Interview: Garrett Calcaterra, Ahimsa Kerp, & Craig Comer

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CalcaterraKerpComerRoadsToBaldairnMotte2Everyone, please welcome the authors of The Roads to Baldairn Motte, Garrett, Ahimsa, and Craig. Today we chat about influential books and movies in the realm of fiction, tattoos versus cosplay, fictional beasties, and the challenges of self-promotion. Enjoy!

1) Myths and beliefs that we would consider fiction or fantasy in modern literature once upon a time shaped history (think of all the hunts for unicorns & dragons). Do you see modern fantasy fiction affecting human cultures today and how?

Craig: Absolutely. Today, you still see elements of fantasy fiction adorned on fashion items and throughout pop culture. Walking Dead and Game of Thrones shirts, mugs, and stickers are everywhere, and more so, you hear lines from these worlds quoted on news shows and by sports commentators.

Ahi: In some ways, probably more so than ever. I think Star Wars broke through the glass nerd ceiling and now fantasy is more popular than ever. However, it’s often a bit empty. Sci-fi can push for social betterment, but fantasy often seems to wallow in meaningless entertainment. They’re not mutually exclusive, and I’d love to see more ambitious fantasy.

Garrett: I think all genres tend to wallow in meaningless entertainment, even sci-fi and literary fiction. And you know, that’s fine sometimes. I see nothing wrong with literature functioning as escapism—life can get rough, and what better way to put aside your problems for a few hours than in a fun book?

But I’d argue that there is still ambitious fantasy out there. It may not shape history anymore, but it works in subtle ways. I think Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series is so popular because it’s rooted in complex, believable characters. It functions in the same way good literary fiction does: we, as readers, learn something about the human condition from these characters.

Fantasy can also be a medium for exploring alternative philosophies and social viewpoints. I’m currently reading The Mists of Avalon for the first time, for example (I know, not exactly new, and yes, shame on me for not reading it a long time ago!), and it does an amazing job of making the reader question our patriarchal culture, not to mention our modern disconnect with nature and the magic in the world around us. That’s perhaps the biggest impact fantasy has, reminding us about magic. I just finished Bruce McAllister’s Dream Baby and it’s this amazing, sort of paranormal fantasy set during the Vietnam War, based on the premise that being in heightened combat situations awakens a dormant, magical ability in certain humans. That’s what good fantasy is all about. It makes us question our reality. Is there something more to modern human existence than working like a dog just so you can buy the newest iPhone or 60” flatscreen TV?

CalcaterraDreamwielder2) What fictional world would you like to visit for the holidays? Is there a fictional holiday that you would like to take part in?

Craig: I’m not sure any of the worlds I love so much are great for visiting. They are scary and dangerous places! But maybe Philip Pullmans London from, His Dark Materials. It’d be a trip to walk around and see everyone’s daemon running around!

Ahi: My answer is boring because I just want to go to Middle-earth. Hang out with the Dunedain, visit Rivendell, cruise up to the Misty Mountains… yup, that’s the dream.

Garrett: Yeah, my first choice would be Middle-earth too. The Shire probably has some pretty good holiday fixings going on. Hmm…where else? My girlfriend and I adore animals—to the point we like our pets more than most humans—so once we get married it would be pretty fun to take her to Narnia and visit the talking animals in the court of Cair Paravel.

3) Reality in my fiction: how important is it? Lengthy travel, cussing, and bathroom breaks happen in real life. How do you address these mundane occurrences in your writings?

Craig: I think the level of reality has to match the tone and themes of the work. Something like A Game of Thrones needs to be gritty and real because the reader is so closely imbedded in the character’s perspective, and those details describe the world Martin is creating. Something like Neil Gaiman’s Stardust is more whimsical. Too many details there would weigh down the prose. But for each, the important thing is consistency.

Ahi: I love books where people swear and poop. But it has to be for a reason. Usually those mundane realities are cut because they don’t advance the story, and we don’t really need to know how many times per minute your protagonist blinks.

Garrett: Yup, I’ve got little to add beyond that. If I’m writing a dark, gritty tale, I use those realistic elements the same way I use setting description to create a believable backdrop and establish the tone.

ComerAbandonedTowers4) Given the opportunity, what fantastical beast of fiction would you like to encounter in the wild? Which would you avoid at all costs?

Craig: I would love to have a Heinzelmännchen come stay at my house and do all the care taking! I would avoid any type of giant arachnid. Small little guys hanging on webs are fine; huge Shelob sized ones, not so much.

Ahi: I have quite an affinity for Yetis. And I would really like the platycore from Munchkin as a pet. Who would I avoid? Most fantastical creatures probably! But China Mieville‘s slake moths especially creep me out.

