Today I’ve got something special for you: The First Official Author Interview conducted on This Tone of Voice! And the author I’ll be interviewing is none other than Auston Habershaw, a new and exciting voice in fantasy fiction. His first book, The Oldest Trick, is now available in e-book as well as paperback. It’s a story of revenge, morality, greed, guilt and good old fashioned sword and sorcery. I highly recommend it. Pick up a copy today!
A bit of full disclosure before we begin. I first met Auston back in 2001, when we were both employed by Sierra Entertainment as Quality Assurance play testers on a computer game called Empire Earth in development at a Cambridge developer called Stainless Steel Studios. We worked together for about eight months before being unceremoniously laid off. Auston took the hint and looked for greener pastures. It would take me another six or seven years to do the same.
Anyway, I always knew he was a funny and creative intellectual, but was surprised and pleased to discover years later, when through the magic of Facebook I was reunited with him, that he had become an accomplished writer. He’s been an inspiration to me and I hope he will be to all of you as well.
OK! Bring in the Interrogation Nazi!
Let’s start off by learning a bit about you and your professional life so far. What have you done and what are you doing now? A/S/L? Are you ready to party? Are you interested in meeting dudes who like meeting other dudes? Wait… Actually, I think I copy/pasted from the wrong questionnaire. Oh well, just go ahead and answer what “feels” right.
Have you always wanted to be a writer? When did you start writing “in earnest?”
In retrospect, I always wanted to be a writer, but it took me a while before I realized “writer” was the profession I was looking for. I’ve always loved telling stories, but it took me years before I figured out in what medium best to do that. I think it probably crystallized in high school at some point, though the exact moment would be hard to pin down.
As for when I started writing in earnest, that depends on the definition of “in earnest.” I wrote my first novel as my senior honors thesis at BC (it was awful, don’t worry), but I don’t think that counts. I don’t think it counts until you actively start submitting things for publication–until you start getting rejection slips, you’re still just a hobbyist. That happened after I got out of grad school around 2005. I had written a lot of stuff by then, but I really started working at the career end of things following that.
What did you study in school? Were there girls there? Did you talk to them? What was that like?
I went to Boston College undergrad and I got my MFA in Creative Writing in grad school.
If you’re looking to meet smart, creative women, an MFA program is probably the best possible place. I was already spoken for at the time, so I can’t claim any grand romantic encounters as a result of my grad school experience, but I’d highly recommend it as a girl-meeting environment. 😉
Where has your writing taken you so far? What else have you published? What have you written that you’d most like to see published some day?
I’ve published about (counts on fingers) eight short stories or so in various markets and now a novel. The things I have written that I’d most like to see published are probably the half-dozen or so short stories I have on submission right now (fingers crossed). Barring that, I’m hoping I can convince my publisher to extend the Saga of the Redeemed for two more books, just so I can finish it off.
What are your favorite things to write about? Genres, character motivations, world building, etc.
I love character building and world building equally. My work specializes in character-focused stories borne out of complex alternate worlds (be they in the future or in a secondary world). Since I think where we come from is a pretty big slice of who we are, I think world-building and character relationships and motivations are tightly related things.
What’s your writing process like? Explain how you get some writing done during a typical day.
I write in two modes. Mode One (Default) is during the Fall and Spring Semesters (I’m a college professor) when I have scarcely any time. During this period I mostly do revision, write short fiction, and manage my submissions. In Mode Two (Summer), I get to write for most of my day. I go into my office at the university, lock the door, and write for six to seven hours (give or take, counting procrastination, banging my head against the wall, and random arguments on Facebook). I write an average of 3000-4000 words a day this way, sometimes more if things are really cooking, sometimes much less if it isn’t. I do that until the end of August, when Mode One takes over again (sadly). This summer, I wrote/revised a total of 168,000 words or so. Most of it, if not all of it, was utter garbage, but it was a good foundational series of drafts for a novel that I hope to polish up by this coming summer and have ready to sell.
What’s your chair situation? Explain to me your chair situation. I’m getting some great writing done on a Staples Turcotte Luxura High Back Managers Chair (Brown), but I know everyone is a little different when it comes to things like this.
