Today I am interviewing my friend and fellow author Abyrne Mostyn. If you haven’t read any of his works you need to! Swingers was featured on Storytime last fall. Before you dig into the archives, sit for a few minutes and hear what he has to say on his life as a writer. Before setting things up for our interview I was in a two hour meeting that ran over. Bear with me as I try not to be too frazzled. I’ve spend the last two days minus the meeting reworking my most recent story – again. Ever have those times when it just wasn’t right?
Absolutely. As a matter of fact it was just September or October when I literally torched my work in progress. Now, I kept the jump drive, I’m not stupid…but what I had wasn’t working and I couldn’t make it work so I took the hard copies, pitched them in the charcoal and lit. It was liberating in so many ways. I think it’s tantamount to the story you’re telling that you know when you’re just adding words instead of bringing it forward.
When did you first decide you wanted to be a writer?
I don’t think I actually decided, and I’m not sure that it is actually a ‘want’. I am a storyteller. I like the name Bard, Eclectic Bard. I’m more of a word enthusiast and call myself that as well. Writing is an outlet for the stories that run unchecked in my head most all the time. The inner dialog about everything I’m doing, wanting to do, or never to do coming out. I did ARC reviews for several authors and found that as I was reading their work and looking for the pieces that didn’t fit, needed completion or were wondrously well done, that I knew I could do this and create worlds with the same elements that I was checking. I loved words and putting them together, writing became an outlet for something I already enjoyed. Why now or why publish now would be a good question and I think it kicked back up several years ago when I began ‘method’ role-play for other authors. Bringing characters to life and trying to create plausible stories for them between book releases as a means of marketing and promotion for writers I enjoyed or had reviewed and could emulate their writing style brought the passion back to putting words together and out in front of an audience. I have had some great opportunities and met some incredible writers through this process. Some of those writers are not out there published, but their work in the Role-play community is really outstanding.
Much of what I have written that is out there is from a long time ago and not work that I’m presently promoting or seeking audience for. I think it was a trial run for this time or a future not yet embarked upon. Swingers, an erotic short story is available in eBook format on Amazon, and its follow up The Red Queen, if all goes according to plan will be out in February this year. Through the Oracle’s Mist is the big piece right now and again if all goes according to plan, it will be done by a publishing house sometime this year. The platform is ready and I will present that in February for consideration. Racing the Riptide is another work in progress that I have high hopes will be picked up and published, but that is not the current quest.
I’ve read Swingers, and a few teasers from Through the Oracle’s Mist. I like your style. I enjoy the depth, the descriptives you use to convey the emotional punch.
To date what do you feel is your best work? Why?
I don’t think my best work is out there. I think that as a writer I’m still developing and growing. I can make the stories I’ve written better at almost every turn, but as they stand they are pretty good as well. I think that the story I want to tell, the one I hope to one day tell is still in me. *smiles* You’ll have to wait for it though, because I’m not ready to tip my hand as to what that story is….but let’s just say that there’s a tale I dream of one day being good enough to emulate and bring out in my own fashion. It would be the highlight of my time as a writer when I get there. Until then, I’m just going to keep plugging away at the ones I’m telling now and work to be good enough one day to say I’m where I wanted to be.
I can absolutely relate to that. I have a series planned in a different genre that I don’t feel quite good enough to write well yet. I have a notebook filled with little snippets of ideas that I have for stories whether short stories or novels or even series. It seems I am overrun with ideas, and can’t seem to write fast enough to get them down on cyber paper. Where do you get your ideas?
Idea generation for me comes from everything, but I think that’s an old skill coming out in a new way. In college I was a competitive speaker. I loved it, and made the national podium in Impromptu. I think writing is a lot like impromptu speaking. In Impromptu, you get a topic or prompt and have a couple minutes to develop the topic into several presentable points, and then speak. I would practice for this event by taking a newspaper headline or the first line of a song when I turned on the radio and then work to develop it into speaking points. Writing is the same for me. You (I) get a prompt, a topic, a subject, a scene and you develop the idea into something else. Whatever the idea is, I try to develop it into three or four points that I can then make a presentable story. Sometimes the story develops far and wide of the original idea, but sometimes not. It’s the same idea though that you expand the subject…so thus, the idea can be anything. Rest assured you will never see me try to develop a story from the worst speech prompt I ever had to work with; Visine’s slogan “Gets the red out.”
