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 probably been interested in storytelling since reading Redwall as an eight year old, and that desire was stoked by having an uncle who experienced a good deal of success in the literary world (although in a radically different genre than I typically write).
I didn’t get serious about actually putting my own fiction out there for others to read until around 2013, when I read a really dissatisfying horror anthology at the local library during my annual 31 days of horror in October. Reading what was picked as “year’s best” in that particular volume convinced me I had to have somewhat of shot at getting published, so I started working on shorts and novellas to see what would stick.
I write to exorcise my demons, so all of my stories start out based on a personal experience, which is then translated into a fictional medium like fantasy, sci-fi, or horror. My latest novel Light Dawning has been with me since 2015, when my wife and I experienced a devastating loss. The book was my way of telling the world how I felt about the situation, and to try to pass on some of my despair.
2.What is it about your genre that speaks to you?
I wasn’t actually familiar with the term grimdark until searching out other books of a similar style to figure out how to market Light Dawning. I’d read The Black Company and A Song Of Ice And Fire of course, but wasn’t aware that the darker, grittier style of fantasy had become its own sub-genre with such a devoted following until stumbling across some reader groups.
I like that grimdark destroys the escapism of fantasy and sci-fi, throwing a cold dose of reality onto magic and futuristic tech, and reminding the audience that no matter what advantages a person has, something awful can always be lurking around the corner just out of sight. There’s always been this secret truth to fantasy that seems to be lurking just beneath the surface: the addition of gods and magic in a world wouldn’t actually make it a better place to live.
Think of all the terrible things that go on just during the ordinary course of life on planet Earth and all the awful ways people treat one another, then throw in the ability to read minds, fling fireballs, or call down the wrath of a real deity. Life would not be a pleasant experience. I think the corporate dystopia of a setting like Shadowrun would be more along the lines of what to expect from life if anyone actually wielded supernatural powers.
Without question, its the way the standard fantasy tropes are turned upside down. Rather than a useful tool for righting injustice, people who find themselves with magical powers in this book are in a very bad position, more likely to be driven mad, destroyed by what they are foolishly trying to wield, or hunted down and killed.
There are no daring raids against the evil empire that will relieve the suffering of the downtrodden, no brash rogues who will get the girl and make off with a fortune, and no farm boys who are secretly destined to save the world. There’s just people trying to eke out an existence in a city where life doesn’t really mean anything anymore. The most anyone can hope for is to decide how they are going to conduct themselves and figure out what truly matters to them in Cestia’s last fading days.
4.What character from your book fills you with hope?
Hah, yeah, that’s sort of the opposite of the point in Light Dawning. Not many characters have hope in a better tomorrow in this story, and those that do are usually shown the folly of their misplaced faith. If I have to pick a character who gives me hope, its probably Tala, because she has what it takes to endure any hardship, and she has the strength of will to do what needs to be done, even if it hurts.
5.What character from your work frightens you, makes you feel dirty to write?
Probably Myrr, because he’s all of my worst qualities reflected into a craven character in a violent, low fantasy world. For some reason several reviewers have pegged him as the main character, but he’s absolutely not intended to be. He’s not necessarily a bad guy, but he will let down those who rely on him, and in the end anything good or noble he does will mean nothing.
6.What is the most fascinating thing about your main character?
It would be easy to say that Tala being infested by insane whispers from a reality beyond ours – constantly struggling to keep them from escaping her mind and breaking into the physical world – is the most fascinating thing about her, but that’s not actually the case.
Tala sort of exemplifies the struggles of all women throughout history and in the modern day. She’s expected to be so many different things at once: a worker, a mother, a guardian, and more, and while she can’t expect any praise for when everything clicks into place and works, she will be vilified and damned in those moments when it goes off the rails and she falls short of expectations.
7.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?
Usually I just write when inspiration strikes (and the bottle of vodka is full) and then leave it alone when the fire isn’t hot. Obviously, that’s not always conducive to hitting deadlines or getting new material released on anything resembling a satisfying schedule for the readers, though.
Light Dawning took me nearly a year to finish, but in those last two months I put the pedal to the metal. I was suicidally depressed when I started this book, and I had to get out of that head space as my wife was nearing the end of a pregnancy. I couldn’t still be in the dark place Light Dawning needed me to be in and raise a child, so I forced myself to write or edit a set number of pages every day until it was done. I managed to wrap it all up about a month before my son Gannicus was born.
8.If you could change any one thing about the writing industry, what would it be?
