The dates of the original Q&A session were 2/28/06 through 3/6/06.
Author Tim Lebbon recently visited the ARWZ Community Forums to answer questions from fans and ARWZ readers in an Interactive Q&A. The questions and conversations in this transcript are in no particular order, and may vary from the order in which they were originally asked.
Hi Tim — First of all, congratulations on the success of Berserk and Dusk! Both of them are great reads.
Dusk has such a richly detailed alternate world, and it's brilliantly conceived and executed. Though it's certainly dark, it's been promoted as fantasy, and it's different from your earlier works. How was this writing process different than your "horror" novels, and do you see yourself working in the fantasy genre again in the future, beyond the sequel? — Nate Kenyon
Nate! Thanks for the kind words.
There will certainly be more novels and novellas set in the world of Noreela. It's rich in history, and as I was writing Dusk and Dawn I saw so much potential there. In fact, there'll be a novella downloadable from the Noreela website soon, which should be a lot of fun.
The writing process itself wasn't hugely different, though Dusk is almost twice as long as anything I've ever written before. It's a bit more liberating writing a fantasy novel. Dusk contains creatures akin to sentient tumbleweed, drug mines and a race of warrior slaves, and that's not something I can write about set in modern-day London!
I was just admiring the cover of Dusk on another website. Do you as author have any say over the choice of cover artist and the marketing of your books? — Golophin
It is a beautiful cover, isn't it?
The answer is: sometimes. With Bantam (Dusk publishers) and Leisure Books, my input is usually minimal. I talk with the editors about how I see the cover, but the final decision is always theirs. I'm fine with this. I'm in the business of writing books and they're in the business of selling them, and a big part of selling a book is giving it the right cover, design and feel.
With the indie press — and I've worked with publishers such as Cemetery Dance, Nightshade, PS, Necessary Evil Press, Earthling and many others — I often have much more of a say-so in how the book looks, often down to choosing the cover artist.
I'm happy with both ways of working, because the sales methods for mass market and indie publishing is usually very different.
I started reading Dusk yesterday, and I noticed that you don't start off with a prologue. In the ARWZ Writers' Forums, we've been debating for a number of years now the question of whether to use prologues.
Do you have an opinion on the issue of whether to use prologues? Why did you decide against one for Dusk? More generally, do you use them or avoid them? Why? —Violanthe
Interesting question. I use them very, very little (in fact I'm not entirely sure I've ever used one at all). For me, most Prologues should just be called Chapter One, or if they're here to fill in some back story or pre-story — such as some pre-credit sequences in movies — then that's a clumsy play by the writer.
If a story starts at a certain place and the reader needs to know something that happened in the past, you can do that well enough in the body of the novel.
That said, lots of people do use them, so who am I to judge?
What is your experience with prologues as a reader? In other words, what is your reaction to a prologue when you pick up a book? Neutral? Positive? Negative? Do you ever find them helpful? Or do you just treat it as Chapter One? — Violanthe
They don't bother me hugely, but I hate it when they're employed as a "trick." As I said above, if they're there as a set-up, why not just write them into the body of the novel?
Can you think of any examples of "trick" prologues that have bothered you? You don't have to "name names" if you don't want to, but could you give us an example of the types of "tricks" you've run into? — Violanthe
As a general rule, if a Prologue reads more like the back cover blurb than a part of the story, it annoys me.
Can you give us any hints about what you plan for your next Noreela story?
What else have you got simmering on the back burner besides Noreela fiction? Aren't there still two novellas to follow up on Naming of Parts and Changing of Faces? That's too good a story to let it fade away uncompleted! — terrytvgal
The next Noreela story will actually be an e-serial novella downloadable from the Noreela.com website. It'll be starting soon! Watch this space...
I'm also working up treatments for new novels set in Noreela. Can't say much about these yet.
Yes, I will be writing new novellas for PS publishing at some point. I'm working on a short novel for a major indie publisher right now, then a new novel for Leisure and Necessary Evil Press, then there'll be another book in the Assassin Series. As well as this, I'm doing some screenplay writing, and other stuff too. Sometimes I sleep.
