Hey guys, back with a new interview! Let’s just get right down to it. Today’s interview is with Ryan Howse, and I hope you all enjoy it! Stay tuned for a special blog tour happening this Friday….
First of all, tell me about yourself! What do you write?
I’m Ryan Howse. I wrote the SPFBO semi-finalist The Steel Discord and The Alchemy Dirge. The Steel Discord is a magitech train heist, and The Alchemy Dirge is a fantasy noir. These books are my attempt to make a truly fantastical setting without losing a sense of being grounded. They’re stand-alones in the same world, which lets me show off different parts of the setting and different sorts of protagonists.
How do you develop your plots and characters?
I want the plots to develop as a result of something the characters have done. It can be an active choice or an unintended consequence, but the main thrust of the plot is caused by the protagonist.
And of course, you need to conceive of a protagonist who could both cause that and find an interesting way to crawl out of it.
Tell the world about your current project!
My most recent book out for sale is The Alchemy Dirge. Here’s the pitch:
In Aeon, everything can be had for a price.
In this city of guilds, conspiracies, and artifice, the cost can be more than gold.
Salai Pavane, alchemist and inventor, wants to create a printing press to lift his fellow citizens to a better world. Desperate to fund his invention, he pushes the boundaries of alchemy to sell on the black market. In doing so, he accidentally produces the most dangerous weapon the world has ever known.
Success is more dangerous than failure. Now he’s pursued by anarchists who want his formula, the Ministry who wants him imprisoned, and assassins who want him dead.
The Alchemy Dirge is book two of A Concerto For the End of Days, though as mentioned each book stands alone with different protagonists and different settings.
I wrote a very different book after those two and before The Vivus Nocturne as a palate cleanser. It’s called Red in Tooth and Claw, and it’s about two men from opposite sides of a war having to rely on each other to survive in a harsh wilderness similar to Northern Canada. It’s a fantasy in a late Neolithic period, with the earliest settlements forming. Magic may or may not exist, but it’s certainly not the formalized, almost scientific one found in my other books. It’s intended to be similar to stories like The Revenant, man against nature. It will be out later this year.
Who would you say is the main character of your latest novel? And tell me a little bit about them!
The protagonists of The Alchemy Dirge, my latest release, are a drug-addicted alchemist and a black market arcana merchant. The alchemist is working on inventing the first printing press, in the hopes of helping raise his community out of its impoverished status. The merchant wants more lenient laws regarding his arcane goods, because he simply doesn’t believe they should be illegal.
The main characters of Red in Tooth and Claw are Agash, the son of the ruler of a city, who is often overwhelmed with a rage he refers to as the red, and Chemosh, a broken prisoner of war from a nomadic tribe who has spent too much time confined to a dungeon.
Have you been to any conventions? If so, tell me a little about them!
I went to two World Fantasies, back in 2012 and 2013. They were great! I met a wonderful group of friends I still talk to at the first one and most of us managed to make the second as well.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
It’s always been there.
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?
Antarctica. I like the cold.
What advice would you give new writers?
There’s so much advice out there for new writers, and so much of it is overly broad. I’ll say there are guidelines, not rules, and that the most important question you can ask yourself as a writer is “Can I justify this?”
What real-life inspirations did you draw from for the worldbuilding?
With Red and Tooth and Claw, the setting is basically Northern Canada in winter. With The Alchemy Dirge I did a lot of research on Gutenberg and the origins of the printing press.
What inspires you to write?
Good writing. When a passage hits me so I feel the hair on my arms thrumming, I want to do that to someone else.
What is the hardest part of writing for you?
First drafts. Outlines come easy, and I honestly enjoy editing.
What is your routine when writing, if any? If you don’t follow a routine, why not?
I didn’t have a routine for many years, because I worked shift work and it was impossible. But no longer. Now I have a normal schedule but also children, so much of my writing gets done in the evening after they’re asleep.
What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write in any of your books, and why?
Three come to mind, but two are pretty big spoilers deep into the books, so I’ll go with the opening of Red in Tooth and Claw. It’s the slowest start to a book I’ve ever done, and likely ever will do—it is simply one character’s mind unraveling due to his long solitary confinement.
Did you learn anything from writing your latest book? If so, what was it?
