May 30, 2012
Lynn Flewelling has been publishing novels since 1996, to worldwide acclaim. She is the author of the Tamir Trilogy — which happens to be one of my favorite works of fantasy by anyone, anywhere in the galaxy, ever. She is also the author of the critically acclaimed Nightrunner series, the newest installment of which, Casket of Souls, has just been released by Ballantine Spectra. Finally, she is one of my favorite people and a good friend. Recently, Lynn graciously agreed to sit down with me and answer a few questions.
DBC: Thanks for joining us Lynn. Why don’t you begin by telling us a bit about the new book? Maybe give a brief description of the Nightrunner concept for those who have yet to start the series, and then tell us where this newest novel fits in.
LBF: Thanks for having me, David. We don’t have nearly enough chances to chat!
I’m terrible at describing my own work, but I’ll give it a go. The Nightrunner Series is a collection of interrelated stories revolving around two main characters. Seregil is a brilliant, roguish (and sexy, I’m told) spy and know-it-all with a dark past. a wounded heart, and plenty of flaws. I created him as a mix of Sherlock Holmes, Odysseus, the Scarlet Pimpernel, and Coyote. Alec, the young man he literally picks up in a dungeon, was meant to be his Watson. Seregil quickly discovers Alec has a lot more potential than that. Alec is first his apprentice, then much more, including lover. He’s is a country boy with a quick mind, dangerous talent with a bow, and a reckless taste for danger that matches Seregil’s. Between the two of them, and with the occasional help of friends, they save the world, various smaller pieces of it, and the lives of friends and crowned heads — when not getting into trouble at taverns and brothels. Both of them have hidden pasts that gradually are revealed from book to book, and it is the characters that lie at the heart of all the stories. I write character-driven fiction, and there is a large cast who people the books.
Structurally, the series is episodic, rather than one long arc. I was inspired by the Sherlock Holmes canon (in more ways that one) which includes both short stories and novels. Nightrunner is a collection of two- and one-book arcs. There is a history that develops through the books, so jumping in in the middle of the series has some disadvantages, but it can be done.
Casket of Souls is the sixth in the series, and a free standing story. The main characters begin by investigating what appears to be rival factions trying to control the throne, but stumble across an entirely different threat. In the poor quarters people are being found in a catatonic state, eyes open and breathing, but otherwise lifeless. After a week or so, they die. As the “sleeping death” plague spreads, they delve into that, with very serious consequences.
DBC: This is your sixth Nightrunner book. Did you envision a series of this length from the beginning, or has the story grown in complexity as you’ve gone along?
LBF: I started out to write one book, years ago. That manuscript turned into the first duology, Luck in the Shadows and Stalking Darkness. Then I had an idea for a third, free standing book, Traitor’s Moon. I took a break after than and wrote the Tamír Trilogy, then went back with a new duology, Shadows Return and White Road. Casket of Souls is a stand alone, and the seventh and last Nightrunner book I’m working on, is another stand alone.
The fun thing about a long series with different story lines is how they develop and carry along their own history. I’ve had to flesh out whole countries, keep track of who has scars where, the impact of losing friends, the birth of children, political changes. The list goes on. It’s been tremendous fun doing it that way. It’s always new, always fresh. When I start a new book, I think “Well, what awful things can I do to the boys this time?”
DBC: Can you tell us a little more about that seventh Nightrunner book?
LBF: The next, and last, book, tentatively titled Shards of Time, takes our heroes to the sacred island of Korous, which has been mentioned here and there over the years. Historically, it is where the first white settlers, the Hierophantic migration, established themselves a thousand years ago. Later they spread around the Inner Sea and founded three of the principal countries I work with: Skala, Plenimar, and Mycena. Skala and Plenimar are frequently at war, with Mycena caught in the middle like Belgium. Control of the sacred island is always an issue and it’s changed hands many times over the centuries. At the end of Casket of Souls, Skala regains control, and Shards of Time picks up with the grisly and mysterious murder of the new Skala governor of Korous. Seregil and Alec are sent to investigate and get into all sorts of wonderful trouble. And there are ghosts.
DBC: You are known for creating memorable characters and spinning wonderful tales. But you are also known for populating your stories with characters who challenge traditional notions of gender and sexuality. Can you tell us why you have followed this path? What is it about challenging these social and cultural “norms” that you find compelling?