Like I mentioned, sometimes I can’t seem to write fast enough as the ideas are flowing. What is your idea flow like? Do you get one idea and stick with it to completion or does it seem that the more you work the faster your ideas come to you?*laughing* In a pinch, if I’m hip deep in a section and an idea that is unrelated but will be vital later comes, I have been known to open a clean word doc and jot it down, but usually I add it to a running list in my planner. I am horrified to think that I might lose it in the throes of something else and so I have to jot it somewhere that I can locate it later and I’m notorious for losing scraps of things, so I cannot hope to keep ideas just anywhere. If you knew how many half worked pieces I have sitting in the planner, half formed in a composition book somewhere in the stack, or on the computer you wouldn’t need to ask. If an idea hits I write it down, regardless of what I’m working on. It makes things take longer, but I think it’s like a tub with a half open drain when you write, you have to keep the little drops coming in or eventually there’s nothing left in the basin. I will eventually get to all of them, but not necessarily as they came to me.
I think that when you immerse yourself in the writing that ideas are like rabbits. That’s the magic of writing. When I’m really working on something it seems like I have more vivid dreams and the ideas that have been playing along the fringe refine themselves and become clearer. Not so much that they come faster, my mind just seems to be more open to the possibilities and they become such that I can bring them out in some semblance of order or with less confusion.
Oh wow! We are so alike in that vein. I like the analogy of the tub, I’ll have to remeber that one. Yeah, it’s embarassing how many partial projects I have. Next topic, characters. Do you use real people as your characters or do you completely make them up? Describe your process.
I honestly think that there is a little bit of me in every character I bring to life. There has to be as I stand in their shoes and write from their perspective. Sometimes, someone else steps into the role in my mind and then I have to have a sense of them to be able to lend their voice to the character, but this is coincidental. For instance, The Red Queen was not written for my friend Margaret, rather Margaret came to be TRQ in my mind as I wrote. She passed away while I was writing Swingers and just seemed to step into the spot. TRQ is not exclusively her, nor was she a model as I wrote, but rather TRQ became a tribute to her and many of the things I knew of her seemed to suffuse the character as she developed. Other characters, the three-faced god of Amaranth for example, I have no idea where they came from or if there is anyone I can relate to in them, they are peripheral to the story being told so their development was circumstantial.
The process for any character I write though is essentially the same. I want to have a good sense of them and all of their ‘faces’ before I start. Once I know of a character I try to figure out how they look, but also their outlook. What is their goal? Are they essentially good, is there wiggle-room in their ethics and values, or are they the apple that ruins the bushel. What do they think about when they shut off the lights and how do they think others see them. In my mind I try to make them a literal person with likes, dislikes, wants, dreams, and desires. Not just the goal I have for them in the story, but if I ran into them on the street what would I see? Do they dress well? Are they kind? How do they speak? How tall are they? How do they smell? What would I see if I looked into their soul? I try to imagine the nicknames that their friends would give them and the slights of those who would begrudge them. In general, I want to know every good, bad, dirty, nitty, gritty thing about them without making a laundry list. Sometimes I will sit and stare and just wonder at them for hours trying to feel them in my mind to be able to write them. I feel like I should not have to think too much at how they will behave in any circumstance, as I’m writing it should just come out because I know them intimately before I begin.
In the character development, my daughter was taking a creative writing class and they made a list of their characters, then did a page on each. For example: Their biggest fears? Waht is their driving purpose? Then there were quirky questions like thier biggest turn on/ turn off. Favorite color, favorite foods, stuff like that. I utilized that exercise and take it a bit further. I sometimes figure out where they are willing to comprominse. Some people are given to lust, some to greed, others to drink or food. Have you ever put your characters through the grinder with questions of this sort?
