Sourcerer’s 11: Questions for Author Alex Hurst

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Welcome to the September edition of Sourcerer’s 11, our monthly interview series. I’m chatting today with fantasy, science, and speculative fiction author Alex Hurst. You can find her on WordPress at Alex-Hurst.com and on Twitter @AlexHurstTweets.

Meet Alex. She's cool.

Meet Alex. She’s cool.

Welcome, Alex!

Thank you! It’s an honor to be here. I’ve followed your blog for a long time, and was pretty chuffed when you asked to interview me.

Yay, us!  (Alex is the one speaking in boldface, just so you all know. I am speaking from here on out in italics. And I am pretty stoked about the fact that the word “chuffed” has just been used on my blog for the first time ever. Let’s do this thing!) 🙂 Q&A time!

Q.1: Earlier this summer, you released D.N.A., a serial, illustrated novella. As you know, we love illustrated fiction, sci-fi, and superheroes around here, so I’m intrigued. Can you tell us a little bit about D.N.A. and how it came about?

Art by Kevin Nichols

Art by Kevin Nichols. We almost went with the cover image, but thought the better of it and decided to do something special. We have more art from Kevin Nichols today 🙂

D.N.A. came about sometime in the latter part of last year. The fiction writing group I belong to had a call out for superhero-themed fiction, and that being a genre I’d always loved as a kid, I simply had to try to get a story in. D.N.A. was accepted into that anthology (Writers’ Anarchy III: Heroes & Villains), but is re-released now with minor alterations and a handful of illustrations.

I started the story with a concept (Alta’s “power,” but then decided to also use the world that rapidly developed as a vehicle for discussing feminism, LGBT, and social issues. Alta is a woman, a person of color, and a lesbian, and the story and characters all amount to the big question I hope to ponder with the series: What does it mean to be human?

Q2. Do you have another fiction project in the works you’d like to give us an early teaser for?

I have a few projects on the back burner right now, mainly because I don’t have the knowledge to move forward. My current novel-in-progress is a non-European epic fantasy told from the perspective of the villain, but it’s on a stall because I need to do some serious world building in regard to military and poverty functions within the regions.

Q.3 Since you live in Kyoto, I can’t pass up the opportunity to ask you about Japan. I’ve always had a fascination with Japanese culture, but I think we often get an overly-simplistic view of other cultures in the U.S. Can you tell us something interesting about life in Japan that the average North American could never learn from the television and travel literature?

Hm, I’ll have to think about that one for a second. There are a lot of things that many people find shocking or surprising about Japanese culture, but it really depends on how much the person has studied or what kind of person they are in general.

That being said, I think that most of the world would have the impression that Japan wastes very little. Just last week, I saw a NYT article that discussed the philosophy of “mottainai” or “Such a waste!” In theory, this is inline with what we learn about Japan. They recycle, they take care of their things, etc., etc. So, it was very surprising to me to find out, when I came here, that there are a lot of micro-wastes in the culture, like individually wrapping every cracker or cookie in a package, or triple shrink-wrapping electronics. Even books, when you go to the book store, are all shrink-wrapped with paper “obi,” or belts, which are all thrown away, generally.

Likewise, many restaurants don’t offer a doggy bag option for food that you can’t finish at the restaurant. Grocery stores won’t stock food that isn’t absolutely perfect, and tons of food simply gets thrown out every year. What it comes down to is that they are very good at not wasting some things, but not others, and I think that’s true of any country in the world.

Q.4 Let’s talk about blogging for a bit. Your Archetypes series is one of my favorite blog series of all time, and it seems to be generally well-received. How did you come up with that idea? And if you don’t mind sharing, how long do those posts take to produce?

There's an archetype to be found in this image, or a few. :-) Image by Kevin Nichols for D.N.A.

There’s an archetype to be found in this image, or a few. 🙂 Image by Kevin Nichols for D.N.A.

Well, thank you very much! I have a lot of fun writing those posts. I can’t actually remember much how it happened. I think I was looking at critical analyses of fairy tales and came across the terms “anima” and “animus,” and thought it’d make a good blog post. Then, because I was there anyway, I decided to have a look at Jung’s twelve archetypes, because I find them way more flexible than traditional stereotypes used to fill a cast.

The posts themselves don’t take long at all to introduce, but I did spend two days before starting the first one building the graphics. I decided ahead of time what sort of look I was going to go for, prebuilt the wheels and made a template for the featured banner. Since the images are done, it’s just a matter of filling in the text once a month. I usually start thinking about who I want to use for each archetype a few days before the post, and find the images on Google…. The actual writing of the posts takes about 4-6 hours, give or take, though the Creator post only took me one hour to churn out. I’m definitely a seat-of-the-pants blogger; shame my fiction writing doesn’t work the same way!

