An interview with Ryan Holmes.
Q. Your novel, Dawn of Resurgence, is a mixture of the classic and the contemporary, what inspired you to adopt this theme?
A.I possess a fascination for classical mythology and theology. They are at the root of who we are; where we come from. So much of what was, is lost. We retain mere fragments of our ancestor’s knowledge, trifles of information carved into crumbling artifacts, raising more questions than providing answers. What was the real story behind these classics? How did they evolve? How did they relate? Ask these questions long enough and you’ll develop a burning desire to answer them.
Only, I wanted those answers to create something new yet plausible. This necessity shifted my focus to the contemporary. Thus the question became: how do I create a relatable and believable story involving the mythology and theology of our past in a fresh way. The answer surprised me with its simplicity. Assume they are all true. This revelation led to the inevitable question: where are they now? Dawn of Resurgence provides the answer, in part. Where the great powers of the past are, how they interact with the world and each other, and what their motives are can’t possibly be answered in one novel. This is the purview of the Path of Enlightenment series, and I’m itching to share it with the world.
Our ancestors left us with unlimited inspiration. They were the greatest storytellers, creating timeless works of art. As an author, I can think of no higher mark, and I strive to stand tall in their shadow.
Q. How did you set about writing the book? For instance, did you plot the story from start to finish before adding details, or did you just write it as ideas came to you?
A .Dawn of Resurgence, or DOR, has been an experiment in discovery. It is the laboratory I use to hone my craft. There have been many failed experiments, but I’ve learned from every one. When it’s published, the laboratory will close – its experiments concluded, for I will have discovered my voice.
Originally, I set about writing DOR by placing plot segments in a blank book. Like puzzle pieces, I laid out parts of the book as I discovered them, fitting similar pieces together. I didn’t start with the edge pieces and build my way in. Certain parts of the puzzle caught my fancy, and I worked on that section until distracted by another. By far the most enjoyable method to build anything and also the hardest to integrate. None of my carefully crafted plots tied together. Enter the edge pieces, and my experimentation in outlining.
Outlining DOR worked very well. With a bulleted outline, I could easily see plot holes, undeveloped sections, and poor transitions. All can be fixed by adding or modifying a bulleted sentence. Here’s the problem. Bulleted sentences are only as good as the words in them. I found myself coming back to an old outline, scratching my head, and wondering what I’d meant when I wrote that cryptic blurb. Back to the laboratory. In my experimentation I found the outlines needed to become more comprehensive, and they began to grow like something sprouting from magic beans. I quickly reached for my trimmer and found a happy balance to be a broad outline with enough sub-bullets to come back later and write it out in detailed prose. However, in practice I discovered another problem.
My new technique began by reviewing the outline. Then I started to write the prose. While writing, a new idea, or one more evolved, would pop into my brain. Off to the outline I’d go to capture this great new insight. Then back to the story. Repeat. Laborious? Sure, but what really burned the britches was losing a train of thought in the shuffling, either related to the new idea or, more often, the one I struggled with initially. Infuriating, like watching precious gems slip through your grasp, sinking into the abyss.
Today, I do something else entirely. I call it Writing Ahead. With an idea in mind, I begin feverishly putting it down in horrible grammar but such that allows me to capture my thoughts in a short, descriptive story before they slip away. Depending on how well developed the idea is, I might write ahead for an entire page. I don’t stop until the idea is complete. Then I go back to the beginning. Starting anew, with the draft story ahead of me, I begin crafting proper prose. As the story unfolds, I delete sections of the draft. As new ideas pop up, I scroll down and place them (in all their grammar ugliness) quickly and efficiently before anything slips away. Everything is there, easy to read, and in story form which flows and inspires so much better than outlines. At the end, the last of the ugly grammar is consumed. All that remains is to edit the bad and improve the good.
It’s a great technique, showcasing the true power of computing. I’m using it right now, typing and deleting as I answer these questions, something our quill-bearing and typewriter-toting forefathers couldn’t do.
Q. The opening is fast moving, filled with “colour”, “sound” and atmosphere. How did you achieve this?
A. Thank you, Kate. That’s perhaps the best compliment a writer can receive. With great effort and revision is my answer. Writing with all five senses wasn’t something I did naturally but was later told to do in a lecture on character and plot development. It struck a chord, and I took DOR back into the laboratory to perfect the technique. Here’s what I learned.
