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Tuesday, August 18, 2020

SPFBO Semifinalist Interview with Todd Herzman (Interviewed by Adam Weller)

Author official website
Order A Dark Inheritance over here: UK / USA

Hi Todd! Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions for us. First, tell us a little bit about yourself!

Thanks for interviewing me!

I’m from Canberra, Australia. I work in legislation publishing by day and write in all the pockets of time I can find around that. I’ve always been a huge fan of SFF. As a kid, it started with Harry Potter, Garth Nix, and Isobelle Carmody and went from there. Video games like Final Fantasy and Guild Wars, plus TV shows like Buffy, Stargate, and Firefly had a huge influence on me as a teen. I fell in love with comics for a few years before going back to fantasy novels in my early twenties. The Riftwar Cycle by Raymond E Feist got me reading again, and I must have read twenty of those before broadening my horizons.

I’ve also had some varied hobbies. I’ve done my fair share of Taekwondo, Muay Thai, parkour, and fire twirling in my teens and early twenties, but these days I spend far more time hunched over a keyboard. Pre-pandemic, my girlfriend and I had started archery (for writing research, of course), but new hobbies are difficult to maintain during quarantine!

Can you tell us about your writing background: when you started, how you got to this point?

I started writing when I was 23 at the end of 2014. My best friend showed me something he’d written, and I had a blast reading it. Before then, authors had been these mythical beings. I had this weird notion that writers were born, not made. But here my friend was, giving it a shot.

The second I got home I opened a google doc and started writing (I still have that first unfinished story somewhere) and never stopped. Two months later, I quit my full-time job (I was a postman, riding around on a little red motorcycle delivering letters) and started a Bachelor of Writing degree. It was actually Brandon Sanderson’s writing lectures available on YouTube that helped inspire me to go to university for writing—along with my best friend’s encouragement—though I can’t say my classes were ever quite as good as Sanderson’s lectures!

I wrote a lot during my degree but had trouble finishing novel-length projects around all my writing for classes. I had a few short stories published in the university’s fiction anthology and ended up working on the editorial committee for a couple of years, finding a joy for editing.

A Dark Inheritance isn’t the first novel I’ve written, but it’s the first novel I’ve finished. I started writing it at the end of 2018, waking up early to get some words in before work, then some more on my hour-long lunch break. I think the most important thing to becoming a writer—to getting work finished­—is creating reliable writing habits. Book two is coming along much faster. I started that back in January and have already completed the second draft.

I spent a year listening to podcasts on self-publishing while writing A Dark Inheritance, and it just seemed like the natural way to move forward.

Twenty-three certainly isn’t old, but to not have discovered your love for writing until a few years ago must have been an exciting revelation!

It definitely was. I was honestly somewhat adrift until then. Ever since I began writing, it’s driven me forward. Neil Gaiman talks about his writing goal as a mountain, and every step he took along the way brought him closer to the mountain instead of farther away from it. Now, every decision I make, I ensure it brings me closer to my mountain.

Are there any authors that you’ve tried to model your writing after, or directly influenced your writing style?

I’ve never tried modelling my writing off of anyone else—I think it’s important for an author to develop their own voice—but there is one writing exercise I use when I want to get a feel for a writer’s style. I take a chapter or two of their work and retype it word for word. It helps me decipher why a writer’s writing works, and I believe it helps my own writing develop that much faster as I gain a deeper understanding of effective prose on a line-by-line level. So far, I’ve done this for Patrick Rothfuss, Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, and Joe Abercrombie. They each have such different styles of writing, and I always feel like I learn something new during this process.

As for writers who have more directly influenced my style, I think Stephen King has a lot to answer for. Our writing styles differ (a lot), but I read On Writing as a new writer, and his emphasis on cutting needless words and his aversion to adverbs and adjectives influenced my writing as it developed. In your SPFBO review of A Dark Inheritance, you mentioned my writing as being lean. That’s something I strive for, so I’m glad it’s showed!

A Dark Inheritance is a book I particularly enjoyed, as you are well aware of. What was the thought process behind planning this story, and was it different from your approach to the rest of your publications?

I’m a discovery writer at heart. Perhaps I can blame Stephen King for that, too, as he talks about being one in On Writing. That’s one of the reasons A Dark Inheritance starts off in a small village, with characters that know little about the world. I learnt about the world, its magic, the different empires and kingdoms, right alongside the characters.

When I begin a story, I usually have certain broad strokes in mind, but these ideas can often change drastically. Originally, I thought the material used to create Starblades was radioactive. I had this whole backstory in mind where the main characters’ father had died of cancer because he worked with starstone—starstone is a metal found in meteorites in my story’s world—for too long. By the time I got to including Starblades in the story, that side effect no longer fit properly, so I had to kill my darling, so to speak.

A Dark Inheritance has three siblings as the perspective characters, Ruben, Ella, and Marius. One thing I did to ensure a consistent structure was restrict myself to alternating through their point of views in a predictable pattern as well as making the chapters similar lengths. Even though I didn’t always know what happened next, I knew I only had so much time to move the story forward before switching to another of the three siblings.

