Good morning, my fellow creatives! Today’s selection comes in thanks to my mother, who is an avid listener of Wisconsin Public Radio and heard about a series set in one of her favorite places in all of Wisconsin: Door County.
Hello hello, my wonderful fellow creatives! We find ourselves caught in the whirlwind that often billows about in the middle of summer. After a few good swimming lessons, the kids are determined to prove themselves ready for their own Olympic-style marathons in the water. So long as they don’t participate in another round of “Toss the dead fish” as some other kids did at the beach, they’ll be fine. 🙂
While they splash and holler at one another in the lake, allow me to introduce another lovely fantasy author whose debut novel hits bookstores this month. My friends, meet Ian Green!
Niceties first! Tell us a bit about yourself, please.
Hello! I’m Ian, I’m a writer from Northern Scotland. I have a background in scientific research (working on cancer epigenetics!) and I’m currently based out of Algiers. Whenever I can I spend my time hiking in the woods or clambering around ruins. My first novel, The Gauntlet and the Fist Beneath, is out this summer. It is an epic fantasy- book one of a new trilogy!
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
My dad had an old paperback of The Lord of the Rings- all three volumes in one huge thick book, with an amazing John Howe painting of Gandalf on the front cover looking utterly mysterious and serious. I remember reading that when I was too young to understand most of it, but the cadence of the language and the weight of the words, the way Tolkien’s writing could summon images in my mind astonished me- the imagery of the shire felt true to me in a way I didn’t think fiction could be. That, and perhaps reading Goosebumps in the school library and managing to scare myself- how can a word elicit such strong emotion? I was hooked.
Hey, there are plenty of Goosebumps books that scared me as a kid by their insides–and outsides! I had to stay away from any volume with that ventriloquist doll the cover. (Shivers.) What authors did you dislike at first but grew into?
I struggled with Cixin Liu for a long time- I found the start of The Three-body Problem impassably dense, and the characters didn’t resonate with me throughout. I think I was coming from a long run of character driven SFF and this was such sweeping, concept driven SF that I just couldn’t seem to find a purchase. I’m so glad I stuck with it- the second book in that series, The Dark Forest, is one of my favourite SF books.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
Malagash by Joey Comeau– I’ve been a huge fan of his work for a long time, and this novel is so tender and sad and brutal and sweet. It delivers perfectly, a dark humour running throughout even as it prises open your heart. Utterly incredible. I want to give a copy to everyone I know.
Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?
The book that made me think differently about fiction was The Bridge by Iain Banks. My mum gave me a copy when I was probably too young to understand a lot of it- but I understood the sheer audacity and fun it was having. It was having so much fun with structure and there was such a joy to it. For me fiction can serve so many purposes, from light entertainment and escapism to far heavier explorations. The Bridge to me was a book that did all of those without a thought to convention, and did it all with a smile.
Ah, that sounds like a marvelous story! Any book that not only is run to read but to experience sounds like a perfect find in my, well, my book. 🙂 Speaking of books,Congratulations on your debut fantasy novel The Gauntlet and the Fist Beneath! I love hearing about fellow fantasy writers’ worldbuilding process. Did you base Gauntlet’s world on your Scottish homeland, or was other research involved in creating the story’s setting?
Certainly, Scotland was a huge source of inspiration. When I wrote this book I knew I wanted to set myself a few challenges regarding the culture I created and the story I was telling, but with the world I wanted to take some of the rugged and harsh beauty of Scotland- to make sure that the physicality of the world had an impact on the society and the world that grew around it. So in terms of geography I took a lot of inspiration from Scotland. Historically I think the Pictish stones scattered around Scotland gave me my first ideas of how the magic of the world might work- the old ideas of celtic animism that have been so long lost were a big inspiration. I wanted to create a world where monotheism had never become a dominant force, and to take some of the ideas of animism and craft them into a new and novel magic system and world. In terms of the history and cultures represented, I tried hard to make sure I wasn’t echoing any specific histories- I drew inspiration from a lot of history and myth from around the world, and I didn’t want to create a world that was simply a fantasy version of Scotland- I wanted to create something wholly its own, with its own myth and legend and history and forces pushing and pulling at its people.
