Colin Falconer, Writing and Researching

(Reposted from Tapawera Book Review, August 2012)

I recently read My Beautiful Spy and put a review up on Tapawera Book Review (http://tapawerabookreview.wordpress.com ).

Mr Falconer made a comment, thanking for the review.  Being the cheeky person I am, I asked if he would consent to doing an interview with me. And he agreed!  So here it is:

 Firstly, I have just read My Beautiful Spy and I was wondering where did the inspiration come from for this story?

My beautiful spyI was researching a novel in Israel and I was in a book store in Jerusalem and came across a book about spying in Istanbul during World War Two. It sounded just like the Humphrey Bogart movie, Casablanca. So I bought it, put it on my bookshelf and left it there for years. Then one day I picked it up and read it and the story jumped out at me. The British and Americans and Nazis all thrown together in one of the world’s most haunting cities, smiling at each other at embassy cocktail parties and then assassinating each other in the bazaars. Fascinating. The girl was my own creation, one of those gloriously enigmatic women that no one ever knows who she is working for and who she is really sleeping with. 

My Beautiful Spy  isn’t your usual run of the mill spy story.  It is based in Bucharest to start with, then Istanbul – why these two places?

Istanbul is one of my favourite cities in the world. I had written about it in HAREM and SERAGLIO, and I was itching to have it as the backdrop of another novel. Bucharest was a revelation. Despite Ceacescu’s depredations, enough of the city is as it was in 1940 to give me a sense of what it was like – especially the Athena Hotel. No one has written much at all about the espionage that went on here in World War Two and the stories I uncovered are just intriguing. 

  What research did you do to find out more about the two cities that the story is based in?

 Istanbul was easy to research, as I already knew my way around the city from previous visits. In Bucharest I stayed with one of foreign co-agents and she had a lot of great contacts. I had access to the city’s photograph library and met a couple of Romanian intelligence officers who were still alive then – one was well into his eighties and met me at the door of his tiny flat in a tie and three piece suit. He was charming. The rest of the research that I did into the British and American intelligence services I did in London. There was some fascinating material; for instance the Germans wanted to negotiate a peaceful surrender but communists like Philby in the British intelligence service stopped them – in order to help Stalin capture half of Europe. All true.

When you write your characters, do you base them on people you have researched?  

Some characters are based on actual real life figures from history, some are entirely fictional. And by that, I mean they are based on people I know in real life who are not from history. 

I loved your characters of Daniela and Nick, how do you make your characters believable? 

As I said, they are based on people in real life. They have great virtues, they have equally great flaws. Like all of us. I don’t have any great technique for writing characters: I know some writers write biographies of their characters before they even start. Me, I just try and imagine what it feels like to be them.

Then I asked him more specific questions about writing:

Which was the first book you wrote and what made you write that?  

I wrote books before I had one published. My first, a rip off of Joseph Heller was just – awful. The second book – even now I’m not sure what it was about – was even worse. The third, a thriller, wasn’t nearly as terrible, just unpublishable. At the time I thought they were all fantastic. I really feel sorry for literary agents now, having to plough through this stuff.

My first published book was a thriller, based on a real story, VENOM. It took me 5 years of rewrites before it was published. I’m a slow learner.

Have you ever felt like you could have done more to a story that has already Colin Falconerbeen edited and published?  Which story and why?

Just about every book I’ve ever written. In fact, with the eBook revolution,  I have revised each and every book before I’ve republished it online. You learn things over the years – I’ve learned more in the last two years than I learned in the previous 20. 

Do you have a set schedule for writing, or just when you have a spare half an hour?  Do you have a special place where you write (like a room, or the couch…)

I used to have a study and a strict schedule – but that was when I had two kids and I wanted to make sure I had plenty of time for them. Since they left home I don’t have such a strict schedule. I can do three 16 hour days in a row then take 3 days off. Everything is about meeting deadlines: doesn’t matter how it happens, as long as it’s done.

I don’t have a study at the moment – I’m between houses, and deciding where to live – so my laptop is my home. I can write pretty much anywhere, coffee shop, train – everywhere except at a footy game, when I get too excited to concentrate.

What do you like to read?

I like to read the sort of books that I write: historical fiction. Books like Wolf Hall, Poisonwood Bible, anything by James Clavell. I’m reading People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks at the moment.

Can you tell us about your latest project?

