|Out March 28th 2012!|
Alright, I know March's Writer Interview is really late, but I have a good reason, I promise! Just give me a moment to explain! Last year I had the opportunity to meet Bryce Moore at Conduit 2011 (where I also met Peter Orullian, another author interviewee of mine who you can read up on here). We chatted a bit about his book Vodnik, which (I believe) he had contracted recently. A year later, it's finally coming out! Last month I contacted Bryce about doing an interview to help publicize Vodnik to some of my readers, and he agreed, 'cause he's a cool guy like that. He provided me with the ARC (Advanced Reader's Copy) so I could familiarize myself with it, which I did enthusiastically. You can read my review here. We decided to hold off on releasing the interview itself until Vodnik was closer to being available, in order to help with the initial sales effort. You all know how important the first few weeks of a book's release are, right? Right? 'Cause a book's first month is huge in determining the continued support of marketing dollars, and plays a large roll in how many retailers want to stock it.
Anyway, Vodnik is great; probably my favorite book of this last year. It's different than most others I've read, and totally refreshing. But I'll let you read my full review yourselves. Make sure to check out the link Bryce provided at the bottom of the interview, where you can purchase the Kindle version right now (in case you didn't know, most smartphones, definitely the iPhone, have Kindle apps. FYI). The hardcover of Vodnik will be officially released on March 28th. So pick it up; it's totally worth it.BYU). He left for two years to serve as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) in Leipzig, Germany. After graduating from college with a Masters of Library Science, Bryce moved to Maine, where he now lives. He's been married for almost ten years now to a wonderful woman from Slovakia, and he has a six year old son and a two year old daughter. Without further ado, here's the questions:
|Bryce in front of the |
castle from Vodnik.
So, you're a librarian, who writes books.... What's all that about?
I actually think it’s a perfect job for an aspiring author. I’ve always loved libraries—how can you not, if you’re an avid reader? But I got my first job in a library at BYU. My sister worked in the periodicals department and liked it, and it was one of the better paying jobs on campus, so I applied and got it. I loved it, but I somehow assumed you couldn’t make enough money to support a family as a librarian. I was wrong, obviously.
I’ve now worked in both public and academic libraries, and I like them both. Library work is generally low stress. It’s a job I can totally leave behind me when I walk out the doors of the building. At the same time, it’s related to writing—you’re working with books every day. Part of my responsibility at work is to stay current on different genres. So I get paid to do some of the things I should be doing as a writer, anyway. Add to that the fact that I get benefits—the Holy Grail for any author—and life is really good.
Becoming a librarian isn’t necessarily easy. You need to get a Masters of Library Science (if you want a good paying job), and the field is a bit flooded right now. Still, if you put your mind to it and are serious about it, you can make out just fine. I’m happy to answer anyone’s questions, if they have more.
Having a day job, how do you find a balance between work, writing, watching Downton Abbey, and your family?
It’s tricky, as anyone who tries them all can attest to (especially the Downton Abbey addiction). I do it mainly by compartmentalizing different things in my life. Family comes first, but there are some times when they’re not around. Like early in the morning. So I get up each day an hour earlier than I’d like to, and I get my writing done then. A thousand words a day, Monday through Saturday. (I take Sundays off to recuperate—it helps to have one day a week when I have nothing else that I have to do (except a bunch of church stuff, which is a whole other kettle of monkeys). As long as I get up on time each day (admittedly not always easy), then the writing gets done. And if I sleep in late, then it gets done at lunch time. And if it doesn’t get done then, then it gets done when I get home from work. The nice thing is that when I wait that long, my family isn’t too pleased with me, so they remind me (in detail) why I really ought to be getting up early.
I’m a schedule-based kind of a guy. I think I have to be, to get everything done that I want done. It works for me, but I’m sure it wouldn’t work for everybody. It also helps that my work is related (but not the same) as my writing. I get to work with books, but I use different parts of my brain. Still, one last reason it’s good for me to write first thing: I’m fresh and rested. I can give my writing my full attention. When I wait until the end of the day, I’m exhausted, and the words don’t flow as easily.
When and why did you first decide you wanted to write a novel?
