The Flames of Nevyana blog tour begins today (full schedule here), and it kicks off in grand style with a fun interview I did for Susan Heim on Writing. Susan is also running a giveaway, so head over there to enter that if you’d interested in a free copy of Flames of Nevyana (and who wouldn’t be?).
Here’s the interview part of my guest post over there, which also includes an excerpt.
You’ve written more than 50 books! How do you find the time to be so prolific? What is your writing schedule like?
It’s funny, people think I’m prolific, but to myself I feel lazy—I always think I could be really prolific if I tried.
The truth is, there are two elements to my prolificity. The first is simply the fact that I’m a full-time writer, and have been for…let’s see…23 years as of this writing. All I do is write, so naturally I have more time to do it. The second element is speediness. I’ve written a 100,000-word novel in a month (Shadows, second in my fantasy trilogy The Masks of Aygrima, written as E.C. Blake and published by DAW Books), and earlier this year I wrote a 60,000-word novel in two and a half weeks (Door into Faerie, the fifth and final book in my YA fantasy series The Shards of Excalibur, published by Coteau Books). When all is going well, I write about 1,500 to 2,000 words an hour. That adds up in a hurry.
My writing schedule depends on what I’m working on. I’m not always writing. I write a lot of non-fiction as well as fiction, so often I’m researching instead of writing. When I do get into the writing, I usually put in about four hours a day, in a couple of sessions. I like to write on my laptop out of my office—in a coffee shop or (ahem) bar—when I’m working on fiction. When I’m working on non-fiction, I’m more likely to work at home because I need to spread out reference materials on my desk.
The rest of my day is taken up with email, driving my daughter to and from school/dance/musical rehearsals, playing with the cat (very important), posting to social media, reading, etc.
How did you get the idea for this book?
I was driving from my home town of Regina, Saskatchewan, to Meadow Lake, about 500 kilometres further north, to do a reading at the library. Whenever I’m on my own in the car on a long trip I do a lot of thinking about writing, and on this occasion I deliberately set myself the task of coming up with a new idea for a YA fantasy novel. I got to thinking about Arthur C. Clarke’s famous dictum that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” and that led me to think that our mastery of electricity would certainly seem like magic to someone from the Middle Ages. From there it was a short leap to the idea of a magic system based on electricity. In my book, Blue Fire is definitely magic, and is controlled through magical means, but it’s clearly electricity, too. With that idea in mind, I began my usual process of asking myself questions about the world: how would Blue Fire be used? How did the people learn to harness it? Who might be harmed or benefit from it? By the time I got to Meadow Lake, I had the broad outlines of the story sketched out in my head. I think I even talked about it in my presentation that night.
You also write and perform in plays. How does playwriting differ from novel writing?
The biggest difference is that plays are told almost entirely through dialogue. There’s no opportunity to explain what’s going on through paragraphs of exposition; anything you want the audience to know has to somehow be worked into dialogue, without falling into the trap of characters explaining to each other things they already know as denizens of the world of the stage. There are also technical limits. In a novel, I can write, “The sky turned black and began to rain fire.” Nine words, and a vivid mental image. Yet on stage, that effect is nigh impossible to achieve. Special effects of any kind on stage are difficult, expensive, and prone to not working. You end up, again, depending on dialogue: one character telling another how she felt when the sky turned black and began to rain fire.
As an actor and director, when I write plays I’m always conscious of how it can be staged. The simpler you can make the staging and set, the more likely you can find a company to produce the play. That said, if your characters and dialogue are fascinating enough, and your actors skilled enough, they can perform on an empty stage and still make the play a success. As a friend of mine who directs musicals likes to say, “Nobody ever left the theatre humming the scenery.”
To flip things around, though, I think that being an actor and director helps my novel-writing. When I critique or edit, a common problem I encounter is a scene where characters seem to “float”—you’re never sure exactly where they are within their setting. This can be disconcerting if, say, a character is looking out a window one second, and the next is staring into the fire—but there’s been no description of him transitioning from the one location to the next. In my mind, as I write scenes, I’ve always got a firm idea of where each character is in relation to all the others, and I think that useful skill has been honed through directing plays, where the positioning of actors on the stage is vital to the success of a scene.
Which is your first love: writing or performing?
Performing is more fun, but writing is ultimately more rewarding. The reward of performing is immediate, and wrapped up in the joy of the craft itself: of inhabiting another character’s skin for a while, of singing a song beautifully, of moving an audience to laughter or tears and, hopefully, applause. That’s all wonderful, but it’s ephemeral. The play is done, the audience goes home, the moment is gone.
The reward of writing is more subtle, but far more enduring. As a writer, I still inhabit the skin of other characters. If I write a scene beautifully, I may still move my audience to laughter or tears. In that way it’s similar to performing. On the down side, I am seldom made aware of my success: the occasional review, the occasional email from a satisfied reader. But on the up side, and the reason I say writing is more rewarding, a book may last, essentially, forever. William Shakespeare was an actor as well as a playwright, but it is his words that have endured, not his acting. Nobody will remember me as an actor in fifty years (the art of a stage actor is seldom recorded for posterity; movie and TV actors have a better chance of being remembered), but my books will still be around, still finding new audiences, and still moving them to laughter or tears.
Why do you find the science fiction and fantasy genres particularly appealing as a writer?
I write what I love to read. I have two older brothers, and they both read science fiction when I was growing up. I wanted to be like them, so I started reading it too—and I was immediately hooked, as is evident from the title of my first science fiction story, written when I was 11 years old: “KastraGlazz, Hypership Test Pilot.”
For me, writing fiction strictly about the here and now, or the recent past, seems incredibly limiting, like typing while wearing a straitjacket. Science fiction and fantasy allow my imagination free rein; any time in the past, the present or the distant future and any place in this universe or any other are available to me as settings; creatures both human and non-human are at my beck and call to serve as characters; and there is no idea so outré that it cannot be couched in science fiction or fantasy terms and turned into a story.
For me, the question, “Why do you write science fiction and fantasy?” has never made much sense. The obvious question to me is, “Why doesn’t everyone?”