Next month I have a book out called STIGMATA, which is far and away the best thing I’ve ever done. It’s good to be able to say that; I still feel I’m getting better with each book (which is why I was so happy to be able to revise my backlist online.) I’m currently under a heavy deadline; I’m writing a book set in the time of Alexander the Great. It’s epic in every sense. My publisher suggested it to me: what would have happened if Alexander hadn’t died young? It’s called alternate history. It’s the first time I’ve done it; historical fiction that never happened.

Thank you Colin for your time and answering my questions.

You can check out more of Colin’s work over at http://www.colinfalconer.net

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Rosalind James and the attraction to NZ

Rosalind James is the author of the Kindle-bestselling “Escape to New Zealand” series.  She is a former marketing executive who has lived all over the United States and in a number of other countries, travelling with her civil engineer husband. Most recently, she spent several years in Australia and New Zealand, where she fell in love with the people, the landscape, and the culture of both countries. 

Having recently read Just This Once by Rosalind James, I was intrigued.  How did an American Author capture NZ mannerisms and culture so well?  This is an interview that Rosalind James has provided for a blog tour and kindly allowed me to use.

Your series is called “Escape to New Zealand.” Why New Zealand?Rosalind

I spent 15 wonderful months living and working in New Zealand, and fell in love with the country. The beauty and diversity of the landscape (not to mention the seascapes), the Maori culture and its integration into the country’s life, and, perhaps more than anything, the people: modest, good-humored, unfailingly polite and hospitable, and so very funny.  I think everyone would like to escape to New Zealand—I know I did!

 On the same note, why did you decide on rugby players as heroes?

What’s different about the All Blacks is that the players are expected to be model citizens off the field as well. These young men face so much pressure and are under such a spotlight—it’s a completely different environment from the U.S. sports world. The combination of superb athletic achievement and celebrity with the expectation that you’re still a “good bloke” just fascinated me. And made me say: “romance hero”!

 How many books have you written and which is your favorite?just This Once

I’ve just finished my fourth book, Just for Fun. They are all my favorites while I’m writing them! Here’s how they fall out for me:

Most cathartic to write/favorite hero: Just This Once

Snarkiest banter/most interesting research (Maori hero): Just Good Friends

Funniest/easiest to write: Just for Now

Sexiest/most heart-tugging: Just for Fun

 Do you see yourself in your heroines? Which of them is most like you?

There’s something of me in all my heroines. Most like me: absolutely Hannah, in Just This Once. People say “write what you know,” so I did! That book has a fair amount of autobiography in it. The funny thing is that some reviewers haven’t liked her as well as my other heroines (I try not to take it personally!). They’ve thought her emotional issues should be resolved once she meets our wonderful hero. If only life worked that way, huh?

Least like me: Kate, from Just Good Friends. I wish I were that confident and tough.

 What surprises your friends about your books?

That they’re so steamy! J

When did you begin writing?

I’d been a marketing writer for 10 years, but I never had a thought of writing fiction.
I was on holiday in New Zealand with my husband almost exactly one year ago, and I had a story unfolding in my head as I so often do. For some reason, instead of telling myself to stop daydreaming, I let the story continue for days. I asked my husband, “Do you think I could write a book?” and being the great guy he is, he said, “Of course!” So I had him stop the car in Te Kuiti and bought a notebook, paper, and a pen. It was Oh So Scary to write the first sentence of “Just This Once.” But within two weeks, I was writing six hours a day on top of my regular job, and I knew this was all I wanted to do.

How long did it take to complete your first book?

Six weeks, while working at my “real job.” (I finished the book and quit the job.) I think up/write/edit a book in about three months, but that’s because I’ve been a professional writer working to deadline for so long–writing my own stories is so much more fun, it’s just a matter of keeping up on paper with what’s in my head.

 I notice that you’re self-published. Did you try the traditional publishing route first? Any advice for other writers considering self-publishing?

I queried agents for about three months with “Just This Once,” and got requests for more of the book from a few agents and one publisher. One day in June, I heard back from a very prominent agent, who’d requested the full manuscript, that she really enjoyed the story, but that “New Zealand rugby” would be too tough of a hook. An hour earlier, I’d heard from my doctor, who said, “I’m referring you to the oncologist, because we can’t tell what your tumor is.” My first thought was, thank God my children are grown. And my second was, thank God I have had the chance to find out what I wanted to do in life, and to do it. The one thing I knew for sure was that I didn’t want to die without publishing my books.

And the other thing I knew for sure was that “New Zealand rugby” was a GREAT hook! I finished writing “Just for Now” two days before going into the hospital and started editing again seven days after surgery. I decided that I still didn’t want to die without publishing my books, so within a month, I’d published all three! And by the way: I’m not dying anytime soon, unless I get hit by a truck—lots more time, I hope, to write lots more books!

