Welcome to the two hundred and sixteenth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, editors, publishers and more. Today’s is with multi-genre author Chaz Wood. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Chaz. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Chaz: Chaz Wood. Based in rural Angus, Scotland. Has written silly books and comic strips for his own amusement since the age of 5 – still writes books and comic strips now, but takes them a lot more seriously. Occasionally, other people do, too.
Morgen: Oh I hope not too serious, silly is good. 🙂 What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Chaz: Fiction – general. Adult / contemporary – currently self-published in the genres of thriller, psychological horror, and far-out steampunk / fantasy. Currently working on a wilderness animal adventure for younger readers, a long-term epic dark fantasy, and the odd short film and animation script.
Morgen: A real mixture of genres. I love writing a variety, keeps it fresh, I think. You mentioned self-published, what have you had / self-published to-date?
Chaz: In 2005, my first graphic novel, ‘The Black Flag’, was published by Brigid’s Hearth Press in Idaho. I re-released it in a single digital edition this year (2011). In 2008 I founded ‘Fenriswulf Books’ to release the first 2 books in a series of dark, religious-themed conspiracy thrillers, entitled ‘The Trinity Chronicles’ – the individual titles being ‘Maranatha’ and later, its prequel, ‘Venus in Saturn’. Also in 2008 I edited an anthology of weird, dark and humorous works by local writers, ‘A Surfeit of Mandrake’, featuring poetry, short stories, comic strips, art and drama. In 2011 I published the first 3 episodes of the steampunk / fantasy series, ‘The Wish & the Will’, in two e-book formats: Kindle-friendly text-only versions, and fully-illustrated, colour editions, available from my webpage. Also a couple of graphic novels – a Scottish historical satire / fantasy (‘Sword of Lochglen’, now in its 3rd issue) and an illustrated adult occult / horror / fantasy, ‘Angel of Vengeance’ (now in its 2nd).
Morgen: Wow. And there was I think I’ve been busy. 🙂 Do you have a favourite of your books or characters?
Chaz: I think I like all my characters – in different ways. Probably Mr. Jeth Sundancer, the narrator and anti-hero of the ‘Wish & the Will’ series, is my favourite as he is basically a cynical, wise-cracking, and rather more adventurous version of me. However, Captain Ssorg, the crusty reptilian riverboat captain, runs a close second. Wish-fulfilment, and living out one’s dreams by proxy, is a fringe benefit of writing fiction that ought not to be underestimated.
Morgen: Does that make you then a semi-cynical, semi-wise-cracking, semi-adventurous crusty reptilian riverboat captain who’s fun to take to parties? 🙂 As for underestimation, I encourage anyone to have a go at writing. I have a couple of non-writing friends who read a lot and when they’ve read some of my stories they’ve said that they couldn’t do something like that (friends are going to say nice things aren’t they :)) but I say they should try because they’ll (we) never know what will come out and that’s the bit I love. I can’t think that anyone, however hard they plot, will stick to the plan 100%. If applicable, can you remember where you first saw one of your books in a bookshop?
Chaz: In Borders in Dundee, in late 2008. Sitting out on a big table near the door, and also on the ‘general fiction’ shelf beside Virginia Woolf. Flattered and amused!
Morgen: 🙂 It’s a shame we don’t have Borders any more. Our only bookshop is Waterstone’s and their short story anthology section is tiny. 😦 What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Chaz: Nothing formally accepted yet. I founded Fenriswulf because, after years of chasing after agents and publishers, I grew tired of the whole waiting game and simply wanted to see some works out there. ‘Maranatha’ was my first publicly-released full-length work of prose, in summer 2008.
Morgen: I felt the same (although I’ve had some short pieces published) but that’s the joy of self-publishing, eBooks in my case, you have total control. 🙂 Have you had any rejections?
Chaz: Too many to remember – it depended upon how constructive they were. The Xeroxed cut-and-paste “not what we are looking for at this time, good luck for the future” jobs always ended up straight in the bin.
Morgen: Mine have gone in a red display book (blue for acceptances :)). Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Chaz: No, and yes, assuming the writer is shortlisted or wins. I haven’t entered a competition since the late ’90s. I think the boost to confidence and the publicity must be huge for high-profile winners, though.
Morgen: Definitely good for the CV. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Chaz: No. And yes.
