Interview for "The Knights of Ril"
It happened over the summer of 2021. I did two author interviews. The one I'm presenting here was my second, and the longest. As you'll see, it covered a lot of ground! (In case you're wondering, here's my first author interview.)
Science fiction and fantasy author W.D. Killpack III asked me if I was interested in doing an author interview for his blog and newsletter (of which members are called "The Knights Of Ril").
I said yes, of course.
He sent me a list of nearly 40 questions.
At first, I was shocked. So many questions!
(Please tell me the exact count in the comments at the end: I never got to count them right.)
Then I decided to put my shoulder to the wheel. It took me a whole week of writing time to get all the way through the list.
But it was worth it.
The questions were relevant and interesting. Many of them, down-right exciting. They covered a lot, from myself and my writing, to my book and how I plan to find readers for it. It was a challenge to answer them all, not only because there were so many of them, but also because they forced me to think hard and deep, oftentimes on things I hadn't really considered before. I'll be forever grateful to W.D. Killpack III for asking me these questions: from the pause for thought they forced me to take (or run through), I gathered new, personal, meaningful insights.
W. D. Killpack III published my answers on his platform, with the occasional edit and cut.
It took me a while to decide to publish the interview here, full without the cuts. Maybe I was too busy. Or too lazy, or too overwhelmed by the prospect of clicking on all the questions fo format them. Your pick!
Today, I suggest you grab a good cup of coffee (or tea, or a wee dram, or a beer) and sit... (Wine is also a perfectly acceptable option, and so is chocolate. Tell me if I'm forgetting your favourite thing to drink or eat while reading a long but (I hope) fascinating author interview. ;)
Down here, you might find exclusive insight into my settings and characters - like how I would cast them, for instance, if the story were to be a movie... And who knows, if you read far enough, you might stumble on a brand new excerpt down below, from my work in progress, Seven Drifts.
Interview: Nicolas Lemieux
Nicolas Lemieux - Short Bio My name is Nicolas Lemieux and I live in Montreal with my wife Marie-Claude, in a third-storey apartment overlooking an interesting, green back-alley. My chosen writing genre is science fiction, primarily space opera. I get my kicks out of dreaming up astonishing worlds packed with a sharp palette of badass, quirky characters who get tangled up in all manners of meaningful trouble. Often funny, sometimes disquieting, always exciting. Get your free giveaway story: "Cradle" Social Media Twitter - Instagram - Facebook - LinkedIn - Pinterest
Nicolas Lemieux, tell us about yourself. Where are you from?
I grew up in Canada, in a Quebec city suburb called Sainte-Foy. My parents, my sister and I lived in France for three years, back when I was between 9 and 12. Then back in Québec for high school. I studied sciences, physics, then singing and classical music. I moved to Waterloo, Ontario with my wife Marie-Claude to work with a famous voice professor there, then to Montreal, where we’ve been living ever since.
What first got you into writing?
First it was playing. From the age of six or seven, until my late teens, I spent so many days with my friends, imagining fantastic adventures, fighting pirates on the high seas, riding on the back of whales, inventing clever technologies that could bring you back from the dead, make you as small as a fly, or soar to the stars to explore the weirdest of worlds. I remember, one such world was made entirely of sand, but its core was a gigantic diamond.
Then it was reading. Reading got me through the tough and complicated times of growing up. It helped me adapt when confronted to new environments. It helped me live through challenging family situations. It gave me a safe haven, away from the violent high school hallways and all the bullies—the school library was my refuge, and I spent countless hours there.
Reading is the best virtual reality tech that was ever invented or ever will be. As soon as I opened a book, I was there. I was the protagonist, my own flesh and blood living through the story, drinking in the world and its every single detail. I always came out transformed at the end.
I want to pass this on, I want to “pay it forward”, so to speak. I want readers to experience my virtual realities, and I hope they get as much out of it as I did—and still do—whenever I read a good book.
As a kid, I would read basically anything I got my hands on, but I favoured adventure. Jack London. Jules Verne. Henri Vernes (unrelated). Then I discovered science fiction. Fantasy. Historical fiction. Non fiction. Back to sci-fi.
Much later, even though I progressed as a classical singer, I was dissatisfied with my creative possibilities. Acting and singing at the same time on a stage was a true kind of bliss, and it was getting me nearer to what I really loved—becoming a character and touching on what it was to experience a slice of their lives, over and over with each performance, getting a little deeper into it each time… But first, opportunities were limited in that line of work, and second, there were so many things I wanted and liked to read and to learn about; I couldn’t see a way to get them all to work together in my life. Music: check. Acting and living other lives vicariously: check. Sciences, physics and technologies: I was missing them. Creation rather than execution: I was also missing that—a lot.
This is when I realized it: writing was the only way to do it. I could write about anything I ever wanted to, and I could combine that anything with anything else in any which way I liked.
I know you write fiction, have you ever thought about writing a nonfiction book? Why or why not?
Yes I have. I’ve been listening to the Story Grid Podcast for years now, binging from the top and never missing one single episode. I listened, enthralled, as editor Shawn Coyne and writer Tim Grahl went through a lot of stuff. The writing of Tim’s first novel, The Threshing. The writing of his first memoir/big-idea nonfiction Running Down a Dream. You can’t listen to so much advice about non fiction without having a few ideas of your own.
I wrote down my ideas for later. I have a number of them so far, but they haven’t yet received the attention they would need to flourish to their full potential. Having the ideas in the first place, I think, is the easy part. What’s actually hard is to turn them into something good. This is why right now I’m focussing on my debut novel, Seven Drifts. It’s been a while, and there is still a way to go.
What are your writing goals?
To take over the world. Muahahaha.