We’re living in a wonderful time when you can see for yourself if your book has “sales appeal” or not. Why not give it a try and see? The risk and cost are low–professional editing and cover design, an author website. The dream, of course, is to get that lucrative publishing contract—but whether or not that happens, doing it this way is working great for me so far, and I’m so very thankful to have the opportunity to share my work with so many people.

 What have you learned from writing and publishing your books?

Life is all about taking risks. Anything that’s worth doing is going to be scary. The trick is to feel the fear and go ahead and do it anyway. Fall in love, write a book, pursue your dreams. That’s the underlying theme of my books, and my life.

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than exposure. – Helen Keller

 Website/Blog: http://www.rosalindjames.com

Twitter: @RosalindJames5  (https://twitter.com/RosalindJames5)

Facebook: rosalindjamesbooks (https://www.facebook.com/rosalindjamesbooks)

Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/rosalindjames/rosalind-james/

Link to Purchase

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/author/rosalindjames

Check out a review of Just This Once tomorrow.

Ghost Hand – How did Ripley do it?

Ripley first introduced me to the term “Speculative Fiction” and together with a group of keen NZ writers, we formed SpecFicNZ – a place where writers of fantasy, science fiction, horror and all genre inbetween could join together and show NZ their written talents.  Ripley tells of her NZ adventures, along with details of her debut novel, Ghost Hand.

Ripley's author photoWhat made you move to NZ?

Nothing made me move. I really wanted to live in such a beautiful, amazing country. My husband and I were looking for an adventure, and we wanted our kids to have a more global experience and world view. New Zealand seemed like a natural choice because we wouldn’t have to learn a new language and the climate and landscape were a lot like Portland, Oregon where we were from.

How long did you live in NZ?

We lived in New Zealand from August 2005 to August 2011. It was an incredible time and experience for my whole family, but it is also very good to be back in Portland again.

How did the Chch earthquakes affect your writing?

Well, I was writing Ghost Hand in Christchurch during the earthquakes, and dealing with all of that really did slow down the process. Ghost Hand took me three years to write, some of that because I was new to novel writing and the learning curve was a bit steep. But much of that time was spent in survival mode, dealing with the trauma going on around me. We lost a wall of our first home and had to move in under six hours. My husband lost two work buildings in quick succession. My daughter was displaced from her high school. Our neighbor was one of those lost in the Pyne Gould building. Many times we were living without electricity, plumbing, or potable water, and navigating daily aftershocks. Not the best circumstances to write under, but writing Ghost Hand gave me a place to escape to, a place with no earthquakes, a world where I was in control of everyone and everything that happened, and that gave me a lot of comfort.

Did leaving NZ affect your writing, or improve it?

I loved the creative vibe of New Zealand, and it really fed my muse. My short story career blossomed there, and NZ will always hold a special place in my heart. But one of the perks of writing is that it can be done anywhere. Leaving New Zealand was simply the closing of one chapter of my life, a very exciting tension-filled chapter, a page-turner in fact. The transition back to the States upon finishing Ghost Hand felt like the round, very satisfying ending of that chapter to me. My time in New Zealand had come to an end, and a new chapter was beginning: a chapter in which I would become a self-published novelist in the States. And being a writer means that everything that happens to me affects and improves my writing, I think.

You have won 2 Sir Julius Vogel awards for your writing. Tell us what this means to you and your writing?

To be fair, one of the awards was for my writing, and one was Services to Sci-fi, Fantasy and Horror for founding SpecFicNZ, the national association for speculative fiction writers in and from New Zealand. Winning those SJVs was a huge validation to me as a writer, and to my efforts to create SpecFicNZ. I think winning that first award was a turning point for me in believing that I could make writing my professional career, not just something I did on the side. So, it was a huge catalyst, and one I am very thankful for.

Ghost Hand, where did the idea come from?Ghost Hand

The idea for Ghost Hand came from two main sources. The first is the physiological phenomenon of phantom limbs. I have a friend who is a recent amputee, and it fascinates me that he can still feel his missing leg. When he walks in the yard his missing toes feel the wet grass between them because his brain and nerves retain that sensation. And because I am a fiction writer, and it is my job to ask the “what if” questions, I asked myself, “What if phantom limbs were physically real? What would they be made of, and what would they do?”

The second inspiration for Ghost Hand comes not from the medical world, but from the realm of psychology. For fifteen years, my husband has worked as a therapist with troubled teens. Teenagers are dealing with so many things these days, so many dark hurts and burdens that are almost impossible to extract, and they go on to carry these things for the rest of their lives. So, I found myself asking the question, “What if someone could reach in and pull those things out? What impact would it have on the person losing them, and the person taking them? And what power would those burdens have in the material world?”