My thought process behind writing this novel was… well, I just wanted to write something I would enjoy reading. That’s my thought process behind all my writing, especially in the first draft. As Stephen King says, the first draft is writing with the door closed, the second with the door open. I write for myself first, then in revision I make sure what I wanted the story to be is actually on the page and not just in my head.

My other publications on Amazon, the short stories and novelettes, were mostly written as university assignments and tended to be in response to specific criteria. The Dreamer is an exception. I wrote a short story for a class, but later expanded it into a novelette (about 11k words). The bones of the story stayed the same, so it was sort of like writing from an outline.
When I wrote The Seeker and the Sword (available for free when joining my newsletter), a prequel novella to A Dark Inheritance, I tried outlining for the first time, purely because I couldn’t let the word count get out of hand. However, the story that resulted only resembles the outline in the sense that the beginning and ending are the same—the road getting there diverged quite significantly.

What were your goals when you entered SPFBO?

To win!

Okay, well, while I am competitive, I didn’t enter with any expectation to even get this far. I’m pretty blown away by A Dark Inheritance becoming a semi-finalist at all. The competition is fierce, and I’m just glad my book has been thrown in the hat.

As a new indie author, I’m still learning the marketing side of this wild endeavor. One of my goals by entering this competition was the hope that my debut would get a little bit of exposure. And, so far, it has! I’m very happy with the review it received on The Fantasy Book Critic, and now I’m being interviewed for the first time.

One thing I’m hoping to do, but haven’t quite done yet because like most authors I’m an introvert, is network with some of the other entrants. There are some amazing books being entered this year, and I’d love to get to know the authors behind those works. So, if there are any other SPFBO entrants reading this interview, feel free to get in touch!

Also, I just want to take a moment to thank the community around SPFBO. The readers, for taking a chance on indie books, the bloggers who volunteer their time, attention, and platforms, and Mark Lawrence for organizing it in the first place. I’m glad that I get to be a part of it.

The author community within SPFBO has spawned various friendships and networking opportunities over the past few years. One of last year’s finalists, Virginia McLain, organized a volunteer-led QuarenCon featuring panels of self- and traditionally-published authors that were recorded live, and are still available on YouTube. Even for authors who have been cut early in the contest, there have been great opportunities to stay socially active in the community and promote their work.

I watched one of the panels with all of last year’s SPFBO finalists—they spoke as if they’d been friends for years. It was a wonderful thing to see.

Can you recommend any books, shows, or albums that have been keeping you busy during these unprecedented times?

A lot of my reading time has been sacrificed to writing, but I’ve managed to get through a fair number of books this year. The first one I’ll mention is another SPFBO entrant, who’s also in The Fantasy Book Critic’s batch. As I was reading the book, I kept sighing and thinking, “Well, there’s no chance I’ll be a finalist if I’m up against this!” That’s Shoreseeker by Brandon M Lindsay. It’s a really strong debut and impressed me a lot. The book has some great worldbuilding and a lot of well-developed characters. For fans of epic fantasy, I highly recommend it.

The series I’ve read the most of this year is Cradle by Will Wight. These books are often called progression fantasy. The main character, Lindon, starts off fairly weak and grows in strength each book. It reminded me of the animes I used to watch as a teenager. It’s fast-paced with great characters and awesome fight scenes. I’ve read six of them so far, and the books grow in strength as they go along.

I know I’m late to the party, but I just started reading The Wheel of Time. I’m about twenty pages into The Great Hunt. I love big books and big series. Longer books have a way of immersing me into a story more fully than shorter ones—probably why I love epic fantasy so much, and why my favourite series are The Kingkiller Chronicles and The Stormlight Archives. I can see The Wheel of Time being one of these great, immersive series for me.

As for TV shows, my girlfriend and I are devouring Bones, a crime procedural following a forensic anthropologist. We’re also huge fans of Grimm, Castle, Supernatural and, well, too many to list. We love watching shows together and, as we’re both writers, are always chatting about the storylines.

Will Wight’s Cradle series is quite the adventure; progressive fantasy is a good descriptor! I hope you enjoy The Wheel of Time. It has a little bit—well, a lot—of everything, kitchen sink included. As a student of Sanderson, I think you’ll appreciate how he finished Jordan’s work.

Will Wight is fast becoming a favourite author for me. He’s got a long career ahead!

As for getting to the end of The Wheel of Time, it might take me a while, but—you know what they say—journey before destination. I look forward to seeing how it concludes.

Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us here at FantasyBookCritic! Best of luck going into the next round, and I’m looking forward to book two of the series!

Thanks for interviewing me, it’s been a pleasure. And I promise, book two is on its way! I’m aiming for it to be released later this year.


Deborah Makarios said...

Congratulations on getting your first book out into the World at Large - and in such a timely way! My first book took me about ten years from go to whoa.

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