Sunday, 19 June 2016

Interview - Alan Baxter

Hello Peeps!

To celebrate the upcoming paperback release of the Alex Caine trilogy (available from the 20th of June) the man himself, Alan Baxter, decided to drop by for a yarn and a laugh. 

Read on, and enjoy! 

Alan Baxter, welcome back to Smash Dragons!

Thanks for having me!

First up, what’s new with you? What projects have you been working on since you last popped by? 

So many things! Obviously the Alex Caine re-release, which I’m sure we’ll talk about more in a minute. Otherwise, I’ve got a new collaborative novel with David Wood called Blood Codex coming out in a few weeks, which is a straight-up action adventure yarn. And another collab with David coming out in January with Cohesion Press – this one a giant monster thriller called Primordial – that I’m very excited about. I’ve got a few short stories recently published or in the pipeline, but more importantly, I’m finally getting a collection of my short stories published. It’s going to be called Crow Shine and it’ll be published by Ticonderoga Publications in September. Very exciting! And a novella called The Book Club is coming out from PS Publishing (Australia) some time in late 2017. And of course, there’s always new work out there looking for a home.

I’m stoked to finally see Abduction and Obsidian being released in paperback form! How does it feel to finally see the entire series come together like that?  

Oh, it makes me so happy. It’s been very frustrating, but so great now to see the whole trilogy about to hit shelves. I was so awesome to see them in all their papery physical glory, especially with the amazing new covers. I really hope people get behind the series and buy the set to look awesome on their shelves.

Will there be any changes to the new books when compared to the original digital releases?

No changes at all other than the new covers, but oh, those covers! ☺

The new covers are sensational. Did you have much input in the design process, or was that something Harper Voyager took the lead on? 

Voyager absolutely took the lead, but we did have discussions about style and vibe, what kind of thing we were looking to do, all that stuff. And I did get to give some feedback on the original drafts of the new covers, but I was really happy with what Voyager did, so didn’t have much to add. These covers finally give a really good idea of what the books are about, that dark, gritty, thriller vibe, plus magic and monsters!

For those people who haven’t read the series, can you give them short run down on what they can expect to find in the books?

Magic, monsters, mayhem and martial arts in a fast-paced dark urban fantasy thriller series. Quests around the world, lost cities, powerful beings battling for the fate of the humanity. And swears.

Will you ever return to the universe you created in the Alex Caine series? I for one would LOVE to see more about the origins of the Subcontractor… a short story even!  

If the books are successful enough, I’ll definitely write more Alex Caine novels. I’d love to extend the series and make it ongoing beyond this trilogy. While these three books make a complete story, I deliberately left a few small things here and there unresolved so that I can return to them, and there’s a lot of scope to do more with these characters yet. I’ve got lots of notes for possible future novels. More on the Subcontractor? I don’t know, but never say never!

Will there be a book launch or signing that people can attend for the release of all of the Alex Caine books? 

Yes, there will be something in Sydney – on June 30th at Galaxy Bookshop, with myself in conversation with Garth Nix! But it’s filling up, so check my feeds for details and RSVP soon. And I’m sure I’ll try to get around the country again as much as I can, visit book stores, and so on. And I’m Guest of Honour at Conflux in Canberra in October and will definitely be signing books there. I’ll be at Book Expo in Sydney on October 9th too. Watch my blog and social media feeds for news as more stuff gets organised.

More congratulations are in order as well. Your novella “In Vaulted Halls Entombed” recently won an Australian Shadows Award. How pleasing is it for you to see your work being recognised and acknowledged across different genres? 

It’s really exciting and honestly humbling. Selling books and being read is what we’re all aiming for – that’s the real success we’re chasing. But to be recognised by award juries, to get that kind of endorsement that what you’re doing stands out, that’s a feeling you can’t compare to anything else. And to win that particular award, The Paul Haines Award for Long Fiction, is really special. Paul was a good mate and I miss him badly. It’s an honour to win the award named in his memory.

I felt that you had a wonderful grasp on writing cosmic horror with “In Vaulted Halls Entombed”. I’m curious, how did that story come about? Where did you get your inspiration for it? 

I was asked to write a story for the SNAFU series, which is an anthology series of military horror. So I had to decide what soldiers I wanted, what they would be up against and where they would face their horror. I’ve long been a fan of cosmic horror and often write stuff that touches the edges of that genre and decided this story would be a direct play in that particular sandbox. I’ve got more cosmic horror stuff on the horizon and the story published in F&SF last year, “The Chart of the Vagrant Mariner”, is probably my most cosmic horror short story published thus far. My inspiration comes from all the great stuff written before and then I curdle it for a while in my brainmeats.

