Q – You and James have a world you co-created. Can you tell us a bit about that process? How do you decide who will take on what parts of the world, how is the Legacy divided?
The world itself evolved quite organically, derived partially as the setting of a homebrew RPG, and partially from story or novel ideas that each of us had been toying with separately.
There were many late night conversations on what we liked and didn’t like about various fictional worlds, about what worked and didn’t work for us as readers. Our discussions have been…wide ranging. *lol* They’ve covered the spectrum from general religious beliefs, military structures and architectural styles to “what is an ideal number of moons and what effect would they have, both culturally and gravitationally”.
One of the biggest decisions centred on technology levels – what tech is available to the various peoples and societies and why. That’s a surprisingly difficult question to answer, particularly when you have two authors involved. If ship technology in a region has advanced to the age of cogs, then we have to know why that particular society is still using longbows instead of crossbows. Why might we consider glass windows a possibility for one society but not the printing press? All of the minutiae had to be addressed in order to try and maintain consistency throughout the setting, and also between our respective stories and books.
We decided early on that each of us would have a full continent upon which to turn our characters loose, and that we would share outlying continents and territories jointly. As a result, each continent has developed its own unique cultural and linguistic details. We also have a detailed timeline of significant events, and we can add to it (or adjust) as required.
It’s a hell of a lot of fun working in partnership with James. To be honest, it’s come to feel so natural now that I have a hard time imagining working solo. Our visions are similar enough to be compatible, but our writing styles, themes and approach can often differ greatly.
Q – For you, what is at the heart of fantasy? Do you consider your writing style to fall within a certain type of the genre, i.e. epic, sword and sorcery, grimdark?
The heart of fantasy, for me, is the magic. And I use the word in all of its connotations. At its most prosaic, magic is what distinguishes the genre from sci-fi or other speculative fiction. High fantasy or low fantasy, the story almost always contains an element of magic. Whether that be spells, fantastical settings, non-human races, ‘old school’ enchanted swords, or simply someone with abilities that transcend understanding by those around them, it’s all magic. How the protagonist deals with it, how other characters react, how it shapes the world in which they all live – that’s the story. That’s the heart of it.
As far as my writing style, I suppose it wanders back and forth across the No Man’s Land between epic and grimdark. As with all things, my style may change, but for the moment I’m happy with where it’s taking me.
Q – So far, do you have a favourite character to write?
The easy answer is whatever character I’m writing at any given moment. I love them all – innocent, jealous, fanatical, proud or broken. When I’m in that character’s head, the world makes sense from their perspective.
The more difficult response is like choosing which of your children is your favorite. At the moment I’m writing a mentally ill, homeless character who plays a significant role in my novel, The Sons of Midnight. He’s been a tough persona to work with because I want to do him justice. I want to tell his story in such a way that, while he begins as a stock doom-crier on the streets, as details of his life are gradually revealed to the reader, they begin to know the person behind the trope.
Q – Your bio mentions that you have a fair amount of training in the security field. How much of this comes through for you when writing an action sequence or a military ‘setting’?
With regards to action scenes, since modern weaponry is obviously so different from that common to a fantasy setting, the strategy and tactics have to be adapted accordingly. I don’t want to write a scene where a squad of warriors stacks up on a door, and a battle mage casts a stun spell into the room before the warriors charge in, crossbows firing. First, readers are familiar with that image from countless modern military movies or TV shows. They recognize the tactical source material, and it would be lazy and dishonest to simply swap out a ballistic vest for a mail byrnie and call it good enough.
Technical details aside for a moment, one of the greatest responsibilities I feel I bear is to accurately portray the intangible bonds between warriors. There is a camaraderie born of training, hardship and shared combat experience that can be overlooked in fantasy literature since the focus is often on set-piece battles.
But combat makes up such a small proportion of a warrior’s time, regardless of whether one is looking at modern era or ancient times. From initial recruitment to day-to-day routine while on campaign – that’s 95% of a warrior’s life. Homesickness, practical jokes, dealing with fear. The cursing and the black humor. The unique military lingo that tends to baffles outsiders. The egos and the incompetents. The grief of loss and the pain of the wounded. It hasn’t changed – from the Trojan War to Afghanistan – it hasn’t changed at all. While none of that makes for cinematic action sequences, it’s where the meat of character development lies in writing a believable warrior. To use a movie analogy, it’s more Jarhead than Blackhawk Down.
With all that said, I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to train with so many military and security professionals from around the world, to have gotten to know them, to have heard their stories. There’s a certain satisfaction that comes from describing a climbing scene when you’ve felt that same knot in your stomach while rappelling. Or writing about a brawl when you’ve been bruised and bloodied yourself.
Q – It seems that your world, Calus Rukan, has a very long and established history. Just how far back have you and James delved into this world?
