Today we welcome Luke Maynard on the blog!
Tell me a little more about yourself:
I’m an over-educated Canadian writer from London, Ontario. I grew up in London, did a PhD in English in Victoria, British Columbia, and came out of the academy at a dire time for would-be professors in the Humanities. I scraped together some sessional teaching for a few years, and went into law school mostly as a survival mechanism. I’ve fallen in love with advocacy work since then: it’s just one more place where good writing can change people’s lives for the better. But being an aspiring lawyer hasn’t stopped me from writing; if anything, it’s finally given me the time management skills to make a proper go of it.
What inspired you to start writing?
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t tell stories. I had a set of alphabet blocks as a toddler, just one of each letter, and apparently I used to cry when there weren’t enough letters to string words together. As a kid, I was embarrassingly derivative. I’d write stories that were pretty transparent rip-offs of movies, or cartoons, or video games. Other people’s stories always inspired me.
Maybe that’s why I’m less bothered by “fan fiction” than a lot of authors, who have a real disdain for it. I think we all start out by copying what we see and hear; our first real brush with originality is that happy accident when we fail to copy precisely. I just went through my copycat phase at an age when we forgive it. By the time I had adults to show my writing to, other than my parents, I was mostly past that stage.
Which teacher was your biggest inspiration and why?
It’s so hard to single anyone out. I just dug out my transcripts recently so I counted: I’ve had 79 teachers from kindergarten until now, and that’s just in the classroom. To be fair, I have to cite Larry Garber, the only formal creative writing teacher I’ve ever had, at the University of Western Ontario. Him, and Herb Hunter, my 8th grade teacher, who taught me how to edit my own writing, how to reconsider something after it had already come out on the page.
I don’t think they were necessarily “more inspiring” than the other great inspirational teachers of my life. But for me it wasn’t inspiration I needed: I never needed help with thrust or momentum; what I needed was help with steering. Instead of saying, “you can reach the stars,” they were the ones who’d say, “slow down a minute. Think about what your words are doing. Think about how you’re using these tools to do a job.” What I needed most was focus, as un-romantic as that is to say.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
That depends on how I react to changes that are almost entirely out of my control. I’d love to be agented and I’d love to have a novel out with a major press, but that’s up to the gatekeepers. Having a bit of youth left and having persistence give me some control over whether that’s going to happen eventually, but nobody has much sway over what the timeline of their achievements will be.
What I do have control over is how much work will get done between here and there. In five years I’ll have at least two more novels in the can, whether they’re published or not; and I know for a fact I’ll have something in print, because this is a hybrid world now, and mixed models where we self-publish things written for that express purpose and audience while still pursuing the traditional model with other work, that’s absolutely a viable career path.
If you could have one wish, any wish at all, what would it be and why?
I’d like to be living somewhere I like, with the freedom and security to make art on my own terms, and it would be nice if all the friends and loved ones I’ve left scattered around the country could come and live nearby. But people with wishes always think small and selfishly. Why would I wish those things for myself, and not everybody else? I wish everybody was living in a safe place with their loved ones, and had the freedom to make the life they chose for themselves without having to worry about the rent. That seems like a pretty good state of affairs, but not so greedy that the wish would find a way to turn south on me.
That’s the problem with an aspiring lawyer who writes fantasy: we have a keen interest in how fairy-contracts work. The unspoken law of wishes is fascinating stuff.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
It’s hard to ballpark; the answer’s changing quickly. I was working on my first manuscript the whole ten years I was writing my PhD. Really, I’ve had it in my head since 2002 or 2003, but I was one of those people insufferably “working on a masterpiece” that never seemed to arrive. When I had defended the PhD teaching dried up, I literally lived in my mom’s basement and about six months later, the thing was done.
If there’s one useful thing law school was given me, it’s that it has made me a “Finisher.” I’m busier than I’ve ever been, but as I adjust to managing my time differently, my productivity has gone up a lot.
Are you a plotter or pantser? (Do you like to outline, or do you like to fly by the seat of your pants?)
I’m a plotter by nature. Most of my fiction involves a significant amount of world-building, so even on rare occasions when I try to start from the beginning and write straight to the end, there’s always a lot of research and support material that gets generated.
Who is your favorite character that you've ever created?