Okay, seriously. I want to keep getting better so that one day, I can be proud to have brought something worthwhile into the world. I’m fascinated by the idea of adding something to the universe, creating something where nothing existed before, something beautiful if possible, or at least, something minimally useful—something with the potential to make life incrementally better, or less painful, or just a bit more vivid, or colourful. In the end, it would make me happy to have touched lives in that kind of way with my stories. If I can achieve even one tiny figment of a fragmental thousandth of a percent of that, I know it will all have been worthwhile.
Besides, the process itself is transforming me. My own life is made better by it. If only for that, it’s already worthwhile.
Yeah, it takes time. A lot of it, and it’s perfectly alright. I guess I could say it’s my life’s ultimate project, or something in that vein.
Each time I glue my butt to a chair and write, I hope I get a little better. I plan to keep striving for that for years to come, and I will enjoy working hard toward that goal. I don’t mind doing it forever.
But then again, all good and shiny, but if no one knows about it, then how can my writing ever touch anyone else than myself? This is why growing my writing platform has become an integral part of my overall goal. Of course, making a living through writing would be a major blast; I could spend less time doing other things, and more time writing. But even more importantly, I see the act of reaching out to a lot of people as the best way to share my inner worlds and stories. This ties back nicely to my first goal of touching people’s lives.
What is one of the things you are most thankful for as a writer?
There is a bunch. Trying my hand at it and finding out I was able to persist and work on a project long term, reaching out to my developmental editor Courtney Harrell—a first scary step!—and finding out she was super psyched by my story, and so encouraging, and so helpful.
I’m also thankful for the new technologies that have up-ended the writing world over the last twenty years.
Quite frankly, when I put my website online at the end of last year, I had hopes and expectations, and I had a simple plan: basic website, fledgeling blog, empty email list, vague ideas about what to send my eventual readers…
What I didn’t have though, was assurance that any of it would ever work, and that I would ever want to keep on doing it.
It’s been only eight months so far, and I’ve been in contact with more people than I could imagine I would be able to. I’ve reached out and met (in writing, so far) so many, diverse, interesting people, with so many different ways of being helpful: nothing had prepared me for that.
These nice and interesting people gave me a word of advice here, a dose of encouragement there, a nice suggestion, even a compliment sometimes—more than once in fact. Wow.
All of it, so welcome! Thank you so much, folks.
And some people opened new doors for me, with things like this very detailed interview for instance, or with newsletter swaps… and soon I hear, with eventual podcast chats and Youtube appearances. I am still adapting, still stretching my comfort zone, still trying my hand at answering all these crucial questions, and still making up a lot of the answers as I go...
But I’m open to all of it, and I feel so grateful that it is happening.
What’s the most interesting book you’ve ever read?
Ouch. It hurts! Just the idea of making a choice here… But I would have to say: Anathem, by Neal Stephenson.
I’m generally aware—as much as my limited human brain can be—of the infinity of possibilities in the universe of fiction. But reading Anathem gave me a wider view into the number of these infinities. Reading Anathem was a bit like having my brain squared, then squared again, to the nth dimension. Anathem made me scratch my head and massage it, wondering whether the jelly inside my skull was about to unwrap like a chocolate candy bar, or fold upon itself and disappear into some kind of mental black hole.
Anathem is one of my all-times favourites. I chose it for my very first book review when I started blogging [https://www.nicolaslemieux.com/post/anathem-by-neal-stephenson].
What book are you currently reading?
Daring Greatly, by Brené Brown. A few years ago, I watched Brené Brown’s viral TED talks about The Power of Vulnerability and Listening to Shame (we all have it). This is thought-provoking stuff. Daring Greatly is also about vulnerability. Vulnerability is courage. Vulnerability is strength. Vulnerability makes us more relatable. Gotta read the books!
Who are your favorite authors?
Elisabeth Vonarburg. Stefan Wul. John Irving. Robert Louis Stevenson. Isaac Asimov. Philip K. Dick. Philip José Farmer. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Michel Tournier. Umberto Eco. J.K. Rowling. J.R.R. Tolkien. Alexander McCall Smith. Diana Gabaldon. Georges R.R. Martin. Kim Stanley Robinson. Gregory Benford. Alastair Reynolds. Neal Stephenson.
I’d like to mention here also, James S. A. Corey (a pen name used by collaborators Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, authors of the science fiction series The Expanse.) I haven’t started on the series of novels yet, but I’ve been watching this incredible TV series and loving every minute of it.
What would your 8-year-old self think and say about you today?
I think he would say “cool, new worlds and new adventures!” At eight years old, I wanted to be a singer and an artisan. Not exactly anymore, but I was a (classical) singer for a good while. At eight years old, I also used to spend an awful lot of time imagining alternative realities, and this part of myself is the one I’m putting forward now.
What do you like to do when you are not writing?
I like reading, of course, and watching a lot of movies and TV series, but I also spend a good number of hours per week being a “DevOps” systems administrator for one of the major media outlets here in the province of Quebec. This means I like tinkering with computers and stuff. Also, I like going to the local swimming pool, I like hiking and camping—though I haven’t done them in a while; I like traveling—same. Here in the city, I enjoy long walks while listening to writing podcasts or audio books. I love exploring the different corners of my surrounding neighbourhoods. The back alleys of Montreal are always ripe with a myriad of small, intriguing discoveries.
Where can we learn more about you?
Go to my website. While you’re there, don’t pass on the opportunity to download my free story, “Cradle”—it’s a part of my current project, Seven Drifts.
Tell us about your latest book. What do you hope readers take away from it?
I'm currently working on my first novel, Seven Drifts (working title). It's an epic space opera featuring a drifting city spaceship, a wannabe sleuth, murders, rebels, and an antique wooden treasure chest. The tentative publication date is somewhere between 2022 and 2023.
Since I started working on this project, I learned a lot about the craft, and I explored several genres that competed to take the story over. It started with an action adventure and what I thought to be a labyrinth plot, all with a feel of cosy mystery. Then it morphed into a serial killer thriller (although still with a lighter cosy mystery tone to it). Then it came back to an action story, this time with more emphasis on its rebellion aspects. All the while, I chose to keep the humour and lightness of tone that my protagonist, Anita, is bringing to the story.