I'm curious to know what you see as the most prominent or interesting recent trends in horror and/or fantasy fiction. Which ones do you find most promising and exciting? — S.K. Slevinski
My perception is that there's more of an appetite at the moment for gritty, raw fantasy fiction. There'll always be those who love their dragons, elves and fairies, but I think people like Steve Erikson and China Mieville — although writing very differently — have that same dark tone to their work that readers seem to like.
Dusk is very dark. But then most of my work is. I don't know why. Maybe I'm just miserable.
In horror, trends are difficult to track, in part because a lot of horror is being published by the indie press. And here, publishers have the luxury of not having to follow trends to guarantee sales.
Would you say that more horror is published by independent presses than other genres, alternative reality or otherwise (i.e. are there more horror indie presses? is there a bigger market for independently published horror? a more active indie publishing culture? etc...) — Violanthe
Well, I know quite a bit about the horror indie press, and virtually nothing at all about the, say, romance indie press, if there is one. My perception is that the horror indie press is pretty damn big compared to others, but I might be wrong.
Mr. Lebbon, in your reciprocal interview with Christopher Golden, Mr. Golden discusses how he likes to keep a connection with "real world reality" in his fictional settings. He asks you, on the other hand, about the process of coming up with a fantasy world "from scratch."
As a writer of alternate history fiction, I find that research into real world facts forms an important basis for my writing. I'm wondering, in your fantasy world "from scratch," does any "real world" research go into it? And if so, what aspects of the "real world" did you research for your latest novel? — Time Writer
Easy answer. It's all made up.
Research-wise, Dusk was an easy book to write. I don't recall doing any research into anything, other than a couple of emails to a friend about naming the parts of a sword (thanks Coop!). That's it. My world is made up. The creatures — hawks, furbats, skull ravens — are all my own. The stranger beings co-habitating with humans — tumblers, wraiths, fodder — are my own ideas.
That's the wonderful thing about writing a fantasy novel that has no connection with our world. You can let your imagination run riot. It's good. It's healthy. And I hope it makes for a fun read.
When browsing your local or online bookstore, what genres do you gravitate toward? Do you read books mostly in the genres you write (i.e. fantasy and horror)? Or do browse other aisles in the bookstore to find new reads? Which ones? — Violanthe
I used to read a lot of books. Years ago, before I became a) a published author, and b) a father, I'd read three books a week. Now, since I'm both, I'm lucky if I read a book a month.
I read a lot of horror, because I enjoy it. I enjoy good horror, that doesn't rely on the "rip your eye out and socket-fuck you" streak of sickness that some people think makes a horror novel.
I read dark fantasy. War novels. Thrillers. In fact, just about anything that takes my fancy.
I love reading, just wish I had time to do more of it.
What is your opinion on audio books? I ask because I've recently discovered that they are a huge timesaver, allowing me to fit in more time for fiction reading.
I've found that opinions, however, differ on the issue of audio books. A lot of people feel that something is lost in the translation from print to spoken word. Have you ever tried "reading" an audio book? What is your opinion on them in general? Helpful resource? Detriment to literature? None of the above? — Violanthe
The audio books I've listened to, I've really enjoyed. I had one done of a novella of mine a few years back, The First Law, and it was a real thrill to hear it adapted, almost as exciting as seeing a movie of my work!
I must listen to more.
In your experience, are there any publishing or marketing politics behind what gets made into audio and what doesn't? In my own experience as an audio listener, it seems to be that bigger sellers and classics (both traditional and cult) seem to get made into audio more often. Is your experience similar? Or is the process more complicated?
Also, seeing as that you've had a novella turned into audio, did you find the conversion to spoken word to be largely accurate or in general agreement with your vision? In listening to audio books, I realize that performers often must make a decision on how to read a line, what emphasis to give a word, etc. Did the audio performance of your novella interpret any lines much differently than you intended? — Violanthe
The adaptation of my novella was done pretty much word for word. Fact that I've never received a penny in royalties... well, that's another story.
