Friday, June 27, 2014

Interview with Michael Meyerhofer, author of "Wytchfire"

Today we're pleased to feature our KBoards interview with Michael Meyerhofer, author of the newly-released fantasy novel Wytchfire. The first book in the Dragonkin Trilogy, Wytchfire is a tale of war and sorcery, beautifully told by a master of the English language. You'll appreciate the compelling prose even as you get pulled into the story.

Here's the book's blurb:
In a land haunted by the legacy of dead dragons, Rowen Locke has been many things: orphan, gravedigger, mercenary. All he ever wanted was to become a Knight of Crane and wield a kingsteel sword against the kind of grown horrors his childhood knows all too well.

But that dream crumbled--replaced by a new nightmare.

War is overrunning the realms, an unprecedented duel of desire and revenge, steel and sorcery. And for one disgraced man who would be a knight, in a world where no one is blameless, the time has come to decide which side he's on.
The blog tour for Wytchfire is underway now -- and you can enter for prizes with the form at the bottom of this post. Now, on to our conversation with Michael!

Welcome to KBoards and congratulations on your new book! "Wytchfire" has gathered enthused reviews. What is your reaction to the reception that readers have given your book?

I’m thrilled beyond words that people are enjoying the book! This might sound silly but when I was writing Wytchfire, I kept thinking back to all the fantasy books I’ve read throughout my life, especially when I was younger, and how much joy they brought me. There’s a certain feeling of accomplishment that comes when you finish writing a book, of course, but that’s nothing compared to the satisfaction one feels when someone else not only reads but enjoys it. Right now, I’m still at the early stage when I can personally respond to readers’ letters and emails, which is great fun. I hope to keep doing that as much as possible because the fans are what have made this crazy dream of mine a reality.

Your published poetry has won awards. In terms of your own personal satisfaction, how does the craft of poetry compare to novel-writing?

People often want to know whether I prefer writing poetry or fantasy. My answer is… yes. That is, they both enrich my life—often with joy; sometimes, headaches… but I really can’t imagine living without either. They do have some significant differences, though. One frustration felt by a lot of modern poets is that contemporary poetry has a very small audience. You mostly sell copies of poetry books by giving readings at universities and bookshops. That can happen with fiction, too, but a bigger potential fan base means the potential for a lot more online interaction. For instance, my poetry books have received good reviews and netted me some kind letters from readers over the years, but Wytchfire has only been out for a couple months and I’m already humbled and thrilled by the amount of positive response I’ve been getting. So I guess with poetry, the personal satisfaction has to come mainly from the act of writing, and the occasional opportunity to share your work. You get those with fantasy, too, but you also get to have a lot more opportunities to interact with readers.

One of your poems - "Ode to the Repair Guy," from your first book of poetry -- depicts a man feeling sheepish about his poetry when around a "regular guy." Why is it that the label of "poet" is perceived so differently than the label "author"..?

First, thanks for checking out my first poetry book, Leaving Iowa. Much appreciated! To answer your question, I think there’s a certain stigma around the label of “poet” that can be traced back to high school. I love “traditional” poetry a great deal, but what made me feel that way was discovering—and loving—contemporary poetry, then working my way backwards.

For a lot of people, the only poetry they read is in high school, which they might find hard to relate to. So poetry gets this reputation for either being very elevated and academic, or very touchy-feely. Actually, it doesn’t have to be either. In my opinion, poetry can touch on academic, historical, and scientific stuff, as well as the mechanics of the human heart, but it also needs a primal element to keep it honest. For instance, in my third book, Damnatio Memoriae (Latin for “damned memory”) I have a poem called The World’s Oldest Dildo which is about… well, a very significant archeological discovery that might make us snicker, but it’s still just as valid and important as those ancient cave paintings.

To circle back to your question, we’ve all seen some frankly pretentious people—who, ironically, know next to nothing about the genre—call themselves poets just to make themselves sound a bit more impressive. But there are actually as many types of poetry out there as there are types of music. There’s a lot of great stuff we can find, if we keep our eyes and ears open.

Let's get back to Wytchfire. Your book has been described as "character-driven fantasy." A lot of fantasies, even the classics, devote so much attention to world-building that the character development lacks depth. Tell us about your approach on this.

Glad to! Every fantasy writer knows the sheer, imaginative pleasure that comes with world-building, but there’s a big danger there, too. Nobody wants to read someone else’s complicated mythology unless they have characters they can root for, villains they can despise, or better yet, complex characters who kind of defy the traditional molds. In other words, world-building is great but it must be done in the context of character-building, so that the former is almost incidental. For example, there’s a scene in Wytchfire where Rowen Locke is talking metaphysics with a friend. That gave me an opportunity to talk about the religions and backstory of the novel, sure, but the biggest reason I included it was to tell a bit more about Rowen’s character through dialog, to try and make him more three dimensional. I think that the best way to write fantasy just so happens to be the best way to write any type of fiction: know your characters inside out. Actually, the fine folks at BigAl’s Books & Pals were kind enough to post a little character-building exercise that I like to use, to put more flesh on the characters’ bones, if anybody would like to check it out.

