Interviewing Graeme Ing

Hey all! Misha here. Remember me? Yep. I’m still around. Nope, the shoes haven’t yet caused my demise. I am just incredibly busy at this time, since our first big shipment has arrived and we’re unpacking it.

Still, I’m taking break from all that to host my Untethered Realms buddy Graeme Ing for an interview as part of his blog tour for his newest book.

Welcome to the Five Year Project, Graeme. First things first. Tell us a bit more about yourself.


Thank you for inviting me, Misha. Born in England, I’ve been living in San Diego in the U.S. for 18 years now, with my wife, Tamara, and six cats. I must say that the climate here is very agreeable. I’m a software engineering manager by day, but my passion is writing and exploring. Apart from traveling the world whenever I can, I’m an avid mountaineer (from my armchair!), and student of famous explorers. I dabble in astronomy, piloting, map making and navigation. It should come as no surprise then, that my favourite part of writing is creating exotic worlds and characters. Speculative-fiction is a real passion for me.

Another cat person! (I have five cats.) How did you get into writing originally?


I’ve been scribbling stories since before I was a teenager. I even typed screenplays on a manual typewriter. I blame my mother for introducing me to Tolkien and McCaffrey at an early age! Seems like being a storyteller was my destiny (said in my best Darth Vader voice). It’s a shame that I never did anything with my writing until about eight years ago when I finally decided to pursue being a published author. I’ve got a lot of ground to make up. Thankfully I have hundreds of plot ideas.

Sounds a lot like me, growing up. What inspired you to write Necromancer?

Great question. For years I’d had this idea of a girl wanting to be a necromancer. At the same time, I’d developed this sarcastic character who believed he could defeat anything. His voice was so clear in my head, begging to be written. Since one of my favourite fantasy series are Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar books, I wanted to design a brooding metropolis that I could write lots of books about. Then, while finishing my first book, I had this idea for a secret society holding the city to ransom. All these pieces slotted together rapidly to become Necromancer, and if you read it then you’ll see how. 🙂 Many of my book ideas come to me in pieces like that. I plan to write more books in this city, some about the characters from Necromancer, and some about totally new characters.

I just love that aspect to writing fantasy, creating a setting that seems to come alive on its own. What’s your favorite thing to focus on in world building?


I love a setting that comes alive! My favourite thing is to draw maps, be they of the Kingdom, the world or even just a city. That’s me – I love maps. What I focus on though is culture. For “Necromancer” for example: Why was the city built here? What is the weather like? That determines the types of buildings they have. Who lives in it, what races? How are they governed? What are the exports and imports of the city? How do people travel? Horses, carts, flying creatures, magic? What do they eat and drink? Do they worship Gods? Every city has low-life and slum areas, so what are they like? What peculiar customs are there, like greeting someone? What laws? And so on. It’s so much fun layering up all this in the context of the story(s) I want to tell. Then I have to resist dumping all this super information into the book, but instead dribble it in bit by bit, adding flavour to my characters and plot. You can see why I say that I “engineer” worlds. 🙂

That’s definitely my focus as well when I do world building. History and culture. I can spend ages exploring my fantasy worlds through stories, but then, I’d probably end up boring my readers. 😉

Now please do tell us what Necromancer is about and where people can find it!


Perhaps I can cheat and include the book’s blurb?

A primeval fiend is loose in the ancient metropolis of Malkandrah, intent on burning it to a wasteland. The city’s leaders stand idly by and the sorcerers that once protected the people are long gone.
Maldren, a young necromancer, is the only person brave enough to stand against the creature. Instead of help from the Masters of his Guild, he is given a new apprentice. Why now, and why a girl? As they unravel the clues to defeating the fiend, they discover a secret society holding the future of the city in its grip. After betrayals and attempts on his life, Maldren has reason to suspect everyone he thought a friend, even the girl.
His last hope lies in an alliance with a depraved and murderous ghost, but how can he trust it? Its sinister past is intertwined in the lives of everyone he holds dear.
Can only evil defeat evil?

It has a host of nasty creatures lurking in and below the streets of the city. Being a Necromancer certainly is a dangerous job! But it’s not all grim – there’s some romance in there too. It’s out from August 23rd on all ebook formats and paperback. Just check your preferred online retailer.