As for the politics of audio publishing, I'm really not that involved to be able to judge. I would agree with you that it's the big sellers that get adapted in the main, but that's because audio is a much smaller market, and I guess the publishers need to maintain profits.
Hi, Tim! My question is a two-parter related to Dusk and the world of Noreela:
1) Are you a reader of a lot of fantasy?
2) What other fictional fantasy worlds are you inspired by? — Deena Warner
Hi Deena. Ready for this surprise reply?
I haven't read many fantasy novels. Not many at all. Lord of the Rings, of course. A couple of David Gemmell's. But Feist? Jordan? Nope, not yet. I'd like to but the time just doesn't seem right.
I love Mieville, Vandermeer, Erikson. Read them. But considering I've started being published as a fantasy writer, I've read very little of the genre.
You know what? I don't think that's bad.
Has writing fantasy inspired you to read more of it than you had in the past? Are you getting any greater exposure to the fantasy world, now that you find yourself a part of it? — Violanthe
If I had time, I'd love to! But I have so little time to read.
I love China Mieville's stuff. And Steve Erikson. And I'd recommend The Mark of Ran by Paul Kearney. I was judge for the World Fantasy Awards last year, so I started reading a LOT of fantasy books. Didn't finish many of them.
Why didn't you finish them? Too many books, too little time or were they simply "not working" for you?
Do you feel guilty about not wanting to finish a book you've begun? Maybe it's a hold over from when my mother used to say to me, "finish the book you have before you get any new ones" but if I start a book and don't like it I tend to simply let it sit there ignored, and I find it tough to "justify" starting another one. — terrytvgal
When I was judging, we had several hundred books to read in the space of about 4 months. Unfortunately in that time, I also had to sleep, eat and see my family! It was a fantastic time and a great adventure, but exhausting.
And yes, sometimes I thought the books were awful and I enjoyed not having to finish them.
Writing "experts" have done their best to formulate "rules" for good writing. Some are old standards than any writer can recite by heart ("show, don't tell...", etc.)
But are there any rules that you make for yourself as a writer? Whether stylistic or story-based, are there any rules you generally follow as a writer according to your own writerly philosophy? — Violanthe
A story has to have soul. It has to have a point, a theme, a heart that makes it something more than just a two-dimensional exercise in getting from A to B.
It took me a long time to discover this. I wrote dozens of stories in my early twenties that were based mainly around a twist in the tale. Now, unless the story I'm writing doesn't touch me while I'm writing it, I know it'll be a failure.
Also, I generally don't plan in great detail. If I've already told the story to myself, I won't enjoy the writing of it. It'll feel stale, and I love to let a story tell itself while I'm writing it. That way, I'm keen to get to the end to find out what happens!
Is there any particular story element that you've found makes a difference between having "soul" and not? If focusing on a particular "twist" didn't bring soul to your writing, have you found that refocusing elsewhere gives your stories more life? — Violanthe
Making sure a story has emotional depth — it has to kick you in the heart as well as the gut.
What do you feel has been the biggest influence in your writing? Other authors? Cinema? Life experience? — Saundra Kane
I feel a writer's work is the sum of their experience. I certainly enjoy movies, and other books, and music, but I spend time thinking about things a lot, and trying to understand things more through my writing. Everything I do, see or read influences me in some way, I guess, whether positively or negatively.
It sounds like writing is almost about finding a resolution to questions we all have about being in this world. What a great way you have in dealing with the questions. — Saundra Kane
Writing is a journey, for sure. Sometimes it's about the story, sometimes the telling, but it's always about moving on.
Hey Tim. I am fourteen years old and an aspiring writer. I love to write — often I spend hours every day writing stories and the like. I have many other friends who are interested in writing, and I hope to start writing a book soon. However, I often struggle to find inspiration to write. This is known more commonly as a "writer's block." Sometimes I sit down at the computer and I just can't find it in me to write a word. Do you, as a professional writer, ever have this problem? If so, how do you overcome it? — Ben Polastra
Hi Ben. Sounds like you're determined — so keep at it. If I ever sit down and find I can't write, I take a walk, eat a sandwich, make coffee. I've never had any prolonged periods of writer's block, and I believe that sometimes your mind just says "sit back and think for a while." Listen to what it says, and when you return to the keyboard it'll be that much better.
