SPFBO 7 is currently underway and to help give some visibility to the authors taking part I’ve opened my author interviews up to them. Today I interview fantasy author Rune S. Nielsen.
- Hi Rune S. Nielsen tell us a bit about yourself and what inspired you to write.
A long time ago in a galaxy called the Milky Way, in a small yellow brick house in the western part of the Kingdom of Denmark, lived a young boy who obsessed over superhero comic books. And also, any kind of sci-fi and fantasy content he could get his grubby little paws or excited eyeballs on.
Besides being an overjoyed consumer, the boy kept coming up with ideas and stories, and as the boy was me, I just happen to know that he wanted to get these out. Share his excitement with everyone.
I did some drawing and writing, then found an outlet in the wonderful world of roleplaying games, and later when he grew up, I became a journalist and got to write articles and do TV news. My love of beer then sent me to work for a decade at one of the world’s biggest brewery groups, Carlberg. Where we for instance told people, “Did you know that a study shows that one beer actually enhances your problem-solving skills but that two or more decreases the same skills?”
Despite the fine frothing beer, there was still something missing.
However, the dream of writing books never faded, and last year I finally published my first epic fantasy novel, Doomsayer Prince.
- What appeals to you most about the fantasy genre?
The vivid imagination. The relationships between the characters. The wonder of discovery. The differences and similarities between our world, society, and norms, and that of the imagined places.
But honestly, my first book could have been sci-fi. I love both genres about equally, and for most of the same reasons.
- Tell us a little bit about your latest project and the challenges you’ve faced putting it all together?
Currently, I am working on two new books. One coming out this Christmas, the other a year later. And a roleplaying game set in the world I created for Doomsayer prince.
When I began, I knew little about how to write novels. Had I known just how difficult creating a huge epic fantasy was, I would have begun with a short story. Instead, I wrote what I loved—a brick-thick fantasy novel. Kind of crazy, but I loved it. The difficulties I had were many. I had to learn a lot of new skills. And yes, I’m a journalist, but being an author is quite different. The pacing, style, and sheer numbers of hours spent on one project differ from the faster-paced life of a journalist.
Another issue was/is language. I’m a Dane and we speak Danish. For me, English is a second language. I, therefore, use a lot of mental energy on trying to fool everyone into believing that writing English comes perfectly naturally to me.
- What type of characters do you like to write the most and how much of yourself do you put into them?
Nuanced, intelligent characters with goals and feelings. The kind you can relate to.
All my characters have some of me in them, my prior experiences in life. Like some of the flight sequences, are inspired by my skydiving. Some are inspired by the experiences of others that I have come across in some form or other and still remember.
I would say the same goes for any writer. Why? Let me tell you a cool story.
During the writing of Doomsayer Prince, I went to a lecture. An accomplished scientist who researches the brain for a living was talking about the human memory. I might just have signed up because I thought it was funny that his last name is the same as the name of a Danish fish. I’m getting sidetracked. The memory does that to us.
According to “Mr. Goat Fish,” everything we come up with, inventions, new ideas, and so on, all directly stems from our memory.
According to him: when we humans want to create something “new” we don’t. Not 100%. What we do is take one or more things from our memory and combine them in different ways.
I had a hard time accepting this. My mind rebelled against the mere thought. No, I am creative! I am! Then he talked about the slow pace of new inventions and ideas. It’s typically someone inventing one little thing, then another improves it, and another, and then we all hail one person for “the discovery” of the light bulb or the theory of evolution, or whatever. When in fact it was not one person, but a series of smaller inventions or ideas leading up to someone finally either nailing it or finally getting the message out to the rest of us.
Thing progress in baby steps, we mistake for leaps.
What does that mean for a writer? So, if you want to create a new fantasy monster, you might begin by thinking ‘I want something scary and big for my new book.’ This might lead you directly to ‘dragons.’ But you did that last year. You don’t want that, and this must be new. Feel different!
What could such a monster be like? You then pick something from your memory and combine it with other things you remember. Like what if it has the head of a Geiger alien mixed with a hammer shark? Won’t people see what I did there? I’ll make it white so people can’t see that the black alien inspired it. And instead of the rounded shape of the hammer shark’s face, I’ll give this one reversed pyramid shapes. Does it have wings like a dragon? No, it becomes too much like a dragon, and if I remove the wings, it looks like a dinosaur. What to do? I’ll give it octopus tentacles but filled with needles that suck blood from its victims.