All these seemingly conflicting genres (action-adventure-labyrinth, cosy mystery, serial killer thriller,) are still pretty much in there as secondary plots, brewing with various levels of energy in the background, underneath the action-rebellion story.
In the end, it’s a matter of structuring the story around the one genre that resonates best.
The story takes place in a city called Seven, that is in fact a gigantic starship built centuries in the past; Seven has been adrift for two hundred years.
In its current configuration (since after the Awakening and the Reconfig years), Seven is a humongous stack of O'Neill cylinders, each revolving upon itself for simulated gravity. At the one-gee level—citizens call it legitgee—people live the best, most comfortable and fulfilling kind of life there ever was, or so they are told by the long-in-place administration of the city. After all, since Seven’s main drive was as good as dead after the Awakening, except for energy purposes, Mayor Larocque saved the citizenry from an endless drift in long-term preservation sleep. He allowed them to remain awake, at the small cost of reconfiguring the city for comfort rather than travel. All was well for one hundred years, until one man, a well-known architect named Felipe Crasotte, challenged the validity of the Admin’s Driftist paradigm. Crasotte’s untimely death prevented him from putting his ideas forward.
To answer the second part of the question, here is what Anita, the principal character in the story, should take out of it—and I hope readers will as well: “You’re not worthless; it’s a lie to keep you in line. Look inside, and share what you find. You’ve got this. The world needs that special thing in you, desperately.”
Who is the perfect reader for your book? (Please do not say “everyone.”)
Science-fiction fans, allegedly, and presumably a few murder mystery fans too—even fans of the cosy type of mystery. Readers who will enjoy exploring this gigantic drifting city starship built centuries in the past. Readers who will enjoy marvelling at how such a city can function. Readers who will enjoy the struggles and journey of discovery the book will take them along with biologist and botanist Anita Burgess, the protagonist of the story. Readers who like to question the accepted societal facts of life, and who appreciate the kind of irony and humour I like to suffuse the story with, along with the shame and hardship the characters are going through.
What inspired the idea for the story?
I'd read somewhere that sometimes, it’s a good idea to work on two different projects at once. With two projects in your field of awareness, one can feed from the other while the other can procrastinate from the one—or something like that. I wasn't sure how useful this was going to be, but I certainly was going to try it.
The first project I had been working on had found its inspiration in an Alastair Reynolds short story: “Diamond Dogs”. It was about a lethal race to conquer a very challenging alien prize. From there, this first story morphed into quite something else. So I’d been working on this novel for a while. I called it Tides of Cathedrals. It was set in a far future on a planet named Cathedrals—a planet with considerable tides, allegedly. Note that the title is still evolving, and so is the story to this day. But that’s another story.
I like to dabble with new ideas. Maybe it was during my morning pages, maybe not, but one day, something brand new appeared out of nowhere. I was only playing, just having a bit of fun. At first I didn’t know what this thing was: a fragment of an idea, maybe the intro to a new story. I didn’t know how it would turn up, nor did I need to know right away.
It sprung out of a writing prompt I had in mind: “Thus they left…” I don’t know where the prompt itself actually came from, but here’s the thing: I had been reading a lot of stories by Alastair Reynolds, and some of these stories were about generation ships: in a future without FTL (faster than light travel) these ships went on journeys that lasted several centuries. In fact, it took so long to get to a new star system that entire generations were born, lived their lives and died aboard the ship before it reached its destination. Fascinating examples of generation ship stories are Chasm City and On the Steel Breeze, two books by Alastair Reynolds that belong to different series. Note that the latter isn’t quite a generation ship story, because its ship’s passengers possess a technology that allows them to sleep for decades, so that at least some individuals might still make it all the way alive. I wanted to mention this book here in any case because in that sense, On the Steel Breeze might be closer to my story, Seven Drifts, than the other one.
This was how “Thus They Left” was the seed idea for my current novel project, Seven Drifts.
“Thus They Left” was just a snippet of untidy prose, but I kind of liked it. Something about it felt to me like it was working, because it fuelled my creative juices each time I read it. So I decided I was proud of my little snippet of story. I allowed it to percolate somewhere in a corner of my mind. I was definitely hooked. This had potential. I wanted to make something out of it.
Months later, something else clicked in my mind: what if this budding story idea were in fact the past of—and the reason behind—the other story I had been working on, Tides of Cath?
The notion got me excited: I could have two storylines, one story taking place in the past of the other. Let’s say, a few centuries earlier. The past (“Thus They Left”) could inform the present (Tides of Cath) in many exciting ways. Or I could just go for a series of novels.
If you're interested, I published this seed of a story in a blogpost called “Genesis of My Novel”. I left it mostly unchanged, as it was back then except for a few edits.
How did you come up with the title for your book?
Seven felt just right as the name of the city-starship. The city used to be starship number seven; it was part of a caravan of a thousand ships. It was the only survivor after the attacks that followed the siege and evacuation from home planet Sabestian—but that’s ancient history now, and people don’t care much about these things anymore.
Seven is adrift, it’s been adrift for two centuries now, but there is more to it than it looks. Within the story, the idea of drifting takes on a whole different meaning: both as a life philosophy and as a meditation practice, it has profound personal and collective implications.
There is also more to the number seven than it appears at first look.
Give us an insight into your main character. What does he/she do that is so special?
Although she tends to follow suit with her relatives in viewing herself as kind of a loser, Anita is in fact clever and resourceful. Although she’s been shamed for it, she likes to play detective—she’s a huge fan of the Rita Stalker Stories, which are detective novels written by author Blake Williams, who is also a character in the story.
In the end, what makes the difference is her creative, quirky, “monkey” mind. Because her most special gift is that she is playful.