I first tried writing a book when I was in third grade. Mrs. Allen’s class. It was called Cat’s Eye Cave (I actually have a link to it up on my website: http://brycemoore.com/writing/miscellaneous/cats-eye-cave/). But if you discount that, I made a few other attempts in high school. They never got very far. A chapter or three at most.
Then I went to college, and I took a class from Dave Wolverton (who also writes under the pen name David Farland). It was a fantastic class, all about how to write science fiction and fantasy. (Actually, Brandon Sanderson and Dan Wells were in the same class, but they wore fedoras, so I didn’t talk to them. We wouldn’t be friends until three years later. The moral? Always talk to guys in fedoras.) I loved the class, but I got a B+. I took this as a sign that Writing Was Not For Me. (Funny anecdote—I talked to Dave about that years later (we’ve since remained friends), and he admitted he had no clue what grade to give people, and he gladly would have changed it if I’d talked to him. The moral? Always grade grub.)
In any case, I set writing aside. Or I tried to. A year later, I was back at it again, taking another writing class at BYU. Short stories this time, and my professor (Doug Thayer) didn’t want me to write genre fiction. Unfortunately, all my mainstream literary stuff ends up about depressed people doing depressing things. But I got an A in the class, so go figure. I took that as a sign that I wasn’t too bad at this, and I kept going.
The next class was Writing for Children and Young Adults, taught by Louise Plummer. I wrote some (bad) picture books for that class, and I started a novel: Into the Elevator. I kept at it, and kept at it, and in the process started learning about myself as a writer. It wasn’t very good (though there are still some concepts in it that I’d like to return to someday), but I learned so much about novel writing through that process. I was hooked, and I haven’t stopped writing since.
You went to school here in Utah, right? Tell me which would win in a fight, Maine or Utah?
Maine would totally win, because Utah would be too upset that Maine hadn’t shaved in a few decades. Then while Utah was busy trying to convince Maine of the wonders of the razor, Maine would cut Utah down with a mighty chop of an axe.
We'll be talking about Vodník in just a bit. But first, tell us really quick about anything else you've written in the past.
I’ve written ten novels, actually. One of them ended up being published for a very small press—Cavern of Babel (http://brycemoore.com/writing/cavern-of-babel/), quite likely the world’s only alpaca fantasy novel. That one was aimed at a young audience (8-10), but everything else I’ve done has been for young adults. I think that mentally speaking, I’m still stuck in high school. The conflicts and drama at that age are just generally more interesting to me. I also like YA fiction because of how fast it clips along. It’s all about story and character—at least the kind that really speaks to me. I read many different genres (epic fantasy, urban fantasy, sci-fi, mystery, non-fiction—I’m a librarian, after all), but I really only write in one thus far.
Okay, on to Vodník. You obviously have a lot of personal ties to the content of the book. What made you decide to write a book based off a true-to-life setting, and how did you come up with the premise?
When I first went to Slovakia and saw the city of Trenčín in 2001, I thought it would make a fantastic setting for a fantasy. The castle is superb—really well restored, and right in the middle of this big town. The tour Tomas goes on in the book is the same one I went on that first day. I saw the castle, the statue of the Vodník downtown, ate ice cream—I tried to recreate the first experience I had. When my wife told me about vodníks—how they’re friendly looking water spirits who wait around to drown people and store their souls in tea cups—I was really intrigued. It was so different from any other folklore creature I’d encountered.
I used a vodník as the villain in my second book, a fantasy novel set in medieval Slovakia. He was quite sinister in that novel. Very mean and nasty. But the book itself didn’t work all that well. I hadn’t done the amount of research needed to pull off the historical setting, and my style of writing doesn’t lend itself well to times outside of the present. My voice is too modern, maybe. In any case, the book didn’t work. But elements of it hung around in my mind—the vodník especially.
For the book that’s now being published—the one you all can read soon—I decided to start with a simple premise. A boy moves to Slovakia from America, and he discovers that a vodník wants to kill him. Everything else grew out of that, step by step.
How long after you completed writing the first draft was it finally published?
