Thursday, July 26, 2012
Interview with Bryan Thomas Schmidt, author of The Davi Rhii Saga.
When you look back, has your writing improved, and if so, in what ways?
It’s a journey, so of course I am seeking to get better every day. For one thing, areas of craft I used to have to intentionally focus on in a later, dedicated draft are now internalized and incorporated from the start. I polish them in later drafts but the foundation is already there. For another, I am learning how to write with description and more emotion. Screenwriting stripped me of the need for it, which is my background and Bachelor course of study, but in novels it’s at the heart of bringing a story to life. I continue to work on that. Certainly I can see improvements in motifs and themes as well as how I build character. Also, ideas about how to deal with POV and find unique approaches to scenes seem to come easier these days.
You believe heroes don’t have to be deeply-flawed individuals. Do you often write something as a reaction to something else?
Actually, I think all humans are deeply flawed. I think depravity is a common condition of man. But what I don’t believe is that everyone seeks to rise above that and counter that nature and focus on doing something to make themselves and their world better. And those who don’t seek this are not heroic. They are the antithesis. Heroism, in some way, involves selfless sacrifice and a focused effort to not let your weaknesses drive or control you. Those who suffer their weaknesses get little admiration from me.
Why a trilogy? You spent over twenty years visualizing it in fine detail.
I’m tempted to say nothing here because you make me sound better than I will. I visualized it quite a bit as a teen when I came up with it. Revisited the idea a few times during college, then pretty much forgot about it until I was trying to write novels and had failed already at my first try. I remembered the antagonist’s name, the protagonist’s father’s name, the first line of the book and the basic premise. The rest was pretty much reinvented from there. I suppose subconsciously old ideas probably came back to me and were incorporated. But I had no idea what book 2 would be until I started writing it. I was so afraid I wouldn’t be able to tell the tale. It seems to have worked out. Going into book 3, which I start next week, I have a pretty clear idea now what that needs to be based on the others though.
Some of our fellow authors are English teachers. Does that worry you?
No. I freelance edit for pay. No one’s perfect. If they want to nitpick, fine. It doesn’t lessen my talent or value as a writer. And people make deliberate choices for voice or style to forego grammar all the time. Even those with English degrees. It may be a pet peeve for some other writers but that’s their problem not mine.
Tell us about this Davi Rhii Saga. What is the basic premise?
A prince discovers he was born a slave and secretly adopted. He sets out to find out who he is and what that means. Along the way, he discovers an injustice and decides he has to set it straight. This alienates him from family and friends, especially his uncle, who is the dictator enslaving his birth people. When he helps them fight for freedom, he becomes hunted and unleashes an age-old conflict. Along the way, he finds love, a new family, new friends, and a new understanding of himself and the world.
Do you tend to see characters as good and evil, or are there moral grey areas? One reason why I ask is because of henchmen, those faceless and nameless individuals. What sort of motives dictate their behaviour? Are evil henchmen victims too?
In line with my earlier comment, no one is perfect or completely good or bad. We all make choices. And we all follow our instincts differently. Some surrender to them, some fight them. Are some manipulated? Yes. And some know it and allow it anyway for various reasons. Are they accountable for that choice? Yes. When it’s a choice. When they are victimized, which some can be, they are more sympathetic but that doesn’t entirely erase bad things they did. You can choose not to obey if you really want to. You might be killed for it, but you did have a choice. And choosing to preserve yourself is a choice which can be selfish. It’s complicated, I realize, but in the end, it’s not a one hundred percent absolution.
If you won the lottery, would you still write? Would you quit, or would you simply hire the best editors, cover designers, and just keep going? What would be the motivation to do that?
I don’t write for money. It’s nice when that happens though. I write because I have to communicate and get these stories out and this is my medium for doing so. The fact that readers and others respond well certainly encourages it but I still get rejected a lot and all writers do. If it was all fun and easy, it would not have nearly the meaning, I think. But I’ll never face this question because I don’t play the lottery. I consider it a complete waste of money. Look at the stats. Whatever I do though, I will seek the best editors, cover designers, artists, etc. which I can find and afford to help me make it the highest quality possible. Always.