Q.5 Everyone who’s blogged for any length of time has favorite posts, and in my experience, bloggers’ favorite posts are rarely their most popular. In your own opinion, what’s the best post you’ve published so far?

Another hard question. I think my favorite post is another series that hardly got any love, Tackling Poe. I made that series my first year of blogging, though, and didn’t know anything of what I know now. I’m actually going to be repackaging the whole series over the next couple of years, now that I know how to push it properly.

Q.6 Most bloggers make a lot of mistakes in the early going, so those of us who have been at it for awhile usually have a list of things we’d do differently if we could go back to the beginning and start all over again. Do you have any tips to offer bloggers who are just getting started and want to be successful?

If I could do anything again, it would be deciding FIRST if I want a self-hosted domain or WP.com domain, because I switched three months in to self-hosted, and lost so many of the followers I’d struggled to gain in the beginning. 

I would also say participate in a couple, but not too many, weekly memes in order to meet people. However, the most important thing, to me, for any blog, is that your blog have something personal to say. Personal not just in the stories you tell, but in the voice you use to get them out there. Don’t be afraid to offend people, or not be interesting… just be you, and be honest.

Q.7 Since you write both fantasy and sci-fi, I’m curious to know which you prefer as a reader. Which do you read/enjoy more of, and do you have any favorite stories you’d like to share with us?

I’ve gone in and out with the genres I like. I was heavy into fantasy when I was younger, but I ended up finding so many problematic themes (mythical creatures as pets/pedestals, women having no other conflict than to be raped, etc) that I simply stopped reading the genre after 14. I’ve picked up some science fiction novels since then, but I mostly enjoy science fiction in short stories (see: Lightspeed: Women Destroy Science Fiction)

As far as my favorites, those are also variable. I’ve come to really enjoy the idea of Roger Zelazny’s Book of Amber, even if I found the writing ineffective. Right now, my heart is more with speculative fiction, as in Gaiman’s Neverwhere, or with fantasy, Brust’s Jhereg or Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, though I didn’t like the entirety of the end in the latter!

Q.8 You mention in your WordPress profile that you volunteer as an admin for the online community Fiction Writers Group. Since many of our readers are fiction writers, I think some of them might be interested to know what that community is about. Would you give us a brief run-down?

Sure, I’d be happy to! Fiction Writers Group is a Facebook community of authors from all around the globe. We currently have over 8,500 members, and we produce 2-3 anthologies a year that are only open to those in the group. I admin, I keep up with the website (writersanarchy.com) and do the proofreading and interior design for the anthologies. Definitely check out the website, because there’s way more information there, but my favorite part about the community is how generally helpful everyone is, and the mock publishing process we have for our Writers’ Anarchy series, which boasts no form rejections and the opportunity to resubmit after feedback. I think it really helps people take baby steps to a thicker skin!

One more from Kevin Nichols. If this ain't good art, I don't know what good art is.

One more from Kevin Nichols. If this ain’t good art, I don’t know what good art is.

Q.9 Any advice for writers, artists, and other creative folk who are struggling to break in and find a large audience for their work?

Have an idea for your audience, but don’t write with the intent of reaching a large audience. Write first with the intent to tell a good story, and have that story edited — not just proofread, but truly edited. Indie and self-published does NOT mean do everything yourself! There are a ton of resources out there. 🙂

Once you have your story the best it can be, then think about platform. I think there’s nothing for it but blood, sweat, and tears. Unfortunately the work isn’t over once you type The End. There will be many, many more hours of marketing and reviewer searching ahead of you…. but, don’t give up!

Q10: Give us your best elevator pitch. In four sentences or less, why should we read your stories?

I like to write about the human condition, and what it means to be human in an unhuman world. My works, no matter the genre, are character-driven more than plot -driven, but that doesn’t mean the plots are lacking! I like diversity, not just in skin tones and gender and disability, but also in personality, and the reactions and actions people who aren’t me would take in any given situation. If you’d like a free set of stories to read, check out my works on Out of Print. “Scalawag” and “Passing Over: The Handbook” are, I think, the best stories to read to get an idea as to my range. 

Q.11: If you could own one magical artifact or piece of out-of-this-world technology, large or small, from the simplest magic wand to a Death Star, what would it be?

I think Jim C. Hines answered this best with his Libriomancer series (imagine, pulling any loved item from any book ever written!), but If I had to choose one, and it couldn’t simply be a magical or supernatural skill, I’d want a wand from Harry Potter… a common answer, but there’s so much you can do with it! (As long as the Ministry of Magic isn’t on my trail, too!)

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Weekend Music: The King is Gone (But He’s Not Forgotten)

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Neil Young at Toronto. Notable for the excellence of the harmonica work. One of those songs no one except the person who wrote it can play correctly. You don’t want your kids to internalize this attitude, but it is a way of thinking the 60s and 70s produced in North America. Great performance here. Watching this video is like standing in front of a large monument.

