Friday, November 11, 2011

Interview with Chris Turner

We happened Chris Turner at Librarythingy and were positively overjoyed to find a novel about pirates written in a style reminiscent of 'Treasure Island'.  As huge fans of that classic and of course the movies 'Pirates of the Caribbean' we just had to snatch a copy and read it.  (review next week!)

But we were also delighted to find an author could intelligently discuss his craft and question some of the current 'fads' in fantasy writing.  So of course we just had to interview and feel this is a must read. Check out his blog for more wonderful insights into a wonderful literary mind!
So here it is—Our interview with Chris Turner author of Freebooter which can be found
First of all tell us about you, and your novels?

You're a fantasy writer...what is your background and education?

I’m kind of a hard person to type cast.  I have many interests in many fields: arts, science, history, philosophy.  In the past I’ve engaged in various professions.  My background is computer science (BMath CS/EE) and I have been a software designer and programming instructor over the course of several years.  I’m a landscape oil painter as well, a once avid musician, and now somewhat of a writer.  The bulk of my creative writing has been based on adventure—due in large part to the chunk of my formative years spent on the road, backpacking, cycling in Asia and Europe.  I acquired a head-full of ideas and images of exotic cultures, which, coupled with my love for heroic fantasy and sword and sorcery, started a whole world-building channel.

 Who are the driving influences of your fantasy induced writing?

Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, then I graduated into the more exotic worlds of Jack Vance and Fritz Leiber.

Who do you most identify with and possibly try to emulate?

I identify more with Vance than anyone, particularly “Tales of the Dying Earth”, but try not to duplicate him or any of my other influences.   If I ever do write at the level of any of the afore-mentioned luminaries, I would be pretty joyous!

Tell us about your novels out now. 

I have published four books: Denibus Ar, an archaeology adventure, the Rogues of Bindar fantasy-adventure trilogy, and two short story anthologies, Fantastic Realms and Future Destinies, fantasy and SF respectively.

Do you tweet or facebook?

I have tweeted and FB’d for a few months now.  Both are pretty powerful tools, but as I’m seeing, I’d rather spend my time working on new tales than tweeting, “Here, buy my book, buy my book!”

Do you interact with you faithful readers and what do they demand from you?

That’s the greatest thing—and as yet, no demand.  Probably the most satisfying feeling is hearing from someone who has read one of my works, even a short story, and has expressed how it affected them.  It’s still early in the game in terms of promotion, so I can’t say that I have yet a lot of fans.

Who is your biggest supporter?

My mom, a great editor, has been a source of inspiration for a long time now.  My friend, Suzanne, also has given valuable feedback and read all my stuff (a few times over) and provided inspiration when the chips have been down.

Who do you run to when you hit a problem in your writing?

A demiurge?  No, seriously, I let it sit for a while, and ultimately find that some workaround manifests.  I’m savvy to my inner process by now, so the more relaxed I stay, the faster I get the job done.  I just let the creative process flow.  Any time I try to force anything, the channel will shut down.

Okay down to some nitty gritty questions (The gloves have come off. Feel free to be expansive and just let it rip. We're looking for ways you defy the conventional mindset of writing.)

Chapter endings.  Do you hook to the next chapter?

I hook only in the sense of leaving the section off on an interesting note.  I get tired of cliffhanger sequences which I see in a lot of books.  It’s somewhat of cliché.  Certainly it does encourage the reader to read on and find out what happens . . . but at the end of the story, what does the reader really remember?  It’s the underlying theme developed by an exciting plot and memorable characters.  So, aware of this, I try to get the characters to stay more in character than anything.  Fooling around with tricky or dramatic chapter endings doesn’t work for me.  If the chapter ending sounds natural, not ending on a ‘forced’ note, then it automatically hooks for the next section.
What are your feelings about dialogue tags and how do use them? ( We know you covered it on your blog and this might be a good op to link your blog to ours.