Building such a rich, complex world is no small undertaking. Do you think it wise that aspiring writers take on such a project, or is it better they try a different method to sharpen their skills?
I think it can be tempting to start hugely ambitious projects (creating an entire world! A ten book series covering the fall of an empire!) but I found more successful to work on shorter pieces while I was honing my craft and voice. This also let me try out lost of different styles and concepts to see what I wanted to do more with.
Ah yes, your short fiction. We’ll get to that in a bit. 🙂 All this world-building must surely take a lot of time in your writing process. Have you ever experienced a blockage during that research, or have ever become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of it all?
I sometimes need reminding to clarify some points of a world’s lore- when you are so deep into research and worldbuilding it can be easy to forget that someone coming to the material fresh is coming from a totally different context and set of background knowledge! Luckily this is something that can be fixed without too much stress normally.
That’s good to hear! The research involved in building a world can easily intimidate any writer, but writing outside of one’s own experience can REALLY put the pressure on a writer these days. The protagonist of your book, General Floré, is a parent determined to fight through any hell to rescue her child. This is a character many of us readers can root for! What challenges did you face as a writer in writing characters from the opposite sex, and do you have any advice for other writers who want to write outside their living experience?
I don’t think for me writing a character of one sex or another held any more challenge than any other sex. In the world of The Gauntlet and the Fist Beneath sex, gender, and sexuality are of far less consequence than they are in our own world, and so I really just focused on character and motivation. In terms of writing outside of my lived experience, in a lot of ways fantasy as a genre frees me up to not worry so much about accuracy except within the confines of what I’ve created. I’m writing from the perspective of seven foot tall lizard people who live in intricate coral reef cities, and people who live under the weight of an eternal arcane storm- nobody has lived those experiences! There are of course more normal experiences where this might come to bear, but all I can do is rely on research and imagination and beta-readers with different experiences to myself to hopefully make sure I am not straying too far from the mark.
Gauntlet is your debut novel, but as your website shows, you’ve published loads of short fiction as well. When you write short fiction, do you know it’ll be short fiction going in, or do some novel ideas transform into short stories in their creation (or vice versa)?
This is a great question- so when I’m writing short fiction I often know that is what I want to do, I will have simple concepts or plots or ideas that I want to play with. For longer work, before committing to writing a whole novel what I normally do is flesh out a few potential ideas and then try and write a short story in each- I can pretty quickly tell which idea I’m excited about and want to keep going with! I always keep those other fragments though- just because I’m not excited about it right now doesn’t mean it might not be a strong contender to flesh out either as a short story or a longer piece later on.
One of my biggest struggles with writing short fiction comes with the worldbuilding. I wanted to say sooooo much in my story “The Hungry Mother,” but there just wasn’t the space. How do you overcome the restraints on worldbuilding when writing short fiction?
I love the challenge of this- it is so difficult to present world-building that feels deep and real in that shorter setting. I try and pare it back so I’m not presenting details that are unnecessary (are all the window frames in this world black for an obscure historical reason? Does this impact the plot? If not, forget about it!). So anything that impacts the plot or the physicality of the character’s situation I try and expand on a little, but unless it is vital I don’t bother expanding on explanations- the reader’s imagination can do a lot of the heavy lifting!
What is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?
As I was looking for an agent and publisher for The Gauntlet and the Fist Beneath I came across plenty of agents who would charge reading fees, editors claiming they could increase your chance of publication with their proofreading, and services promising to push your book to the right people. I’m not sure I know what the most unethical practice in the publishing industry is, but in general I think there are plenty of bad actors willing to take advantage of people are trying to break into the more mainstream spaces- caution is often a good thing!