On to business.

No business today. Stop by tomorrow for a Fear the Walking Dead post from Luther, and read his damn blog, y’all.

Coffee here on Sunday, and we’re working on some things for next week which might include a Sourcerer’s 11 interview with author/blogger extraordinaire Alex Hurst.

Have a great weekend!

Sourcerer’s Eleven: Questions for Author Joshua Robertson

Welcome to round three of Sourcerer’s Eleven. An interview series where contributors within the site get a shot in the big chair. The Instigator-In-Chief, Gene’o interviewed Luther Siler, who then put me through my paces, so now it’s my turn *rubs hands together*. In the hot seat today is Joshua Robertson, author of Melkorka (Book 1: Thrice Nine Legends), and A Midwinter Sellsword (Book 1: Hawkhurst Saga).

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  1. You recently released Gladiators and Thieves, book two of the Hawkhurst Saga. Can you tell us a little about that series and how it came about?

You will have to forgive me if I momentarily nerd rage. The story of Hawkhurst was never intended to be in my collection of stories. Hawkhurst first began as a politically-themed RPG MUD (Roleplaying Game Multi-User Dimension) played through text on a web-based platform. I spent an entire weekend creating a complex city from the ground up – detailed with theological and political underpinnings – vibrant with unique shops, guilds, and NPCs. Unfortunately, the group of players only were able to engage in the game for a few weeks. I could not let the creation go to waste, so I started restructuring the themes of the plot into an engaging tale.

MidwinterCover

The series is about Argus, the bastard child of House Madrin, who ran away from Hawkhurst years ago after being enslaved as a gladiator. Argus is tricked into returning to the underground city. He soon finds himself trapped and subjugated to the political games between the noble houses. In desperation, he is forced to trust old friends with hopes to escape again before anyone discovers his true identity.

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That’s a great origin story, and an extremely rewarding outlet for the nerd rage! For the plotters among us, it’s a dream come true – a whole platform with which to expand on. Those who know you, will be aware that you began crafting the world for your dark fantasy series Thrice Nice Legends in 1999. I really like the fact there’s a fan site for the series, and a TnL tabletop game. I’m going to leave the gaming element there for now. There are several contributors at Sourcerer who will be chomping at the bit to ask you questions so we’ll leave it for the thread!

  1. I had a great deal of fun on my visit into the world; Melkorka is a wonderful introduction to the series. I know the sequel Dyndaer will be released in January 2016. You’re also co-writing a standalone within the Thrice Nine Legends. How did that particular collaboration come about?    

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Ooo…there is a good question. You weren’t kidding about the hot seat! The TnL Game originated from a collaborative plan back in 2013, where my world was used as the primary setting. The game continues to be tweaked and play tested, but to answer your question – JC Boyd, the co-author to Anaerfell (the standalone novel) is also my partner in the TnL game. He and I developed an idea for a book in 2004 and Anaerfell is the final result of that original idea. Thrice Nine Legends will soon be better described as a shared universe (much like Dragonlance) with a series of stories taking place in the same world. Melkorka, Dyndaer, and the final book, Maharia (set to be released in 2017), will be a trilogy within The Kaelandur Series.

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  1. That is incredibly cool, it has to be said. I can see it now; novels, game accessories, films, audiobooks – a hugely exciting project in more ways than one! You recently set up your own company, a small press (Crimson Edge Publishing), specializing in Fantasy, Science Fiction, Dystopian Fiction, and Horror. That in itself takes considerable planning, not to mention the shared universe. What’s your secret when juggling all these projects (we can’t all have J.A.R.V.I.S) – is there a programme you use, a specific system, a container full of notes, an army of minions, how exactly do you keep everything straight?

That would be incredible. When I sell just one book, I’m like an 80s child discovering Q-Bert for the first time. If my stories ever made it to film, my mind would be blown! [And, I’d beg to be an actor in the movie.] As for keeping it straight, I wish I had something cool like JARVIS, but my budget only goes as far as sticky notes (the computer-widget kind). In all seriousness, I stick to a structured schedule for gym, writing, editing, publishing, marketing, family, and so on. I only deviate to fill the coffee pot.

  1. I have planners envy! I couldn’t stick to a schedule if it followed me around all day 🙂 I can totally appreciate the Q-Bert reference, and that feeling of excitement (though I was a Donkey Kong fan myself). But in all seriousness, when we writers dream, we tend to dream big…so I’m sure, if you don’t already have the full cast in your head, you have an idea of what your characters would look like on the screen. Do you have detailed character profiles, concept art, that kind of thing?