Together, these two sets of “what if” questions formed the original idea for Olivia Black’s ghost hand and the powers it would develop in the book. And after that, all I had to do was follow her around and write down what she did.

 What interests you about writing fantasy?

Everything. The escape. Living in worlds of my own creation. How I think it can gently and poignantly speak to the truth in a way realistic fiction and non-fiction cannot.

When you aren’t writing, what do you do for a job?

Writing is my one and only job, thanks to a very supportive patron also known as my husband. When both my children became school age in 2005, I gave up my career as a school teacher to pursue writing full-time, and I have never looked back. I am extremely thankful to my husband and children for making the financial sacrifices it has required to let me do that. I owe them big time, as they often remind me.

You can gbuy Ghost Hand HERE:

Find out more about Ripley and her fiction on her website HERE: http://www.ripleypatton.com/ where you can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and add yourself to her mailing list for monthly updates on Ghost Hand and Ghost Hold, the second book in the PSS Chronicles Series coming in September 2013.

Check out tomorrow’s post, a review of Ghost Hand.

An interview with Joseph Evans

A few weeks ago I reviewed City of the Falling Sky, for Adopt an Indie month. The author, Joseph Evans, was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about his series.

I can tell from your book that you’re a big fan of the Harry Potter universe. I think you did a good job of creating your own, while still paying your respects to the world JK Rowling created – how did you go about that?

Yes, I am a huge fan of Harry Potter and they are the most enjoyable books I have ever read. I don’t know of any other books for that age group that have the same level of worldbuilding, and I think that is one of the key aspects to its success. When I began writing, I consciously wanted to make a world that was just as complex and just as enjoyable to live in.

How many books have you got planned for the Seckry Sequence, and what kind of timeframe are they going to be written over?

There will be five books in total, and each one will cover an academic year, much like in Harry Potter. So by the end of it, Seckry will be nineteen! When I began this journey as a writer, the first thing I did was spend six months not only planning the first book, but the whole five books! I know what’s going to happen in each book and I think this will really help to keep the quality consistent without me losing my way with it.

I found it interesting that you had a lot of made up creatures and items in your world, like the animals at the school, and then on the other hand, used some regular words from our world, like carrots and milkshakes – how did you decide on the balance between regular words and invented items?

One of my favourite authors, Chris Wooding, wrote a blog on this once, and It was very helpful. Here’s the link.
I took a lot of advice from this post, as it is very important to balance the completely alien with the familiar. My personal rationale is that if something if onomatopoeic enough, it doesn’t matter that the reader doesn’t know exactly what it is, since the word itself gives you a very good idea. I have no idea what a gloopy mullsquash dip is myself, but I can picture and taste it just the same! Some of my favourite things to invent were the names for my characters. Again, some of these sound very familiar and some very strange. The name Loca Thumbsuckle was my favourite to invent, because it makes her sound very delicate and innocent when she’s not like that at all!

While the book deals with some serious material, it also has some really fun aspects as well. Do you think it’s important to work in some light-hearted moments in a series like this?

Definitely. Another thing JK Rowling does excellently is humour, and that was one of my favourite things about the first three Harry Potters before they got darker. Another one of my favourite authors is Terry Pratchett, who is renowned for his humour, and I’ve taken a lot of influence from him. I enjoy  the darker parts more in books if they are counterbalanced by humour, as I think the light hearted scenes are where we really get to know the characters as if they are our own friends.

Finally, when do you think the second book will be available?

I’m hoping to have it ready next spring if I can really work on it non stop. I don’t want to keep my new fans waiting for too long as I can’t wait to hear what they think of book 2. The title is going to be The Trinity Awakening, and it’s going to be even more epic than the first!

Thanks so much, Joseph!

It was great to get some insight into the decisions and process that went into the creation of this book, and the series to come. All the best with City of the Falling Sky, and I hope the writing goes well for The Trinity Awakening!

Interview – Christopher Ruz

Yesterday I posted my review of Ruz’s brand new collection of short stories. Today we follow up with an interview with the man himself!

Here is a bit about Chris, in case you haven’t checked out his website. Blatantly stolen from his ‘about’ page’:

I’ve been writing for the past six years and studying industrial design for the past four, graduating in 2010 from RMIT with a BA Design (Industrial Design) (Hons). I’m now developing my design portfolio while also working on a number of fiction projects, both largeand small. If you’re interested in publishing anything you see here, please drop me a line.

