Interview: Cameron Johnston

Cover of Cameron Johnston's debut novel The Traitor GodCameron Johnston lives in Glasgow, Scotland, with his wife and an extremely fluffy cat. He is a swordsman, a gamer, an enthusiast of archaeology, history and mythology, a builder of LEGO, and owns far too many books to fit on his shelves. He loves exploring ancient sites and camping out under the stars by a roaring fire. The Traitor God, an epic fantasy (Angry Robot, June 2018) is Cameron Johnston’s debut novel, though Cameron Johnston has published a fair amount of short fiction. Cameron (known on AW as CameronJohnston) agreed to set some time aside for an Absolute Write interview.

What’s your elevator pitch for The Traitor God?

The Traitor God is part blood-soaked murder mystery and part grimdark swords and sorcery apocalypse.

Did you have a playlist for The Traitor God?

When writing I tend to find songs with lyrics distracting, so it was mostly a mix of instrumental soundtracks: Lord of The Rings, Conan The Barbarian, Two Steps From Hell, Celtic and relaxing folk music etc. On the other hand, when I’m editing I want something higher energy: Paint It Black by the Rolling Stones, Stay by Shakespear’s Sister, and basically a mix of 80s songs from Queen, The Cure, New Order, Blondie, Europe, Eurythmics, Bonnie Tyler, Tina Turner and a whole host of others.

Were there any surprises for you as you wrote The Traitor God? Character developments or plot twists that you didn’t expect?

I didn’t expect Charra to be such a strong character and play such a large part, or quite how much fun it was to write the interactions of two old friends who are a both outspoken and very black of humour.

I notice some nods in the direction of things Scottish, in terms of the Clans people, and in the way you used an occasional bit of Scots or Gaelic. Where you thinking of particular places in your locations, particularly the catacombs?

In some ways the Setharii Empire is loosely based on the British Empire of the colonial era, being a somewhat unscrupulous trading empire (one reinforced with magical might) that is on the wane. The northern Clanholds and its people are heavily influenced by all things Scottish and the great city of Setharis itself is a fantastical version of the castles at Stirling and Edinburgh, sitting on their high volcanic rocks. For the catacombs below the city I had in mind the sepulchral majesty of the catacombs of the Monastery of San Francisco in Lima, Peru, and also the subterranean catacombs below Paris.

You’ve got some pretty complicated world-building in The Traitor God, what with a world with multiple cultures, multiple deities, a sect of mages and unique magical beasts; how do you keep track of it as you’re writing?

You definitely do need a “world bible” of sorts to keep track of character names, positions, and descriptions (Eye colour! Which side scars are on etc) as well as what various monsters look like and what they can do. It’s always good to have a list of place names and cultural terms, swear words and the like that you can refer back to when needed. In my case it’s all compiled in a simple text file.

What’s your writing process like?

I don’t do big and detailed outlines but I usually start writing already knowing the beginning, the ending, and a few important points I want to hit along the way. Writing regularly does help, however little and however often you can manage it. I like to write a full rough draft before going back to edit and polish it up, but I don’t always write in a linear fashion. Sometimes I get stuck on a particular scene and leapfrog it to write the endings, or an easier/more fun scene that appears later on in the story before going back to it.

What’s your writing environment like (your work area and tools of choice)?

I have a small study with book cases at my back, a PC at a desk facing the wall, a globe and a variety of board games and interesting items close to hand. I have a few inexpensive antiquities close to hand, and when I get stuck writing I find holding medieval arrowheads, an ancient Egyptian scarab, a roman coin or a chunk of meteorite will help to stimulate my imagination.

You mention H.P. Lovecraft as an influence. What works by Lovecraft would you recommend for readers who are unfamiliar with his writing read first?

As most of his writing was in the form of short stories, you can’t go wrong with a good collection, and most of it is freely available online as well. I would recommend trying “The Whisperer In Darkness,” “The Colour Out of Space,” and “At the Mountains of Madness” first. I always did have a soft spot for “The Nameless City” as well.

What have you read lately (in the last year or so) that you really liked?

Way too many things actually! For me the last few years have really strained my book shelves with goodness. Some of my highlights would be: Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames, The Ninth Rain by Jen Williams, Blackwing by Ed McDonald, Age of Assassins by RJ Barker and Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky. I’ve also been reading my way through the Hellboy and B.P.R.D comics.

Do you have any particular favorite books about writing?

Stephen King’s On Writing is excellent for an insight into a very successful writer’s mind and career with all its ups and downs. I also found Wonderbook by Jeff VanderMeer and others great for getting the creative juices going.

Is there a question that you’ve never been asked that you’d really like to answer?