LBF: In my own life I’ve always been deeply concerned with and fascinated by real world issues of gender identity, sexuality, and equality. I guess I work that out in my writing. There are things I want to say about the way things could or should be. It’s not the central theme of the Nightrunner series, though the relationship between Seregil and Alec is certainly an important aspect, but it’s not what the story’s about. When I conceived of these characters back in the 80s, most of the gay characters I saw in fiction were either victims or villains. But author Mary Renault made some of her fictional heroes gay, or drew on historical fact, as with her Alexander books. I really admire those books, and she inspired me to try my hand at creating gay heroes that a mainstream audience could appreciate, as well as gay readers.
On the other hand gender identity plays a very central role in the Tamír Trilogy as poor Tobin/Tamír is yanked unwillingly between genders. Where does personhood end, and gender begin? That, to me, is a very important question.
DBC: Not too long ago, you published Glimpses, a collection of short stories set in the Nightrunner universe. Not all novelists feel comfortable shifting back and forth between short fiction and novels. Personally, I have been writing a lot more short fiction recently and finding that it has helped me hone my craft for all forms of fiction. What do you enjoy about writing short form, and how do you feel it has influenced your writing?
LBF: I’m not much of a short story writer. I usually like a larger canvas. But there were bits and pieces of history about various characters that I wanted to explore, and short stories were the best way to do that. I used to write for newspapers and the byword there was “Write right. Write tight.” The same goes for short fiction. You can carry that over into long form fiction, by tightening the writing, making careful choices, and only using elements that advance the plot. It’s a good exercise in disciplined writing.
DBC: With all you do, you probably don’t have a ton of time for recreational reading, but what is on your to-read pile right now? Do you tend to read more in the fantasy/SF genre or outside of it?
LBF: As you say, my recreational reading time is at a premium. But I do read inside and outside the genre. As far as sf/f, I usually read books of friends and writers I know. Most recently: Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear, The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, and Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon. And of course, your wonderful Thieftaker [written under the name D.B. Jackson]! I also read a lot of non fiction, much of which is grist for the writing mill. What’s on my reading pile right now? Thich Nhat Hanh’s Old Paths, White Clouds, his biography of the Buddha; a Josh Lanyon mystery; Christopher Isherwood’s book on writing; a soon to be published sf novel by a friend, which I’m blurbing; and my worn and much loved collection of Sherlock Holmes stories. Those are my number one comfort read, and I’m going back to old favorites to sustain me between episodes of the second season of the BBC’s Sherlock series.
DBC: You have guest posted several times at the Magical Words blogsite writing about the craft and business of writing. What simple advice would you give to aspiring writers looking to break into the fantasy market right now?
LBF: Be aware of what’s out there, but write your own story, the one that moves and excites you. If you try to “write for market” you’ll probably fail and not have as much fun doing it. If you love urban fantasy, or steampunk, or post apocalyptic giant centipede stories, then try your hand at that. But do what you love, not what you think you should do.
DBC: Last question: If you could spend a single day as any character you’ve ever read, who would it be and why?
LBF: Hmm. There are a lot. But off the top of my head, Will Halloway from Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. That’s one of my all time favorite books, one of the most beautiful I’ve ever read. I love it in part because it captures a great deal of my own small town childhood. Will and his friend Jim are not far off from me and mine. The story is like my childhood intermingled with my own fantasies come to light. I remember those yearly carnivals that would roll into town with their stock of babies in jars and tired hoochie coochie dancers trying to entice the local men into a tent to see something they couldn’t see at home. They were dark and seedy and exotic, those carnivals, and a little wicked around the edges. There is a delicious taste for darkness in that book, one that I share. And Will is a hero. He saves his friend and his town.
DBC: Thanks so much for taking the time with us today.
LBF: Thanks for having me and asking such great questions!
May 23, 2012
Today’s post can be found at http://www.sfnovelists.com, the group blog on speculative fiction that I maintain along with a group of over one hundred published authors of fantasy and science fiction. It is called “A Post In Which YOU Tell ME About Self-Promotion,” and it’s about self-promotion for novels and the things that you as readers find effective. I hope you enjoy it.
