Thank you for joining Shane Hall and me in a chat about our projects and why we write what we write! Shane’s comments start with the S (well, obviously!) and mine with the M. Enjoy!
S: Alrighty! First of all, thanks, Mel, for working with me on a collaborative discussion! So, the question I think we should always open with:
What are you working on at the moment?
M: Right now I am trying my hand at planning! Yes, not exactly riveting stuff, but I recently watched an amazing video clip with Nick Stephenson and Joe Nassise as I mentioned in a previous blog post, all about people who plan novels and others who wing it (pantsers).
Having always being a ‘pantser’, I thought planners were anal retentives who took all the spontaneous fun and joy out of writing. However, with the setbacks of ill health taking its toll, I have come to the conclusion I have to plan or never hold the entirety of my novels in my head or anywhere else, ever again. Drastic action needed to be taken!
So I am currently working out how to be a planner. The complete opposite of what I am naturally and so it is not easy. It is taking some time and some practice. I am trying to see the glorious end of the novel, instead of allowing the characters to inform me along the way. So what I am working on is two or three novels, but not in the traditional sense of actually writing them. I have the idea of timelines, scenes and plot points… it’s all very technical and rather intimidating to be honest. Trying to think like my characters and predict how they might react to things before even writing them – it is a lot harder than it sounded on the video.
S: Well, just remember that you can always throw out what you planned in the moment and try something new! I’m somewhere between a pantser and planner, myself. I typically know the core points of drama, and the climactic moments, but I improvise on the way there, going back and rewriting many times before I move on to the next big chunk of the story.
As for myself, on top of Episode 5 of Feedback, I’ve been writing a fantasy story called the Tragedy of Veminox. It’s set primarily in a tyrannical city-state in a desert, where the King has outlawed everything but ordinary humans. That means mages, elves, other similar beings, and definitely monsters are all kept out. Those who are caught are forced to fight in colosseum matches against the King’s gruesomely-powerful champion.
The main character is a woman who used to be the setting’s equivalent of a lawyer, but the King has taken the law into his own hands now. Claudia teams up with an unusual man who can read minds and other bizarre people to try and dethrone the King, but as the title may imply, it’s going to be difficult, maybe not even possible. It’s a very violent and dark story, but emotional without falling into severe melodrama.
Best of all, it’s free! People can try out the first ten entries (of fifty) if they’re intrigued, and I know you’ve read those ;). The remaining 40 entries will be done, edited, and available for free in the following month.
M: I think that considering how much you are churning out right now, I shall have to opt for the halfway point between pantser and planner too! It definitely works for you.
S: Thanks! Now then, I’m expecting two very different answers from the two of us on this next question:
What is the first book that made you cry?
M: That is an easy one! Black Beauty. I have been horse mad my entire life and read that story when I was very young and the treatment of horses back then made me cry.
S: Black Beauty? Interesting. I hadn’t heard of it, but cruelty to animals does strike an emotional chord in me. More of anger than sadness, though.
M: I have to add here that Bambi was also a childhood favourite and quite possibly was first… it was back in the dim dark ages you know.
S: As for me, it hasn’t happened (or at least I don’t remember if it has.)! Don’t get me wrong, lots of fiction has made me cry over the years, but not a book. Might sound weird, but I’ve never gone out of my way to read books that are sad or super emotional. Maybe I’m just unlucky with my reading choices, since I definitely read a lot as a kid. I was always more into scary and disturbing books, and those had a strong impact. Some stories I’ll never read again, ever, because they disturbed me too much. Maybe that’s a “fear” equivalent of answering the question.
Since I don’t have a great answer, I thought I’d bring up something related that I’ve found intriguing. When I was a kid, stuff like Artex losing the will to live in the Neverending Story definitely got me weeping. Stuff that’s clearly sad and meant to make you cry, you know?
Now, things are changing. I’ve realized that things can make me cry because they’re inspirational, or speak to some kind of mysterious beauty in the world. As a child, I would have just found these moments kind of boring or at least wouldn’t have had a reaction. Innocence, in particular, gets me crying sometimes these days. Maybe my understanding of life has changed, and I can relate to things on new levels than before. Maybe I just miss my own innocence.
What do you think?
M: Wow, ok, that is very deep. If we are broadening the scope here, I will agree that parts of The Neverending Story made me cry. When the pony drowned in the quicksand, for example… Hmm. There is a theme in my answers. When I was young, it was all about the loss of animals, But yes, now I am older, I find things like YouTube clips on Facebook that are inspiring or uplifting, make my heart expand and tears come to my eyes. It’s more about seeing the inclusion and inspiration of how people overcome things and it makes me either want to cry or stand up and applaud them. Which is nuts, because of course they can’t actually see me! 🙂 But I like to think it is the thought that counts.
S: Yep, I can relate. And when you said the pony, that’s what I meant by Artex losing the will to live. That was a lot more impactful that just the horse dying in a battle or something. It’s such an ugly way for a friendship between a boy and his horse to end. But we’ve gotten dark enough, I’d say! On to the next:
What made you write? What made you sit down and start to write something?