Oh, I agree with you there. I’m sure we could all share a story or two of the bad actors who beguile us as writers. That’s why so many of us just choose to “go it alone,” as it were. This means we’re handling all the steps of publishing as well as marketing, and I’ve got to admit it is HARD. Have you worked out any useful way to market your books?
This is my first novel so I’m not sure I’m the best person to ask! I’ve tried to make myself as available as possible for any opportunity- I’m not famous, I’m not particularly well-connected, and historically my social media profiles have mainly been links to music I like and pictures of mountains, food, dogs, and cats. So switching all of that to focusing more on marketing my work has been a strange idea! There are so many communities where you could potentially interact and grow your audience, but I think it is important to try and partition off specific time for this or else you could spend all of your time marketing rather than actually writing.
I also saw on your site that you co-wrote a story inspired by game play! I’ve heard so many friends tell me how Dungeons and Dragons inspires fun fantasy storytelling for them. Would you ever write another story based on gameplay as you did The Cursed Tomb?
The Cursed Tomb is a very fun wee book that is essentially a transcript of a game me and some friends were playing- certainly not something I would expect other people to buy and spend time on, we actually published it more as a memento for the four of us. I do think it is a lot of fun, and very silly- those gameplay stories benefit from the chaos of multiple creators, each of whom can bring their own ideas and background to play. I’d definitely do so again, but unless it was a lot more organised I think it would end up being another artefact for me and my friends, rather than a book I wanted to send out into the world!
Good morning, my fellow creatives! I was so excited to discover July’s reading theme:
But but but, rather than retreading all sorts of ground I’ve already trod before with my Agatha Christie posts, I decided I should focus on mysteries with a fantasy flare–mixed with a recommendation or two you amazing souls have shared with me. 🙂
Welcome back, my fellow creatives! Where on earth did June go? I’ve not the slightest, but my own three B’s have really taken to their summer reading programs, already earning some tickets to the local museum and state fair. Speaking of my B’s–Biff and Bash, in particular–this particular selection for the podcast is not just to help wrap up Pride Month, but to focus on a unique pair of protagonists: twin brothers.
I hope you enjoy this sip from Infinity Son with me! If there are any stories you would like to recommend for sipping on this podcast, let me know in the comments below! I’d also welcome reading any indie authors’ own stories.
Welcome back, my fellow creatives! It’s been a whirlwind of a week with my university’s literature festival, where I got to present on the diverse representation Outsider Hero in film and the joy of finding humor in everyday experiences. Let’s take a break from academia now to fly away with Crown of Feathers by Nicki Pau Preto.
What does a reader experience in those opening pages, and what does a writer learn? Let’s find out!
I hope you enjoy this sip from Crown of Feathers with me! If there are any stories you would like to recommend for sipping on this podcast, let me know in the comments below! I’d also welcome reading any indie authors’ own stories.
Happy Wednesday, one and all! With Juneteenth Day just around the corner, I would like to take a moment to step back from fantasy this Pride Month and focus on the power of a different kind of story: Juneteenth by Ralph Ellison.
This will not be a typical tasting of the story. A sip of the introduction, a sip of the first chapter. And so very much to savor.
A lovely day to you all, my fellow creatives! I’m really excited to have caught SFF author Adrian Tchaikovsky for another chat as he and readers celebrate the release of his latest, Shards of Earth. If you’d like to read our first interview, please click here.
Welcome back to Jean Lee’s World, Sir! Thank you so much for stopping by to share your work, your thoughts, your bugs, and all the jazz. In our last chat together, we discovered a mutual admiration for the Queen of the Fantastic, Diana Wynne Jones. One of these days I would love to visit England and see where she spent time as a child and student. Have you ever gone on a literary pilgrimage? If so, where? If not, where do you hope to go and why?
