Friday, 20 March 2015

Author Interview - J.C Staudt

A while back I reviewed 'The Infernal Lands' by J.C Staudt. Haven't read the review yet? Go read it, and then go read the novel. And then come back here, of course. I wanted to sit down with J.C to talk about his book and writing process, and with the wonders of technology, we were able to do so!

I had the pleasure of reading your recently released novel 'The Infernal Lands' and I was immediately struck by the depth of it. Can you tell me a little bit about your process? How you put together such a large world with a history such as this?
I've always been both a huge fantasy fan and a follower of the post-apocalyptic genre, but I knew when I set out to write this series that I didn't want it to be just another sword and sorcery tale with knights and dragons and that sort of thing. I also knew I didn't want to set the story in a post-apocalyptic America - or anywhere on earth, for that matter - which is where I think most post-apocalyptic fiction is set. So I guess the closest thing to my line of thinking was, "What would've happened in a place like Middle-Earth if technology had been allowed to advance over about a thousand years, and then one day everything went wrong?" That's sort of the most simplistic way of explaining what I first imagined the Aionach to be like.
So when you started writing, you intended it to be a series, or did it just happen that way?
I think I knew from pretty early on that the story was larger than I'd be able to tell in one book, yes. I'm working on the second book now and I'm still not sure whether I'll be able to wrap it up in three or if it will end up taking four or five.
The genre is post apocalyptic, but not really set on earth. I may have read into it a bit much, but I found parallels with our earth's climate and that of Aionach in terms of global warming. Was that intentional?
I did a ton of research on things like solar flares and solar storms and how the indigenous people in some of earth's hottest climates survive. The fact that the Aionach has a problem with its sun is something I'll be delving into more in the next couple of books as the story continues. There is a definite reason for the light-star's erratic behavior that pertains to the overall narrative. But as far as it being a warning or a political statement about global warming, I didn't intend it to be anything like that. But the scientific aspects of it are all earth-related, yes.
Speaking of research, what kind of research did you conduct? Fantasy and sci-fi are great genres to write because of the relative suspension of reality (for some things) but other than solar flares, was there much else you focused on?
Oh man, that was such a huge part of my process. I can't remember how many different topics I must've researched. Anything and everything that I wasn't absolutely 100% sure about while I was writing, I stopped to read up on it. Just to name a few examples aside from the climate change stuff: maritime navigation (for Lizneth's voyage across the Underground Sea), types of seagoing vessels and sail configurations, sustainable living (for Decylum), biological and neural implants, languages and their construction, rat physiology, and desert flora and fauna. Of course, after I'd written all those scientific descriptions into the first draft, I remembered that I wasn't writing a textbook and stripped them all out again when I went back to revise. I realized that as long as I knew how stuff worked, that was enough.

I'm glad you did that research, because even if it wasn't all in there, it showed you knew what you were talking about. It made it a lot easier to trust your writing and continue reading.
I figured if I was putting it in there, it ought to hold up to at least some suspension of disbelief!
What made you decide to have different species/races, and what influenced the creation of them?
I decided to include non-human (but sentient) species for a few different reasons. One reason was that I wanted to test myself. I wanted to see if I could humanize a character who wasn't human and then put her in situations that would make readers feel like they could identify with her. I also wanted to try to present a species that experiences life very differently from the way we do - their behaviors, their customs, and even the way they gather sensory information - and make that relatable. Or at least translate that into something people can understand.
The nomads came about as the result of a thought process similar to what I described earlier - what if things had turned out differently? I like to think of the nomads as being almost the 'Native Americans' of the Aionach. Except instead of the foreigners coming in and oppressing them and driving them out, the nomads are kind of superior. They're sitting there laughing at everyone because they know the land. They know how to survive in it because they've been doing it for thousands of years, so they kind of have the upper hand where that's concerned. They have this incredibly brutal society, but they also look down on everyone else - they're refined and haughty in their own way. I thought that would be kind of an interesting dynamic to highlight, and there's more of an exploration of that as the story moves forward and the conflict between these various races begins to reach new heights.
So, you need to write the rest of the series quickly so we can read it as soon as possible, that's what I'm hearing.
Haha I guess so. This book has been moving a bit quicker than the first, now that I know the characters better and I've sort of taught myself all the preliminaries of how things work in the world.
Do you think you personally would be able to survive in Aionach?
As far as wilderness survival goes, I went through this phase when I was younger where I got really into living off the land. I read books like My Side of the Mountain and Hatchet and I used to think a lot about what it would be like to just walk away from society and live in the woods. I even went to this survival camp one time where they taught us how to set traps and make shelter and all that. Needless to say, that phase didn't last long. I like air conditioning too much. I've since brushed up on a lot of that knowledge, and I think if I were left to my own devices I'd have a decent chance of surviving in the Aionach. It's when the gangers and nomads came around that I'd probably be in trouble.

I want to add that I loved the book Hatchet.
Absolutely, it's a great book!
Random writing question: what's the worst piece of advice you've received during your publishing process?
Let's see, the worst piece of advice I've gotten... that's hard to say. I've been told that I use too much description in my writing, but I've also been told that I don't use enough. Go figure. One thing I've been hearing a lot is, "I don't have time to read books. I only have time to listen to audiobooks during my commute. I'd read your books if you got them made into audiobooks." Which I guess is neither advice, nor is it bad, per se. But as someone who reads mostly via audiobook myself these days, I'd say there's some merit to that. About publishing specifically, I don't know that I can point to anything someone has told me and say it was bad advice, though.
On the other hand, there's a lot of good advice out there. It takes more than one book to build a brand. It's a marathon, not a sprint. Write every day. I think the most important thing to remember as a self-published author is that you are your own publisher. You're responsible for making sure everything gets done - except that you don't have a team of editors, designers, publicists, and agents behind you like a traditionally published author would. Good time management skills, therefore, are far more important than they would be otherwise.
Alright, final question: what's the one thing you aim to have readers think/feel when they finish reading your books?
I've found that most of my writing centers around some kind of moral or ethical dilemma. I tend to find those types of situations incredibly intriguing and thought-provoking. I want readers to put themselves in the characters' shoes and think about what they'd do - how far they'd go to resolve a dilemma like the ones I present. To that end, each of the POV characters in The Infernal Lands is struggling with some kind of decision (or series of decisions), and each one relates to those situations differently because of his/her background and circumstances. So I think the most important thing to me as an author is that my readers feel like they can understand the characters and can see how and why they did the things they did. Not that they necessarily agree with them; just that they understand. Because much like the characters, different people have different interpretations of what is justifiable and what is not. So if I've gotten the reader to go to the extremes and think about what they'd do to survive, or what they'd do for someone they love, or what they'd sacrifice to find a cure for their chronic disease, or how far they'd go to be recognized and accepted by others - then I find that a pretty satisfying result.
That's an awesome answer, and I don't think it's too much to say most of your readers will walk away with all of that in mind. I want to thank you for getting together to chat with me. I'm glad we were able to do this.
I hope they do! Thanks so much for having me, I've really enjoyed it.

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