If your book were made into a movie, which actors would play your characters?
Here’s my preliminary casting.
Anita Burgess: Jenna Coleman (Clara in Doctor Who)
Leona Crasotte: Jennifer Hudson (Boy can she sing!—and act.)
Richerd Laffond: Thomas Jane (Detective Miller in The Expanse—with the hat)
Blake Williams: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jamie Lannister in Game of Thrones)
The Duke: Jim Broadbent (Professor Flaghorn in the Harry Potter movies)
Darius Ocar: Adam Driver
Judith Paskott: Elizabeth Olsen
Giles Ocar: Sean Bean
Piotr Paskott: Paul Bettany
Saturday: Alden Ehrenreich (Han Solo in Solo: A Star Wars Story)
Wednesday: Chloe Grace Moretz
Hugh Mason: Christopher Walken
Mma Jo: Jill Scott
Jovel Dramane: Donald Glover
Natash Lampborne: Christine Baranski
Mayor Larocque: Jeff Bridges
Janet Grond: Tilda Swinton
Inspector David Duvic: Marc Strong
What is the most important thing that people do not know about your subject/genre that they need to know?
Science fiction is a reality genre. It determines the kind of reality in which the story takes place. For instance, in the case of science fiction, this reality must be a futuristic world, at least featuring some technologies that don’t exist in our time. So is space opera, the science fiction sub-genre: minimally, it will feature things like spaceships, exoplanets, vac suits and aliens, or else it’s not space opera.
Now in theory, we could use science fiction and space opera to stage pretty much any content genre—meaning: any type of story. Examples are action, murder mystery, thriller, love story, romance, society, performance, etc.
What’s funny about the science fiction and space opera genres, though, is that they still do call for some content elements; things like space battles, people getting “spaced”, or some of the most memorable alien monsters of literature, cinema and television.
This is why most space opera stories have either very strong elements of action (Star Wars, Star Trek, Dune, etc.), or else, they are horror stories (Alien).
With most other content genres, the science fiction aspects often tend to wane into the background, or to disappear.
As an example, I’ve been looking for serial killer thrillers in science fiction settings, and I found very few (if any). It occurred to me that the point of this thriller sub-genre is to thrill with the kind of terror that wakes you up at night and has you craning your neck as you walk down a park or a dark alley. One of the best ways to make the thrill as sharp as possible is to set the story in an environment that is very familiar to the audience, because this way, the thrill is in their day-to-day life, and they can imagine the danger coming at them as soon as they close the book.
I think it would be interesting to set a performance story within a space opera setting. I can think of one from the top of my head, like Trish Trash, Roller Girl of Mars, a graphic novel by Jessica Abel, where the protagonist gets to be in a roller derby competition and face the villain at the same time. There is also one performance subplot in my coming novel Seven Drifts: Anita’s best friend Leona is a singer, and she gets hired to sing at the big second centennial festival night. Everything in the story seems to converge on that night.
Can you come up with more examples of science-fiction stories that are not either action or horror? I’m sure there are still plenty.
Please share a short excerpt from your book. (Not the cover description; 10-20 paragraphs.)
The excerpt I like to share these days is on offer on my website as a free short story called “Cradle”, but it’s really a scene from my current novel project Seven Drifts. Of course, with the whole story still undergoing development stages, the scene will change somewhat before it finds its way into the final draft. For instance, this version of the scene used to take place close to the beginning of the story, but in the next versions of the story, I intend to use the “Cradle” scene a bit later in the timeline of events. This calls for a few changes within the scene itself, however, its tone and heart will remain the same.
(Subsequent to “Cradle” within the story, here’s another excerpt from my current novel project Seven Drifts.)
“Here Comes The Flood”
At five to seven, the Balgo elevator door opened and Anita emerged to B5, doing a good job of looking just like one more busy Wednesday morning worker in need of coffee.
She had never been further down than B2—which was basically just a basement level to many buildings in the Mile-End—but er fave bookshop keeper had mentioned furtive raids to B5; meetings with some Underlevel contacts: this was where the Stalker Stories would be found.
B5 was also where other shady, dark, and otherwise gloomy things were to be found. Anita didn’t care much for these, but they tended to keep the Rita side of her brain in alert mode.
Here in the Underlevel, you could watch pushers, junkies and prostitutes of all types, going openly about their business, right outside their establishments, as if no law enforcement had ever bothered them. Since they didn’t have to contend with heavy clothing against the cold weather and rain, they could be brazen about it.
Anita had no idea where to go from there. Her eyes followed the flow and ebb of people going about their business, waiting in line at a nearby food stand, entering other elevators, or walking farther away along the street—because, now that she saw it, B5 indeed had streets. The place was like a city under the city, bustling with activity, wide streets stretching out of sight and branching away in the distance. Streets underneath the city, with a far ceiling to protect them from the district’s weather systems. The roof’s height explained why there were no B3 or B4 levels.
She walked slowly, keeping to the side of the street—which was named Sincath street, just as above at legitgee level. She wondered whether the city plan was the same down here as it was up there where she lived.
She looked for other differences. As expected, she saw many maintenance plan workers—MPs on their way to their workplaces...
Quite a good number of them were Nomen. You didn’t see as many at citizenry level.
Then she saw Laffond, as he entered the last of a series of elevators, two blocks down the street.
“Hey!” She cried out.
If he saw her, Richerd Laffond didn’t acknowledge her presence. He might have glanced right through her, then looked down at his feet; she couldn’t say for sure.
The elevator door closed before she had time to get any closer than across the street from it.
Why had he not waited for her? Hadn’t he been counting on her to meet him at seven A.M.?
What if he expected her to follow?
What else was she going to do?
Flustered, Anita waited for the next elevator down. As it was, another door opened, spewing out a dozen workers of all venues. An equivalent number of the same hustled to get in. She joined them.