“Hi, I’m a big Hollywood producer with a truck full of cash. Would you like a film deal?” Wouldn’t we all like to be in that situation! Or more seriously:

“How did it feel to see your book on the shelves of a book store?” Absolutely mind-blowing to see my book rubbing shoulders with those by writers like Robin Hobb and Robert Jordan.

What’s your favorite charity?

There are many, but I’ll go for Water Aid on this occasion. Access to clean water and toilets is something we take for granted and should be part of daily life for everyone, everywhere.

Cameron Johnston has a Website. You can find Traitor God on Amazon and iBooks, at booksellers and at his publisher, Angry Robot. Here’s the Traitor God page on GoodReads.

Interview: Kevin Craig

Novelist, poet and playwright Kevin Craig, long known as KTC on Absolute Write, set some time aside for an interview, just days after release of his sixth novel, Pride Must Be A Place.

Did you have a playlist for Pride Must Be a Place

Absolutely, I did. I wrote over half of Pride at the 72hr Muskoka Novel Marathon. That’s where 40 writers get together and attempt to write 40 novels in 72hrs. We each collect sponsorship money for the marathon. We raise about $30,000.00 for area literacy programs. Anyway, the playlist for Pride Must Be A Place was made up of seven songs. For the greater part of the 72 hours “Rise Up” by The Parachute Club played on a loop. On the way to the marathon weekend, I talked to Parachute Club’s lead singer Lorraine Segato on the phone. I had sent her an email asking her about permissions and a couple of other things regarding the song and a story tie-in to the band. We batted a few ideas back and forth and I feel as though she helped with the eventual direction of the story. The “Rise Up” song was fuel for the story all the way through the writing of it. Other songs in the playlist were Divine’s “Native Love,” Bronski Beat’s “Small Town Boy,” Dead or Alive’s “Misty Circles” and “I’d Do Anything,” and The Cure’s “In Betweeen Days” and 10:15 “Saturday Night.”

Were there any surprises for you as you wrote Pride Must Be a Place? Character developments or plot twists that you didn’t expect?

There were definitely surprises. The biggest was one of the main character’s arc. Alex Mills was a close friend in a trio of friends that included Ezra Caine, the narrator, and Nettie English. I had envisioned Alex being a totally different character than the one he turned out being. Without giving too much away, he makes some terrible choices along the way and his entire arc changed. He in fact changed the trajectory of the story. What Ezra learns through his interactions with Alex is when someone shows their true character over and over again, there comes a point when you have to believe them.

In 2014 you made the pilgrimage to Camino de Santiago. What can you tell us about that?

My Camino pilgrimage was an absolute life-changer (I’m going back in 2019). I had just completed three years of intensive therapy for childhood sexual abuse trauma. I saw my pilgrimage as a way of shedding the last of my old skin. I made the pilgrimage in a group with seven other peregrinos. The guide, Sue Kenney, was already a friend through my novel marathons. She takes groups twice a year and I always wanted to do it. I was starting my entire life over at the time. I was in a new relationship and I was newly out. The Camino was a way to complete my healing journey. Every step I took was away from negativity and all the old components of myself that I wanted to leave behind. My idea was to walk into Santiago de Compostela a new person . . . a more authentic self. And I believe I accomplished my goal, for the most part. They say the Camino calls to you and that it never stops calling until to you listen and make the journey. That’s what I did. For me, my pilgrimage was the culmination of my healing journey. I just recently wrote a young adult novel set on the Camino. My agent currently has it out on submission. It is close to my heart because the Camino is close to my heart.

What’s your writing process like?
I try to complete my first draft at the yearly Muskoka Novel Marathon. 72 hours with little sleep and lots of coffee. I always write by the seat of my pants. I choose a title first, and when they ring the starter bells at the marathon every July I leap from that title and see where it takes me. No outlines, no preconceived notions. If I don’t finish the first draft in that 72 hour sitting, which was the case with Pride Must Be A Place, my partner helps to motivate me in the following weeks by ordering, say, two chapters by 3pm. I write the chapters, send them to my Kindle and wait for the next request. The whole time I’m writing chapters, he’s editing the ones I send to my Kindle. It’s a process that works incredibly well. He keeps me in the mindset I had at the marathon and I continue the momentum until the first draft is completed. Usually a week or so after the marathon’s completion.

What’s your writing environment like (your work area and tools of choice)?
I don’t have a work area. I write wherever I am. I feel like I’m talking about the marathon a lot, but since most of the first draft is completed there it comes into a lot of my answers. It’s a chaotic weekend, with 40 writers in such a confined living space. I have a desk there and set up for comfort, mostly. But outside the marathon, I’ll write on the couch, on the floor, in a coffee shop, at the library, in bed . . . wherever. I like when my partner takes me to his sister’s cottage for a weekend with the express purpose of giving me writing time and space. When I write there, I’m usually on the back porch with a full view of the lake. It’s heaven.