This may not endear to me to certain people reading, but honestly I’d get rid of the publishers. While I’ve met some great people who work for publishers that I consider my friends, on the business side I’ve never had anything close to a positive experience working with a publisher.
All you have to do is go to any writing group on Facebook and you’ll stumble over dozens of writers who haven’t been paid in months (or longer), whose publishers are breaking their contracts in various ways, who aren’t getting their books promoted with any level of actual effort, etc.
While there are plenty of lackluster self-published books out there in desperate need of editing or re-tooling, I am consistently surprised at the high level of storytelling and polish I find while discovering new indie authors. There are totally unknown people out there who are frankly much better at this than anybody hooked up with the major publishers in the fantasy and horror industries, but they don’t get nearly the exposure.
If you are only reading Stephen King and Brandon Sanderson, do yourself a favor and join a reader or writer group on Facebook or Goodreads and get to know the indie authors. I guarantee you will find someone who will blow you away who has been soundly ignored by big name publishing companies.
9.You’re going to go back and visit yourself when you first started writing, at whatever age it was, and you can give yourself one piece of advice. What would it be?
Ignore the sting of criticism and take the advice on how to make the story truly sing to heart, especially when it comes to tweaking the use of words and phrases for a smoother experience. A writer can always get better at the mechanics of telling a tale.
When it comes to the heart of a story though, and advice on where that story should go, the length it should be, how the characters or technology within it should behave, or how it should begin or end, always trust your gut and take any advice on those fronts with a major grain of salt. These elements are too subjective to give up your vision for what someone else wants, when its guaranteed some other reader out there won’t agree with a change.
One of the rejection letters I received that I’ll never forget told me that the editors liked the story in general, but felt it was far too slow moving and needed to be sped up and significantly shortened. Not long after, I got an email from a different publisher telling me the exact same story moved far too quickly and needed to be drawn out and slowed down. You won’t ever be able to please everyone, so don’t try, especially if it means betraying your story.
10.Let’s talk about tools. Do you have a word processor that you would tell us to use? Is there a certain computer that has become your favorite? What do you look for in a keyboard? What would you absolutely have to have if you were to sit down and write your next book?
On the word processing front, I don’t do anything crazy and just use Open Office. As far as hardware though, I do have somewhat of a quirk. This might sound weird, but I’ve gotten used to mechanical keyboards meant for gaming. I find I miss their satisfying clack-clack-clack while typing if I’m on a laptop or using a friend’s desktop. Perhaps that’s how people felt when switching from type writers to word processing computers decades back?
11.Describe your muse.
Without question, that’s music. While I draw inspiration for my stories from personal experience, its the musical playlist I put together for writing any given scene that pushes me forward. From avant-garde black metal to experimental prog to occult rock to retro ’80s synthwave, there’s always a perfect sound to fit the tone I’m going for, and I use that to explore the scene visually in my mind.
12.What piece of art, that is not writing, moves you?
I’ll again have to say music, specifically of the heavier variety. When hearing the opening notes to the Celestial Violence track off Ihsahn’s Arktis album, I immediately see Tala coming up out of the cellar, carrying a precious bundle and preparing to make her way through a sea of uncaring humanity. When Peccatum’s Parasite My Heart from the Lost In Reverie LP hits, I’m immediately outside the Lambent Chapel, watching Tala make a choice and trying not to scream at her to stop. Outside the realm of metal and more on the rock side, anytime I hear I’m A Believer by The Sheila Divine, I’m instantly taken back to the time when I first heard the New Parade album. I could name a hundred other tracks that have defined my life and give me that rush of brain chemicals people chase after in religious experiences or at the bottom of a bottle.
While it is clearly connected to writing, I’ve found that some visual depictions of specific concepts in graphic novels manage to provoke an emotional response better than words alone can. There’s one scene in particular from Mouse Guard, where Liam is about to face off against a snake with the phrase “It’s not what you fight, it’s what you fight for” barely visible in the background, that just gets me every time. That panel so perfectly encapsulates its idea that you forget this is a story about mice and genuinely start to feel something for the characters.
13.You have a chance to hang out with any literary character for one day. Who would it be and what would you do?
My first gut instinct here is to say Tyrion Lannister, although that may actually be more that I want to hang out and drink with Peter Dinklage behaving like Tyrion than I necessarily want to spend time with the book version of the character. Anyone who has slapped a petulant boy king, survived repeated attempts on his life, and prefers booze and women to wars and political intrigue is probably worth spending time with at least once.