The elevator dashboard was unusual. There were only two ends to the journey here: Underlevel #0—she assumed this was where she was—to Underlevel #1. Good. No wondering what level Laffond would be at, provided this particular array of elevators were all the same.
As the elevator started down, the display changed. The level indicator remained, but it was pushed into a corner by an urgent-looking message.
Prepare for hypergee.
Anita stared at the display, only now internalizing where she was really going. The Underlevels weren’t considered part of legitgee for no reason.
This was one of those things you just knew from childhood, but as you were never confronted with them, you tended to forget about their existence: Seven was a stack of rotating cylinders—the districts. People lived upside-down inside them, actually standing against the inside face of the spinning cylinders. This meant that the rotation rate and distance from the central axis had to be finely tuned in order to provide a perfect illusion of gravity—applying to the people’s feet a centripetal force feeling like exactly one gee of gravity, which had remained the standard since The Old Legit—planet Earth. Easy enough to grasp.
Anita had never questioned this. The Mile-End was her home district, and no question, the best one: it was central to the city, equatorial. Above all, it was cool. In her short century of life, she had visited many destinations within the greater Seven, including Brooklyn to the north and Soho to the south, and various other tourist, recreational destinations. If you ignored the climatic and architectural differences, life wasn’t that different from one district to the next after all. Gravity-wise, they were all the same.
This changed as soon as you travelled down an elevator. As you went down, you moved farther away from the district cylinder’s central axis of rotation, and simulated gravity grew as a square function of the radius. In layman’s terms, this meant you became heavier as you went down, and it could change fast.
As a result, Anita felt like the elevator was slowing down all the time, but it wasn’t: she was just becoming heavier along the way.
From the display, she learned a thing about legitgee level: it had been set up at exactly two kilometres from the central axle. Underlevel #1, her destination, was two more kilometres down, that much closer to the district’s outer hulls.
It was a long elevator ride, even for an express without any other stop than top and bottom. When it finally ended, Anita had to hold on to the side bars while she forced her legs to adjust during the final deceleration.
With two gees of simulated gravity, for as long as she remained there, Anita was going to be twice her normal weight. She hoped the stay would be short.
The elevator door opened to Underlevel #2.
It wasn’t so different from Underlevel #1, at least architecturally. It was much less crowded, and for some reason, Underlevel #2 was also less gloomy.
Less shady enterprises, more Maintenance Plan workers—more coveralls, more construction helmets and other specialized gear: the place had a cleaner feel to it, more professional. City workers, mostly. It was an easy guess: the gravity conditions here might be less conducive for the kinds of illicit activities displayed above—unless you had peculiar tastes.
Most people here were different too. Or rather, she was the different one down here. Her body was ill-adapted to the simulated gravity conditions.
A banner attracted Anita’s attention across from the elevator.
Not-Only-Woman, Not-Only-Man. This is the land of Not-Only-People.
Hypergee was the perfect environment to develop a powerful body, and these guys had made it their trademark and way of life. This is why you saw fewer of them at legitgee: this was their home.
No time to play tourist, though. Anita was no nowoman herself, so she needed to find Laffond ASAP and be done with the unpleasant trip.
She located him, entering yet another elevator. Anita’s heart sank. The mere thought of going further down the hypergee well caused her legs to hurt more.
And this time, the elevator was guarded by an official-looking noman.
She approached, as inconspicuous as she could. It was no easy feat given the nature of the crowd, but she managed to get a better view as the elevator door closed on Laffond.
Worse. The noman was an ACFID officer—Admin Constable Force Inquiry Division.
And worse yet, the elevator-guarding ACFID officer was soon joined by none other than his very boss, inspector David Duvic in person—himself a bulking noman.
Anita flattened herself against the wall.
Damn. What was Duvic doing here?
There was no way she was going to share an elevator ride with the inspector—there was no way he was going to allow her in any case.
As a matter of fact, why had Laffond led her here in the first place?
Obviously, she was getting closer to the crime scene: the dripper shaft victims had surfaced at Underlevel #1, but they may have floated up from much lower down.
Had they found another victim yet? Tuesday’s killing?
Last night, Laffond had said he wanted to show her something. For sure, he had a lot to teach her, but what the Void was he looking for down there?
One way to know only: she had to get to Laffond before Duvic did, and tell him about the inspector, no doubt coming down to catch up with him. She could only hope Laffond would know what to do next.
The thing was, she wasn’t in a good position to achieve any of it.
At least this time, there was only one elevator, so Duvic had to wait for it.
Anita wished there was a way to force him to wait even longer. Could she find a way to make him go away, and stalk her way to the elevator unseen? Or could she just give Laffond a call? Her hapscomms ring decided for her: her comms package didn’t cover the Underlevels. Because, why pay for this.
No time to upgrade. She needed something else, something faster.
She couldn’t call Duvic either, and lure him to some fake clue, or fake victim… not to mention, it would have hurt whatever remained of her already miserable credibility with the inspector.
Anita inched her way along the wall, trying to listen to the inspector’s conversation with his subaltern agent. She didn’t make it close enough to eavesdrop, but she found something else: a side passage in which she could breathe more freely without fear of being seen from the elevator door. Unfortunately, once in there, she couldn’t see nor hear what was going on either.
She took a second to look around. The passage was in fact a maintenance alcove. It featured a metallic door with a tiny window, plus some maintenance and emergency gear, a fire hose and a wall hydrant. Behind the door was a staircase winding its way down.
Anita paused for half a second, then she took a closer look at the fire emergency gear.
A fire hydrant… And why not? Wouldn’t it be a sure way to shut down the elevator operations for a while?
What role does research play in your writing? Do you have any research resources you recommend?
I’ve enjoyed books on physics and cosmology over the years, like A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking, The Elegant Universe and The Fabric of the Cosmos by Brian Greene, or Patience dans l’azur by Hubert Reeves. I like to read deep in the speculative genre: books by Alastair Reynolds, Neal Stephenson, Gregory Benford. And then I try to go wide by reading other genres.