Any particular favorite Canadian writers?
Canadian writers? I don’t usually think in forms of countries when it comes to writers, but I do definitely have favourite Canadians. Because he is also a dear friend, first and foremost Wayson Choy. He’s the loveliest person in the world. He has a way of making everyone feel special and loved. And his writing is absolutely beautiful. I loved his Not Yet and The Jade Peony the most. Leonard Cohen’s novels The Favourite Game and Beautiful Losers are experimental in style and gorgeous and lush. I’ve also always loved his poetry and song. Mordecai Richler and Miriam Toews would round out my favourite Canadian writers.

What have you read lately (in the last year or so) that you really liked?

Ooh! Book love! I’ve been reading mostly young adult and mostly contemporary issue books. My faves include Dear Martin by Nic Stone, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, Simon VsThe Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, Turtles All the Way Down by John Green, Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older, History is All You Left Me and They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera. My favourite of 2017 has to be The Girl With the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke. In it, the main character accidentally time-travels to 1988 East Berlin via a red balloon and finds herself on the wrong side of the wall. It’s an amazing story . . . and the first in a series called The Balloonmakers. Exceptional!

Do you have any particular favorite books about writing?
My favourite has to be The Summing Up by W. Somerset Maugham. It’s about writing, but it’s also about life. I like the way Maugham peppers golden nuggets of writerly wisdom into a narrative of his life, much in the way Stephen King did with On Writing. Maugham is a hero to me because he was a playwright and a novelist. I also do both. The Summing Up gave me  so much. I continue to reread it years later.

Is there a question that you’ve never been asked that you’d really like to answer?

Wow! This one kind of stops one in one’s tracks. I’m certain there is one, but my mind is a blank at the moment. I’ve been outside my comfort zone almost non-stop for the past eight years or so. I feel like all those questions have been asked and answered.

What’s your favorite charity?
My favourite charity? I’d have to go with two. The YMCA Literacy Services of Muskoka/Simcoe County, which is the organization that receives all the Muskoka Novel Marathon funds every year. The 519 — which is a community centre in the heart of Toronto’s gay village. They have phenomenal supports and programs for the LGBTQ community here.

Kevin Craig is the author of young adult novels and adult-themed coming-of-age novels featuring young narrators. Pride Must be a Place (MuseItUp Publishing, February 6 2018) is his most recent novel. Kevin Craig’s previous titles include Summer on Fire, Sebastian’s Poet, The Reasons, Burn Baby Burn Baby, and Half Dead & Fully Broken. His poetry, fiction, and memoir have been published internationally. Kevin is also a playwright, and has had twelve short plays produced. Kevin Craig lives in Toronto, Canada, and is is represented by Stacey Donaghy of Donaghy Literary Group. You can find Kevin Craig on Amazon and Amazon Canada, as well as Kevin Craig’s website.

WriteOnCon 2018

WriteOnCon is a three-day online children’s book conference for writers and illustrators of picture books, middle grade, young adult, and even new adult. It was founded in 2010, and has become an annual event. This year the WriteOnCon online conference takes place on Friday, February 9th through Sunday, February 11th, 2018. You can see the full 2018 WriteOnCon schedule and the list of speakers.

The WriteOnCon keynote addresses and the critique forums are free and open to anyone who registers on the WriteOnCon site. There’s a sliding scale registration fee ranging from $5.00 for General Admission, which gives you access to all the blog posts and material that speakers have put together (over 100 entries!), until a week after the conference ends. At the opposite end of the scale, the $15.00 Extended Admission includes access to posts and the live events, and you retain access to the website for a month after the conference ends. The various options for admission and registration for WriteOnCon are here.

The free forums are open now, with options for various kinds of crit and feedback. There’s also a free mail list. I’ve watched WriteOnCon grow and it gets better and better every year. The fact that WriteOnCon is entirely online, and the paid registration options for viewing the content later make it possible to participate even if you’re a working parent. There’s a WriteOnCon thread on Absolute Write if you’re curious about past conferences. Members are already excited about this year’s event.

International Correspondence Month — InCoWriMo

International Correspondence Month (InCoWriMo) takes place in February. Basically, the idea is to hand-write and mail or deliver in person one letter, card, note or postcard every day during the month of February. Hand-written doesn’t have to mean cursive, by the way; those of us who print are welcome to participate just as much as those who write a fine Spencerian hand.

