Saturday, March 26, 2011

Process Interview #1: Untreed Reads Author Andy Frankham-Allen

Welcome back to the "Inspiration to Publication" series of interviews.  Now that the first quarter of the year is almost over, I've decided it's time to shove off the shore of the inspiration interviews (and we've had some GREAT ones...if you haven't checked them out, you need to go back and look at them) and tread into the waters of "the writing process".  And to kick off this new phase of the "Inspiration to Publication" series, I've asked Andy Frankham-Allen, author of numerous eBooks through Untreed Reads (among others) to step up the microphone and answer some of The Accidental Author's questions.  Andy sheds some light on his process and talks specifically about his new release, the first book of a four-book series.

Welcome...Andy Frankham-Allen!

The Accidental Author: Well, it's time to shift gears in my yearlong series of interviews, entitled “Inspiration to Publication”. I've spent the first quarter of the year covering the inspiration behind various authors' works, but now I'd like to focus on the actual process of writing. Andy, you just recently released the first in your four part series The Garden, entitled Seeker, and in addition, you've released a short-story prelude to the series entitled "Serere". Let's talk about that a bit. Once you have the seed of your idea, what is the first step you take in undertaking the task of writing your novel?

Andy Frankham-Allen: Coming up with a decent working title. Sometimes it survives, sometimes it does not. I’m one of these people who need titles and names before I can truly progress with the story, and will often be stumped for hours while I try to find the right title and name. For me, at the start the title is about giving me direction. A single word or phrase that conveys my intention with the story.

AA: In constructing the story arc for your book, Seeker, did you use any of the standard techniques like “mind-mapping” or generating an outline, or did you simply start writing in a more “shotgun approach”?

AFA: I’m not a synopsis kind of guy, although I do appreciate the necessity of such things. When I’m working for myself I tend to just write ‘off the cuff’. I have the core idea, I know the general direction, and then I just sit down and write. As the story progresses though I’ll start to take notes, and makes plans. It’s only after the first draft is complete that I really start to do intense research and start making more concrete plans, because by that point the story is all there before me.

AA: When you devise the main characters in your plot, such as Willem, do you set down a strict character outline, or do you let him evolve organically throughout the writing process?

AFA: All my characters evolve in the writing. I lay down a few basics for them; appearance, age, general stuff. Much like the story initially, I tend not to tie anything down too much. If a character is true, they will evolve on their own, to the point where it is they who are determining how the story will be told.

AA: What drives your writing process more: the characters or the story arc? In other words, do you find the strength of the characters molding the plot to their will, or do you find the plot bending the characters?

AFA: Everything is slave to the character. Well, okay, not strictly true. But all my stories tend to be character led. As I said, I’ll have the idea for the story, work out the plot as I go along, but allow the characters to propel the actual story forward. For it is in the characters where the real story lies. It’s like with The Garden, I know where each volume ends, and roughly how I’m going to get to each ending, but it won’t be until I write the books, and the characters lead the way, that I’ll discover exactly how I’ll reach each of those endings. Each characters needs to be at a certain point, say, by the end of book two, but the journey they take to get there is mostly down to them.

AA: Do you have a concrete schedule for writing, or do you just write when the mood strikes you?

AFA: I try to put aside time each day to write, especially when I’m working to a deadline, as with the current project. But I’m not a sit-down-and-just-write kind of guy. I have to get in the zone. Sure, I can sit down and just write if I absolutely need to, and have done, but I find the end product not as satisfying to me. So I’ll keep on researching, doing things that relate in some way to the project, until I find myself in the zone. And when that happens… well, I can literally zip through 10,000 words in a day quite easily. Which is why I don’t worry too much about deadlines. I always meet them.

AA: In terms of the prelude to the series, Serere, did you write it before, after or concurrently to Seeker? Why that order?

AFA: After. Serere didn’t exist at all until about two months ago, and was never in the big plan of The Garden. It all came about because I wanted to get Untreed Reads (the electronic publisher who handled the eBook version of Seeker) involved in the launch. As a print book, the launch of Seeker was primarily focused on that, since people like to see an end product, something to buy, to have signed, and carry home. Hard to do that with eBooks. But the team at UR had done a fair bit of work on Seeker, too, so I suggested to Jay that I write for them an exclusive eBook prelude to the entire ‘Garden Saga’, which I could then offer free vouchers for at the launch. The fun thing about Serere though, is because it deals with some key moments previously mentioned in Seeker I was able to explore them more fully. Which in turn led to a better understanding of said events, which had the knock-on effect of me altering certain elements in Seeker. Like Red Source, this came completely from a small scene in Serere, and is now a key thing in Seeker and will play out much more in the following books.