Then I extrapolate settings and situations, fictional places and theories. I have a blast with it. Once it’s done, I know more research will be needed, but I have a basic framework for working on my story.
So far, this carried me to the end of Seven Drifts’s first draft.
Then I wanted more storytelling theory and practice, so I turned my research to writing books and courses.
I found excellent resources. A few examples are—and I’m not saying I’ve read them all yet, but on my way…
- You’ve Got A Book in You, by Elizabeth Sim
- Story Physics, by Larry Brooks
- Form and Meaning in Fiction, by Norman Friedman
- Poetics, by Aristotle
- Write Your Novel From the Middle, by James Scott Bell
- Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel and Writing Your Story’s Theme, three books by K. M. Weiland
- K. M. Weiland’s award-winning website, Helping Writers Become Authors. Plus her outstanding blog.
- The Writer’s Journey, by Christopher Vogler
- Story, by Robert MacKee
- The Story Grid, by Shawn Coyne. Plus the famous Story Grid Podcast. (This one was a game changer for me.)
Do you aim for a set number of words/pages per day? Do you write every day, five days a week …?
I don’t use word count goals, but I like to have a schedule: whatever amount of work I can cram in that scheduled time is my goal.
Back in the late 2010’s, I would have told you I was the master of routine. I usually wrote for one hour in the morning before I went to work (I have a full time job in IT), then another hour over lunch, pretty much every day. I scheduled at least two writing nights per week, sometimes three. Depending on my energy levels, my nightly sessions could last from one hour and a half to three hours. I would often take a Friday off work to write more, or a Monday, where I aimed for at least five hours of focussed writing, sometimes up to nine. Over the weekends, I would have to limit myself with only three to four hours before lunch, after which the balance of life had to be enjoyed, all in a very short time… Writing is crucial, but life is important too.
But now it’s mid 2021, and it was 2020 for a whole long year before it. I’ve had to make some adjustments.
Working from home should have given me more time, but for some weird reason, I ended up with less—or if not less actual time, certainly less quality sleep and less overall energy.
I still aim to get up early and write before I go to work, but somehow it's harder to achieve now than it used to, even if my workplace is now only seven steps away from the kitchen. Writing over lunch is harder too, because since I am home, I’d rather spend a bit of quality time with my wife, like eating lunch and enjoying a few minutes of calm. I still schedule writing nights though, and weekend morning sessions plus the occasional intensive Friday or Monday.
Less writing time, but more rest.
Yet somehow, I have a feeling that quality is more important than quantity when it comes to writing time. What if I can achieve nearly as much in seven to twelve hours per week nowadays, than I used to in fifteen to twenty, way back when before the pandemic?
Do you have an area set aside for writing?
Yes and no.
Pre-2020’s, every day at lunch, I would try and find a quiet spot in one of the old Montreal coffee shops near my working place. It was no picnic, what with the crowd of office workers and tourists that never failed to take the place over come summer or winter. I could rarely find quiet, but I would plug my ears with earphones and create a kind of musical isolation bubble for myself.
At home, my favourite spot is an antique, too-small-for-me wooden rocking chair that sits by the window in the corner of my home office. Barely comfortable, but full of quirky character and evocative of another time. I like to sit by the window of my third story apartment overlooking the back alley. I call it my eagle's nest—my eyrie. I like to perch there with either pen and paper or my old laptop. But I can’t huddle there for too long before my back and buttocks start crying out, so I move on to my desk.
My desk is really just a second-hand Ikea table with an added sliding keyboard tray. I love it. I fire up my home computer—I don’t always like doing it, because it is also my working place, so I feel I am spending an insane amount of time sitting on that same chair, staring at that same computer screen—and don't get me wrong, I love my day job; my career in IT is challenging, growth-inductive and mentally nutritive.
But once I start working on my writing project, I become a writer again and where I'm sitting stops mattering at all.
What does your writing process look like? Do you outline and plan your story or do you just sit down and write? Why?
I have tried both. The first large story I worked on was mostly improvised (Tides of Cath—as yet unfinished). At some point though, I had to step back and look at what I had done. Kind of messy—which is perfectly okay by the way—but also, sort of going nowhere slowly. I plan to continue that project whenever I am done with the current one, Seven Drifts, because ToC is the continuation of the same global story.
I like to do a lot of brainstorming as soon as I don’t have a clear answer to one of the billion questions surrounding the story, act or scene or character I happen to be working on at a given moment. All this brainstorming generates a shit-ton of notes, and reading them again sometimes can feel daunting—but each time, I get excited at the ideas, elements and bits of scenes I had forgotten about.
I like to outline a lot, too. But no matter how much I do it, I always end up “pantsing” huge chunks of the story. In the end, I kind of like the balance between the two: it’s a mix of improvisation and structural work.
Since 2018, I’ve been working with a developmental editor. Courtney is Story Grid certified, which means we share a common vocabulary and methodology, which is very helpful and constructive. For over three years, we’ve held bimonthly calls where I would submit my work and we would discuss, make better and explore new avenues.
Lately, we moved on to a new modus operandi: I write a larger number of scenes of the novel (let’s say I aim to reach the midpoint of the story), over a longer period of time (let’s say, about two or three months)… then we reconvene for an intensive series of weekly calls to analyse them. There is much less context-switching this way, back and forth from creative writing to analytical editing, so I can get a better and longer focus on the task at hand.
What comes first, plot or characters? Why?
It feels like they go hand in hand. Plot and character, one cannot stand without the other, so I have to figure them out together.
This particular project started with the seed idea for a plot, but also with a few of the characters, and parts of settings. They all came together in a package, so to speak. Starting up, I knew the process equally scarcely on all accounts, so I didn’t have a clear preference.
