AC: Count Biagio, a favourite of mine from Tyrants and Kings, is a great example of a character with contradictions, but also, a character who almost completely changes himself for the better. That’s a big step and a hard transformation to convey in writing. How did you do it? Did you always plan for him to have such a positive epiphany?
JM: It’s funny, but Biagio keeps popping up in my conversations with people, even though it’s been a number of years now since I wrote about him. Of all the characters I’ve done, he is by far the most popular with readers. That said, not everyone was thrilled with the transformation he underwent. In the first Tyrants and Kings book Biagio is introduced as a villain. There’s no question of that. But as the next two books progress he develops, and his past is revealed more and more. I didn’t think much about how he would develop when I first created him. But by the second book I knew that he would have to be redeemed. There was just too much to him not to see the “good” in him. People who read my books probably know that I always do that with characters.
AC: Is it hard as a writer to punish the ‘good’ people in your stories?
JM: No. I say that with a smile on my face. I really don’t mind “punishing” my characters, as you say, because that’s what makes a book interesting. Whenever something unexpected happens to a character I like to imagine what the reader will feel when they reach that point of the story. For example, I don’t mind killing off characters, but when I do I always stop for a moment and wonder what it will be like for the readers. Hopefully it will surprise them. It might even upset them, and that’s okay too. I’ve gotten many emails from readers complaining about the death of a character they loved. But no one has ever written to me to say they stopped reading once a character was killed. They keep on going because they are emotionally involved.
AC: How about you, how emotionally involved do you get with your characters?
JM: Sometimes people are disappointed to hear this, but I don’t get very involved emotionally with my characters. I try to have empathy for them, and I try to bring them to life, but in the end they are figments. The real importance that they have is the lessons that they can teach. If they make me think of things in a new way, or if they somehow touch a reader, then I’m happy.
AC: While writing is a laborious, energy-sapping career, it is possibly the most rewarding too. Does most of your joy come from the process? Or in the finished product?
JM: That’s a tough question. I want to say that I love the process. I do, in fact, like it a lot. It’s extremely satisfying work for me, because it’s something I dreamed of doing for years and now that I get to earn a living as an author I appreciate it. But really there is nothing like going into a book store and seeing your book on the shelf. And there’s nothing like getting that first copy from your publisher, about a month before the book hits the stores. When you hold that book in your hand, all of the hard work falls away and you are left with a deep feeling of accomplishment. So, although this probably sounds like a cop-out, I like all of it, the whole package. To me, being a writer is the best job in the world.
AC: What kind of time do you invest in a single book, from inception to the moment it comes off the press, and then after? Do you spend a lot of time travelling to promote your novels?
JM: A book usually takes me about a year to write. Usually I have some ideas for it even before I start outlining. While I am working on a book, the next one is gestating in the back of my mind, so by the time I start actually actively working on it I have a pretty good idea of what I want to accomplish with it. Outlining takes me about two months. Then, depending on the length of the book, I have another ten months to write it. Lately I’ve been going long with my books so they’ve taken more than a year. But a year is enough time for me, generally.
I haven’t travelled at all to promote my novels. It’s just not something that interests me all that much. I love speaking with my readers, and I have been invited to speak at a number of book stores, but so far I haven’t taken up any of these offers. I’m sure I will in the future, because I’m starting to get the itch to get in touch with more of my fans. We’ll see how that plays out.
AC: Do you think the Internet has helped keep a lot of writers at home?
JM: I don’t know how other writers feel about it, but for me the Internet has helped tremendously. It’s fantastic being able to look something up quickly without having to drive to a library. The Internet can be a ghetto sometimes, overrun with people trying to make quick money, but if you dig you can still find gold in it.
Find Part One of the interview here and stay tuned for Part Three
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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