Hey Space Cadets, how’s everyone doing today? I’m doing amazing, I decided to try the Camp NaNo so I can kick myself in the butt and get book four out. Not much else is going on in the Handley Trenches, so let’s get straight to today’s blog.
As you’ve noticed, I’ve gotten bit by the interview bug! I’ve started the Warrior Weekend Series, the Family Friday Series, and now the ‘SciFy Shenanigans’ series that only serves to talk with other authors of science fiction! Here goes nothing!
The plan here is to talk to authors about their latest books and their process. They’ll be able to pitch the other stuff too, of course, but when authors have deep back catalogues it’s hard to get into the weeds with them. Those weeds have grown too high, so I took a weed whacker to the mess. Here’s the final results! Now grab your popcorn and enjoy the ride, because today we interview author Nicholas Woode-Smith!
Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls, Children of All Ages,……
First, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?
I’m a student, sci-fi author and political commentator from Cape Town, South Africa. I have been writing since 2009, swapping between fiction and non-fiction until I recently decided that I can do both. I am currently studying politics, philosophy and economic history. These all inform my fiction and non-fiction writing.
What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
I am the youngest council member of the South African Institute of Race Relations in its history. I got the position due to my contribution to classical liberal activism.
I’ll go out on a limb and assume that if you write books you also enjoy reading them. What other genres do you enjoy reading, and how have they affected your writing?
I love reading science fiction, fantasy and non-fiction. My love of reading started with high fantasy when I was very young. This continued until university, where my studies shifted my interest into non-fiction, mainly history, political science and philosophy. I mainly read non-fiction now, but also a lot of sci-fi when I have the chance.
Who are your biggest writing influences?
I started my reading with high fantasy and among all the writers who influenced me, Raymond E. Feist is probably the most pervasive. His generation spanning universe drew me in completely and inspired my original love of world building. Later on, Brandon Sanderson’s enthusiastic prose and attention to detail influenced my love of intricate systems in my books. As far as sci-fi authors go, Heinlein stimulated the blend of philosophy and sci-fi that can be seen in some of my later works.
Transitioning from a who, to a what, I am heavily influenced by history, politics and philosophy. For the keen reader, there are a lot of allusions to famous philosophers, historical events and key political concepts in all my works.
Who are your favorite authors and books?
Authors: Tolkien, Orwell, Heinlein, Brandon Sanderson, Robert Jordan, Niall Ferguson, Feist.
Books: Lord of the Rings, Rift War Saga, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, 1984, The Wheel of Time, Empire, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.
What is your preferred writing style?
I write only in the third-person, past tense. This is part habit, wrought from reading too much high fantasy, but also because I do want to externalize the reader, somewhat. While I do give the reader access to some thoughts of the character, I ultimately want the reader to be an observer, watching a world that is a character in itself.
My fundamental passion is world building, so my style is built very much around providing information about the world itself and the characters that inhabit it. But I don’t swamp the reader. My action scenes are fluid, detailed and frenetic – providing a much more personal outlook of character interactions than mere description.
My tone, at times, can be very dark, but I do like to break the despair with the occasional quip or witty remark by a character.
How did that lead you deep into the weeds of the writing life?
I’ve loved world building since my first fantasy novel. I constructed worlds for my D&D group, for games as a child, and later for my books. Writing, for me, was originally about providing a canvas to allow others to view my world. But as I continued writing, I became attached to my characters and started seeing it as more and more a theatre to demonstrate humanity, philosophy, ethics, survival, violence and all these aspects of our world. The truth is stranger than fiction, so it tends to become easier to describe these concepts and phenomena in a fictitious setting.
I’m a cynic and an idealist, and this does influence my writing. Perhaps, I write so to achieve a victor between the two. So far, neither have won.
When did you get serious about your writing?
I started my first novel in 2009 but only finished in 2013 (school is a pain). After that, I started writing on and off. I would say that my serious writing only began in earnest in 2015, when I co-founded a political commentary platform and began writing countless non-fiction articles about the state of politics in South Africa.
What is your current novel? Tell us a little bit about the premise?
I am about to release a short novel titled ‘Devil Child’. It is a prequel to the main series and written entirely from an alien perspective.
While I normally write from a mainly human perspective, Devil Child stars an Edal girl named Re’lien, who is a pariah in her highly authoritarian society. Punished for a crime she did not commit, Re’lien has become used to her lot in life – but not for long. A kindly stranger with revolutionary intent has shown her that life is more than just torture, and now, she wants vengeance.
Devil Child provides an illuminating look at the aliens of my universe and their society, providing a much needed contrast with future human society.
Fall of Zona Nox is obviously a series, where can we expect it to go?