I think I partially answered this in the do you use real people question, but yes I put every character through a ‘grinder’ of sorts. I want to know them inside and out before I start, and I use the character page on Writeway Pro to help me with that. I can add anything I want, but I can also print out a template of their stats and have them sitting in front of me when I write. I have a pretty clear vision of how they dress, how they speak, what they like or don’t and what drives them when the story isn’t about them. I think you have to to be able to write the story or you will forever be stopping to think, what would they do? You should know before they are in that scenario.
Who is/are your favorite author(s)?
There are so many…I could write a small novel of name after name. Some that jump immediately to mind are Nelson DeMille, John Grisham, Michael Scott, Jules Verne, Edgar Allen Poe, Karen Marie Moning, Douglas Preston, and Lincoln Child.
Describe a typical writing session. Do you have any rituals or good luck charms? A certain snack?
Writing for me is generally done in complete seclusion with the door closed. I write in total silence, no background music or ambient sounds, but I think that’s because I am usually talking as I write. I like to hear the words spoken and have an auditory sense of how they fit and feel together. I love to roll words around out loud and open myself up to how they make me feel as they are spoken. I write with my thesaurus for this because I have found that as I’m speaking, sometimes words come out that sound and feel good in the flow but they don’t convey the emotion that I want for the passage and so I have to find another that fits better. I will outline long before I write and usually know chapter by chapter what will happen as well as how many chapters there will be before a single word hits the page. I write long hand first and then transcribe. I like the feel of the pen in my hand as I script and feel like the act of the writing gives it a life that the keyboard cannot. When I transcribe I prefer my desktop to the laptop. The laptop is convenient, but the cursor is too sensitive and far too many times I have looked up to find that I’ve been typing along in the middle of another paragraph and it completely destroys my thought and flow. You would be hard pressed to convince me that it is a coincidence that cursor has the same root as curse.
Perhaps the only ‘ritual’ is that I will tell myself the story several times over while doing other things; Sometimes out loud, sometimes just thinking through the passages before I ever sit down to write. When I do sit down, the words come pretty quickly. At this point if there is stagnation in the process it is because I don’t usually fit the connecting pieces together as I’m telling myself the tale and those are usually the last bits I write, mostly because to me they are hard. The story in my mind is complete, but the readers will need the blanks filled in a little as they cannot read my mind.
Snacks? No. I take breaks to eat sometimes when I realize I need to, but I don’t eat while I’m working. I have a coffee pot at the computer and a large mug that goes with me when I’m writing long hand away from my desk.
*Mentally running over my own rituals of having to have everything in just exactly the right stack or positiondown to turning my coaster exactly parallel with edge of desk * Do you have a sense of audience or a reader when you are writing?
No, I really don’t. I tell the story the way it makes sense to me, in the voice that makes it flow the best for me as the writer. I find that in telling any story, until I get to “The End”….I have to keep answering the question, “And then what?” JR Ward has a great series out called The Black Dagger Brotherhood. I did a review of it several years ago and still laugh to tell people my favorite character is Vishous. Why Vishous? ..because, he is the consummate storyteller and has to have it just so before he can proceed. He and I share this. There is a scene in his book Lover Unbound where the thing that has been burning between him and Jane is going to happen and he is spelling out exactly what he’s going to do and exactly how and he stops and says, “Say to me now, ‘And then what V’?” to which she responds wrong, and he stops and tells her, “No, start over and do it right this time….Say the words I want to hear.” And finally, FINALLY when she responds with “And then what V?” does he continue. Granted, most people reading that passage probably didn’t identify with the perfectionist dictate of it and how it translated to writing like I did…but my story, whatever the story is, is this same way for me as a writer as Vishous’ instructions to Jane….I have to answer the ‘And then what?’ and do it right before I can go to the next part. I am the story’s first customer and so the writing is always for me. Jane is the readership that will still get the ‘goods’, but I as the writer, like Vishous, I have to do it my way.
