Getting close to the end of the year! Today I’m with Darian Smith, one of our SPFBO finalists!
First of all, tell me about yourself! What do you write?
My name is Darian Smith and I’m the author of Kalanon’s Rising, one of the SPFBO finalists this year. I’m a New Zealand author and I usually write fantasy – often mixed with other things. The series I’m writing at the moment is murder mysteries in a fantasy world.
How do you develop your plots and characters?
I’m a planner so I do have character sheets and a scene-by-scene breakdown of how I want it to go. That is pretty fluid though and the characters feed into the plot a lot. When I’m at the planning stage there are pieces of paper with words and post-it notes strewn across the house. It’s a bit of a mess, to be honest, but it makes sense to me. Mostly.
Tell us about your current project.
I’m currently working on the third book in the Agents of Kalanon series. There’s another bunch of murders for Brannon and the others to solve and some more secrets from their pasts to be revealed. One of Draeson’s big secrets gets exposed in this book so that’s fun.
Is this your first entry into SPFBO? If not, how many times have you entered?
This was my first time entering. A good friend and fellow writer told me about SPFBO and suggested I enter – and I’m glad I did! It’s been a great competition not just for the good fortune of getting to the finals but also for connecting with many other wonderful writers.
Who would you say is the main character of your novels? And tell me a little bit about them!
Brannon is the main character although it’s a bit of an ensemble cast. He was a war hero and people still refer to him as Bloodhawk, but he feels bad about what he had to do to protect his country and has retrained as a physician since the war ended in an attempt to balance the scales. Duty is very important to him though and when he is called on to solve the murder of a royal family member, he will do whatever it takes to get the job done – especially since failing to do so could restart the war.
What advice would you give new writers on how to delve into creative fiction?
Read heaps, learn heaps about story structure and the craft of writing, and remember that, while people talk about talent, writing is also a skill and skills require practice to build up.
What real-life inspirations did you draw from for the worldbuilding within your book?
Because the characters in my world come from a variety of different countries, I wanted their cultural backgrounds to reflect that. I drew inspiration from elements of renaissance Europe for Kalanon, elements of Asia for Nilar, and elements of African and Pacific nations for the Djin. But of course this is a fantasy world so they’re elements of culture and aesthetic that I twisted, changed, and adapted as a starting point for my world – they’re in no way intended to represent those places or people. I also wanted to show how the two enemy nations were in many ways similar despite their differences and drew inspiration from real-life religion to do that. In the Agents of Kalanon world, both Kalanon and Nilar follow the same three gods but some of the ways they pay respect to those gods are different. For example, Nilarians wear hats so the gods have something pretty to look at when they gaze down on humanity and Kalans don’t. They differ on the origin story of one of the gods as well. Real life religious history is full of tiny differences that get blown into huge cultural significance and cause wars despite the people essentially following the same root religion that espouses kindness to everyone. It shows how silly humans can be at latching onto things to hate each other for.
What inspires you to write?
I’ve always written. It’s been a love-hate relationship at times but I’ve always made up stories in my head and over the years I’ve gotten better at writing them. All sorts of things will spark an idea and then it sits in the back of my mind until it coalesces into something useable. Some story ideas take longer than others to go through that process!
What was the hardest part of writing this book?
Like most books – finding the time and energy to actually sit myself down and do it. I still have a day job that pays most of the bills and is demanding of my focus so it’s easy to lose the balance that allows me to keep some of myself back to be creative with.
What is your routine when writing, if any? If you don’t follow a routine, why not?
I try to do a little writing each evening. I’m not a particularly fast writer but I tend to edit as I go so when I’m finished it’s a pretty clean draft. That means I’ve had to learn not to get too uptight about comparing myself to some writers who knock out thousands of words in an hour because I know if I did that I would end up deleting most of them. When I’m away from my day job I can get much more written – partly because obviously I have more time and energy and partly because momentum is a real thing for a writer!
What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?