May 21, 2012
Today’s post can be found at http://magicalwords.net, the group blog on the business and craft of writing fantasy that I maintain with fellow authors Faith Hunter, Misty Massey, A.J. Hartley, C.E. Murphy, and Kalayna Price, among others. The post is called “Writers Do the Strangest Things,” and it is about some of the odd, quirky things that this writer does. I hope you enjoy it.
May 17, 2012
Here it is, all! The official THIEFTAKER t-shirt! (Pay no attention to the red line down that middle. That’s a graphic tool used to center the image on the shirt — the actual t-shirts won’t have it.) In case the image isn’t clear enough on your browser, the front reads: “Boston Thieftakers Guild” and then at the bottom “Est. 1765,” which happens to be the year in which the first Thieftaker book takes place. On the back it says “THIEFTAKER, by D.B. Jackson http://www.DBJackson-Author.com.”
The design was done by a friend of mine. I wanted something that would look just like one of the old-time guild insignias — authentic, hand-drawn, but also official enough to be convincing — and he really came through for me.
I don’t know yet what I will be selling them for — that will depend on what my final cost per shirt comes out to. I would think that for regular sizes the absolute maximum price will be $15 (2x and 3x sizes will be $2.00 more than the base price); I am hoping that I can go lower than that. My goal is to get people wearing them.
So, do you like the design? Who wants one?
May 15, 2012
Some days are harder than others. Sometimes we feel older than our years. At some point the routine weighs more heavily, the responsibilities seem more onerous. Bad news arrives from a distance of both years and space, little moments that remind us of our own mortality catch us off our guard, the slog of the day-to-day seems unrelenting.
I am weary tonight, and my heart is heavy. I could write more, but really that’s what it comes down to. And tonight of all nights, I feel that my time would be better spent playing my guitar, seeing to my girls, sitting with my wife.
If you love someone, tonight would be a good night to tell him or her so, be it with words, or with a kiss, or with the simple act of taking a moment to sit and say or do nothing at all.
May 11, 2012
So, I have a short story that I’ve written under the D.B. Jackson pseudonym, and I intend to make it available soon on the D.B. Jackson website as a .pdf (as I have other stories, as well as sample chapters from the books). But I am also interested in possibly creating a podcast of me doing a reading of the story. I have a microphone that I use for music, and I know that I can record myself in Garage Band. But I don’t know what to do after that. Do I have to put it up on iTunes as a podcast? Can I simply make the file available as a download on the website, just as I would the .pdf? Any feedback/advice would be most appreciated.
May 9, 2012
Last night, Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamiliton hit four home runs in a single game, tying a Major League record and becoming only the 16th player in the history of the game to accomplish the feat. This actually marked the second accomplishment of such magnitude of this young baseball season. Only two and half weeks ago, on April 21, Philip Humber of the Chicago White Sox pitched the twenty-first perfect game in Major League Baseball history.
Baseball has three in-game individual achievements that rank as the rarest feats in the game — in all of sports, really — one for hitting, one for pitching, and one for fielding: The four-homer game, the perfect game, and the unassisted triple play (where a single fielder manages to record all three outs for an inning in a single play). This last, like the four homer game, has happened sixteen times in MLB history. Think about that for a moment: There have been a couple of hundred thousand games played in the history of baseball — regular season and postseason — with eighteen batters in the combined line-ups, and eighteen half-innings needing to be completed. And from that we get a TOTAL of sixteen four-homer games and sixteen unassisted triple plays. By that reckoning, pitching a perfect game is a relatively common occurrence. Not only have there been more of them (twenty-one) but there are fewer opportunities per game. As I say, with the homers and fielding play, there are eighteen opportunities in each regulation game. Only two guys — the two starting pitchers — have an opportunity to pitch a perfect game. And still, perfect games are incredibly rare.
