Quantum Muse: Gary Allen just published The Heather Thane, available from Equilibrium Books in Australia.
Over the years, Gary has been a frequent contributor to Quantum Muse. We at QM aren't sure if he really really likes us, or if he doesn't learn from his mistakes.
Gary Allen: Iíve never really been a quick learner... and I am such a b****rd that I donít really like very many people. Truth be told, you keep feeding me, so youíre never likely to get rid of me.
QM: When did you start writing?
GA: I started writing stories when I was at primary school. Even back then I was writing speculative stuff, though more sci-fi than fantasy. The school gave out merit certificates... I guess to encourage us, but looking back I am sure it was some crude attempt at mind control. After receiving a few certificates for my stories I was told I'd not be allowed to receive any more for creative writing unless I first earned one for handwriting or maths. Needless to say, I never received another certificate and was left with horrible emotional scars. My handwriting remains awful and I am terrible at maths. Legal action pending.
<Adopting a more serious pose> I guess Iíve only been writing with the serious intention of getting published for about five years now.
QM: Did loving family and friends try and turn you from a life of authorship?
GA: Once you start down the dark path... Tis a sad tale of recrimination, tears and anguish. Actually, no Ė Iíve been very blessed with a circle of family and friends who have really got behind my writing. Thatís not to say that there arenít those in my life who I know regard my strange obsession with patient bemusement or quiet sniggers <yes I know who you are!>.
Renay, my wife, has been nothing short of my muse. In fact, if it wasnít for her enthusiasm there would be no Lathíroug Saga at all Ė so blame her, not me.
QM: The editors at QM got into writing because we mistakenly thought girls would think we are cool. What's your excuse?
GA: You mean girls donít... DAMN! I knew I should have been a musician. Do you know that Iíve never really made the conscious decision to be a writer. Iíve always had ideas for stories and other places, and for as long as I can remember I have also been driven with the desire to inflict my scribblings on other people.
As the folks I roleplayed with at college started to drift their separate ways, writing The Lathíroug Saga was a way of tipping the hat to those great days. I am sure if I was getting all this dark stuff out of my head Iíd be paying for some serious therapy.
QM: Do you have any other major character defects?
GA: How much space do I have to list them? Letís see... megalomaniac, sarcastic as all buggery, extrinsically motivated, an undeniable addiction to stationery and books, and a dependence upon whiskey.
QM: Do you prefer to work in the short story format or novel length?
GA: When I first started seriously writing, I never even considered short story writing. I was convinced it was a distraction from the main game of getting a novel published. Another writer convinced me that I should write short stories as well. I can honestly say that my craft has benefited immensely from writing short stories. Itís helped me hone my writing skills, improve my brevity, and also provide me with the opportunity to explore and refine the ideas that appear in my series. <At last actually answering your question> Short story and novel writing are such different disciplines. I get more pleasure from writing novels, but enjoy the more immediate feedback from writing short stories. I guess Iíve been cheating with my short story writing because all of my stories relate to varying degrees to my novels.
QM: You grew up in England but moved to Australia at 18. Is England shipping criminals there again? No that's not the question . . . Ah, here it is: How did emigration affect your writing?
GA: Absolutely, I stole that loaf of bread, and next thing I knew I was in the bowels of that hulk on the way to Her Majestyís penal colony.
I love Australia, it is such a terrific place where (for the main) a person can still get ahead, regardless of their heritage.
My writing is definitely inspired by my fascination with the ancient cultures of Britain, as well as the Norman invasion.
However, Iíd like to think that my work captures something of the Australian spirit Ė Iíve realised in my writing I have been inadvertently commenting on some of the positive, and less savoury, elements of the Australian psyche.
QM: Which authors have influenced you the most?
GA: Katherine Kerr (if you havenít read her stuff, rush out and buy Dagger Spell right now!), Raymond Feist, Jenny Wurtz, Rosemary Sutcliffe, Julian May and Ė though it sounds so tired to say it Ė Tolkein.
QM: Which of your works are you happiest with? Are there any you would change if you could?
GA: Oooh thatís a tough question. Hopefully my writing improves with each story I write. I look back at some of my earliest stories and cringe. But in terms of story premise, I guess my top three stories would be: Counting Coup, The Unbroken Line and Iron Emissary.
I am really pleased with how Storm Shaman is coming together (thatís book 3 of The Lathíroug Saga). It is promising to be quite dark and mysterious.
Iíd like to sit down and rewrite some of my earliest stories. There have definitely been a couple that I wish had never seen the light of day. Of course, none of the stories that have appeared in QM.
QM: Have you ever collaborated with another author?. Among QM editors, this usually results in fights with broken beer bottles.
GA: No, I havenít. In that regard I donít play well with others. I enjoy brainstorming with other writers, but I am too much of a control freak to actually collaborate on a piece.
QM: What are you working on now?
GA: Draft one of Storm Shaman... if the writing goes as it did with the first two books, I have got at least 10 drafts ahead of me. Hopefully it will be available for release early in 2005.
