I return with another interview, and the first of August!
Today I bring Anita Stewart into the hotseat to talk about her life, and her budding author career. She has a wonderful habit of killing her characters, just the quality in an author I respect!
Please check out my ongoing SPFBO5 Interviews down below!
First of all, tell me about yourself! What do you write?
Hello, I’m Anita Stewart, and I write under the name A. F. Stewart. Not too much to tell about me, I’m just an ordinary woman from Nova Scotia, Canada who likes things dark and deadly. I pen dark fantasy and horror and enjoy killing off my characters (often in gruesome ways). I generally weave myth or folklore into my stories and quite a bit of dysfunction. Plus I write shadowy and dismal poetry for fun and collect swords.
How do you develop your plots and characters?
For plots I usually begin with a “what if” idea, things like what if vampires moved in next door and you became friends, what if magic made you immortal, what if a god was a sea captain and rescued ghosts. Then I start with a beginning line or paragraph, and settle on a main character and an antagonist, deciding whether they will be male or female, human or non-human. Once I have the basic premise I figure out the ending in rough terms, so I know where I’m going to aim the book.
That’s when I start character building, making lists of who’s who and what their role will be, sometimes with little notes of appearance or personality. At this point I also do basic worldbuilding and research with more notes. After that comes the rough plot outlines; for previous books I’ve done chapter outlines, but recently I’ve switched to outlining scenes.
Then I write, and of course everything shifts. The world gets more stuff, more research detail is needed, minor characters start hogging more story, other characters pop up out of the blue (and sometimes get diabolically killed off) and the outlines get rearranged.
As for character development, I tend to progress organically with that, feeling out the character’s reactions as the story happens and letting their personality form in my head. And then wishing halfway through the novel that they shut up and stop bothering me at odd hours.
Tell us about your current project.
I’ve moved away from my recent Saga of the Outer Islands series (book one of that trilogy is my SPFBO entry) with another project. The new book is the first in a planned historical fantasy series, The Obsidian Blade, and is set in 15th century Venice. The main character, Cristiano da Ravenna, is an assassin with dark secrets working for the Council of Ten to keep the city safe from paranormal threats. In book one, Masks and Shadows, he is tasked with finding a sorcerer planning to murder members of the elite classes. There’s political intrigue, fights, spies, betrayal, a little magic, and a struggle for control of the city.
Is this your first entry into SPFBO? If not, how many times have you entered?
Yes, this is my first time entered in SPFBO. It’s been great fun so far, meeting new authors and checking out the blogs. My book, Ghosts of the Sea Moon, is up against some stiff competition with such a great selection of books this year, but they are a fantastic bunch and I’m honoured to be included. And I will say my TBR list has definitely grown.
Who would you say is the main character of your novels? And tell me a little bit about them!
The main character in Ghosts of the Sea Moon and the other books in the Saga of the Outer Islands trilogy is Captain Rafe Morrow. He is a swashbuckler and captain of the sailing ship, Celestial Jewel, who also happens to be the God of Souls. He is far more comfortable being a sailor than a god or dealing with his highly dysfunctional family. Yet, he feels an obligation to do his duty and protect the Outer Islands from the monsters and other threats.
What advice would you give new writers on how to delve into creative fiction?
Don’t fuss over the first draft, trying to get every sentence perfect. Write the story. Get the bare bones down. The beauty comes in the revisions and editing.
What real-life inspirations did you draw from for the worldbuilding within your book?
Ghosts of the Sea Moon, and indeed the series, was inspired by Greek, Norse, and Celtic myth and stories of ghost ships. A lot of the world is drawn from the 18th and 19th century sailing ships and the coastal life of that period. Much of the basis of the book came from Nova Scotian history and our long tradition of fishermen, sailors, and our folklore.
What inspires you to write?
Heck if I know. Weird stuff just pops into my head, often at inconvenient times. I write it down and persistent characters start talking to me until I write their stories.
What was the hardest part of writing this book?
