I love interviewing authors. Each of them is so interesting and full of insight, and today is no exception. If anything, Christina is probably the most interesting author I’ve interviewed to date. If you are interested in writing Fantasy Fiction, or any fiction, then you need to read on. Christina’s dialogue is in bold.
First off, thanks for doing this. After reading your short story, I immediately wanted to showcase your writing talent. Some of the opening lines tripped me up a little, but I was dragged into the story by the end of the second paragraph, and read it through to the end. The immediate question that pops up is that it seems a lot went into this world-building, and the mechanics. Judging by your map at the top of the post, I can tell there’s a lot in here for future stories. Can you describe the world-building process?
Big question that could easily be its own book, but I’ll endeavor to keep it short. My Ontyre world building approach was a combination of many parallel paths: geography (including maps), climate, peoples, cultures, economics, history, and, as a fantasy writer, magic. Each element influences the others so it’s important they interact, which was one of the motivations behind attempting fantasy short stories. Almost all the advice I read said to stay away from writing short stories in the fantasy genre given the world building requirements. I didn’t listen, but admit that it’s extraordinarily difficult.
I wanted a world that was at once familiar, yet unfamiliar. Common and magical. In many cases I avoid some of the more common fantasy tropes like dragons. Elves, too, actually. Gryphon Gray is a historical story taken from the moment Mythwyll is descending into chaos and the elves are dying out. At the same time, elf blood will remain in a select few ora’ean. There are wizards, sorcerers, and witches. There are also mammoths still roaming the north and neanders hunting them. Gargoyles are real and there’s a thriving market for them. Basically, I’m a blender. My characters and cultures are all composites.
Mixed races sound great, as long as the population interaction provides for it. I wonder, are there some secluded races in your storytelling that are cut-off from the general gene-pool?
Whoops, I was referring to my process for creating races, not existing races across Tremjara. It was on my mind that some writers base a race they create on a single human culture and just change the name.
Oh, I gotcha. So you were looking for a unique starting point, rather than the typical tropes.
Yes, the races in Tremjara are composites of the various cultures around Earth with inventions of my own added based on where the race is located and how magic influences their culture.
In fact, since the Old Empire collapsed over a thousand years before, the surviving civilizations are quite isolated and homogeneous. They were before (which caused considerable conflict), but it’s become more pronounced and in most cases they aren’t aware the others exist. The eventual exploration of the rest of the continent and its rediscovery provides for ample storytelling (not to mention events unfolding within Carrdia, which is located near the continent’s center). It’s important to note the Old Empire brought the various races together by force. Peaceful cultural exchange existed in only one place before the Emprensen Empire. Carrdia is the last substantial concentration of humans and they share a border with the ora’ean in Forstava (mentioned in Gryphon Gray).
What about the world itself? The seas and rivers and mountains. How do you keep it all straight?
It isn’t enough to know a city exists. It’s important to understand its location and how it’s influenced by its environment.
For me, maps are vital. There’s nothing like having a picture in your mind. It isn’t enough to know a city exists. It’s important to understand its location and how it’s influenced by its environment. One of the few states I haven’t visited is Texas, yet I know all the states, one country, and gulf it borders. I’m familiar with its major cities, climate regions, and geography. No such advantage exists in fantasy. You must establish that familiarity.
Yes, blending the world elements into the story is a must in fantasy, I agree. What about magic?
In the fantasy genre magic is key and my system is over 20 years in the making, though for years it was ideas bouncing around in my brain. I’ve also spent years taking the system through its paces. Does it work? Are there contradictions? Most important is listing the limitations and consequences. Ironically—too often this is overlooked—the limitations and consequences are vital to developing conflict and tension in stories.
You mentioned short stories, and the common advice to avoid them. I’ve actually started a world-building process for a possible fantasy novel by writing a bunch of short stories, each of them explaining some “historical” event in the world I’m creating, and once I collect enough, will start putting together a time-line. Do you think that’s a good approach? Will you be compiling some or most of your shorts together in any kind of similar fusion?
I like that. Go for it! That’s quite similar to what I’m in the process of doing. My intention at the moment is to start sending them out for publication in sci-fi/fantasy magazines, but see them compiled at some point. Thus far they all take place during the years of the Emprensen Empire so they’re historical.
I’ve seen much advice about avoiding fantasy short stories because of the world building demands, but obviously people do it or such stories wouldn’t be published by the likes of Clarkesworld, Apex, Strange Horizons and a host of other magazines. It can be done. The simple explanation is that short stories are novels in miniature. You limit the scope of the tale, the number of characters, and so on. What trips people up, and has happened to me many times, is mentioning too much world building, history, or aspects of magic. Pretty soon the reader is overwhelmed with questions.
Just look at my paragraph where I talk about races. What other races? Where are they? Do they all use magic? Do their magics differ? Does anyone ever explore to see if anyone is out there? Why would they have to work together? Is there a bigger threat than each other?
That’s quite a list of questions, but that’s something readers do. They always crave more details, but if you riddle the story with those details, it gets boring. I think it’s a delicate balance.
It goes on and on and tamping those questions down is difficult. The key is not focusing on the world, cultures, and magic, but on an important even in a character’s life and making the rest incidental. Thus, you teach the reader about the world and they’re unaware they’re learning). I know that’s Writing 101, for we shouldn’t do it in a novel, but the larger world has a way of creeping in and it can spiral out of control fast in a short story. Some of my efforts, especially early on, read like textbooks. I might be more relaxed in this stance if it wasn’t my intention to pursue magazine publication, but I don’t think so.