There have been several illustrators who have created rough concept art for Thrice Nine Legends, but there are no pictures of the characters found in the stories. I would be thrilled to have some fully framed, canvas images of the characters to hang up around my house. But, yes, I have files upon files of detailed character profiles. I have a short biography on each character that outlines their homeland, family and upbringing, major childhood events, adolescence and training, religion, romances, and motivations for the plot. The motivations are the most important! My kingdoms, cities, and other settlements are far more detailed than the characters, mirroring the same complexity as Hawkhurst. I have folders embedded in folders embedded in more folders that have been created over 15 years. However, despite all the information known about the world, a writer has to be clever in how the world is discovered with their characters. I once did a short interview on Building World and Story.

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  1. Thanks for providing a link to the interview. I enjoyed your views on the art of world building in fantasy, especially the section on inference. I also agree that a reader enjoys to learn with a character. We’ve established your admirable organisational skills (read the article, folks!) and it’s clear the worlds you create are as rich and diverse as our own. If you could bring one of your characters into this reality and teach them the ways of our particular universe, which one would you choose and why? Tell us about them – what job would they have and how would they adapt to their new surroundings?

I have to consider my main character, Branimir. He could not only use a little acculturation into the world of humans, but he would be the most appreciative of the experience. Branimir has a free spirit, rarely bound by any personal ambitions. He is extraordinarily blameless and kind, but he is also quite inquisitive. This would make him ideal in venturing through our world. I think his long life span and natural curiosity would set him up to be an archaeologist, a historian, or a world traveler.

  1. I loved spending time with Branimir, and as Melkorka was the first book of yours I read – I’ll probably always have a soft spot for him! We tend to be loyal to our firsts 🙂 And now I’m curious. Which fantasy character/s have stayed with you?

I would give most credit to Matrim Cauthon, who is a character in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. Mat is a roguish guy who is all about women, gambling, and drinking! Today, I meet several folks that grew up with Harry Potter. Well, I grew up with this brazen kid from Emond’s Field and lived vicariously through him.

Other characters that have stuck are between fantasy and science fiction genres: Gandalf, Han Solo and Chewbacca, He-Man, Ender, and Spock. I know – some all-time favorites for many geeks in that line up. Beyond that, there are a handful of characters that I have played in Dungeons and Dragons for almost twenty years that are close to heart.

  1. I’d love to discuss some of those fine characters with you, but perhaps we’d better save it for the thread! Let’s bring it back to you. In terms of writing, what is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

That is an easy one, Melissa. Keep writing! There are many tidbits out there to help a writer hone his or her craft, but the number one thing that any author can do is to keep writing.

  1. I actually have that printed on a t-shirt (I kid you not!) Keep writing. It’s important – as is reading. It should be in the induction pack – well, if there were such a thing. Okay, so we’ve discovered a lot about you in terms of your work, your tastes, and how you approach certain projects. Now tell us something you’ve never revealed before – one thing you enjoy. I’m not talking deep, dark secrets here, just something we don’t yet know.

The only thing that comes to mind are random facts, like I always order a 5-layer bean burrito when I go Taco Bell or I’m one of the two members of my family tasked to be the ancestral historian (very enjoyable!).

  1. We don’t have Taco Bell in the UK so I’m not going to lie, I googled the 5-layer bean burrito because my curiosity got the better of me. It looks delicious! And I love researching my ancestors – those nice little surprises that always seem to end up in a story (very enjoyable indeed!). Are there any writers in your family tree? Artists? Gold miners?

I have yet to find any writers in the long history of my “family tree”; we have oodles of farmers. However, we make up for it in my immediate family. My older sister wrote stories when she was younger. My younger sister is currently working on her first novel. And, JC Boyd is not only my best friend and co-author, but he is also…[drum roll]…my younger brother.

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  1. That is beyond cool! It’s so great that you get to share the journey together. The following two questions are unique to Sourcerer’s Eleven, so – first up: Give us your best pitch elevator pitch. In four sentences or less, why should we read your books?

Is there a restriction on the sentence length? Wait! Did that count as one?

There was a time when gods were gods and men were men. Before legends divided truth from untruth, love from hatred, or the righteous from the wicked, the world was nothing but a veil of myth and misconception. It is heroes who defied what it meant to be a man or a god, seeking a purpose for themselves and humanity. My stories are about those heroes and their legendary adventures.

  1. Sold! Though I didn’t need the pitch – I’ve already spent time in your fantasy world. Final question – If you could own one (and only one) piece out-of-this world technology or magical artefact, large or small – anything from the simplest magic wand to a Death Star — what would it be?

Besides the infamous Horn of Bubbles from DnD? 🙂 I choose the Ring of Gyges introduced to the world by Plato. The story explains that this ring gives the power of invisibility to its wearer. In addition, the owner may forever have whatever they touch as though it were their own. There is some speculation the tale of the Ring of Gyges was the inspiration behind Tolkien’s LOTR.

Thank you so much, Joshua. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed chatting with you, and I look forward to the conversation in the thread – I know people will have plenty of follow up questions from this engaging interview.