I had the good fortune to meet Ben (or was that Josh?) at Albacon a few years ago, and am pleased to renew our acquaintaince! You may have read his Skewed Throne series–if you haven’t picked up Well of Sorrows, under the new Benjamin Tate name, check it out! Here’s part one of my interview–look for part two next week!
1. What was the inception of the project you’re most excited about? What were your first steps in building that idea into a viable story?
The inception of WELL OF SORROWS and its sequel LEAVES OF FLAME actually came from two sources, which is how I find most of my story ideas form. One idea isn’t enough, it takes two things combining to form a solid enough idea for a novel. In this case, it was the character Colin, who appears in an unpublished novel I wrote a while back (like, high school while back). In that novel, he was already old and mysterious and powerful. At the time, I wondered what his origin story was, and even wrote a quick short on how he became the mysterious man he was. But I knew there was more going on with his origin than I knew at the time, so I set it aside and waited. I needed that second idea to intersect with his origin story before it would work.
A good fifteen years later at least, I had that second idea: what if I combined a fantasy with the idea of “settling the American West”? What if a new continent was discovered and it was slowly being settled. At some point, those settlers would have to send wagons out into the unexplored territories to set up new towns, etc. This idea clicked with Colin’s origin story: what if Colin and his family were in one of those wagon trains, heading into unexplored plains? What would they find? Obviously they’d run into things of great beauty and also deadly dangers. What if one of those beauties (or dangers) was a form of magic that they’d never encountered before?
That idea took shape and form in my head almost instantly, once the two pieces combined. I could see the world they were going to explore, could see the rough settlement on the coast, the wagons as they straggled out onto the grasslands . . . and I could see the races and magic they would run into once they hit the unexplored territory. It was something I’d never read in any fantasy before, and it seized me and forced me to sit down to write.
2. What kind of research and/or world-building did you do before beginning?
I’m a very organic writer, meaning that I don’t really do anything before I sit down in the chair. Which isn’t exactly true–I do let the story idea sort of percolate in my head for a while–but I don’t write anything down before I start. No outline, no notes, just a couple of scenes that appear as pictures in my head and a sense of the main character. When it feels solid enough in my head, I sit down and–like the settlers in WELL–start exploring. I start writing, heading toward the first of those pictures in my head. Along the way, if I need to research something (say what the main components of a covered wagon would be or how a grist mill works), then I either leave in some placeholders at those spots and keep writing, or I take a break and do some research before continuing. It depends on how hard the story is driving me at that point.
This is also how I worldbuild. I usually have a strong sense of the world before I sit down to write, but all of the little details and layers that end up creating a believable world get added as I write. I’ve found that trying to sketch all of the world details out ahead of time just doesn’t work for me. Things end up changing almost immediately after I start writing, so I save the time and just let the world mold and form as I’m writing. I’d say that I start with a strong foundation for the world, the characters, the plot, but as I write I allow those elements to expand and grow. This ends up giving the world a complexity that I don’t think I could achieve by trying to plan things out ahead of time.
Catch more next week!