Yikes. Good question. I think it was 2006, and the first draft was awful. Well, maybe not awful, but certainly not very good. It didn’t help that I’d been writing it at the same time I was workshopping it with my writing group. They would come up with suggestions, and I’d incorporate them into later chapters, leaving the beginning alone. The end result was a first draft that was a patchwork of different plotlines and characterizations. Revising that thing was a mess, and the second draft—while somewhat more understandable and recognizable as a cohesive book—was still no good. The third draft was yet more work, but by the end of it, I felt like it was good enough to start shopping around.
(The ironic thing, of course, is that I still ended up having to do three more major revisions before the book was considered ready for publication. Some writers may just be able to pull off a single draft. I am not one of those writers. Not yet, at least.)
What age group is Vodník written for, and what age groups do you think should read it regardless?
Before I had a second grader who was reading, I’d have said 12 and up. But my seven year old just blazed through the entire Harry Potter series in about two weeks, so I’ve had to reevaluate my worldview when it comes to reading ages. I shouldn’t have been surprised—I read the whole Lord of the Rings when I was his age. Kids are going to read what they want to read, when they want to read it. Usually, it’s more the parents who are concerned with what’s age appropriate and what isn’t.
There are some pretty heavy themes in Vodník. Racism plays a significant role, and the main character has some brutal things happen to him. Real world brutality. I think sometimes in Harry Potter, the violence is lessened a great deal (as far as its actual impact) because it’s fantasy violence. Spells and hexes. I’ve got some of that going on in Vodník, too—there’s more realistic stuff, too. One of the first things Brandon Sanderson said when he was reading it was how surprised he was by the high body count.
Bunnicula this ain’t.
The book is primarily aimed at 12-16 year olds, but that’s not to say people younger or older than that wouldn’t enjoy it. Most of what I read these days is Young Adult, after all.
How would you respond to someone suggesting it's a true story, magic and all? There are several similarities to your real life....
Similarities? What similarities? There are no similarities. (Nervous titter) And if there were, I certainly couldn’t tell you about them. I had to sign a contract with Death agreeing that I’d claim everything in the book is fiction.
That’s a contract I plan on keeping, thank you very much.
One of the things that struck me while reading Vodník was the large amount of information weaving through it. Halfway through the book, I kept thinking to myself, "Wow, there's still a ton more to go!" It was one of the great things about it; it seemed much longer than it actually was. How did you keep track of all the details in your own head?
I don’t think I could have kept all the details in my head—or even included them all in the first draft, for that matter. This was a book that grew in layers. The first draft had the basic core of the story, but with each passing draft (and there were many), I’d add more. Flesh out the characters, increase the conflicts. I’m not saying that’s the way to do it normally. Adding an entirely new plotline is a real beast. For example, in an earlier draft, the kids that bully Tomas were always referred to generically. There were no scenes that had him actually confront anyone. This wasn’t working. I needed some people for Tomas to see and struggle against. So I had to add in scenes with those characters.
Some people plot out their entire books ahead of time. I’ve done that a few times, myself. I still try to—although inevitably that outline ends up getting altered a great deal by the time the book is finished. But with Vodník, it was almost entirely organic. And as a result, it was a lot of work.
Vodník is a pretty modern book, with a lot of pop culture references. How did you choose which references to use, and why?
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m as steeped in pop culture as you can get. It’s actually very difficult for me to not include pop culture references. It’s how I think. So often in the first draft, I just give myself free reign, and put in each and every reference that pops into my head. After the first draft’s done, I have to go back and trim the ones that don’t really work. At that point, it helps to have a writing group who can look at it and give you feedback. But I’m getting better at figuring out the good ones and the bad ones on my own. The trick is making sure they’re references that your character would make, and that your audience will likely understand—at least know what he means, if not exactly what film or TV show he’s talking about.
Are you doing a book launch or a tour of any kind? Will you be in Utah for any conventions coming up?
I’m doing a book launch here in my local town in Maine. April 3rd at 7:00pm at the public library in Farmington. I’ll also be appearing at the library-focused Reading Roundup in Maine a few weeks later.
However, perhaps of more interest to your readers, I will also be at CONduit this year in Salt Lake. No idea yet what panels I’ll be on or anything, but I’ll be there to play games, talk to people, and generally have a grand time. The fans in Utah are awesome—I really love coming out to see everyone when I can. I lived in Utah for almost 10 years, after all. One of the things I miss most is the great writing and fantasy community.