The goal of InCoWriMo is to have written and sent one piece of correspondence for every day of the month during February (so you can skip a day and write two the next). You can write to friends and relations. You can write to strangers  and leave a note on their door telling them that you love their roses. You can write old friends. You can write to former teachers to thank them. You can send a love letter to your SO.

You can use pen-pal services. You can send postcards, or formal letters, or greeting cards with a note. It’s up to you. But you have to write your cards or letters by hand, and they have to be delivered, whether by you or a postal service. The official InCoWriMo site has some excellent FAQs. There’s even a video to help inspire you and get you started.

I’m going to attempt to write a card or letter for every day of February. Who’s with me?

Ursula K. Le Guin, Finding My Elegy

Cover of Ursula Le Guin's Finding My Elegy, showing landscape and sunsetI have to confess, I’ve stalled writing this review because I don’t want to think about reading any elegies for Ursula Le Guin. Ive been reading and treasuring her books and essays and poems since I was child growing up in the 70s in a single-wide trailer on the wind-scoured American Great Plains. Le Guin wrote doors for me to other places, fascinating places, places to dream of visiting and aspire to reach. An elegy traditionally laments someone’s death. In a more contemporary sense, an elegy may be an expression of existential or metaphysical loss, sadness, or yearning. To consider an elegy for Le Guin means having to admit she’s old and cannot live and write forever. I hate that. Not only because it requires facing the realization that I’ve gotten a great deal older as well, but because the notion itself makes me sad, anticipating the inevitable loss of a treasured friend and ally regardless of the fact that she’s not someone I know personally.

There’s no introduction, no forward, no dedication; Finding My Elegy: New and Selected Poems, byUrsula K. Le Guin opens quite simply and immediately after the colophon and table of contents with a short, early poem. Offering serves as both preface and invocation, entreating the reader and invisible gods to judge a poem made of the verge of sleep but then forgotten upon waking, and if finding it good, to accept it as an offering. Taken with the resonance of elegy in the collection’s title, and the clear symbolism of sleep as a metaphor for death, the initial poem is a clear invitation to the reader to explore these inner lands with the writer, then make up our own minds regarding the worth and weight of the journey.

Inner lands are familiar territory for Le Guin. Her essay collection, The Language of the Night, begins with a 1973 essay called “A Citizen of Mondath” in which she opens with a quotation from A Dreamer’s Tales, by Lord Dunsany:

Toldees, Mondath, Arizim, these are the Inner Lands, the lands whose sentinels upon their borders do not behold the sea. Beyond them to the east there lies a desert, for ever untroubled by man: all yellow it is, and spotted with shadows of stones, and Death is in it, like a leopard lying in the sun.

Le Guin concludes her essay with the observation that, “Outer Space, and the Inner Lands, are still, and always will be, my country.” It’s fitting, then, that nearly forty years later, Le Guin is still exploring those Inner Lands with additional maturity, insight, and gravitas.

It’s sometimes difficult to explore big and abstract ideas in prose without sounding pompous and impenetrable, and likewise its hard to express simple daily observations without sounding trite and a little dull and droning on with too many words to convey what was an instant of experience. These are the sorts of insights sometimes better reserved for poetry.

Finding My Elegy offers poems written between 1960 and 2010, so some of them will likely be familiar to the longtime Le Guin reader. Seventy of the poems were selected from earlier volumes, and seventy-seven are presented for the first time. The poems range in length and form, romp with expression and wordplay, and wind about exploring the impossible and inexpressible, the sacred contrasted with the profane.

There are quiet poems about life and work and sleeping cats, here, reminiscent of Emily Dickinson’s gift for juxtaposing the mundane with the profound. There are longer, more structured, careful poems, exploring the faces of god and motherhood and love and sex and despair and sleep.

The poems span the entirety of Le Guin’s career so far, from 1960 to present; collected and presented together, they distill much of Le Guin’s writing life. Finding My Elegy is not so much lament as examination, a recollection of a literary body of work that is rich, evocative, and sometimes whimsical much like any life.

An elegy for such a remarkable body of work and thought must be sought, because theres so very much to recall, sort, and consider, that there are no simple summations. The entire retrospective taken as a whole reads like a single long poem made of many smaller parts.

Nothing about Le Guin’s selection and presentation of these poems is accidental or random, and as a reader its only fitting that we approach this collection with the same attention to detail and mindfulness, both of the parts and of the whole of the book. As Le Guins reader, we seek so that we, too, may find her elegy.

