A week and a half ago I posted a request for fan questions for Nights of Villjamur author Mark Charan Newton. We weren't too sure how this little experiment would go - I'm glad to see it worked out.
Questions were asked, questions were gathered, and they've now been answered.
Thank you to all that joined in to quiz Mr. Newton. I hope his answers satisfy you.
Below you will find all the questions that were asked coupled with their gracious answers from Mr. Newton. Enjoy.
Mark Charan Newton: Yes. Well, pretty much. The fantasy genre has a huge range to it – magical realism to urban fantasy to the secondary world epics, so maybe I’ll slide along the scale, but I can’t see myself writing anything else for the foreseeable future.
Anonymous asked: Do you think you could ever write completely outside your comfort zone? For example if you had to write a supernatural romance novel (a la Stephanie Meyer), do you think you'd make a good job of it?
MCN: I’d never rule it out, though I’d always want to put my own spin on things. I wouldn’t want to dismiss any genre purely on face value – there are strengths and weaknesses to them all. But there’s something to be said for trying new things, outside a writer’s comfort zone. That’s what makes it interesting – the challenge. I can imagine what it’s like to write the same book again and again.
Anonymous asked: How do you get your hair into a point like that? And is it necessary for a good day's worth of writing?
MCN: I use a clay based hair product, to control the mop. And no – often my hair will be majestically bouffant when I write first thing in the morning. I struggle along.
Steve asked: Random question - do you read comic books, and if so, which ones?
MCN: I do, though not as often as I’d like. I read Brian K Vaughan’s Ex Machina last, and went through a bit of a Batman phase last year. Before that was Jonathan Lethem’s Omega the Unknown. I rarely read them when I was a kid, so missed out on the whole nostalgia angle, but I do like to dip in from time to time.
Anonymous asked: Just how awesome is Aidan Moher and his blog, A Dribble of Ink? In what ways has your love life improved since discovering them?
MCN: My love life has improved precisely two-fold since reading Aidan’s blog, though I’m not at liberty to share the experiences, for it would rob them of their magic.
Larry asked: If you had to cuddle a rabid squirrel in your bed, would you rather it be a red or gray squirrel and why?
MCN: A Red – they’re much rarer in the UK, thanks to the pesky Grays pushing them out of their habitat!
Larry added: Also, have you ever thought about writing a story in which you could work in a Led Zep reference?
MCN: I would love to give it a go. I’m trying to think if I’ve already dropped a few Led Zep references into the books, but I don’t think so.
Jez asked: What has been your best moment since getting a publishing deal?
MCN: Easy: having China Miéville call me to tell me he enjoyed reading City of Ruin. I was a little stunned to be honest, since I still like to see myself as a genre reader/fan, and I’m only just getting used to being an author.
Jez also asked: Also, who would win in a fight between a badger and a baboon?
MCN: I’ve thought about this quite a bit, and I’m sure it’s a baboon. It’s a no-brainer, surely?
Ale- Yummy ::Hell:: Faery asked: How many hairs do you have on your head??
MCN: I think 120,000, give or take.
Ale- Yummy ::Hell:: Faery also asked: What do you prefer: WerePonies or Sparkly-Pink furred WereWolves?
MCN: Definitely the WereWolves. They sound kind of disco-kitsch.
Anonymous asked: Do you find being disgustingly young and good-looking a bar, at all?
MCN: [For the record, this isn’t me writing this question…] Well, thank you for the compliment! To be honest, I don’t think most people care what authors look like, and that’s probably a good thing, either way. I guess if anything, not being – in common parlance – a swamp donkey would probably work against you – on the internet, it’s just one more reason for someone to take a dislike to you!
Anonymous asked: How did you find the editing process? Did it get easier with each book? At any point did you want to kill your editor or copy-editor?
MCN: I loathe the editing process. Well, structural editing is cool – because I’m prompted to think for creative solutions to any problems with plot or character. Line editing is pure evil, because it’s a line by line deconstruction / alteration / faff. There’s no way out. By this point you’ve read the book several times and don’t care. And then it’s the copy-edit stage, which scans for any further errors. I’m usually willing to kill myself around the line edit stage.
Gav (from NextRead) wanted someone to ask: When is your hair getting that book deal?
MCN: You’ll have to ask my editor. As of yet, it’s not submitted anything, but it has a few ideas.
Emma P asked: What question did you most want to be asked?
MCN: My ego says the one about being good-looking. The thought part of my brain says anything that can be of use to others.
Anonymous asked: Who do you ask to read through new work first? Is it your agent, or do you have a friend or relative you ask for feedback?
MCN: I occasionally have a reader or two, but the first port of call is my agent. I’m willing to allow others to read it – I’m not precious – but part of me feels incredibly guilty dumping my work on someone. And I’d be skeptical of a relative giving feedback for it being, well, too kind.
sgcsgu asked: What, for you, would be the most challenging story to write?