Garrett: I would love to encounter a dragon from Pern and have an Impression. How awesome would it be to fly on the back of a dragon and communicate telepathically? As for creatures to avoid, I’d have to say the Great Old Ones. I feel like I’m a pretty easygoing guy and could get along with most nefarious creatures, but the inhuman evilness of Cthulhu is too much, and the thought of losing my mind terrifies me.

KerpOriginsCollidingCausalities5) More and more we see fiction being multimedia – a book, a TV show, a PC game, a graphic novel. How do you see the publishing industry evolving to handle this trend? Any plans to take your works in the multimedia realm?

Ahi: I have no prediction as to how it’s going to evolve, but I am excited to see how it all goes down. I am definitely excited to continue to learn different kinds of storytelling as they continue to grow.

Craig: We’re already seeing interactive ebooks and tie-in novels for PC games. I think that will continue, and at some point a synergy (or at least an attempt at one) with social media—perhaps a choose-your-own-adventure with thousands of readers creating the story together?

CalcaterraKerpGoodBrewHardToFindGarrett: It’s an exciting and unpredictable time. For the biggest authors in the publishing world, yeah, you’re gonna continue to see their fictional worlds turned into multimedia franchises like we’re seeing with LOTR, A Game of Thrones, The Chronicles of Narnia, and American Gods. For those of us authors who aren’t best-sellers, technology will function to enhance the way we interact with readers. The new e-book edition of The Roads to Baldairn Motte has an enhanced character index with hyperlinks, for example, which is helpful for a sprawling mosaic novel. Earlier this year, Ahimsa and I were able to re-release A Good Brew is Hard to Find, a choose-your-own-adventure style humorous fantasy. Its first incarnation was on a website with clunky html a decade ago, and now it’s a slick, easy to read e-book. I too am excited to get to write in these different mediums, and am always open to new opportunities. Ultimately though, novels are my favorite and I hope novels are able to retain their market share in our attention deficit world where books have to compete for attention against other media.

ComerDragonmountAnthology6) What nonfiction works have you found useful in building fictional worlds, cultures, and plots?

Ahi: It depends on the project, but I quite enjoy the role of researcher. I read 5-10 books per novel, and my booksmarks folders on Chrome have 30-40 links each. We live in the best time ever for research, as the wealth of human history and progress is all available on the same machine you type your story on.

Craig: There’s a book, What Would Your Character Do?, that I find useful for fleshing out character ideas. It puts them in different scenarios and asks a litany of reaction and motivation type questions. World building, for me, is the best part of the creative process, and I use everything from old childhood tales to military encyclopedias. The internet has made it easier than ever to find information, and not just with who, what, and where.  There are dialect translators, guides for creating armor, guides on botany and Victorian costume—everything is out there.

Garrett: I don’t read many non-fiction books and feel pretty inadequate in my knowledge of history compared to Ahi and Craig, but I do take my research seriously. I mostly rely on reference materials when writing fantasy. I did a ton of research to make sure I had my nautical terminology correct when writing The Roads to Baldairn Motte, for example, and that came in handy for Dreamwielder too. Beyond that, the non-fiction I read tends to be newspaper and magazine articles on technology and climate change. In fact, I posted an annotated bibliography on climate change and science fiction on my blog, if anyone wants to check it out. (link: http://garrettcalcaterra.blogspot.com/2013/06/an-annotated-bibliography-for-science.html )

ComerBardsAndSages7) With the modern popularity of ebooks, a book is no longer limited to a specific genre shelf. It is now quite easy to label an ebook in multiple genres (i.e. YA, Fantasy, Horror). How do you see this affecting readers? Have you been inadvertently lured outside your reading comfort zone?

Ahi: I mean, genre is just a marketing tool. I’d like to see it removed entirely to be honest. Genre is rather a limiting, didactic way of looking at something much broader and nearly infinite in scope. As to ebooks, they haven’t lured me out of my comfort zone, as I read from a wide range already.

Craig: I agree with Ahimsa. It’s a double-edged sword, though, because you still need readers to find your book, and that can’t be on author name recognition or friend recommendation alone. Online lists have become a prevalent source for finding new books or songs or whatever, but even those are necessarily broken down by some sort of meta-label, whether it be genre or some other categorization.

Garrett: Yeah, I agree. In theory, better online categorization, meta tags, cloud servers and whatnot makes it easier for readers to find a broader range of books, but in reality it’s just become part of our norm, and readers still gravitate toward their individual interests. Back when I was in junior high and grade school, if I wanted a new fantasy novel (and I did, pretty much every week) I either went to the public library or the one bookstore in town that had a big section of fantasy novels. Now people only have to tap an icon on their Kindle or Nook to accomplish the same thing, but they still have their specific interests. Though the mediums have changed, we’re approaching our author branding and marketing toward a target audience with the same general philosophy that authors were using back in the 80s. Having said that, I could be totally wrong, and maybe that’s why my book sales aren’t tearing up the charts!