Morgen: We’ve mentioned self-publishing, are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? Do you have any plan to write any eBook-only stories? And do you read eBooks?
Chaz: Yes. All of my books and other works are available for download. I find Amazon’s Kindle formatting process rather frustrating and it plays merry hell with Open Office’s own formatting at times by doing things like this. It also doesn’t like illustrations, while I do, which means my full-colour illustrated ‘Wish & the Will’ and other graphic novels are only available from the FWB website. All but my first two books – ‘Maranatha’ and ‘Mandrake’ are available in eBook format only, although the ‘Sword of Lochglen’ series is still produced in print editions, for sale in local comics stores.
Morgen: I have Kindle to look forward to. Smashwords seemed scary by having a 70+ page style guide but it was so user-friendly that it wasn’t bad at all, once I’d set aside time to tackle it. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Chaz: Nowhere near enough, but that’s all down to never having enough spare time to do everything I need and want to do in general, anyway. But all the marketing for FWB and individual titles is done by me personally (apart from one or two lovely people who have taken it upon themselves to ‘champion’ me and my stuff in the past).
Morgen: Doing this blog has made me realise how willing people are to assist, and how grateful they are when they are offered assistance in return. This industry seems to be like no other (in my experience anyway) with everyone actively helping others to do well – maybe it’s one of the hardest, I don’t know but it’s certainly the most enjoyable ‘work’ I know. Do you write under a pseudonym? Do you think they make a difference to an author’s profile?
Chaz: No. I believe they do help, in certain circumstances – especially if the nom de plume is of the opposite gender to the writer, or the material is not what one might associate with the writer’s own gender. People can be quite judgemental.
Morgen: I know some male authors who’ve found it hard breaking into romance (for an example) and have taken female pennames and vice versa. JK Rowling went with her initials because she wrote the books for boys, and look how that turned out. 🙂 … which leads me nicely on to my next question: If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Chaz: I spend a lot of time when developing characters in thinking through this very question to allow me to fine-tune character mannerisms, nuances, tics and speech patterns. The ‘Trinity Chronicles’ would, in my mind, star Anthony Hopkins as Prof. Tomas de Carranza; Morgan Freeman as Dr. Khalamanga; Peter Wingfield as Father Rattus; Rutger Hauer as Inspector Petersen, and Miranda Richardson as Vanessa Descartes; the villains would be Jean Marsh as Karmen Brandt and the late, great Ian Richardson as Ralph Hesse. Such casting is pure fantasy, but can be invaluable in keeping a consistent characterization.
Morgen: Perhaps if not played by the actors, they could be ‘voiced’ by them. 🙂 I find pictures of real people really helpful when developing characters and an exercise I often set in our Monday night workshops. Your covers are fantastic (pardon the pun) how much say do you have in the title / covers of your books?
Chaz: Since I’m self-published, as well as a part-time commercial illustrator, I have total control over all aspects of art and design. I think cover art and design is vitally important and overlooked by some small-press publishers out there. Too many self-published works seem to rely on stock images, or badly-juxtaposed lettering and artwork. Design is a complex field and if not undertaken with sufficient understanding, can make a book look cheap or amateurish. Obviously bespoke artwork is generally expensive but for small companies, or individual self-publishers, they really ought to invest as much as they possibly can afford in this area. My own book cover artwork tends to be bright, and in a somewhat bold and ‘cartoonish’ style – in an attempt to capture viewer interest when a cover image is seen in a tiny half-inch thumbnail on a website. If they ever were to be produced for traditional printing, I’d likely tone down the more garish tendencies and play up the subtleties, as a bricks-and-mortar store is a completely different environment.
Morgen: That’s one area I’m not particularly experienced in, especially given I’ve gone eBook only. You’ve mentioned so many projects, what are you working on at the moment / next? Do you manage to write every day?
Chaz: I find time to write when I can, even if it means deliberately taking time out from other things to do so. I try not to force it every single day, but a lot of my writing gets done in my head while doing other things. I’ve been producing a weekly IT support / geek webcomic called ‘Geekz’ for an Israeli-hosted adult humour website, www.2laugh.com, for well over a year now.
Morgen: Now that is variety. 🙂 What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it?
