The Next Big Thing, Week 17

Usually, when someone invites me to get “tagged” and forwards something akin to a chain letter, I get disturbing images of being covered in graffiti and told something Very Bad Indeed will happen unless I send money.

So it was a nice surprise when fellow author Paul McComas invited me to take part in a global game of Author Tag, no cans of spray paint needed.

The idea behind The Next Big Thing game of Author Tag is not only for authors to share their upcoming projects, but for readers to find new fiction they might enjoy.

So here’s my moment of being “it.” Thanks to Paul for tagging me (check out his contribution here) and be sure to keep reading till the end to learn about other authors you might enjoy.

The Next Big Thing

Interviews with authors about their future projects

What is the working title of your book?

The War’s End

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Some years ago, when I was barely 20 and working in Germany, I took a bus to Prague for a weekend visit. The man seated next to me was an elderly, rather distinguished German, with military-straight posture. He was tall and slender and white-haired, with soul-withering blue eyes. His demeanor was aloof, to put it politely, and we spent the hours to Prague in strained silence.

When we arrived in the city, I glanced over and saw tears streaming down his face. I asked if he was okay. “I have not been here since the war,” he replied. I felt I was intruding on his grief, or maybe some other, equally intense emotion, so I said nothing more. He disappeared into the crowd shortly afterward. The next day, however, when it was time to board the bus again, there he was, this time smiling and animated and encouraging my terrible German, which seemed to repulse him the day before.

He deftly deflected questions about himself on the trip back to Munich, preferring instead to ask me about my visit and explain beer-making to me (hey, this is Germany, after all). But spending those hours with him, given his age–he must have been in his 30s during World War II–as well as his appearance and behavior, made me wonder what role he’d had in wartime Germany. Thanks to my overactive imagination, that led to me wondering, after the war is over and the main villain conquered, what happens to the rest of the bad guys? Where do they go? The War’s End is their story.

The War’s End is not, by the way, set in Germany or in the aftermath of World War II. I didn’t want to limit myself, or for readers to have preconceived ideas of heroes and villains, so I set it in a fantasy world that might best be described as medieval-ish. Or medievally. Whichever you prefer.

What genre/s does your book fall under?

Technically, it’s low fantasy, but I think that’s an insider term that’s meaningless to most people. It’s not a statement of quality but rather the amount of magic and other magicky elements in it. JRR Tolkien and George RR Martin write high fantasy. I, on the other hand, perhaps because I only have one middle initial and it is not “R,” write low fantasy. Superstition and perception rather than actual dragons, spells and other fantastical shenanigans are at the core of my story’s “magic,” because that’s what interests me as a writer. That and bad guys.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Sventevit, a career mercenary who has seen better days, will always be Sean Bean circa 2002-2005 to me. The other main character, a mysterious woman who is as troubled–and as vicious–as Sventevit, would best be cast as Angelina Jolie. Angie, baby, call me. And Sean…well. Don’t make me stalk you. Again. (Though I have to say, on the two occasions my friend and I stalked Mr. Bean, he was rather gracious about it.)

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

When the battles are over, the fight to survive begins.

Will your book be self-published, self-shopped to publishers, or represented by an agency?

The War’s End will be published by Grunaskhan Books, which published my first novel, Plaguewalker, earlier this year.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I started in the early Cretaceous, so…no, really. I had the basic notion for the story back in 1990 but didn’t start writing until the characters began speaking to me in early 2002. I wrote it on and off, probably completing the first draft later that year, then pecking away at it here and there at revisions over the years, sometimes setting it aside for two or more years at a time. For me, writing the first draft of anything is dictated completely by when I hear the characters talking to me, and Sventevit took a few extended vacations over the years.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

That’s always a tough one, because sometimes I’ll see something in my writing that reminds me of something else, and a reader will say “what?!” or vice versa. I do think that The War’s End revisits a basic question I raised in Plaguewalker: how is character formed–particularly character one might consider villainous–and how, if at all, can it be changed? Also, as in Plaguewalker, there is a lot of walking in the cold. (I suspect because it’s where I, as a writer, hear my characters most clearly.)

Who or What inspired you to write this book?

Although the man on the bus, to whom The War’s End is dedicated, inspired the original idea for the story, I think two very different catalysts actually got me writing it. The September 11 attacks and subsequent invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq provided sharp and terrible reminders that one person’s hero is another’s villain, and that we as humans have an amazing capacity to put on blinders when it comes to committing atrocities against other humans. Watching the events unfold stirred that memory of sitting beside a man that I suspect had witnessed–and committed–horrible acts in wartime.

On a more personal note, I was diagnosed with cancer in 2000, and by September 2001 I’d had two surgeries, months of chemotherapy and weeks of radiation. Throughout my cancer treatment, I felt I was at war with my own personal invader. I didn’t realize it at the time, but looking back now I can see that, as treatment ended and I entered this new and uncertain world of being a “survivor,” I felt suddenly unfocused. I had mustered everything I had to fight an enemy, and the enemy was gone. It’s only been recently, while editing The War’s End, that I see my own feelings reflected in the characters’ sense of “well, now what do I do?”

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

It’s got more sex than Plaguewalker! (A few readers have mentioned their disappointment that Marcus, Plaguewalker‘s protagonist, wasn’t luckier with the ladies.) But seriously, I write the stories I want to read. And, while I enjoy character studies, I lose patience if nothing happens page after page after page. I’d like to think The War’s End combines the best elements of getting inside a character’s head with action, intrigue and humor.

Has your interest indeed been piqued? Watch this site, as well as The War’s End official home, for updates and sample chapters. And be sure to check out these authors, who’ve all agreed to take up The Next Big Thing baton:

Catherine Fitzpatrick, author of deliciously detailed American historical fiction

Rachel Waxman, new YA author whose debut is a page-turner

Ryanne Skalberg, tutu-wearing Iowa girl and Antarctic explorer with tons of stories to share

Thanks as always for reading!

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