Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Chris Northern Interview

1: What is the most productive time of the day for you to write?

Gosh. I wish I knew the answer to this question. It would make life so much easier. Seriously, though, I have no real idea. I generally write in two phases; the idea development phase, where key concepts are outlined, the background detailed to some degree, and I get a feel for the point of the book; at this point I'm struggling to breath life into the project and writing is bitty and sporadic through the day.  The next phase is when the key character comes alive in my mind, becomes a real separate person, and then I start writing in earnest, preying that I've got the beginning right;. that means a full 8-14 hour writing day from seven in the morning until I can't stay awake/think any more. If things are going badly that might mean only a couple of hundred words a day, but if things are going well that's 5,000 or more words of usable copy and the story progresses. If I can maintain that frame of mind, when the story rolls, then that can go on until the book is finished. That happened with The Last King's Amulet from start to finish; long days and each day a good productive day.

2: Do you start your projects writing with paper and pen or is it all on the computer?

I use a laptop. I used to sit at a desk and get really nasty back pain until a friend pointed out that I was an idiot. Now I sit comfortably, feet up; it's easier to maintain concentration, shockingly enough. I rarely use paper, just for notes that are never going to go into the book itself. Never for ideas; I figure that if an idea is memorable - if it's good, in other words - I'll remember it; and if I forget it it's clearly not memorable, not good.

I just dug out a notebook and took a look; there are a half dozen pages for The Last King's Amulet, a sketch map and place names and a few other bits and bobs that I wanted to have ready access to without having to look at another file or search through the notes at the bottom of the working file. Those notes tend to get out of hand - things that might happen, things people might do and why and how they may effect the story to come. Mostly I try and keep everything in my head and not think too far ahead. That's easier to do if you are just writing for a few weeks; if things aren't going so well, then the mind-map of the book can collapse and I have to build it again... that struggling time I mentioned earlier.

3: What do you draw inspiration from?

Hmmmm. Tricky one. Deep thought required. No, not Dougless Adams, or other writers at all, really. Only in the sense that fine writing inspires me to work harder at my craft.

I think it is people, mostly, thinking about it. History and politics and sociology are subjects that interest me deeply. What people did, why we do what we do, how we try endlessly to structure viable and worthwhile societies and sadly fail with such monotonous regularity. Or worse, throw it away when we succeed. It has been said that the one lesson of history is that we never learn, and that is certainly true when applied to politics and economics. If you dig into the causes of the fall of the Roman Empire, for example, it becomes clear that really seriously bad economic decisions and laws enacted and enforced are the real cause of the decline and fall. That fascinates and horrifies me, because the same mistakes have been made in recent history and are being made now and the results are so known, so understood that it beggers belief that we are capable of allowing the same mistakes to be made again.

I bring a fair amount of historical detail into my work. For example, Sumto threatens to sell a slave with a bad reference and someone wrote that they thought that that was a funny idea; and it is, in a quite horrible way, but at one time it really happened. Also, while I think of it, in Prison of Power there is a scene where conspirators meet and plot; one of them brings a set of identical rings to seal the conspirators in the plot. Hilarious, at least to me. It means nothing, but the guy has had these rings specially made like they do mean something. And this really happened. The truth is stranger than fiction. You really can't make this stuff up. I would never have imagined that in a million years, so reading history helps for inspiration in the details.

4: Do you set goals for yourself when you sit down to write such as word count?

No, never. If things are going badly there is no point, I'm just grateful to get a decent paragraph at the end of the day. If things are going well, there is no need. Anything like that would, for me, intrude on the process of writing. There's no spare space in my humble brain for anything else when I'm focused on the task, lost in the story. If I think about anything else, anything at all, the structure starts to crumble and it's just counter productive.

5: Are you a published or a self published author and how do you come up with your cover art?

Self published right now, though in the past I sold a few pieces that were published under my own name. Some of those I'm still please with and some I'm not so pleased with, but they were all apprentice pieces, really, and have nothing to do with the hear-and-now. I am very happy to be a self published writer. The very definition of freedom is not having to ask permission before you do something. I'm pretty big on freedom.