This isn’t anything I’ve done, to be honest. (Shakespeare, maybe, but that’s more just standard tourist stuff. And when I went to Oxford a friend took me to Tolkien’s old drinking den, but that was also just ‘a thing you do’). I have an odd relationship with places. People always seem to expect writers to be vastly plugged in to landscapes and the place they grew up and exotic locales they’ve visited. I’m someone who exists very much inside his own head. I draw from a melange of images that filter into my head but my connections to place are generally internal and imaginary. Which on the one hand is probably entirely unhealthy, but on the other hand is probably why I’ve been able to soldier on with things despite adverse external conditions.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
You mention Diane Wynne Jones and there’s a lot of that in her work, with the way she can use carefully chosen language to manage a reader’s expectations and perspective. Another enormously formative book I read was Pratchett’s Strata – one of his very early pre-Discworld (or proto-Discworld in a way) books. It remains the book with the biggest twist I’ve ever read. It turns the whole universe on its head, basically. But what it also does is suddenly make sense of a whole series of weird little inconsistencies that almost look like errors the editor missed when you first (as a 12 year old) romp through it. Except it’s all intentional and it’s all part of a carefully constructed trap.
Here in the States, summer break means long, agenda-less days for kids. Thankfully, all three of my children are avid readers, which promises a smidge of peace in the house. So now comes that precarious balance of celebrating my children’s reading while also challenging them with trying new authors/stories. I recently dared to let my eldest, Blondie, read my WIP Middler’s Pride, and I cannot tell you the wave of relief I felt when she said she liked it. What sort of stories does your son enjoy and recommend? Has he read any of your own stories yet?
So my son doesn’t read much. It doesn’t come naturally or easily to him, which obviously cuts a bit. I do read to him, though, and there’s a small list of books he’s completely fallen in love with. He loves Wynne Jones’ Homeward Bounders, Sophia MacDougall’s Mars Evacuees and its sequel, Space Hostages. He really liked Frances Hardinge’s Fly-By-Night and John Robertson’s Little Town of Marrowville. And I have read him a few of mine, and he really took to The Expert System’s Brother, which was nice.
Looking at your site, I see you recently compiled a list of your short story publications. YOWZA, you published a lot of short pieces in the midst of crafting novels. I confess that I get a bit muddled over submitting short pieces. Some recommend scouting journals first to see what their contests call for and write for the contests, but then others say to write first and then see what journals take the sort of things you wrote. Which process did you use—or did you use a different process altogether?
I wrote some stories on spec and then was able to find a home for them later, but there’s a network of small press contacts that’s fairly easy to get on the radar of, and there are always anthologies being put together with various themes and criteria, so I just wrote and submitted for whatever turned up and for which the ideas came. Writing to a prompt like that is a great exercise for the imagination.
So the art I share on Twitter is very much not connected to any of my books, It’s a relaxation thing, because there’s definitely a part of my mind that needs to do something that’s not writing, but still ends up with a finished product that I can feel proud of (I also paint Warhammer figures!). However, as these things go, I now have quite a collection of art and that professional part of my mind is telling me that I should be doing something with it, so… perhaps the connection will go the other way.
I’d like to touch back on your skill in crafting fantastically beautiful and complex fictionalseries. Instead of looking at the worldbuilding as we did before, let’s consider your prewriting process for the plot. See, I’m something of a pantser. I love getting into a world with the characters and just seeing where they take me and work out the plot accordingly. In creating series the likes of Shadows of the Apt, however, I can’t imagine “pantsing” to be a productive method in building a solid plot arc for a series. In our last chat you mentioned learning how to write from reading a lot, so would you say your planning process for your own novels was inspired by something you read, or perhaps from the trial and error of early writing? Or perhaps even both?
Well Shadows of the Aptwas unusual in that the world was already thoroughly explored in a role-playing game I ran years earlier at university. In general, though, I’m a heavy planner but I start with the world. Worlds are what interest me, as reader and writer, and I feel they’re what the SFF genres can do in a way no others can. I’m always interested in bringing a new world to readers, and the plots and characters arise organically out of the details of the world that I’ve already set out.
