I am still stuck in Moving Hell and I can’t get out. Honestly, they will have to sandblast me from here because I’m never moving again. Internet won’t be set up until later this week; in the meantime, thank the Universe for wi-fi hotspots and great caffeine.
*I first “met” (in the internet way) Peter V. Brett on a journaling site about five years ago. It’s a small site, and the group of us that journal there became familiar with each other and bonded like a family. “Peat” to his friends, his political rants are legendary; his struggle to finish his novel working a full-time job inspiring; his support as a friend second to none. I was interested to find out his opinion about blogging and how it impacted his writing career.
1. I know you’ve been blogging for a long time. My question is, would you say having an online journal has had any effect on your writing?
I think any opportunity to practice your craft is going to have a positive influence on it, although I don’t count writing for my blog towards my daily writing quota. I think the blog has helped in other ways, as well. It gave me an outlet to express my thoughts and feelings on a number of things, which had a positive effect on my state of mind and life overall, and more importantly, it built relationships between me and my readers (as well as with those others whose blogs I myself follow) that lent strength and support to me while I was struggling, and has proven a loyal support base now that I am writing professionally. My hope is that moving forward, the blog will serve as a comfortable forum for interaction between me an my readers (I still have a hard time thinking of them as “fans”). It seems to be moving in that direction.
*One thing writers love to do, and that’s discuss the craft of writing. This next question reminds me of what comes first – the chicken or the egg? To me, Peat is the epitome of what you can accomplish if you have the will, the drive, and the talent. I wanted to know how he felt about the writing process.
2. Do you believe writing is a skill or a talent, or a combination of both? Why or why not?
I guess both, though I think it is an equation heavily weighted in favor of skill. Some people are naturally better than others at expressing themselves, but even the most naturally talented still require considerable training and practice to achieve professional level, be it musically, artistically, or in writing.
I think the belief that some people are “just gifted” is a fiction created and maintained by people unwilling to face the fact that success requires devotion, sacrifice, and hard work. The first book I ever wrote was a piece of shit. The second was much better, but still amateurish. The third was good, but not good enough for anyone to want to buy it. The fourth has sold all over the world, and will be translated into a dozen languages.
Each of those books took me YEARS to write. Long years of learning, of giving up time with my friends and family, staying in when I could have gone out, banging my head against the keyboard late at night when I had work the next day and should have been sleeping. I’m no more “talented” than anyone else, I am just passionate about my writing. I think if I had been passionate about something else, I think I would be just good at whatever that was, because I would have worked hard to become so.
Writers are always making excuses for why they cannot write. They don’t have time. They have writer’s block. They’re not talented. They lost their lucky pen. Whatever. I do it too. We all do. But it’s important to realize that all those excuses are just that. In the end, ain’t nothin’ to it but to do it.
*We all fantasize what life would be like should we realize our most cherished dreams. Not many people have the dedication and will to make those dreams come true, and I was curious as to what happens when reality meets the dream.
3. How has the reality of being a full-time writer compared with your dreams?
It’s very different. I always envisioned a very relaxed life as a writer, sitting by the window in a house in the country, tapping away at the keyboard as autumn leaves fell outside, free to get up and take a break whenever I wanted.
Boy, was I wrong. I work much harder now than I ever did when I was chained to a cubicle working for the man. In many ways I never stop working, because my home is now my office, and there is no separation of my home life and work life. There are also a lot of aspects of writing professionally that I was unprepared for. International tax paperwork is a bitch. Keeping my website updated is a constant ongoing project. Going to conventions, approving art and jacket copy, signing books, giving interviews, negotiating sales, editing your last book and simultaneously writing your next, all of these are things you don’t think of when envisioning your dream job.
But that said, it still IS my dream job, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.
*Our characters often take on a life of their own. As writers, we invest in them and live with them, and in a longer work, sometimes that’s years and years. I wondered if Peat had a “favorite child”, and who that might be. I should have known a good “dad” doesn’t show favoritism between his children.
4. What character(s) from The Warded Man do you relate to the most, and why?
I think I relate to all of them in some ways. I try to get into the heads of all my characters, big and small. I’m something of a method actor in that way. Name any bit character, and I can tell you their hopes, dreams, and motivations. If I’ve given someone a name, chances are they have a story to tell, even if I never get around to telling it. Each of them represents a part of me, or of my understanding of others, and I relate to them all.
*Again, the writing process is fascinating to writers. I’m always interested in what works for other writers, and I have found in talking to other writers that music often plays a big part, which led to this next question.
5. Do you listen to music as you write? What is your music playlist like?
Always. I would go insane without my writing music. I tend to choose music that is soothing and pleasing, or that provides a lot of energy, but without being distracting. I like a lot of female vocalists like Loreena McKennitt, Medieval Baebes, Enya, Sarah Brightman, Christina Aguilera, Fiona Apple, Milla Jovovich, Mindy Smith, and the like. I also really enjoy The Decemberists, Iron & Wine, Clutch, Tool, A Perfect Circle, Drive-By Truckers, Apocalyptica, Metallica, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Simon & Garfunkel, and about a billion others. Sometimes I just put all 80 GB of music on my iPod (about 15,000 songs) on random.
*If this next answer isn’t an endorsement of the re-write process, I don’t know what is. And that’s all I’m going to say here lest I become redundant. Heh.