The artwork actually comes in three stages: the first attempts were hurried and frankly bad; they are sadly still on some retail sites. The second attempts were my own humble efforts and hardly better. The artwork that now graces the covers of my books, and I am so very pleased with them, are photographs taken by Roy Smallpage of the Dumnonni live roleplayers; the Dumnonni Chronicles is a live role-play group.  I used to go along myself years ago, though I haven't for some time. It really was a blast and the people who participate are great fun. The Dumnonni Chronicals can be found here (http://www.dumnonni.com/ethos.php) and if you are in the UK the events are well worth attending. Some of the photo's I am grateful to be allowed to use are simply stunning.

6: What drives you to choose the career of being a writer?

Masochism. What else?

I'm stubborn, actually; to a fault. Really to a fault; I mean when I have decided to do something I will get it done regardless of cost or distance or pain or anything. It's a character flaw. People have said that I am so laid back I might as well be horizontal, and there is a reason for that; I'm wary of making commitments because I will get it done once the decision is made. The cost of the decision to write, made when I was sixteen, has been quite substantial, actually. Now it's simply habit, like brushing my teeth. Or a reflex action, like blinking might be a more apt analogy.

7: Do you own an ebook reading device?

Not yet. I always put some distance between the desire for something and the action to fulfil the desire. Another dumb but long standing habit.

8: Who are some of your favorite authors and What are you reading now?

Well, there are many, so choosing a handful to mention is going to be hard. Orson Scott Card, primarily for Speaker For The Dead. In my opinion OSC is a writers writer; he really knows his craft, knows what a story is and how to build it. A craftsman. I admire his skill greatly.

Robin Hobb for the King's Assassin series, the first trilogy anyway. And for the Liveship Traders; Captain Kennit was a wonderfully conflicted character, brilliantly realised.

Ian M. Banks, Robert Heinlein, James Herbert, Mike Moorcock, Gordon R Dickson for Soldier Ask Not, Robert B. Parker for the Spenser novels, Barry B, Longyear for Elephant Song. There's a wealth of great work out there. I incline to SF and Fantasy but there are other genre novels I like and many quality writers out there.

Recently I came across a couple of Indie authors I'd like to mention; Ron Sanders for Freak, and Lindsay Buroker for Ice Cracker II - on the strength of that piece alone I have predicted that Lindsay Buroker will become a best selling author in time. When I'm proven right I absolutely want credit for having said it first, even if I didn't.

I'd almost forgotten this was a two part question: I'm not reading anything now; I'm in writing mode. No time.

9: What do you think of book trailers and do you have any plans to have any?

Personally, I wouldn't spend any money on one. Great medium for promoting a movie, but I'm not convinced of their value for books. I could well be very wrong on this, but that's my feeling.

10: How did you come up with the title of your latest book?

Heh, yeah, titles. It just happened the other day, actually. It always happens the same way; I'll be way better than half way through with still no idea what it'll be called and then there will be a sentence with the title in it. In this case, The Invisible Hand. It will just be there in a sentence and make perfect sense of the whole book. I have no idea why this happens. Around 3/4 of the way through I do start to be a bit concerned if there's no title yet. But so far so good, and I'm much reassured that the book is going to be OK when the title happens. I take it as a sign that I'm on the right track.

11: What are you working on now that you can talk about?

Book three of the Price Of Freedom sequence, the title I just mentioned. It's a follow on from The Last King's Amulet and The Key To The Grave. Sumto is a pretty unusual fantasy hero, he's not really very good at anything, except that he has a way with languages and is good with horses. Not much in the way of skills for all that he has to deal with. Sometimes he doesn't do a great job of things. Sometimes it's not his fault, but he is always responsible. He understands that, that he alone is responsible for his own actions. That understanding is going to become a great burden to him over the next few books. Just as well that he has a sense of humour, really. In The Invisible Hand he has bitten off way more than he can chew, trying to make amends for... well, maybe I'd better not talk too much about it here. I think it's going to be OK; I think those who liked the first two will like this book.

Well, looks like I'm out of questions for now. Should your readers have any more for me, please let me know and I will do my best to answer as honestly as I can. Thank you for your time.

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