I personally use a lot of saidisms (‘shouted’, ‘moaned’, ‘cheered’, ‘murmured’, etc) which are considered taboo in many schools of writing.  I do this not necessarily to be different but because I find it adds a lot of colour to characters if used in correct context.  I find it’s also a more interesting way to write.  The characters I’m predominately building are eccentrics and ‘goers-against-the-grain’, people full of bravado and invested with an expressive grandiosity.  The tags help to convey subtler manners of these folk, or at times, the more exaggerated sense of their feelings and emotions, which many times can’t be expressed in a ‘he said, she said’ straight dialog.

Villians, Villians, Villians.  How do you use them in your novels?  What do you hate about today's fantasy and it's use of villians.  Can a villian have a heart and still do evil things?

Yes, villains can be multi-dimensional definitely!  I’ve heard many times that a story is only as good as its villain(s).  Take the Batman movie, The Dark Knight, for example, with the star performance by the late Heath Ledger.  The Joker (the villain), is a cunning chap, and quite an intuitively funny rogue, because he has so much insight into the human condition and he makes Batman look a little shallow (although we all love Batman).  So we get two ‘heroes’ at once, and can relate to either of them.  While I don’t claim to have written stories as good as this, I do try to cross the line between good and evil in the characters I create because it makes for a more provocative story.  Sometimes “good” persons do ‘stupid or bad’ things and sometimes “bad” persons do ‘clever or unexpectedly endearing’ things.  This is hard to pull off in writing—to stay within the realm of plausibility while violating potentially certain expectations.  The risk I’ve found is that these ‘grey-area’ characters and a somewhat unorthodox handling of dialogue, may not suit every reader.

To be or not to be used...The hallmark of show is action verbs. the stronger the verb the stronger you can show the reader what happens.  To be verbs, especially was...stell the reader and slow down the book.  what are your thoughts on to bees?

I think verbs really give ‘dimension’ to a story’s action.  Dull verbs and/or a greater emphasis on nouns, for instance, make readers fall asleep (unless the author is writing passive, literary-type prose where there is an implicit expectation from the reader that it is written in a more documentary-style).  This doesn’t work in action-adventure.  Still—it is difficult even for experienced writers, I would suspect, to find the perfect verb at times; hence, the need for many re-writes and a lot of incisive feedback from readers and editors alike.

Do you plan out you novels with an outline?  if  so, has a character ever took a detour on you from the outline, especially one that can detour the book?

Yes, I do try to plan things out, especially in short stories.  There isn’t enough time for detours or subplot.  In larger works, there’s more scope for backstory and subplot, however, and often these are more enjoyable to write, just because there’s that extra bit of freedom and creative licence.  But at the end of the day, the story has to be told and the writer must deliver a beginning, middle, and end, and provide some satisfying resolution to the conflict.

I know from experience that characters in my mind are generally never explicitly-formed in the beginning.  They grow over time.  The detours I’ve come to expect are those which help me shed light on the characters’ mettle and his/her inner workings.  I let them wander a bit, see where it takes them.

Are you the I-guy in your novels?  Where do come up with your charicterzations and how do envision them 'arcing' in the novel?

An interesting question, which I’ve often reflected on, as I’ve been analyzing the craft of fiction writing for some time. 

I’ve written three short fantasy-sf tales in the first person (The Jisil-ou-az-lar, Sundered Lineage, and The Bones of St. Isis), all stories I’m pleased with, though the majority I’ve written are in third-person narrative.  First person is a tough POV—one where the reader can intimately get into the head of a character.  I never play ‘myself’ as the POV character; it’s always someone else, but I draw on my own experience to imagine what it would be like for that imaginary character to be caught in the dilemma of the drama.

