I gobbled up anything by Eddings and Feist. Man, those guys. I read Lindholm before she was cool and became Robin Hobb. Really, lots of epic fantasy, truckloads of the stuff before I acquired some semblance of taste.
Science Fiction nabbed me when I found some authors who could do it and tell great stories rather than shitty science. I was a bit fan of Niven, especially when he hit the power combo with Barnes and wrote Dreampark — and his solo Ringworld books were amazing. Julian May.
This is where I admit I also read McAffrey. For the dragons, not the romance, okay?
A little Poul Anderson — it’s hard to keep up with that guy.
My tastes are (only a little) more diverse these days — I’m in it for the story and the telling of it. I’ll read supernatural, or crime thriller, or whatever, as long as it’s good stuff — but I still find that my real interest lies in more speculative stuff.
Who is your favorite author?
You want me to pick one?
There are so many good ones out there. If you put my back up against a wall, I might say Richard K Morgan. But it’d be hard to choose — I keep a bookshelf or two at home, full of real books, treasured works. I consume most of my stuff intravenously via Kindle these days, but if it’s good, I will get the paper copy. In a non-creepy, totally benign way I like to touch the physical copies, to smell the paper, and to feel the story in my hands.
So, next to everything that Morgan’s written you’ll also find the works of Neal Asher, Glenn Cook, Hugh Cook, Alastair Reynolds, Neal Stephenson (even though I always feel like I’ve ridden the short bus to work after reading one of his), Neil Gaiman, and Peter Clines.
There are more, but that’s a start. I’d like to think that when I grow up and become a real writer, I’ll be half as good as half of them.
What book genre of books do you adore?
It always comes back to speculative fiction. Whether it’s about star ships, dragons, vampires, ghosts, or werewolves, I’m there. A good speculative fiction work takes the story of people and tests it against some really significant problems and challenges.
It’s easy to fall in love. Is it easy to fall in love in a zombie apocalypse? It’s easy to buy someone a coffee. Is it easy to share your meal with them at the end of the world?
That kind of thing really gets me going.
What book should everybody read at least once?
The Cloth Merchant’s Apprentice, by Nigel Suckling (http://www.unicorngarden.com/clothmerchant.htm).
It’s a bit of a rare book today — it’s one of my treasured paper artefacts. There are still some copies kicking around used online, and I’ve just checked Amazon — it’s out there (http://www.amazon.com/Cloth-Merchants-Apprentice-Nigel-Suckling/dp/0905664086/). It reminds me of Gaiman at his best, a story that’s gentle and startling, much like Stardust.
This book taught me that you can have adventures and romance together, and that the way a story is told is a tremendous amount of the beauty in it. The book is honest and respectful, fun and soulful in equal measure.
I will never part with it.
Is there any books you really don’t enjoy?
Anything that’s “YA.”
Wait, don’t go. It’s not like that.
“YA” is not a genre, not really — it’s a descriptor for a group of people who are trying to find their way in the world like the rest of us. They’re people, clever and intelligent, and want to know more about which way is up. They have the best parts of enthusiasm and the worst parts of inexperience. Saying you’ve got a genre for “YA” is like saying you’ve got a genre for Czechoslovakia.
Is “YA” the best we can do when we’re trying to sell a vapid vampire romance? I get that a vampire romance can be awesome, so let’s — as storytellers — respect our audience and encourage the brain over the beast. Let’s not tell stories that feed on our insecurities and baser nature.
One of my favourite quotes here comes from a Master™, Stephen King. Love or hate the man, but he’s written a lot of stuff about a lot of things. It’s hard to cite the original source, and maybe it’s urban legend, but it feels right: “Harry Potter is about confronting fears, finding inner strength and doing what is right in the face of adversity. Twilight is about how important it is to have a boyfriend.”
Contrast with King’s example of Rowling, or Le Guinn’s Earthsea series, and you can see the gap. It’s totally possible to write for a younger audience and respect them. I’d like to see more of that respect when we’re telling stories to our next generation. After all, these are the people who will be our leaders and change the world after our footprints are gone.
What do you hope your obituary will say about you?
That I lived well, that I did things that were right despite that they were hard, and that I was a good friend, husband, and human.
And that I had one foot in Heaven before the devil knew I was dead.
It’s kind of hard, though. There’s a way you’d like your life to be like, and then there’s how the world around you impacts on the edges of that. You’ve got people at work, or people in your social club.
Everyone knows that special person in HR. You know what I mean.
I’d like all those people, and my friends and family too, to think that I made the world just a little bit better while I was on it. If that was said at my obituary, that’d be enough.
Location and life experiences can really influence writing, tell us where you grew up and where you now live?
I was born in the Philippines.
Yeah, I love whipping that one out. Truth be told I didn’t spend much time there — my parents yanked me back Stateside when I was about two years old, give or take, so my memories of the place are just a couple of scattered images. A garden. A few people, one of whom I was sure was my nanny. Nothing bad — it’s a place I’d like to go visit again, with full expectation that I know nothing about it.
Speaking of Stateside, I spent some of my formative years in the US, largely at the edges — Los Angeles and New York City. I remember sunny places where there’d be a jalopy with the roof cut off, and winters so cold that your face hurt.
I really don’t want to live somewhere where the air makes your face hurt. What the hell is this, Pluto?
After my folks split up, we drifted across the US for just a little while, touching down in Connecticut before heading to New Zealand. I’ve spent most of the rest of my life here in little Aotearoa.
When I got here, there were only two TV channels. There were only cartoons on a Saturday morning. That’s bullshit, plain and simple.