Writing the action/climax parts is always exciting. But also I love writing the banter between characters. When that’s sparking it’s as much fun for me as a writer as it is for a reader. I’ll quite often wander out to my wife and be like “OMG, you’ll never guess what <insert sassy character here> just said!”
Did you learn anything from writing this book and what was it?
That scenes with a lot of characters present are hard! It can be tricky to make sure they’re all present and contributing and it took a bit of work to get the balance right in places.
Are you a plotter or a pantser? A gardener or an architect?
I’m definitely a plotter. I’m not a fan of the plotting process as such – it kinda feels like pulling teeth – but I like having a clear idea of where I’m going with the story and given that I’m writing mysteries I need to know where to plant the clues. I also find that once my brain is freed from having to come up with the main plot points, it can start coming up with fun little details for each scene that I probably wouldn’t have thought of if I was having to figure out the broad strokes of the plot as I went.
It’s sometimes difficult to get into understanding the characters we write. How do you go about it?
This is where I believe my counselling training has been really beneficial for me. I use a lot of the counselling theory and psychology to develop my characters and make sure I have a good grasp of how they tick. I even teach workshops on the subject and have written a book called The Psychology Workbook for Writers: Tools for Creating Realistic Characters and Conflict in Fiction. Basically I perverted my education to create drama rather than help resolve it as was intended – but only in fiction! In real life I use these powers for good. Honest. Mostly. 😉
What are your future project(s)?
More Agents of Kalanon books. And a young adult novel set in New Zealand. I have a couple of other series in mind as well. I’m never short of ideas!
What is your favorite book ever written? Who are your favorite authors?
Oh that’s a hard one. I like so many books and so many authors but also my tastes have changed and evolved as I’ve gotten older so there are some books that I love for nostalgia’s sake that wouldn’t necessarily be as appealing to me had I picked them up for the first time now. I grew up in the time of David Eddings and Terry Pratchett and Anne McCaffery and Mercedes Lackey and loved them all. These days I lean more towards Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series and the like. I don’t think I could pick one favourite.
What makes a good villain?
This isn’t a particularly new concept but I think a villain who doesn’t think of themselves as a villain is great. They need as much character development as the heroes – maybe more, since they need a compelling reason to do things most people would immediately label as bad. A one dimensional psychopath who is all “Mwa-haha, I’m going to destroy the world because I’m just bad and I can” is boring. Someone who has a compelling emotional and relatable reason for doing what they do is much more interesting as a villain.
And if they’re witty. Witty bad guys are cool.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
What is this “spare time” you speak of? Haha. No, seriously, I’m pretty normal, I guess. I hang out with my wife, a few friends, watch TV, sometimes go rock climbing, play Pokemon Go, and have gotten more into baking recently.
If you couldn’t be an author, what ideal job would you like to do?
Weirdly enough, my Myers Briggs personality test results said I was ideally suited to being a writer or a counsellor. And I’m both. So…go figure.
You can travel to any planet or moon in the Solar System. Where would you go, why and what would you do there?
Assuming I have acquired the ability to survive in space and whatnot, I’d probably pick one an ice moon like Saturn’s Enceladus just to check out the formations in the ice. I’ve been on a glacier before and that was pretty cool so an entire moon of that would be spectacular. Plus it has tiger stripes so…what’s not to love?
Pick any three characters from a fiction novel. These are now your roadtrip crew. Where do you go and what do you do?
Let’s say Anna from L. E. Modesitt’s Spellsong Cycle because you know the carpool karaoke is gonna get real. Then Ron Weasley as long as he brings that flying car. Also Sioned from Melanie Rawn’s Dragon Prince series because there’s always going to be sunstrike on a road trip so someone who can turn sunlight into something useful has to be handy. As for where we would go…anywhere we like! We have a flying car!
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 probably most often on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/DarianSmithAuthor/ but also on Twitter and Instagram as @DarianWordSmith
My website is www.darian-smith.com and has a blog on it which I sporadically post to.