Rjurik Davidson has released his debut novel, Unwrapped Sky, with both TOR US and TOR UK. The novel, like the author, is both perceptive and thoughtful, intelligent and with a conscience. The writing is lyrical and immersive, with care taken to create an innovative world once as strange as it is familiar.
Rju and I met at Clarion South 2005 where both Unwrapped Sky and my Echoes of Empire books had their birth in short stories written there. Rju is a genuinely nice guy, well read, well-travelled, and with a personality that can be irrepressible. We did this interview as a series of emails with me in Sydney, and Rju either in Finland, or Paris, depending upon what question was being asked at the time. A university lecturer and associate editor for Overland magazine, Rju is also an award winning author of screen plays, and short stories including The Library of Forgotten Books collection, and Nighttime in Caeli-Amur which is available here.
Q1: You’ve been an award winning writer of short stories, and have worked on film scripts. Writing long form fiction is a very different endeavour. Can you share with us what motivated you to write Unwrapped Sky, and how you found the process different to your previous work?
Writing a novel was one of my first ambitions, going back to my early teenage years. Back then I used to read omnivorously, anything I could get my hands on. You’d find me with absurdist plays, Tolstoy, Yeats’ poems and a massive fantasy book. I’m still like that, actually, though keeping up with the field means I read a lot more fantasy and SF than anything else. Somewhere in the back of my mind, as a teenager, I always thought of the novel as the pinnacle of things. And in some ways I still do, though it’s a purely subjective judgment.
The process – as you know – is considerably different to short work. The scale of a novel can be intimidating, and I seem to have a habit of writing complicated ones, with multiple characters and story lines. I want my novels to be rich and complex. I want readers to be able to return to them, if they want. When writing, this means there are all kinds of logistical/plot issues that need to be worked out. That can be complex, and I’m not the most patient guy. I like to jump in and create problems for myself later. And I do, believe me. I do. But when I feel overwhelmed, I spare a thought for George R. R. Martin. Five books in and he’s still going. Bring it home George! Bring it home!
Q2: You mentioned how you tend towards writing complex stories, and that you have a broad reading list. Unwrapped Sky veers away from a lot of standard fantasy tropes and delivers something quite different from most work in the genre. What was the pitch that got your agent interested in such an innovative project.
Well, the pitch was something like this: “There’s a publisher interested in my book and I’m looking for an agent. Would you like to see it?” So there wasn’t anything specific about my book in the actual pitch (my superlative agent, John Jarrold, liked the book so we went from there). In fact, I think a lot of publicity-type stuff, “pitching” and so on, is overstated. An intelligent editor (or reader) is going to know that a well-pitched book might be rubbish, and a poorly-pitched book might be brilliant. There isn’t much correlation between the two.
Still, marketing is a modern reality and we can’t just step out of the world so, if I were to pitch my book (and it’s sequels), I’d say that it’s the story of a revolution taking place in a strange, beautiful city, something like ancient Athens or Rome, and something like London in the 1890s or Turin in the 1920s. If you’re intelligent and interested in reading something different from the usual fare, you’ll like it.
Q3: I remember your two Caeli-Amur stories from when we were both at Clarion South 2005, and the seeds of the world we’re reading now. The world you’ve built is innovative and haunting, bubbles of disparate histories all floating together towards the surface into a unique whole. Trying something new can be risky. What was your process in building your world, and the people and races that inhabit it?
World-building is a process of combinations, of matching various things – often surprising things – together. In the case of Caeli-Amur, it was an industrial city with Ancient Greek mythology. When you do that, you have all these questions thrown out, like lines floating in the wind. You wrap those up one by one. Others you leave for a while and wrap them up later. For example, where does this world come from? What’s it’s history? Why are there only male minotaurs? Where do they come from? We’ll find out some of these answers in the next two books, The Stars Askew and The Black Sun. Though some questions are answered in Unwrapped Sky.
