A couple of weeks ago I put out a general call for questions, either in regards to my novels or…well, whatever you wanted to ask, really. =D I got tons of great questions on the blog, via e-mail and through Facebook and Twitter, both about my fiction and how I create my fiction, so here we go!
Question: Were you anticipating a follow-up to Blood Skies when wrote the first book?
Answer: No, at least not during the first draft. Believe it or not, Blood Skies was originally a Nanowrimo project (or “Novel In November”, for those of you from the 8th Dimension), and the difference between the first and second drafts were profound. Quite a few elements changed – the technology was originally at more of a Steampunk level, Snow was originally Cross’s love interest rather than his sister, the early scenes with the group in Thornn hadn’t even been written, Cristena didn’t exist, and Cross died in the end and became someone else’s spirit!
I figured out pretty quickly that I didn’t like killing Cross off, and as I was writing the additional scenes for the 2nd draft I came up with the idea for Black Scars, so I decided then and there I was going to write a series rather than a standalone novel.
Question: Why are you so mean to Cross?
Answer: This is a complicated one to answer. Like any writer, I infuse my characters with bits of myself, even if I don’t intend to. I’d like to think Cross has some of my best traits, but he also has a lot of my bad traits, among them something of a martyr complex and a belief that he’s responsible for resolving everybody’s problems. He pushes himself to extremes and often finds himself in bad situations in spite of his sacrifices, takes too much on himself and has a strong protective streak that makes him feel personally accountable for the well being of others.
I wonder if I know anyone like that? (Looks in mirror. Faints.)
No one is harder on me than…well, me, and since Cross, like it or not, is an extension of me, he gets the brunt of my self deprecating angst.
Another reason I’m hard on Cross (and the rest of the characters) is because I believe any act of heroism or valor is measured by the obstacles to be overcome – in order for Cross’s character to shine, I have to throw mountains of shit at him and then see if he can find his way through. He’s doing well so far, but wait until you read Book 6…
Question: Why doesn’t the Southern Claw do some weapons upgrades and craft a nuke to take out the Ebon Cities?
Answer: There are actually several answers to that one.
First, while no nukes are in the works, the Southern Claw does develop new weapons…or at least the city-state of Fane does. Fane is responsible for the majority of the munitions production and combat research and development for the Southern Claw, building the various vehicles and equipment the soldiers use. (Which should make clear why Fane’s questionable loyalties, which are first mentioned in Soulrazor, are such a major issue.)
Humans largely rely on magic to fight their battles. It’s been the one weapon they’ve had which has consistently been effective against the Ebon Cities. Even standard weapons are really only useful when they’ve been thaumaturgically altered in some way, usually in the form of hexed ammunition. While attempts have been made to come up with some other means of combating the vampires, none have proved nearly so efficient as warlocks and witches.
Obviously the Southern Claw would like to change that, especially since it’s clear the Ebon Cities are taking steps to try and create their own magic (such as the Bonespires, the undead angels in Soulrazor, and The Witch’s Eye). Unfortunately, resources are thin, so in spite of the military leadership most of the Southern Claw’s serious R&D efforts focus on food production, construction and maintenance of the cities, and transportation. Even if they’d like to have better war technology, the White Council believes the mages are more than capable of protecting humankind until more resources can be devoted to military research.
Question: Why the !#@# did you kill [blank]?
Answer: Obviously, that question was edited to avoid spoilers, but it’s a fair one, because I do kill a lot of characters. As I said in a recent interview, even though the Blood Skies series takes place in a futuristic dystopian vampire-infested wastelands suffused with magic, I like to keep things at least *somewhat* realistic. In war, people die. It sucks, but that’s how it is. Often the people who die are people we don’t want to die, and they often die when we least expect it. Death is like that – it kind of sucks.
Sometimes I kill off characters because I don’t really see them having a role in the rest of the series. Sometimes their deaths come out of nowhere and take even me by surprise (this is honestly the case with most of the deaths in Book 1). Sometimes I kill a character because…and bear with me on this…I like them. I figure if I like them, the readers will probably like them, and what better way to elicit a visceral reaction from the reader than to knock off a character they care about?
Question: I wondered if another book in the series is consideration when you decide on a character’s fate?
Answer: Absolutely! I (usually) know how far any given character is going to last before I even introduce them, but not always (see above). Sometimes characters come out of nowhere, sometimes their role becomes much bigger (or smaller) than I intended, and sometimes character deaths sneak up on me.
I usually have a pretty good idea in advance, however, if any given character is going to be critical to the later plot. That doesn’t ensure their survival, but it is something I have to take into consideration, because if they’re not going to be around I at least need to plan on how to keep the story going in spite of their demise.
