This week, we are pleased to bring you an interview with soon-to-be published author, Deborah A. Wolf. Deborah has completed the first book in her epic fantasy series, The Song of the Sun Dragon. That book, The Heart of Atualon, will be published in hardcover by Titan Books in November, 2016.
We are particularly excited by this news as Anne has known Deb since they were young’uns in the Army. It is always great to see friends doing great things. Anne can also attest that Deborah should have her own, “Most Interesting Woman in the World,” meme. You can find out more about Deb and her books at her website, http://www.deborahawolf.com
1. Tell us a bit about yourself and how your book came about.
Well, I’ve led a weird life, which lends itself well to being an author of speculative fiction. I’ve traveled a bit and always found myself fascinated by people, and cultures, and stories. Add that to a lifelong love of fantasy—I first read The Hobbit at six and never looked back—and you get the perfect alchemy for weird and wonderful stories.
Plus, I’m really no good at anything else. Whenever I try to hold down a regular job like normal people, I start throwing around the word ‘asinine’ and this does not endear me to supervisors or coworkers.
2. What helped you the most in writing The Heart of Atualon, the first book in the Song of the Sun Dragon Saga?
The best thing I ever did was give myself permission to fail. I’ve always wanted to write books, but the fear of not bursting from the starting gate with something as beautiful as Peter S. Beagle’s ‘The Last Unicorn’ had me paralyzed. I finally gave myself permission to write the most suckiful book in the history of books that suck so long as I finished the damn thing.
I then discovered, to my great delight and relief, that writing a good book depends only in small part on innate brilliance; much more skill than talent is involved, and skills can be learned and improved on through hard work.
This is very good news for me, because I love to learn about the craft of writing and I take it pretty seriously, but as far as innate brilliance is concerned I’m in woefully short supply. As you can probably attest, having watched me drink and dance at the same time.
3.What projects are you working on now?
My wonderful new editor at Titan is combing through THE HEART OF ATUALON for fleas. While he does that, and before he sends me two hundred pages of “Fix this, what were you even thinking?” I’m cheating on him with a new series.
SPLIT FEATHER is an urban fantasy set, ironically, in a tiny village in Alaska. Siggy has to discover where she came from in order to understand who she is, and she has to understand who she is before the demon in her head takes control. Also, fish head soup, witches, and bears.
4. Can you describe your writing process? When and where do you do most of your writing? What kind of technology do you use to create and compose?
I tried pantsing once. Not pulling people’s pants down, because that’s rude, but writing without a road map. Thank Cthulhu that beast never got published.
Now I’m a diehard outliner. I have outlines all over my computer…my outlines have outlines, and I’m not even joking. In the case of SPLIT FEATHER, I’ve got a seven-point outline, a fancy outline, a seven points story quotes outline, an extended outline, and a series outline. As I write, I narrow that down even further, detailing and (you guessed it, outlining) every step in my story as I come to it and just before I write, and then I outline each chapter by scene, to the point where great chunks of the story is written before I ever get around to writing.
My outlines are all done in MS Word, but the bulk of the story is composed in Scrivener, without which I would cease to function. I mean it, too; without Scrivener I’d just stay in bed all day with the covers over my head, wondering what I needed to do and in which order.
So, yeah. Word, Scrivener, and coffee.
I use Aeon Timeline software to keep stuff straight because I have a dismal memory, and the Pro Writing Aid plugin to help with editing because otherwise I’d use ‘just’ and ‘now and again’ so much my readers’ eyes would implode.
I get up at four in the morning to write and no, I am not a morning person. (See: Coffee, above). I do this because I haven’t figured out how to live without a paycheck, and most of the normal living hours of my day are already spoken for. I have a beat-up leather chair and ottoman at home for writing, and I can be found sitting in a corner at a local bookstore or upstairs at a local college. Found, but not disturbed. I get pretty bitchy when I’m writing and someone interrupts.
5. What or who inspired you to begin writing and for this book in particular?
I wrote my first fantasy story at the ripe old age of seven; my second grade teacher told my mother that I was possessed and needed exorcism.
She’s dead now.
