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Thursday, March 28, 2019

Interview with Devin Madson (Interviewed by Lukasz Przywoski)

Official Author Website
Order We Lie with Death over HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of We Ride The Storm
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of We Lie with Death

Q: Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Before we start, tell us a little bit about yourself. Who is Devin Madson? And why should everyone be reading your books? 

DM: What a question to open with! Is there still time to bail? I mean, in my best professional author voice, I am Devin Madson and I am an Australian fantasy author. I live in the middle of nowhere with no neighbours but kangaroos and wallabies. I write (a lot), try to garden (everything dies), and watch Lord of the Rings way too often (like that’s possible). My books aren’t at all like Lord of the Rings, but you should still read them because I write fast-paced, character-focused, dark and snarky books all set in the same world, so there’s always something new to discover.

Q: When and why have you decided to become an author?

DM: I think I share a common origin story with a lot of authors. I wrote my first story at 6 years old (not a happy story) and then announced to my parents at 7 years old that I wanted to be an author and illustrator. Turned out I was terrible at drawing, so I later amended that to just author. I’ve been writing ever since and never seriously considered another job. Honestly, I think I’d be pretty terrible at anything else.

Q:Why did you decide to write under the pen name? And why did you choose this one? 

DM: Well that’s a whole can of worms. The easy answer is that my real name is hard to spell and pronounce and would look terrible on a book cover. The other answer is that there’s an unconscious bias among many readers assuming female name equals romance or not as good, so I decided a gender-neutral name was the best way to go. The why Devin Madson is a bit more personal and something of a cringey story so I might leave that one untold.

Q:What draws you to writing dark fantasy?

DM: I am not actually sure. Even my early stories as a child weren’t happy, fluffy tales. I wrote about trees that got cut down and taken from their families, about puppies that fell asleep under snow-laden branches only to die when the snow fell on them - you know, usual kid stuff. I think I just really like exploring and eliciting complex emotions and prefer not to gloss over the sometimes harsh realities of life.

Q:Tell us a little bit about your writing process. What do you start from? Do you start with a character, an image, or an idea? Talk a little bit about how a novel “grows” for you. 

DM: They’re all a bit different, but I’m a pantser through and through. Every attempt to plan ends up totally wasted and pointless, though I usually have some sense of character arcs and I always start with characters. I don’t plan them, they spring up like weeds and don’t shut up until I finish writing their stories. Storm was a little different in that the Levanti didn’t exist at all until I wrote the first line and brought Rah into being. It always feels a bit like the story is already there in my mind, like I already wrote it then forgot it and now I’m discovering it again as I write. Sometimes I don’t know why a particular detail comes up but it does so I write it in and nine times out of ten it turns out to have been foreshadowing for something important. It’s probably exactly the wrong way to write books, but I’ve tried the smart way and ended up with something entirely different from the original plan. Oops.

Q:What’s the hardest thing for you during the whole “writing experience”? 

DM: Second draft rewrites. The first draft is an exciting process of discovery. The perfecting copy edit stage is wonderful and I take great joy in cutting words. But knowing exactly how a chapter or arc has to be changed and having to just sit down and slog through it - urgh.

Q: What made you decide to self-publish as opposed to traditional publishing? 

DM: I’ve always been a self-sufficient, stubborn, do-it-yourself kind of person, so it probably surprised no one. I was also really keen to learn as much as I could about every aspect of producing a professional book. There’s an awful lot more involved than I ever imagined as a reader, but there is also something really exciting about choosing your own team, your own artists and editors and deciding when you’ll do things. It’s a lot of extra work though, which does get frustrating when it’s a drain on your writing time. I knew that when I started, but not being reliant on anyone but me was the big selling point. I knew no one in the industry at the time, had always been a solo reader and writer, so I wouldn’t have even known where to start on the traditional front.

Q: One of the big challenges with self-publishing is finding readers. Was that your experience? 

DM: Yes, definitely, but I don’t think it’s just a matter of finding them but also being taken seriously by them and having the confidence to put yourself out there when, especially back when I first published in 2013, the stigma of self-publishing is still going strong. It is much better now than it was then, but it still leaves me dithering out explanations sometimes when people ask who my publisher is. I think finding readers as a self-publisher is a mix of luck and perseverance before ever your book comes into the equation.

Q: What advice would you give someone who wants to self-publish? 

DM: Make sure your book is ready, really ready because in most cases you’re only going to get one chance to make a good impression. That includes a cover professional enough to sell that book when placed amongst traditionally published books of the same genre.

Q: As you know, we’ve enjoyed We Ride the Storm strongly enough to nominate it as our SPFBO finalist. Immersive and rich setting combined with complex characters won us over. What was your initial inspiration for The Reborn Empire series? 

DM: Because it is, in a lot of ways, the continuation of the story I started in my first trilogy, it didn’t need the same spark of inspiration as most stories. Although I had many threads to pull already in place, it really wasn’t until I wrote that first line that the Levanti were born and much of the feel of the story unrolled onto the page. Now it’s just about uncovering the rest of the story like an explorer.

Q: You’ve created a rich world with a unique magic system, races, religions and geography. What challenges did you face not just in making it accessible, but in incorporating all the information that needed to be conveyed to make the story work? 

DM: I think the biggest challenge in this series was, because it’s all written in the first person, in taking care not to have any character explain something they would find commonplace, or to overly describe something they are taking no heed of. I’m a fairly sparse author in general, but sometimes specific descriptions and information is required and cannot always be imparted by a more appropriate character - those are the most challenging moments.

