Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Guest post by Robert E. Balsley: in conversation with the Speculative Fiction Showcase

Sometimes the most interesting question is why a particular author chose to write a particular book. Was it informed by your interests or your day job? And what made you choose fantasy as opposed to Science Fiction or some other genre?

Why I Did What I Did...

I actually read all kinds of literature…mostly fantasy, but also science fiction, horror, crime, period novels, and historical military (principally WWII).
    The Salvation of Innocence and subsequent future books of The Bridge of Magic trilogy kind of got its genesis in a unique way. I started playing Dungeons and Dragons in the early nineties. Up to that point I pretty much thought of it as something silly. I didn’t feel it was the “devil’s game”, as some Christians viewed it, but did see it as something college kids played…not responsible adults. However, and this is a big “however”, my daughter’s best friend’s father played very regularly. One Friday evening I had dropped my daughter off at his house and decided to check it out since I knew he was hosting a game that evening. I eventually ended up playing that night and have been hooked ever since. 
    Within our group everybody was expected to take dungeon master responsibilities from time to time. Usually we ran modules bought at specialty stores that contained everything needed to run a game…storyline, monsters, and damsels in distress, to name some of the components involved. Building a game takes time… something usually in short supply since everyone in the group worked for a living as well as raising families. But after a few years I started to take my games in a different direction. I still used the modules, but threw in more and more of my own storylines. About three years ago I converted completely to my own stuff. I used unpopulated dungeon maps and continued to use monster and demons outlined in printed monster manuals, but all the storylines, and some of the challenges I made my players face, came directly from my imagination.
    Unfortunately, some of my storylines belonged in a book rather than on the gaming table. My players quickly became bored with pages of description and dialog. I could almost read the reactions in their minds, “Let’s get to the hack and slash!” But a byproduct of that was, to a person, they all agreed I should write a book. I thought that would be a great idea and, since I was only a couple of years away from retirement, I decided to make it a retirement project.
    I wrote a fantasy novel because I’m so familiar with that genre’ through my personal reading and the D&D games I have played and orchestrated as a dungeon master. It’s actually based off an old storyline I developed for one of my D&D games; although greatly expanded upon…enough so that it has become a trilogy.

My Writing Process…

I’m still very much the amateur when it comes to writing. The fantasy genre, however, does not, in my opinion, necessarily mandate research, a book outline, or even a complete understanding of where all the story’s subplots are going. In fact, most of the subplots in my novel occurred to me as I was writing. What is critical, however, is, at least for a fantasy novel, is a vivid imagination, a basic storyline, and, with so many indie writers and publishers, a basic concept of the English language. I remain always aware that, as an indie writer, I have to be particularly careful with grammar, plot, character development, etc. because there are no built-in checks and balances…no restrictions. (Except for possible lack of sales…but even this would not discourage a vanity author.) That makes it a minefield for the reader if it’s independently published. As a reader myself, I don’t want to throw away money on a poorly written novel.
    Back on point…the best way I can describe my writing would be to say that I ‘immerse’ myself in the situation I’m writing about. For example, right now I’m working on the second novel in my Bridge of Magic trilogy and I’m writing about a ninja assassin’s attack on a group of ill-armed men and women. I place myself there in the moment, from whichever perspective I’m writing. I don’t see my computer screen, but rather I see a black-robed warrior welding two katanas heading straight for me. I see the heads of my friends fly off as the black-robed warrior speeds by. I see myself drop to my knees as my legs give out and I realized my intestines are lying on the ground. Then I see nothing as the rest of my organs follow my intestines in the ninja’s evisceration of my body.
    I also don’t worry too much about what I’m going to write about when I sit down each morning. Basically I just pick up where I left off the last time I wrote and let it take me wherever it’s going to go. All of my subplots come to me in this manner. Many a time I’ve gotten up from the keyboard not knowing where I was going in the novel, think about it for a few hours or a day, then sit back down and let the ideas flow. 
    Of course, there are also plenty of times I’ll discuss a particular problem with my wife to get her perspective. She’s not a fantasy reader, so her opinions are like “virgin snow”. She has, on several occasions, particularly if I wanted to kill off a character, insisted I change direction. (Wives can do that…apparently it’s an unwritten rule.) One such person was Father Goram in The Salvation of Innocence. He plays a big part in the novel…a very major subplot…but I was originally going to kill him off. My wife, and granddaughter, weren’t too keen on the idea because they liked the character. Consequently I kept him in (to promote harmony…the whole “wife imperative” thing mentioned above…and who can say “no” to a granddaughter), knowing I had to give him a part to play. That one decision turned out to be one of the most important I was to make writing the novel. It completely changed my vision as to how I wanted the storyline to proceed.

Another interesting question is the creation of secondary or new worlds. Which came first, the characters and their situation, or the world? 

My World and Welcome to It
  When I first started writing, I used as inspiration a storyline I developed in one of the D&D games I put together for my group. It was set in the Forgotten Realms world, so naturally my initial tendency was to use the Forgotten Realms world as the setting for my novel. But after doing my due diligence, I came to understand the copyright issues that were involved. Unfortunately I didn’t really look into this until I was roughly two-thirds of the way done writing the manuscript.
So now I had a problem. Considering how far along as I was, I was determined I wasn’t going to start over. (I was happy with the story as it stood.) But it did depress me…because I knew I would need to entirely re-vamp the book before I could move forward. That was probably the most frustrating part of all. The only option I had, if I was going to continue, was to create my own world. Over the course of a few days I had everything mapped out and named. As I was doing this, I also tried to include areas of my new world that went outside the sphere of my story…to plan ahead, so to speak. Who knows whether or not I’ll need those places in the trilogy I’m writing? Who knows when my characters might have a need to explore dangerous, new places? I can flesh those places out as needed.
    In the end it was the story that dictated the world, although the world, the characters, and the circumstances all intermingle and prop each other up. Interestingly, as it turns out, I have actually made a physical place in my world, the ruined city of Elanesse, a sentient being who helps the main characters achieve their goals; and who also becomes the “eye in the hurricane” or the “rock in the storm” when the characters need safe harbor. A lot of this is still developing. The first book in the trilogy is written. As I write the second, the words I type travel in unexpected directions, twisting, turning, and always a surprise. That’s one of the true joys I’ve gotten out of this whole experience.    
About Robert E. Balsley:

Oklahoma author Robert E. Balsley Jr. is originally from Ohio having graduated from Elder High School, Cincinnati, Ohio and then serving in the United States Air Force. Following his active military duty he worked as an engineering technician, first-level supervisor, and lead technician at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma where he added technical writing to his job description. He has spent time in fictional writing through his role as Dungeon Master in the Dungeons and Dragons games he has played for twenty-five years.

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