Question: Will Book 6 be the final book in the series?
Answer: No, but that was the original plan once I decided I was writing a series. The problem was an unexpected thing happened around Book 4: the story started to open up, and before I knew it I had an idea for a completely different trilogy that would take place after the current story line (which I’d outlined for 6 books). In order to transition from the existing story to the new story that will begin in Book 7 (Vampire Down) I had to re-think what I wanted Book 6 to be, because now instead of being a volume that would wrap up all of the loose ends and end the series I suddenly had to make it into more of a transition piece.
This is tougher than it sounds. The original outline for Chain of Shadows probably would have produced an 800+ page book, which is uncharacteristically long for this series (which averages about 300 pages per volume). Rather than do that I kept re-thinking Book 6, and finally decided it was going to be more of a “middle chapter” story – a novel that finally wraps up the story of Cross and his team trying to get home (which started in Soulrazor) while at the same time setting the stage for what’s to follow in the final 3 books in the series.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t work past the fact that originally Book 6 was supposed to be “The End”, and I was trying to cram about 3 books of material into one volume. After 3 false starts (one of which was over 150 pages long before I scrapped all but 10 pages of it), I finally found a plot that I liked. The final version of Chain of Shadows is a much, MUCH simpler story than I’d originally intended in terms of plot, but in the end I also think it’s a better overall book, and it will serve as a nice transition between what’s happened already and what is yet to come. I’m really excited about it!
(Shameless plug: tentative release date for Chain of Shadows is October 25th. I’ll keep you posted.)
Question: Will you ever tell anything from the vampires point of view?
Answer: Sort of. Part of Vampire Down (Book 7) will be told from an undead creature’s perspective, though not a vampire. There will also be a sort of extended dream sequence (which I’ve already written, strangely) that details exactly where the vampires came from before The Black forced them to invade Earth. (Oops. Spoiler alert. Oh well. ;D)
Good enough? ;D
Questions: You create amazing creatures and monsters twisting what we have come to expect from them in fantasy. How do you keep it original? And where in the heck do all your ideas come from?
Answer: I draw inspiration from lots of different sources – novels, movies, TV, comic books, book covers, music. Sometimes I come up with the name of a creature before I even know what the hell it is; sometimes I imagine something a creature can do before I bother to figure out what it looks like. But most of the time I see an image of something I like and, not knowing anything at all about it, I steal it. I make up my own details to match the visual, and Voila!, I have a new monster.
Now, that being said, my ideas are finite. As one reviewer has already pointed out, some of my monsters in City of Scars bear some striking similarities to the monsters of Blood Skies (take the Voss and the Cruj, for example, or the Gorgoloth and the Tuscars, and don’t forget about how many damn wolves there are running around in both of these series).
But the best way to come up with creatures is a trick I stole from Michael Moorcock – take two things that don’t go together and make them go together, like his city of the screaming statues. I do the same thing to create critters like Razorcats, Fireghosts, etc.
I also feel that traditional monsters – such as vampires, ghouls, etc. – can be made fresh by taking a new twist on them. Lots of people try to go too far with this, and that isn’t necessary, as just a small change can be huge, especially if it enhances one of the creature’s traits you like and calls attention to it. For example, I like the “wight”, originally used in fiction by J.R.R. Tolkien and made more popular by Dungeons & Dragons. (For those not in the know, a wight is basically an intelligent undead akin to a zombie, though more powerful and intelligent…corpses with a piece of their soul still in residence). Wights are depicted as zombie-like creatures in tattered rags, but I thought it would be neat if they wore armor. And had really massive, ridiculously large claws. And thus war wights (first seen in Blood Skies) were born.
Question: What program do you use for writing?
Answer: Honestly, I’m pretty boring, and I just use Microsoft Word. I’ve gotten used to it. Lib has been trying to get me to use Scrivener or yWriter (which has a groovy feature that lets you keep track of characters, write their background stories and even look up everywhere they’ve appeared in your story), but sheer laziness on my part has kept me tied to Word. There are only so many things I can cram into my brain. ;D
Question: Who does your edits?
Answer: Sadly, I do my own. I know this is considered a Cardinal sin among most Indie authors, but in my defense I am extremely thorough. ;D I’ve had occasion when this badass Indie Writer named Jen Kirchner helps me out with edits and feedback, but that was before she got swamped being a best-selling Indie author in her own right, and we’ve both been too damn busy to coordinate on anything as of late. (Note to self: e-mail Jen.)
Honestly, I’m going to have to take the “Do as I say, don’t do as I do” stance when it comes to edits, because I honestly think Indies should work with professional editors. I just can’t afford it. Most of the money I make from my sales go right towards helping my family and paying Barry Currey for his Badassalicious ™ covers. My sales have picked up a lot in the last couple of months, however, so maybe I’ll actually be able to afford to do as I should be doing and start working with a Pro editor. Let’s hope.
