This week's author spotlight features Frank P. Ryan. Tell us a bit about yourself, Frank.
I write epic fantasy novels, which form part of a series, "The Three Powers". I was lucky enough for the first two published books in this series, The Snowmelt River and The Tower of Bones, to have gathered excellent reviews from the British Fantasy Society and Starburst Magazine, which helped to push my fantasy into the top ten bestseller list of epic fantasy novels on amazon.co.uk. American readers have always been able to buy my books as kindles, but I'm also delighted to say that The Snowmelt River was published in the US as a modestly priced hardcover in November 2013. The third book in the series, The Sword of Feimhin, is with the publishers and will be published in 2014.
I have written each book so it features an adventure in itself - but there is also an epic narrative running through the series. So I suggest that the books are best read in the right order, starting with The Snowmelt River. I can promise high adventure and exciting highly original themes.
I wrote an apocalyptic science fiction novel, The Doomsday Genie, a thriller trilogy (Goodbye Baby Blue, Sweet Summer and Tiger Tiger) and a contemporary novel, Taking Care of Harry.
I teach writing skills and have been known to judge fantasy short story competitions.
1.How did you get into writing and why do you write?
I began to write spontaneously after a life-threatening motor-cycle accident when aged 19 yrs. I also changed career from engineering to medicine. I had never studied literature as such though I had always enjoyed reading books. I wrote my first (unpublished, thank goodness) novel over the next two years without attending any classes on writing.
2.What do you like best (or least) about writing?
The creativity. My background is medicine/ science but I have always had a foot in the arts. I also ran an art gallery for nine years while working as a consultant physician. I feel an intense satisfaction from creating a novel. I don’t write primarily for money although I do appreciate the income for obvious ordinary reasons. I immensely enjoy the stage, when writing a novel, when the characters are moving around in your inner mental landscape and wanting to have their own say. Hence I’m playing a kind of surreal game with my fantasy where the four main characters have their own Twitter outlets, although this is only just getting off the ground.
3.What is your writing process? IE do you outline? Do you stick to a daily word or page count, write 7 days a week, etc?
There are two broad patterns that writers tend to follow. Methodical writers plan it all in detail and tend to keep to a fixed regime. I’m one of the other types, an inspirational writer. I rely on waking up and the
next chapter just coming into my head. This means that the writing has a compulsive quality, which is often remarked on by readers. I do write any day I like, so it is often seven days a week. But I only write for an hour or two a day. In that time I can complete a novel in a year to eighteen months.
4.Who are some other writers you read and admire, regardless of whether they are commercially “successful?”
I read quite widely not just epic fantasy. I like to read authors who have a sense of writing style as well as constructing interesting characters and an interesting narrative story. Those three qualities are key to a good novel. I was inspired, as a young man by great authors such as James Joyce (I loved Ulysses), Thomas Mann (The Magic Mountain), Jean Paul Sartre (The Roads to Freedom), Camus (the Outsider), Hemingway, Faulkner (The Sound and the Fury), Steinbeck, indeed many others. In epic fantasy I like Tolkein, Ursula Le Guin, Neil Gaiman (American Gods), GRR Martin (though not his killing off his heroes), Tad Williams, currently reading Wolfe, and indeed many more.
5.Should the question mark in the above question be inside or outside the quotes?
Outside. I might add that quotes are dealt with differently in English English and US English. Indeed there are far more differences in these versions of English than people realize. When writing my US-based science fiction novel, The Doomsday Genie, I began to compile my own list of differences between US and UK English usage. It soon grew into quite a big list. I made sure to use an American editor.
6.What’s your stance on the Oxford Comma?
I tend not to use it.
7.What is your book about and how did it come to fruition?
I’m currently writing Book Four in a four-book epic fantasy series. The title of the series is The Three Powers. It consists of The Snowmelt River, The Tower of Bones, The Sword of Feimhin and a fourth the name of which must be kept a secret for now. I began researching the series long ago. Indeed I wrote a book, The Sundered World, which might be seen as anticipatory for the series, which was first published in 1999. In writing all four subsequent books I begin by going back to notes, character sketches, etc, done at that time. Each book always contains one or more powerful narrative developments of its own, so that my readers can enjoy them without needing to have all of the series available, but there is a powerful central narrative to the whole as well.
8.What’s your current writing project?
I’m about half way through writing Book Four of the epic fantasy series, having recently revised and polished Book Three after the publisher’s editor had a look at it.
9.What book(s) are you currently reading?
I tend to read two or three books at once. I’m currently reading Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood and Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun.
10.Who or what inspires your writing?
That’s a hard one to answer. I have never lacked inspiration. It just comes from some kind of a well inside me. I think that the fact I love biology and I am fascinated by people, history, archeology, anthropology, and all aspects of life, are all grist to the mill. You might be intrigued to hear that when I go on holiday I take interesting pictures with me rather than any literary source, which tells you that I am very visual in my inspiration. A single striking picture might inspire an entire chapter. My publisher, Jo Fletcher at Quercus, has told me that my fantasy is different because of my scientific background. I can see that I use biological knowledge in creating new worlds, strange life forms, etc.
Finally, is there anything you’d care to add? Please also include where people can read your published stories, buy your book, etc.
I have also edited science fiction and fantasy and ran a small press that published people like Sean Williams and Shane Dix as well as my own The Sundered World, so I may have a wider perspective on writing than, say, somebody who has only ever been an author. This has helped me when employed to judge fantasy competitions. I also helped Brendan Murphy to set up a teenage fantasy short story competition that went nationwide in Ireland and recruited tens of thousands of applicants.
Thank you, Frank.