Like why do it at all, or why does it have to be more than a hobby? There is some mission as a writer, isn’t there? A writer takes some responsibility for the world around him.
The writer’s mission as I see it is to release stories inside him or her to the world and see what happens. They become a part of the living tapestry of the world and the world interacts with them. For some, that manifests in popularity, fame, wealth. For others, it’s almost unnoticed and continued obscurity. Some make a living or significant income from it. Others don’t. You don’t write because of what you want to see happen but because you have something to say.
As far as responsibility though, I absolutely believe you bear responsibility for what you put out into the world. If you glorify rape and someone imitates a rape scene in your work and says it inspired them, you should feel responsible, even though that person made choices. So I think you must exercise the gift, talent and responsibility of writing well. I don’t put stuff out there in the world I’m not willing to bear responsibility for, that includes sex scenes, language, certain levels of violence, etc. I write stories the way they need to be told, but I don’t buy the myth that they aren’t real or true without four letter curse words and graphic sex and violence. Because I think readers are smarter than that and they are creative. It used to be we wrote to stimulate and engage our readers as participants. Remember the “choose your adventure” books for example? Now, it’s almost like writers want to spoon feed them everything and control how the novel comes alive for and interacts with the reader. I don’t think you can really do that. So you write intentionally and with care and then you set it free. You are responsible for that output.
In a stand-alone novel or story, do you leave a door open for a sequel, even if you have no real ideas?
Depends on the story or novel. I think good characters, settings and stories always bode possibilities for further exploration. You don’t have to just set up open ends you can exploit. They are often organic to the story. Every novel or story is just a brief window on a specific period in the life of the characters and the world. There’s always more to be told and to know.
Tell us a little about your hometown, Ottawa, Kansas.
Ottawa is a town of 13,000 people in East Central Kansas just between Interstate 35 and Interstate 70. It’s 45 miles from Kansas City, 18 from Lawrence (home of K.U.) and about 2 hours from Wichita. Its downtown is on the National Historic Register for Victorian historic buildings. It has a rich history including one of the older private universities in the state. It’s blue collar and tends to be a bit more of the less educated, rougher around the edges people, but it’s quiet and safe, and not heavily crime ridden (outside of, sadly, domestic violence issues), and it’s close to big cities yet far enough out as a Kansas City satellite to allow a small town, less stressful life that’s very conducive to writing and healing for someone like me. It would be a great place to hold a writer’s retreat. Someday, perhaps I will.
If money wasn’t a problem, would you go off to some other country? Would that really help in the process of writing?
I would love to buy a place in Ghana and Brazil or somewhere and write full time, travelling when I needed to. I think my writing would improve because I would learn and grow so much and new environments and lessons always bring strong bursts of creativity. Plus it would infuse and inform my writing with new elements, ideas, themes, etc. that would invigorate the work and the writer both.
Your books are on sale right now? Tell us about the deal and what we have to do.
I’m offering a discount for a package of the two Davi Rhii novels and prequel short story ebook on my website at http://www.bryanthomasschmidt.net/store as well as 33% off The Returning paperback and ebook, both signed by me, for a limited time. I also have contests to win copies by helping as book ambassadors, and a book trailer contest which can be found here:
In Bryan’s second novel, The Returning, new challenges arise as Davi Rhii’s rival Bordox and his uncle, Xalivar, seek revenge for his actions in The Worker Prince, putting his life and those of his friends and family in constant danger. Meanwhile, politics as usual has the Borali Alliance split apart over questions of citizenship and freedom for the former slaves. Someone’s even killing them off. Davi’s involvement in the investigation turns his life upside down, including his relationship with his fiancée, Tela. The answers are not easy with his whole world at stake.
Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured in anthologies and magazines. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited novels and nonfiction. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.