Why do we [fantasy readers] find ourselves connecting so deeply to narratives set in the past, whether they are in a secondary world or the real one?
Past is a relative perspective. The trappings of a feudal, middle age type culture, reduce the availability of technical solutions, be it in communications, travel, weapons, etc. If Frodo could jump on a swift jet and zoom to Mount Doom, and just drop the ring in the mouth of the volcano, we’ve got a very short trilogy. The primary features of a simpler technological world demand more reliance on courage, wit, reliance on trusted companions, and all the other common tropes of fantasy adventure.
What elements of fantasy make you like reading and writing in the genre?
For me it was my early reading, which was in a category of publishing know as “Boys Adventure Tales.” Everything from Tom Swift and the Hardy Boys to classics like Robert Louis Stevenson, and Sir Walter Scott. I also read some of the pulp writers, R.E.Howard (Solomon Kane, mostly, not Conan), A. Merritt, H. Rider Haggard, Talbot Mundy, and others. That led me to the historical novelist and adventure novelists from Thomas B. Costain and Mary Renault to Alexandre Dumas and Rafael Sabatini. It was all about “other mysterious places,” which when I was a kid was “darkest Africa,” and “the mysterious Orient,” and the Caribbean and pirates. I ate to fantasy like a lot of people with Lord of the Rings about 1966 when the paperbacks took off. By the time I started writing, the pulps and Boys Adventure were gone, unless you tossed a dragon or wizard into the story. So that’s where I went. I was also influenced by fantasy role playing in college, which set the world in which I began my stories.
What makes you connect with a character?
I don’t think I ‘connect,” as much as I craft. I grew up in an entertainment household. My step-father was a writer/producer/director in Hollywood, and my entire life I was surrounded by people making a living telling stories. So without being aware at the time, I was learning that characters drive plots and plots drive stories. So my first instinct is to create a character the reader can relate to in some fashion, either care about, dislike, find amusing, or just want to know more because the character is odd, then drop them in a difficult situation and see how they handle it.
What does a typical writing day look like for you?
I tend to rise early (sometimes too early if insomnia rears its ugly head), and get the coffee going. While the coffee drips I quickly check a few things like email to see if I have something I need to respond to quickly, check a bit of the headlines and often repost certain things I find amusing or interesting to my social media, just to let my fans and friends know I’m still kicking. Then the rest of my day is spent either in front of the computer, most of the time, or puttering around trying to keep my home from being too much of a mess. I learned years ago that if I get up from the computer and flip on the TV (I’m a news hound), I can blow an hour or two in the day, so I avoid that by hitting social media, or playing a little on the computer. Eventually the guilt sets in and I get back to work.
When did you start reading? And what books/series did you read over and over again?
I started reading about 8 or 9, seriously. I had an undiagnosed reading disorder, a binocular dysfunction, that’s a tiny bit like dyslexia, so it took me a while to get the hang of the reading thing, and played hob with my trying to spell. Touch typing actually solved the later problem as not trying to write by hand but moving fingers in a specific pattern is different neural pathways in the brain. In any event I read a lot of everything I could find. The Boy’s Adventure stuff I mentioned above, historical novels, and once in a while something my parents raved about, like To Kill A Mockingbird which I read when I was about 14 years old. That’s also about the same time I got into science fiction, and that was Heinlein, Asimov, Norton, C.L. Moore, James Blish, and many others. I rarely reread anything because there’s so much new stuff. I just took a bash at rereading Thomas Contains history of the Plantagenets. So I re-read it, 45 years later. I rarely read other writers’ fantasies. It messes with my own voice as it were, and at my age reading has become a bit more of a task than it was with young eyes. So I tend to read biography and history these days, with an odd political or spy thriller now and again.
What are some of your favourite recent reads?
Bad Actors by Mick Herron. I’m a sucker for the Slough House Books. I love the TV adaptation (Slow Horses) with Gary Oldman, who’s always brilliant. Before that I read Corruptible: Who Gets Power and How It Changes Us by Brian Klaas. It’s must reading for political honks.
What do you enjoy doing outside of writing and reading?
At my age mostly a good movie, lots of sports on TV, dinner with friends (especially after having been unable for the last few years), talking to my kids on the phone, the smaller pleasures. My days of clubbing until 2 am are long behind me. But I still enjoy a good single-malt scotch before dinner.
If you only had one piece of advice to give to an aspiring author, what would it be?
Write. I’ve seen people spin their wheels for ridiculously long periods “getting ready” to write. Character profiles that run pages of backstory the writer will never use. Maps that would same a roll playing dungeon master and all manner of things that really aren’t writing. Sit, put fingers on the keyboard (or sharpie to legal tablet—whatever works) and write. Tell the editor inside your head to go away and leave the writer alone; the writer will never write “the perfect first line,’ or first page, or first chapter. Just get the damn story on paper, keep going until done, then go back to the start. Writing is rewriting; that’s when you call the editor in your head back and get to work. I have a long story about writing my first novel, Magician, I will spare everyone; the short version is the original beginning to Magician ended up in a desk drawer for years, until I pulled it out and used it in my 8th book, The King’s Buccaneer.
Are you working on any new books or other projects at the moment?
Always. Writers rarely retire unless circumstances require them too. I’m working on the 1st book of the DragonWar Saga, A Darkness Returns.