Keeping em’ coming, my friends! Today I bring an interview with a good friend of mine and fellow author, Ulff Lehmann. His book Shattered Dreams is high up on my TBR list, watch this space 🙂
First of all, tell me about yourself! What do you write?
Words… I write words.
OK, that’s kind of very generic and vague, but funny at the same time. I could say I write fantasy stories, for the most part, and while that would be correct, it only scratches the surface. Most fantasy novels I’ve read, we’re dealing with a hero or heroes (and heroines) saving the world, or dinner… it’s pretty formulaic. So formulaic in fact, that I stopped reading fantasy for the most part.
I know, I know, people will say that the way is what matters, after all, even in crime novels it’s usually a murder or ten that need solving. Call me jaded, but at least in crime fiction, I get to figure out whodunnit alongside the investigators, so while formulaic, to a degree, such stories give me a means to stretch my mind.
I write such stories, in a fantasy setting. I want my readers to think, to be emotionally attached to what shit the characters are going through.
I write stories. With words. Lots of words.
How do you develop your plots and characters?
I play what if. Basically I toss the proverbial pebble into the pond and see what the ripples do. The characters come to me, don’t ask me how, I have no idea, and most times I get to know them during the story. I figure out who they are while writing, and they tell me what they want to do. Sounds crazy, I know, but I have very little influence over their decisions.
This one time, in band camp… no, seriously, there were a few times when characters literally turned around and pretty much told me to fuck off, that they wouldn’t do what I wanted them to do. So I asked them, so to speak, trying to figure out what they would do, and it worked. Made the story more convoluted, but it’s realistic in its approach.
The adventuring group is so bloody fucking arbitrary and annoying, imagine Samwise Gamgee having a mind of his own and actually telling Frodo he can go fuck himself at the gates of Moria, that he is afraid for his father and he wants to return home. A perfectly reasonable decision for everyone, but since Tolkien never really delved into the internal workings of most characters, it was always follow the wizard.
Tell the world about your current project!
The world… wow. I know a lot about it, its creation, history, and that sort of thing, but I only have the map you find in the novels. Everything else is sort of vague in my mind. Since the story only takes place in that small area, I never bothered with mapping out more. It’s a world with a great many similarities to Dark Ages Europe, there was one dominant civilization (Elven) but it vanished, and while there are still monuments of this civilization around, roads etc, humans are pretty barbaric in comparison.
There are still elves around, but since humans are idiots, the elves keep to themselves most of the time. At least in the area the story is taking place.
The roads, the Old Elven Roads, are, like most of the elven culture, adapted from Ancient Rome. So you have these “highways” crisscrossing the land in almost perfect straight lines, built by master craftsmen, while humans mostly live in timber frame, wattle daub houses, with very few people living in stone buildings.
And unlike what some people are saying, the roots of the world do not lie with Germanic terms etc but Celtic. Just saying 😀
Who would you say is the main character of your latest novel? And tell me a little bit about them!
Like all the other novels before that, Drangar Ralgon. Drangar is a broken man, suffering from depression, guilt, self loathing. In other words, he’s a bloody mess. And he’s got problems with some force possessing his body every once in a while, on top of that. He also was a shepherd.
Have you been to any conventions? If so, tell me a little about them!
Sadly, no. I’m suffering from social phobias, so I haven’t been to any conventions in the past almost 2 decades.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
It never was a question of wanting to be a writer. It was a matter of needing to write so that I would not commit suicide.
If you had the opportunity to live anywhere in the world for a year while writing a book that took place in that same setting, where would you choose?
Scotland or Iceland.
What advice would you give new writers?
Read bad books, a lot of them. Figure out why they suck, and then avoid the mistakes. The trick is, you won’t know they suck until years later.
What real-life inspirations did you draw from for the worldbuilding?
As I said before, the world is steeped with Gaelic/Celtic names, and the human society is reminiscent of Dark Ages after the fall of Rome. Elven society is for all intents and purposes very much derived from Ancient Rome, but as with everything else, I twist everything around.
I also read a lot of history books, and since I live near 3 castles, the inspiration is pretty much at my doorstep.
What inspires you to write?
Everything and nothing. I observe our world, and take whatever strikes my fancy from it, and implement it, somehow. I just recently finished a story about a virus/plague. The editor of said anthology told me about it, and I pretty much implemented my real world knowledge and my thought processes on the topic into my world, and voila a short story was written.
