Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Interview with Dark Speculative Fiction Author Alan Baxter

Welcome to Up Around the Corner, Alan. Please, take a moment to tell readers here a little about yourself.

I’m a British-born, now Australian author. I write mostly dark fantasy and horror, though I venture into science fiction, crime and other stuff from time to time. I wrote the dark fantasy thriller duology, RealmShift and MageSign, and co-authored the short horror novel, Dark Rite, with David Wood. I’m currently working on book three of a dark urban fantasy trilogy. I’ve also had a very Australian horror/noir novella published, called The Darkest Shade of Grey, and I’ve self-published a noir/sci-fi novella called Ghost of the Black. I’m a big fan of short fiction and have around 50 published short stories in a variety of magazines and anthologies. Other than writing, I’m a personal trainer and martial arts instructor – I run the Illawarra Kung Fu Academy here in my home town on the south coast of New South Wales.

That’s a wide variety of genres and lengths of works, Alan. Very cool.

You’re a martial arts instructor. Double cool. Could you tell us about how you became involved in martial arts and if your martial arts study and instruction has influenced your writing?

I can’t really remember a time when I wasn’t a martial artist. I started in Judo when I was a kid, studied some karate and other things, then discovered kung fu and never looked back. I think it was a combination of being bullied at school and being totally addicted to the Monkey TV show that really did it. That, and I wanted to be a Jedi. When you put all that stuff together, you can’t not find your way to the martial arts, especially the traditional Chinese arts.

It’s definitely influenced my writing. In fact, the trilogy I mentioned above has a career underground martial arts fighter as the protagonist. I’ve always included that kind of influence in my books and stories and I got a bit of a reputation for writing great fight scenes. So much so that I started running workshops on the subject for writers and that led me to write and publish a short ebook called Write The Fight Right.

I’m actually flying down to Adelaide tomorrow to run that workshop for the South Australian Writers’ Centre.

I see many parallels in the arts of fighting and writing and one day I plan to write a book on that very subject. Both martial arts and writing take focus, dedication, a constant struggle to improve and so on.

Up until you mentioned it, Alan, I’d never heard of the Monkey TV show. I initially thought of the Monkees from the 1970s. But I looked it up and makes perfect sense in the context of your answer.

Thinking back, what was your first attempt at writing? What was your first publishing success, and where would you hope to see your writing career a decade from now?

If you haven’t watched Monkey you must rectify that forthwith! It’s a fantastic show, really funny 70s kung fu treatment of the classic Chinese epic, Journey to the West. It’s truly brilliant.

The first attempt at writing I remember is being about 7 years old in middle school. We were told to write a story over the term break. Most kids came back with a few paragraphs about something or other – I came back with about eight pages of story about a dude who goes back in time to the prehistoric era and gets chased everywhere by dinosaurs. Thrilling stuff. My teacher rang my parents, asking why they’d helped so much, and was assured they knew nothing about it. So the teacher apologized to me and them and asked me to read the story to the class. I remember nervously reading it, but then noticing all the rapt faces and I’d discovered the power of storytelling. I always loved reading since I could open my eyes, but now I’d learned what it was to be a storyteller too. Never looked back!

I have no idea what my first publishing success was, to be honest. I remember getting paid $5 for a short horror story – I think that might have been the first time I was ever paid for writing fiction. It’s all so long ago!

Ten years from now? I’d like to see a bunch more novels published. I’d love to get a bigger deal that sees my books in every bookstore and airport. I’d like to have acclaim and awards, loads of short stories published in the best magazines and anthologies, reprints in all the Year’s Best collections. I’d like a few movie deals, a TV series or two, and world tours. I’d like to be Guest of Honour at a Worldcon. Honestly, aim high, right? I would really love to see any markers of success like that, but I’ll be happy if I keep managing to sell fiction and readers keep enjoying it. The more comfortable a living I can make from doing it, the better!

Nothing wrong at all for aiming high.

What has drawn you to writing dark fiction? Also, can you tell us a little about Dark Rite, and how you and author David Wood collaborated on the project?

I never really set out to write dark fiction, it just seems to be what came naturally to me. I’m always drawn to the darker stuff in my reading and in the films and games and so on that I enjoy. I think dark fiction allows us to delve deeper into the truths of human existence and that’s where I like to go. If I’m going to dive into a rabbit hole, I want to follow it all the way down.

Dark Rite came about because David Wood and I had been talking about collaborating for a while. We both write thrillers, but his are more action/adventure and mine are more dark fantasy/horror. We thought trying to combine our styles might be interesting. We talked a lot about the initial ideas and setting and then just went to work. We’d take turns writing a section, send it to the other who would then read over and edit that part, write the next part and send it back. Occasionally we’d have to stop and have a Skype session to figure out problems or discuss ideas. Then we eventually had a whole book and we polished it and tidied it up from there. It was a fun experience and I think we’ve ended up with a great short pulp horror novel. I’m very proud of it.