Chaz: I don’t believe in it, at least, not in the accepted sense. I believe it’s really just a nice way to describe a fear of the blank page, or of turning out work that may somehow not be quite up to the writer’s own personal expectations, or hopes. Just write, in these cases. Anything. Even if it gets shredded and binned, writing something is always better than writing nothing. If it turns out to be rubbish, then that’s some rubbish you’ve got out of your system. I’ve never had writer’s block as such – developing the labyrinthine and multi-layered plots of ‘Maranatha’ and ‘Venus in Saturn’ did leave me stuck fast several times, and this year I pretty much hit a creative burn-out in general, having spent the first 6 months working flat out on multiple projects.
Morgen: Absolutely, you can’t edit a blank page but equally concentrating on one thing is hard (or I find it so). I’ve written three novels for 2008-2010 NaNoWriMos and found tying all the loose ends together tough. I cheated this year and wrote three anthologies and that was much easier (except that I did Day 1 then left it to Days 23 to 30 to finish the rest… which I did, just). Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Chaz: Mainly the latter. I have a very ad hoc way of plotting, which tends to grow out of characters and situations, dialogue, and fragments of scenes. Once the characters are developed enough, they’ll find their own storylines, and subconsciously tell me what they will and will not wish to do – whether that lies within my original plan, or not. Fighting characters for control of my own plot is a rather disturbing notion, but it does happen.
Morgen: And I love that. I’m going to quote JK Rowling again, but apparently she wanted to kill off a particular character in the seventh book and he (or she?) didn’t want to be killed off so JK killed off another – poor thing! Continuing on the theme of characters, do you have a method for creating yours, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Chaz: No method as such, mainly derived from piecemeal observations of real people, talented actors, and from having a strong mental image of each one in my head to the point that their scenes become cinematic when I mentally play through them. Sometimes I’ll act a scene out in front of a mirror, in character, to grasp a difficult piece of dialogue or develop a scene. Names are vitally important. A character doesn’t begin to live for me until I have developed their full name, and understood the meaning behind it. One thing I like about writing fantasy is that it allows greater freedom in naming characters, and names can be custom-built to an individual specification.
Morgen: And you have some wonderful ones. 🙂 Do you write any non-fiction, poetry or short stories?
Chaz: I’ve written some retro film reviews, and a few articles on aspects of ‘history horrors’. These were commissioned by a US website a couple of years ago. I also wrote a few short horror stories for the same site, which were very interesting to do as the short story format is a very demanding one.
Morgen: It is but I love it. 🙂 Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Chaz: Proper editing only really comes once I’ve nailed down a readable complete first draft. I’ll strike at the worst excesses as I go along but when I’m on a roll, I’ll write furiously without a care for ‘nuts and bolts’, going more for the right tone, keeping the flow, and getting down the gist of what I want to say. Fine tuning takes an incredibly long time thereafter. I think I spent over a year editing ‘Venus in Saturn’, the first month or two of which was spent almost entirely cutting bleeding chunks out and re-arranging sections.
Morgen: Ouch. I don’t spend as long as you although I do three or four edits then it goes off to my editor who I know will likely pull it apart so I’m not as thorough as I could be. Do you have to do much research?
Chaz: Yes, absolutely loads. The ‘Trinity Chronicles’ devoured hundreds of hours of research time online, and also through my own collection of esoteric and historical books. I remember by early 2006 having well over a hundred web pages bookmarked, many of which never actually used in the final writing. I think I downloaded the entire available Nag Hammadi library. And while ‘The Wish & the Will’ is generally whimsical, magical fantasy, it’s heavily steeped in fairy-tale and folklore, and I’ve studied these areas endlessly in search of motifs, story threads and underlying meanings. I sometimes write with a forensic level of detail and will research anything I don’t actually know, rather than just guess – for example I recall spending about three hours one afternoon researching Austrian firearms laws for the sake of two lines of dialogue in ‘Maranatha’.
Morgen: You are so thorough, but then if a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing well, and all that. Some writers like quiet, others the noise of a coffee shop etc., do you listen to music or have noise around you when you write or do you need silence?
Chaz: Silence, usually. Occasionally some background instrumental or non-lyrical music for inspiration, such as favourite classical pieces or film scores for motivation.