Q: Moving on to the characters, all of them are fascinating, but I find Cassandra’s ark most exciting and her voice most engaging. Do you have a favourite to write yourself?

DM: That’s tough because I enjoy different aspects of each of them, but overall writing Cassandra is probably my favourite because she is always so prickly and snarky and I have a lot of fun with her sarcasm. She is also relatively simple in her desires despite the complexities of her situation, which makes up for the amount of action scenes I end up having to agonise over.

Q: What made you add new POV character in We Lie With Death? Dishiva’s point of view allows to add another dimension to the story and shed some light on Leo’s dark secrets. Aside from this, what’s so appealing in her story?

DM: Those were very important reasons for including her, but I also felt the importance of getting the point of view of a Levanti warrior who was not Rah. It’s pretty clear through it all that Rah’s unbending attitude is not common and they are, as a people, rather more flexible and pragmatic than that, as they must be as nomads upon harsh terrain. Dishiva allows us the POV of a more balanced Levanti, as well as a deeper exploration of the cultural divide between the peoples Gideon is attempting to unite.

Q: Looking more broadly, of all of your published works, who is your favourite character, and why? And least favourite? 

DM: I think my favourite has always been Torvash, known to the readers of Storm as the Witchdoctor. He is so calmly factual and unemotional that he’s always so good to bounce dry wit off, and he’s also our main source of information regarding the soul-based magic system he spends his life studying. He is a recurring character in many of my planned stories and I wrote an audio drama with him as the main character to better explore the science behind it all. Least favourite? That’s hard because I’ve had characters whose deaths I’ve cheered, but I have still liked them as characters. I think I disliked Emperor Lan from In Shadows We Fall the most though.

Q: What sort of research did you do for The Reborn Empire? 

DM: I am a more of an ‘as I must’ researcher. As soon as I wrote the first line I researched cutting heads off. Well, I lie, I actually do my research at the end of writing sessions having made notes to check facts because I write on a computer that has no access to the internet. In general, I’ve never made a point of doing any research prior to starting a book because I never really know how anything is going to go. Knowing me, I’d research something for days only to write a completely different story.

Q: What was the most difficult part of writing this series? What was the most enjoyable part? 

DM: I think the hardest parts to write are yet to come! In a general sense though the hardest part of writing a series, especially when you’re not a planner, is trusting the path you’re walking toward the vague idea you have of the destination. The most enjoyable is always when things happen I didn’t even know were going to happen for exactly the same reason - I don’t plan! They crop up when least expected. As an example, I had no idea what was up with Leo for a lot longer than you would think. He surprised the hell out of me too!

Q: If you would be given the chance to rewrite any of the scenes in We Ride the Storm before publication, would you do it? If yes, what and why?

DM: If I could go back in time? I could always do more passes on my books trying to perfect the words, but off the top of my head, I don’t think there is a particular scene that stands out to me. The good thing about always moving on to the next book is that you stop worrying so much about the last one. There’s always so much to worry about in the new one you’re writing now!

Q: Would you say that The Reborn Empire series follows tropes or kicks them?

DM: That’s quite the difficult question to answer because I didn’t set out to do either, what with never planning anything. It is probably somewhere between the two. There are plenty of places where I took sharp turns to deviate from the expected, and yet there are also plenty of familiar tropes and themes - revenge, messed up families, the honourable warrior. I’d hunt out loads but I’ve learned my lesson and no longer visit unless I have a whole day to kill.

Q: Which question about the series do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it! 

DM: Honestly, I can’t think of one that doesn’t stray into spoiler territory at this point, everyone asks such wonderful questions!

Q: What can we expect in the next book? Certainly the ending gives us an idea where the story may be moving, but give us a few hints! 

DM: I’m a total pantser so even my understanding of what’s coming is vague. Although I can feel it there and see bits of it, more like an archaeologist perhaps, uncovering the story bit by bit. In a general sense though, I expect book 3 will shift gear back into more of the sweeping battles and political manoeuvring of the first book now an initial shock at what happened at the end of the first has had time to wear off for all concerned and they’ve consolidated their positions. The stakes are only going to get bigger and the decisions more difficult to make. And one character in particular has a lot of pain coming their way. Sorry.

Q: You’ve just signed with Julie Crisp Literary Agency. Congratulations! What do you hope to get from this cooperation? What does it mean to your fans and your release calendar?  

DM: Julie is one of those amazingly knowledgeable people, and I’m so excited to have her in my court as I take the next steps in my career. As to what will happen with my release calendar, at this point I have no idea. I will certainly keep everyone as up to date as possible through my website and social media.

Q: In the interview with The Nerd Book podcast you’ve mentioned you had planned to publish a web serial. Any chances it’ll happen? 

DM: Yes! So long as it doesn’t get in the way of any future plans and contracts, I’m hoping it’ll go ahead this year but will be sure to keep everyone up to date about it.

Q: Can you name three books you adore as a reader, but that make you feel inadequate as a writer? 

DM: Hmmm there are probably a lot, but off the top of my head, Black Wolves by Kate Elliott, The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch and anything Guy Gavriel Kay has ever written. Probably even his shopping lists.

Q: Thank you so much for agreeing to this conversation, Devin! We greatly appreciate your time and thoughts. 

DM: And thank you for putting up with my nonsense answers!



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