Tuesday 17 July 2018

Interview: Coleman Alexander

between-the-shade-and-the-shadow, coleman-alexander, book, illustration

Today I am welcoming fantasy author Coleman Alexander to The Writing Greyhound for a chat about his life, writing, and his novel Between the Shade and the Shadow. Welcome to the blog!

Firstly, please could you introduce yourself?
My name is Coleman Alexander. I’m a dad, a husband, a writer, a hiker, a photographer, an explorer, a creator and a dreamer. I read too much news and not enough fiction. I’m a natural night owl who goes to bed early in order to rise and write. I like good coffee, good beer, good friends and good travels. The further from the nitty-gritty, the better. I try and meet everyone I see with a smile, because why not be polite. My friends used to call me a hurricane and now I’ve gone and bred a three-year-old tornado. He’s the joy of my life and calls me baba.
How did you first become interested in writing?
Right around the time I graduated high school, I wanted adventure in my life. I had a job that drove me insane, and I spent the whole time daydreaming about the books or movies that I had read or seen recently. One day, I started to think of a story and a world I wished I could live in (with a thinly-veiled representation of me as the hero, of course). I sat down at my first ever laptop and rattled out six pages of drivel. I had never felt that excited in my life. I loved it and was convinced I needed to write a book. It was like magic, and I’ve spent the last fifteen years continuing to chase that feeling.
Tell me about Between the Shade and the Shadow.

About the Writing
Between the Shade and the Shadow is the first novel that I’m releasing, but it’s not the first book I’ve written. It takes place in the larger world of Galadore, which is the land where all my books take place. Interestingly enough, I knew the ending of Ahraia’s story before I knew anything about her or her culture. I ran across her while writing another story and she left me wondering about her for years. Eventually, she convinced me that I needed to know more. I had a vague idea of where she came from, and I knew where she ended up, and then one day, on a flight to a friends thirtieth birthday, the first line came to me. 
Midnight had come and gone and Ahraia still hadn’t found a shadow. If she didn’t find one soon, she was dead. 
That’s the point the story began to crystallize. The story took about six months to write and another two years to edit. It fully came together when I realized it was an exploration of self and society, a way for me to look at my own struggles with conforming to expectation.
between-the-shade-and-the-shadow, coleman-alexander, book

About the Story
I think the easiest way to get a feel for the story is through the blurb, which I included below. 
In the deep heart of the forest, there are places where no light ever shines, where darkness is folded by pale hands and jewel-bright eyes, where the world is ruled by the wicked and kept by the wraiths. This is where the Sprites of the Sihl live. 
But Sprites are not born, they are made. On the path to Spritehood, spritelings must first become shades. They do so by binding a shadow: a woodland creature, who guides them through their training. Together, they keep from the light and learn to enchant living things, to bind them, and eventually, to kill them. 
Ahraia is a shade who has bound a wolf for a shadow, as strong a shadow as there has ever been. But while her wolf marks her for greatness, Ahraia struggles with the violent ways of her people. Illicit as it is, she would rather be running wild beneath the moons. But a test is coming, and the further she and her shadow wander out of the darkness, the deeper they wander into danger. Ahraia’s time is coming and what awaits her at the end of her test will either make her or kill her...
Why did you decide to write fantasy fiction?
Fantasy, to me, has always been my favourite genre. It’s full of wonder and magic, and yet, it allows a writer or reader to explore every possible conflict imaginable. From microscopic character pieces to multi-world epics that explore society, humanity, and nature. I love the scope, and I love how it allows you to consider the world in ways you might never have thought before.
Why do you think it’s important to portray strong female characters in the fantasy genre?
This is my favourite question in the interview. It’s my favourite because I never considered this my goal, and yet, it’s a fundamental belief that I hold. We do need strong females in fantasy, and in all genres. I didn’t set out to write a strong female character. It never occurred to me that I should. I set out to write about a strong person (technically a sprite, but you get my point). The fact that she is female just is. Ahraia is someone I liked and wanted to spend a lot of time with, and it had nothing to do with her being a female. But that is exactly why I love this question. 
I think that is a natural transition in thought that is occurring from one generation to the next. Equality should be one of the bastions of society. I think our heroes and heroines should take many forms and should inspire all aspects of society. My childhood was spent admiring Frodo and Matthias and Luke Skywalker. I hope this next generation has Harry and Katniss and Ahraia and all manner of heroes or heroines. To get there, we need more diversity in writing. And we need books that portray females in that heroic role just as much as we need males in that role. To me, it was just common sense she is my heroine.
How did you get inspiration?
I get inspiration from all sorts of places, but none more so than just sitting down and forcing myself to write. Steven Pressfield has a great take on this in his book The War of Art. Essentially, it comes down to the idea that if you have to put the work in if you want to be graced the muses. I also listen to a ton of music and try and hike as much as possible. Being surrounded by nature and moving helps my brain relax and do its thing.
What’s your writing process?
My process is always evolving, but right now it consists of two parts. The plan and the execution. I used to just write, and after twelve years of aimless wandering, I realized I needed direction. 
I generally try to know the major points of the novel, a good deal about the main character and his or her motivations. Once I have a rough outline, I walk through the scenes that got me interested in the first place. After that, I begin to ask myself what moments exist between those scenes, trying to create a scaffolding to write from. Once the scaffolding is up, I jump in and let loose. I generally fly in the beginning, writing at a breakneck speed to try and get to the ending. I never do. There’s always a catch. And I usually get blocked around the 60% mark. So far, I’ve had to step away every time.  
My second draft is where I get the story right, and it always takes the longest. After a few weeks or months, I return to my first draft and decide that each of my scenes are somehow simultaneously the singular worst pieces of writing in the universe. After wallowing in self-doubt for a while, I put on my gloves and start from scratch, careful to put something together that is whole. This process takes me the longest. Once I have that cohesive draft, I read, then listen, then read aloud. Then I usually will let someone read or hear it (usually my wife, my mom, and my sister), correct it again and then off to the editor. 
The other part of my process is my action. I wake up every day at 5 to write. It used to be four, but with a little guy at home, that wasn’t sustainable. I do that seven days a week, on vacations and holidays. I find a few spare moments most days and have a few scheduled sessions.
coleman-alexander, author