As a big fan of JR Ward and of her Black Dagger Brotherhood series, there are reasons to like most of her characters. I liked Vishous for different reasons, the perfectionist in him resounded too much with my own little idiosynchrasies and I could totally see myself in similar conversations with my children. That’s one of the criteria for me for authors I enjoy is if the characters feel real not forced or cardboard. How do you flesh out a cardboard character?
*laughing* I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard about the ‘other reasons’ people like Vishous. For me, his uncompromising dominant way was a perfect metaphor for how I see myself when I write. It is a ‘my way or the highway’ mentality while I’m creating, but one that serves me when trying to move the story. “And then what?” is literally in script above my writing wall in full view.I’m not sure how you’re defining cardboard. To me, when you are developing a character you take them from one, to two, to three and four dimensional as you meet them and then get to know what makes them tick. I think being willing to sit back and let them reveal is important even if the one you end up with isn’t one you like. And by like, I mean they aren’t your favorite. It’s like there has to be the one you love to hate and sometimes they are the most multidimensional of all because they’ve gotten under your skin and you know them better just because you have to to keep them on track as they are.
As to the ‘other reasons’ *blushing here* I am a woman after all.
I love your description of that, we do tend to fully develop the one that irks us the most whether the character was based on someone we know or characteristics of someone, or just proves to be a general pain in the arse. What I was thinking is actually a character that the author didn’ttake the time to develop. They seem flat or one dimensional. I’ve read some in the romance genre that I seriously wondered how they ever got published. anyway, moving on.
How do you handle research? Do you gather all data first or start writing while still gathering?
This depends widely on the story. Sometimes the story being told is a complete farce. A complete work of fiction and is based solely in my mind at the moment I’m writing. Sometimes, like Through the Oracle’s Mist, there are components of history in them that require me to have not only passing knowledge but an understanding of the time I’m writing about. In some cases I have written first and left underlines in places knowing I would need to do the research for a specific bit of information, in other cases I have jumped into the research first because the passage would have no merit to try to do it backwards. I actually will research all the while I’m writing in some cases, and this is a very good thing. A prime example would be in writing about the times of the Genpei war in Japan, I was referring to ‘geisha’ in several passages. What I found while looking for something else for those same chapters was that for ‘saburuko’ or serving girls in the tea houses of Japan during this time, that those from the Kyoto region were not known as ‘geisha’ but as ‘geiko’. Many would probably over look this for the sake of the story, but for me, it was technically wrong and had to be corrected as I was in fact referring to those from Kyoto.
I think this willingness to do the research and make the connections for the sake of the work make the story better. So, in answer to the question posed…I think my answer is all of the above.
As a writer what would you say is your best skill? What is your worst?
I think the ability to drive emotion is probably the best skill I have. As a reader I want to feel a connection to what I read, so as I writer I work hard to make the work real and with emotional baggage be it joy, sorrow, grief, elation….whatever it is, I want the reader not to “read” that a character was, but to feel that a character is. Some of this ties to character development and finding a way to convey them beyond the visceral to make them tangible. I think this bonding between the reader and the character is what makes or breaks a story even if it’s poorly done. A well written and developed character can take you past wording that doesn’t work for you and make you feel like you have to finish the tale where another story of the same caliber would get put down without this association. I think that my altruism to the work and being willing to walk away or, as I did recently with Oracle, burn it because the connection wasn’t there is not a skill, but it is one of my better attributes as a writer. Knowing I’m not happy with it, I’m not satisfied to continue on and hope it gets better, I can and will start over to tell the story as it should be told.
Worst, perfectionism. This is true beyond writing and will plague me. I can rewrite forever it seems and end up flinging mud as I spin in dreck. I am hard to please as a writer and it makes things take longer.
What are the last three books you’ve read?
I’m always reading something, so the “last” three is hard….Three that I’ve read recently would be; The Landmark Thucydides. A comprehensive guide to the Peloponnesian war by Robert Strassler, Iced by Karen Marie Moning, and The Oracle. The lost secrets and hidden message of Ancient Delphi by William Broad.