THE HEART OF ATUALON came to me in a daydream—I daydream pretty much constantly—and I spent the next couple of weeks drawing maps of this fantastic new world that had exploded into being inside my head. A desert world with a matriarchal warrior society that broke pretty much every SFF trope I could find, and a king who abused his control of magic to the detriment of indigenous cultures, and a dragon at the heart of the world who was about to hatch and destroy everything.
Also giant cyborg spiders.
I struggled for a while over what form I wanted to use to tell this story…I love single-character epic fantasy with first person POV, and I love multi-POV epics with everything AND the kitchen sink stuffed into it. I thought at first this would be a simple sword-and-sorcery in the desert romp with Sulema as the only POV character…
…cue hysterical laughter…
…because that’s what a debut author should write. Master the simpler story forms, and then attempt the larger, more ridiculously unwieldy projects.
So anyway, eight POV characters and a fucktillion subplots later…
6. How do you generate ideas for your book(s)?
I broke the valve off my idea generator and the basement is completely flooded. I generate ideas constantly, whether I’m awake or asleep…it’s turning those ideas into stories of merit that’s the tricksy part.
7. How many hours a day do you devote to your writing?
All of them.
If I’m not writing, I’m thinking about my story. It’s first thing on my mind when my eyes open, and the last thing I think of as I crawl into bed.
Physical writing gets anywhere from an hour to twelve hours plus, depending on what else I’ve got going on. And most of those hours feel like work, it’s not like some unicorn came over and farted inspiration dust all over my head. Hard work, and worth every headache, stiff neck, and swollen wrist.
8. What were the major barriers you overcame to complete your book project, if any?
The absolute and utter conviction that I could not do this amazing thing that I was dying to do. I was too mired in a defeatist mindset to fully commit to living my own authentic life. My best friend and alpha reader, who I am claiming as my sister, encouraged me and cheered every paragraph I wrote until I’d pounded out ‘The End’. I would never have finished my first book if it weren’t for her unconditional love and unflagging support.
Poverty is a real mood killer, too; it’s grindingly difficult to write anything, even a grocery list, after slogging away forty hours as a wage slave, and then raising a house full of kids. I’ll admit to stretching out my college studies and existing mostly on student loan refunds and store-brand spaghetti so I could finish my first book.
So I’m still poor, but knowing I can do it enables me to get up before the birds and the bees and work at my writing…which then makes all the wage slavery, mundane chores, and northern Michigan traffic bearable.
9. What are you reading now? In your opinion, what constitutes good writing or conversely, bad writing?
I read all the books. Last weekend I was ill, and read all seven of Diana Rowland’s Kara Gillian books. In my opinion, her urban fantasy—especially her White Trash Zombie books—are beautifully and cleverly structured, so much so that they should be required reading in writing classes. Her prose is strong and clean too, and her zombie premise is awesome.
Pat Rothfuss’s prose is so beautiful it has made me cry.
Robin Hobb’s characters live on in my mind and my heart as if they were dear friends of mine and not fictional characters at all. No other writer has ever accomplished that.
George Martin is unmatched, I think, in his ability to create and maintain the biggest, baddest epic fantasy ever.
Bad writing: cardboard characters, Chosen One storylines with no further thought put into telling something new, sexist drivel that casts women as cardboard backgrounds to the male characters’ lives, and characters who jump onto stallions and gallop for three weeks straight, pausing every other Tuesday to feed their unnamed mount a nose-bag full of grain. For Google’s sakes, people, make an effort.
I am also SO OVER rapey rapey rape culture in fantasy writing. If you use a woman’s rape to show me the man-pain of your male character, I’m going to burn your book and bury the ashes in my cat’s litter box. I’ve actually quit watching the Game of Thrones HBO series because ugh, over it.
10. What advice can you give to first time authors?
As great as you think it might be to get an agent and sell your book, the real deal is a fucktillion times better. Just sit your ass down and write.
We hope you enjoyed the interview with Deborah as much as we did. We will keep you posted on her upcoming book launch and other interesting tidbits. If you want to follow Deb yourself, you can find her on Facebook, Twitter, and of course, her blog, http://www.deborahawolf.com/
Anne, Nancy and Eric