An Interview With Author, Walter Rhein
The following is an interview I did with my friend and fellow writer/author Walter Rhiem. His latest book will be released this month and for fans of the Fantasy genre, it is a good read. He has already been asked to write a follow-up book. I hope you enjoy the interview and for all of you who are beginning to write, he has some helpful suggestion.
1. What made you decide to venture into the Fantasy Novel genre?
Fantasy is a fun genre because anything goes. Obviously you need to establish a set of parameters so that the reader more or less knows what to expect, but there is a huge amount of freedom to be had in the fantasy setting.
Actually clever writers have been integrating aspects of fantasy into their writing for…well…as long as there has been writing. One of the newest genres is “magical realism” which has been championed by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. In magical realism, you essentially have surreal moments in an otherwise realistic story. The dramatic tension is supplied by the fact that the reader doesn’t really see the surrealistic moments coming, but they nevertheless fit seamlessly into the scope of the work. It all depends on how skilled the writer is.
In fact, I think it’s a good idea to use elements of fantasy in just about everything you write. After all, as a writer, you are competing with 100 million dollar special effects movies. Your job is to imagine something that is more spectacular than anything that can be put on film (a tall order these days).
The great thing about metaphor is that you can throw it around like salt and season any passage you write to become something fantastic. For example, I’ve recently completed (and sold) another novel about the American Birkebeiner (a cross-country ski race). Throughout the novel, I describe the race as if it is a great dragon that is constantly rearing its head to snap at the racers, growling at them, or making enormous hills out of it’s scaled and rolling back.
It’s simply fun to look at the world with an inclination towards fantasy.
2 . What will make your book stand out from others in the genre?
Interestingly enough, I think the time I spent living in Peru really helped me be able to understand how an aristocratic, or feudalistic society must have functioned. In Peru, there is a very small population of very rich people, and a huge number of people who live in poverty. While I was living in Peru, I got to see how these groups interacted with one another and it was truly startling.
I think if you’ve only ever witnessed American society, you might not be able to comprehend how other cultures (including ancient cultures) actually functioned. For example, the concept of “divine right of leadership” sounds absolutely absurd from our modern perspective because we’ve been educated to understand it is determination and dedication that ultimately decides ability, not privileged of birth. However, there are some people, even today, who believe that their lineage makes them superior to those around them, even when presented with overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
In “The Bone Sword” there is a revolution that is based on putting the best people in charge, not the traditional and incompetent rulers. I think the conflict between enlightened thinking and the philosophy of the dark ages that you find in “The Bone Sword” is a fascinating theme that gets a spin nobody’s ever seen before in my book.
3. How has being a magazine/ezine editor helped you with your writing?
Being the editor of a magazine is a great experience for any writer because it helps you develop a greater perception of the whole writing process. As the editor you know every paragraph of every story that is going out in your magazine or mailer, and if there is anything in one of the stories that is going to cause a reaction, you’re the one who is going to receive the complaints.
I think it’s only through being an editor that you develop a good sense as to what kinds of statements you should avoid. That being said, there are always going to be people who misread a sentence or paragraph and write in to complain about a sentiment that simply didn’t exist in your publication. If you’re writing is ambiguous, you should be apologetic, but if somebody just read different words than you printed, then you’ve got nothing to worry about.
One of the major ways that being an editor influenced me was that I started to include more marketing information in my query letters to publishers. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I’ve placed all of my novels after having been an editor.
4. Will you write follow up novels to the first one?
Yes, Rhemalda has already asked me to start work on a sequel which I am supposed to complete by January of 2011. We will then go through the editing, marketing process and have the novel available for sale in late 2011.
5 . Are you considering writing one based in Peru?
I already have two or three completed manuscripts about my time living in Peru. There was one that actually was accepted by a publisher who subsequently backed out, and then got down to the final round of review with another publisher before they eventually passed. That second one was a little bit of a heart breaker since the editor wrote me a really lengthy letter telling me how much he liked the story.
Still, it’s probably for the best because I don’t think it’s all that commercial of a novel in its current state. What I will probably do is take the best elements from the two manuscripts and write something that’s more or less new. I’m excited to revisit these works because there are a lot of great stories to tell. It’s all a matter of constructing a framework so that you can display all the episodes to the greatest effect.
6 . Having known you as a friend and fellow writer/artist, how much time do you
spend writing each day or week?
I’ve never sat down and kept track, but I’d guess I average about 40 hours a week of actual writing. It’s actually ridiculous how much I write lately, and I’m not really sure how long I’ll be able to sustain it. I currently have two blogs which I update on a daily basis. Those are “Streets of Lima” (http://streetsofperu.blogspot.com/ ) and CyclovaXC (http://www.cyclova-xc.blogspot.com/ ). I also have a fantasy blog called Swordreaver (http://walterrhein.blogspot.com/ ) which I use to interview other fantasy writers and to keep track of my interviews/reviews.
The thing about blog writing is that you don’t have to take it all that seriously. By that I mean you can use it as a kind of sketch board and hack out your ideas really quickly. If there is an obvious flaw in your thinking, you can rest assured that somebody will spring up to point it out.
One of the main things I’ve found about writing is that if it is possible to misinterpret what you have written…somebody will. It’s impossible to write anything that’s air-tight, but all you have to do is make sure that a larger percentage is with you than against you. If people are not misreading what you have written and you still have more people against you than with you…that’s a different issue! Blogs are a good place to test out your ideas and hone your abilities.
