How do you get the ideas for your novels?
Haha, we’re starting off with a hard one. To be honest, I don’t exactly know, and I’m not sure there’s a single answer. I get ideas from all kinds of things around me; I’ll notice something or think of something and it’ll send my imagination spinning off. Sometimes they just pop into my head. Or I might watch a movie and think what I would have changed if I’d been writing it. Or I might think of some “what if?” concept. Or sometimes I just come up with a cool title and try to think of a story to fit. (That one seldom works very well.) In general, I like to write the kinds of things I’d want to read myself.
What does a typical writing day look like for you?
I’m afraid it’s rather disorganized; sometimes I think I should make a more proper schedule, but that has yet to happen, though in my defense what I’m doing seems to work. I like to write in “bursts.” Ideally, I’ll do maybe four writing bursts a day, though it can be on either side of that, depending on how well things are going. I have a short attention span, which is a problem for a writer, and doing it that way keeps me from getting burned out while still making progress. The individual bursts aren’t always impressive in terms of wordcount, but added together over the course of the day, I can rack up a respectable number. I tentatively aim for a thousand words a day. I figure even if I fall a little short, I’ve still done okay, and if I get more, so much the better. When I get to the revision stage, it’s more complicated and frustrating. Instead of just letting the words flow, I spend lots of time copying and pasting, adding and deleting, and brooding at the screen.
What makes a great character?
I don’t know that there’s a single bona fide answer to that. There are so many great characters, and all of them are so different from one another. So, I’ll tell you what I like in a character: I’ve always enjoyed the loose cannon, chaos agent type characters; you can mine both comedy and drama out of those kinds of characters. I like the wisecrackers and rogues, and the characters who have to fight impossible odds and get beat up a ton. And I think all of that is pretty visible in my debut novel, Credible Threats, book one of the Sam Adams series.
What is your writing process?
You probably won’t be too shocked to find out it’s somewhat disorganized as well. I’ve always tried to be a plotter, but I end up pantsing more than I would prefer. I have to have at least a basic idea of where the story is going before I start out, (the ‘just make it up as you go along’ method never works for me) and while I write an outline, I’ve come to realize it’s way, way sparser than what writers usually mean when they talk about outlines. And I typically have no shortage of ideas, whether it’s for a big action setpiece or just a throwaway line, but I struggle making it all come together. I end up with a big wall of text that has all my ideas jumbled together and I have to sort it all out. I’ll try and bang out a draft, making some notes as I go along about potential changes and other ideas. Once I get done, I’ll set it aside for a time, then hit it again, and just keep punching it up until the wordcount is high enough and I’m out of ideas. I’ll give it a reread or two to cut extraneous stuff, and then it’s off to my editor. I’ll do some revisions based on her suggestions, send it back to her one more time and repeat the process, along with throwing in any more changes I come up with at the last minute. Another final reread or two, and voila, we have ourselves a book.
Bear in mind I’ve only published one novel so far; I’ve written drafts of other books but they’ve never advanced that far, so I’m basing a lot of that on my experience with Credible Threats. Ideally, once I get more experience, the process will be a little smoother.
What elements of fantasy make you like reading and writing in the genre?
I guess just the freedom you have to go wild, and how much more heightened everything is. To be honest, I find it hard to get interested in books about, say, cops solving a murder, when you can be reading about dragons and robots and monkeys with swords and ancient kings rising from the dead and wizards battling each other with the forces of nature and whatnot.
Another big thing is my love of history. I’ve always loved history ever since I was a kid, especially the Middle Ages. When I was in kindergarten, I made up excuses to go back to my classroom after school so I could look at a book on castles that my teacher had. (I still own a copy.) That’s why I read lots of nonfiction as well. The trouble is, I wouldn’t know where to start writing historical fiction. There’s a tremendous amount of research involved even for a smaller-scale story and you’re always constrained by the known facts. With fantasy, you can mine history for inspiration without having those problems. If you like the Byzantine Empire but think they would have been a lot more interesting if they had cave trolls, you can do that. If you want to see King John get a redemption arc and save his kingdom from an army of elves bent on human sacrifice, go hog wild. If you want to see wizards in the Renaissance and dragons at the Battle of Agincourt and El Cid teaming up with Mary Queen of Scots to solve the mystery of Stonehenge, you can make all that happen.