AA: Is the entire story arc of the four part series laid out, or does it still have some “growing room”?

AFA: Definitely not laid out in any great detail. I have notes of key events that need to happen, I know exactly how each book ends, and generally how the characters get to each point. But nothing too detailed. A lot of the plotting with come about in the writing, and I don’t want to tie myself down too much at this point, since the next three books will be written over the next three years, which in terms of writing is a lot of time for growth both in my technical abilities, and in the ideas that life generates for me. All that said, however, book two is planned out in some detail, mostly because I started working on that towards the end of last year, and have already written the first five chapters. One character, at least, will not make it to the end of that one. And many readers will be upset by this. Which is… good.

AA: Besides a computer (assuming you're not banging these manuscripts out on an IBM Selectric or a fifty-pound typewriter), what do you have in your writing space?

AFA: Books! Although not as many as I’d like, since a lot of my stuff is still boxed away as I’m currently between homes. But I do have a few books around me, CDs, and DVDs. Eventually I’ll have everything I need around me, but right now I make do. And with the net, research material is quite easy to come by.

AA: Do you need silence or music while you write?

AFA: Always music. I’m a very musically minded person (can’t play anything but a guitar, and that not very well since I stopped learning when I was a kid), and always have music on no matter what I’m doing. I even fall asleep to music. It inspires me a lot, puts me in the right kind of mindset, and just generally keeps me invigorated.

Indeed, such is my connection with music when writing, then I recently happened along a singer called Sam Tsui, and while doing the final rewrites on Seeker I heard Sam's new single, 'Start Again', and it contained lyrics that fitted perfectly with the end of the book. Sam, and his producer, kindly gave me permission to use those lyrics in the actual book. I suspect with the rest of the series I will also find a musical link in one way or another.

AA: Now, some more standard fare in terms of questions: What types of things do you like to read? What are you reading right now?

AFA: I try to read stuff that is against type every now and then. Although that doesn’t always work out too well, since I’m very picky about reading well-written works, and unfortunately there is a lot of badly written stuff out there. Especially now. Genres I tend to gravitate towards, though, include thrillers, supernatural, horror, crime, mysteries, real world dramas, and the odd bit of sci-fi. As for right at this moment; I’m reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and am discovering I don’t know the story as well as I thought. I’m also realizing that I absolutely adore her prose style, and that is inspiring me in my current project which is set in a similar time period.

AA: What are you working on right now? Part Two of The Garden series, or something else?

AFA: I shan’t get on to book two of ‘The Garden’ until around July, since right now I’m heavily involved in working on Untreed Read’s forthcoming steampunk series, Space 1889 & Beyond. And it’s proving quite a challenge. I’m learning all kinds of new things every day as I research and write the opening novel, and the authors of the series are constantly throwing new concepts and ideas my way. You see, not only am I writing the opening novel, but I’m the line editor for the series, so I’m involved in every tale that’s being written for the series. It’s quite a hefty amount of work, and very time consuming, which is why I won’t be getting to ‘The Garden’ until after 1889 is launched in June.

AA: When it comes to writing a series, are you ever overwhelmed by the enormity of the task you've set out on?

AFA: Yes! All the time. But such a feeling soon passes when I just knuckle down and get on with it. I get the same daunting feeling over Space 1889 & Beyond as I do with ‘The Garden’, as both are quite epic series to orchestrate. More so with 1889 as it is, ultimately, still someone else’s baby and I’m the foster parent who’s been given this awesome responsibility.

AA: Finally, if you had any piece of advice for the author that is trying to make the transition from “writing for fun” to “writing for fun and profit (such as it is)”, what piece of advice would you bestow upon them?

AFA: Just do it! I know so many people who want to write, and faff around with doing this and that but never really getting down to it. And as I always say to them, ‘don’t just sit there talking about wanting to do it, just do it’. Truth is you’re never going to know if this is truly for you unless you get on with it. Trust me, if you weren’t born to write for a living, you’ll soon work it out.

Welsh-born Andy Frankham-Allen has authored many short stories, some for Big Finish’s Doctor Who anthologies, and many more for Untreed Reads’ horror collection. He’s also authored novellas of all genres, and ONE audio drama; Seeker is his first full-length novel. It is the first in a series of four books, a new take on vampire mythology as well as a series about sexual identity and free will vs. predestination. When not writing, he’s Commissioning Editor and Creative Consultant for Untreed Reads’ Space 1889 & Beyond e-book series (and even then he wrote the opening story, and will no doubt write some more along the way – he just can’t help himself!).

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