The Warpmancer Universe/Series is going to be around for a long time, if I can help it. It is going to be progressing both forwards and backwards. I have already finished the sequel to Fall of Zona Nox (Defiant), and have released a short story prequel. Devil Child is also a side story, shedding more light on the universe. While this series is about a core group of characters, it is also about an era and a universe. I want to have as many opportunities to invite readers to this universe as possible. This will take the series all around the galaxy.
Where did you find the inspiration for Fall of Zona Nox?
Everything. Specifically, a mish-mash of video games, anime, non-fiction and Warhammer. I wanted to create a sci-fi world in the vein of high fantasy. My influences and inspirations come from many mediums, including obscure games like Dark Colony to real world technology and history.
Your characters from Fall of Zona Nox are sent into a gladiatorial death match. Who wins?
That’s a lot of characters… From the get go, probably one of the Xank Immortals. They are given that title for a reason, and could crush any of the others in hand-to-hand combat. Like real warfare, the superiority of many factions is based on their ability to work together, utilize technology and strategy. A Human Trooper would not enter a situation where they would have to fight a Xank Immortal one-on-one. They would prefer orbital bombardment.
What do you listen to while you write? Or do you prefer silence?
Depends on my mood. Often, I prefer silence, but just as often, I will listen to “epic” orchestral music, to inspire the scene.
What is the most embarrassing thing you’ve looked up in the name of research – or what do you think the government has maybe flagged you for?
The government actually has flagged me, but that is due to my political commentary and not my fiction writing. Embarrassing research wise – probably basic multiplication. I’m bad at math.
Don’t feel bad, I’m not so good at math either! What was your favorite part of writing Fall of Zona Nox?
I love the emotional, glorious scenes. The ones that make even me cry, and hate myself for killing a character. I love the action and the contrast of hopelessness and perseverance on the battlefield. My favourite scene to write was the final battle. It allowed me to tie together the technical details of the war machine with the emotions of the soldiers. What I love about these sections is that it demands a level of self-doubt in the characters, and can lead to some very thought provoking themes.
Which actor/actress would you like to see playing your main characters from Fall of Zona Nox?
The irony of the difficulty of me answering this is that James is actually a very generic looking young man. 17, above average height, dark brown hair, Caucasian. But it seems I don’t want enough films to name anyone.
Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured?
I write when I get the itch. That tends to happen after midnight.
Do you aim for a set number of words/pages per day?
Yes. I try to churn out at least a scene per a day. I feel satisfied if I can churn out 2000 words when I’m uninspired and a chapter if I’m in the mood.
When you develop your characters, do you already have an idea of who they are before you write or do you let them develop as you go?
I would like to say that they all start with a general foundation, but most of my characters develop organically as I write. I’ve found it much more natural to do this, and even when I set up a plan, I tend to stray from it.
How did writing Devil Child differ from your writing your previous novels?
Devil Child is my first book from a female perspective. The main character is a young girl caught between the dichotomy of being from the ruling family of her planet, and being a pariah. This departs a lot from my comfort zone of writing about criminals (I watch a lot of crime films) and warriors.
It was an interesting experience, however. I had to think carefully about every word and sentence, so to convey the alien-ness of the society while also making it approachable for a human reader.
If Fall of Zona Nox had a theme song what would it be?
A range of songs. Epic music, something from Two Steps from Hell or hardcore dubstep for the battles. Classic rock for ambience in peaceful scenes. For an overarching theme song, I’d trust Hans Zimmer to pick something good.
Fall of Zona Nox is full of many amazingly talented characters and I imagine it was really fun to create some of them, but which one was your favorite and why?
I loved one of the main characters, Danny Marzio. He provides a lot of levity in the story, breaking up the darkness with a lot of wit and good humour. He is also a very competent and straightforward character, without being boring. I like the other characters, sure, but they’re too angsty to be my favourite.
What advice do you have for writers who are just starting out?
Identify a goal. That will inform your writing. Is your goal to write a story? Then write that story. Is it to make money? Then do the market research first. Above all of this – don’t give up. In my capacity as co-founder of a commentary site, I have to deal with many intelligent and skilled writers who sell themselves short. They want to write, but feel they won’t be good enough. Breaking them out of this self-doubt is very important. Fundamentally, if you want to write, write. Appealing to a wider audience is only relevant if you’re in it for the money.
I hope you enjoy this little conversation, and if you want to find out more about Nicholas Woode-Smith then follow the rabbit trail to their warren in the internet! If they don’t like it, beat ‘em with a carrot and keep on truckin’!
Until next time, stay frosty and don’t forget to keep your powder dry!
–> As usual, all images came from the Google’s “labeled for reuse” section or are screen shots taken by JR Handley and used under the Fair Use Doctrine.
–> Some of these interview questions were inspired by my good friend TeacherofYA, and are used with her permission. If you have kids who love to read, she’s the girl who’ll make the literary introductions! You should check her out, after a lifetime of reading, your kids will thank you.