I am very privileged to bring you yet another instalment in our interview series for 2015. This week Smash Dragons spoke to dark fantasy and horror writer Alan Baxter, author of the Alex Caine novels and numerous other works. Alan graciously took time out of his busy schedule to chat about various things, including why he became a writer and dancing monkeys!
Alan Baxter, welcome to Smash Dragons!
Thanks for having me.
First up, tell us a bit about yourself, and your Alex Caine series of novels.
I’m a British-Australian author who writes dark fantasy, horror and sci-fi. I also teache Kung Fu, running my own school, the Illawarra Kung Fu Academy, in Kiama. I live among dairy paddocks on the beautiful south coast of NSW, with my wife, son, dog and cat.
The Alex Caine series is the story of an underground cage fighter who is at the top of his game and very happy with life, until he begins to learn a lot more about himself that he’d rather not know. He gets drawn into a world of magic, monsters and mayhem and the harder he tries to escape, the deeper he’s drawn in. It’s a world he wishes he’d never found.
Why did you become a writer? Was it for the money, girls, or fast cars?
HAHAHAHA! Oh, man, there’s none of that stuff unless you win the writing lottery and score the kind of success of the Stephen Kings and J K Rowlings out there. Writers are writers because its in their very essence. I’ve always been a writer. I make a point of trying to be a professional and successful author and if I keep working hard and have a bit of luck, maybe I’ll make a good living at it. But regardless, I write because I have stories I want to tell and writing is my self-expression.
Dark elements are quite common throughout your work. What is it about those elements that you find so attractive to explore?
I find that darkness and horror is more honest. I’ll follow an idea for as far as it’ll go and that’s often down some very dark holes. When you’re dealing with high stakes, it can get messy.
Who are your literary influences? What is your favourite book, and why?
So hard to say. I have so many. Clive Barker is a huge influence on me and his novel, The Great and Secret Show is one of my favourite books ever. One of! The classics like H P Lovecraft, Clarke Ashton Smith, Edgar Allen Poe. Contemporaries like Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Anne McCaffrey, Ursula Le Guin… So many!
I will admit that I loved Bound and Obsidian, and I am about to start Abduction. How did this series of novels come about? What challenges did you face whilst writing them?
I loved the world building in both Bound and Obsidian, and I thought the Kin were utterly fascinating. Did you do much research when you were creating this universe?
I’ve been researching this universe my whole life really, because it’s all twisted mythology and extrapolated folk tales, all given my own personal tweaks and twists. Then I made up my own mythologies to fill in any gaps.
Your Alex Caine novels are full of fights and cracking action. How does your background in fighting and martial arts help when choreographing these scenes?
It’s integral. I hate badly written fight scenes, so I try to make mine as exciting and fast-paced, but also as realistic, as possible. I draw on all my experience for that.
Alex Caine seems to share a lot of similarities with yourself. Was his creation a case of writing what you know?
Definitely to a degree. As a martial artist his martial philosophy and his fighting ethics are very similar to my own. As a person, he’s very different to me.
The Subcontractor is pretty cool, huh. I’m rather proud of him! I like to create unconventional monsters, so I try to invent something a little bit different and make it as horrible and terrifying as I can manage. But I also like those monsters to be hard to see in the world. The scariest thing is often how easily they blend in and walk among us. I don’t have any particular process, but I extrapolate what inspiration I have.
When writing, are you an architect or a gardener?
A bit of both. I’m more gardener than architect, but I always have fairly extensive notes before I start a novel. Having said that, the notes are not rules and the story will often go in unexpected directions. I love it when that happens. I’ll always roll with it and subsequently adjust the notes to accommodate the new direction.
What is your worst writing habit?
Interesting question. I honestly don’t know. All the bad stuff gets polished out in edits and redrafts, so I guess my bad habits are the same as anyone’s – word repetition, passive voice, plot holes! But that’s all first draft stuff and I have wonderful beta readers who help me seek and destroy all that.
If you could steal one writing ability from any author, who would it be and why?
I wouldn’t. I’ve spent years developing my own voice and I want to continue doing that. If I could steal Stephen King’s sales figures, I’d have those in an instant. I’d love to sell as many books as he does.
What are you working on right now?
I’ve just finished a new standalone horror novel and sent it over to my agent. Fingers crossed she likes it and can find it a good home. I’ve also started work on another standalone novel – a horror/crime kind of thing – and I’ll be getting back to that now.
You run a martial arts academy in Kiama on the South Coast, and you have recently become a father. How on earth do you find the time to write?
I make the time. Anyone who wants to be a writer has to make the time to do it. Of course, life, family, day jobs, all get in the way, but if you want to be a writer badly enough, you’ll make time to write. Even if that’s just two hours every Sunday afternoon, you take that. And you protect that writing time savagely. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s not important. If you write 1,000 words a week – which is not much at all – you can finish a novel in two years. That might sound like a long time, but it’s better than lamenting your whole life about how you don’t have time to write, isn’t it? I’m always a writer, every waking minute I think like a writer. Then I make time to actually write and I do it. Baby nap time is gold.
You have published a lot of cracking short stories in your career. What was your first, and how did you celebrate?
The first one I sold was a horror story to an old online zine called The Harrow, and I got paid $5 for it. I think I bought myself a beer!
Best writing tip for novices looking to improve their craft?
Read, read, read. Write, write, write. Repeat.
You are admirably a big supporter and proponent of local speculative fiction. Who should I be looking out for in 2015?
So many! Australia is bristling with great spec fic talent. Angela Slatter, Jo Anderton, Robert Hood, Andrew McKiernan, Lisa L Hannett, Margo Lanagan, Kaaron Warren, so many more! And one of my very good friends is no longer with us, he died far too young from cancer, but he was one of Australia’s greatest voices in dark fiction. His name is Paul Haines and people should most definitely avail themselves of his work, especially his novella, Wives. You can find that in the X6 anthology from Coeur De Lion, or in Paul’s collection, The Last Days of Kali Yuga.
And finally, what can we expect from Alan Baxter in the future?
More novels, more short stories and novellas, another collaboration with David Wood. Laughs, song and merriment. Dancing monkeys! (Maybe not the monkeys.)
Alan Baxter, thank you for taking the time out of your busy life to chat with Smash Dragons!
You're welcome, thanks for having me.
You can check out Alan's blog and website here, and you can find copies of his work online at Amazon and all other good book retailers. Bound, the first Alex Caine book, is available right now on Amazon for the bargain price of $1.64!
You can also pick up the paperback edition of Bound from all good bookshops. And, if you are a major fan like me, you can pay Alan himself the amazing price of $25 (covers book and pnh, more if you are an international fan) and he will sign and post a copy of Bound to you anywhere in Australia! Just drop him a line (contact details on his website) for more information. The man just keeps on giving!
Tune in next week, when the lovely Glenda Larke joins us for a chat!