Morgen: Me too; Classic FM or iTunes on ‘classical’ sort. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Chaz: Second person: no. First person seems to come easier and more naturally to me, and I’ve used it a lot – it also helps to avoid potential head-hopping point-of-view problems. That said, all of the ‘Trinity Chronicles’ are written in third person, although they too have their first-person epistolary sections.
Morgen: Do try second, it’s great. I love it because it produces some really dark pieces, although not really suited for anything particularly long. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Chaz: Unfinished pieces, yes. But ultimately I hope to complete everything I’ve started, some day, and make a go of getting them all out there, in some form. I have an epic fantasy series, based on Old Norse sagas and folklore, that I began in 1987 which is still struggling to find its first completed draft. That series is least likely to ‘make it’, but aspects of it creep through into my other works – the race of cat-people who feature prominently in it, for example, also appear in the world of Middengarth in ‘The Wish and the Will’. I’m a king of recycling – ideas, storylines, names, characters will tend to find a suitable home somewhere, eventually, even if they have to go through several incarnations to get there.
Morgen: Absolutely, nothing is really wasted, even if it just sits marinating until it or you are ready. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Chaz: Just having the faculties to be able to do it is exciting enough in itself. Learning and developing the craft is great fun, as is the process of creation – whether characters, plots, revelations, or just sculpting blocks of text on a page to become readable, interesting prose. I don’t like not having enough time to read these days, so sometimes I find myself working in a bit of a vacuum and feeling my way.
Morgen: I can relate to the lack of time, although I’m hoping leaving the day job behind will help. 🙂 What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Chaz: Never give up. Don’t let bad reviews or critiques get you down, and don’t let good ones go to your head. One review is only one person’s thoughts.
Morgen: It is. We’re all different, and like different things… thankfully. What do you like to read?
Chaz: Exciting, unpredictable prose that forces me to think and inspires me to write – James Joyce, Anthony Burgess, Umberto Eco, Kingsley Amis, Evelyn Waugh. Although I produce graphic novels, I read very few comics – most tend not to appeal to me. I always loved Tintin books, though – I think Herge inspired me immeasurably as a kid.
Morgen: I saw the Tintin film recently, SO clever. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook?
Chaz: Christopher Marlowe, Jesus Christ, Che Guevara. Vegetable soup.
Morgen: I’m no cook but I think I could manage vegetable soup. 🙂 Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Chaz: I always liked the quote: ‘You never regret cutting anything out of a novel’. From Hemingway, I think.
Morgen: It could well be. I thought I was going to be really useful and Googled it but it only listed your sites so I can’t help you there. Maybe someone reading this will know. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Chaz: Illustrating, and drawing for fun. Writing songs / music – playing guitar or bass guitar (having played in rock bands since the late ’90s). Viewing films. Reading non-fiction – history, language, psychology, science, reference and esoterica. Occasionally video games – I’m a long-term fan of the classic fantasy strategy series ‘Heroes of Might and Magic’.
Morgen: Not heard of that although I was an Ian Livingstone / Steve Jackson choose your story books when I was younger. No, probably completely different. 🙂 Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Chaz: Many, all of which I’ve listed on my own blog page. From DIY self-publishing resources to helpful review sites, and just generally wonderful individuals who like to write, and promote other writers too. Here’s two such people I’ll give a free plug to: Natasha Larry: http://www.paranormalwire.blogspot.com, Alison DeLuca: http://alisondeluca.blogspot.com and Rainy Kaye http://www.rainyofthedark.com.
Morgen: Plugs are definitely allowed here. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Chaz: Facebook, with a business account – which is a format I find rather limited for marketing and support as it rather relies upon users coming to me, rather than me reaching out to them. I don’t use it very often as a result. I use Deviantart.com for my illustration works which also has mention of my writing projects with which they are associated, but no actual literary samples are posted there. I have picked up a few jobs from there and made a couple of wonderful friends / contacts / clients. I tried Goodreads.com for half a year but I didn’t like the site much, found it awkward to navigate and interact with, and eventually left it.