A dragon, mosquito, octopus, alien, shark mash-up. That’s new!
Is it? Well, it might be. What you have made could be a unique combination, but since all the parts are a mash-up of what you know, there are bound to be other works out there with something not so different in them. We all tap into many of the same shared fantasy experiences after all. Like LotR, Harry Potter, or Magic the Gathering.
Yes, as an author you can kid yourself all you like, about writing “new stuff nobody has ever seen before,” and sure, each book differs from all other books, but all of us creatively mash stuff together from our memory to form something that we feel is “unique enough,” but still “same enough” to fit into one or more genres.
The genres for me are different mashes of the author’s memories. Flavored for a specific taste.
When authors are bad at the mashing (or lazy) that’s when the reviewers complain about it feeling too much like a lot of other things they have read/seen/played. That’s why it helps if we know and truly love something. Then we instinctively know which flavors to add to our books.
Or maybe that’s not quite right? Perhaps even completely wrong. What do you believe?
Many authors (including me) feel that we at times get inspiration from somewhere outside of ourselves (no, I’m not talking about beta-readers.) We feel that ideas or words flow into us from some greater and wiser source.
Throughout the years this sort of influence has had many names like muses, guardian angels, genus loci, God…
Believe what you will, but for me, this does not discredit what “Mr. Goat Fish” talked about. Any outside inspiration still must go through our brain, pass through a filter that is us. The same with alien influences or drugs. They might influence your thinking but if YOU write it, it still comes from you and passes through your memory. If you don’t believe me, then think about the letters, we store each of them in our memory (yes, someone taught you to write long ago.)
Trying to get out from under the “shadow of my memory,” I invented a few tricks during the writing of the Doomsayer Prince. All to try to make the characters and the plot less a slave of my memory and hopefully more interesting.
I set up a list of “mental rules” for each character, a guideline to their behavior, and whatever I came up with I checked it with the rules and made sure their arc made sense.
I created randomly distributed “mess up my script bombs.” To help me write in a way that came less from my memory and more from some “other place.” Hopefully making the plot more exciting and unpredictable. I used a lot of time to smooth the rough edges.
If you read the Doomsayer Prince, let me know if you think I made it more unique than most books.
- For any wannabe writers out there, what’s the most useful thing you’ve learned?
Keep writing. Don’t expect anyone to do you any favors. Stay positive.
- What writing tricks do you utilize to hit your deadlines and keep your stories on track?
See no. 5.
I also use a fancy app to track all my ideas and structure the plot. It’s Causality by Hollywood Camera Works. It’s made for tv shows but it’s just wicked smart and works fine for novels.
- Are you a plotter or a pantser (make it up as you go)?
A plotter. HARD MODE.
- What plans do you have for the future? A new series or perhaps a dip into other genres?
The next book (working title: A Company of Adventurers) will be out this Christmas. It’s a new beginning but still fantasy. For the first time, I’m writing together with another (the fabulous British author, Chris Paton! He writes under a bunch of pennames in various genres, this one will be under Bran Nicholls.) We are having so much fun and I’m allowing myself to be loose (doing some pantser moves here and there.) It’s so great to have a colleague after spending years writing on my own.
Around Christmas, the following year, I’ll release the sequel to Doomsayer Prince titled Arch of the Zhi’el. I’m not sure when the roleplaying game will be ready. It’s kind of massive in its own way.
- With the world the way it is at the moment what sort of tales do you prefer? Ones with heroes where good triumphs over evil or ones that take a darker approach?
A mix. Not too dark, not too bright. Not too naïve, not to jaded. Luckily, there’s plenty of space in the middle to tell a great story.
- What’s better, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings or Star Wars?
You might expect me to say Star Wars (based on my answer to the first question.) It’s not, though.
Lord of the Rings, that’s my answer.
Don’t get me wrong. They are all significant works. Then again, if you had a time machine, went back, and killed Tolkien, I’m not sure there would be a Harry Potter or a Star Wars. Or that they would have been successes. That’s how big an influence LotR still has today.
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Thanks for taking part!
You are welcome 😊