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Yesterday, I had the privilege of participating in a Meet the Author event on Dreamspinner Press's Facebook Page. in order to promote The Demon Catcher. The heart of this event was readers (and potential readers) posing interview questions for me -- I got some great questions, and hopefully, I gave them the answers they deserve. So that it doesn't get lost beneath the inevitable Facebook updates, I'm reposting the interview here -- along with answers to one or two questions that I missed yesterday.

Feel free to pose more questions in comments (anon commenting is enabled).


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Question from Sarah Madison
What are the things you look for when creating a hero?


Before you asked this question, I didn't think that I had a set of criteria for "heroes" -- and indeed, I would argue that a lot of my protagonists aren't heroes at all, although that doesn't exactly apply to Euan and Leon from The Demon Catcher -- due to the fantasy narrative, they certainly have more archetypal heroic traits than other protaginists I'm currently writing about. I think something that all my protagonists/heroes have in common is a sense of isolation in one way or another -- again, I suppose that's fairly typical of romance narratives, since the whole point of the romance is to get rid of that isolation, and of course, fantasy narratives are often typified by a protagonist who is set apart somehow (although I will say that my stories will always be free of prophecies and Chosen Ones -- that's been done!)

I do think, however, I have a fascination with heroes who are particularly isolated -- in The Demon Catcher, Euan is isolated by his skepticism, his refusal to believe in demons and other forms of supersition, while Leon -- well, I'm writing a sequel to The Demon Catcher that explores Leon a bit more -- but I can't say too much about that, obviously! I'm also currently writing a story about a man who has lived as a hermit for the last fifteen years -- so, definitely, I think for me, isolation is the key trait of my heroes.


Question from @lbcubbison on Twitter
How did you decide to move toward original fiction?


This question, of course, refers to the fact that I wrote fanfiction for a couple of years before attempting original fiction.

I knew that I wanted to write original fiction when I realised that it was going to be impossible for any canon from someone else's writing to really satisfy me. Additionally, I already had a couple of stories (including the embryonic form of The Demon Catcher) that I knew couldn't be written as fanfic, simply because the characters had started doing their own thing, becoming their own people. However, the desire to write original fiction and actually doing it are two seperate things. I was actually spurred on to write The Demon Catcher when a good friend of mine ([livejournal.com profile] misswinterhill) pointed me toward the call for stories for Dreamspinner's recent Myths and Magic Anthology -- and while it turned out that there wasn't room for my story in that publication, the good editors at DSP did suggest that I revise it into a novella -- which obviously, I did!

Once I started writing one original story, it was like something clicked -- and suddenly I was inspired to write original stories all the time. I currently have three WIPs (including the sequel to The Demon Catcher) that I hope I can polish up into publishable stories.


Question from Lisa Marie Davies
Do you plot everything out before you start writing or do you just start writing and let the story flow from there?


Sometimes, I'm lucky enough to have an entire story pop into my head fully formed, but usually it's just one or two scenes that I have to get down before I can do anything else -- and then I build the story around those. Usually, I will have a fair bit written before I sit down and do some serious plotting.

I suppose my typical process is something like this: Write a couple of scenes, do some rough plotting, write a few more scenes, do some more extensive plotting, then write the rest (and change the plot as necessary).


Question from Sarah Madison
What was it about Euan [protagonist of The Demon Catcher] that made you empathize with him?


I think that with Euan, the key thing that makes me empathize with him is his skepticism -- his refusal to simply believe things without questioning them -- although he does slip up sometimes. I very much doubt that anyone ever applies the principles by which they live their lives entirely consistently, and I don't think I'd be able to relate to a character who was perfect in that regard.

The interesting thing about Euan is that even though he is skeptical, he is still religious -- he does believe in Ajen and Kara, and his faith isn't something that he ever loses, even though the nature of his faith is challenged. Now, for myself, I am not religious -- I'm pretty much an atheist. In writing Euan, I wanted to set myself the challenge of writing a religious character that I could relate to -- and I wanted to respect his faith rather than destroying it with my narrative. I always love fiction that makes me empathize with people who are different from me, and so I wanted to achieve that in my own work too.


Question from Martha Casey
I loved the story of Euan and Leon - are you planning on writing any more stories featuring them? Or in their universe? I'd love to know more about how their world fits together.


Yes, I most definitely am! I'm already working on the sequel to The Demon Catcher, which will explore more of Euan and Leon's world, in addition to looking at how their relationship develops. We learn more about the people that Leon works for, and more about Leon himself -- I'm really enjoying writing that. While The Demon Catcher is primarily Euan's story -- his budding relationship with Leon makes him question his place in the world -- the sequel will focus on both of them equally. We learn a lot about Leon's past, while also looking at how Euan approaches life outside the monastery. And, of course, there is a Threat that they need to overcome in the meantime!



Question from Phoenix Emrys
Where does the inspiration for the names of your characters come from?


Sometimes a character pops into my head with a name, but usually, I have to think about it for a bit. I do like names with nice long vowels and dipthongs, but at the same time, it was also important to me that my names were pronounceable -- I always hate it when one is having a really good discussion of a fantasy novel which then gets diverted into a discussion of how to pronounce Elythergerbiyeth's name. While it was important to me that the names fit in with the pseudo-medieval chronotope that I was using, I didn't want the names to distract from the story itself, so for the most part, I used names that are either easily recognisable for English langauge speakers, or names that are similar enough to recognisable names that they wouldn't mangle the tongue.


Question from Opal Trelore
One aspect of Demon Catcher that I really enjoyed was the setting. It felt very real. What do you like best about creating fictional worlds?


I was lucky enough, a couple of years ago, to attend a Sydney Writers' festival event hosted by fantasy writers Isobelle Carmody and Garth Nix -- both of them recommended not to get too caught up in the world building before you write, because while it's a lot of fun to make the maps and design the cities -- the world itself really needs to be built around the story that you're writing. That's what makes a world come to life -- and I kept that advice in the forefront of my mind when I was writing The Demon Catcher.

I like how unexpected things can be when creating fictional worlds. Just as when I create a new character, it often feels like the world is revealing itself to me -- it's a process of discovery, and I often find things that I don't expect. I don't know every aspect of Euan and Leon's world in great detail -- just as I don't know everything about our own world. I think it helps that in many ways, I'm learning about the world along with the characters, especially Euan who has a lot of theoretical knowledge, but little in the way of practical experience.


Question from @ryanloveless on Twitter
What is the first story you ever wrote? Maybe something as a kid?


A few years ago, I found my Busy Book from 1st Grade -- when I was six. In it, there was a story about a goat who took a bunch of things for a ride on its back, including a blade of grass and a glass of water. Then at the end of the story, they all hopped off the goat's back and went on their way. This was a very silly story, and I do not remember writing it.

The earliest story that I remember writing was a year later, in 2nd Grade. This one was called "The Silly People", and it was about a group of people who were too silly to take care of themselves (for instance, they wore warm clothes in the summer and cold clothes in the winter). They realised that they were silly, so they had a town meeting, and wrote away to the government (who were all male, with beards), asking the government to send them a mayor to take care of them. Obviously, my seven year old self was a big proponent of patriarchal authoritian styles of government. (I assure you, that is no longer the case!)

In addition to bearing a rather disturbing resemblance to fascist political propoganda, this is interesting because it has a properly structured narrative, following the orientation-complication-resolutiuon schema. It's very clear that my understanding of what made a story had developed significantly between writing the story about the goat and "The Silly People", and I think the key shift that took place in this time is that I started reading novels -- many of which consisted of a series of episodes that all followed this traditional plot format (in particular, I remember reading Enid Blyton's Adventures of the Wishing Chair and Adventurous Four).


Question from @ChallyZatB on Twitter
What were the main challenges you encountered in writing the story [ie, The Demon Catcher]?


I think the thing I stressed over the most when writing the story is whether or not I'd made it too heteronormative, particualary in the penetrative sex scene, which has Euan, the more naive character, bottoming, using a m/m variation on the missionary position. And, as anyone who has read the story will know, Euan bottoming in this particular scene is very important to the plot, so I couldn't just change it around. I'm not sure that I actually managed to counter the potential for heteronormative readings particularly well, but I did do a couple of things to counter it -- and hopefully that will work for some readers, at least.

Firstly, I made sure that Euan was the person initiating throughout the encounter -- he's the one who asks to go back to Leon's room, and he's the one who wants Leon inside him. For Euan, it was a matter of, he'd suddenly managed to let go of all these horrible homophobic ideas that had been holding him back, and he wants to do EVERYTHING -- including all the stuff that seemed quite scary to him as a boy. So in my mind, it's more about Euan just letting go.

I also realised that if I was to write this story as a heterosexual romance, it's Leon's gender that I would change, not Euan's -- I can imagine Leon as a woman, but not Euan, and I simply had to trust that that means that I view these men as complex people who can't be reduced to heteronormative (misogynist, homophobic) stereotypes. And if that doesn't come across well enough in The Demon Catcher, then I hope that I will do a better job in the sequels.



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Thank you to everyone who took the time to ask me questions. I really enjoyed answering them.
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March 2011

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