Congratulations on your writing success! Be sure to let us know when Book 4 is available.
I just received an email with the following subject:
When Can You Finally Call Yourself a Writer?
It was from Writer's Digest.
I found it a tad sensational and inflammatory and offensive. So naturally I clicked to read the article.
The article is penned by Chuck Sambuchino, editor and writer at large.
Here is the article:
When can you call yourself a writer?
This is an important question in every writer’s life. At what moment in time can you actually refer to yourself as a writer?
But even the very question itself is deceiving, because there are actually two questions here:
When can you look in the mirror and call yourself a writer? And when can you call yourself a writer in front of several complete strangers at a party?
When can you call yourself a writer in private?
Now. Absolutely right now.
Tell yourself in the mirror before you brush your teeth, then again when you’re driving home from work.
Say it so many times that you get exasperated looks from your spouse. Heck, get business cards printed, too. I remember reading somewhere that Robert De Niro will sometimes repeat his lines dozens of times before filming a scene, in an effort to make himself fully believe what he’s saying. That’s your goal: say it, then say it again until you believe it.
When you finally call yourself a writer, it drives home the fact that this is real. It’s serious. We’re no longer talking about some vague ambition. You’re a professional writer who has to produce content, be that novels or nonfiction books or articles or whatever.
Go ahead and say it right now: “I am a writer.” The more it becomes real for you, the more it will drive you to sit down as much as possible and put words on the page.
When can you call yourself a writer in public?
The answer to this question is also now — but this is a different matter altogether. The reason you want to take this step immediately in public is to apply pressure to yourself. If you start telling people that you’re in the middle of a novel, then you darn well better be in the middle of a novel.
But here’s the rub: there are two things that happen when you’re in public and first start referring to yourself as a writer.
The first thing is your friends and spouse may have an irksome tendency to snicker or roll their eyes. The truth is that one cannot become a doctor or welder simply because they say they are. Such professions take degrees and certifications.
But writers don’t need degrees or training, so it may seem like a “cheat” or “exaggeration” to others that you’re suddenly calling yourself something as prestigious as “writer.” So you don’t want to call yourself a writer in public until you’re fully ready to shrug off any silly passive-aggressive nonsense from college buddies.
Quick note from Chuck: I am now taking on clients as a freelance editor. If your query or synopsis or manuscript needs a look from a professional, please consider my editing services. Thanks!
The second thing you must be prepared for is the question that will boomerang back to you 10 times out of 10: “Oh, really — what do you write?”
I don’t care if you are at a book party in Manhattan or a hole-in-the-wall bar in the Yukon. When you say you are a writer, someone will always — always — ask, “What do you write?” and then when you answer with a general response, they will follow that up with, “Anything I might have read?”
Obviously, at the beginning of your career, with no real credits to speak of, you won’t have much to say when people start asking for details. This can cause embarrassing moments of silence, or rambling explanations that reek of self-doubt. So don’t refer to yourself as a writer in public until you have a plan to deal with follow-up questions.
In my opinion, the most important thing to remember when answering such questions is to respond quickly and concisely. Even if your credits are insignificant, if you answer with clarity and speed, it conveys confidence and that you have a plan you don’t need to explain to the world. Try this conversation:
“What do you do?”
“I’m a writer.”
“Oh, cool. What do you write?”
“I’m just starting out. But to answer your question: articles, mostly. Working on a sci-fi novel when I can.”
“Articles — great. Anything I might have read?”
“Not yet, but I’m working on it. I’m really enjoying myself so far.”
True, such answers aren’t impressive, but they’re confident. The writer is in control. It comes off poorly when, upon being asked what they write, a writer stammers incoherently, then answers the question by basically saying, “I’m not really sure yet, and to tell you the truth, I may just have no clue altogether! Hahaha!”
So if you don’t feel like you can confidently answer the question, or are embarrassed to say aloud that you haven’t been published, think twice before mentioning your writerly aspirations at a soiree.
But don’t forget that the sooner you start calling yourself a writer in private and in public, and the sooner you create a website and business cards, the sooner you will realize your career choice is a serious endeavor and demands your time and attention.
And that is what will drive you to sit down, put in the hard work and create.
This is indeed a dilemma writers face. I know it's happened to me loads of times. And, more often than not, I completely blow the answer. I dislike talking about my writing. Which is why I WRITE. If I wanted to speak, I'd be an orator. It helps to be both.
Nevertheless, I want to share my opinion/answer to this dilemma.
If you write, you’re a writer. If you don’t, you’re not.
If you’ve tried, REALLY tried, NOT to write but you couldn’t, and you KNOW in your bones, in your SOUL, that you MUST write, you’re a writer.
As to what to say when someone asks what you write, I’ll relate some good advice given by Lee Roddy in a writing seminar I took eons ago. (Lee invented Grizzly Adams, by the way.) Lee said, “When someone asks you what you write, you say, ‘What are you buying?’ And then shut up.”
Try that. See what happens. It's a bit cheeky and smart-assed and doesn't really answer the question, but hopefully you get my drift.
In reality, go with the Confident Writer response. Even if you barely believe it yourself, lie if you must. Pretend it's a poker game. Bluff a little. Make a game out of it. Reply as though you're a bestseller and everyone knows your work.
Eventually it will come to be your reality.
I would like to know what you guys think. If you're a writer, do you consider yourself one? Do you describe yourself as such?
If you're a reader, at what point do you feel an author can rightfully refer to him- or herself as a writer?
Please visit Chuck's page to see the article and his website and to leave a comment in order to be entered into a contest to win a copy of his new book. Check out his freelance editing services, too. You'll have to email him for rates. Crafty, he is.