Great! Let’s finish up with something positive. What’s the best piece of writing advice you have for new writers?


Write as often as you can, no matter how little, even 500 words a day. Don’t listen to the naysayers, don’t listen to the myriad of internal fears (all authors have them, you’re not alone), and don’t get dismayed by slow progress, other people’s success or things like marketing. Just write. Write for yourself. Write what you like to read. You can do it. Just keep writing. Good luck, and tell me when your first book comes out!

Thanks so much Graeme! It’s always a blast to chat with you. 

Graeme Ing engineers original fantasy worlds, both YA and adult, but hang around, and you’ll likely read tales of romance, sci-fi, paranormal, cyberpunk, steampunk or any blend of the above.

Born in England in 1965, Graeme moved to San Diego, California in 1996 and lives there still. His career as a software engineer and development manager spans 30 years, mostly in the computer games industry. He is also an armchair mountaineer, astronomer, mapmaker, pilot and general geek. He and his wife, Tamara, share their house with more cats than he can count.


You can find him at: 

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Let’s talk about world building.

Before I start today, I just want to let you know that I’ve been invited to join the bloggers of Untethered Realms. I know most of them, and know that they’re seriously talented, so I do hope you’ll go check out what they’re doing…

But for today, I want to write about plot.

Until last night, I thought I was a character driven writer. But then I sat through a fantasy world building hangout, and spent the whole time repeating the same mantra in my head. (I couldn’t turn it off.)

How would it be relevant to the plot? 

The thing is, I know that nothing technically has to be relevant. Some people make a lot of money off books with slow plots. I can’t slam them.

Personally, I like my plots thick and fast. Rich with detail, yes, but not so as to yank me out of the growing story in order to describe the finer details of a given culture or political system or whatever.

To me, writing a fantasy world is pretty similar to characterization. If I write a character, I usually know millions of little details about him or her, without them ever making it into my book. Yes, it’s super important that I need to know them. The reader, however, only needs to know enough for them not to wonder what the heck is going on.

It’s precisely the same with the world-building. For the Doorways series, I know enough about the world’s history to write a whole other series just about that. Heck, I know enough history from a single one of the world’s country to write a series. And there are four. The thing is, if I put all of that into the books, I’d swamp the reader with information which (while it could be argued that the history is relevant) isn’t strictly necessary to put them through the plot.

I actually take it further. I don’t explain the history. I don’t explain the political systems. I don’t spend pages and pages of description. What I do is to explain what’s needed right now and trust the reader to put together the full picture themselves. Yes, some people might grow impatient, because it might take a few books to build a complete picture. But the pay-off is that my plot moves along at a faster pace.

Which I like.

But like I said, my way isn’t the only way. Any writer working on a spec fic novel eventually needs to decide on an approach to the world they’ll develop.

1) Do you want to showcase your world as a character in itself? 
2) Do you want your plot to move slower? (If so, exploring the world is a good way to do it without boring people. Just keep in mind that it’s a fine line to toe.)
3) Which factors of the world determines your plot and characterization? If you have some macro issues coming down on your characters (say a world where tributes are sent every year to kill each other for punishment of an old rebellion), you’ll need to spend some time explaining. Do try to keep the explanations relevant to the moment, though.

There are probably other questions that’ll come from answering these questions, but those are the big ones. If you know those, you can probably figure out how you want to represent your world in your novel.

So, spec fic writers, how do you usually prefer to represent your worlds?

And readers, how do you prefer your fantasies? Slower and rich in detail, or directly to the point with some fantasy thrown in?

A to Z Challenge: World Building

Almost as promised, here’s the post on World Building.

I believe that whether or not you write a form of speculative fiction, you will have to engage in some degree of world building to make your story believable. You might have to create a fictional town. Or disguise a real one (Gotham City, anyone?). Otherwise, you might simply bend the real world rules a little in to make them fit the purposes of the story.

Because of this, I’m going to address two types of world building. Spec fic and non spec fic.

Credit

If you’re not writing spec fic, or only want to gloss over reality a little, you’ll need to put time in to research as much about the location and time of your story as possible. Especially if you don’t live in the location or time that you’re writing about. And the more you research, the better.