You might think that feats so rare would only be achieved by superstars. But no: The history of the game is littered with unheralded players catching lightning in a bottle for a moment or a few glorious hours. The list of pitchers who have thrown perfect games includes Hall of Fame inductees Cy Young, Addie Joss, Jim Bunning, Sandy Koufax, and Jim Hunter, as well as future Hall of Famers Randy Johnson and Roy Halliday. On the other hand, it also includes pitchers like Charlie Robertson, whose 1922 perfect game for the Chicago White Sox was one of the few bright spots in a career that ended with a won-lost record of 49 and 80, and Len Barker, who did manage a couple of decent seasons, including 1981, the year he pitched his gem for the Cleveland Indians, but who also ended his career with a losing record. Don Larson, whose perfect game against the Brooklyn Dodgers in game 5 of the 1956 World Series remains the single most heralded individual game achievement in baseball history, was for the rest of his career a pitcher of middling achievements. He never won more than eleven games in a single season (though one year he did lose twenty-one), nor did he ever lead the league in any positive statistical category (his 21 losses led the league in 1954).
The history of four-home-run games is much the same. Yes, Willie Mays, Lou Gehrig, Mike Schmidt, Chuck Klein, and Ed Delahanty all hit four homers in a game during the course of Hall of Fame careers. And several others who had four-homer games went on to have excellent careers. Gil Hodges, Rocky Colavito, Shawn Green, and Carlos Delgado were quality players, perennial all-stars. And Hamilton himself is certainly an excellent player who may someday find his way to Cooperstown. But what about Mark Whiten, whose four home runs on September 7, 1993 represent nearly four percent of his career total? Or Pat Seerey, a part-time outfielder for the Cleveland Indians and (at the time of his big game) the Chicago White Sox, who hit a total of 86 career home runs and never managed to hit over .237 in his brief and undistinguished career? How do we explain his presence on the four-homer list? Babe Ruth never did it. Neither did Hank Aaron or Mickey Mantle or Ted Williams. During all those years when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds were filling themselves with Human Growth Hormone and hitting home runs at historic (with an asterisk) rates, none of them ever did it. But Pat Seerey did? Really?
Unassisted triple plays are certainly the most democratic of the three major achievements. Of the sixteen players who have turned the trick, none — NONE — is in the Hall of Fame (although current Major Leaguer Troy Tulowitzki — April 29th, 2007, seventh inning, against the Atlanta Braves — might well be on his way). Thus, the list of players who have recorded unassisted triple plays includes such giants of the game as Bill Wambsganss, Ernie Padgett, Glenn Wright, Jimmy Cooney, Mickey Morandini, and Randy Velarde. I’m a devoted baseball fan, a student of the game, and I had to look up four of those six guys in the Baseball Encyclopedia. The triple play is the ultimate instance of being in the right place at the right time. Unassisted triple plays happen in the blink of an eye, always with at least two men on base and (historically speaking) always on a line drive hit directly at a middle infielder (thirteen of the sixteen have been turned by shortstops or second basemen). The infielder must catch the ball, tag a base and then tag a runner (or tag a runner and then tag a base). It is an act reflex, of instinct, and, yes, of good fortune.
Why have I spent so much time on these baseball accomplishments? Because to me they point out one of the great things about baseball. In most major American team sports — football and basketball come to mind immediately — the big individual accomplishments belong almost entirely to the biggest stars. The running backs who rush for more than two hundred yards in a game, the quarterbacks who throw for six touchdowns, the forwards or guards who score fifty or sixty points — these are the guys who start every game, who have the ball in their hands most often and who are expected to do big things. Baseball is different. Every starting player on a team gets his turn at-bat, every pitcher in the rotation has his turn to take a shot at glory, every fielder on the team might be in position to make the big play. Even in the playoffs and World Series, any player can emerge as a hero. This is why in the annals of baseball history, names like Mays and Mantle, Ruth and Koufax, can be found alongside names like Larson and Dent and Lemke. Yes, today’s game is filled with overpaid, spoiled athletes (not to mention overpaid, spoiled owners). But every afternoon, every night, players take the field to play a game that might carry any one of them to baseball immortality. Every player is just four at-bats away from being the next Pat Seerey, every pitcher is just nine innings away from being the next Charley Robertson, every fielder is only one line drive away from being the next Mickey Morandini.
And if that’s not worth playing for, I don’t know what is.
May 7, 2012
Today’s post can be found at http://magicalwords.net, the group blog on the business and craft of writing fantasy that I maintain with fellow authors Faith Hunter, Misty Massey, A.J. Hartley, C.E. Murphy, and Kalayna Price, among others. The post is called “On Writing: Potpourri — First Lines, Short Fiction, Dialogue,” and it is about different aspects of writing, with some emphasis on short stories. I hope you enjoy it.
