Sunday, 12 April 2009

Matthew Sturges - Author Interview

Novel: Midwinter

(He's also written too many comic books to list. Check out his website for more information about those.)


>Pitch your novel.

I've been describing Midwinter as The Dirty Dozen with elves, which is
more or less accurate as "high concepts" go. Mauritane, former captain
of Titania's Royal Guard, has been imprisoned for a crime he may or
may not have committed, and is offered the opportunity for a full
pardon in exchange for taking on a vital, secret mission for the
Crown. So he, with a few hand-picked fellow prisoners, embark on a
journey across the breadth of the Seelie Kingdom, meeting brigands,
monsters, former rivals and even some talking trees. Most dangerous,
however, are the treacherous Contested Lands, a swath of the country
bordering the Unseelie empire of Mab; filled with the leftover magic
of many wars, the Contested Lands are filled with unknown and
unimaginable dangers. But before Mauritane and his companions can
complete their mission, the threat of all-out war with the Unseelie
comes to a head. Now, Mauritane must decide whether to complete his
quest, or to unite the disparate factions of the kingdom in order to
stop a war that could tear apart the entire kingdom.

> What are your favourite three books?

I have lots of favorites, but there are some books that I come back to
again and again. Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun, for its endless
depth of imagination and world-building. Frank Herbert's Dune series,
for its brilliant explorations of society, ecology, and human nature.
Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game, simply because it is, in my opinion,
the finest science fiction novel ever written.

> In the books you've written, who is you favourite character and why?

My favorite character in Midwinter is Perrin Alt, Lord Silverdun. At
first blush, he's simply an aristocrat with a propensity for sarcasm.
But beneath this exterior lies a conflicted soul, a man who longs for
a life of authenticity, who wishes that he could embrace his mother's
religion and the comforts that would come from it. His inward struggle
is constant, but he never lets it show. Of all the characters in
Midwinter, I found him the most engaging to write, which is why he is
one of the major characters of the upcoming sequel, Office of Shadow.

> What is the strangest question you have ever been asked by a fan? Or share an interesting fan story.

I was doing a presentation about writing comic books for a group of
fourth-graders, since I'm most known as a comic book writer. Most of
the questions were what you'd expect from nine-year-olds: Who'd win in
a fight between the Hulk and Superman, that kind of stuff. Just as the
questions were dying down, a kid in the back raised his hand and
asked, "How much do you make?" I paused for a second and said, "I do
okay, I guess." He wasn't satisfied, "Can you give me a dollar
amount?" "That's an inappropriate question," said the teacher,
embarassed. "Why?" said the kid. "How can I tell if I want to do that
job if I don't know what it pays?"

> What is your university degree in?

I have a degree from a multidisciplinary liberal arts program at the
University of Texas called "Plan II"; as in, "I don't have a major,
but I Plan II." Meaning that it's regarded from the outside as
fostering directionless liberal artsy types in their
directionlessness. I studied everything from Shakespeare to
Evolutionary Biology to Postmodern architecture to Jungian psychology
to Topology and relativistic physics. And while I understand none of
those topics in any comprehensive way, having encountered all that
different stuff and engaging it critically was excellent preparation
for becoming a writer, even if it was utterly useless in getting me,
you know, a job.

> Do you think it is easier to write fantasy or science fiction?

For me, writing fantasy is easier, because I prefer doing research in
my imagination to doing it in the real world. If I need to know how
many miles it is from Estacana to the City Emerald, I just have to sit
down and look at my map and measure the distance between these two
utterly fictional places. Likewise, if I need to know what the High
Fae word for "cupcake" is, all I have to do is consult my Fae
syllabary and contruct the word from its particles (it would be
"parba-el", but the way -- literally "cake in a cup", not that they
eat them in the world of Midwinter). Which is not to say that I don't
enjoy reading about science. I do, quite a bit. But what intrigues me
more than trying to find a new twist on some interesting bit of
science is using science as metaphor for the magic in my own worlds. A
reviewer described Midwinter as part "science fantasy" and that's a
label I'll gladly accept, assuming it means what I think it means.

> What's the best/worst thing about writing?

My friend Bill Wilingham once quoted to me an adage that most people
who claim that they want to be writers don't want to write, they want
to have written. Having written something is defintely a grand
feeling, especially if it's something that you're proud of. But that
feeling is short-lived, sometimes painfully so. Better is the feeling
of being lost in writing, of being so connected with what you're doing
that you look up thinking minutes have passed and you realize that
you've been working for hours and you know that it's good. It doesn't
always happen, but when it does it's the best feeling in the world.

The worst part, of course, is when the thing you're writing just lays
there like a lump of sewage, refusing to be good or interesting or
manageable. I'm sure even the best writers occasionally have that
moment of looking over something they've just spent an inordinate
amount of time working on and saying, "Wow, this really sucks."

> Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?

There's no magic to it. Read a lot, write a lot, get as much honest
criticism as you can. Understand, though, that if your goal is to be a
professional writer, you have to be utterly dedicated to it. It's not
a career you can approach halfway. Before I was able to make a living
writing, I spent every free minute (and even quite a few minutes in
which I was being paid to do something else) reading, writing, and
thinking about story. I think if this isn't how your mind naturally
works, you may want to reconsider how much you really want to be an

> Any tips against writers block?

Writer's block happens when you're overwhelmed by the task of writing.
When you have no idea what to write it's because you're mistaking a
very large set of small problems for one huge problem. Any novel or
short story is a collection of small problems that are relatively easy
to solve. It's only in the aggregate that they seem impossible to
overcome. If the problem is that you have a totaly blank page, no idea
what to write, no idea what your project should be, that's a different
thing from being in the midst of a project and having no idea where to

If you're in the "totally blank" part, that's really easy to deal with
because you've got the whole world to choose from. Think of the movie
that most disappointed you in the last year and set it in an entirely
different miliue and then rewrite it the way it should have gone
instead. Or just start writing about the first thing that pops into
your head. Or do one of the millions of writing exercises that you can
find in books and online. Note that you can avoid the "blank page"
altogether by keeping a list of ideas that come to you throughout the
day. If you have that notebook or document on your laptop or whatever,
just dip into it, take something that looks promising, and go for it.
If you like outlines, start outlining. If you don't like outlines,
start typing and see where it takes you. But DO something. Always be

If you're in the midst of a project and have no idea where to go,
write the "bad" ending. I forget where I first heard this advice, but
it works wonders. Proceed by writing the most obvious, cliched
Hollywood formulaic solution to the problem you're in. Once you've
gotten to the next part, where things make sense again, you can go
back and laugh at your bad ending and replace it with what it should
have been all along. It's always easier to rewrite than it is to

> How many rejection letters did you get for your fist novel or story?

I got a number of rejection letters for a story that I write in 1999
whose title was so oblique that I've now completely forgotten it. It
was set in the near future, which at the time would have been 2004.
One small part of the plot involved characters using PayPal to pay the
cover charge for a rent party. A very famous editor who I won't name
rejected the story, saying that "nobody will be using Paypal in five
years." So I was vindicated on that front, but in retrospect I realize
that if the story had actually been good, said editor would probably
have been happy to overlook that one bit of perceived misprision.

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