I have a chair that leans back and has wheels. That is literally all I can tell you about it. (Looks) Oh, and it’s gray.
I will sit on anything to write, so long as it has a back. Writing on stools is for monks.
Who are your inspirations, past and present?
Growing up, the work of Robert Jordan inspired me a great deal, along with Frank Herbert, Neal Stephenson, and William Gibson. Currently, my favorite authors are probably Scott Lynch and Patrick Rothfuss, as they are two of the best the fantasy genre has to offer right now. Oh, and Chuck Wendig, if only for his fabulous writing advice he gives out on his blog.
Do you have any tips for aspiring authors who want to go the traditional publishing route?
Patience. Iron-clad, glacial patience is essential. Everything in traditional publishing takes a long time. It’s probably worth it in the long run (probably–your mileage may vary), but there is no rushing the machine. While waiting, work on other stuff. Always be working on other stuff.
Let’s talk about The Oldest Trick. What was the first thing about it that inspired you to write the book? Was it the world? The characters? Something else?
The Oldest Trick came into being from two different directions. The character, Tyvian Reldamar, came into being independently on some level (I first started writing stories with him as a main character in high school). The world crystallized somewhat later than that, in the early 2000s. The world and the character fit into each other nicely, so here they are. As for the source of my inspiration, I wanted to write in a post-medieval fantasy world that wasn’t static, but rather was always changing socially, economically, and so on. The world reflects that–it is in the middle of a massive social upheaval as magical stuff (magecraft) is becoming more and more available to the lay population.
How long did it take to get The Oldest Trick published, from concept to contract?
Hmmm…hard to say exactly, since the book sort of congealed gradually. I’d say from the moment I started writing the MS that would become this book to the time I got the deal, it was probably 5 years, with me working primarily during the summers. So, call it less than that if you count each year as 3 months. The publisher did sit on the MS for 18 months before giving me a yes or no, though, so that was a big chunk of time.
Tyvian Reldamar. What’s his deal anyway? What made you decide to work with such a prick for a main character? Seems like a challenge. Was it?
Tyvian? Oh no–he’s a joy to write. He’s always been the nasty little voice on my shoulder, so letting him come out and be a jerk is really more cathartic than anything else. Maybe that speaks ill of me–I don’t know–but I’ve always loved the antihero and the scoundrel and always been disappointed when they stopped being scoundrels just because. Tyvian is a villain, but he isn’t a monster. And he can get better, if somebody presents him with the right argument. That was the real challenging part, actually–how do you get a selfish prick to realize he’s been selfish? That takes some doing. It’s a learning process.
Hool. What a great character. She’s clearly the heavy brawler of the story, with few people being able to face her in a stand up fight, but she’s also intelligent and highly motivated. What made you want to create such a character? And why a Gnoll?
The gnoll part is easy–I love dogs, I was a professional dog walker all through grad school, and Hool is a humanized (and weaponized) talking dog. As for her personality, well a lot of that is just dog stuff and a lot of the rest of it is my wife, who actually played a character named Hool in an RPG I ran. She was very impatient but also really, really smart and it was a ton of fun. I’ve sought to reflect a lot of that in her personality.
Not to be critical, but Myreon and Arlan seem a little under-served in the story. Can we expect to see them get a little more room to grow in future Tyvian adventures?
Arlan? Who the heck is that? Artus, I assume you mean. I’m sorry if you think they are underserved (and I happen to disagree). That said, Artus in particular has a lot more planned for him. Myreon does, too, but she’s not in as much of book three as I wanted.
The story is, of course, about Tyvian primarily, and on Tyvian I tend to remain focused. I get frustrated with the tendency in epic fantasy to abandon the main character in favor of following the ins and outs of all the minor supporting cast. As long as I’m writing this series, Tyvian’s exploits and his transformation will be center stage. The other characters are important, of course, but they aren’t the main character.
(Interviewer’s Note: You probably won’t believe this, but I actually HAD it as Artus when I first wrote out the questions for Auston and then I second guessed myself, because it had been a couple of months since I finished the book. So, I googled Oldest Trick to make sure. Of course, the first link I clicked on was a review – Goodreads, I think – where the reviewer called that character “Arlan.” Let that be a lesson to you all! Stick to your guns… but only when you’re right, of course.)