Since working on Seven Drifts, I have reassessed a bunch of times both plot (according to genre, obligatory elements, plot points, etc.) and character (who is she really? What arc does she really journey through? What happened to her to make her like she is? How does she change over the course of the story? ). Even now that things seem to have taken shape nicely, I know I will have to do more of that before the end.
Working on plot and character in turn, learning as I go, I feel like plot and character are feeding off each other, building on top of one another in an endless feedback loop. I’m confident that in the end, it will have been a good course of action. I see no reason why not to do things the same way with the next projects.
What is your most interesting writing quirk?
Someone told me once about “Cradle”, that if I had written it in French first, then translated it to English, it wouldn’t be as interesting.
Why say that? I heard editors saying on a podcast, about their clients who weren’t native English speakers, that it often caused them to make original, interesting choices when it came to how to say things, what words to choose, what verb to employ, etc. I can only hope this is the case for me and that, as my familiarity with English improves, it won’t go away completely.
Besides that, I do like quirky things. I like to give myself little quirk challenges. When I started with Seven Drifts, I knew it was about a drifting city, and I knew the rebel architect Felipe Crasotte’s great-granddaughter Leona had inherited his antique wooden chest. I wondered who Leona was, and in what kind of setting I should introduce her. What kind of place and activity seemed unusual and quirky in the context of a giant, stranded city-starship?
Then it occurred to me: karaoke bar. Leona is obsessed with singing. Her friend Anita humours her, and maybe, Anita hates singing but she wants something from Leona, so she’s being nice to her friend. What does she want? Wait. I know. She wants to live in Leona’s cool house. She wants in as a roommate. Cause you know, the house is so big, you’re all alone, and besides, money-wise…
How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning? Do you have any name-choosing resources you recommend?
I like coming up with names. Some just spring up into existence on their own volition. Some keep changing for a while before they fixate on the character. Some I have to look for a little longer. But I don’t feel the need for a specific tool, though I have tried a few, not really deciding to use them in the long run.
What software do you use to write? Or do you prefer to write longhand or dictate your work? Why?
I tend to do a lot of brainstorming, and it produces many, many words over many, many different files.
After a while, I am faced with utter chaos.
Scrivener helps me make sense of that chaos. They say it’s the best invention since the toaster; it may well be true.
I love Scrivener’s outlining tools: I use the cork-board function a lot. I use it to make sense of my scene list, either by act or in a timeline manner. I can add as many files to it as I like, even a lot of research and brainstorming files. Then it can slowly morph into the draft itself.
But sometimes, I feel the need to get away from technology. Especially in the early morning, I like to grab pen and paper, and just scribble whatever comes up. It’s very freeing.
You write in two languages. What challenges arise from this process?
Challenges, yes, but also, opportunities.
I’ve always loved languages. I find them fascinating and I like the challenges they pose. There was a time, about twenty years ago, when my German was better than my English, and when my Italian was good enough that once, I was called a liar in Italy when I said I came from Canada. I did study Spanish too, but only just enough to start confusing it with Italian.
I did try to write in French, for a long time, with various levels of satisfaction.
One day, I tried English, and suddenly, something was different.
I think it was because I wasn't raised in English. I didn't go to school in English, and I didn't grow up in awe of the writing gods of English literature.
So all of a sudden, I was no longer trying to measure up, even unconsciously, to the French luminaries I’d grown up revering, like Victor Hugo, Henri Troyat, Jules Verne, Jean Giono, Michel Tournier… The list goes on, it crushes me like a twenty-six point five gigaton polar ice cap of hopeless inadequacy.
As I tried my hand with English, just to see, the unbearable weight started to lift off my shoulders, just enough to make a difference.
Interestingly, I felt like no one was watching me anymore—judging. I was able to think differently. My mind felt lighter, more playful, freer. it was easier to focus on what I really wanted to say, on the stories I really wanted to tell.
Had I been raised in English, I’m pretty sure I would have experienced the same as I tried my writing hand in French.
As I put up my author website at the end of the year 2020, I wasn’t too sure whether I would make it English only or not. It happened that the web creating service I use, Wix, has a multilingual solution and it is super simple to use, so I thought, what the Heck, let’s go for bilingual. Same with the blog. Easy-peasy.
Problem is, for each blog post I write in English, then I have to translate it to French. I love doing it, but it sure is time consuming. Very time consuming.
That’s a challenge. I’m not too sure what to do about it at this point.
For the moment being, I’ll keep translating the posts myself, but sometime in the future, I might be looking into professional translation services.
How long (on average) does it take you to write a book?
I wish I knew. Seven Drifts has already been a few years in the making—longer that I care to mention—but it is my first real book project, so the time I spent on it includes a lot of learning the craft. Let’s hope I can pull off the next projects a bit faster. But who knows?
How do you celebrate when you finish writing a book?
Good question. I see myself sitting down to tackle the next one, the project that’s been brewing underneath while I worked on this one, the next project I can’t wait to immerse myself in.
In your opinion, what’s the measure of a successful writer?
To me, a successful writer has found and put in place their own process. By that, I mean the right writing pace and schedule for them, and a kind of balance between levelling up one’s craft and being happy with it as it is at one given moment. A balance, also, between the creative work itself, the editing process, and marketing.
Money-wise, I believe success depends on your own definition of it.
To me, making a good living seems like a nice, beautiful, and attainable goal. It’s a long run game and it might take years. Maybe it’ll start by just covering some expenses, like website fees and such, or editing costs, and so on. But then I would like it to grow enough to sustain me.
To me, the real goal is to have more time for the writing practice (all included), and to spend less time working on other people’s projects.
What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing?
I don’t know if I’m ready to give advice about writing, but here’s what seems to work for me.
When you first start, protect your work. Wait before you show it. Your work is precious, when it starts it’s like a baby, fragile but growing stronger, slowly. It needs to be nurtured. It needs to learn how to walk. It needs to be allowed to fall on its behind and to cry out. Allow it. Give your ideas the time they need to grow, away from eyes other than your own. Wait. You’ll know when it’s time to move on to the next step and to start sharing what you do. Then choose carefully who you can trust to really respect your process.