We did see that Big Al post and recommend it as a good character development checklist! You mention Rowen Locke, your lead character. In the story, we follow him as he ventures through a world full of magic, warfare, and memorable personalities. We become emotionally connected with Rowen's plight. How did you go about creating a relatable character in the midst of such a fantastic world?

I think the trick there is that no matter how different your fantasy world is from the real world, your characters still need to experience conflicts, confusions, and ambitions that the rest of us can relate to. The best way to do that is to base aspects of your characters on your own life, or the lives of the people around you. That doesn’t mean that each character translates exactly to a real person you know or have read about; rather, it means that you take your experiences with life, with the real world, and use that as research for crafting believable characters in a make-believe world. By doing so, you give your readers a thread to follow.

In fact, if I can pull back the curtain for a moment, another benefit to writing fantasy is that especially in cases where the novel’s setting is very different from our own, readers naturally, instinctively cling even tighter to familiar elements in the characters they’re reading about. Relatable characters become our compasses. I think that’s why Game of Thrones fans feel such an affinity for Jon Snow and Tyrion Lannister. Sure, their lives are nothing like our own, but we can relate to their feelings of isolation, their struggle against not just the swords of their enemies but basic, human loneliness and self-doubt.

The dialogue really sparkles in this book. What's your approach to creating such marvelously quotable exchanges between your characters?

Thanks very much! I appreciate that. One of the most fun things about writing fiction is that you can have your characters say whatever you like, whenever you like. Do you want them to be clueless or introspective? How blunt or sharp-tongued should they be? Should they say to each other the kind of things you’d love to say to your boss, or that politician you saw on TV, or that bully from third grade? So again, I think the key to creating good dialog is to base it, at least a little, on the real world.

In the book, humans are at war against the magical Shel'ai, and the narrative switches viewpoints between characters on opposing sides of the war. As a reader you find yourself building empathy across the battle lines. Tell us about how you use POV to create reader empathy with both sides of the conflict.

Especially in recent years, I think there’s been a real desire on the part of fantasy readers to read more stories that veer away from the traditional “good versus evil” motif. After all, the real world isn’t so clear cut, and if we’re going to at least partially base our characters on real people, why should they be clear cut, either? Also, I think there’s a certain, pulse-pounding excitement that comes when you realize you’re kind of rooting for the bad guy, that maybe the bad guy isn’t entirely evil any more than the hero is entirely good. For me, POV shifts are a vital—and fun—way to turn a story on its head.

The story carries themes of honor, loyalty, moral ambiguities, and hope. Why are we as readers so drawn to stories that resonate with those themes?

Not to sound too philosophical here but I think we all find ourselves subject to moral confusion on a pretty regular basis. Sometimes, we’re hopeful; often, we’re cynical. We struggle to maintain our loyalties, our own fluid definitions of what is and isn’t honorable. Since none of us (myself included) know the absolute best, most moral way to get from Point A to Point B, we’re naturally fascinated by characters who are besieged with similar doubts and confusion. By reading and studying them, we gain a little more insight into ourselves, and those around us. Morally ambiguous characters are appealing because, ironically, they can help to clarify our own moral dilemmas.

Some of our readers are also aspiring authors. What advice or encouragement would you give to authors about finding their distinctive voice?

Write the story that you—and only you—can write. That is, even if your story contains elements that might be familiar to the reader, add to your characters whatever special experiences and insights make you unique. Even if it’s difficult, or embarrassing, take whatever experiences you’ve had—positive or negative—and weave them into your characters’ lives. That way, your stories will always be original. They’ll also have an additional energy to them, some extra pizzazz, because the reader will subconsciously sense that they’re reading something important.

What are your plans for the next book in the Dragonkin trilogy?

The sequel, tentatively called The Knight of the Crane, picks up right where Wytchfire leaves off. Things get a bit, ah, darker. I’m a big fan of character development but there’s a ton of action there, too. I like big, desperate battles, and The Knight of the Crane has plenty. Also, I introduce a few new characters, hopefully add some more dimension to the familiar ones, and reveal the answers to a few mysteries from Wytchfire—while creating a few more to be solved in The War of the Lotus, the trilogy’s conclusion, which I’m writing now.

We hope you keep the stories and poetry coming! Thank you for talking with us today.

My pleasure! Thanks for checking out the book!

Wytchfire is available now to download to your Kindle! And be sure to check out the Wytchfire blog tour celebrating the book's release - for interviews, reviews, and a chance to win SWAG from the book's publisher, Red Adept Publishing.

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