MCN: They all have their challenges, to be honest. Or rather, I set myself a load of challenges throughout a book. I’m writing something tough at the moment, because the lead character is a little more uncommon, and I’m not familiar with people of her background. And that’s part of the joy – getting to understand another person’s way of looking at the world. So I’d say that any difficulties are presented mainly by characters, rather than a type of story. For me, at least.
sgcsgu then asked: Also, how do you respond to people saying you are too young to be a writer? What do you secretly think of the person after they've made such a comment?
MCN: People, these days, can be quite nasty to young writers, and sometimes you have to read between the lines in what is said to see this. Not only is it tough being constantly compared to others rather than have your own work judged on its own merits, but there are a lot of people out there who don’t think you deserve to be where you are at a young age. It’s understandable, especially since quite a few people think they can write a book (my answer to them – go and write one then), so anyone who has beaten them to it is likely to raise sinister feelings. It’s one of the more surprising things. But how do I respond? Generally with a shrug. What can you do?
sgcsgu also asked: And finally a random one: has ballroom dancing ever appealed to you?
MCN: Strangely, yes. But I’ve all the rhythm of a robot, so that’s unlikely to happen.
sgcsgu then added: Oh, and, when is your autobiography (entitled: "The Fantasy Guy with the Hair and the Moody Eyes") due to be published?
MCN: June 2032. I’m still a little behind deadline.
Mark Charan Newton's comb asked: It looks like you spend a lot of time giving your hair that perfect just-got-outta-bed look. How does your hair affect your fans at book signings?
MCN: The surprising answer is that I try to spend as little time as possible on my hair, as you well know, comb. The hair kind of does what it wants to do, without my say-so, but to my knowledge any fans are unaffected.
The drain in Mark Charan Newton's bathtub asked: Related to the previous question, when are you going to clean me?
MCN: You get cleaned regularly enough. Get back to draining water.
Trans-species He-man toy asked: How did you become an Editor and how has working on both sides of the fence influenced you're writing and editing skills?
MCN: I applied for a job after working in bookselling – it was a boon that I’d worked on the front line, and had an understanding of the industry. It’s affected my writing vastly – mainly because it’s showed me that everything you thought you knew about the rules of fiction are pretty much rubbish, and you can do much more than you wanted to do. (Reading mainstream fiction also shows you this, since it generally has the airtime for experimental prose.)
Also, I learned never listen to anyone who dictates to you what a good fiction sentence should be like – you have more freedom than you think.
Trans-species He-man toy also said: If you could have a part of your body replaced by another animal's, which part would it be and which animal? It seems to be something that features heavily in your recent work.
MCN: If you could have a part of your body replaced by another animal's, which part would it be and which animal? It seems to be something that features heavily in your recent work.
I’d have the legs of a cheetah, then I could sprint through morning rush hour without the stress. Or something that could enable me to walk on buildings – that would be cool.
Beth asked: What, in your opinion, makes the fantasy genre great and makes you want to write in it?
MCN: Science fiction and fantasy is great because of the fans – no other genre has this level of fandom. We have the most conventions, the most dialogue, the most energy about the books – and there’s a genuine sense of community, which I imagine is the envy of other genres. Why would I not want to write in such conditions?
Beth also asked: What are your plans for the future in terms of what you will write?
MCN: Finishing the four books in this series, and then doing something a little different. I have plans – I just can’t say yet. :)
Beth finally asked: Are there any days where you regret being a writer? Which ones?
MCN: Sometimes, when you see two or three comments on a forum thread, or on an Amazon review, it makes you momentarily want to pretend you’re not doing this job. It’s hard to not take offence personally, especially for creative minds. But then you realize that you’ve sold a few thousand books, and only a meager handful of people are attacking it online, then it’s not such a big deal.
Anonymous asked: Do you think you might just be a tiny bit overexposed?
MCN: Yeah, I do worry about that. I set out to say yes to pretty much every publicity opportunity I got for the first few years, and I’ve stuck to that so far. You have to get out there and promote yourself, in order to build a brand/profile/readership, and it’s a fine line between doing that well, and annoying people. But I’d rather be a bit overexposed than underexposed, since that could make the difference between still doing this job and not doing it at all.
aKalPheb asked: What is your opinion on the genre in general, where it is, where it is going?