BUT remember, you’re looking for a feel for the place/time so that you can write a piece of fiction. You’re not writing a text book. So if you’ve written blocks and blocks of information with minute details of everything, you might have to cut back. It’s sort of similar to what I said about using senses. Characters aren’t going to list the histories/descriptions/cultural impact of every single thing the see and experience. Rather, we the readers want to feel everything through the character. Show the impact of certain things. Show what they mean. Don’t list them and go on and on about minute details.

Special bonus for historical fiction writers: Anachronisms are incredibly annoying, so make damned sure that the things used/referred to by characters existed/happen in the time of your story. NOTHING annoys me more than reading a western where badass gunslingers use the colt peacemaker three years before it existed. And yes. I know when it did or didn’t exist. Other people will too. Keep your dates straight. If you absolutely must bend the dates to suit the story, please remember to make note of it in a foreword or something. That way, you show that you’re not an idiot, and (possibly more importantly) that you don’t think the reader’s an idiot.

Spec fic, on the other hand, sets world building on a whole new level. More often than not, the world of your fantasy/steampunk/sci fi/urban fantasy/dystopian/horror/etc. etc. story will be foreign to your readers. And if your readers can’t place themselves in the world of your story, you already lost the battle.

When it comes to my spec fic stories, I try to know more than what goes into the book. Note: MORE. Not everything. Every single thing doesn’t have to go in. Important things go in. And not always in a clearly outlined way. Let’s say that amongst other things, your world randomly loses gravity. I wouldn’t suggest that you necessarily go into the depths of why, unless it’s important. The same for the cultures that you create. Remember, most spec fic characters already live in the world that you’ve created. So they won’t be explaining things to themselves or others. At least not all the time. There’s a fine balance between enlightening the readers and boring them with too much detail. Make sure that you stay on that line.

Taking the world rules a little further…. Natural laws should exist as natural LAWS. Same with the rules of your magic system. Or your cultural norms, rules and regulations. DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES let your characters break any of the above without them being aware of the fact, without an explanation, and without potentially huge (and hugely negative) repercussions. Especially, don’t let them do it to save the day. If you do, you’re undermining the credibility of your own story. These rules should be the frame that keeps everything in your story structured and believable. You can’t ignore them for convenience sake. It will make your story collapse like a house of cards. If the world rules create a problem for the story, you have two options: either rewrite the rules (and revise the whole story to fit them) or go look for a solution that fits and even comes out of the rules. See my P post for more info on that.

On a lighter note, having a fantasy world helps to set the mood of the story, if you use your world right. You have the joy of creating something special and unique. It’s one of the few forms of pure creation. So have a blast!

Look Out for These:

1) In both: Over-telling on the world/time, boring the reader and making everything seem unrealistic. Under-informing the reader, making them wonder how things work.

2) Non-Spec fic: Anachronisms, not knowing enough to get the feel of the time/place right.

3) Spec fic: World rules that are broken.

What do you love/hate about world building in your genre?

Blog Tour Featuring Maria Zaninni

Hi all! I’m giving the blog over to Maria today as part of her blog tour to market her new book: Apocalypse Rising. Without any further ado, I’ll let Maria’s words do the talking.









Subtle World Building

I think the hardest thing for a writer to do when world building is remaining invisible. When I read, I don’t want to feel the author over my shoulder. I don’t want to see the footprints of the creator.

Have you ever read a scene where your eyes start to glaze over and you found yourself skimming ahead to the ‘good parts’? Whenever that happens to me, I ask myself: Why did I skip ahead? What did the author do to lose me here?

  
Often times, it was too much narrative, description, introspection or dialog. It forced me as the reader to become aware of the author and what s/he was trying to accomplish.

As the author, I don’t want you to know I exist. I don’t want to be on your radar. If you’re not immersed in the story, then I’ve left too many of my footprints and failed you.

When an author intrudes on the story, it makes the reader feel as if the author doesn’t trust him to ‘get it’. I’d rather err on the side of caution and say too little to keep you intrigued, than say too much and destroy the fantasy.

Every once in a while I come across a complex scene in my books where I want to explain more, but I try to resist the urge to intervene. Though I’ll run the risk that some readers won’t get it, I’m betting most will. And those are the people I’m writing for.