May 3, 2012
Today, I am truly delighted to welcome the wonderful and talented Alethea Kontis to my blog. Alethea is the author of the AlphaOops children’s books (AlphaOops: The Day Z Went First and AlphaOops: H is for Halloween) and is now about to release her first young adult novel, Enchanted. Enchanted is a wonderful book that ties together several of your favorite fairy tales into something unique and utterly compelling. I read it in about two days, and it only took that long because I needed to pause for meals and sleep. Recently, Alethea and I were able to sit down for an e-conversation about her work.
DBC: Why don’t we begin by having you tell us a bit about Enchanted. What’s it about, and who do you imagine to be your core audience?
AK: Enchanted is a book I would have fallen in love with when I was a young girl reading my way through the juvenile section of the library. (This is when there was only a “juvenile” and “adult” section, before the internet, back when we all rode dinosaurs.) Enchanted would have been in my checkout pile along with Diana Wynne Jones, Robin McKinley, Tamora Pierce, Lloyd Alexander, Ellen Raskin, Edward Eager, and Orson Scott Card.
The premise of the world of Enchanted: All the fairy tales you’ve ever read (and many that you haven’t) all originated in the Woodcutter family. Enchanted is the story of the youngest daughter, Sunday Woodcutter. The main threads are “The Frog Prince,” “Cinderella,” and “Jack and the Beanstalk.” Ultimately, the more you know about the unexpurgated tales of Mother Goose, the Grimms, Lang, Perrault, and Andersen, the more fun you will have with Enchanted.
DBC: The book is a marvelous mash-up of fairy tales — where did the idea come from and how did you manage to tie so many stories together in such an effective and innovative way?
AK: The idea for Enchanted began as a contest challenge in my writers group (Codex Writers). Our stories had to be inspired by at least one of four “seeds”: “Fundevogel,” “The Princess and the Pea,” the Irish legend of Cú Chulainn, and the nursery rhyme “There Was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe.” I couldn’t choose between them, so I chose them all…as well as all every other fairy tale and nursery rhyme that was suggested.
I’ve been reading fairy tales, folk takes, fables and legends all my life. The more you read, the more you see common threads running through them (like the fate of youngest siblings or the cleverness of elves). I pieced them all together in my own schizophrenic John Nash puzzle. Oh, that fine line between genius and insanity…
DBC: It seems as though fairy tales are “hot” right now. Grimm and Once Upon a Time are on television; Mirror, Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman are in theaters (or soon will be); and a number of books have come out in the past couple of years that also draw on fairy tales for inspiration. What do you think explains this trend? Is it just a market tide, or do you see something deeper at work? Put another way, I suppose I’m asking “Why now?” What is our culture or society getting out of this return to fairy tales?
AK: J. R. R. Tolkien once said (and fairy tale scholar Jack Zipes agrees) that fairy tales were 100% guaranteed moneymakers. In these times of extreme economic crisis, doesn’t it make sense to bet on a Sure Thing? Even Mama wouldn’t disagree with that. J
I believe this is a trend that started once upon a time in sixteenth-century Italy. We’re definitely on the crest of a fairy tale tidal wave right now. I hope that wave continues for a very, very long time…or until we all live happily ever after. Whichever comes first.
DBC: I’ve noticed — and really it’s no great surprise — that so many of these fairy tale treatments have had to reexamine gender roles, and especially revise and update the portrayals of what it means to be a young woman. Your story takes a nursery rhyme about Sunday and her sisters and twists the meanings and implications in ways that the people who first came up with the nursery rhyme could never have imagined. I’m guessing that you enjoyed that. Can you tell us about that aspect of working on the book?
AK: I did enjoy that, thank you! I still giggle to myself from time to time, randomly.
My family tree branches are Greek and French: two old world cultures that carry with them a few old world ideas that never really go away. One of these ideas is the power of words–especially for the Greeks. Every word you say is a double-edged sword. It’s why you see them spitting all the time. If you say a baby is beautiful, you have just cursed it to grow up ugly, so you “spit” on the baby to counteract your good wishes and maintain the balance of the universe.