Of course, it can be dull if everything is a one-to-one analogue, so that’s where your creativity comes in, and the stuff you discover along the way as you write it. You find your story going in its own direction and end up with something original. Speaking for myself, drawing inspiration from history lets me combine my fascination with past eras with my imagination.
If you could be any fantasy character, who would it be and why?
Hmm, fantasy characters tend to live pretty dangerous lives. Let me think about this.
I’m gonna go with Highlander’s Connor Macleod. In no particular order, he:
Hangs out in Scotland
Falls in love with beautiful women
Wears an awesome kilt
Has a sword
In fact, he has an absurdly luxurious apartment FULL of swords
Is cool enough to pull off a trench coat
Supports world peace
Learns to fight from Sean Connery
Is impervious to most injuries
Watches wrestling at Madison Square Garden
Has Queen providing the soundtrack to his life
Basically, the guy just has a lot going for him.
When did you start reading? And what books/series did you read over and over again?
I’ve been reading for basically as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, I’d read Treasure Island once a year, on the Fourth of July for some reason, though I fell away from the habit as I got older. I don’t do a lot of rereading anymore; I’d like to, it’s just that there are so many other books demanding I read them. I’ve definitely reread some favorites, though, and been sucked right back in: The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell; The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins; A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin; Timeline by Michael Crichton.
What are some of your favourite recent reads?
My recent faves have to be Sharpe’s Company by Bernard Cornwell and Troy by Stephen Fry. A brutally awesome historical fiction adventure and a rip-roaring modern retelling of the Trojan War, respectively.
What do you enjoy doing outside of writing and reading?
This question suddenly throws into light how few hobbies I actually have. I love firing up ye olde streaming service and watching one of the umpteen shows I’m making my way through. I also love to collect medieval weapons, which is an expensive hobby so I try not to do it very often. (I’ve tried learning a few basic moves with a sword, though that’s gone about as well as you might imagine.) I also love music, and I even manage a workout on occasion.
If you only had one piece of advice to give to an aspiring author, what would it be?
Leaving aside my qualifications to give advice, I’d say the number one thing that helped me in the beginning was just getting into the groove, finding the time in your schedule to get a good amount of writing done. It’s hard to do at first, it certainly was for me, but once you get the hang of it, that’s when you start to see your ideas becoming a reality.
Are you working on any new books or other projects at the moment?
Absolutely. I can tell you my main priority is the (currently untitled) Sam Adams Book Two. It’ll pick up shortly after the first book, with Sam still reeling from everything that went down in that one. It’ll tie up some loose ends while setting up new ones. A dangerous new enemy shows up in town, just as Sam is uncovering some dark revelations, some of which will follow him throughout the whole series. And it takes place at Halloween, which is fun. I’m tentatively envisioning the Sam Adams series as nine books.
And while it’s a secondary project at the moment, I’ve also got my eye on something very different: a high fantasy epic entitled The Voice in the Mist. I got a little head start on book one, The Shattered Throne, earlier this month, while I was taking a break from Sam Adams. It’ll have dragons, magic, princesses, knights, bards, barbarians, ancient evil, the whole nine yards of epic fantasy goodness. I can’t wait for people to get their paws on that one, though I warn you it’s still a long way off. I’m thinking once Sam Adams Two is complete, I’ll move it up to the head of the line, then alternate between that series and Sam Adams for a while. But we’ll see…
Beyond that, I’ve got pages and pages of ideas for new stuff, although how many of them are up to par remains to be seen. There are a few standalone horror novels I want to write at some point, though I can’t imagine when I’ll find the time to get to them. They’ll have a vibe akin to the kind of horror stories I’ve always enjoyed: Scream, The Lost Boys, R.L. Stine, stuff like that. And someday I’ll branch out into science fiction. Fantasy will probably always be my main focus, though…