CalcaterraPiratesAndSwashbucklers 8) From your own writings, are there any characters you would like to cosplay?

Ahi: Ha! Good question. I’m afraid I would feel like a total wanker if I dressed up as my own character when there are thousands of great characters already out there.

Craig: None myself, but the heroine of my next novel, The Fey Matter, is modeled in part after my fiancé. So in some sense, she’s cosplaying all the time.

Garrett: I’m not really into cosplay, but I wouldn’t protest if my girlfriend wanted to dress up like Lyrie from Baldairn Motte, and I’d be happy to be Terryll Pace, her pirate lover. “Arr! Come to me, you lusty wench!”

Oh, and Ahimsa and I both have literature-inspired tattoos. I have a Frank Frazetta cover from a Bradbury book tattooed on my shoulder and Ahi has tattoos of all kinds of cool shit: Cthulhu, Odin, an airship from China Mieville’s The Scar, I think. Tattoos are sort of like cosplay, but way tougher and cooler.

9) Is there a book to movie/TV adaptation that you found excellent? Is there a PC game to book adaptation that worked for you?

Ahi: I still think Trainspotting is the gold standard of adaptation. How anyone could turn that book into a movie is beyond me, but it was sheer genius. I haven’t read any PC game adaptations but working in licensed worlds takes skills all their own (maybe a bit like our own shared world actually) and my hat’s off to those who tell those stories.

Craig: Wonder Boys is one of my favorite movies, so that pops to mind. And the BBC’s Sherlock is very well done.

Garrett: I think Fight Club is one of the few movies that is better than the book, and I’m a big fan of the book and Palahniuk. I suppose I could say the same for American Psycho, in that the movie captures the essence of the book and makes it a tighter, more cohesive story. As far as fantasy goes, I think the first Narnia movie was very well done. Can’t say that I’ve read any books adapted from games or other media. My nerdiness is pretty well confined to original SF/F/H, and then real life scientific research (I have a BS degree in chemistry and bio, if you can believe it).

ComerBardicTalesSageAdvice10) In this age of publishing, self-promotion is really necessary for the author. What do you enjoy most about advertising yourself and your works? What do you find most challenging?

Craig: Throughout the whole writing process, I love the anticipation that someone out there will get as excited as I am about a character or plot point or setting. The rest of self-promotion is awkward and a bit embarrassing—kind of like swimming in a public pool amidst a cloud of warm water, while trying to get everyone else from swimming away from you.

Ahi: The only good part of self-promotion, for me, is the chance to meet like-minded people.  I really appreciate that aspect, but the rest of the horn-tooting is not something I’m at all fond of.

Garrett: Ditto for me. I don’t think any proper writers like self-promoting their work. If we did, we’d probably be salesmen rather than authors. But like Ahimsa said, being involved within the SF/F/H community is an entirely different matter. Doing this interview, for instance, is quite fun. I’ve also written articles and interviews for Black Gate, SF Signal and my own blog, The Machine Stops, and that’s awesome because I genuinely like to interview people and write non-fiction. So for me, the best sort of self-promotion comes in the form of being visible and active within the community in that capacity. That’s where you’ll see the best, most honest side of me. On Twitter or FB posts where I’m plugging my books, not so much.

 ComerPulpEmpire11) Finally, what upcoming events and works would you like to share with the readers?

Garrett: Well, the big event for us, of course, is the release of the new edition of our mosaic novel The Roads to Baldairn Motte. The book is out in e-book format from Reputation Books as of the new year (January 1, 2014), and if it does well enough we’ll maybe see a print edition later in the year. In the meantime, the three of us are all cranking away on our own individual novels. I’m working on a high-action sequel to Dreamwielder, and then also my more serious near-future cli-fi novel. Craig is doing revisions on The Fey Matter, and Ahi is working on his Indo-fantasy. We try to attend conventions and conferences when we can, but I don’t think anything is on the books now apart from our virtual book tour online. So thank for having us and helping kick things off!

Craig: I wanted to thank a Ben Thornton for letting us use his artwork for our new cover! It’s awesome and got all three of us charged up to put together this revised edition of the book. Thanks also to you, Susan, for having us over for this chat at Dab of Darkness!

Ahi: Nothing else of mine to share, but I’d like to thank all who read this for their interest and time. Keep reading—everything. You’re awesome!

Thank you gentlemen for sharing so much and joining us here at Dab of Darkness!

Places to Stalk Garrett, Craig, and Ahimsa

Garrett Calcaterra Website

Craig Comer Website

Goodreads – Garrett

Goodreads – Ahimsa

Goodreads – Craig

Twitter – Ahimsa

Twitter – Garrett

Facebook – Craig

Facebook – Garrett

The Roads to Baldairn Motte

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