M : I’ve written pretty much my whole life, but they were all chapter ones and scraps of ideas. Then I wrote something of full length and thought, holy wow! That felt amazing.
I think there are a lot of people out there who sit at their office desk or whatever job they have and stare out the window and wonder what it would be like to be someone else. Anyone else. To do something else with their lives, even if they aren’t too unhappy with where they are. The green is always greener over the other side of the fence, kind of thing. I know I was doing that when I was working in the office.
The thing about doing something creative like acting or writing is that you can be those people for a short time. You can try on someone else’s skin, so to speak, without having to go through years of study to be a surgeon, or a mechanic, or do the training needed to be a world famous cyclist. As an actor one week you could be the Captain of a submarine and the next, stripping down an automatic weapon as an assassin. That sounded like magic to me, so I started to write. I finished the assassin idea just as I became housebound and then moved on to swords and sorcery. I could do and be anything I wanted!
I had found a way to keep myself happy, amused and entertained all at once. It was also therapy, really. I was no longer able bodied, so I created characters who were really kick-ass. They were either gun toting or sword wielding, and it was so much fun to go along for their ride. They allowed me to escape the confines of my life and I think to some extent, most writing is like that. Just like acting, it is telling a story and most of the time it is a story you would never likely get to do in reality. Therein lies half the fun and infectious joy of it – even if the topic is serious, there is a pleasure in being able to bring it to the reader.
S: I find that fascinating, because it’s so different from me! I had always been a kid who imagined different worlds and strange concepts. I wanted my ideas to become real in some way. At first I imagined myself being a game designer, but it didn’t take long to realize the pitfalls of that kind of career path (it was a lot harder and less common back then) so one day, I tried creative writing as an elective in high school. Before then, I had never really thought to write my ideas down as stories, or anything.
M: Oh! I wrote so early that one page was one sentence, in the terrible large almost painful print little kids do. I had all these wonderful images in my mind and couldn’t wait to grow up so I could express them better. Then, I tried acting (to be someone else, which was fun especially theatre, but I was abysmal at it), then back to writing again. It always called much louder to me than any other pursuit. How did you find writing class?
S: What’s funny is that I didn’t take to writing immediately! The first class was very casual and I didn’t write anything very serious. I didn’t expose those ideas I had mentioned before. But I definitely enjoyed the class on some level, and decided to do the more advanced level the next semester. That was where I experimented and started to legitimately enjoy putting my ideas down into a full, completed story. By the third semester I was in the advanced group, writing the story that would eventually become my first novel. It was a slow love of writing that got its hooks into me forever. I was dead set, 100% certain that I wanted fiction writing to be my purpose.
Today, I can’t fathom doing anything other than what I’m doing now. The feelings of accomplishment and joy when I finish a work and when other people enjoy it are too motivating. I’m fairly certain that I’d end up doing something that generates those feelings, somehow, no matter what happened to change the course of history.
M: I am with you 100% on that one. Nothing else I’ve ever done brings as much joy and sense of purpose/joy as does the craft of writing. That wonderful sense of creation, bringing a world into being that people can enjoy and as you say, the feeling when you finish a piece! Nothing like it.
Why the genre you chose, what drew you to it?
M: I read. I read a lot. A range of things, but there is a strong fantasy flavour. I read action or mystery or chick lit, but the minute I feel the blues or in need of any kind of pick me up, I head straight to the fantasy section of the library, or my home bookcase, and read all about wizards or dragons or swordsmen/women. That is where my heart really lies and so it was a natural enough extension of that to write about a fantasy world. They do say write what you love and so I did.
Writing the adult book in action/adventure was also something I was passionate about because writing about some kick-ass women who are so physically capable they are intimidating was a riot. They are literally the complete opposite to me. I’m not the least bit intimidating or kick-ass, but to imagine what it would be like was so much fun I can’t wait to do it again.
S: I’ve written in many genres, although fantasy and sci-fi do grab me the most. I do have a major project for each, after all. I would consider myself mainly a speculative fiction author. That means anything that involves a world or idea that doesn’t exist, from completely unreal fantasy worlds to low-key, magic realism concepts set in modern times. That’s not really a genre, but I was driven to that kind of writing since, as I said, I was always one to imagine totally non-real, fantastical ideas, and I wanted to see them come to life. I don’t know if I’d ever write something like slice of life, or even an exciting story set in the realistic, modern world. I can enjoy stories like that, but they don’t inspire me to write something similar like all the speculative fiction I enjoyed as a kid.
Do you want your books to be standalone, or to build them all into part of a body of work that is all connected?
M: Ultimately, in a perfect universe, my works would all be connected, once I’ve planned and plotted, and can form the timeline to bring it all together. That is, the adult novels would centre around the ‘real world’ of Jonelle and Fiona through any other character I have introduced that gains traction and feels complete enough for their own story, such as Amelia. It allows the actions to drift in lots of directions but still have the focus on location or persons that are already known.