I’m supposed to be writing that novel right now, but frankly I haven’t had time to sit and pound the keys like I’d like to. That doesn’t mean I’m not writing however. Sometimes when I go out running or bicycling, I plan out entire chapters and then I just have to record them when I get back home. You can be “writing” and not actually be typing. A lot of writing is problem solving. When you start obsessing over a book, you’re “writing” 24/7.
7 . I know that you have several interests as a writer. When you do write, do you
concentrate on one project at a time during the course of a day or do you flip
I flip around. Some days I have energy for one type of writing, some days I have energy for others. Some days I have energy for creating things, some days I have energy for editing. It’s good to have a huge portfolio of projects going simultaneously because the chances are good that you’ll have an interest in working on one of them at any given moment.
It’s sort of like in “The Great Escape” when they decided to make three tunnels (Tom, Dick and Harry). As they were working on all three, their progress was slow but consistent. However, when they started getting close to the end on one of the tunnels, they switched all their energy over for a final push. I’m the same way. When a project is getting close to completion, you let the gravity of the final words accelerate you to the end.
8 . How long did it take you to write this novel?
I started the novel back in 2006, but I only worked on it for a couple months and then moved on to other projects. Around about 2009, I stumbled across it on my computer and decided to go ahead and finish it up. It only took me a couple months once I really hunkered down, but it was over a period of four or so years.
I’ve been known to write novels over a weekend actually (short ones…about 40,000+ words). I think it’s good to put down a lot of text and then spend the real time going over it and fixing it up. Editing is like brushing your hair, it takes a lot of passes to get all the tangles out.
9 .How long did it take you to find someone who would publish it?
I’ve got a lot of books that I’m constantly rotating around and sending out. I probably sent “The Bone Sword” out to 15 or 20 publishers before I received an acceptance (which isn’t all that many actually). The hard part is finding markets. I spend a lot of time on Ralan.com and Duotrope.com looking for new places to send stuff.
I eventually found Rhemalda through an interview I’d done with another author. I was actually promoting another book that I had published with epress-online, and this new author, J.S. Chancellor, had such positive things to say about Rhemalda that I thought I’d give them a go. Oddly, I was pretty sure they’d take the book (sometimes you get feelings like that). They’ve also already accepted another novel of mine. This other book is due to be released in October of 2011, and is about Cross-Country Skiing.
Fantasy books are the easiest ones to place in my experience. There are quite a lot of publishers out there, and it’s a popular genre.
10 .Do you have an Agent or do you act as your own?
I act as my own. Honestly, as I’m still starting out I don’t have that much of a bargaining chip to warrant a tough negotiation. There is a bit of a mythology out there that you can write a great book and publishers will see it and be fighting each other in order to get you. But the reality is that even if the book is great, there is still an inherent risk a publishing house assumes when taking on a new author.
This would be different if you were famous for something. For example it makes sense for Bill Clinton or Michael Jordan to get an agent since their names already carry a certain weight and guarantee a certain number of sales. But you have to remember that even a book as brilliant as “The Lord of the Rings” languished unsold for years on shelves and in libraries before it slowly developed into a cult classic and then exploded.
When you’re looking for a book contract, there are just a couple things to remember. Number one is that the money always flows from the publisher to the author. It NEVER flows from the author to the publisher. You have to be careful because there are a lot of scams out there. Always remember that if a publisher asks for you to pay a reading fee or an editing fee, you’re getting scammed. There are NO exceptions to this!
Also, be careful about the rights you are signing away. Things like international rights and movie rights really shouldn’t just be given up to the publisher without a battle. Then again, if it’s your first book and you’re playing hardball with the publisher, you have to remember that there is a pretty good chance they’ll just walk away from the deal rather than accede to your demands.
I think it’s important to just get your book out there and then show your publisher how hard you’re willing to work. Chances are, they’ll be willing to reward you with a better contract on your second go around if you show them that you’re serious. Honestly, if I could just make a decent wage doing this I’d be more than happy. There’s a level of notoriety that I have no interest in achieving.
11 .If you could only give one piece of advice to new writers, what would that be?
To never stop writing no matter what anyone says. If you love it you have to continue. Remember that most of the people who tell you “you’ll never make it” are failed writers themselves. These people are always more prone to assume their own lack of success was due to an impossible/unfair situation rather than a lack of talent or dedication on their part.
12. Finally, I know you just moved to the US with your wife and have had a baby
girl. Your first! How has having your first child affected your writing?
I guess seeing her gives me a greater urgency to make my writing profitable!
Having Sofia in the house is marvelous, and honestly I have to make an effort not to turn all my blogs, books, and other publications into gushing daily updates over what she’s been doing. Even as it is, I occasionally snap a photo of her and use it, like here:
I think she might be making me a little bit more tender, although I don’t know how that’s going to show up in my writing. I tend to write a lot about situations I have seen where weak people get oppressed and bullied by stronger ones, and that gets me fired up. For the most part, I think I’ve grown more mellow as I’ve aged. Then again, everybody knows not to get between mama bear and her cub…let me tell you a secret…it’s not wise to interfere with papa bear either
I guess that’s essentially it. I kind of look at my daughter and wish I could have solved more of the world’s problems before she got here. Then again, maybe that’s a selfish thought. We all need battles to fight. I guess I need to refocus my energy on making sure she’s prepared to fight them. I’ve always been drawn to writing as a way to sort out my thinking and come up with functional methods to interpret and approach the world. The traces of my progress are in my books. Sofia will have the advantage that I’ll make her read them. The rest of you will have to rely on your own motivation, though I can help a little bit by supplying the amazon link: