Saturday, February 18, 2017
Author Interview with Charles McDonald
Author Interview with
Do you write naked? Nope. Not yet. I guess I could, but my neighbors might be a little shocked since my office is a fishbowl until we can get some plantation shutters installed. They’re next on the list BTW!
What is your biggest failure? Well, I’m not proud of it, but I lost my relationship with my oldest son during the divorce. He was being used as a pawn by my ex-wife, who was texting him while I had possession time with my kids. In those texts, she was parenting remotely, countermanding my parenting in real-time. That’s called parental alienation and if I had taken it to court, she would have likely lost all possession rights (or at the very least primary custody), but I did the wrong thing. Instead of taking her to court over it, I confronted my son (as if it was his fault). We had it out. He pushed my buttons (learned that from his mother), and I jettisoned him out of my house. Told his mom to come get him and he couldn’t come back until he stopped countermanding my parenting of my other kids. The intent was to teach him how inappropriate that behavior was, but it had a horrific cost. He just stopped all communication with me and I haven’t seen or talked to him since. In essence, she won. My ex-wife won because I played right into her games. I took it out on the wrong person and that was a huge mistake. Granted, I never should have been put in that position to begin with, but it was still my mistake. I should have dealt with her directly and left Cauner out of it except maybe as a follow-up conversation after dealing with it through the ex-wife first. I’m not an expert on divorce poison and all the stuff that can go on, but I’m certainly more knowledgeable now than I was on the front end of the divorce.
Do you drink? Smoke? No, and no.
If you had a superpower, what would it be? Telekinesis
What does your writing process look like? The most important thing for me is ensuring my day job tasks are all out of the way and in order so I can focus on writing. I don’t want to be worried about anything day-job related when I’m trying to write. When I first start to write, I like to draw (on my whiteboard) the compelling event(s), the main theme, and the main plot threads. So, for A Throne of Souls, I started with the Throne of Souls (as it related to Banthis), then drew the compelling events preceding and following, then I drew the major plot threads that were inputs and outputs to those events. Pretty soon, my whiteboard looked like a CSI case. But, A Throne of Souls is a gigantic puzzle, so I can’t say I was surprised by its complexity when I drew it out from start to finish. But that moment really helped crystalize where I was going with the story and then making the outline for each of the five books has been relatively easy ever since that moment. When I start each novel, I generally just start stream of consciousness writing the prologue and first few chapters based on notes that I’ve been keeping on my iPhone the previous several months. That usually gets me about 50,000-80,000 words into the book. From there (and my books typically are around 155,000 words or more), I typically outline the rest of the book by starting with chapter names with the iconography that goes with the content of that chapter, with a short one-three sentence summary description of that chapter. Then, I’ll go build the TOC (table of contents) and just see how the flow of the book looks like from the TOC. Is it covering the right content in the right order? My series is very nonlinear in time, but I’m trying to cover specific themes in a specific order. Most stories are written either linearly in time or they start with the ending, and then backbuild to that moment. A Throne of Souls isn’t written using either of those manners. The prologue of book 1 (A Kingdom Forgotten) starts with a significant catalyst moment, but it is NOT the beginning of the story, nor is it the end. So, I don’t know if my writing methods—as applied in A Throne of Souls—would be applicable to most writers. It typically takes me about 16 weeks to write a full-length novel. That’s about how long it took for me to write Black Mirrors of the Soul (Book 2 of A Throne of Souls) from start to finish, and I completely threw away every single word I had written in that book prior to 2016. So, everything you read in book 2 is all newly written material. BMOS is 160,000 words right now and will likely be very close to that when published in March/April 2017.
How did you get started writing? Well, that’s complicated… Part of it was driven by my creative side being awakened. Part of it was driven by these dreams and thoughts that simply would not go away until I exercised them from my mind by putting them into manuscript form. Part of it was driven by the fact I knew I could do better than a lot of the content that was out there, and that my content was very unique given that landscape. Don’t get me wrong, there’s lots of great content out there. Much of it hasn’t made its way to TV/Movies yet, but my point is that I feel like it’s been a very long time since a great epic series took the scene by storm, and that is what I intend to do.
