It’s been a while since we've done anything writing related, so my treat today is to bring you a short interview with fantasy/spec fiction author Lynn Flewelling. Lynn has an LJ presence (otterdance ) for those of you who don’t know, and I suspect that if you have any burning questions you’d like to ask in the comment section, she’d be happy to reply. Likewise if you have any questions for me or just want to discuss writing fantasy and spec fiction in general. The discussions the comments generate are always one of the best parts of LiveJournal.
So…let’s get to it.
JL - Lynn, I hate writing intros, my own or anyone else’s so, if you wouldn’t mind telling the at-home viewers a little about yourself. (I can’t imagine most of my readers aren’t familiar with you, but…)
LF - Thanks for having me. I hate writing intros, too, especially my own, but here we go. I'm Lynn Flewelling, author of The Nightrunner Series, The Tamir Triad, and most recently, a book of Nightrunner short fiction called Glimpses. I grew up in northern Maine (no lobsters) in the 60s and 70s, and did a lot of outdoorsy stuff with my family, including hunting, which is probably where Alec came from. I went to a small liberal arts university, thinking I was going to be an English teacher, hated student teaching, and went on to a brilliant career as—well, actually I had a long string of rent-paying jobs, including house painter, property manager, freelance journalist, copy writer, and probably the most useful to me as an aspiring fantasy writer—necropsy technician. (Helping with farm animal autopsies. Ask me about cleaning up blood with a shovel or falling down in a truckload of dead cats and dogs. Go on, I dare you.) And I wrote.
Ultimately I got my wish and published my first novel, Luck in the Shadows, with Bantam Spectra in 1996. Since then I've published four more books in that series, with number six, Casket of Souls, coming out next fall. I've also written a related trilogy, with a few short stories here and there, and of course, Glimpses. When I'm not writing I hang out with my man and my grown sons when they're around, knit, adopt homeless animals, play games with friends, walk, review teas Teaviews.com, edit Master's papers for the University of Redlands, take the occasional vacation, and read. Not very exciting, I know, but that's why I write fantasy.
JL - Not counting fairytales and Peter Rabbit, do you remember the first fantasy novel you ever read? What impact did it make on you?
FL - The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron. I was sort of a weird kid. The substantial childrens section of our public library was divided by topic. I'd start at one end of a section, say, "Dogs" or "Mystery" and read my way to the end. Mushroom Planet must have been at the beginning of the SF section. It was the story of two boys who build a spaceship and travel to a small planet where little green people are dying of a sulfur deficiency. Luckily our heroes brought their mascot hen with them, which solved the problem. Deus ex poultry. Being quite young, I was very impressed and must have read more on that shelf, but the next one I really remember was Andre Norton's Moon of Three Rings. From there I went on to read a lot of SF and some fantasy. Like many epic fantasy writers of my ancient generation, I was deeply scarred by J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. But I also imprinted especially on the Sherlock Holmes series and Ray Bradbury. Which takes us to . . .
JL - What made you choose to write fantasy? What do you think fantasy offers as a genre that is unique?
FL - Fantasy chose me. In high school and college I was trying to be a combination of Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft, Arthur C. Clarke, and Bradbury, and not very successfully. Then in the early 80s, this roguish fellow named Seregil showed up in my brain, demanding a world to play in. It needed to be a fantasy world, and there I was.
Fantasy is a fun place to work because while there are tropes, there is also a lot of freedom. You can sculpt everything from character to entire worlds to suit yourself. To me it's like a big fat scrapbook where I can paste in bits and pieces of my experience and imagination and then blur the edges to fit. Seregil was intended to be a fantasy medieval Sherlock Holmes, but he's got a lot of Odysseus, the Scarlet Pimpernel, Scaramouch, with perhaps a soupcon of Bugs Bunny in him. And, tangentially, he's gay. I have endless fun with him and his partner, Alec, and their friends.
JL - Describe your typical work day
FL - I recently read about yours in Man, Oh Man and was demoralized for several days. You're insanely disciplined. And productive.
Sometimes I spend the morning in my bathrobe, drinking coffee and taking care of online matters, fan mail, answering interview questions, business, and the like, or edit papers for the university. Sometimes if I'm really being good I get up early and do my meditation and take my walk, and then take care of the other things. I do all the non book writing business I can, then I'm ready to settle down and work after lunch. I write until five or six, five days a week. If I take a week day off, I write on Saturday or Sunday. At the beginning of a project 1000 words is a good day. As I get the middle figured out and move on toward the end I can pull 3000 or 4000 here and there if the old brain is firing on all cylinders.
