I enjoy hearing from readers of my books and will always do my best to respond to all e-mails as quickly as I can. If you have comments or questions for me, please feel free to click on the "Email the Author" button on the navigation bar and send me a message.
I have noticed, however, that I'm asked certain questions again and again. Thinking that perhaps others may share the interests or concerns of those who have already contacted me, I offer this page of answers to questions that appear with some regularity in the e-mails I receive. I hope you find them helpful. Check back with this page periodically -- I'll update it as more Frequently Asked Questions present themselves.
Q. What advice would you give to an aspiring writer of fantasy (or any genre for that matter)?
A. The best advice I can give to a young writer is simply to keep on writing. Like so many other endeavors, writing can only be mastered with much practice and hard work. I've been writing professionally for more than fifteen years and spent six years prior to that honing my writing skills as an academic pursuing a doctorate in history. Despite this, I still have a tremendous amount to learn about my craft. Write as much as you can and find someone with whom you can share what you've written - - someone you trust, someone who will respect your needs and feelings, but who will also be honest with you about both your strengths and weaknesses as a writer.
The other thing I'd suggest is that you read as much as you can. One of the ways we learn our craft is to see how others have succeeded or failed. Knowing as a reader what works and what doesn't will help you make your writing more effective. Don't limit yourself to a single genre either. Even if you want to write fantasy, you can learn a tremendous amount from writers in other fields, fiction and non-fiction.
Finally, I'd recommend that you find a good book on writing professionally. There are plenty of them out there and a simple search on Amazon.com should yield some interesting results.
Q. I have an idea for a book, but I can't seem to get the story going. What would you suggest?
A. One thing that often works for me is writing short stories. Sometimes I'll find myself not knowing what to do with a character, or I'll find that I need to know something more about the world I've created. So I write a short story not anything I intend to use in a novel, but a character sketch or a description of some event in the history of a certain kingdom. Often, these short stories end up inspiring me to write something that I can use in the novel. Moreover, as an added bonus, I then have a short story that I can try to get published, and short story sales can often help a new writer catch the attention of an agent or publisher.
Q. Where do you get your ideas?
A. This is for me, quite possibly, the most difficult question to answer. Because the most honest answer I can give is, "I don't know." I don't look for inspiration, I don't go to my thoughtful spot (fans of Pooh will understand) and wait for my next novel to present itself to me. I just think of stuff, often at the oddest times, and suddenly I'm thinking up characters, worlds, magic systems, plot lines, etc.
For instance, Winds of the Forelands, my five-book fantasy series, began with a single series of questions: What if there was a traveling fair (Bohdan's Revel, for those of you who have read Rules of Ascension) in which sorcerers offered children a glimpse of their futures? And what if there was one sorcerer who used this right of passage to his/her own advantage by manipulating the future he showed a certain child? That's it. Two questions. And a year later I had an outline for the entire series. I guess that's how I work. I ask "What if?" questions all the time. Some of them don't lead anywhere. But some of them become the foundations for my books.
Q. How do you work? Do you write every day, or do you wait until you're inspired to write? How do you deal with writers' block?
A. Yeah, I know. That's three questions,
or maybe four. But to my mind they're all the same question. Let me explain.
I write Monday through Friday from about nine in the morning to five in the evening. In other words, I treat writing like I would any job. I take weekends off, I try not to work evenings unless I'm really sweating a deadline, and I don't lose myself for days at a time in my writing as writers do in Hollywood movies. Writing is my work yes, I love it, and it's the best job I can think of, but it's still my job, and I approach it as such.
I set goals for myself based upon the deadlines imposed upon my work by the contracts I sign. My books all tend to come out about the same length and I know how many pages (about) I have to write each month in order to make that deadline. Knowing that, I also know the number of pages I need to get written each week, and each day. Writing an entire book, especially when you're just starting it, can be daunting. I deal with that by dividing my books into discreet parts that can be accomplished in less time. For me, knowing that I have to write a chapter in the next three or four days, is far less intimidating than knowing that I have to write twenty-five chapters in the next six months. It's a matter of scale.
Having such a schedule in mind also keeps me from falling into the inspiration trap. Some successful writers can wait for inspiration and then whip out a great book in six weeks. I can't. If I wait for inspiration, I'll starve. So I write every day. I don't allow myself the luxury of writers' block. Even if I don't feel like writing, even if I don't think what I'm writing on a given day is any good, I write. I can always change it later or scrap it all together. But at least I'm working, and I find that even on my worst days, I usually can salvage something that I can use in whatever book I'm working on at the time.
Q. Eagle-Sage, the last book in the LonTobyn Chronicle left some questions unanswered. Why did you end the series when you did? There's so much more that you could do with the characters. Don't you want to know what happens to them after Eagle-Sage ends? Do you plan to go back and write more books in the LonTobyn universe?
A. I get asked this one a lot. I have ideas of what happens to Jaryd, Alayna, Myn, Orris, Melyor, Cailyn, et al after Eagle-Sage ends, but that's really all they are. Ideas. I had a story I wanted to tell with the three books of the LonTobyn Chronicle, and I feel that I told that story pretty much as I wanted to. Short of closing the final book of the trilogy with every character dying, or, at the other end of the spectrum, some sort of pat, "They-all-lived-happily-ever-after" ending, there is no way I could finish the series without leaving questions unresolved. The characters have the rest of their lives to live, the world of LonTobyn has other issues with which to grapple. It is a changed place for all that happened in my books and it will have to adjust to those changes. But the threat to Tobyn-Ser from Lon-Ser is gone. The fate of the Unsettled has finally been resolved. The Order has survived, albeit weaker than it once was.
