And we return with a new interview, this time with AJ VanOrden, with his book: To Walk a Ruin. I’m starting to get the hang of these! As always, if anyone wants an interview, just give me a bell and I’ll do what I can to fit you in!
I think at this point I will just offer a selection of interviews, or we’ll be here for a while I imagine! So if you’d like to check out my previous interviews with my fellow SPFBO authors, just click on the cover and it will take you to the article!
Interview with AJ VanOrden
First of all, tell me about yourself! What do you write?
I write pulpy dark fantasy mostly. I’ve written a novel as well as several short stories on the same world as To Walk a Road of Ruin.
How do you develop your plots and characters?
Grinding, mostly – I think of an interesting scene or event and then how my characters would react to it, as well as how it ties to what I’ve already written and where I’m hoping to get to. I throw them together on the page, and then start sanding off all the rough edges and cutting away things that don’t make sense.
The general shape of To Walk a Road of Ruin itself and my primary characters kind-of drifted out of the fog for me one day – I was six months into my first real, full-time job, and was stuck on something until 2 A.M., just watching a file build. Having somehow exhausted the internet already, I opened a word processor and started to write the first things that came to me, which quickly became the first chapter of the book.
Tell us about your current project.
I’m currently working on a sequel to To Walk a Road of Ruin, called Where Wolves Fear to Tread, that’s currently about 60% done with its first draft, as well as various short stories. It picks up right where To Walk a Road of Ruin leaves off, and ties into one of my favourite shorts as well, Wolfhound (currently on Amazon for just 99 cents).
Who would you say is the main character of your novels? And tell me a little bit about them!
Saga of Samarkand is the main character of To Walk a Road of Ruin, and most of the story occurs in his direct perspective. Saga is, to be blunt, a wastrel – he and his companion Richter threw away educations at the University at Luxor to wander the world instead, and have been stumbling from one misadventure to the next ever since. He’s been living by his wits and his skill as a gunfighter, but his conscience and sense of wasted potential is starting to get the better of him.
What advice would you give new writers on how to delve into creative fiction?
Never stop writing.The minute you get off either horse, it becomes so much harder to get back on. I had some pretty severe family trauma a few years back, which derailed my writing of my sequel and am only really getting back into the groove of it now. It takes a lot to convince yourself to write something, that you’re good enough, and if you stop you have to start the whole process over again.
What real-life inspirations did you draw from for the worldbuilding within your book?
Saga himself is based around a lot of the qualities I saw in my best friend in high school and college, while Richter is based mostly on things I either aspire to or hate about myself. I’m also a huge student of history and mythology, and a lot of the names and concepts from those sources get scooped up and repurposed in what I write. I really like the feel of a world similar to our own but with the details rearranged and reimagined.
What inspires you to write?
Reading other people’s works, role-play-gaming, and the tiny red-haired monster my wife and I summoned a few years ago (my daughter).
What was the hardest part of writing this book?
Convincing myself it was worth pursuing. After the first few chapters, I had to set it aside for a bit to focus on work-related things and I began questioning it. On a whim, I gave the first few chapters to my older brother, and received an email full of threats as to what he’d do to me if I didn’t let him finish the story about 15 minutes later.
What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?
Chapter VIII of To Walk a Road of Ruin is, by far, my favorite –it may be my favorite thing I’ve written anywhere so far. I tend to write linearly, rather than scenes on their own that I then string together, and knew things were leading to this spot for months before. Any time I hit writers block, I knew I had to get through it so I could get to here, and any time after I knew I had to keep trying to top it.
Did you learn anything from writing this book and what was it?
That things I write that seem mundane or transparent to me, as the author, are exciting and a mystery to the reader. I feel like a lot of potential writers get stuck in their own head, seeing their story from the inside out rather than the outside in, where every twist is blatant, every reveal is dull and nothing surprises or scares them because they can see the end from the beginning. Having an outsider perspective while writing (like an alpha-reader) is essential, if only to keep you from constantly second guessing things.
It’s sometimes difficult to get into understanding the characters we write. How do you go about it?
Letting go, mostly. To get into the right head space to write with Saga’s voice, I have to forget the things I’m pondering or worrying over and give him room to breathe. I have to remember he’s not my mouthpiece, but that I’m essentially having a conversation with him when I write.
What are your future project(s)?
After Where Wolves Fear to Tread, I have a third and final story for Saga, as well as a handful of shorts I’m still hammering on. I’m also currently in the planning stages of a couple of podcast ideas my brothers and I have been bandying about for a while now.
If you couldn’t be an author, what ideal job would you like to do?
Technical writing and editing are probably the best use of my skills outside of writing fantasy, and is a large part of what I do with my current job. I’d also love to do museum work, should I ever find the time and money to finish up my history degree through the masters or doctorate levels.
What is your preferred method to have readers get in touch with or follow you (i.e., website, personal blog, Facebook page, here on Goodreads, etc.) and link(s)?
My blog at this point is pretty defunct , but here are my facebook and goodreads pages
Reviews and word of mouth on Amazon, Goodreads and anywhere else you talk about books is sure to draw my attention and response as well. Like most self-published authors, stuff like this is absolutely vital to my reaching an audience, and the more people who talk about it, the more it spreads until things reach a kind-of critical mass.