First, place yourself in the scene you are describing. With it firmly in your mind’s eye, take a look around. Be observant of the surroundings. Then ask yourself: what do I see, feel, smell, and hear? Now ask what’s important to the scene/characters. Make the reader sense it too.
I know; it sounds terribly simple doesn’t it? I’m in a forest. It’s dark and quiet. I stumble over an uneven path. A noise in the distance. Was it the neighing of a horse or just a creaking tree in the wind? The smell of smoke drifts over me. A burning torch. Heavy footfalls break the evening’s silence. The cloaked rider; he’s found me. I must flee. Tree limbs tangle and claw at my arms and garments. My heart quickens, beating to the falling hooves now close behind me. Death and decay masks the torch. I feel the mount’s breath steaming on my neck. The touch of cold steel frees me at last. My worries fade like the warmth coursing through my veins.
What I see as the difficulty is balancing the five senses with dialogue, tempo, and everything else we cram into our prose to tell an entertaining story. My example doesn’t work very well when scaled up to an entire novel. Balance is the key, and I believe a little goes a long way. The best use of the five senses is when the reader experiences them without knowing it.
Q. The first character the reader meets is Aquila, rescuer of the Griffin. I found her immediately engaging, and willed her on to succeed in her mission. How do you sketch out your characters? For example, do you use character bios?
A. I wish I did. Do you know where I can find a decent character template? I’ve looked. They are either too simple (i.e. just name and description fields) or too specialized to tabletop role-playing games.
Still, when your novel is filled with complex conflicts and many characters you have to do something to keep it all straight in your head. I hate wasting precious time ‘bookkeeping’ my book, so I went for the quick and dirty. I used Excel. Any time I created a new character, place, or thing it was logged into the Excel file under the appropriate sheet. Organized? Yes. Tedious? Absolutely. I thought revising the novel was painful. The Excel sheet is so far out dated now it may be hopeless. So much of the story has evolved over the years. Thankfully though, the characters remained static. Only the motivations and back story of the main characters changed significantly.
Recently, I’ve focused on DOR, leaving development of future storyline to the future. This was largely due to the decision to split my once thought to be finished manuscript in half. Although, like the egg in the movie Twins ‘it didn’t split equally’. Hence, my latest focus is on the first half – the Danny Devito of the two. Here I learned to break up my chapters into individual documents, a necessity driven by Authonomy. Instead of maintaining the Excel sheet, I reference the material directly if I’ve forgotten a character’s details. Still, nothing beats Excel for a quick name search. You’d be surprised how many times I tried to reuse the same character name. That worked well for Larry and his brother, Darryl, and his other brother, Darryl in the Newhart show but doesn’t work in my novel.
To answer your question more abstractly, I sketch out my characters to be believable. Sure, some might conjure up impending doom, but they have flaws, weaknesses, and insecurities. Aquila is immensely powerful, but she’s immortal. Someone long-lived doesn’t think quickly on their feet (something I learnt from Tolkien and his Ents – loved those). She’s immortal but she’s young for her race, very much adolescent, yet she’s handed the responsibility of leading a ‘pitiful little band’ of rebels. She must learn true power comes from two sources: strength and wisdom. The reader gets a taste of this in the prologue, and I try hard to sketch all my characters in a similar fashion.
Q.I think most writers are influenced by what they’ve read. Who are your favourite authors and did any of them influence your own writing?
A. I am influenced less by authors’ writing and more by their ideas. I’ve never studied the mechanics of one author or compared authors. This is a major fault and a product of only taking the required English courses associated with a Bachelor in Aerospace Engineering. One day I’ll get a proper literature education and be able to answer this question more effectively. Of course, I’ve never compared mathematicians either. Who would?
This is not to say I don’t recognize certain aspects of style. My own style reflects the more traditional writing mechanics. I perceive a trend in modern writing to shorten everything. Short chapters, short sentences, short dialogue – short, short, short. It’s as if the industry woke up one day and decided their readers possess no attention span. I like to read, but contemporary writing leads me to believe no one else does, or if they do it’s strictly Dick and Jane books. See Protagonist run! Run Protagonist! Run! See Antagonist chase. I read a variety of genres, although fantasy fills more shelves then the rest, and you won’t find a Dick or Jane among them.