As to the rest, your guess as to what happens is as good as mine. I mean that literally. Although it may not seem like it, writing is at root an interactive endeavor. Every reader brings something different to my books. I have an idea of what Jaryd looks like, of what Tobyn-Ser is like, of what life in the Nals of Lon-Ser is like. Each of my readers probably has ideas about these things as well, ideas that are no less valid than my own. No two readers read any book precisely the same way or precisely as the author intended. That's one of the beautiful things about literature. But it's also why it would be fruitless for me to keep writing in a series that I feel has ended. I completed the LonTobyn story arc. Any attempt to continue it in order to come up with an ending that more thoroughly satisfied one reader, or a hundred, or a thousand, would be fruitless, because someone else would see further possibilities for character development. In the end, I have to end my books in a way that satisfies me, that completes that story I wanted to tell.
Guy Gavriel Kay, a fantasy writer whose work I admire a great deal, is a master at ending books in ways that point to any number of possible futures. He doesn't end with something pat and easy. He leaves the reader with questions, so that long after one has put down his books, the characters and the world in which they live, continue to occupy the reader's thoughts. I strive to do the same.
As to going back and writing more in the LonTobyn universe, either in the form of a prequel to the series or a series taking place later in time, I have no plans to do so now, but I also haven't ruled it out. I have other projects that I'm interested in pursuing first, but I could see going back to LonTobyn at some point in the future. Without trying to be coy, I can only say that time will tell.
Q. Who are some of your favorite fantasy and science fiction authors?
A. I have many, and am reluctant to try to list them all at the risk of offending by omission. That said, there are a few who have had profound influences on my approach to fantasy, and others whose work I admire so much that I feel compelled to mention them.
Few in my genre can speak of authors who influenced them without mentioning J.R.R. Tolkien, and I'm no different. I read The Hobbit for the first time when I was about fourteen older than many people I know, but I came to fantasy a bit late in life. From there I moved almost immediately into The Lord of the Rings. I had never experienced anything like these books before I was amazed that someone could create such an intricate world, populate it with these amazingly complex and compelling characters, and tell a tale of such scope and emotion. After reading Lord of the Rings, I read the Silmarillion, Tolkien's history of Middle-Earth, and though some warned me that it was a dense read, I found it a fascinating confirmation of what I already knew to be true: Tolkien was a true genius.
Having read Tolkien I was desperate to get my hands on whatever fantasy I could find, and I moved next to Ursula LeGuin's Earthsea Trilogy, a beautiful set of books that were both similar to Tolkien's work in their imaginative force, and different from it in their emphasis and tone. LeGuin taught me that fantasy didn't have to be about epic struggles to save or destroy the world. The Earthsea books are human in their focus and universal in their themes. They deal with the issues young people face as they mature, yet they do so in a way that is as magical and compelling as one would expect from high fantasy.
If Tolkien's books made me want to read as much fantasy as I could get my hands on, Stephen Donaldson's Thomas Covenant books (both the first and second Chronicles) made me want to write in this genre. The Covenant books are strange and dark and disturbing. They're also brilliant and, in my opinion, among the most original fantasy sets ever written. They taught me that there was no limit to what fantasy tales could explore any facet of the human condition, no matter how strange or difficult, could be plumbed by the creative mind. All one had to do was find the right approach, the right character. Donaldson found both.
The other writer whose influence most colors my work, is Guy Gavriel Kay. Beginning with his Fionivar Tapestry (The Summer Tree, The Wandering Fire, The Darkest Road) I have read nearly everything Kay has written. He is a masterful storyteller, whose worlds are as rich and alive and compelling as any I've ever encountered, and whose characters cannot help but win your heart. Tigana a stand alone novel published in 1990, remains to this day my favorite work of fantasy.
I am also a great admirer of George R. R. Martin, whose Song of Ice and Fire series has enjoyed well-deserved critical success in recent years; Terry McGarry, whose marvelous Illumination trilogy, was published by Tor; Katharine Kerr, the author of thel Days of Air and Darkness series; Lynn Flewelling, whose Tamir Trilogy I adore; Anne McCaffrey, author of the Dragonriders of Pern books; and Mary Stewart, who wrote a compelling interpretation of the King Arthur legends beginning with The Crystal Cave.
Among science fiction writers, I have greatly enjoyed the Dune series by Frank Herbert, a classic of the genre that combines spectacular action scenes with intricate and fascinating treatments of interstellar politics. Had I read Dune before picked up Lord of the Rings, I may have ended up writing sf. rather than fantasy.
Orson Scott Card's Ender series remains a favorite of mine. All of us have books that we go back to again and again, even if just to pick them up and read a stray passage in the middle of the novel. The Ender books, particularly the first two books of the series, Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead, are always somewhere on my bookshelf where I can reach them easily.
Nicola Griffith's Slow River is another work that I return to quite often. She is a terrific writer who won (and deserved) any number of awards for this novel. Spanner, one of the lead characters, may be the most interesting person I've ever encountered in any book.
Among writers outside of our genre, I'm a great fan of Wallace Stegner, David Guterson, Tim Winton, Barbara Kingsolver, David Liss, not to mention such "classic" authors as Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Charles Dickens, and Nathaniel Hawthorne.
As I said at the outset of this answer, I do not wish to offend anyone by omitting their work. There is a tremendous amount of great work being produced in the fields of science fiction and fantasy right now, some of it in novel form, much of it in short stories, novellas, and other shorter forms. I find it difficult to read other works of speculative fiction while I'm writing a novel of my own and so I don't read nearly as much as I would like to. And I'm the poorer for it.