Getting the ending done in Ghosts was the most challenging because it was this god vs. god showdown, the culmination of the sibling animosity that had been building in the book. I wanted to let both of their powers loose, equally matched, in this big fight scene, but at the same time I had to keep it restrained and not devastate the surrounding world. It took me about a month and a half to figure out the details and they ended up duking it out in the sky on a… whoops, spoilers. I was also a bit ambivalent writing the final conclusion as well, as it was low key. I knew it worked, but I took my time to make sure it flowed and came off in a believable manner.
What is your routine when writing, if any? If you don’t follow a routine, why not?
I try to follow a routine, I do, but life and distractions and my bad habit of procrastination get in the way far too often. But I make an effort to write most every day, at least something, even if it’s a small amount.
What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?
My favourite part of the book to write was when Hugh and the Goddess of the Moon have their chats. It’s two people who should be on opposite sides suddenly understanding each other. And you get to see more sympathetic sides to characters which up to that point were antagonistic and somewhat self-centered.
Did you learn anything from writing this book and what was it?
I learned quite a lot on how a tall ship is built and how such vessels were sailed and maneuvered, which was fun. I also discovered far too much on calculating distance and speed and other not fun, math related things (luckily I found an online distance calculator that saved my sanity). Plus I found out the speed of an octopus and that epic god battles are a pain and a half to write.
Are you a plotter or a pantser? A gardener or an architect?
I’m a bit of both. I like to outline and worldbuild before I begin writing, but inevitably things morph and adapt during the writing. In the Saga of the Outer Islands trilogy, my antagonist changed his motivation halfway through book two (and revealed a major shocker) which caused a new plot point to be added to Souls of the Dark Sea and a rewrite to the series ending.
It’s sometimes difficult to get into understanding the characters we write. How do you go about it?
That is the least difficult thing for me. The character voices are in my head, and part of my process is visualizing who they are. I know what they’ll say, how they’ll react, if they are outgoing, introverted, nice, mean, aloof, etc.; I generally know their backstory and their emotional baggage before I start to write.
What are your future project(s)?
I have several projects on the go at the moment. My current WIP and the rest of the Obsidian Blade series, my contemporary Arthurian fantasy series, The Camelot Immortals, a steampunk horror/fantasy series, Vampires of the British Empire, and a duology, Realm of the Fallen. Plus I have another steampunk series on the back burner, Hellfire Shadows.
What is your favorite book ever written? Who are your favorite authors?
My favourite book is Sailing to Sarantium by Guy Gavriel Kay. It is a beautiful, lyrical novel of history, fantasy, and extraordinary characters. Guy Gavriel Kay is also one of my favourite authors in a perpetual tie with Neil Gaiman for the top spot. I also love Morgan Llywelyn, Jennifer Roberson, Ray Bradbury and Andy Peloquin.
What makes a good villain?
A good villain needs to be a person with a full emotional range. They need reasons for their actions, be it greed, madness, ideology, self-obsession or something else, they need to reflect some familiar characteristics that will connect with a reader. If they just cackle maniacally while twirling their moustaches and uttering evil proclamations they aren’t a character but a caricature. A good villain thinks he’s the one that’s right, that his way of thinking is superior, but he still reacts, feels and suffers like anyone else.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I like to read, of course, and I watch TV and go to the movies. I also do some art and graphic design.
If you couldn’t be an author, what ideal job would you like to do?
I’d be an artist. I love painting and working with Photoshop on graphics and other art.
You can travel to any planet or moon in the Solar System. Where would you go, why and what would you do there?
Poor Pluto seems to be the odd man out these days with it being a planet and not being a planet. So I’d go there and put a satellite in orbit that broadcasts a message, saying “I am too a planet. So there.”
Pick any three characters from a fiction novel. These are now your roadtrip crew. Where do you go and what do you do?
I’d take F’lar, Lessa, and Jaxom (from Dragonriders of Pern) and get them to take me on a dragon flight around Pern. And then we’d have a picnic.
Finally, 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)?
I’m quite a few places online, but the easiest place to find me is either my Facebook page or my Facebook group, A. F. Stewart’s Minions. You can find the links to all my sites listed here: https://linktr.ee/afstewart