Richard Nell concerned family and friends by quitting his real job in 2014 to ‘write full-time’. He is a Canadian author of fantasy, living in one of the flattest, coldest places on earth with his begrudging wife, who makes sure he eats.
His debut novel, Kings of Paradise, is the first of an epic, coming-of-age, low fantasy trilogy, and a Canadian Amazon best-seller in dark fantasy. It’s available now.
He also writes flintlock fantasy! Join his mailing list for news on finished work, freebies, and the occasional philosophical rant.
1.Why storytelling? What made you yearn to tell a good story, and how long was this story within you before it came out?
I’ve always been a pretty successful liar. At some point I guess I figured my options were: a) hide that particular talent, b) become a criminal, or c) get paid to make things up legally. So obviously I picked c), which seemed preferable, since I’m far too thin and pretty for prison. And anyway my whole life I’d been sort of ‘editing’ when other people spoke, wondering what they could have said to be more interesting. So that’s a lot of dialogue writing practice! Yes, it’s as obnoxious as it sounds. I don’t have a lot of friends. This particular story wasn’t in me that long – at least not in terms of plot/characters. I’d say the themes have been in me for years, though, and aren’t yet pacified.
2.What is it about your genre that speaks to you?
There’s a good quote from Gene Wolfe: “All novels are fantasies. Some are more honest about it.” Despite my penchant for fibbing, I suppose I’m just trying to be honest. With fantasy you can really explore the human condition and the murky depths of your own soul, while at the same time actually entertaining people. I feel it’s important to do both. I write ‘Grimdark’ (funny story, when I started the book, I didn’t know what Grimdark was) because…well, because the night is dark and full of terrors.
Most of us reading fantasy books live in an incredible world and time, but it’s important to remember the stark reality of life. I can’t stomach watching superheroes in modern movies endlessly debate killing one person anymore – not in a world with a history like ours, still full of soldiers and police officers killing (rightly or wrongly) every day. I think my brand of ‘escapism’ becomes almost a need to ‘escape’ back to reality.
3.Without giving any spoilers, what is your favorite thing about this book?
It’s actually a character – Ruka. He’s weird, dark, and undeniable – both in terms of what he does, and how he thinks. Many readers of the book comment on him first. It’s fair to say he won’t get out of my head, and I fear until the series is over he’ll be haunting me.
4.Your main character walks into a bar. What happens?
Ha. Well, one of my main characters does in fact walk into a bar. He gets very drunk, nearly breaks a kid’s arms, and gets a chance at the love of his life. Not a bad night’s work.
5.If I were stuck in a room with your main character, what would we be doing?
Hmm. Well, I have two main characters. If it was Kale, he might be teaching you how to meditate. Or maybe you’d have a beer, swap a few jokes, and generally have a good time. If it was Ruka? Well, I’m very sorry to hear you’re trapped in a room with Ruka. Consider escape. Make it soon.
6.What character from your books fills you with hope?
Weirdly, it’s also Ruka. Yes he’s harsh and ruthless and does a variety of questionable things. But I think, ultimately, he’s redeemable. And redemption is a powerful, hopeful thing.
7.When you are writing, tell me about the emotions that are running through you and what it takes to work alongside them.
Wait, how drunk am I? No, no, I’m kidding. But not really. Write drunk, edit sober, as they say. Actually I don’t think Hemingway actually said that, but it’s a great excuse to drink in the middle of the day. Writing for me is like trying to squeeze water through a dam. I listen to music, I exercise, I look at pictures or talk to myself – anything to open the flood-gate. If it works I am king of the world and invincible and to hell with everyone and everything! Sweet, glorious victory! If it doesn’t, life is terrible. Tomorrow we try again.
8.How do you police your production? Do you have a word quota, or a page goal, maybe you work for a set amount of time? Do you place demands on yourself when you’re working? How do you meet those demands?
I have a daily word-count and it’s a very reasonable 1000 words. Basically this is so I can actually achieve it and feel good, rather than fail and feel miserable. Once I do, I permit myself to feel done and celebrate. I may very well write more than that but 1000 is my goal. I also have a number of ‘marketing’ and other daily tasks involving social media, getting reviewers, etc. For the most part I try and keep a routine like a regular human being and work sort of 9-5ish. Typically it’s more like 10-7ish with a few little breaks.
9.How did you find the time to write this book with your busy life? What ideas do you have on how others can make time in their lives?
Well, first thing: I quit my job. Yes I used to be like the rest of humanity. I worked in an office. I commuted and got paid a salary and wore a suit. I mean I guess I still wear a suit…it’s just a whiskey-stained sweat-suit. In order to quit that job I saved up money for 5 years, and I learned to live cheap. If I’m not successful at this then perhaps one day I’ll have to get a new job, but I knew I had to take my shot.
So, advice: prioritize. How badly do you want to do this? What are you willing to sacrifice? That is a very important thing in life, whether it’s writing a book or getting in shape or having a family or whatever. Once you’ve done that: you do things in this life in one way and one way only: by doing them. Whatever is preventing you is an excuse.
10.Describe your workplace.
A cheap, messy table lodged in the far corner of my living room. Notebooks, ereaders, pens, half-empty plates and cups litter it like battlefield refuse. I’m surrounded by whiteboards and corkboards and calendars stuck with quickly scrawled notes and to-dos. My computer is several years old but still the most expensive thing I own (including my car). My chair however is very nice – one must be wary of one’s back.
11.What piece of art, that is not writing, moves you?
It takes a lot to make me cry. But I love music, television and film – really anything that tells a good story. I’m considerably less moved by paintings, sculptures, etc. I can appreciate them as well as the next luddite, but I really don’t see all the fuss.
12.If we wanted a good story—book, show or movie—one that you didn’t write, where would you send us?
Shogun, by James Clavell. I still read it every few years, and every time I do I’m a little awe-struck at the sheer, bloody magnificence of it. First of all it’s huge, and yet manages to be exceptionally entertaining and gripping to the point it doesn’t feel huge. No doubt it’s a big influence on my writing.
13.If you could live anywhere other than where you are, where would it be?
I suppose readers/writers do what they do so they can live everywhere, be everything. I’d like a thousand lifetimes, if you please. I’d like to explore every nook and cranny of every inch of earth, and see every beautiful, unlikely creature still managing to survive on this giant, spinning ball of rock. I’ve lived in Canada, the US, Australia, and the Philippines. But ultimately I only have one life, and though I’d like to see everything and be everywhere, where you put your roots matters. I live where my friends and family do, and I don’t suppose the place matters much.
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