Question: Could you explain your system for editing to me?
Answer: It involves lots of booze. ;D
In all seriousness, I take editing very seriously, though as I just mentioned I don’t use professional editors (and, yes, I know I should). After I write the first draft of the novel I go back through it with a fine-toothed comb. The 2nd draft is all about fixing obvious errors – continuity mistakes, lost plot threads, bad grammar, redundant language, etc. This is always the longest edit, as it gets really nitty-gritty and involves the most cursing, and usually takes about a month. The 3rd draft/2nd edit is usually a bit smoother, and I can focus more on polishing and tightening up the language than spending time correcting horrifying errors, but this read-through will still take several weeks, as I try to spend a good deal of time with each chapter so I can really clean things up. In this second edit I try to work through one chapter a day, more if time permits.
If I have any beta readers or editing assistance, this is when they get to see a copy of the novel, as I’m fairly confident I’ve fixed the biggest problems by this point. But there’s still more work to be done, and I’ll end up doing at least 3 more complete read-throughs before I’m ready to release.
How do I know when it’s ready? Two things. 1) The thought of taking a bath in barbecue sauce and throwing myself off a cliff and into a valley of wolves is more appealing than the notion of reading through the book ONE. MORE. TIME. I figure I should probably move on by that point… 2) I can read through the novel and spend most of the time forgetting I was the one who wrote it. When I can get lost in reading my own work it finally starts to feel real, and if I’m not spotting errors by that point then I know it’s pretty much ready.
Question: You now have two series lodged securely in the dark fantasy genre (Blood Skies and The Skullborn Trilogy) and they’re both terrific. However, they’re both dark fantasy. So I suppose my question is two-fold. First, do you plan on breaking into different genres in the future? Not that I want you to, I’m just curious if you have “Plans” ™. Second, if you could write in any genre–even if it meant having to publish it under a pen name–what would your guilty pleasure genre be?
Answer: Good question. To answer the first – I have no plans to break out of my proverbial shell as of yet, but I do like to bend genres, even in what I write already. I’ve toyed with the idea of writing super-hero stories (ala “The Savage Dragon”, dark and gritty but still with the look and feel of a classic Marvel comic…”Kick-Ass” also falls under this category). I’ll probably continue doing epic fantasy for a while, since it’s my favorite genre to read, and I’d really like to get better at writing horror (which is weird, because I don’t really read horror all that much anymore…) I know a few folks who’d like to see me break into NA or YA, but I haven’t given that too much thought, as I don’t know if I want my nightmarish ideas haunting the minds of our youth.
Guilty pleasure? Murder mysteries. Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, stuff like that…it would also be fun to write modern mysteries in the vein of “Longmire” or “Castle”. The reality? I would suck at it. I’m good at writing things I know (military and medieval history, dark and creepy nightmares, etc.). I don’t know squat about police procedure or real-life detective work, and at this exact moment…meaning “right now”, as I sit here in the living room writing this blog post…I feel far too lazy to want to learn. But one never knows…
Oh, and I wouldn’t mind writing erotica. I’m actually decent at writing “porn”, but not “erotica”, and there’s a distinct difference. That’s something else I’d really have to work on.
(On a side note, Path of Bones, Book 2 in the Skullborn Trilogy, has quite a bit of sex in it, more than anything else I’ve written to date. I’m honestly not sure why…though the fact that it does makes the title take on something of a different connotation, I realize…)
Question: Let’s imagine, if you will, that you are up against every baddie you have created in both the Blood Skies Series and The Skullborn Trilogy. We all know that is a lot, so feel free to take a minute to think of all your enemies. Go ahead, I don’t mind.
Now imagine that all these baddies have you surrounded, you look around you and realize that there is no Eric Cross or Azander Dane to back you up. They are out having a round, sorry. Knowing you are on your own, you search your pockets, only to realize you have nothing but a lemon and tweezers. (Don’t ask why you have a lemon in your pocket, I don’t know. After all, it is your pocket).
Armed with nothing but a lemon and your tweezers how do you defeat this overwhelming herd of wicked baddies?
Answer: If I ever find myself surrounded by a horde of my own baddies, the world is screwed, because, you see, they won’t hurt me.
They are mine. And with their powers at my command, the world will be My Bitch ™.
(Insert evil laughter.)
What? They won’t obey my every command?
Shit. Then I’ll have to figure out a way to build a bomb out of lemons and tweezers. I’m sure it can be done…though it might be complicated. ;D
Thanks for all of the questions! Got more! Leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to answer!