So what makes the author obvious in his world building?

• Describing too deeply—or too often.
Solution: Tell the reader only what he needs to know at that moment in the story.

• Authorial intrusion—where the author explains something the character knows so well that it would never come up in a normal conversation or narrative.
Solution: Whenever you need to explain a bit of world building to the reader, use lateral moves. In the first Harry Potter book, many times the reader learns about Hogsworth at the same time Harry does. We are moving through the story together.

• Explaining something the character wouldn’t know, but the reader needs to understand.
Solution: Say I want to explain a device that sends subliminal messages. Rather than delivering a long physical account, show the effects. The character could start perspiring, his eyes will flare and he’ll rub his temples vigorously as if he were trying to rub something out. Little by little the reader will start to piece things together—without the dreaded info-dump.

Aim for the art of subtle narrative, to be so invisible that you leave no footprints—only clues.

Do you ever skim when you read? Can you recall why you did?

Bio: Maria Zannini used to save the world from bad advertising, but now she spends her time wrangling chickens, and fighting for a piece of the bed against dogs of epic proportions. Occasionally, she writes novels. 

Apocalypse Rising blurb: The only place to hide was in the past. Leda and Grey have one chance to escape a madman and that’s through a portal to a time before the apocalypse. But nothing has prepared them for 21st century culture, and every misstep draws them closer to the End Times. The world is teetering on extinction, and they may very well be the cause of it.

Warning: Dark demons, Elementals, witches, and a hero with one woman too many. 

Apocalypse Rising is the sequel to Touch Of Fire. I hope you’ll try them both.

Follow me on my blog: http://mariazannini.blogspot.com/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/mariazannini

Thanks again, Maria. Best of luck with the rest of your blog tour!

Anyone have issues when describing your worlds? How do you solve them?

A to Z Challenge: Rules and Realism

To me, rules and realism are some of the most important things that I focus on. Particularly the rules, because the realism aspect usually grows organically from the obedience to the rules.


Without the rules, my fantasy world doesn’t make sense. I have to work out why things are possible, make sure that the reader understands and make sure that the rule is carried to its full extent. I.E. Say I had fairies who were vegetarian. The rule is then obviously NO MEAT. Good. One thing done. We also now have a glimpse into the culture.


But now, this begs the question… Do they hunt? Instinctively, my answer will be no… After all, if they’re big on vegetarianism, I don’t think they’ll want to wear fur. Nor do I think they will want to use the fats or bones for anything either. In fact… I think they’d see any part of a dead animal as an abomination. (Maybe vegetarians don’t. Have no idea. I’m just rolling with the fairy culture thing.) That already opens up a myriad of other questions.


Does their taboo about killing things extend to warfare? Will that make them pacifists? If they are, do they have defenses? Can they in fact be pushed to fight back? How far must they be pushed?


All those considerations just from one rule. And if I get those right, I’ve taken another step towards realism. Easy, right?


Not always. Sometimes, there are more subtle cultural norms that are in fact norms, but that might not be hard and fast. Say… equality. Women might be considered equal… to men in their castes. So yes, a culture could consider itself to be egalitarian while they are still just as obsessed with ranks. But what would that mean? Oh… perhaps richer/more powerful girls get to have an education. Perhaps they get to fight in the army. Perhaps there isn’t such a culture of chivalry. On the other hand, the ladies might get a larger measure of respect, because they’re not just seen as baby breeders.


It all depends on other things. History, for one thing. Other rules, for another. Some rules overlap to cause a different outcome to the more obvious one.


That’s why carrying through the rules are so very important. Because if the rules aren’t carried far enough, you might miss a point where they overlap.


The reader might not.


And that will severely limit the realism in the story.


So… how do you approach rules in your writing? Want to write down some interesting examples in your writing and the effect they have? Or point out some things I missed in my examples? I would love to get a glimpse into the way you think about things. Not to mention that it’s fun. ^_^

A to Z Challenge: Back Story

Hi all! I have a competition going to draw a map on the 15th for a blog post. The map will be hand-drawn, but I will scan it and e-mail it to the winner. If you’re interested, please E-mail me at mishagericke(AT)gmail(DOT) com with MAP as the RE.