Speaking of the 'The Chart of the Vagrant Mariner'... that story in particular contains some of the best moments I think I've ever read in any short fiction piece (Scarlet Wind heading toward maw-like portal for example). Just how much did you enjoy writing that particular story? Was it an idea you have played around with for a long time, or did you write it specifically for submission to F/SF? 

Thanks! For a long time I'd been noodling around with ideas for a historical pirate/cosmic horror piece. It marinated in my head for months (maybe years) before it finally began to take shape and I wrote it. It was enormous fun, required a fair bit of research, and is actually a precursor to a novel I hope to write. Whether the specifics of that story match the novel, I don't know, but it was an exercise with the form. It's one of my favourite stories, I must admit.

Random question… you write about a lot of supernatural and weird things in your books and stories. I’m curious, do you actually believe in any of those things (ghosts, demons, cosmic terrors etc)? 

I don’t buy into the majority of that stuff in the “popular” realm, I’m a dyed in the wool skeptic, but I don’t think for a second that we know everything. There are energies and the potential for lifeforms well beyond anything we can currently comprehend, so I’m open to any “supernatural” discovery. The majority of what people consider supernatural in this day and age is largely psychological. But I sure as hell know that I don’t know everything and I’d love to be proven wrong.

I once described you as the love child of Stephen King and Jim Butcher. Since then I think you have grown even more as a writer. Do you feel you have improved over the past few years? What would be the area you think you have shown the most improvement? 

I did enjoy reading that comparison you made! I hope that I grow all the time. As a writer, I want everything I create to be an improvement on what came before. I’m always learning. The most improvement? No idea. I don’t think I can really be an objective judge of that. But I strive to improve everything about my writing with every new thing.

I’ve always been curious about the writing habits of authors. For example, George Orwell apparently wrote a lot whilst lying down in bed. Do you have any particular idiosyncrasies like that when you write? 

Not at all. I’ll write anywhere, any time I get a chance. Running a martial arts academy and looking after my two-year-old son means I don’t have the luxury of time for idiosyncrasies!

A lot of writers find it uncomfortable to read their work once it has been published. Do you ever re-read your stories once they have been let out into the wide open world? 

Nope! I'll reread often while drafting and then in the editing stage, but not after that. Bear in mind that once a story is published that's months or even years after it was written. I've long since moved on. Having said that, if I get to write more Alex Caine novels, I will go back and read the first trilogy again to get my head back into those characters and that world. That will be weird!

Tell me about the first story (published or unpublished) that you ever wrote. What was it about? 

The first one I remember was when I was about seven. We'd been told to wrote a story about what we'd done during our school holiday. I came back with a five page epic about going back in time to fight dinosaurs. The teacher had me read it to the class and I knew I wanted to be a writer.

What's the funniest feedback you have ever received from an editor? 

Here's a direct copy/paste of a conversation with an editor:

Me: Aw, you took out the "impressive penis" line! :)

Editor: Lol!! I thought you might be attached to that line... It just seemed a bit superfluous.

That's just one example of many. And no, I'm not telling you who that was or what story. :)

You recently were invited to the Beechworth Writer's Retreat by Geoff Brown to help mentor and guide other writers. How did you find the experience? How pleasing is it to give back to people who are just starting out on their own writing journey? 

I love the opportunity to give back. I got so much help and support as an up-and-comer, and I still do now, so I relish the opportunity to pay it forward. I wrote about the Beechworth thing here: and there are lots of pictures linked from there too.

I have to ask (the people want to know)... how is Dolly settling into her new home? 

She's fine, and taking well to her new... Wait, where's she gone? And where are all the kitchen knives?

Oh no! Quick, before you go, where can we find out about new things you’re doing?

Have a look at the bibliography page on my website - to see everything that’s out or forthcoming, and if you can’t track anything down, drop me a line. And find me on Twitter @AlanBaxter for a chat if you like.

Alan Baxter, thanks for coming back to Smash Dragons! 

You can buy the amazing Alex Caine trilogy from tomorrow (20th of June). It will be available at all good book retailers across Australia. You can also pick the books up from online platforms such as Booktopia. For more information check out Alan's site. And don't be shy, Alan likes to chat, especially when it comes to books! 

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