Interview with AMOS T FAIRCHILD, author of the Shards of Paradise fantasy series.
Tim, how long have you been writing fantasy and what got you started:
I suppose I should start by widening the scope of that a little to claim that I write speculative fiction which often doesn’t quite fit into pure fantasy, science fiction, paranormal, or even mainstream for that matter. I suppose that some of that is due to the sorts of books I grew up with, an eclectic mix of mystery and SF and fantasy, authors like Clarke and Azimov and Foster and Tolkien. But there was also a lot of curiosity and boredom and imagination, and that needed an outlet I suppose. Disassembling and building things was one option, one that was sometimes frowned upon as a child, while art and writing was another more acceptable pastime.
I don’t really remember a time when I didn’t write. My memory just isn’t that great. I do remember my teachers did tend to tire of receiving stories of aliens or monsters regardless of the proposed topic, but that was not something that worried me greatly. I was far too busy wondering about ‘what if’ at that stage of my life – and that hasn’t changed very much over the last 40 years.
Of course, it has only been some 30 years since my first attempt at a novel. Unfortunately my handwriting is unreadable so I acquired a very sturdy and reliable Remington typewriter to ease my pain somewhat. That novel was some 50,000 words at a guess and it is carefully packed away out of sight where it will likely never see the light of day. I will call this a fantasy novel, although I don’t remember the name off-hand or much of the plot. Some things are just better to let lie. I did start a rewrite of it many years ago on my nice new electric typewriter, but it was a short-lived project.
It seems that in those days a novel was something that took many years to write, even on an electric typewriter, yet I don’t feel that anything is wasted. Like everything, writing is all about practice and experience.
My second novel was pure science fiction, and it was part of a new age. It was actually written on computer, an 8bit wonder that could store up to four pages of text at the same time. Sure, it was better than the typewriter, but very limiting. It was some years before I could move the text to a computer that could edit entire chapters at once.
Again, this novel is packed away. I call it a learning experience and perhaps one day it will be rewritten and published. But not today. It was some time before I wrote a novel that I felt was worth publishing, and I don’t even remember when I wrote that. I have some advice for anyone starting out. Date everything. It’s amazing how easily you can forget what order you wrote things in and I have no idea what my third novel was.
What works have you produced so far?
Once upon a time I wrote Long Days in Paradise. I don’t remember when that was begun, but I do know I was using an IBM PC and DOS at the time. The first chapter I wrote is now chapter 5, although I think it switched between chapter 1 and 5 several times during the editing. Paradise spent several years with agents and even publishers, but in the end I was never quite happy to make the editing cuts suggested and so it sat on the desk. I was too busy with sequels and other projects anyway. The Shards series now spans three books, which concludes the main arc of the story as originally planned. There is a fourth book in the works as well, although that will not be released for some time.
Although never published, the novel Cadan did inspire the Megan novel and potential sequels to that. The crossover fantasy novel Mirrim Dawn is also set in the same universe, albeit some 5000 years earlier. More recently the novel Vampire Planet was written as part of the National Novel Writing Month event.
Do you have a writing routine?
I have two main modes of operation: writing mode and not writing mode. While in writing mode I tend to write every day during every spare moment. In non-writing mode I avoid writing and find any excuse I can to not write, even resorting to watching television (although that would be a desperate measure). These days we have plenty of distractions, like Facebook, so it’s easy to avoid writing. Of course, the writing process is not just about putting pixels to epaper. I tend to live in various worlds out there and there are few days that pass where I am not thinking about one story or another.
As for the actual writing, the secret is simple. Write. Sure, I know that sounds simple, and it is. Generally speaking, the story is all there, you just need to get it on paper. Getting it there is just a matter of practice. Write whatever comes into your head, it doesn’t matter. You can always edit later. If you can’t write actual prose, then write notes and highlights. Planning is just as much a part of the process as the writing is. There is never enough time to write, so use all the time you can find.
How many words would you write on a good day?
I don’t really set word targets or really keep note of the number of words written. At times I will set a goal of finishing a chapter or a scene, but these are rarely hard limits. When the words are flowing I rarely need even that and it’s more a matter of stopping to eat or sleep.
During National Novel Writing Month there is a record kept, although a novel written for that is often a special case. I might spend two or three months carefully planning a NaNoWriMo novel so that I can put it down on paper as quickly as possible. My best day during such an event was some 11,000 words with an average of 6000 words per day over two weeks. A more usual day for me during the rest of the year is around zero, so I will say that any day I write 2000 words is a good day.
Again, it is all in the planning. Dula Kaena, the sequel to Long Days in Paradise, was written as a first draft in some 45 days. That was only possible as I spent several years living in the story prior to that.
Staring out the window is all part of the job.
Where do you get your ideas for stories?