Thank you, Tim. I'm glad that I got some advice from a professional writer.
One more question: Is it best to plan out a storyline, or to just let it flow as you write? — Ben Polastra
This works differently for different people. I don't plan in great detail, but I know others who do a detailed outline before they begin writing.
Here at the magazine, we're especially interested in exploring new twists on old favorites, and one of the best examples of a "new twist" in alternative reality fiction is mixed or cross-genre writing.
As a result, we often wrestle with questions of genre definition. As a writer of cross genre, what do you find to be the "root" or "soul" of horror? Of fantasy? How does dark fantasy fit into the picture?
As an extension, what elements from these genres do you find ripe for cross-pollination or combination? Whether in writing you've done, or future projects you're planning to do, what new combinations of elements from these genres has struck you as most fascinating? — S.K. Slevinski
Well, I tend to write just what I want to write, generally. So I don't consciously sit down to write a fantasy novel, or a horror novel, and I don't set out purposely to write a cross-genre novel either.
Genre definitions are very difficult to pin down, because a lot of time they're subjective. What is Lord of the Flies? Horror, science fiction, fantasy? What about Mieville's Perdido Street Station? Me, I just think they're damn good books. They inspire horror in me, and wonder, and dread, and delight.
I find thinking about such divisions distracting, and being hung up on genre definitions can certainly stunt — or at least constrain — creativity. Fuck that.
I have this discussion quite often on a lot of our associate pages, and your position is a common one. Here's what I typically ask in response, and I'm wondering how you're thinking:
Do genre distinctions have any use, in your opinion? Are they just a marketing illusion? Or do they have any value, however small, for reading audiences? Would our bookstores be better if books were not organized by genre at all? — Violanthe
That's a difficult one, and I suspect that readers will have as many different answers as writers. I don't think there's a right and a wrong. Genre divisions are fine for bookdealers and bookbuyers, but artistically they can become troublesome when you're involved in writing books. Pitch your next idea to your publisher and you may get: "Great idea, but it's not HORROR enough for us" as a response. Allegedly.
I think that a basic genre structure in bookstores and libraries is necessary. Otherwise, it could be really difficult to find a specific book. Also, because I like to be in a section (e.g. for classics) and search for other works of the same genre.
But then I have the same difficulties for record shops. Which bands nowadays do really belong to "indie" and which to "alternative"? — magusachan
Good point! Although most books tend to have the genre somewhere on the cover, I guess.
As an author living in our times, is there anything in particular you have recognized in current contemporary literature you did/do not like? Any specific trends, ideas, hypes, etc. — magusachan
I'm not a huge fan of pointless horror. Novels that aim to shock or disgust with no reason. I sat on a panel once that talked about censorship, and one of the writers there said that he welcomed censorship because it gave him the opportunity to shock and disgust readers. Where's the soul in that?
A good horror novel needs soul. Without soul it's dead.
I don't aim to shock or disgust. Unsettle and unnerve maybe, but only as a way of conveying a point or message, and only as a part of the overall effect of a novel or story.
I like the way the indie press is going — it's becoming much more of a force to be reckoned with. That's good. And it means that the big New York publishers are taking more and more notice of what goes on in the indie press.
Thank you very much for your detailed reply which I have read with great interest.
As for the growing indie genre, I think we might say that this is a current trend you can also find in music. Luckily, many indie bands (e.g. The Shins) are getting more & more attention now. And this, in consequence, will hopefully lead to more "quality" rather than "quantity".
I also agree with you about the soul in a book. As a reader myself, I would feel strongly disappointed in finding out that I have invested all this amount of time in reading a book that has no "soul", no message the author wants to tell me, no "life". — magusachan
Thanks! And yes, as with music, indie writing does get attention from the big publishers in New York. I know for a fact that many of the editors there keep a close eye on the indie horror market, for example.