6. What was one of the most surprising things you learned when writing your book? What aspect surprised you the most?
I think I was most surprised to find that when I go back to edit a first draft, I can usually cut 2-3 words out of every sentence and never miss them. I also tend to make the same points over and over, and write more than I need to. Like here. The last three sentences of this answer are totally redundant and unnecessary.
*In my opinion, a writer who can tell a good story will never have a dearth of subject matter or willing fans. In my opinion, Peat could write the phone book and I’d be reading, but I wanted to know what else was lurking inside the Peephole.
7. When you’re finished with this series of books, do you have something else in the works? Where do you hope to take your writing in the future?
I have a partially written trilogy in an entirely different fantasy world that I often entertain thoughts of “fixing”. There is some good mineral in those old books, if I’m willing to do the work to mine it. The setting is much more High Fantasy, with powerful wizards, magic swords, and demihuman races, which is a little cliché in some ways, but I think I brought a new twist and tone to that sub-genre, and would be interested to see if that was something my current readers would like.
It’s hard to say, though. I expect to be working on the Warded Man series for the next 7 years or so, and who knows what my plans will be then.
*Peat and I went round and round on the next subject in email, and it was enlightening and even heated in spots. The pace and ways that publishing continues to change is a sensitive subject to many; I wanted to know Peat’s thoughts on the whole process.
8. What are your thoughts about Kindle, self-publishing and online publishing?
I think the Kindle is one of the most fantastic pieces of technology ever, and it (or other e-readers like it) will change the way we read forever, much like the iPod changed the way we listen to music. Those of us who grew up with print will always have a special place in our hearts for it, and many of us can’t imagine it ever going away, but I think that’s a product of nurture and not nature. My 8 month old daughter will probably do all her reading on a Kindle-like device by the time she’s old enough to read on her own, and will likely think me old-fashioned for my overflowing shelves of musty paper.
That said, it remains to be seen if digital print technology will totally devastate the publishing industry the way MP3’s did the music industry through illegal file-sharing. Already, you can get a free bootleg of just about any book you want (including mine) on most any Torrent site. Right now, it’s not a big deal, but as years go by and more and more people get e-readers, it’s going to become a real problem.
As for self and online publishing… it depends on what your goals are. There are a few breakout success stories about self and online publishing by unknown writers, but they are a drop in the ocean compared to the number of people doing it. If you just love writing and want people to be able to read your work, or if you are actively seeking criticism while you perfect your craft, that’s one thing. But of your goal is to become a paid professional writer, I would strongly advise against self-publishing or putting all your hard work online for free, apart from carefully chosen samples.
I think fear of (or exhaustion from) rejection pushes a lot of people to those other options, but self-published work carries a much higher per-unit cost than professionally published work, because of the print run sizes (I know this for a fact, as I spent a decade in print production), and the odds of getting someone who has never met you to shell out $30 for a paperback book are pretty slim unless you are a skilled salesperson with a unique product and are willing to be really pushy. Even then, your odds of seeing any kind of return on your investment are equally low.
Publishing online is cheaper and easier; anyone can do it; but publisher are seldom interested in paying for something that’s been available for free, and unless you’re getting thousands of hits per day on your site, you’re not going to make sufficient ad revenue to even pay your monthly internet bill.
Not the answer most folks want to hear, perhaps, but that’s my $.02 on the subject.
*There’s so much advice out there for aspiring writers, it’s hard to tell what’s good and bad. Peat’s answer to this next question is not only true for most things in life, but very Zen-like. He’s going to need that Zen when his daughter gets older. Heh.
9. What was the worst writing advice you’ve ever received?
Robert Jordan once told me to never take my target audience and the market into account when I was writing, and to only write what I wanted. That was bad advice. My friend (and fellow author) Myke Cole, gave me the opposite advice, to always base your writing in what the readers want and what will sell in the current market. Equally bad. The answer, as always, lies in between.
*Often, the tastes of favorite authors reflects the writer within. I wanted to know who Peat’s preference was, and why.
10. Who is your favorite author to read, and what is it about their work that strikes you?
Probably George RR Martin. His work has a level of complexity that is staggering, and he puts you in the heads of a seemingly endless stream of characters from both genders and all walks of life in a way that makes you really feel as if you are living life vicariously through them. Martin also has an “anything can happen” quality to his work that makes the reader invest heavily in every page, because they know he’s not afraid to kill or maim anyone, even the book’s protagonists, if the story demands it. If you haven’t read A Game of Thrones yet, get to it. The prose is beautiful, the symbolism is deep and meaningful, and the story will take your breath away.
*I want to thank Peat for taking the time from his busy schedule to answer my questions, some of which I’m sure he’s sick to death of answering. Not only is he a great guy, he’s an excellent writer, and if you haven’t read “The Warded Man” yet, get your heinie out and nab you a copy. I have become quite the reading snob with time so short these days, and I hate it when I buy a book and it sucks. It wastes not only my money, but my time, and that irritates me to no end. However, “The Warded Man” gets my 100% endorsement, and not just because Peat’s my friend. It is a fabulous book, worth every minute and every penny. I’m on my third reading now, and plan a few more.
You won’t be disappointed, I promise.
Look for this interview to appear in the June issue of Skive Magazine.
Thanks again, Peat!