Which writers, past or present, have influenced your writing style? Robert Jordan, James Rollins, Dan Brown, Tom Clancy, Molly Cochran, and Warren Murphy.
How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning? Do you have any name choosing resources you recommend? So important, I trademarked the name of the series! This is actually a hotly debated topic between fans, readers, and contributors to the series A Throne of Souls. Why do I place such a huge emphasis on the series title versus the book title, and why does the series title always get top billing on each book? Well, the title of each book is very important to me, but I’m placing the strongest emphasis on the series title for continuity’s sake. Some authors use extremely similar book cover art to tie their series together from one book to the next. I can’t do that. I mean just look at my first two covers and you’ll see why. For me, each book is both a distinct work—with a distinct purpose in the telling of the series’ storylines—as much as it is a progression to the series’ story. When you look at A Kingdom Forgotten (Book 1 of A Throne of Souls), that book is essentially me jumbling up the pieces to the puzzle and tossing them onto the coffee table for you to solve—albeit in a very entertaining way. When you look at Black Mirrors of the Soul (Book 2 of A Throne of Souls), that book is showing you the beginning of Damon and the why behind many of the compelling events as well as showing you new compelling events not shown in book 1. When you look at The Fall of Hate (Book 3 of A Throne of Souls), that book is showing you the beginning of all beginnings—the hate that started it all—and the moment that changes everything going forward in the series. So, yes, each title of each book is very critical to me. It must convey a specific theme delivered in that distinct work, but it must also make sense to the totality of the series’ storyline.
Were you already a great writer? Have you always like to write? I’ll let the reader determine how great my writing is or isn’t. I’m extremely happy with it and I’m a perfectionist so that should say a lot. I feel like writing is very instinctual to me. I’ve always been able to weave story and plot lines together effortlessly. I don’t have writer’s block. I know where the story needs to go and I spent so much time developing my characters that the story practically writes itself, especially when there’s dialogue between main characters. I’ve never once taken a writing course, or looked up how to write any part of a story. It just came to me. I have progressed a great deal in vocabulary and phraseology. I think anyone that reads A Kingdom Forgotten and the Black Mirrors of the Soul back-to-back will be able to confirm that for you. I want each progression in the story to sound like a progression in the writing as well. I’m always looking for ways to make the story flow better, feel better, read better, etc. And, I’m always open to listening to feedback. For example, The Cauldron of Hate was originally chapter 2 in Black Mirrors of the Soul, but my editor strongly encouraged moving it to the prologue because of how gripping it was and it didn’t need to be in chapter 2 for any linear reason. It was pretty much a standalone chapter. So, I did as she suggested and I’ve already got great feedback on that.
What is your least favorite part of the publishing / writing process? Marketing! HATE IT! LOATHE IT! DESPISE IT! The day I become a major published author under contract with a big-5 publisher will be one of the happiest days of my life, not because of the status. I don’t give a crap about status. Fuck status! It will be solely for the fact that marketing has, for the most part, been taken off my plate leaving me just to write. If all I did was write and provide feedback on editing/artwork, I could easily write 2-3 full-length novels per year even with a 40-50hr a week day job.
What kind of research, if any, do you normally undertake for your novels? More than you might think. I’ve never been to many of the places I’m describing in my novels, so I must do quite a bit of research to understand what it looks like in person—lots of Google Earth viewing for example. A significant part of my series hinges on certain theoretical Physics concepts, bleeding edge experimental technology, and the like. For example, how would it even be possible to destroy a black hole…? These are things I must research for days and weeks to present a reasonable, yet new hypothesis.