Your process is your own. Learn it as you build it. Build it by trying things out. Follow your instincts. You’ll see.
Avoid comparison. Just build your thing, one brick at a time. Be there, do the work, be yourself, learn resilience, allow yourself to fail (fail often, fail fast; that’s the basics of the agile methodology), learn and grow, write, write, write, read, read read… and be gentle with yourself. Always respect your energy levels and don’t forget to live your life. Get into an improvement feedback loop, but fight perfectionism—it’s a disease. Learn to recognize your resistance and to live with it; you can even make it an ally (The War Of Art, Steven Pressfield). Persist. And then, whenever you feel ready (or before), reach out for more feedback and visibility.
And above all, never lose sight of the reason why you first wanted to write in the first place. Keep your sources of inspiration, whatever they may be, close to your heart and mind. When in doubt, always come back to your why, your reason for writing.
What’s your favorite and least favorite part of publishing?
I can only speak from what little experience I have: just over half a year of having an author website, a blog and a newsletter.
It’s been only eight months, but already, it’s been a growth rollercoaster of comfort zone expansion. I’m dreading it and loving it at the same time. Some nights it keeps me from sleeping—that and other things, and more honestly, most nights. Heck, I’m pushing my limits even further right now, with this very interview! I’m loving it.
Taking care of the website, blog and newsletter are not necessarily easy, but they are definitely easier for me than the writing process itself, especially at times when life becomes too heavy or busy, or whenever I feel a bit stuck with the story—as it happens. And for that reason, it’s easy to lose track of the time I spend tending to the site, or coming up with a new blogpost or newsletter, or reaching out to thousands of readers and other writers over the social networks.
This is all necessary and good and fascinating, but it all eats up a considerable amount of time and energy.
So in short, what I like the least about writing and publishing in general, is never to be satisfied with the time I have. There will always be more I want to do, and more that I wasn’t able to accomplish yet. So many ideas, so many projects, so many things to try and apply.
What I love though, is that it all comes back to a lesson in patience and humility. One day, when I pass away, what remains is what I have done, not what I didn’t do. What really counts is whom I have loved, and touched, and helped (hopefully), and caused to go about life with a different, new kind of spark in their heart.
What is the best advice you could give other writers about publishing?
I don’t feel I’m yet in a position where I could give advice about publishing, but here’s the advice I’m giving myself: don’t worry about agents, publishers, big contracts and advances, and all the mythology and hype that pervades the writing world—what with all the awesome success stories we hear about, all the time—and their opposite tales, equally ubiquitous.
Build your platform ASAP. Whether you plan to publish traditionally or indie, it makes no difference: you need a solid platform, and the best way to make it solid is to go about it gradually, brick by brick. Read books about it, or blogs, or listen to author marketing podcasts. Enrol in an online class. Start before you’re ready (Everything Is Figureoutable, Mary Forleo). Setup an email list. Invite your friends. Expand. Send them something nice from time to time. As author Hugh McLeod says, “treat your writing journey as an adventure—an adventure worth telling.”
Some Suggested Author Marketing Podcasts
The Creative Penn Podcast
The Book Launch Podcast
The Writer’s Well
How do you market or promote your books (e.g. social media, e-mail, blog tours, etc.)?
I use Tim Grahl’s Connection System (content, permission, outreach) from his book Your First 1000 Copies. I have read his books and enrolled in his online classes. They are worth every penny and more. (I have no affiliation whatsoever.)
For Content, I have a basic website: home page, bio page, book page, contact page. Easily developed using Wix over a bunch of sleepless nights—no coding whatsoever. To it, I added a blog (Wix Blog).
For Permission, I do ask a lot of people to join my email list, for which I use Mailerlite, which I chose because it offered email automation for free even when I was starting up and my list was still under one thousand subscribers.
For Outreach, I use social networks. Not only do I follow, like, retweet, share and connect, but I also and most importantly, I invite people to join my email list. I am astonished at how positive the response has been so far: my list has grown from 0 up to 1680+ subscribers in eight months.
What strategies have demonstrated the most success for you?
First, I invited my Facebook friends, and it brought me my first 200 subscribers. I was ecstatic!
Then I moved on to LinkedIn connections. Surprise: the response was pretty good as well, though not as overwhelming, but only because now I was venturing into the new territory of people who didn’t really know me. What got my attention about LinkedIn was how easy it was to expand my connection base, from barely 600 in the beginning to over 5000 now. Also, how easy it is to find other writers.
I have dabbled a bit with Instagram too, where I have met some impressive authors as well; I enrolled in Tim Grahl’s course on Instagram marketing for authors but I haven’t gotten to doing it yet. Soon…
But then, I turned to Twitter. Lots of awesome writers there too! Wow.
Once, I wrote one tweet with the #WritersLift hashtag in it, and it got me 300 new followers over the next few days—all of them writers. The trick though, is to dare to invite them directly after they follow, because otherwise you end up with many followers and likes and retweets—which is great by the way—but not too many new subscribers, and the email list is your ultimate bread and butter.
Why am I insisting so much on the email list? Here is what Tim Grahl says about social media and permission marketing.
What is your best marketing tip?
When asked the question “When should I start building my platform?” Author and marketing mentor Tim Grahl says jokingly: “three years ago!”
No kidding, though: start as soon as possible, even if you don’t have a book to promote or sell; this is what I’m doing right now. Let me assure you, it’s a blast. I’ve learned so many things since I started just a few months ago, things about people and things about myself. I’ve been pushing, gradually and in my own time, the limits of my comfort zone. And I’ve had opportunities to try new things out.
Starting early and gradually will allow you to experiment a lot—and to fail gracefully if ever, so that when your audience grows, you will be more experienced.
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