JL - You get a lot of critical praise for your world-building. How much making-it-up-as- you-go do you do?
FL - Thanks! I do a lot of research. I read about history and cultures, anthropology, food, language, religion, and so on. I go to museums and travel. I take notes in movies. I listen to music. I have life experiences and pay attention. I don' t know how often I've seen something somewhere and thought "Hey, I can use that!" It all goes into the Great Cosmic Compost Heap of the sub brain and the most surprising things bubble up. World building is part of that, a pastiche of many elements I've stoked up on.
JL - That leads me to the ever popular question of outlining. Are you an innie or an outie?
FL - Are you outying me, Mr. Lanyon? Seriously, though, I've tried to be an outliner, but it doesn't come naturally. I can outline small stretches, but mostly I know where I want to go, what most of the major events need to be, and then see what happens along the way. At the beginning of every project I buy a notebook—a nice one that appeals to me and seems to fit the project (my first one was a spiral bound Mead because I was poor; Casket of Souls is in black leather) In it I write down all my thoughts and plans, character sketches, lists of things to accomplish. I guess that's my way of outlining.
I'm what my writer friends call an organic writer. One thing leads logically to another. I've done my best writing sitting down to write one thing and coming up with something completely different and unforeseen. If I try to pin everything down before I start it kills the idea. Writing for me is like playing music by ear; there's a natural progression to sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and books. They have high notes and low and you need to be able to riff and scat with the tempo.
JL - How has the publishing industry changed since you first started out?
FL - It's changed a lot. The major imprints are eating each other left and right, making less markets to sell to. My publisher, Bantam Spectra, just became Random House's Spectra imprint. The publishing houses are owned with few exceptions by large, non literary corporations that have their eye on the bottom line. They seem to expect nothing but best sellers. The editors still care about books, passionately, but they're under a lot of pressure. Publishing house staff are being cut, and authors, too. I know a number whose names you'd probably recognize who aren't getting their options renewed, or being told to come up with something new under a new name. I'm in the middle of a two book contract now with Spectra, but I'm not taking anything for granted when it's over. The conventions are smaller, and the lavish publisher's parties are long since a thing of the past. The life of the majority of new books that come out are measured in weeks or months. The fact that all of mine are still in print and still selling and being translated is something for which I am extremely grateful.
The biggest growth area I see right now is small press indie publishers. With print-on-demand and ebook formats so easy theses days, they can afford to get into the game and many of them are very good. Glimpses wasn't sellable to my big publisher; it's too small and too niche. But I worked with 3 Crow press to produce it and it's selling well. Ten years ago I would have had to self publish, and that's hard to get into stores.
JL - Do you feel the audience for the Nightrunner series has changed? What I mean is, I’m assuming your original audience was primarily a mainstream fantasy audience. There’s now a growing audience for specifically-m/m content. Do you think that audience is impacting what happens in mainstream fantasy?
FL - Actually I think that market has been around for a long, long time. It's just come out into the open in the last fifteen years. One of the early manifestations was the Kirk/Spock Star Trek slashing. That goes back to the 70's, I think. But decades before I'd ever heard of slash or yaoi (after my first two books came out, actually) I was reading the works of Mary Renault and Anne Rice and liking the m/m parts very much. It wasn't sexual titillation, either. It was just neat and terribly romantic in their books. Renault was the making of me as a writer of gay characters. For one thing, her books mostly have happy endings. Men weren't destroyed for being gay, even in The Charioteer.
Through the 70s and early 80s most if not all the queer characters I found in mainstream books and movies were either victims or villains, or were only hinted at. If they didn't die, they didn't get to have a real love, either. Buddies and side kicks? OK we'll allow that. But they never seemed to get center stage. I decided to attempt to create a dashing, roguish, heroic, noble gay hero who got to have a decent life and a lover. Their sexuality is not the point of the story. I just wanted to create a world where queer characters are accepted, lovable, and loved.
That's a long answer, isn't it? The short one: I think that audience has always existed and now it's OK. More than OK, it's marketable. Sex sells, including m/m sex. I have a very mixed following: male/female, gay/straight, young/old—pretty much the gamut, except for homophobes, of course. They're scared off by the end of Stalking Darkness and write nasty reviews on Amazon, or directly to me.