I’m going to use that last answer as a springboard for this one. My first few books started with action. The Alchemy Dirge definitely slowed down and felt like a more comfortable opening, but Red in Tooth and Claw brought it home. Give the reader a chance to acclimatize to the book, the character, and the setting, before pushing action and drastic changes.
Of course, this depends on the book, but I think mine have improved from considering that more carefully.
Are you a plotter or a pantser? A gardener or an architect?
It depends on the book. I had thorough outlines for The Steel Discord from start to finish—in fact, I recently found some old notebooks and realized just how closely I’d kept to that. With The Alchemy Dirge I plotted to the end of Act One, wrote it, then plotted Act Two, and so on. It worked for that book. Red in Tooth and Claw had almost no outlining, and given its nature, needed none.
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?
Let’s be honest—I’m not writing with a caffeine withdrawal headache. In my younger days I’d throw heavy metal on, but now it’s likely just ambient or classical music anyhow.
Which is your favorite season to write in, and why?
I don’t think this has ever been an issue for me!
(That said, *reading* outside in the fall is amazing. It feels like the perfect season for classic fantasy.)
It’s sometimes difficult to get into understanding the characters we write. How do you go about it?
Mostly, understanding comes from three simple things and how they interact: their goals, their history, and their personality. If I’m using their POV, I also want to highlight the specific things they’d notice, and often elide over things they’d not really care about.
What are your future project(s)?
Well, the next up in the series is The Vivus Nocturne, which is still in its early stages. Vivus is an essential component in magic in my setting, and this book will take place in an isolated town where they mine Vivus. The protagonist is the town’s healer, and she’s also the mother of one of the side characters in The Steel Discord.
What is your favorite book ever written?
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco or The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky.
Who are your favorite authors?
I feel like Matthew Stover never got the fame he deserved. I’ve read everything Mieville’s done, minus the textbook on international law. Also part of my daughter’s name comes from Catherynne Valente.
What makes a good villain?
There are a lot of good answers to this. It’s all context-dependent. There are great villains who are there to be foils to the protagonist, and show how simply they could have become villains. There are dark lords who simply exist to create dread and show the small heroics to be all the brighter. There are multi-faceted, justified villains whose POV you understand. They all have their place.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Obviously reading and writing. In addition to that, I play a lot of tabletop RPGs—D&D, 7th Sea, Burning Wheel, Numenera, and plenty of others. In this time of social distancing we’ve been figuring out how to do it over discord instead of in person. Also video games—I just finished Control, which was great.
If you couldn’t be an author, what ideal job would you like to do?
I’d dig making RPGs as well, but that’s no more likely to earn money.
Coffee or Tea? Or (exult deep breath) what other drink do you prefer, if you like neither?
I drink absurd amounts of coffee.
You can travel to anywhere in the universe. Where would you go, and why?
Antarctica! I said I like the cold.
Do you have any writing blogs you recommend?
In my younger days I followed quite a few. Not so much anymore.
Do you have any writer friends you’d like to give a shoutout to?
Sure! Dyrk Ashton, Josiah Bancroft, Laura Hughes, TL Greylock, Travis Peck, Deston Munden, Krista Ball, and plenty of others.
Pick any three fiction characters. These are now your roadtrip crew. Where do you go and what do you do?
Squirrel Girl, Miles O’Brien, and Rupert Giles. No drama there. And assuming the fictional places these people live in exist, let’s go to the Savage Land and check out those dinosaurs. (Squirrel Girl can keep everyone alive.)
What superpower would you most like?
Teleportation. Partially just because I have friends all over the world now (not that I could see them mid-pandemic) but also because Nightcrawler is the best.
What are two of your favorite covers of all time? (Not your own.)
I cannot honestly overstate the importance of Dave McKean’s cover of Blade of Tyshalle by Matthew Stover. I never would have looked at that book twice without that cover, and it ended up being one of my favorite books of all time.
I can’t think of a second absolute favorite, though I’ll say Jeff VanderMeer’s Dead Astronauts was the most eye-catching one I’ve found recently.
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?
More than anything else, I want my kids to be able to go see their grandparents, play with other kids, libraries, playgrounds, all that good stuff.
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 on twitter at twitter.com/RyanHowse and goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15262976.Ryan_Howse
Thanks for having me!