Are you writing any sequels to Vodník, or other books? What can we expect/hope next from you?
No sequel to Vodník yet. I have some in mind, but they’re not under contract, and my agent wisely advised me not to write sequels if you haven’t sold them already. (However, I really really really would love to write some more of this story. Hopefully the book sells well enough to persuade The Powers that Be that sequels are a necessity. Tu has been really supportive of the book so far. I’m very optimistic.)
In the meantime, I’ve been working on a YA Noir Fantasy called Tarnhelm. It takes place in America, with a 16 year old protagonist who’s patterned his life after the hardboiled detectives from movies like The Maltese Falcon. Then he gets embroiled in a “case” just like them, and he discovers it’s much more complicated than he imagined. The book’s been a blast to write, and I’m hopeful it finds a good publisher so I can share it with the rest of you. Stay tuned to my blog for updates.
What do you do when you feel like your day's writing is crap?
I write anyway. 1,000 words a day, crap or not. The funny thing is, when I do that and barrel through—then go to look at the entire book after I’m finished, it’s hard to tell the sections that I thought were crap from the sections I thought were genius. Sometimes you might think you have an awesome idea in the moment, only to realize later on that it doesn’t work at all. Other times, you think what you’re writing is garbage, but then you read it later and see it’s firing on all cylinders. I think my immediate response to a piece of my writing is often worthless. Hence the 1,000 words a day goal.
Do you write anything for your kids? Do you want them to read your work when they're old enough?
Of course! My middle grade fantasy Cavern of Babel was written with the younger set in mind, and each year I write a short story for Christmas (this year’s was about a reindeer who accidentally hired elves to assassinate Rudolph). That’s always a lot of fun. My son’s old enough now that he’s taking more and more interest in my writing. I think actually seeing a hardcover book come out with my name on it helped make it that much more real for him.
Who do you feel like are your greatest writing role models? Where do you get your inspiration?
As far as writers who have made the most impact on me? Definitely Brandon Sanderson. I was just dabbling in writing until he asked me to be in his writing group. Watching Brandon week by week for four years really opened my eyes. He’s so professional in his approach. He devotes a ton of time to his craft, but he still makes time for the fans and aspiring writers.
As for inspiration? No clue. Like I said, I’m deeply steeped in pop culture. I watch all sorts of shows and movies. But it’s not like I watch an episode of Buffy and then decide “I want to write something like that.” Ideas just come to me. When they do, I write them down. Later on, when I’m looking for inspiration, I read over my various ideas. Something always sparks at that point, and I go from there.
Let's hear some sage advice for all of us out here in the local writing scene.
For me, it all comes down to one thing: writers write. I know a lot of people who love to talk about writing, or plan what they’ll write, or think about writing. But writers write, plain and simple. Sit down in front of a blank screen or blank piece of paper, and start putting words on it. Do that every day, for a set period of time. Don’t “wait for your muse.” Don’t only write “when you’re in the mood.” If you’re serious about it, treat it like a job.
I love being a librarian, but there are definitely days I’d rather stay in bed. Too bad. I have to go to work, instead. I love writing, but it can be a real drain. It’s very difficult to keep writing, even when I feel like what I’m writing isn’t that good. Doesn’t matter. I keep doing it.
If you take care of the “actually write” piece of the puzzle, then you should start moving on to the next phase: improve your writing. This might mean taking some classes at college. Or maybe you join a writing group (online or in person). At the very least, have some people not related to you (or at least, people willing to be brutally honest) read what you write and evaluate it. Listen to them. They won’t always be right, but listen particularly for things like “I was bored here.” Or “This confused me.” Because they’ll be 100% correct about stuff like that. If someone tells you “I was confused here,” you can’t tell them “No you weren’t.” See what I mean?
Finally, two last things. First, read. Read all you have time for, in many different genres. Not just the genre you write in. Second, live. Go outside. Play with the kids or friends. Enjoy your life. If you never experience life, how can you write about it?
There you go folks, head out and grab Vodnik now at Amazon and pick up the hardcover on March 28th! Also, feel free to follow Bryce on Twitter, become a fan of the Vodnik Facebook page, and visit his blog.
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/vodníkbook
Twitter Handle: @bmoorebooks