Tolkien, Eddings, Feist, and Jordan are my big fantasy four. I say big because these pillars of prose write big. We’re talking twenty page chapters or more in some cases, pages of narration without a single spoken word, sentences that can stretch across as much as three lines, and a story that isn’t complete until it’s over 200,000 words. That’s what I enjoy reading but until I’m a Times best-seller I can’t write that way.
Over three million words of Robert Jordan is sure to influence anyone and my readers will find a highly-modified adaptation of his brilliant mechanism for magic – one I believe is more evolved and symbolic of light and dark than Jordan’s if that’s even possible.
My readers will also find a combination of fantasy with elements of science-fiction. I attribute this to my love of Lucas, although I’ve recently learned his work is actually a derivation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars – the rest of the world knows it as John Carter. There are no lightsabers in DOR, but a couple characters might wield weapons with a familiar feel. I’m fascinated by the idea of a retractable sword, sitting on your hip like an accessory. Now apply that thought beyond just the sword, and the sci-fi in me runs rampant.
Clancy and Ludlum are genius writers of political complexity and espionage, and I believe nothing makes a story more believable than when the characters have prejudices and political factions pulling them apart. The Path of Enlightenment or POE series is steeped with political conflict, and I introduce some of it in DOR.
Those are a few of my obvious influences. There are others, and I’m not always aware of what influences my writing. If you read DOR, you might be able to tell me. Wouldn’t it be cool to have others not only read your work but analyze it too? What might they say? What might you learn – about yourself? Influence is married to interpretation.
Q. When did you first put pen to paper, as it were?
A. Back in 1996, when I just started dating my wonderful wife, I told her how often my mind conjured up ideas – everything from fanciful stories to technical inventions; how they’d be lost, fading from memory. Shortly after, one of the first and most memorable gifts she gave me was a blank book with a Van Gogh cover. We both enjoy Impressionism. She told me to write my ideas in there. The first thing I wrote in it was a dedication to her, and I’ve been writing in it ever since. Although, the busyness of my life lately keeps the entries few and far apart.
That singular event re-spawned a writing passion I’d lost since childhood. It put me on a never ending path of creation and learning. I create worlds, characters, and adventures. I discover new facets of fiction to incorporate into my creations. My life will never be the same, and I love her for revealing that to me.
Unfortunately, my other worldly commitments have only permitted me to write around 200,000 words plus or minus a short story or two and a sprinkling of flash fiction. Fortunately, I’ve learned a great deal during that time and my writing is still improving. One day soon, I’ll put pen to a contract. That will be another memorable day but still not as sweet as receiving that first blank book.
Q. Do you have a website and/or blog where readers can view your work?
A. Sure do. I promoted myself to webmaster in November of 2011. My first attempt at an author page went under the pen name, Ryan Holms – some other bloke is wasting the domain name, Ryan Holmes. Maybe I’ll purchase it in the future. Didn’t like anything about that first site and dumped it a week later. I lost more than one night messing with that failure.
Near the middle of November, I started Griffin’s Quill. At first, I used it to post my flash fiction and some links to DOR on Authonomy. Then I got a little crazy. I opened the site up to other users, creating a literary network where authors could share, teach, learn, and improve fiction.
I am a huge proponent of mentoring and giving back. I’ve been blessed in life. Others haven’t. I can change that, and my soul soars when I do. Griffin’s Quill isn’t changing the world by any means, but it has offered a few authors a helping hand, and that can make all the difference in a person’s life.
I also care a great deal about the discipline. I guess I’m a bit of a purist. Thoroughbred breeders, the good ones anyway, don’t just shove two animals together without regard for the quality of the offspring. Well, I breed fiction, and I care a great deal for the future of the breed. Griffin’s Quill is my kennel. Our mission is to forge better fiction, keeping the breed pure. It’s a long term goal.
The Griffin’s Quill is actually a significant item in the POE series. As you mentioned earlier, DOR introduces the Griffin. It has many representations in the book, and I hope the readers enjoy discovering them. The Quill isn’t included in DOR. Its nature will be revealed in a future volume in the POE series.