Since you have started writing have any well-known authors given you any advice? Yes, Robert Jordan reached out to me directly, and I’m very grateful for his amazing inspiration. By all accounts, he was a wonderful man and I wish he was still here with us.
Do you see any of your characters’ personality in yourself and vice versa? Oh yes. I’m a very straight-shooter—just ask anyone of my work colleagues—and several of my characters share that philosophy, though not all of them. I’m a major doer, the kind of guy you call to get things done when others have failed. Damon, Michael, and Radin all share that quality as well. However, Damon is capable of doing things, and has done things, I could never condone. Many people say Damon is my alter ego. There’s probably some truth to that, but most people have no idea how complicated Damon’s character really is. At one point in his lifetime, there would be no doubt he would have been considered ‘evil,’ but as he evolves and his logic, order, reasoning, and understanding take bigger and bigger roles in his life, those old certainties begin to crumble. Despite all of his heinous acts, Damon is still a top three character for me because of all the layers that construct that character.
Out of all the Novels you have written do you have a favorite one that stands out to you? Black Mirrors of the Soul is going to blow away anyone that reads it! I can’t wait for people to read it. I can’t wait to see and hear their reaction. It will be sooo shocking and sooo emotional. I just can’t wait!
What are you currently working on? Artwork for Black Mirrors of the Soul, and writing The Fall of Hate. This series is the top priority of my writing portfolio and I'm 100% committed to finishing A Throne of Souls in its entirety. I plan on it being a five-novel series. I know what you're thinking, 'What the heck?! Five Novels?!' Yes, exactly five. Not three. Not four. Not six. Exactly five. Why? You'll just have to read the series and find out. One thing you'll quickly learn about me is that if someone says, "You can't do it that way," or "That's not the way it's typically done," that these are key instigator phrases that make me respond, "Watch me!"
What’s your advice for aspiring writers?
1) Develop your characters!!!
2) Visualize your compelling event(s) and all the threads leading into and out of them.
3) If you did one and two above, then what comes next will be more like you recording the events of your character's natural behaviors as if you were a photo-journalist in the scene with your characters just watching them do what they do.
4) If you're not dreaming about your story, you're doing it wrong. Keep your phone by your bed at night and take it with you everywhere. Talk into your phone (speech-to-text) like a crazy person everywhere you go. If people aren't looking at you like you're crazy, you're doing it wrong! You've got to stay on top of those ideas when and where they come with the velocity in which they will come or you'll drown doing this.
5) Convert those notes into your manuscript storyline ASAP!
What’s the best thing about being a writer? You're a god in your world. You do whatever you want, but you'll quickly learn you're also a slave to the story. Meaning, if you're a stickler about story integrity like I am, then you'll quickly adapt to the thinking of, 'No, I don't want to include that, because...' That list of reasons will become ever-increasing as the more effort you put into your story commands you to hold integrity of the story as an utmost priority.
How do you deal with writer’s block? Since I started writing again in 2016 and visualized the compelling events, I haven't had writer's block. I had it all the time prior to 2016, but that was before I visualized all the compelling events driving A Throne of Souls.
Where did you get the idea for your most recent book? So, there's a two-part answer to that question... I had an idea for Book 2 of A Throne of Souls (Black Mirrors of the Soul) long before there was A Throne of Souls. So, this was circa 1991/1992. BMOS was always going to be about what makes Damon Damon in the first place. The concept for A Throne of Souls as a series framework came to me in July 1995, blending together some 20 characters I'd been developing all into a singular storyline that superseded BMOS and created the need for a book 1 (A Kingdom Forgotten).
Life happened, priorities came and went, but eventually life settled down for me enough to really focus on this. I worked on this series several hundred hours at a whack in 1997, 1998, 2000, 2003, and 2007, but only after moving into my new house in Roanoke, TX where I had a legitimate home office, could I build (yes, I made it with my own hands) my massive executive desk, bookshelf, and whiteboard. That might sound trivial, but having a truly awesome home office to do your work is amazingly helpful to getting things done. So, my home office was finished in April 2016, and shortly after that I started white-boarding compelling events, visualizing the threads that led into, and out of, those events. That crystalized what remained of A Throne of Souls for me in an epiphany moment and I was essentially textually complete with book 1 a few weeks after that. Artwork is the primary reason this book took so long to get to market.