Any hints about what’s in store next for Tyvian and his band of reluctant accomplices?
Well, Tyvian has made a lot of very powerful enemies by the end of the first book and the ring basically forces him away from his normal profession (namely scheming with pirates and smugglers to fence stolen magecraft to unsavory persons). Tyvian is going to experience a long fall from quality of living he’s used to. He isn’t going to be happy about it, either.
What’s it been like working with Harper Voyager Impulse? Is it true they require you to sacrifice kittens in their name during unholy rituals of ancient eldritch sorcery before they agree to publish your work? How many kittens so far?
My contract dictates I owe them a kitten a week, but I’ve been slacking a bit lately. That reminds me–where’s my kitten-sack? (rummages around office)
Working with HVI has been good. I’m very small potatoes over there, so I don’t exactly get everybody’s undivided attention, but it has been a good experience overall. I mean, drowning kittens is not exactly fun, but you get used to it, you know?
Have you done any independent marketing of The Oldest Trick or has Harper handled all of it? What marketing has been done by you and/or them?
Harper did a fair amount of publicity for the first book (The Iron Ring, which is the first half of The Oldest Trick), a little bit for the second part, but the third part I’ve been mostly on my own. Being associated with a major publisher is a boost all by itself, of course, so that has helped and I’ve probably sold a lot more than I would have had I gone indie. One thing I was told (I think by the great Kevin J Anderson) was “you are the very best advocate for your own work.” That doesn’t change when you’re working with a big publisher–you still need to press the flesh, ask for reviews, write guest blog posts, do interviews, etc. You can’t wait around for them to do it for you. I did that with the second book, and it was a bad idea.
When you’ve finished re-watching Conan the Barbarian, built a model of the Devil’s Tower out of mashed potatoes and walked naked around your backyard at midnight, what else do you do to stir the creative juices when they’ve run a bit dry?
I don’t do anything specific, exactly. I try to take inspiration from daily life–people I see on the train, a story somebody tells me about their boss, music I listen to. In terms of hobbies, I still run RPGs all the time and I have a pretty substantial Warhammer 40K habit, but those are less points of inspiration and more ways to unwind. I do lift some concepts I come up with for my RPGs and stick them in stories, but Gamemastering isn’t that far off from being an author, anyway, so I don’t think that’s unusual.
You just bumped up a level and you get an extra attribute point. Where’s it going? NOT SKILL POINT. I know you’re dumping that crap into Spot. Everyone does that. NO. Attribute point. Dex? I’m betting Dex.
Charisma. I don’t need to dodge a lot of falling rocks, but I *do* need to make friends in this industry, and a big pile of charisma would do me some good at those meet-and-greets where I stand by the wall and drink my Sprite like a chump.
How will people find you when they reach the astute conclusion that this mere taste of you is not enough?
Lnkedin: No thank you.
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Auston-Habershaw/e/B00O33E9NO/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_5?qid=1443034859&sr=1-5
Book Links: (* American, UK, etc.)
Harper Collins: http://www.harpercollins.com/9780062417220/the-oldest-trick
Well that’s all the time we have folks! Thank you to Auston Habershaw for stopping by and playing nice with my goofball questions. Thanks to all of you for reading. Before we go, here’s a bit more about The Oldest Trick. Seriously, check it out:
Compiled for the first time, The Oldest Trick comprises The Iron Ring and Iron and Blood in the Saga of the Redeemed.
Tyvian Reldamar has just been betrayed by his longtime partner and left for dead in a freezing river. To add insult to injury, his mysterious rescuer took it upon himself to affix Tyvian with an iron ring that prevents the wearer from any evildoing.
Revenge just got complicated.
On his quest to get even, Tyvian navigates dark conspiracies, dodges midnight assassins, and uncovers the plans of the ruthless wizard Banric Sahand. Tyvian will need to use every dirty trick in the book to avoid a painful and ignominious end, even as he learns to work with—and rely on—his motley crew of accomplices, including an adolescent pickpocket, an obese secret-monger, and a fearsome gnoll.