Whew. It has been a busy few days. My first year as a published author has come and gone, and it’s been interesting. Check out my review on that by clicking the link below:
I am down to my final few interviews. I intend on interviewing all the submissions I get, so this will not be the end. Today’s interview is with Steve Rodgers, author of his awesome looking book City of Shards. I love that cover, by the way. It’s beautiful! His plot sounds really interesting as well.
First of all, tell me about yourself! What do you write?
I have been writing for quite some time, pretty much purely speculative fiction (Science Fiction and Fantasy). I have written about 30 SFF short stories, half of which have been published in on-line magazines and anthologies, a mix of pro, semi-pro, and token.
But my main writing endeavour is the Spellgiver series, of which City of Shards (book 1) is my SPFBO entry. Spellgiver is an epic fantasy series whose main protagonist is Larin, a slum dweller kid with a sort of magical tourette’s syndrome in which he shouts a three-word phrase. Those outbursts have turned him into a pariah in his gang-infested neighborhood, where he lives with his uncle, a drug-addicted warrior who’s uncommonly good with a sword. While his uncle protects him from the worst of the beatings, he’s not much for conversation, and has a mysterious past he refuses to discuss.
As it turns out, the words Larin shouts during his outbursts have meaning. Very important meaning. And those words set Larin on a course that will change everything.
The Spellgiver world unfurls into some something much bigger as the book goes on. We realize that Larin is a very small cog in a very large and very old continent-wide conflict between three fundamental forces: the human Gods, the indigen Gods, and a third set of gods people call demons. It is a triangle of enmity that splits the world into fault lines of peoples and cultures and religions.
To navigate this treacherous war, Larin will have to tread a narrow path between two evils, and come to grips with his servitude to one of them. Although there are many conflict points, if I had to pick a central conflict one for the book, it would be Larin’s struggle to come to terms with who he is.
How do you develop your plots and characters?
I started with the world itself. Although I didn’t write it so formally in the beginning, my world-building can be condensed into a few principles:
- I wanted world that by its very construction, invited conflict. This is done by splitting the religions into those of the New Gods, Old Gods (indigen Gods), and demons. This is a trifecta of animosity that drives conflict throughout the book.
- I didn’t want Tolkien races or creatures of any kind. Also, no vampires, werewolves, etc. More specifically, I wanted the fantastical beasts in Spellgiver to have appeared only in my imagination.
- I wanted a magic system with historical foundation, i.e. one that has a reason for existence. Even if those reasons aren’t completely known to the characters.
- I tried to design a magic system with clear rules and details, and one that limits the spellcaster in some way.
- It was important to have religions that naturally flow from the world’s conflict points.
- And I wanted essential secrets that no one has explained, but which form a basis upon which everything rests. These are mysteries of the world that can slowly be revealed over time.
I know I just answered a question about plots and characters by describing the world. But to me, the plot flows directly from all these principles. Once the world was in place, the conflicts were clear, and from that came the plot.
As for the characters, they are very much products of their world, and this drives who they are. For example, Larin is at the exact center point between New Gods, Old Gods, and Demons, but his random outbursts are pulling him toward the one path he doesn’t want to go. This affects everything about his life.
Tell us about your current project.
Spellgiver books 1 and 2 (“City of Shards” and “In the Claws of the Indigen”) have been written and are available on Amazon (along with a prequel novella set in the same world, “Mountain Witch”). I am currently working on book 3, and am about 80% done. The Spellgiver series will be a total of 4 books, and then I’m done. So one more. There will also be a second prequel novella that I plan to write after book 4.
Who would you say is the main character of your novels? And tell me a little bit about them!
The main character is Larin, who is a young man through most of the book (though he starts off younger). The force that rules Larin’s life is loneliness, because his random outbursts have made him a laughingstock. But he contributes to his own misery by refusing to back down when attacked, even when he’s clearly outnumbered. This has turned him into something more than just a silly clown to the local gangs—it’s made him their active enemy. He’s kept marginally safe by his uncle, who’s good enough with a blade to single-handedly keep part of the district clear of gangs, and this only adds to their hatred. Despite all that, Larin does make a few friends. But his demeanour alternates between boldness and resignation at his fate, and his humor is often dark. As events sweep him into larger wars, his boldness is the only way he can survive.
What advice would you give new writers on how to delve into creative fiction?
Use your imagination. I love to read strange and alternate realities, but all those require hard work on the part of the author. It’s so easy to fall into traps—the stereotypes and the obvious answers and the basic motivations. But it will be so much more of a rewarding read if you can subvert our expectations, and give us something beautiful and new.
When developing characters, one way to do that is to give them strange traits. Don’t introduce us to people we could meet in the supermarket. Give us people with strange and terrible afflictions, who are smart but myopic, both larger than life but horribly flawed (maybe that’s a cliché in itself, but still true!). Give us the strange and the quirky, and you’ll go a long way to keeping the reader’s attention.
As far as plot: For me developing plot depends on the type of fiction. If it is secondary world fiction, my advice is to picture the world before you start worrying about the conflicts. A plot that is divorced from the environment in which it takes place will feel artificial.
If it’s set in the modern world (including urban fantasy), then my advice is to start with a basic premise, then think carefully about how your characters would react. Based on what you know about them, what would they do in response to that premise? And then what would the secondary characters do in response to that?
If you let your characters breathe, then the writing will feel natural. And by that I don’t mean complete seat-of-your pants writing. It’s good to have a high level outline. But be prepared to change it as your characters take on a life of their own. If you’ve ever heard an author say that their characters are deciding the story, it simply means this: When you write the details about what happens to a character, certain insights based on their personalities will occur to you. While you had planned action X, you’ll suddenly realize that action Y makes a lot more sense in the context of who they are. Action Y will then spawn Action Z, which you’d never planned for in any outline. This means that the characters are taking over. And that’s a good thing.
OK and no advice to new writers would be complete without the basics: Find a critique group, learn how to take critiques, and most importantly learn how to revise effectively.
What real-life inspirations did you draw from for the worldbuilding within your book?
There are several themes in the book, centered on breaking free of our chains, making hard decisions in the face of impossible choices, loneliness and boldness. But I think one theme that I strongly believe in, and which plays a central role in the book is this: Beware of any group that promises social justice but uses terrible means to get there.
What inspires you to write?
The need to actively daydream, and to turn those daydreams into reality 😊.
What was the hardest part of writing this book?
The world-building was hard but enjoyable. It’s really difficult to examine every paragraph and see if it makes sense in the context of the world, or if it can be improved in some way that showcases a small detail. It’s time consuming, but the result is a richer tableau. I don’t know if everyone wants to read such details, and I suspect some don’t. But I do, and it gives me satisfaction to write something I would want to read.
What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?
In my books the creatures are split into the four-limbed creatures we know (humans, dogs, goats, etc), and the indigen—six-legged creatures who were here first, and have their own Gods. One of the POV characters is an indigen general named Kemharak, and I very much enjoyed writing those chapters. One reason is that with the indigen, my imagination could run free—I could give Kemharak strange motivations and odd biology, while still making him understandably human. And maybe because, even though they are less emotional on the surface, the indigen sentient race has so much going on beneath the surface. So, those chapters felt the most emotional to me, and I like to write that kind of thing.
Did you learn anything from writing this book and what was it?
I learned how to write 😊. Well, I think I was an OK writer before I started, but I really cut my teeth on these books, as it took me several years to finish the first one. In the process I passed it through waves of beta readers, and each wave of critique taught me something new. I then attended the Viable Paradise writing workshop, and that honed my writing more. And I’ll say that some of my writing chops (such as they are) came from writing short stories and selling them to magazines. But I think I learned the most about writing from Spellgiver.
It’s sometimes difficult to get into understanding the characters we write. How do you go about it?
By putting myself in their place at all times. This is where it helps to understand the world, so you can really imagine yourself in their shoes. I try to stop and picture myself in the same situation, then filter that through the character that I’m writing. For example, a Queen of the Empire would have a different reaction than me. But the basic motivations for all of us are similar.
What are your future project(s)?
I am now wrapping up Book 3 of Spellgiver. Then it’s on to Book 4, which will be the final book in the series. I will write a small prequel novella after that (set in the same world). Then my next project will be a science fiction novel based on one of my short stories.
If you couldn’t be an author, what ideal job would you like to do?
Well I don’t write full time now. But I always want to have writing as a hobby. If I couldn’t have that, I’m not sure what I’d do!
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 website is: www.steverodgersauthor.com, where I have a blog, book and short story information, and a writing resources page. There, you can also sign up to be on my mailing list. I send out free short stories to my list occasionally.
I’m on Facebook as Steve Rodgers
Spellgiver Books 1 (City of Shards) and Book 2 (In the Claws of the Indigen) are both on Amazon.
Huge thanks for the interview Steve! Stay tuned this week for the first of my Top 10 games of 2018!