What’s the hardest thing about writing?
The process is sometimes brutal. And there are points where it feels like absolute hell. I hate the sixty per cent mark in a first draft. Every time I’m flying along, planning my red carpet walk down the movie premiere before I look up and realize I’m in a wasteland of characters and plot. A single issue can topple me, and sometimes it takes months before I realize the answer. Now I get that it is part of my process - but damn if it doesn’t suck the life out of me.
What do you love most about writing?
Flow. The flow of a good scene makes it all worth it. Sometimes a scene plays out in my mind from the muses. It’s not me, but when that type of magic happens, time and existence transcend into something far beyond this world.
Which authors inspire you?
This question made me laugh. My favourite authors do not inspire me. Not one bit. Most of the time, they actually derail me. I admire Patrick Rothfuss, J.K. Rowling, and Pierce Brown to name a few. They are masters of the craft, and I revere them but they are too good. it’s the bad authors that get me going. The worse the author, the more inspired I am. Awful writing makes me think, “Hey, I’m not doing so bad.” 
As far as artistic inspiration, I take a lot of inspiration from musicians, mostly those who are independent and have ground their way through the obstacles in the name of art. I try to emulate that drive.
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
I have three things I wish I would have understood when I was younger. I heard them many times, but it wasn’t until years had gone by that they finally got through to me. 
First, don’t worry about what anybody else thinks. For ten years I wouldn’t write if anyone was in the same room as me. I was so particular about my environment, my energy, the conditions, my inspiration... and then I found out that none of that matters. No one cares - so don’t be embarrassed. Most people will actually encourage you, and it doesn't matter if you’re not good. Do it. And keep doing it. 
Secondly, learn to have a workman’s attitude. You have to be a workhorse. You have to show up every day. It’s the only way to get better, the only way to stay sharp. If you’re always waiting for inspiration, you might be waiting your whole life. Don’t do that. 
Third listen to Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art (I love the audiobook). My first time through, I don’t think I thought that highly of it. I liked parts, but other parts didn’t resonate. Now, it’s my creative bible, and it never fails to inspire, enlighten, strengthen or even humble me. If you listen, and if you hear what he says your on the right path. You can’t help but grow from the lessons hidden within.
What are you currently working on?
Oh man. Don’t get me started. 
I’m always working in My World. I lump all my works under the umbrella of The Realmless because that is the name of the central series that started this all fifteen years ago and continues to drive all other stories forward. The world is called Galadore and ties all the stories I write together. 
Within that world, I’m in the process of editing a Middle-Grade novel called The Footprints Beneath the Window. Set in the same world as Between the Shade and the Shadow, it is the story of Pippa, a farm girl whose family is struggling with a Tompte, a nisse-like creature that for generations has taken care of the farm. It explores tradition, family, guilt, and giving. It’s a story about winter and the hardships of life on a farm. 
I’m also in the middle of a trilogy called The Depths Below which I haven’t taken the time to boil down into a brief sentence. It follows Lyre Augustine’s journey into adulthood. He’s a sailor among the graced (magical) peoples of Galadore, but the trouble is, his grace never came. It’s an exploration of values and desires, those we can control and those we can’t. It’s a hell of an adventure, and I can’t wait to share it with the world. 
And all the while, I continue to sharpen the series master plan, which currently calls for eight books and which I think of as my crown jewel. I write around it, building the world, solidifying characters, motivations, and conflicts. My goal is to attack this one once writing is at least a part-time gig. Right now, it’s too much to tackle in my spare hours of the mornings.
What are you reading at the moment?
Currently, I’m reading Morning Star, the third book in the epic Red Rising Series. Like all good writing, it makes me wonder why I waste my time. By the time you read this, I’ll probably have moved on. You can check out what I’m reading over on Goodreads.
Between the Shade and the Shadow is available to buy now.

Will you be reading the book? Let me know in the comments below!

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