The biggest change I see in the mainstream market is how much more explicit the author can be. When I started the Nightrunner Series I was being bold for the mainstream. It's pretty tame now compared to newer works. A scholar recently referred to the series as "Homo-lite" in a journal article because I don't show explicit sex. I couldn't back in 1995, when Luck sold. You can now. It's almost expected, straight or gay. In books I mean. Well, also in . . . Never mind.
JL - You put aside the Nightrunner series at one point. What drove that decision--and why did you decide to continue the series? (Which, may I say, I’m delighted you decided to do.) How many more adventures can we expect from Alec and Seregil?
LF - Originally Luck in the Shadows and Stalking Darkness were one long, unsellable manuscript. I broke it in two, added a plot arc to Luck, and landed a two book deal. They did well enough that the publisher asked for more, so I wrote Traitor's Moon on another two book contract, but by the time I finished it I was tired—not of the characters, just mentally tired— and needed to do something else for awhile. Career-wise it might not have been the best idea, but at that point I just would have turned out crap, and I didn't want to do that to the boys. I didn't want to spoil the series, so I put it on hiatus. I filled out the contract with the first Tamír book, The Bone Doll's Twin, which was burning a hole in my brain, then the rest of the trilogy. To be honest, it was pretty scary going back to the Nightrunner world with Shadows Return for a number of reasons. First, I had to get back into that time period and detailed world. I had to get those characters talking in my head again. My biggest fear was whether there was any audience for more Nightrunner. As it happened, they were there waiting for me, and brought in new readers. I think I'm on my second generation of readers now. Shadows Return has done well, and the sequel, The White Road, went into a second printing within a few months of the first run and is going strong.
JL - In Glimpses we finally see Seregil and Alec consummate their relationship. What are your thoughts about erotic content in fantasy novels?
LF - If it's done well, I really like it. Sex is wonderful, when it's fun for everyone involved. It's a lovely part of life. But man, is it hard to write! For me at least. I had my stride from the earlier books, but my fans had been clamoring for more detail and I wanted to give it to them in the short story collection. Seregil and Alec's "first time" was the number one most requested scene for years, closely followed by what they got up to in that cabin in the woods in the missing years. I talked about it—heck, they did it all over the place— but I didn't show detailed scenes. Of course, some fan fiction was written, which I couldn't officially sanction because my publisher didn't like it and it was a big go around. So a few years ago I jokingly said on my blog that I should write my own fan fiction. They took me seriously and kept after me until I did. Glimpses ensued. I don't know about you, but writing a real sex scene makes me feel very naked. I'm not sure what I wrote qualifies as full bore erotica. But it's sex and was meant to be erotic and it fits with my world and the other books. It's romance, of course, loving acts between two people who feel some level of connection with each other. Sex for sex's sake is fine, too, and it's often alluded to in the series that Seregil had more than his share before he met Alec, and even for a while after. Maybe if there's a Glimpses II I'll write about that.
JL - What makes for a satisfying fantasy novel in your opinion?
LF - Characters I can care about and whose progress I feel invested in. Plot is important but if I don't care about the characters, I won't finish the book. I don't even have to like them, just find them interesting and need to know what happens to them next. I find your books addictive because you do that so well— make me care. The emotional arc you created through the Adrien (with an e) English books was just brilliant.
JL - Thank you very much for those kind words. What advice do you have for newbie and aspiring fantasy writers?
LF - I've said in other places, Don't worry if you're good enough. You're not—yet. You have to do the work, write the crap, find out how grueling it can be along with the joy of creation, find out how fragile your ego is, and keep going anyway, to get there. Becoming a successful writer? There's no trick, just a lot of devotion and hard work.
JL - What’s on the horizon for Lynn Flewelling?
LF - I'm pounding away at Casket of Souls for a February deadline, and then there's another Nightrunner book, which might be the last for a while, since I have some different projects beginning to take shape in my back brain. I'm signing Glimpses at Mysterious Galaxy bookstore in San Diego on October 16th and I'll be a guest at Yaoi Con in San Francisco at the end of October, but mostly I'm keeping my head down and working. And knitting.
JL - Thanks very much to Lynn for taking the time to answer a few questions -- and here’s wishing her lots of success with Glimpses!
- Current Mood:awake