Morgen: I’ve heard good things about Deviantart (interviewee no.161 Alicia L Wright mentioned it) and I’ve joined Goodreads (because I received a Google alert to say Goodreads had listed one of my eBooks) but not done anything with it yet other than accept friend requests. 🙂 What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Chaz: I think it’s quite up in the air. The potential is colossal, even intimidating. The whole online / digital revolution is still sending shockwaves through the industry – self-publishing has never been easier nor cheaper, and while I’ve always advocated the DIY ethos of creating art and media, the proliferation of it online now makes it difficult to distinguish oneself from the background noise and convince anyone that a new work is worth anything, or indeed, worth even nothing, as many digital books seem to be offered free on Amazon and elsewhere now. I think long-term, this means that conventional publishers and agents will be looking for a much higher return on investment overall – either with lower advances for printed, traditionally-published works, or just refuse to take so many chances on ‘iffy’ works – experimental, controversial, niche genres, etc. I expect only the most bankable new authors and works will end up being published before too long. The potential audience for writing has never been so great, but currently I still subscribe to the ‘long tail’ theory of internet recognition. My prediction is that traditional publishing will suffer, and may end up going the way of Hollywood – reduced to an endless parade of quick-fix fast buck-making rewrites, sequels, and genre pieces filled with glitz and glitter but lacking substance.
Morgen: Sadly, I tend to agree. Regarding eBooks I do think that reviews will lead readers through the quagmire as an author can only have so many friends. 🙂 Where can we find out about you and your work?
Chaz: My writer’s / self-publisher’s homepage has all the latest news, gossip, and truth: http://www.fenriswulf-books.co.uk.
Morgen: And a fine-looking site it is. Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Chaz: Just how grateful I am for kind people like you to offer total strangers like me the medium to talk about themselves and their work in public. Self-promotion is perpetual, tiring and often unrewarding but you and others like you help to make it worth the effort.
Morgen: You’re so welcome. It’s hard work but I really enjoy it and I say that I’ll keep doing what I do as long as the authors keep doing what they do (asking to take part) or until I’ve interviewed every writer in existence. This blog really wouldn’t be what it is though without you all so I’m equally grateful. 🙂 And thank you Chaz, for being today’s.
I then invited Chaz to include an excerpt of his writing and he tells me this is from the opening chapter of ‘Maranatha’:
The streets of Zvornik lay broken, the black outlines of buildings mere cutouts against a grubby smudge of sky. The bombs, the shooting and the screams had all subsided to the still of the grave. Only the dead remained to see the pale grey morning and all 100,000 acres of this Hell.
The silence was broken by a regular rhythm; steel ringing against stone, the scene given movement by a tall figure striding. His dress was black, from beret to boots. Leather gloved fingers slipped a foreign cigarette from a breast pocket filled with trophies, igniting it with a silver-plated lighter, as Captain Gavrilo Silajdzic marched through the remains of the old City of the Bell Tower. The smoke of undying fires merged with mist which crept over the River Drina and veiled the tops of the tallest buildings which huddled together like homeless children. The beauty of the mountains and the river valley was blackened, all nature banished. He saw no evidence of any historic towers now as he turned a corner, nor would he have cared if he had, for ahead of him lay his final destination, the end of his six-day journey from Sarajevo.
The Church of St. George crouched at the end of the road, its half-open doors revealing blackness beyond, but still the most welcoming sight he had seen that past week. As he entered, he brought shafts of cold daylight with him to stimulate sounds of life inside, the first he had heard all day. Patches of blotchy skin shuddered beneath ragged shawls and blankets, mumbling sorrow. Peasants. Unpleasant, pestilent…
Chaz Wood was born in 1973 and currently writes for a living, though not the kind of material he would prefer. His day job involves responding to technical queries via email for one of the UK’s biggest supplier of Broadband internet services, and his first novel ‘Maranatha’ was partly composed and edited during lunch breaks on quiet back shifts. Published in 2008, ‘Maranatha’ was his first full-length work of prose, and brings together many of his personal interests; the development of the Western Church, esoteric mysticism and medieval history. It is also the first book in what has since become the ‘Trinity Chronicles’ series and was followed by a prequel, the psychological horror ‘Venus in Saturn’. Now working on the rest of the books in the ‘Trinity Chronicles’, and a number of quirky fantasy novels entitled ‘The Wish and the Will’, amongst many other exciting things.
Update August 2012: “I recently (last week) released the first part in an illustrated retelling of the ‘Ring’ Cycle, but that (and commercial commissions) is what I’ve been working on since the start of this year. The artwork’s also been drawing loads of positive comment from fans of fantasy and mythological art on Deviantart.com, too.”
Morgen: Woo hoo! Congratulations. 🙂
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