You were there when Caeli-Amur was first conceived, both in the story which later became Maximilian’s underwater section, then a few weeks later Kata’s opening section. So you saw a bit of its construction. Over time, it became weirder, more science-fictional. Partly that came because I was reading a bit about physics and realised how weird it was, how strange and magical – and so ‘thaumaturgy’ (magic) in the novel is a kind of weird science. It all happens over time as you work on it. It doesn’t happen right at the beginning. Writing is a process of discovery. In terms of the mythic creatures: I wanted to make the them creatures recognisable but also strange and unusual. I want my readers to be surprised at times, to not know what to expect when they meet a Siren, or an Augurer, or a Nymph. I think just writing about plain, obvious versions of them would have been a bit boring. I also have a lost golden age, but I didn’t want this to be some kind of conservative rural utopia – like in Tolkien – so I made it a more advanced civilisation, which had suffered a catastrophe. The cry for the golden age is also a desire to move forward in science and technology, into a lost future.
Q4: The concepts you cover in Unwrapped Sky are unlike what you’ll find in most fantasy novels. Seditionism, industry, ties to business, the rights of people to live the way they want . . . some of these are touched on in fantasy, but rarely with such a demonstration of social conscience. Tell us about your point of view characters, how they fit into your world, and how they fit into your story.
Well, we have three characters. There’s Boris, a former tram-worker who is moving up the echelons of House Technis. Initially he joined the House because his wife was sick, and when strikes begin at his former frameworks he is given the task of resolving it. One of his agents is Kata, a philosopher-assassin who is just struggling to survive. She grew up on the streets and that has made her hard. Then there’s Maximilian, a seditionist who wants to overthrow the cruel House system, but he’s also ambitious and egotistical.
The three characters are from three different ‘levels’ of society, then. Here the book works a bit like the old realist novels, where the characters are ‘typical’ of social forces. They come to embody groups, to some extent: the House bureaucrats, the oppositionists, the swaying masses in between. Though the House system is unjust, the seditionists are themselves compromised. They tend to reflect the cruelty of the system – as many revolutionary groups are forced to in the real world. A dictatorial system creates violent opposition, and even when right is on your side – think of the Resistance movements to the Nazis – a cruel system is going to be reflected in the opposition to it, to some degree. Still, I think it’s pretty clear, in the end, whose side we’re on (just as it’s pretty clear that we would be on the side of the World War Two Resistance movements).
Q5: What did you find the most challenging aspect of your journey in producing Unwrapped Sky?
The most challenging aspect was making the time to get the thing finished. Somehow I got myself into a position where I was working crappy jobs, mostly teaching at universities, which didn’t pay enough to buy the time to write. In order to buy that time, I’d work more, and so it went on. The university system is one of the most exploitative places in Australia, and sessional staff do the bulk of the teaching and essay marking. At one point, a friend of mine worked out she was earning something like $10-15 an hour. And of course that kind of work – highly skilled, totally undervalued – requires a lot of take-home work. You write lectures, prepare tutorials, mark assignments. Luckily I liked teaching and liked the students, so there was at least some reward, but it meant that one had to really fight for time to write.
Q6: You mentioned that you gone back and looked at Unwrapped Sky as the kind of book that you’d want to read, and that it was interesting. Was there any pressure to write something that was going to be commercially appealing, rather than personally satisfying?
I think there’s always pressure to write something commercially appealing. But first and foremost, I want to write original things, to make a contribution, if you like. That’s also what I want to read: something I’ve never read before, something which makes you think new ways, see the world slightly differently. I want to be surprised, delighted, shocked – things which don’t happen when you’re reading the ‘same old stuff’. I’m often surprised that in the writing world – this goes for genre as well as literary fiction – there’s so little discussion about having something to say. I don’t mean something to say in some crude didactic way, but in terms of writing about things that matter, presenting a perspective that’s of value.
So I want to write books which are original and have something to say. I also like to try to push the form, though this happens more in my short fiction, I think. Having said that, there’s always a sliding scale of commerciality, and you have to accept that the more avant-garde you get, the smaller readership you’re likely to enjoy. I think, for example, I could write action-fantasy, descending from Robert E. Howard, say, pretty well (I’ve done it before). I think it’d be quite commercially appealing. But if I did that, I’d still want it to be original. Otherwise, I wonder, why write it?
Q7: You’ve certainly created something original, with an innovative world and a story we don’t see often in the genre. What more can we expect to see in Caeli-Amur, and what other projects are you working on that people need to keep an eye out for?