I’ve had short stories previously published by fiction blogs such as Weaponizer and Labyrinth Inhabitant’s Magazine. I also have shorts to be published in upcoming issues of Birdville Magazine and Vehicle Magazine. My short story Long Way Home won the first Ergofiction Search Term Challenge. I’ve also been rejected by lots of very famous people, which must count for something.

Now, on with the questions!

What made you decide to put together and publish a collection of short stories yourself?

The problem with writing shorts is that there are fewer and fewer outlets willing to take a punt on unpublished authors these days. Short fiction mags rely on stories by big names to pull in sales, and the web-zines are inundated with so many email submissions that it can take up to and above 9 months for a reply. As a result, my short stories were languishing. I put them up on my blog for free and got great responses but absolutely nothing in the way of commercial interest, and the Kindle store seemed like a fantastic way to reach out to a wider audience. I would have made the book free on Amazon, but I wanted to experiment with how the site works as a sales platform, because I have plans to release a few novels on there in the future. Thus, the idea of the 99c collection was born.

I’ve had the pleasure of reading several of your short stories online, at various venues. How did you go about deciding which stories to include in this particular collection?

I would have made the collection far larger, but a few folk I was chatting to on reddit.com recommended I keep the wordcount for the collection under 30,000, so the book could be considered for inclusion in the Kindle Singles program. So, I started with my two fan-favourite stories, They Trade in Eyes and The Ant Tower, and then looked through my collection for others to fill the gaps. Two of my personal favourite stories, Black Rain and What You Bring Back, were too similar in tone, so I tossed a coin and chose Black Rain. The rest were chosen to roughly balance out the ratios of fantasy to scifi to paranormal weirdness.

From the reviews you’ve had so far, it would seem like a clear favourite of readers is ‘They Trade In Eyes’ (I think it would be my favourite as well!)—do you have a favourite?

I love all the stories in Past the Borders – the stories I don’t adore or that don’t resonate with readers, I throw in the bin. But my absolute fave is The Ant Tower, for a number of reasons: the first is the central image of the tower itself, which came to me in a dream one night and never let go. Second is the dynamic between Parkin and the Magician, which evolved through a series of accidents – I never originally intended for the two to fall in love. At one point in the story I wrote, “Parkin felt a burning in his gut, in his groin,” or something to that effect. It was just supposed to be indicative of his fear at the time, but when I re-read that part later I realised, damn, Parkin loves this guy. And that flipped the entire story on its head. Third, is that there was so much history and conflict implied around the edges of the story that I couldn’t get it out of my head, even after the fifth re-write. It sat and mouldered for two years, until finally I realised what the aftermath of The Ant Tower would be, and how grand and sweeping a story it would provide. Hence my current project, the Century of Sand trilogy.

Having done this once, is it an experience you’d be keen to repeat? Or do you think you’ll be focusing more on your longer works now?

I’ll definitely be repeating the process soon. I almost have a second collection of great shorts compiled, which will go up in the coming months, as well as a scifi novel of mine called Alpha Slip that aaaaalmost made it into publishers hands. All will be priced at 99c. There’ll be more collections to follow, in time. Short stories are in my blood.

I really enjoyed the novella ‘The Ant Hill’, I believe that’s a story that comes into play in your novel ‘Century of Sand’ –are you looking to self-publish that title as well? If so, when do you think we’ll be able to get our grubby little hands on it?

Century of Sand is, I think, the first novel of mine that has a solid chance of print publication. So I’ll be shopping it around to publishers for at least six to nine months when its done – if they don’t want it, up on the Kindle store it goes! I’ll have the entire trilogy drafted by about September, and the first book edited into final-draft shape by the end of 2011.

Finally, if you had to choose a friend based solely on five movies, what would those movies be? (Yes, I know it’s not writing related, but I’m always interested to know which movies people think best represent the traits/similarities they would appreciate in a friend).

Tough question. Most of the movies I love don’t make for good friends. For example, be wary of anyone that loves Fight Club or Requiem for a Dream. Monty Python and the Holy Grail would have to be #1. Second… maybe Children of Men. It implies imagination, patience and empathy. Memento is third, I think it takes a keen, analytical mind to appreciate that one. And finally… Born to Fight and Terminator 2. Because I need friends who appreciate the fine art of things being blown up and people being kicked in the face.

Thank you SO much for joining us here today, Chris, and for answering my questions. Best of luck with your current short story collection, and all future works. I for one am looking forward to reading your novels when they are released, whatever the format.