The YA series would build organically from Novarmere outwards.
I have maps! The greatest thing about fantasy (well actually there are so many I can hardly think of just one) is the ability of an author to build a whole world. Once you create a country and place all your action within it the next question becomes, what else is out there? I made maps to give me the chance to place Novarmere within the Known World and once that happened it seemed natural to widen the scope of the series. There are several countries around Novarmere, with one of those being a united bloc of smaller countries. That gives so much scope to set action within a wide range of locations, with new characters and new dramas, but having everything linked. It is immense fun even thinking about spanning all of those countries. That is hard though because it comes under the heading of … planning!
S: Worldbuilding is quite fun, and fantasy allows that more than any other genre, since you are inventing a world with different rules.
M: Once you get to the scope of a whole planet, or what feels like a whole universe, it starts to get complicated and feel like you are juggling lots of balls in the air. I read loads of Tamora Pierce when I was younger and loved how she created a universe of countries with Tortall and its surrounds. Even when the main story was completed, there were other characters and countries to explore; a never ending joy where someone, who loved the magic and universe she created, could return to over and over for new adventures. It fascinated me, the whole concept of interlocking storylines, of interconnecting lives and countries.
You can see that in the universe that Robin Hobb created with the Royal Assassin series that went on to become part of the same wonderful tapestry that included live ships, dragons and so much more. That sort of storytelling, where stories that seem on the surface to be completely disconnected suddenly showing the common threads, is amazing. Something to aspire to, I think.
I have watched the Marvel Universe play out on the big screen, locking their superheroes into their own story arcs, but then being flexible enough to combine them when necessary and well… marvelled. They also have managed to use a TV series to tie certain ideas and concepts together, gathering new audiences along the way. The same way the Star Wars and Star Trek franchises have done. The sheer scope of what they are achieving in terms of story arc and plotlines is immense and has suddenly changed the way people interact with one story. There is a real sense that we can shape a whole universe to whatever the author wants it to be and the possibilities could be endless.
A universe, after all, is ever expanding and contains countless stories. If the natural laws of that universe are defined and adhered to, an audience can become immersed in the stories and mythologies provided.
That, as a new writer hoping to create new worlds, is the Mt Everest of goals.
S: This seems to have grown into a question about whether we’ll have multiverses, because we are both authors who write series already. As for whether I’ll have a connected multiverse, that’s a secret 😉 but ironically that exposes the fact that the answer is probably yes…okay I’ll just answer.
Some of my works will be totally separate, and others will be part of a loosely connected, overarching universe. For instance, I consider Feedback its own thing. It’s a multi-work series, but I don’t see it connecting to other works that I’m making or have planned. The Tragedy of Veminox, on the other hand, is connected to other planned works, and you could call that the first step in an interconnected web of fictional works. Kind of like how Stephen King has shared characters among some of his stories, and cameos from certain concepts, places, or people.
I absolutely love the idea of doing this, because it’s a way to reward people who read everything you write. Only they get to see the entire picture, and I have all sorts of ideas for how I want to interconnect different works, once I actually finish the ones I’m writing and publishing now, of course!
M: That is so true. People can cherry pick and just read the books that they feel attached to, but if they read widely, then they can see the larger picture. And hopefully from that, fall in love with the entirety of what you have created. That is similar to the idea behind widening the Novarmere scope to include tales from other lands. How are they connected? Linked? Who is there that we already know? I love those sorts of questions!
S: Looks like that’s the last of the questions for now! Thanks for having this little virtual teatime chat with me, Mel! Why don’t we both finish off by telling people where they can read some of our work? Point them wherever you want them to go! Ladies first 😉
M: Thank you and what a gentleman. I enjoyed chatting as well, and hope to do it again some time soon. Well, people can find descriptions of my books here on my blog, but they are also available online in ebook and paperback copies for purchase from all major online retailers including Amazon, Smashwords, and Kobo. For Amazon, click here.
The first book in the YA fantasy series is permanently free as a download. So if you enjoy the idea of pairing up with a little dragon you can talk with who is small enough to ride around in your backpack, with swords and sorcery thrown in, then check it out.
S: Sweet! As for me, people can try out the first ten entries of Veminox while I’m finishing up the remaining 40. The link earlier in the post will take you there. The second it’s done, the emails will resume and you’ll get the rest.
You can also try the first book in my dystopian sci-fi serial, Feedback, which is set in a world with severe noise limits. So things like singing and music are both outlawed, and the world is shaped to keep loud industries underground. If you’re reading this before March 19, you can also get the entire first season (that’s books 1-4) along with 80+ other books by other speculative authors. I won’t be offering the whole season in this way, for free, for a long time, so jump at the chance
M: Thank you all for stopping by and reading our virtual fireside chat. We would love to hear from you regarding the questions and answers, or any further topics you might like us to visit next time.