Then I just want to say hi to all my new bloggy friends. Welcome to my mind. I hope you find something of value in the chaos. 😉


On with the post…






Back story can be both a blessing and a curse. But I believe it to be vital to any story.


I cannot even begin to conceive where my characters are coming from if I don’t know at least the essence of their past. When I draw up characters without scratching around in their past, they come out flat and unnatural.


This makes sense to me, because people without pasts can’t be real, can they? And that is what we need our characters to be above all. Real. Authentic.


The same goes for the world that the characters live in. If it doesn’t have a history that you are aware of, how are you going to give a sense of depth to the reader? It’s going to take a lot more information to make sure that the world doesn’t feel like a cardboard diorama. I think this is a bit easier for people who write genres set in our world, but even those genres feel the effect of history.


There must be some reason why investigative protocols are in place. Or why there is a secret room in the house. (Debs, that one’s been playing in my mind all day.) Or why the house the heroine lives in was built in the Tudor style.


Writers in genres like fantasy and sci fi have a bit more work involved here. Because we have to invent the history.


That’s another important reason why back story is needed. They determine the rules. Almost every single one of them. How are these two characters going to interact, given that they have a long and dark past in common? Depends on their personality, yes, but it also depends on every interaction they had before and the outcomes of said interactions. I will go into rules a bit deeper, later in the Challenge.


So yeah… there’s a lot to keep in mind when it comes to back story. But there’s one more thing I want to highlight.


Never. Wait I’ll say it again.


NEVER dump back story in chunks.


Readers want to go forward, not get stuck in the past. So unless the back story holds the key to understanding what is going on in the now of the story, don’t put it in. And if you do, just hint enough of it for the reader to catch the drift.


Nothing quite works as well to stop the momentum as a good lengthy chapter telling the reader what happened.


Note, telling. If you are telling your reader anything, you’re not doing your job. Show them by leaving clues to the past. Not the whole enchilada. 


You want to leave them feeling as if they know the character and where he/she is coming from. But they don’t care about the lengthy part in the middle about the time his/her dog died. So keep it relevant.


Back story is there for the writer to know what’s going on and to subtly clue the reader in about why things are as they are. Just because you know every single bit of history affecting the story, does not mean that all of it has to be laid out on the page.


If you know what’s going on, you can steer the reader where you want without them having the map.

And that should be the goal when you’re plugging back story in the plot.
So… how much time do you spend thinking about back story? Did you think about the history of the world you’re writing in? How do you use back story?

As it turns out, my map gave more direction than intended.

I remembered with horror that I forgot to post anything yesterday.


I wish I could say it was because of writing… but… No.


I required a map.


Not just any map. A map of the landscape in my head.


Yeah… I felt more than a little overwhelmed.


The last time I tried my hand at it, nothing seemed to come out right. It felt fake and wrong. I tried once, and that ended up as bad as the last time.


So I went information hunting.


All day yesterday.


Now I feel pretty much up to date on the whole mapping thing, I just needed to work out what goes where. Because I have an A4 page and six countries. It’s sort of important to work out.


I finally got round to actually drawing the damn thing. Well… I’ve started and an hour wasn’t exactly enough to get me through all of it.


Still, I can tell you now, it is starting to become very inspiring.


You see, there are the lands I’m drawing. Then there are the lands beyond the end of the page. In fact, some of the countries on my page stretch out beyond the boundaries. And it made me wonder…


Who are they? Are they watching the growing conflict with apprehension? Are they weak to avoid it? Or do they have worries of their own?


That actually made me see something I never realized. I can probably start a completely different series just about those countries outside of the limits of my map.


Which is big for me. Because I used to think that the Doorways series is it. That I would be done with Fantasy after the completion of the series. After all, I couldn’t possibly think up another series like this one… Right?


Uhm… wrong, it seems.


But first, I want to deal with Callan and co.


Have you ever drawn a map? Did it give your creativity a boost for stories beyond the scope of the WiP the map was drawn for?


Oh yeah! I should mention that I will do a post about drawing maps on D-Day in the A-Z challenge. So remember to drop by then if you want to know how I am doing it.