I would love to go to Key West and tour Hemingway’s home. Likewise, I’d love to go to England and tour Emily Bronte and Agatha Christie’s homes. Is there a special writer’s vacation you’d like to take?
I have never considered it really, but sitting here, I think I would like to stand in the Parthenon. I would like to visit the Acropolis, and I would like to stand on Mt. Parnassos at Delphi and just feel the energy there. Not as a writer, but as a student of the world. I would like to stand where the thinkers and the bards of long ago were, the places where the world seemed to carve from. As a writer I would love to visit all the places I have dreamed to write about or written and see if they feel the same in real life as they do in tales. I would like to sail the Hebrides, and float the Venice canals. I think that the journey for me that would have the most influence would be the ones where I could stand and dream a new tale without the constraints of what it is now, but rather with the wonder at what was or what could be.
*daydreaming about sailing around the Hebrides, around the waters of Iona and Skye. Picturing a facsimile of one of the MacKeltars in a bulky cable sweater at the wheel* ahem
Travel is one of my biggest desires. So far I haven’t managed to do much of it and I think it’s about time I do.
What advice would you have for a new aspiring writer?
BEGIN. Whatever you do or don’t do after that, Begin. There is no ‘THE END’ without ‘In the beginning’. I’ve talked to many folks who are trying to start and the question is always “How?” The answer is, keep it simple. Pick an image and describe it, take a word and make a conversation, choose a voice and write a monologue. Can’t come up with it? Try picking a character you love and write a story for them that hasn’t been told. I am not advocating plagiarism here… I am saying tell the side you have never seen. Choose a villain you love to hate and tell the love story that you’ve never heard. Choose the good guy from the television show and write about his wild and rowdy night on the town. Write something that you would never see for this character as it is completely against their nature as you know them. Once you can do this then start coming up with your own characters and the stories that go with them, but don’t kill yourself and burn out before you get started trying to take on the 300 or 500 page novel from scratch with nothing else under your belt. The 50 Shades of Grey series that came out recently by EL James started as fan fiction for Stephanie Meyer and her Twilight saga. Does it seem like it’s the Vampires and Werewolves Meyer wrote? I have no idea, I haven’t read them, but what I’m saying is that the idea developed by piggy-backing on something else that was out there. My own work in progress is a piece that came about because I took a character that I role-play for another author and was writing a story to fill in between book releases and as it developed it became a completely different thing. The character disappeared and a tale unfolded in ways that would have no place in the story that spurned it, but it was a place to jump off from. We all need to find the end of the pier and jump into the deep end somewhere. Just take a few laps in the kiddie pool first.
Writing isn’t re-inventing the wheel. It’s finding new ways to tell the same stories we’ve been reading all along. There aren’t a thousand new genres that come out every year….there are a thousand books though that do and they fall into the established genres. And this is the next big step… Once you can honestly put a string of words together to complete a thought, once you can take a mental image of a character and breathe life into them, you have to decide what they are going to do and this will determine the genre you write in. Maybe there will be more than one, but probably best to start with just one. And there is nothing wrong with starting small. It’s like writing essays….in middle school they were a page, in high school we went from 3 to 5 to 10 pages and in college we went from 15 – to hundreds for thesis work. Allow yourself the time to grow. I would say to you, remember you have to crawl before you walk before you run. And I would again remind you of Vishous, son of the Bloodletter from the Black Dagger Brotherhood and the side of the conversation with Jane in the bathroom that you likely didn’t catch if you’ve read it…. “And then what?”
Whatever path you take, remember that you have to start. Dreaming is that voice inside telling you that there is something there but it can’t do it without you. There’s magic in dreaming and stories too. No matter how good the dream though you still have to get up and take up the pen to tell the tale or it is only ever a dream. There’s a song out that is more an analogy for life, but the key line is an absolutely perfect observation statement for this….Natasha Beddingfield says, “Today is where your book begins, the rest is still unwritten.” I say, “You are the only one who can change that.”
Well there you have it, words from the Bard himself, Abyrne Mostyn. Thank you for taking the time for our interview. I can’t wait to read The Red Queen.