We have a timeline that encompasses approximately 150 000 years. The oldest entries see early human societies striving against dragons, krakens, and humanoid races such as varukhiri and mirenir. These events ultimately form the foundations of the stories we’re telling in the world’s current time period. Echoes of those events still reverberate, whether most of the current era’s characters are aware of it or not. James and I agreed from the beginning that we wanted Calus Rukan to have a rich and complex past. In many ways it made worldbuilding easier – but the downside is that you have to keep it all straight in the back of your mind as you write. The trick of course is to find a balance, offering readers as much historical and cultural detail as they desire, but without miring down the action in the process.
Q – What inspired you to become a writer?
I was a voracious reader as a child (and that hasn’t changed). But in 5th grade my parents gave me a bound hardcover notebook. I was awestruck by the idea that I could fill that blank book with anything I wanted; that I could write stories instead of just reading them. My first foray was a 30 page World War 2 espionage tale, and I knew I was hooked.
As a young teen I went to stay with my grandmother, Helen Jenkins, for part of a summer. In her sunroom was an electric typewriter and a ream of paper. I can still feel that sense of euphoria at having ‘modern technology’ at my disposal, the uncharted potential of all that blank paper, and a seemingly endless summer during which to write.
I was fortunate to have several dedicated high school English teachers who went above and beyond in their encouragement as well. I owe them all apologies for the execrable fiction I foisted upon them. To their credit they not only read and edited the work, but spent a great deal of time in their off hours discussing it with me. They also suggested (or lent me) books that weren’t on our high school English syllabus – history and sociology texts, the works of Eliade, Sartre, Heidegger, and Jung, to name a few. To Greg Munce, Tom Clark and Doug Raisbeck I owe a debt that can never be repaid.
Q – You’re a gamer too, correct? Any games that have helped feed your imagination?
My first love has always been D&D. RPGs have the ability to light a fire in my imagination that outshines any video game. I started playing the original Red Box edition around age 12 and I’ve played ever since. I switched to Pathfinder with the release of the abominable 4th edition rules, but D&D’s 5th edition has me intrigued enough to give it a chance.
Of all D&D’s editions and settings, Greyhawk and Planescape are my all-time favorites. Greyhawk because of its comfortable, traditional pseudo-medieval setting, and Planescape because it’s the utter antithesis of that. To this day, Planescape continues to shape how I think and write about extra-planar settings.
I play video games once in a while. I enjoy first person shooters like Call of Duty and Modern Warfare, but I’ve fallen for more immersive titles like Mass Effect, Dragon Age and Skyrim. Oh, and my son recently lent me The Last of Us and ordered me to play it immediately. I loved that the game focused as much on the narrative as it did on whacking zombies. In general I’m a fan of any game that forces the lead characters to make tough ethical choices that matter, and I hope that’s reflected in my fiction as well.
Q – Do you have a typical writing day? How do you manage to find the time to write, or how do you maximize the time you get?
I don’t have a set writing schedule, but I need to establish one. Currently I work shifts, so my writing time varies depending on whether I’m working days or nights. I’m most productive when I’m away from distractions in my home, so I try to go to a nearby coffee shop. If I have a day free I try to spend it there and write all day. I’m not much good at writing in small blocks of time, but it’s something I’m trying to improve in order to increase my productivity.
Q – You’re pretty well-read. Any authors who helped put you on this path? Any who kept you going?
Poul Anderson’s The Broken Sword was one of the first books I read that introduced me to protagonists who were fascinating but deeply flawed, and who didn’t necessarily triumph in the end.
When I discovered Lynn Abbey & Robert Asprin’s Thieves’ World anthology in my teens I was enthralled by the idea of “big name” writers sharing the same sandbox, each adding their own unique flavor to the series. Some of my favorite fictional characters, even today, I discovered in the pages of the Thieves World tales of Janet Morris and CJ Cherryh.
To me the Thieves World series stands as a model of what James and I hope to achieve with Legacy of Ash – a cycle of fiction where the sum of the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
More recently, Steven Erikson & Ian C. Esslemont’s Malazan series redefined what grim, epic fantasy could be.
From a non-fiction perspective, Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs & Steel is an excellent study of cultural and sociological factors that shape societies. It provided invaluable insight as I was constructing cultures in my portion of Calus Rukan.
I’m also something of an addict when it comes to academic papers on archaeology, ethnology and linguistics. I belong to a free site from which I download and read a few dozen papers a week. I don’t have a problem – I can quit any time I want… *twitches*
Q – And finally, what can we expect for you in the future?
My first Legacy of Ash novel, Sons of Midnight, is in progress. This fall James and I plan to publish the first Legacy of Ash anthology, the stories of which are set in the nefarious tropical port city of Serpentine. I’ll have three new stories in an anthology expected out by the end of 2016, edited and published by Derek Alan Siddoway, who was responsible for the Swords for Hire anthology. It’s a busy year, and I couldn’t be happier about it.
I’d like to give a grateful shout-out to my readers. Thank you for your continuing support, and I’m excited about exploring the Legacy of Ash with you in the years to come.
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