If you haven’t read much poetry,don’t worry: Finding My Elegy is an excellent door into the inner lands for any reader. If you’re a long time poetry lover,you’ll find the journey extraordinarily rewarding and well worth your consideration. Ultimately, the collection, itself, is a long and lovely elegy to be remembered, reconsidered, and revisited again and again.

Previously published on Floccinaucical.

January 23 National Handwriting Day

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

Tuesday January 23 is National Handwriting Day (and, not coincidentally, John Hancock’s birthday). This day of celebration and outreach and engagement with handwriting was founded in 1977 by the Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association. Their motive was, understandably, to promote the use of pens, pencils and paper for writing, and hence their bottom line, but there’s more to it than that. As they put it:

Handwriting allows us to be artists and individuals during a time when we often use computers, faxes and e-mail to communicate. Fonts are the same no matter what computer you use or how you use it and they lack a personal touch. Handwriting can add intimacy to a letter and reveal details about the writer’s personality. Throughout history, handwritten documents have sparked love affairs, started wars, established peace, freed slaves, created movements and declared independence.

Handwriting is part of the writing process for a lot of writers. One of the virtues of writing by hand is that you can write without needing anything other than paper and a pen or pencil. Handwriting also engages different parts of our brains than keyboarding does, helping us to “think differently.” There’s also a distinct pleasure in having our own unique style, whether we print or use cursive. There’s also both physical and aesthetic delight in writing with beautifully made, easy to use pens, pencils and paper.

In celebration of National Handwriting Day, take a minute and send a card or letter to someone you’ve been thinking about, or a thank you note to a friend or a writer you admire. Taking the time to write something personal by hand says that you’re going beyond the rudiments of courtesy.

Are you celebrating National Handwriting Day? Or are you one of those who write by hand regularly? Come tell us in the new Analog Tools subform on Absolute Write.

Post Server Migration: Do this For AW Forum Access

Everyone Should Do These Two Things

Thing One: Clearing Cookies and Cache

  • Make sure you know your Password and Username.
  • Log off
  • Clear Cookies and Cache
  • Completely Quit your Web browser, closing all windows.
  • Log back on to AW.
  • Click the little box that says “Remember me?” on the top right of the AW window if you want to stay logged in.

Thing Two: Editing Bookmarks, Shortcuts or Favorites

A hamster sitting on a keyboard and staring at a computer screen
via Twitter

With the change from http to https, you should edit your AW bookmarks, favorites and shortcuts (and any other links pointing to AW like your Homepage setting if if AW is your Homepage) to use https:

  • Just add the s after http, changing the URL from http: to https:
  • The old URL will work, but your Web browser may complain that the site is “insecure.” It’s because your Web browser really wants everything to start with https:

 

Update the Second

via Twitter

Server Migration Update

There are some glitches; we’re still fastening buttons on the tiny little
hamster jackets. We hope to be up soon  but we aren’t sure yet and
will keep everyone posted.

We really appreciate your patience, and our volunteer Unix guy, Scott Hawkins.

Contact Points

*AW IRC Chat*

AW’s amazing chat mods and the regs frequently gather at the IRC Chat.
There’s general discussion about writing, and opportunities to cheer each
on while you write.

See Zanzjan’s instructions on how to join AW Chat

*Twitter*:

Lisa | AW Admin

MacAllister | El Jefe

AW Peeps on Twitter

*Facebook*

AW FB Page

AW Facebook Group
This new; I’m still figuring it out. I’m asking people to tell me their AW
Username when they sign up, so I can avoid spammers.

Y’all can post there once you join.

Zanzjan has been posting writing prompts, and people are posting about their current writing dilemmas. Join us!

*Email List*

I’ve set up a small one-way only announcement list as a Google Group.

Absolute Write Announcements
Click *Apply* for membership to subscribe.

  • It’s helpful if you include your AW Username.
  • If you want to receive the news via email, you need to set it to send all
    email.
  • Only admins and mods can send or post.

We’re Moving the Server Tonight

Monday Night the 8th of January AW Will Be Turned OFF at 10PM Seattle WA, US Time.

We plan to turn AW back ON on Sunday January 14th, before Noon Seattle Time.

Please Don’t Keep Checking to See If We’re Back

We love you guys too, but every time you refresh you’re slowing things down. So don’t. Thankyouverymuchfrommeandallthehamsters.

The amazing Scott Hawkins (shawkins) is doing the heavy lifting of the moving the database. You should all take the time to read his book The Library At Mount Char.

Be patient. Work on your WIP. Read Scott’s book (it’s really good!).

WE WILL ANNOUNCE THAT WE ARE BACK WHEN WE’RE BACK

The server IP address is changing. It will take a few hours, perhaps as much as a day, for the new IP address to percolate.

 

Go here for more information about the move.