The Stars Askew is due out in a year. It’s a sequel to Unwrapped Sky and starts a few weeks after the end of the first book. Things aren’t going well in Caeli-Amur. I won’t give away too much about it now, but if the tagline of the first is, ‘The Revolutions is Coming’, then the tagline of the second is ‘The Revolution is Broken’. It features more of the world surrounding Caeli-Amur, especially Varenis. There are more mythical creatures. I’m quite pleased with how it’s turned out. Otherwise, I’ve got an Australian steampunk novel, in which the inland sea still exists and the continent is still populated by megafauna. I’m happy with that too.
Q8: What’s the best way for readers to know more about your work, and what’s coming next?
Best way is to follow me on twitter @RjurikDavidson and check out my website and blog: rjurik.com.
Q9: What advice do you have to any aspiring writer, or writer starting their journey? You and I both know that the reality can be somewhat different to the expectation.
The clichés are all true: do it for the love of it; develop a thick skin; etc. But most important, I think, is to keep writing, even in the slow or hard patches and remember that you are the person who cares most about your work, so don’t rely on anyone else.
Q10: If you had the chance to do it all over again, is there anything you’d change? And if so, how would you change it?
That’s one of those impossible questions, I think. I mean, it I changes something, I wouldn’t be where I am. I wouldn’t be the person I am. I wouldn’t be writing the things I am. So I wouldn’t change anything. The future, however, is a different question. In the future, I’d make sure that books are flourishing and that people know about my own work. I’m make sure that people know about good work that’s ignored and forget average work which is popular. I might give myself slightly better contracts too, if I’m allowed to do that.
I met Suzanne Church at Clarion 2005, where for 6 weeks we shared the ground floor rooms of the university dormitory with three other writers. We’ve remained friends over the years, enjoying our fellow Clarion graduate’s many and varied successes. Today I’m happy to be joined by Suzanne as she talks about short fiction.
Suzanne Church juggles her time between throwing her characters to the lions and chillin’ like a villain with her two sons. She writes Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror because she enjoys them all and hates to play favorites. Her award-winning fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld, Cicada, and On Spec, and in several anthologies including Urban Green Man and When the Hero Comes Home 2. Her collection of short fiction, ELEMENTS is published by EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing.
Short stories are odd fish in the ocean of fiction. Even though they’re perceived by land lubbers as guppies, they’re actually more like sharks. If you’re wondering why authors write short fiction or why readers search out these stories, then follow the shark.
After all, isn’t it wiser to follow a shark than swim in front of one?
Five Reasons Authors Write Short Fiction
1. To Improve Your Craft
Writing, like anything, improves with practice. Short stories take less time to complete than novels, so the more of them you write, the more you’ll practice beginnings, middles, and endings. Mastering beginnings will get you noticed in the slush pile and mastering endings will leave stronger impressions with readers.
2. To Build Your Brand – Quantity
Novels take a long time to write, edit, and publish. During that time, your readers will seek more of your work. If two or three of your short stories pop up in magazines, anthologies, and online, your readers will be satiated while awaiting your next novel masterpiece.
3. To Build Your Brand – Quality
Since each short story tends to explore one theme, style, or concept, having multiple short stories in print will expose your readers to a variety of your writing talents. You might capture the attention of horror readers who are gripped by your suspense and tension in one story and fantasy readers by your vivid descriptions of setting and character in another.
4. Great Movie Options
How many times have you seen a movie based on a book and been disappointed at the interpretation? Probably because they cut out huge chunks of the story or didn’t go deep enough into the characters’ arcs. Short fiction — novellas in particular — has historically been adapted into great movies. Three out of the four novellas in Stephen King’s Different Seasons have been successfully adapted into movies.
5. The Bottom Line
Publishing is a business and publishers are in it to make money. The more “unknown” an author, the less likely a publisher is to gamble on you. When you’re starting out, try to write stories under 4,000 words. The less space your story takes up in a magazine or anthology, the less of a risk the publisher will feel they’re taking by picking your story out of the slush.
Five Reasons Readers Seek Short Fiction
1. The Perfect Commute Length
Many people read during their commute to work. In larger cities the commute might last 45 minutes to an hour each way. That’s the amount of time it takes to read a short story. And if you’re low on reading material and can’t face another minute avoiding eye contact with the strangers on the train, you can quickly purchase a low-price e-book short story and download it to your phone/tablet. Your budget will thank you when the size of the file won’t chew up your cell plan’s entire data limit.