I still try to bash out a short story every now and then, and I have the shell for another series set in Cyllhn waiting.
QM: Do you see the new technology of the Internet, e-books, print on demand, and even humble e-zines such us this one to be a good thing or a bad thing for the genre? How about for writers? Publishers?
GA: No brainer - <motions for you to wait whilst he slides a soap box into position for a serious rant> - The literary print publishing industry, especially for fantasy writers, has become dominated by some very short sighted commercial risk-based decision making.
If youíre a Ďnameí youíre worth the risk and get published, if youíre not, forget it Ė especially if your work doesnít fit the mould of previous work. So we end up with basically the same book constantly recycled and put on the shelves with a diminishing level of editorial rigour. Or, we end up with endless series where the author goes to increasingly lame lengths to introduce new plots. Youíll note that I havenít named names, but I am sure you can work out the authors I mean.
The internet has been a huge boon for ďfledglingĒ speculative writers. And whilst e-books and online reading has perhaps not taken off quite as well as we all hoped, it has undoubtedly enabled thousands of new writers get their work out there and to reach an audience.
This can only be a good thing for the genre, because itís brought a level of vitality thatís sadly lacking from the print side of the equation.
For writers itís enabled us to build a following, put some Ďruns on the boardí in our writing resume, as well as hone our skills.
Whilst I hope to see my work picked up by a big publishing house Ė who wouldnít, I will always support POD, e-books and ezines Ė especially the terrific folk at Quantum Muse.
QM:"The Heather Thane" is book one of "The Lath'roug Saga." How many books are planned in the saga?
GA: At this stage, I am anticipating 5 books. This series has a definite end point, but my writing tends to be a bit organic and can sometimes go shooting off in unanticipated directions. That being said, I hope to write at least two other series set in the same world.
QM: Did you plan on this being a lengthy series, or is it one of those things that just got out of hand?
GA: I always knew The Lathíroug Saga would be a few books Ė though I never anticipated the way the world or plot would evolve.
The roleplaying campaign that was the original spark for the series last 3 years of some pretty solid playing. I also have a pretty complicated story in a very complex setting to tell, so it was really more about making sure the thing didnít explode into something that would drag on for decades.
QM: What's a "Lath'roug?" Do you keep them in your pocket and feed them hamburg?
GA: Never in a pocket... are you mad, lad? The wee little buggers are fond of nuts Ė if you take my meaning. <Ahem> Lathíroug is a word in Culyntar (one of the dialects spoken by the CŻn) for ďlord of the heatherĒ.
Book one of the Saga is called The Heather Thane, which is actually just another way of saying Lathíroug. The Lathíroug is a hero, destined to save the CŻn and all the peoples of Cyllhn from the dark prophecy of the Ulun. Unfortunately, the Ulun is upon the West and no one knows who the Lathíroug is.
QM: How can someone get a copy of your book?
GA: Glad you asked <slips a fifty across the table> unless you live in Australia, youíll need to order it online either directly from the publisherís web site (www.equilibriumbooks.com/heather_thane.htm) or a few online book stores based in Oz and the US.
I have started talking with a distributor, as Iíd dearly love to get the Saga into bookstores in the US and UK.
Rush into your favourite local stockist of speculative fiction and beg them to order in a few copies of The Heather Thane!
In Australia, itís on sale in 2 brick-and-mortar stores in Brisbane, and 1 store in Sydney. Visit my web site for details (www.lathroug.com/saga).
QM: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers? Other than "step away from the ledge and get a real job"?
GA: I always remember an interview with Dustin Hoffman about his career. As a method actor he was agonising over a scene, trying to find the ďtruthĒ in his part. He sought the advice of Sir John Gielgud, hoping to tap into his wisdom. That venerable soul replied, ďMy dear boy, have you tried acting?Ē
The point? If you want to write... just write. Write for yourself, and love what youíre doing. If you can find someone crazy or drunk enough (I am of course not referring to the QM staff) to publish you, terrific, but donít tie your sense of self worth to whether or not you work is marketable.
My five pieces of practical advice are as follows:
1. Never stop and re-engineer a draft. Write and keep writing until the end of a draft, even if you decide to change a plot element. Deal with changes or redirection in your next draft. For me, if I start re-engineering a piece mid-flow, I kill the joy of the story and almost never finish.
2. Number 1 not withstanding, be prepared to write at least three drafts of any story.
3. Set yourself the regime of writing for at least 30 minutes every day. By the end of 30 mins you will either be firing on all creative cylinders, or you will have produced something which you suspect might get cut in the next draft. However, the discipline is really important.
4. Embrace alternative publication methods. Write short stories and submit them to ezines, consider and research the ebook and POD paths. Use these resources to hone your skills, build a readership, and get some feedback on what people like and donít like about your work.
5. Find some reliable touchstones Ė some people who are absolutely tyrannical about grammar and spelling would be perfect. Donít rely on your best friend to be a critic, but find people who will give you useful feedback.