What is the hardest part of writing for you?
Getting to the computer.
What is your routine when writing, if any? If you don’t follow a routine, why not?
It used to be waking up, breakfast in front of the TV, one drama episode, two episodes of a sitcom, then shower accompanied by loud metal music, then getting dressed to one particular song (The Blood of CuChulain), off to my favorite café for a large cappuccino and an hour of reading, then home to write. At 3 Euro per cappuccino, writing 6 days a week, you can imagine that it became too expensive soon enough.
Nowadays, I stick to the breakfast and TV bit, and also the loud music shower bit, but then I just get dressed and sit down to write… if I do it.
What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write in any of your books, and why?
They are all favorites, they have to be, otherwise they wouldn’t have stayed in the book. But there are some passages in Shattered Dreams, sentences really, that I adore most of all. “No death is as slow as life.” And “Complacency is the greatest foe of peace.” These two are pretty much my favorites
Did you learn anything from writing your latest book? If so, what was it?
Sometimes you need to accept that you have to redo the entire thing.
Are you a plotter or a pantser? A gardener or an architect?
Pantser and architect. Architect for the world, I need to know it makes sense. One of the things that really pisses me off in far too many fantasy books, and the reason I pretty much stopped reading fantasy, is the mishmash of weaponry and armor, and the utter disregard for historicity. One could say “ah, but it’s fantasy” and they might have a point, but when I read slashing weapon against chainmail armor, I throw the towel, and the book.
If you had to give up either snacks and drinks during writing sessions, or music, which would you find more difficult to say goodbye to?
I rarely drink or eat during writing sessions, so that’s an easy choice.
Which is your favorite season to write in, and why?
Anything not summer. Because it’s colder outside. I’m no heat merchant, and my apartment gets toasty in the summer.
It’s sometimes difficult to get into understanding the characters we write. How do you go about it?
Nah, I understand them pretty well, and if I don’t, I ask. I’ve observed people all my life, how they act, why they act the way they do etc. So I have a firm grasp on motivation, and as such understanding them and their actions flows naturally.
What are your future project(s)?
I’m currently working on book 4 of my Light in the Dark series, followed by book 5. Then I plan to follow the storylines I had to abandon by necessity when writing the series.
What is your favorite book ever written?
A Game of Thrones, it showed me that what I needed to write was possible.
Who are your favorite authors?
Robert E. Howard, Val McDermid, Troy Denning, George R.R. Martin, Tad Williams.
What makes a good villain?
I hate the concept of villain, it’s a trope that needs to be dismantled. Every character has a reason to behave the way they do, and one person’s hero is another person’s villain.
Take the standard trope of the paladin, he’s good, right? Is he still good when he butchers a village of orc farmers? After all, they are orcs. He’s evil to the survivors of that slaugher. So is he a villain? Hero?
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Netflix, music, books…
If you couldn’t be an author, what ideal job would you like to do?
The answer might be unsettling. If I couldn’t be an author, I would most likely be dead.
Coffee or Tea? Or (exult deep breath) what other drink do you prefer, if you like neither?
Tea. My stomach can’t handle vast amounts of coffee anymore. Pretty much shot it up by drinking too much of it. And not the pansy assed coffee most people make, but the one where you use at least one big spoon per cup, and then sacrifice another spoon for the coffee gods. So yea, tea.
You can travel to anywhere in the universe. Where would you go, and why?
Star Trek TNG, no more hunger, no more greed, just people who live to do what they would like to do.
Do you have any writing blogs you recommend?
Do you have any writer friends you’d like to give a shoutout to?
Charles Phipps, Troy Denning, David Wise, Susanne Fritsch.
Pick any three fiction characters. These are now your roadtrip crew. Where do you go and what do you do?
Bruce Waye (finances), Dr. Henry Jones Junior (aka Indiana) who needs travel guides?, and last but not least my own creation Bright-Eyes, the talking squirrel familiar. I’d love to go to Peru and explore Inca ruins.
What superpower would you most like?
Far reaching telepathy.
What are two of your favorite covers of all time? (Not your own.)
The original Elmore cover of Dragons of Winter Night, and Stone of Farewell by Michael Whelan.
It’s a very difficult time right now for the world. When quarantine and pandemic comes to an end, what is the first thing you would like to do?
I dunno… sit in the sun and eat ice cream at my favorite ice cream place.
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)?
So far Facebook is the most convenient way, but Twitter, and Instagram are also fine.