What book are you reading now? The Way of Kings.
Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? Joe Abercrombie, Doug Wallace, Bella Forrest, R.S. Dabney, John Gilstrap, Carol Marrs Phipps, Christian Kallias
What was the hardest part of writing your latest book? The artwork. Most people, most writers even, have no idea how hard it is to create and assemble the artwork for a series like A Throne of Souls, mostly because there’s never really been anything like it before. I mean think about how the artwork must span Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Fiction, Military-Fiction, etc. genres for one thing. Then think about all the iconography required to deal with hundreds of characters across at least five worlds. It’s insane! I probably spend two hours a day, every day just managing the development of artwork. Every single illustration, icon, map, or visual element came out of my head. I never tell the artist, “draw me a blank,” and then just let the artist use their vision. I have a VERY specific vision for every single visual element in the series and I won’t accept anything less than “the very best.” So, I’m pretty difficult to work with from an artist’s perspective. I’ve been fortunate to find some patient and talented artists, but I’ve also had artists quit because—in their words—I was trying to control every single pixel of the illustration. But, that’s how I am about this series. Maybe on my next series, where I don’t have such a specific vision in my head, I’ll allow more artistic freedom for my artists, but not in A Throne of Souls. I wish all the art I had to deal with was a cover. I mean that would cost me less than a quarter of what I’m spending per book on art, but in every single book in A Throne of Souls you can expect superb artwork throughout.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers? I promise you that the standard for my novels and the products I’m going to bring to you is nothing less than “the best.” You can count on that, now and forever! I’m a perfectionist, but that means that I’m your perfectionist! When I hear comments from readers like, “My God, your book is so beautiful,” you have no idea how much that means to me. I want my readers to always be impressed with each and every novel I bring to them. I want them to feel like their purchase of my book was an absolute bargain for what they got for that price. I know my books are on the very high end—pricing-wise—for what’s out there in the self-published world. However, I also know that if you compare my book to other self-published novels, there is no comparison. Mine stand out like a beacon next to them, and thus my price is a little more than your average self-published novel.
What makes you laugh/cry? Well, I tell you this… I know when I’ve written something truly special when I come out of my office after hours of writing and I’m just in tears. There have been many moments like that in writing both A Kingdom Forgotten and Black Mirrors of the Soul. I’m very attached to a lot of these characters, so when they suffer, I suffer. When they hurt, I hurt. They are so very alive in my thoughts and my every waking moment, that I can often relate to a moment in real life in terms of how my characters would react. I think most readers will absolutely love the clear majority of my characters because of the realism I bring to them in this story. When you read, you’ll feel their emotions jumping off the page at you and you’ll be able to relate immediately. I think that makes A Throne of Souls very special. My character development is second-to-none.
Is there one person past or present you would meet and why? Jimmy Page. There’s no one on this planet I think more highly of than Jimmy Page. I would be so very honored to meet him in person.
Other than writing do you have any hobbies? Yes, I’m a carpenter and a mechanic as well.
Describe yourself in Five Words? Intense. Intelligent. Provocative. Change-agent. Doer.
Describe Your Perfect Day. What makes it perfect and why? Just a really productive day. I enjoy being productive. If I feel like I got a lot accomplished, I feel great.
What makes Life worth Living? Receiving unexpected or unsolicited compliments, seeing my children succeed, and knowing that I’m leaving something and someone behind that are truly exceptional. On the subject of compliments, you have no idea how big of a smile it brings to my face when I get a compliment from one of our men or women in the armed services (especially JSOC). That is the one audience I simply cannot let down, so I love to see their enjoyment of my work.