From the novel-writing perspective, integrating character with plot is a slow process.  I have an idea of a character, then I see where that character might be in some snapshot of setting.  Then I ask what is that character going to do?  Say character x interacts or meets up with character y.  Then what happens?  If the result seems stupid, I nix that plot thread and try meeting them up with character z?  Yeah, possibly better!   More interesting drama.  So after about a hundred different possibilities running through my mind, I get a small sequence which seems engaging.  Then I take theme into account.  Does the sequence fit in with that which moves me?  If not, I put it aside or modify it to suit.  A brute force technique, perhaps, but the somewhat easier way is to take character A and imagine the same character at scenario 2 in the future.  How did character A go from point 1 to 2?  Well, ultimately back I go to Method 1!  Biting nails, staring off into space, munching a bit of apple pie . . .

Okay, a little crude.  All these thought processes are really going on at once: character has traits, theme is a driving issue on deciding which consequence of action work or not, and setting, well, may even be the trigger for plot.  I use both the methods as simplifications for a difficult task.  Method 1 works well for me when trying to come up with something completely and zanily different.  Method 2 is better applied when I have more of a definite idea of where I want the story to go.  Having the final result in my head . . . then it’s just a matter of rigging it up.  As for how all this takes place, I have no clue.  The process is too complex.

What tips would you pass on to a 'newbie' writer?

Writers should be themselves.  They should write what interests them.  Writing thrillers or serial crime fiction because it’s popular and sells is a bad idea.  Similarly, writing Harry Potter and YA vampire because everyone likes them and they’re accepted is equally as bad.  I emphasize, writers should be themselves and write what interests them the most.  It seems as if there is an underlying urge for writers (many of them Indies) to fit into a mould and write something that is ‘popular’ and hence earn higher star ratings and ultimately get sales.  But this is a bad motivation, in my opinion, because, it will backfire and likely not be from the author’s heart.

Your'e writing a new series.  Tell us about it?  Where did you get the idea from?

The Rogues of Bindar series which is finally completed, began as a short story several years ago while I was musing on a seashore in Nova Scotia watching fishing boats and fishermen.  I’d taken a long break from writing and thought it was time to start priming the juices again.  More and more ideas started coming and the ‘short story’ grew into a ‘monster’ (jokingly) trilogy.

‘Joking’ is the key word here, because although there is a lot of action pervading the series, deep down the story really touches on the idea of the illusion of life, and the comic futility of ambition and desire.  Somewhere all these very human motives dissolve, for hero and villain alike, and the last laugh is on everybody. . .   Good and evil are perhaps not what characters think they are.  Do villains get their just rewards?  Do heroes get the gold in the end?  Well, maybe both, and maybe neither.

I’ve been playing with themes of outlaws for quite a while now.  I had written a novel about a decade ago (unpublished, ‘Outlaws of Felasia’), and it was a practice run for Rogues of Bindar.

Rogues of Bindar deviates from the traditional fantasy form in several ways; one, in that it centres on deviants, eccentrics, recidivists, lawless adventurers and misfits with weird senses of humour and turns of phrase, characters who don’t talk in the normal pulp-fiction way of being.  Nor is the tale the traditional Robin-Hood type outlaw adventure where ‘hero fights for the poor, and outwits the evil sheriff’ or liberates the poor starveling masses from the world of oppression and tyranny.  At times, the story devolves into farce, even though said rogues are struggling to stay alive at every instant in a very harsh, but colourful world.  The protagonist, being a conniver at heart, is a ‘likeable rogue’ who strays not infrequently into anti-hero territory, and makes the tale somewhat quirky and possibly not the favourite of every reader, particularly ones looking for mainstream heroes.

Any sage advice you'd like to pass onto newbie writers?

Writing is more about an inner process than selling books.  Not everyone is meant to be a best-seller—although every writer wishes it, and must ultimately come to terms with this fact.  I think it’s what authors gain out of writing their tales more than public opinion.  The worth may be judged by time, rather than any immediate response.  There’s always a very large question that every author eventually asks himself—and that is, ‘why am I writing this story?

Thank you Chris, we really enjoyed this interview and your insightful answers.  Good Luck and happy sales!

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