginary society than to understand how real ones are constructed — and how and why they succeed.
AC: That’s amazing – you’ve covered a lot of ground. Does such a breadth of time living in so many places instill a sense of restlessness – or maybe curiosity is a better term – within you as a writer? If so, do you pass it on to any of your characters even?
GL: I developed that restlessness before I went anywhere. I was brought up on a small farm in a very small community. My first travelling was done through the pages of old black-and-white National Geographics stored in the wash-house! I’d decided by the time I was nine or ten that I wanted to write stories and I wanted to travel. I think I’ve got most of the wanderlust out of my system now, though. I still enjoy new places, but it’s no longer a driving passion.
However, the curiosity of a writer never leaves you. Ask any author. In the middle of a car accident, a writer is thinking, ‘I must remember what this feels like so I can put it into a story.’ I kid you not. We’re all crazy.
As for characters — oh, yes, curiosity getting people into trouble is a great plot device. Blaze and Flame deliberately choose to set out for other islands at the end of Book One of the Isles of Glory. In The Forsaken Lands, main characters — Saker, Sorrel, Ardhi, Juster — all chafe when they are constrained by society or circumstances to be sedentary. Which is perhaps why the sakti — the magic of the Va-forsaken — selects them in the first place.
AC: I recently got hold of The Lascar’s Dagger (Book 1 of the Forsaken Lands) and I’ve been too slow to read it in time for the interview, otherwise I’d be asking more questions about it the series – so for now, I’d like to backtrack a little and ask – what was the best thing about WorldCon?
GL: In general, I love SF/F conventions because it gives me an opportunity to talk to readers and fellow writers. Writing is a very solitary pastime, so I always appreciate that opportunity. Loncon3, however, was far more than that. It was spectacular.
Firstly…hey, it was London!
Secondly, the programme was a tour de force of planning. There was something for everyone. If you wanted to hear Connie Willis in conversation with G.R.R.Martin, or listen to a panel on the logistics of supplying troops, or watch classic SF films, or game with like-minded folk, or hear an expert deliver a paper on future trends in science…it was all there — in bulk. The problem was choosing what to do.
AC: Really wish I lived in the UK for that one! I’d love to ask you a bit more about characters next. Can you say which of your characters – from any series – has surprised you most?
GL: The surprises have always come from bit players. They’re so sneaky. I start by inventing them to do something small, and they have this habit of becoming real people wanting to take over the show. Dek in Gilfeather, for example. Portron or Corrian in Havenstar. Elmar Waggoner in the The Stormlord trilogy. Those darn spear carriers — they all want to be generals!
AC: Ah, Elmar is one of my favourites – maybe that’s why I like him so much? So do you find a converse or similar problem with leading characters?
GL: I don’t think the converse has happened. If it did and a main character turned out to be too mundane and pedantic, I’d cut them out of the story! However, my leading characters have sometimes developed in ways I didn’t expect when I first planned the story. What happens is that when I’m writing a key scene, a character might decide what would be an appropriate action or reaction. Those are lovely writing moments. For a while the book feels as if it’s writing itself and I know I have a well-rounded character who is going to appear very real to the reader. (I wish it was always that easy…)
AC: Your use of magic often strikes me as being beautifully linked to the natural world, which I think gives it a sense of inevitability. When your magic is portrayed as such, is this a conscious move on your part, or does it seem to occur organically from the story perhaps?
GL: A bit of both. I am first and foremost an environmentalist and I’ve worked in the field. A lot. I love the natural world and I’ve studied the interrelationships. Habitats, biodiversity, ecology … they are fantastic and wondrous to me, so why not take them one step further and look at the natural world supplying the magic in a fictional fantasy. Conversely, I like to look at how much you can lose when you upset the magic/natural world. That, I suppose, is where the sense of inevitability comes in.
Using the link between the natural world and magic is not new, of course. Most writers of Celtic stories use it, for example, and lots of others. What I try to do is give it a different slant.
AC: Yeah, that’s what I think I was noticing with the inevitability, it feels ‘right’ in that sense, you can tell you’ve planned the magic’s relationship to the world carefully. To stay with magic a little longer, I thought I’d ask about your favourite use of magic in any story out there, and about what you think makes magic so important to the genre?
GL: I especially like stories where magic use is expensive and carries a price for the magic-user. Celia Friedmann’s Magister trilogy springs to mind. So does Karen Miller’s Blight of Mages.
“Fantasy” is often synonymous with “magic” in our minds, and there are some readers who won’t read fantasy for that reason. It’s not “real”, they say (as if fiction is ever “real”). My answer to this is this: the part magic plays in a fantasy is very like that of power and/or wealth in an ordinary novel. Genre novels can look at how people behave when they have power, or are confronted with power, and the books can do it without ruining the element of escapism. Genre thought-provoking stories of consequence can still be entertaining rather than confrontational.
Secondly, we all love the story of the powerless, ordinary person finding his or her magic power, the goosegirl or shepherd boy who grows up to rule, the caped hero who comes to our rescue (or perhaps we all want to become the masked hero/heroine). Because of magic, fantasy is the best place to go to for wish fulfillment!
AC: Awesome, I’d never considered the parallel role of power or wealth to magic. How about music? I’m always curious about writers and their relationship to music and so I’d love to ask, is there any genre or particular music you like to work to? Or do you prefer more quiet when you write?
GL: I like classical stuff — full-blown symphonies preferably. They have the depth and the emotion for mood setting. Once I’ve settled in to write, though, I don’t even notice when the CD is finished!
AC: I agree, symphonies are perfect – I often turn to Rachmaninov’s ‘Isle of the Dead’ for darker scenes. Is there a particular composer you’d like to have score any of your books?
GL: Beethoven! In Vienna, I lived just around the corner from Beethovengang, a lovely little lane that led up into the Vienna Woods, and we sometimes had a meal in the restaurant down the road, which was once a house where he rented a room… Our closest U-bahn station was Heiligenstadt, a name that means a lot to Beethoven fans. Heady stuff, for someone who started out on a small Australian farm.
AC: Thanks for the great interview, Glenda – really enjoyed your responses and I have to tell you I’m busting to get started on The Lascar’s Dagger!
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