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!
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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