Whatever happens to POE, the Griffin’s Quill website will always be a place where authors are welcome provided they share our vision of helping others and improving fiction. Although, if it gets any bigger I may need to solicit help. I think we’re off to a great start.
Q. What are your views on self-publishing?
A. Like my views on street vending – great success will only come with a must have product. This is largely dependent on whether it appears must have, so first impressions are everything: cover, inside jacket pitch, praise, and opening. The other option is a long, hard road of franchise building, which is to say publishing many novels and building name recognition. It all comes down to marketing. When you tell me your book is great – I think that’s nice. When my neighbor tells me your book is great – I buy it.
So a better question is can self-publishing get my neighbor to recommend your book. Sure. If it looks must have and my neighbor hears about it. Well, how does self-publishing do that? The same way big publishing houses do it. How do they do it? They throw money at it. They buy a great cover, pay a great editor, and give kick-backs to spotlight authors to praise it. Then they pay marketers to plaster it all over the media.
So the real question is how much money can you invest in your book? Sadly, the more marketing money spent on a book the better it is perceived to be by the masses. Ask Stephanie Meyers. The success of her novels should be held up as the marketing magi of her genre because the writing is subpar.
Q. Where do you see yourself, writing wise, in say ten years time?
A. Hopefully not still experimenting with DOR! Let’s consult the mirrors. “Mirror, mirror, what doest thou mime of my writing in ten years time?”
The Mirror of Erised (from Harry Potter and appropriated by me for the entertainment of guests) would show me standing before a great bookstore display of DOR and others in the POE series all bearing the coveted New York Times Best Seller tag and an anxious crowd of fans jostling to get their copy signed next. The magic mirror of Grimm fame would show me as the best author of them all until some unruly brat with a seven person writing team toppled me off my throne. The Looking-Glass would show me writing long inverted poems about chess playing fairytale characters, revealing in the end that it was only a dream. None of those mirrors matter. My bathroom mirror shows a hopeful man still working diligently on a long tale meant to explain our origins, our future, and our purpose in it all with a supportive, if distractive, family of four standing behind him. And that’s all that is real and all that matters.
Q. Finally, what one piece of advice would you give fledgling writers?
A. Above all else – educate yourself. Don’t think of writing as something you’re just going to sit down and do one day. Think of it as a career, one requiring the proper qualifications. A publisher is your employer; your work is your resume. Trust me; you want the resume to say you have more than a high school diploma. Ideally, you want it to say ‘Masters in Great Fiction Writing’ with possibly a minor in your genre of choice. Allow me to pose the reader’s next question: How do I get such an education? Well, there are two schools of thought on this: the formal school of higher education, and the scrappy school of hard knocks. One is refined, highly effective, but incredibly expensive. The good news is you’ll come out of it factors of c (that’s a physics term) ahead of everyone else with multiple works ready to develop into a novel. The bad news is you may not make enough money to cover the school loans. The other, the school of hard knocks, is a beat down, drag out fight between your work and all the nasty writing habits you’ve developed with any number of pitfalls (literary lessons learned) along the way. That’s who you’ll be up against in the main ring, and it’s by far the hardest to face. Notice I said ‘main’ ring. There are side rings in this business too. These are bouts between your work and the literary industry. There you’ll face the dreaded critics in the form of peers, agents, editors, and publishers. They’ll cut you quick and deep, but you shouldn’t think of them as opponents. They’re more like your sensei, mentors preparing you for the main event. Some are better than others so keep a wary eye.
I spent time in both schools. It is a never ending course of self-improvement. I will return, one day, to the formal education, and I remain a continual scholar of street schooling. Both will serve any author well.
Becoming a successful author is best done at an early age in the all-expenses-paid comfort of your parent’s home before you’re faced with the decision to plod down the path of two careers (one to write and one to pay the bills) or the path of one potentially low paying career. Either path is a struggle, but I think the payoff is worth it, or I wouldn’t be doing it.
This entry was posted on June 12, 2012 at 4:28 pm and is filed under New Authors section with tags authonomy, classical mythology, dawn, griffin, path of enlightenment, resurgence, writing. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.