Despite my initial poor reaction to the backwater third world country that I thought I’d arrived in as a kid, I view New Zealand as my home. I’ve travelled to a few places, Australia of course, Japan, Italy, America a few times, and the odd resort location to drink cocktails out of a coconut.
I don’t like Fiji.
People around me still think I have a little bit of an accent, and wonder where I come from. I sometimes wonder that as well, and I like that I can lend a few different voices to my writing.
How did you develop your writing?
By abuse, mainly.
When I wanted to get serious about it, my little brother stepped up and threw me into a writer’s group — run by a pro, and it was more of a critique group than anything else.
Here’s the thing: when you write something, and you put your thoughts on paper, you think it’s awesome. I mean, it probably doesn’t need any editing, and can go straight from your brain to the printing press at a mega publisher. The people who aren’t getting published?
Hacks. All of them.
Then you join a writer’s group, people who really just want to write good stuff, and wow — you will begin to understand just how much you suck. It’s not like these people sit there and tell you that you suck, but the variety of feedback will show you gaps you never even knew you had.
So yeah. I wrote a lot, about a lot of different things. Sure, I was working on Night’s Favour, but I also wrote a few short stories, and some radio plays, and the odd poem or two. All under the watchful gaze of my writer’s group, who were hard and soft, gentle and stern, but above all else, faithful to making me a better writer.
Other than that, I wrote. I wrote around the edges of my life, and thought about writing when I wasn’t writing. Mostly dialogue, but also about scenes, and the way things would play out.
And then I wrote some more.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
It’s possible our house was built on an old industrial spill, with some toxic chemicals that leached up through the loam and into our very bones. If that’s the case, I’ve been super unlucky with living in houses built on old spill sites, because I’ve had weird ideas since as long as I can remember.
It could have easily have been something baked into the old Crayola crayon set I had when I was a kid. It’s hard to be sure — was there ever a recall? How do they make those colours?
I read a lot. I watch a lot of movies. I talk to people who read a lot and watch a lot of movies. I like taking something that’s a little familiar to people — say, a nice werewolf legend — and then sprucing it up with a bit of industrial magic, a virus or two, see where it goes.
Ideas are not something I’m short on. How many of them are good ideas is probably a bit subjective, but I feel like I could sit down and write books until the end of my days, until the tips of my fingers were worn away, and not hit the bottom of the barrel.
I just want to do those ideas justice. I want the stories to be fun and insightful — I don’t want to start writing without a good idea about the story that wants to be told. I try and ask myself, what makes this story different?
What is hardest – getting published, writing or marketing?
Getting published, by a long shot.
Marketing, there’s some dudes out there who can help you, if you’re unable to do it yourself. Lots of companies and people exist with a special flare for this — heck, this interview here is a great example. Generous people, with a real talent for helping you get visibility? They’re out there.
Writing is probably the easiest part, for a writer. If it’s not, you might be in the wrong profession. I don’t want to come across as conceited, but this is the thing we’re doing here.
The publishing part is still shrouded in mystery. I figure I’d have a better chance of getting a deal with Tor if I did some Pagan rituals in my back garden: it’s not like the path is clear. Every so often a major publisher will throw open their doors: Angry Robot, or Harper Collins, or whatever. This is rare, though, and you’re up against a fair level of noise in that funnel to get noticed. I can just imagine some poor bastard at Angry Robot, trying to sift through the manuscripts, and in a fit of rage dumping their entire desk into the trash. If you’re that guy, I’m sorry.
To get a real shot, it feels like you need to get a good agent, and finding a good agent is just as hard a tower to climb. There’s no easy path, no three-step process, no recipe for how to bake that cake.
I suspect this is in part why I lot of people go indie. It’s not that indie makes you more successful, but with indie you get your product out there, and people can actually read it. And they can read it before one of our Earth years have passed. Fuck sake, but have you seen some of the publisher submission timelines? 6 months before they let you know if they like it, and another 18 months before it’ll be on a shelf. And a lot of contracts are really unbecoming, very biased in favour of the publisher. There’s no partnership there, no win-win, and there’s a real problem in a contractual relationship where both parties aren’t out for the equal success of the other. Publishers? If your contracts look like you’re treating your writers like cattle to be farmed, they’re going to stampede away.
Compare that to click-to-print with an indie system, and you can see the attraction. Maybe your book isn’t at your corner store, but unless your surname is King it’s probably not going to be anyway.
I digress, but yeah: publishing. I think that’s still an area needing a bit of work. And there’s tremendous opportunity here: you see companies like Penguin and Random House merging in response to market pressure. People are going to crash and burn in this new future we’re already inside. And yet: publishers are uniquely suited to be able to still serve as a robust quality gate for content, if only they shift the model significantly in the favour of win/win for authors and themselves, think about the outcome for the customer, and adopt a more rapid distribution system. Sure, I’m simplifying for the sake of a pithy paragraph, but the success stories of the next five years will be told by publishers who’ve made the shift from their traditional model.
What marketing works for you?
Generally, it’s been word of mouth, and reviews. The more reviews, the better the success, but those only start with a few people who know you, willing to give you a shot.
Valentine’s an ordinary guy with ordinary problems. His boss is an asshole. He’s an alcoholic. And he’s getting that middle age spread just a bit too early. One night — the one night he can’t remember — changes everything. What happened at the popular downtown bar, The Elephant Blues? Why is Biomne, the largest pharmaceutical company in the world, so interested in him — and the virus he carries? How is he getting stronger, faster, and more fit? And what’s the connection between Valentine and the criminally insane Russian, Volk?
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Genre – Action, Thriller, Urban Fantasy
Rating – R16
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