Podcast sites are great places for readers to find short fiction. Escape Pod, The Drabblecast, Clarkesworld, and Pseudopod are all speculative fiction podcast markets. The great thing about podcasts of short fiction is that they’re the perfect “task-length”. You can listen to a complete short story podcast in the time it takes to wash the dishes, pull a few weeds from the garden, workout at the gym, or walk the dog.
3. Exploring a Theme
Anthologies often explore a theme. For instance, Danse Macabre: Close Encounters with the Reaper edited by Nancy Kilpatrick contains stories where death is a character and Urban Green Man edited by Janice Blaine and Adria Laycraft explores the mythical Green Man’s presence in urban settings.
4. The Multi-Flavour Joy
Every reader has a finite amount of dedicated reading time. Reading short fiction magazines or anthologies provides a reader with the opportunity to try out new authors without committing too much time to the task. Plus, it’s cheaper to try 20+ new authors in one anthology than it is to buy 20 novels. (Ultimately, we authors want to hook you into ALSO buying those 20 novels.)
Magazines are convenient. You subscribe to one and then each issue shows up on a regular basis in your mailbox/email box. When the subscription nears the end, the publisher sends you a reminder to order again. The issues fit conveniently in your purse/pocket/tablet. Sometimes magazines are even lying conveniently on a table when you find yourself waiting in an office for an appointment.
So if you’re not sure whether to write short fiction, here’s a nudge to WRITE SOME! And if you haven’t read short fiction in a while, here’s another nudge to BUY SOME! You’ll feel more like a shark and less like a guppy.
Enjoy the power, but use it responsibly.
by Kate Danley
As part of the 47North Author Blog Swap I’m proud to have the charming, talented and vivacious Kate Danley drop by and have a chat about her process.
Although a writers’ playground is littered with dictionaries and words, sometimes sensory tools can help to keep projects focused.
I quit my job to write full-time in January 2013. It is funny how, when I had a day full of demands, it was easy to know when to schedule my writing. The only time I had free was 10PM-11PM? That must be writing hour! But when the whole day stretched before me, it was tough to figure out when to write, when to promote, when to run to the grocery store, and get to the gym. It is easy for the days to pass in a blur of Facebook updates and Netflix binges. Organizing my creativity became vital to my long-term success, especially when I was juggling several projects at once.
(This is my office. Please ignore the ugly wires. I might be organized, but I’m not THAT organized. And, yes, treadmill desks are amazing and I recommend them to everyone.)
I moved my creativity out of my head and hard-drive and onto my walls, putting my projects in places that I could not ignore them. It was actually something a fellow author shared with me many moons ago and it has turned into one of the most valuable motivational tools I have.
Every morning, I wake up and decide what my goals are. I put them on a white board (which also includes the trips to the dry cleaner and birthday presents that need to be shipped) and cross them off as I meet them.
I once heard a financial guru state that we should place less emphasis on tracking sales (which we have no control over) and more emphasis on tracking our hustle (how much time do we devote to writing, to promotion, to research, etc.). My monthly wall calendar is where I keep track of my long-term progression.
I note which projects I have decided to work on that day, and if I meet my goals, I get to color them in (I color code for each project). If I don’t meet my goals, I don’t, even if I’ve worked on the project. I only get rewarded if I see through the promise I made to myself that morning. It makes me set realistic goals which I can meet. The big circles are the deadlines I have set and met. Many of my daily goals are identified by deciding upon a deadline and working backwards to see what I need to do in order to meet a due date. I can tell at a glance which days I am slacking and which days I’m staying on task, and can start to look for patterns.
The next big motivational tool is a “book vision board”. Remember back in the day when The Secret was big and everyone was creating dream boards? I started doing that with each of my books. I cut out pictures that reminded me of my characters, artwork which felt inspirational, pictures of locations, etc. A picture is worth a thousand words, and with ten pictures, I only have to come up with 40k more to fill in! I have several of these boards hanging over my desk.
The final thing I do is a bit of a Pavlovian dog trick. I pick out a specific mug for each project.
