Interview with Alan Baxter
January 22, 2009
Alan Baxter is a friend of mine from Australia who has recently published his second book, MageSign. I first met Alan at the Magic Casements Speculative Fiction Book Festival in Sydney, Australia back in early 2006, and we hit it off from the start. He has a great sense of humor and a thoughtful approach to his craft. He also has followed an interesting career path thus far that should be of interest to new writers everywhere. Recently I asked Alan a few questions about his approach to writing, his novels, and his life:
Q) You have two books in print now — RealmShift and MageSign. Can you tell us something about them? Are they connected or does each stand completely alone?
My latest book is MageSign, which is the sequel to my debut novel, RealmShift.
In RealmShift the protagonist is a powerful immortal called Isiah who has the unenviable task of trying to keep some kind of balance between all the world’s religions. In this instance he’s tasked with protecting a rather unsavoury blood mage called Samuel Harrigan. He would much rather let this blood mage meet his fate, but a lot hangs on the actions of the man and the Devil himself wants Harrigan’s soul. So Isiah has his work cut out.
In the sequel, MageSign, the protagonist is back again, but on a rather more personal quest this time. He’s after a nasty piece of work known only as the Sorcerer, who was Samuel Harrigan’s mentor. As Isiah’s search bears fruit he learns that this Sorcerer has a bigger following, more power and a terrible agenda that far exceeds anything Isiah had considered.
Both books are rollicking good thrillers on the one hand, with lots of action, martial arts and suspense, and dark speculative fiction on the other, with gods, demons, monsters, magic and mayhem. They’ve been called dark fantasy and horror and urban fantasy and a number of other things, so they’re obviously a little hard to pin to any genre. They’ve both received great reviews and I’m very proud of them. Both available on Amazon, of course, and you can learn all about them and read the first three chapters of both for free at my website.
Q) You’ve taken a somewhat unconventional path to publication. Tell us about the pitfalls and benefits of the approach you’ve taken to getting your books out to the reading public.
With the help of a small group, we’ve set up an independent publisher called Blade Red Press. It means that the creative control remains very much with the authors and their vision can be realised without the commercial constraints of the big publishing houses.
Just like independent music and independent film, indie publishing is the next big thing for writers. With the technology we have available today there’s more opportunity than ever to take advantage of new methods. I expect to see indie publishing explode over the next few years. Of course, the pitfalls include being a little fish in a big pond (with lots of big fish roaming around!) but that’s also the thrill. There are great opportunities for everyone out there.
RealmShift is also available as an ebook through smashwords.com and I think ebooks will continue to grow in popularity. Amazon’s Kindle program and other quality ereaders are becoming more popular and affordable, so epublishing will also help the indie publishing thing grow.
The biggest challenge is getting noticed and making people aware of the books we have available.
Q) As you know I spent a year in Australia and got to know many people in the Speculative Fiction community there. What makes Australian SpecFic unique? Who are some of your favorite writers Down Under who folks here in the States might not know?
I think the land moulds the writers to a large degree. Australia is a unique place that produces unique people. The same can be said of most places, of course, but there’s something about Australia’s size and remoteness that really stands out and I think it informs people’s work.
I’ve deliberately used the Australian character and landscape in MageSign and I think it makes for a very interesting twist. I don’t think the story would be nearly as strong (or as possible) set anywhere else.
Australian spec fic writers that I admire include Sean Williams, Caiseal Mor, Richard Harland, Robert Hood, Trudy Canavan… and so many more! We have a strong and vibrant spec fic community here in Australia and I think it’s only getting stronger.
Q) What’s a typical day like for you? How do you balance your professional obligations with the demands of your family life?
Well, I’m in a very lucky position really, though it took a lot of hard work to be this lucky! My “day job” is a martial arts instructor. That means that I have to teach classes at various times (mornings and evenings mostly) which leaves me large chunks of time during the day to write. It took a while to organise my life like that and I’ll never be rich man, but I’m doing the things I love. Fortunately my wife is an artist and understands the creative urge. She also trains Kung Fu and helps me teach classes, so it all fits together quite nicely.
Q) What are you working on now?
I’m busily promoting MageSign and the new edition of RealmShift that was released along with it. I’m also usually working on a few short stories, as I love the short story medium and always have a few on the boil. I love to get shorts published and there are a lot of online and print opportunities for short stories these days.
I’m also starting to put together the bones of my next novel as a project for this year. It’s a new book, with new characters and a new idea, so I’m very excited about it. I like to let new ideas stew in my brain for a while and then I’ll slowly start to make notes and put together a rough story plan, then the serious writing begins. I’m at about the notes stage now with the new book.
Q)Where do you get inspiration for your stories and characters?
Anywhere and everywhere. For example, I recently wrote a short story about a guy that dies and leaves his daughter seven garages all over Sydney that she had no idea existed. It’s a bizarre idea, but it came about because I heard of someone that really did that. His family were mystified to discover, on his death, that he owned seven garages. I have no idea what he did with them – in my story it all becomes dark and ominous, of course! Real life provides fantastic fodder for speculative fiction. I just extrapolate people and events that I notice and paint them with my own particular brush. Other times a scene or a character will just pop into my head and I’ll build a story around that. That’s how RealmShift came about. I came up with the idea of the Isiah character and just let it percolate in my mind for a while and slowly built a story around the character. Inspiration can be found everywhere.
Q)Who would you chose to play the star role if your book was made into a movie and why?
Well, given that my day job is as a martial arts instructor, there’s a lot that Isiah does in the books that I could probably do a lot better than a regular actor. But could I act as well? Who knows. I do love the idea of playing my own hero as I’ve always been a huge fan of movies, but I don’t think I really resemble Isiah all that much. A lot of people have commented about how both RealmShift and MageSign would make great films, so I’d love to see my books optioned one day. Being such a movie fan, seeing one of my novels on the big screen would be awesome. I think I’d probably get involved and insist on being the fight choreographer (as most movie fights are awful) and then have a cameo role as a minor character somewhere. Perhaps I’d body double for the star in the fight scenes!