I’ve read and really enjoyed Dark Rite. Creating a successful collaborative effort isn’t as easy as one might think. With that in mind, what is one thing that you’ve struggled with as a writer?

Thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed it. So far we’ve had pretty positive feedback across the board, which is always great.

It’s hard to pin down one thing I’ve struggled with. I constantly struggle, as I think most writers do, with the imposter syndrome. The feeling that I’m not good enough to get the publications I’ve had, that people will suddenly realize I’m a hack. I constantly struggle to improve and try to make the next thing better than the last.

Otherwise, the thing that consistently gives me grief is the middle of books. I love starting a new book and barreling into a story. I love approaching the end, tying everything together and heading into the big climax. But the middle, keeping all the threads alive and interesting, keeping the whole plot moving along… I always struggle with that. But I plough on, knowing I can do it if I work hard, and it’s always satisfying to get through it.

You’re far from the only writer that struggles through the middle third of their novels.

Other than writing and martial arts, what’s another thing that you find interesting or really enjoy doing?

To be honest, those things fulfill me most of the time! But other things that are always part of my life are reading, music, travelling, walking my dog, riding my motorcycle. I love gaming and movies, as they have some of the best stories outside of books. I find all those things invigorating and essential to my happiness. Especially when I do most of them with my wife. And now we have a kid on the way, so that’ll change things, I’m sure. That’s the next big adventure heading my way!

Yes, a child is a big adventure—and that’s an understatement for sure!

Before we wrap up this interview, I was hoping you could tell us a little about your novels RealmShift and MageSign, and what you’re working on now.

RealmShift and MageSign are a duology featuring the immortal, Isiah. They are dark urban fantasystories, following Isiah’s difficult task of trying to keep some order among all the gods in the world. They’re essentially magic-fuelled thrillers, full of demons and monsters and fights and gods. I play a lot with various religious mythologies and the powerful underworld that most people have no idea exists. In RealmShift, Isiah has to protect a murdering scumbag, Samuel Harrigan, and get him to the right place at the right time to fulfill a necessary task. Except the Devil is after the same guy, so Isiah has a difficult time of protecting Harrigan while keeping Satan off their tail.

In MageSign, Isiah decides to go after the Sorcerer, the man who made Samuel Harrigan into the deadly blood mage he became. Isiah doesn’t want the Sorcerer creating any more dangerous killers like Harrigan. Except he discovers that the Sorcerer is in charge of a cult of blood that is far bigger and far more dangerous than he ever imagined and they have audacious plans for world domination that Isiah has to try to stop.

I’m currently working on the third book of a new trilogy. They’re dark urban fantasy thrillers again, but with all new characters and story. There is a brief cameo in the first book of characters from the previous duology, so there is a small crossover in worlds, but the new book are otherwise completely unrelated to the Isiah books. The trilogy follows the trials of Alex Caine, a champion underground MMA fighter who has a mild magical talent which greatly enhances his fighting skills. He learns that his arcane ability is far bigger than he realized and from that point on his world turns upside down. Books 1 and 2 of the trilogy are with my agent now and I’m working on book 3 with a view to having a first draft done before the baby is born.

They sound like good reads, Alan! Your description reminds me of The Iron Druid Chronicles, but leaning more on the dark side.

Is there anything else you’d like to add or mention to the readers?

I haven’t read the Iron Druid Chronicles – I’ll have to check them out!

Nothing more to add really, other than please check out my work if it sounds interesting to you – you can learn all you need to know at www.alanbaxteronline.com. And please hit me up on Twitter and Facebook any time you like. Thanks for the opportunity to have a chat with you, Terry.

You’re welcome, Alan.

Below you can find Alan Baxter’s brief bio, incuding some links:

Alan Baxter is a Ditmar Award-nominated British-Australian author. He writes dark fantasy, sci-fi and horror, rides a motorcycle and loves his dog. He also teaches Kung Fu.

He is the author of the dark fantasy thriller novels, RealmShift and MageSign, co-authored the short horror novel, Dark Rite, with David Wood, and has around 50 short stories published in a variety of journals and anthologies in Australia, the US, the UK and France, including the Year’s Best Australian Fantasy & Horror (twice – 2010 & 2012).

As well as fiction, Alan is a freelance writer, penning reviews, feature articles and opinion. He’s a contributing editor and co-founder at Thirteen O’Clock, Australian Dark Fiction News & Reviews, and co-hosts Thrillercast, a thriller and genre fiction podcast. He is director and Chief Instructor of the Illawarra Kung Fu Academy. Read extracts from his novels, a novella and short stories at his website – www.alanbaxteronline.com – or find him on Twitter @AlanBaxter, and feel free to tell him what you think. About anything.

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