There’s something about smelling and tasting the coffee, and feeling and seeing that specific mug in my hand which gives my brain the “Oh! We’re working on THIS project now” cue. It is better than a bell for making my Muse begin to salivate.
I hope this is valuable! I managed to complete nine major projects in 2013 and, due to contractual obligations, many of them I had to work on at the same time. When there are that many stories swirling around, elbowing their way to the front for my attention, creativity management becomes important. This has turned out to be the way I have been able to juggle them all. Please feel free to take what works and throw away the rest!
USA Today bestselling author Kate Danley began her writing career with The Woodcutter (published by 47North). It was honored with the Garcia Award for the Best Fiction Book of the Year, the 1st Place Fantasy Book in the Reader Views Literary Awards, and was the 1st place winner of the Sci-Fi/Fantasy category in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Her other titles include Queen Mab, the Maggie MacKay: Magical Tracker series (optioned for film and television), From the Indie Side, and the O’Hare House Mysteries.
Her plays have been produced in New York, Los Angeles, and DC Metro area. Her screenplay Fairy Blood won 1st Place in the Breckenridge Festival of Film Screenwriting Competition in the Action/Adventure Category. Her projects The Playhouse, Dog Days, Sock Zombie, SuperPout, and Sports Scents can be seen in festivals and on the internet. She has over 300+ film, television, and theatre credits to her name, and specializes in sketch, improv,
stand-up, and Shakespeare. She trained in on-camera puppetry with Mr. Snuffleupagus and played the head of a 20-foot dinosaur on an NBC pilot.
She lost on Hollywood Squares.
Official Website: http://www.katedanley.com
Mailing List: http://eepurl.com/vcch1
by Joseph Brassey
For January I was paired up with the talented renaissance man, Joseph Brassey, for the 47North Author Blog Swap. I had written a piece on honesty in writing, and Joseph’s article on truth in writing is an interesting read. Enjoy.
The Truth is a beautiful thing. I mean that, without reservation of irony or any other little tonal tack-ons that people so often use when talking about important things. The Truth is multifaceted, as simple as it is complicated. It is deceptive. It is broad ranging, bigger than any one person can ever hope to see in its entirety. It is something nobody can ever claim to completely grasp by themselves.
Right? Right. Now for the other part: The Truth is something for which every storyteller must have only the utmost respect. This is weirdly complicated and frustratingly simple all at once. Mark touched on this when he wrote his piece about Honesty in writing, but I’m going somewhere a little different: I’m talking about those moments when something uncomfortable comes up in the work, a thing that feels true but tickles that fear in the back of the mind that such a thing given voice will drive away would-be readers. It is the same temptation that lies at the root of what causes us as young adults to dress ourselves to the expectations of our peers, disguising or struggling to erase our perceived faults to present a more palatable appearance.
There’s nothing innately wrong with presenting oneself well, mind you. I’m not advocating for bad hygiene, but when we write fiction, telling stories that are not technically factual, we have an obligation to present something with a truth at its core, and not to tell lies for the sake of acceptance. This shouldn’t manifest as a desire to antagonize, or at least I don’t think it should, but it does present itself to me as a willingness to say something even if you know it will make people – people you’d like to buy your books – angry.
Full disclosure is in order here: I’m a fairly contentious person. There’s a harmony that comes with conferring with like-minded individuals that for the longest time gave me a horrible case of the intolerables. I don’t like putting too many labels on it because they end up coming across in a self-aggrandizing way, and descriptors like “rebel” or “devil’s advocate” present a very different picture than do words like “Ornery” or “antagonistic.” Those are more honest. Seeing a theme, here?
When I say that a writer has an obligation to the Truth, I speak to the urge to paint – in their objective voice – something as other than what the creator knows it is. None of us can hope to see the entirety of the full picture. We’re short-lived, small-spanned consciousnesses piloting flesh-ships, each with our own lenses of life experience and priority hierarchies that permit us to see shades of the real. But what we see, we must tell. Excuses, justifications, these don’t serve anyone. Characters can use them, and people can and certainly will, but there’s an honesty as to what the writer knows is actually happening, the meat beneath the skin and hair of dialogue and description, that holds the reality the story reflects.