MCN: It’s in a healthy state. Fantasy is flourishing, in sales terms, and it has a healthy readership. As for where is it going? Well, I dare say it’ll continue to reinvent its own tropes in slightly different ways. We’re still living with Tolkien’s ghosts, which is not a bad thing, considering it allows many of us to be here in the first place. Despite slightly newer innovations, we have the same traditional framework, so I think it’ll remain as it is for a decade or so yet. Urban fantasy will start to dominate for shelf space, genre is becoming properly mainstream in cultural terms. I’d hope that meant more people reading science fiction and fantasy.
aKalPheb also asked: A homosexual and albino soldier. How did you come up with that?
MCN: It’s based on something I once used in a still-unpublished novel, where a character was hiding his own homosexuality behind another physical trait. With the albino, I wanted people to think that skin colour was his big concern, where in fact it is his sexuality. I thought it was a neat trick of hiding it from the reader.
Anonymous asked: Do your family/friends/other half see parts of themselves in your books, whether added consciously or subconsciously?
P.S. I mean, snatches of conversation etc., not 'oh, I recognize my left arm'.
MCN: I’ve so far not included any family members’ limbs. But there are little comments or habits I’ll sneak in, yeah, and no one has so far spotted them. Maybe it’s because we tend not to know that much about our own quirky habits, and it takes others to recognize them, so we’re probably not that good at seeing our own selves in novels.
LaRed asked: What do you love and hate about your books?
MCN: I’m not sure I love or hate anything about them. There are things I wish I’d done differently all the time – and even when I’ve handed something in I worry about whether or not it’s good enough. I think what I do well is try to do something different – be it in prose style, dialogue, aesthetics, characters – and whether or not people love or hate them is another matter. I’m not going out there to write something everyone will love – wouldn’t that be dull? – I’m just writing what fascinates me or affects me at the time. If other people like it, then that’s good too.
LaRed also asked: How honest are you when you answer fan questions?
MCN: I like to think I’m already jaded enough by the industry to not care about being brutally honest. So yeah, as honest as I can be (without offending anyone, of course).
Anonymous asked: What is the biggest criticism you can make towards the publishing industry, and/or the sf&f genre?
MCN: About the whole industry: it’s dominated by money. Money puts books in store promotions, pays for huge advertising runs, manufactures the success of certain titles, the print runs, sends you emails about various titles you might be interested in. Money influences what people buy. Money can make some authors more successful than others.
For the fantasy genre – well my only criticism would be that the core readers rarely want something radically different. Fantasy can do anything, but the core titles are very, very similar – be it in set-up or plot or whatever – and books that aren’t part of that core line tend to be frowned upon. I think that’s a shame, because ultimately it leads to homogeneity. Is this true? Just look at the kind of things on a bookstore table, and scan the backs of books.
Grefarriot asked: Have you ever forcibly made someone buy your book?
MCN: Ha, no. Actually, despite my online shenanigans, I’m rather self-depreciative and very British when it comes to that sort of thing. I’m often telling people, ‘Oh don’t read that, read x, y, z instead.’ I just feel so awkward about it all, face to face. Most of my online ‘promotion’ tends to be me behind my blog talking about crap. It’s hardly promotion, but it seems to do the trick.
Anonymous asked: Being a young author what is the most pertinent piece of advice you can give to a fledgling fantasist?
MCN: Don’t listen to the noise online, as best you can. There will always be someone that hates what you do, and being young can also work against you, so try to do your own thing. I can’t really offer writing advice (and I find it all a little awkward anyway), but just keep your head down, soldier on with your work. Write, as Neil Gaiman says, and finish what you write. Also, try not to believe that what exists online is the general consensus. We online folk are a niche of a niche, a minority. There’s a whole real world out there that, believe it or not, doesn’t check out the debate. They buy a heck of a lot of books, too.
Anonymous asked: Was there ever a time when you thought Nights of Villjamur was utterly bad and did not deserve to be published? If so, how did you change that?
MCN: There is still a time now where I don’t think it deserves to be published. I have immense (without sounding like some Bohemian fop) mood swings when it comes to worrying about the quality of books. I hope that’s natural. There’s nothing you can do about that worry, but it is a good thing. Imagine the arrogance of standing there, presenting your book to the world and saying, ‘I think this is perfect.’ Worrying keeps you on your toes, makes you want to improve as a writer. Accept the concerns and let them work for you.
Elfintrot asked: What are your feelings on your imminent publication in the US? Excited? Scared?
MCN: I’m really excited – the US market is huge, but there’s not that much you can really do to help yourself. Except maybe bag good reviews in Publishers Weekly etc., which is read by buyers, who then go on to order your book in decent quantities around the country. That industry is still an enigma to me. But all the signs are looking good – I just hope the readers like it. So anxious, certainly.
LBR: On behalf of all those that asked questions, thank you for taking the time to answer them. Any parting words?
MCN: Thanks for the opportunity – I feared some truly weird questions would come up, but this was rather pleasant!
Mark Charan Newton's Website: http://www.markcnewton.com