What’s your writing process like? What kind of schedule do you keep yourself on? How much time do you actually get to work on stories?
It’s like discovering you possess magic.
A basic day consists of an hour or two reading blog posts, sharing with other writers, addressing emails, and interacting with my fellow writers on Twitter Writing Challenge. That group has had a tremendous impact on my writing consistency the last 12 months. My time allotted to writing/editing varies depending on the demands of the real world. I’d say 4-6 hours/day is a fair average. It’s over a year since I’ve fallen below one hour and there are times when I push that number well over eight (usually during a NaNo event).
I’m a speed drafter based on the Ray Bradbury advice I adopted long ago. I don’t adhere to the pantser/plotter rift, but instead walk my unique middle road. I usually go into the drafting process with a list of possible characters, a brief sketch of each, and a narrative outline. Sometimes there’s more, but those are the basics. For me, drafting is about determination and excitement. It’s like discovering you possess magic. Editing (revising) is about mastering that magic. I used to hate editing, but I’ve grown to love it because it’s when the story becomes more than I ever imagined.
I’ve found that myself. I think it’s about getting past the thinking that editing is simple sentence correction, and incorporating big story changes into the process.
The editing phase often includes more detailed sketches on the characters since I’ve learned more about them and how they react in different situations. I also create an editing map as best described by Janice Hardy at Fiction University, which is developing a plan to address problems and mold the story into a more defined structure. I draft with a loose structure in mind (via the narrative). Later comes increased foreshadowing, theme…all the finer points.
Nice, I think that’s a process many could adopt. What about the more personal aspects of your writing time, like your relationship with your laptop, or your preferred writing environment?
Beyond that, I like to have all my resources/references close at hand so 99% of the time I write at home. Since I no longer have kids at home there are few distractions, outside the furry ones. Too, if I go to a coffee shop, I spend all my time observing people and none writing. I have a stand-up desk because I can’t stand sitting for long periods. Often I’ll break away, pace for several minutes while I work-out a problem, and return to the computer. Most of the time I have music either in the background or via headphones. The music varies a lot. Sometimes I desire atmosphere and other times it’s about the memories associated with a piece. Thus, a song may have no other connection to what I’m writing other then how it makes me feel.
4-8 Hours is a lot. Do you ever feel like you are alienating other parts of your life? Any regrets, or times when you have to make a hard choice between writing and editing, or doing something else?
What’s happening in the world around me is creative fuel.
It is! I do have to rebel against my introvert nature quite often. What’s happening in the world around me is creative fuel. In a great irony, my ample writing time was bought at the expense of my lungs, which were severely damaged because of a bacterial infection almost eight years ago that left me with a chronic condition. So, what I’ve done is take advantage of my disadvantage (though I should be returning to work on a part-time basis this year owing to finding a fantastic pulmonologist). Was the illness a good thing in the end? That’s a question I still can’t answer.
I’ve been noticing that more and more with writer’s serious about the craft. I know I’ve had my own world-changing experiences that brought me to writing full-time. Not nearly as bad as your condition sounds, though.
I lost a lot in my life, but have gained so much more, so maybe that is an answer. Before 2009 I was a writer torn between traditional obligations and writing, and so struggled with both. Illness made the decision for me.
Choices. I’m faced with them every morning and sometimes (halfheartedly) curse an imagination that won’t turn off. Writer’s block? I only know what that is in theory. Drafting. Editing. Map construction. Developing world building reference materials. Keeping track of characters. And all that is just the world’s present day requirements. In other words, the novels. Then there are the short stories taking place in the same world, but that are otherwise unrelated. I won’t even touch on the other speculative fiction ideas that dance around the periphery of my mind. At this point writing is my clear focus and has no competition. Everything else supports it in some way (like PT work would help pay bills, or walking to aid brainstorming).
Haha. I can relate to that. Every time I start a new piece of fiction, I get ideas for 3 or 4 more. What other stories do you have out right now, and what’s the best place to find them, and to learn more about you on social media?
At the moment, Gryphon Gray is the only short story I have available on my website (christinaannehawthorne.com). I’ve had a couple of others up in the past, but as I’ve grown as a writer they ceased to be an accurate reflection of my skills. One of them will reappear when I’m through revising it. I also have a flash fiction story I’ll eventually share. There are other short stories I’ll market. I have well over 20 in various stages of completion and several bouncing around beta readers. Most take place in Ontyre’s more technological, steam-punk future. The website is where I also share blog posts, poetry, and updates on my writing and map-making. I’m always happy to hear from people! The other place I interact is Twitter (@CA_Hawthorne). I maintain a minimal presence on Facebook because it eats time like a gryphon too long on a liquid diet.
I hate to cut this short, but the word count in this post is turning into it’s own short story. Thanks so much for sharing your passion with me. You are definitely an interesting person with a unique writing style and a unique process.
Thank you for this wonderful opportunity to share with my fellow writers and readers out there. You excel at providing such opportunities.
|Alive and well in the Rocky Mountains. I’m a fantasy writer who also dabbles in poetry, short stories, and map making. My Ontyre tales are an alternative fantasy experience, the stories rich in mystery, adventure, and romance. Alternative fantasy? Not quite steampunk. Not quite gothic. In truth, the real magic is in those who discover what’s within.|