Somehow this has to be balanced with not falling into the trap of presuming to tell the reader what they should see when they delve into the work. That’s the strange, wonderful thing about text. Especially if the writer is honest and speaks the truth as best they know it, their words will yield a facet of which they were unaware when put in front of the nose of somebody whose life they’ve never known, nor imagined. Your work might hold a truth you’ve not come to imagine that may horrify you when seen by another as much as it will delight. This is the sorcery of fiction, and the magic of writing. This is the strength of Truth. If you shy away from what you see on your page, the work will read false, and falsehood will be evident to the people who see it. But with veracity, truths even you never glimpsed will appear to the people who read it, things they will take from it into their own lives, molding, shaping, transforming.
As far as any creator’s legacy can go, that’s not a bad one.
Joseph Brassey lives in the Pacific Northwest with his wife, son, and two cats. In his spare time, he trains in, and teaches, medieval martial arts to members of the armed forces. He has lived on both sides of the continental United States and has worked everywhere from a local newspaper to the frameshop of a crafts store to the smoke-belching interior of a house-siding factory with questionable safety policies. His website and Blog-in-progress is JosephBrassey.com, and he can be found on Twitter and Facebook as well. Joseph’s books can be purchased from Amazon.com at http://www.amazon.com/Joseph-Brassey/e/B005TAZ8BW.
By John Jackson Miller
In penning a guest post for my blog, Mark described how Indris, the protagonist of his Echoes of Empire series, belongs to a group fallen from glory due to their own hubris. This description touched close to home, as that’s a sort of situation I’ve thought quite a bit about, in both my licensed and original science fiction and fantasy prose.
I’m probably best known for my work with Star Wars, including this year’s bestseller Star Wars: Kenobi, which followed the Jedi Master’s first few weeks of exile on Tatooine. But I have written a number of other works in different parts of the Star Wars timeline, including the Knights of the Old Republic graphic novels — which gave me my first occasion to look at the how the hubris of the Jedi Order frequently gets it into trouble.
It’s a pretty big deal having powers beyond other mortals: the Jedi are obviously the superheroes of the Star Wars universe. Combat skills, persuasive powers, and the ability to see the future, too? “Sign me up,” we’d all likely say. But somehow, when the Jedi get together as an organization, their results are less than optimal. In my Knights of the Old Republic books, a faction of the Jedi order is so convinced of its ability to see the future that it risks a schism — and commits murder — in an attempt to prevent the rise of the Sith. Things don’t go quite their way, as you might expect — but the kicker is that they didn’t expect it. The same powers that convey visions can also blind.
And Kenobi is full of reminders of Jedi hubris, as Obi-Wan has to deal in its pages with the Jedi order’s colossal failure to see the danger of the Emperor, and his own failure to prepare Anakin Skywalker against the temptation of the dark side of the Force. Obi-Wan walks every day of his life with regret — which makes a perfect character for the western-like setting in the novel. Many westerns have the archetypical stranger wandering into town, puzzling over a hidden past: the Jedi’s hubris gives him cause.
Even my own science-fiction work from 47North, Overdraft: The Orion Offensive, takes on hubris of a similar kind — although here, the mysterious magical order is Wall Street, a place with its own arcane language and incantations. (Listen to the business channel on TV sometime — it’s like listening to alchemists talk to each other!) Jamie Sturm, the lead character of the book, is colossally sure he’s cast a financial spell (so to speak) that will net him billions — and his overconfidence nearly bankrupts his interstellar expedition. But the mercenaries with the organization choose not to go quietly into unemployment: they return to the Solar System and draft him into their service as a merchant, forcing him to get their money back, one dangerous planet at a time!
Wherever people with hidden and mysterious powers collude, there’s often failure due to hubris around some corner. And there’s often a story waiting somewhere after that!
John Jackson Miller is the New York Times bestselling author of Star Wars: Kenobi, Star Wars: Knight Errant, Star Wars: Lost Tribe of the Sith—The Collected Stories, and fifteen Star Wars graphic novels, as well as Overdraft: The Orion Offensive and Star Trek – Titan: Absent Enemies, due out on Feb. 24. A comics industry historian and analyst, he has written for several franchises, including Conan, Iron Man, Indiana Jones, Mass Effect, and The Simpsons. Visit his website at http://www.farawaypress.com, follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/jjmfaraway, and find him on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/johnjacksonmiller.