“Alethea” in Greek means “truth.” It’s a wonderful and horrible curse all at the same time. Whether or not my parents meant it, I’ve always found it much easier to tell the truth, for better or worse (and many times the latter). It’s tough for me when a situation occurs in which I need to lie–I have a really difficult time with that. (Acting is a completely different story. As is writing.)
I was also born on a Sunday. When I was young I thought the Mother Goose poem would have some brilliant insight into what my life would be…but that whole “bonny and blithe and good and gay” bunk is a crock. Who has a life like that? Who would want to? But is this the Happily Ever After all those tales elude to?
There is always more to what’s written on the page, just as there is always more to people than what we see on the surface.
DBC: Looking just at the Woodcutter family, the focus of Enchanted, it seems as though you have a huge amount of material still at your disposal, should you choose to write sequels. Is there an Enchanted II in the works? [If so] Can you give us a bit of a teaser? What’s going to happen next?
AK: There is an Enchanted sequel in the works, but if I share any of my brilliance, it will probably be edited out. [spit spit] The next novel will be about Saturday, of course! The goal is to work my way backwards through the sisters, all the way to Monday. (Monday’s story is awesome.)
I’m also working on many other things: short stories, essays, and picture books, as always — I can’t stay away from them. I’m super excited about The Wonderland Alphabet, that will be out next month. It’s a collaboration with my exceptionally talented longtime friend Janet K. Lee, who won an Eisner Award with Jim McCann last year for their graphic novel Return of the Dapper Men. The Wonderland Alphabet is an ABC book with Janet’s art and my poetic verses, all based on Lewis Carroll’s fabulous classic. And it’s a board book. Squee!
DBC: Are you an eclectic reader or do you tend to stick with a genre? What are you reading right now, and what’s on your To-Read pile?
AK: I am an eclectic reader just like I’m an eclectic writer, but I have far less time to read now than I used to and it makes me sad. I mostly read SF and Fantasy for my review column for Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show–but I’ll drop everything the moment a new Jude Deveraux book is released. Right now on my TBR pile are Wuftoom by Mary G. Thompson, The Taker and The Reckoning by Alma Katsu, and Thieftaker by D. B. Jackson.
DBC: What advice would you offer to aspiring writers looking to break into the young adult market? Do you think that the YA field will continue to be a driving force in publishing the way it has for the past decade or so?
AK: I do think the teen section in the bookstores is here to stay, and YA is a force to be reckoned with if you’re up for the challenge. Kids are reluctant (and often not encouraged) to graduate themselves into the adult section, but adults have far fewer qualms about walking into the teen section and picking up an armload. So if a book is YA-OK, why not just list it at YA from the start? It’s a bit of marketing genius.
As for new authors, I would say: be true to your voice. If you write young, write young. If your writing is more mature, go with it. YA runs the spectrum, and is very all-encompassing. If you are trying to force your voice to fit a market, you’re already starting off on the wrong foot. Write that book in your heart from the voice in your head, and let the marketing department worry about where to shelve it. WRITING will always be an author’s most important goal.
DBC: Last question: If you could spend a single day as any character you’ve ever read, who would you choose and why?
AK: I think I’d like to spend a day with Calcifer the Fire Demon and have a jaunt around the countryside in Howl’s moving castle. The follow-up question is whether or not I’m willing to pay the price for Calcifer’s company…but you didn’t ask me that one. J
DBC: Thanks so much for joining us today. It’s been great having you here.
AK: It’s an honor!
May 1, 2012
Some time ago, I was given an advanced reader copy of a book called Powers, by James A. Burton. Burton, the pseudonym of author James Hetley, is represented by my agent, Lucienne Diver, and Jim and Lucienne were interested in having me blurb the book. I read the book in about a week — a busy week — and gave it the following blurb:
“Take an unusual hero, throw him together with an unlikely ally, and send them on an unorthodox quest to a unique and fascinating world, and what do you get? Powers, a story of demons and gods, intrigue and magic, that is as original and readable as any book I’ve picked up in a long while. Highly recommended!”
Well, Powers by James A. Burton hits the bookstore shelves (real and virtual) tomorrow, and I continue to recommend it with great enthusiasm. Go out and buy yourself a copy. You won’t be sorry.