For me, everything is about ‘what if…’, so ideas are easy. I think this is true for all genres, not just speculative fiction. Once you have the initial ‘what if’, the rest of the story will flow. If it doesn’t then you just need a new ‘what if’. Of course, not all scenarios will interest all people or result in a ‘good’ story, so as a writer I can only go with what interests me. My next novel, for example, will explore environmental issues, and yet I had no desire to follow the inevitable path into a barren dystopia as has been done so many times before. What if humanity used extreme measures to save the earth? What if the only way to save the surface was to leave it altogether? What if some people stayed to live naturally? Once the questions are asked all I have to do is leave it stew for 500 years and come back to see the results.
For the shards series I suppose the questions are somewhat less clear. What if death was a transition only? What if our reality was one of many? What if reality is no more than what the inhabitants of that reality wish it to be? In the end, a story is all about the characters and how they react to the questions asked and the environment that has created.
Is there an author who inspires you?
I suppose I am easily inspired. Many authors and many books have offered inspiration, and it can often be the simplest things. So there is no one author that inspires me, and indeed I often find inspiration in most. Even a book I dislike can inspire me. I know that even I can write better than that. Over the years I was very fond or Arthur C. Clarke, both for the scientific background and the simplicity of writing style. On the other hand I found the detail and world building of Tolkien to be remarkable. Of course, I also admire people like Alan Dean Foster, both for his humour in his original works and his ability to produce a readable movie novelization. That has to be tougher than it looks, but at least it pays the bills.
Who are your favourite authors and why?
I used to have a list of favourite authors, but most of those are dead these days. In any case I moved across to read mostly independent authors and I am in the process of compiling a new list full of people with new and fresh ideas. One of the problems with the traditional publishing system is that books are filtered to fit a perceived market and only published if there is some surety of sales. If you see one paranormal romance hit series then you know everyone will be publishing paranormal romance novels.
Sure, independent authors might follow the same trends, but you will see a lot more novels that don’t quite fit the mould. That brings a measure of variety and interest.
I know your family gives you a lot of support. Do they read your works?
My younger son reads everything I write. Over and over. He has done that since he was 16, now 21. It’s a bit of a worry, but he does seem to enjoy it. He also enjoys Japanese anime, so I don’t read a lot into this. My wife and oldest daughter have also read quite a lot, but are a little more selective. Fortunately, they have been around long enough to say what they like about the novels, and over the years I am well past being precious where my writing is concerned. People will like it or they won’t. Any reader, even family, can give useful feedback, but an outside party unfamiliar with the work is generally a better option for test readings.
My other two children, also now adults, have never read any of the novels.
Give some background to yourself:
I was born in 1962 and studied engineering in Townsville before returning to the family farm during the ’80s. Since then I have either worked on the farm or taken jobs that did not interfere greatly with writing. It is amazing how much planning and world building you can do while driving machinery. I was fortunate enough to meet my wife very early in life, and we have been lucky enough to raise our four children to adulthood without any major complications. We even balanced those out nicely with two boys and two girls. Thanks to dog sport events we also have the opportunity to visit many parts of Australia and meet plenty of interesting people.
My main interests are writing and dog sports, mainly dog agility, as well as photography.
Please give us some links to your published works:
Also, give us links to any blogs, webpages you host as an author:
Provide a brief outline of your main work (series):
The Shards of Paradise series begins with Jorden Miles stumbling into a strange land of not-quite human inhabitants where he meets a new and dear friend Taf who is at least human enough in all the ways that matter. Initially, he can think of little other than getting home, and that means facing the witch-god Hura, if she exists at all, on the other side of Nowhere. But this is a world of many races run by the spiritual kaedith and financial sarisan, while he is a friend to the lowest class species who struggle simply to survive. Over the series Jorden must help to bring a peace to the land while he discovers the true nature of the reality he finds himself within.
Provide an excerpt:
It was a dragon or there were no dragons. It was true that unlike the dragons of myth this beast was clad in brown and white fur rather than scales, but it was still a dragon. The legends were wrong.
The other beast was both more recognizable and more hideous at the same time. It was a dragonfly. It wasn’t really a dragonfly, of course, it was far to big, but it was some reptilian monster that resembled a dragonfly. It had eyes that might have been weather balloons, and scales, and laced wings, and fleshy jaws. It looked like a cross between a biplane and a helicopter.
They were both dragons. Jorden hoped they killed each other.
There were several daring loops and evasive manoeuvres, but it was clear that the dragonfly was well outmatched. The dragon roasted its wings and clawed its body into ribbons. The remaining carcass plummeting from the sky into the deep gloom below.
It seemed they remained dragon fodder, and Jorden was surprised by the nearby roars and hisses of his fellow meals which seemed to attract the attention of the dragon. And it swooped toward him, the arsenal of its various organic weapons flaring, the dark blood dripping from its claws and fangs. Warm fluid also dripped from beneath Jorden’s kilt as he backed away. He was dead. He wished that the young dragon would have eaten him while he slept. He would have cried if he had the time.
The dragon had already skidded to a halt on the cliff-side ledge near the man. And, of course, it spoke perfect English. “Thought you were dragon fodder, I’ll bet,” it roared.
Then Taf leapt toward the apparition and raised herself to full height upon her hind legs, her paws and claws outstretched…
But she didn’t kill the dragon. She didn’t even try.
She hugged it.
Jorden felt extremely faint.