Speaking of craftingnew worlds,do you use any special author-friendly software to keep your writing organized? A friend of mine highly recommends Scrivener and Wonderdraft, but I’m a curmudgeon when it comes to learning new software.
I basically just use Word to write notes and lists and things like that, and sometimes I use pencil sketches or a drawing tablet to create visual records of what things look like. I know a lot of authors who do use dedicated writing software, and it’s like everything else, if it helps you, then it’s good.
The protagonists you write are not limited to one gender. Considering the care writers must take in writing outside of their physical experience, what tips could you share for those writers who want to write a for gender, race, or creed that is not their own?
I mean, the protagonists I write aren’t limited to one species! I’ve always pushed myself beyond the natural knee-jerk of characters who are basically of my own demographic, because it’s a very easy trap to fall into. I believe in positively expanding character diversity, especially in a fantasy world where the only limits are those you’ve set for yourself. There’s no reason to have everything follow some stale old stock pattern where it’s always men (white, straight, etc) who Do The Things, and everyone else is a supporting character. And the payoff is, books with a variety of characters are basically more interesting, imho.
Congratulations on your latest publication, Shards of Earth! Its premise promises grand adventure, to be sure, but I cannot help but contemplate your word choice in the title: “Shards of Earth”. I immediately think of something small, broken, but also sharp and able to pierce something strong. (I also think of Dark Crystal, but that’s not really relevant here.) Come to think, loads of your titles have a certain flare with word choice that hooks readers. A few examples:
Cage of Souls
Salute the Dark
“Souls” are so ethereal, substance-less, yet we can cage them? Spiders are of the dark, skittering and silent, but they hold light? The word choices are just too enticing to not contemplate them. I don’t know if this is peculiar or not, but usually, my titles are in my head before I’ve even written a word. The title appears with a visual of a scene, and I have to grab it and copy it before it flies off on me into the unmapped region of the story’s fog. Do your titles arrive early in your process, or do they come later, perhaps with feedback, as you edit?
So the shameful truth here is that the majority of my working titles don’t survive contact with the editor. Either they get trimmed or changed a little, or changed completely. Doors of Eden was originally “The Brain Garden”! I’ve come to accept that what sounds good to me during the writing process doesn’t always hit the ears of others very sweetly. 🙂 We often have a huge faff and rush over the actual title post-submission, after my original gets voted down.
Speaking of those moments of inspiration, I’m also intrigued by Shards of Earth’s conflict with these architect aliens vs. man pushing its own evolution forward. Your antagonists are as intriguing as your protagonists in every novel, so I cannot help but wonder which came first in Shards of Earth (and/or in any other novel of your choosing): the villains, or the heroes?
So in Shards, the Architects came first. I remember talking the series concept over with my agent long ago, where we hammered out various elements (including stuff that will only be made explicit in book 3!) of the setting. The idea of the enormous world-reshaping monsters is definitely the heart of the series.
You can’t go wrong with world-reshaping monsters!
Let’s wrap up with another creature question.As a writer, what would youchoose as your spirit animal?
Well I write a lot of animals so I’ve got a fair few to choose from. I tend to write about the animals that really appeal to me, too, so they’re right there on the page. So maybe octopus, or praying mantis, or salticid spider… Or perhaps some unholy combination of all three.
Thank you so much for sharing your time in the midst of a crazy release schedule! I hope you and your son continue to discover new stories to enjoy together, and that the worlds of your imagination never lose their wonder.
My podcast series continues with a detour to Juneteenth before returning to fantasy in celebration of Pride Month. We’ll also consider the timeless, transcending character that is the Outsider-turned-Hero. Character names, everyday absurdities, and more author interviews are on their way!
I hope you enjoy this sip from Beyond the Black Door with me! If there are any stories you would like to recommend for sipping on this podcast, let me know in the comments below! I’d also welcome reading any indie authors’ own stories.