Jordac of Travalaith, who is at the heart of the second book of The Crown and the Chain, is a favourite, and probably the most complex. In the first book all we get is his name and reputation as the hero of a great revolutionary war. By the time we meet him, he’s a prisoner of his own myth—something like the Wizard of Oz, except that the real man behind the curtain is more dangerous, not less, than the phony figure he projects. And so writing him in essence is always writing two different characters: I have to keep in mind not just who he is, but who this other person is that they imagine him to be.
A very big theme for me is the divide between the static masks people wear at any given moment and the truth of their long narrative, which can’t be summed up in a single image. I love the tension when the reader knows who someone really is, but the other characters don’t, or when the characters seem to be acting on information the reader hasn’t been given.
Which character in the literary world is your favorite and why?
I think often of shared characters who have been the subject of really fine & creative work. I might say Conan Doyle’s Dr. Watson, or Batman “when he's written well,” but that’s really a function of favourite writers, not favourite characters. I’d have to go with Don Quixote, not just because Cervantes’s original is such a wonderful tragicomic figure, but because writers who have taken him up seem to “get” the central point of the character, never losing sight of the essential inner qualities that make him heroic in an unheroic world. People who take up the mantle of writing Batman frequently get him wrong. People who take up Don Quixote almost always nail the heart of the character. It's a delight that he's so consistently well-executed. To me, that speaks not only to the overall consistency of the character in all his stories, but also the lasting power of the original.
What genre do you most like to write in?
I lean toward speculative fiction—sci-fi and fantasy—but I run the full range of these, from urban supernatural to sword-and-sorcery to Lovecraftian horror to space opera. I normally wouldn’t say that I’m particularly influenced by animé, but one thing it’s done is make me rethink the whole idea of genre, as genres tend to exist very differently outside of our western Anglo-American literary traditions.
I love fables and fairy-tales, which are widely inflected based on their point of origin, and trying to read internationally really opens up my approach to genre-writing. Maybe it all falls under what Bruce Sterling calls “slipstream,” but writing like that existed a long time before he coined the term.
Is there another genre you are interested in trying out?
I’m interested right now in different “modes” within fantasy .The Crown and the Chain fits a pretty standard second-world sword-and-sorcery high-fantasy model. It owes a lot of its flavour and worldbuilding to some very well-established white guys with "R.R." in their names, but it’s important to remember that’s far from the only kind of fantasy available. That kind of writing is interesting to me in part because the demands of worldbuilding are so rigorous. If the value-by-weight of your coinage is off, your readers will know. If the names of your characters are inconsistent with the rules of your invented language, fans hold you to account over it. But the tradeoff is that your world is so immersive, and you get these really dedicated fans who come to inhabit that world in their imaginations. You can live in your mind in Middle-Earth or Westeros in ways that you can’t in the enchanted forest of Beauty & The Beast, for instance.
But the divide between those modes of storytelling, even though they’re both “fantasy,” is really interesting to me right now, and so I’m also working on what I’d call a romance in the fairy tale tradition. I mean romance in the medieval sense, not the Harlequin sense. It’s freeing because there’s something more dreamlike about the fairy-tale. Things always have to make internal sense; there’s always an internal logic to fairy-stories. But at the same time you’re not sketching meticulous maps of all the roads and waterways, charting the chief imports and exports of your warring kingdoms, developing all the minute details that seem to be the hallmark of sword-and-sorcery worldbuilding now. Tolkien did great things by putting a map in the back of his books, but the unfortunate side effect is that now everybody has to have a map. It’s a limitation, and remembering what it’s like to write in other modes of fantasy—going back to George MacDonald and William Morris—is very freeing after the demanding rigor of sub-creation.
What are you working on now?
I’m taking a two-pronged approach to publishing, trying to go the traditional route and the self-published route simultaneously. I think my fantasy saga, The Crown and the Chain, has real sea-legs to go the traditional publishing route, so I’m working on the second book, The Season of the Cerulyn, while The Season of the Plough awaits revision to make another go-round of the query circuit.
I’ve wanted to try self-publishing as well, which has lost a lot of its “vanity press” stigma in the past few years and is now a really legitimate model not just for emerging writers, but for full-time professionals. The money can be just as good, and there’s an immediate gratification to putting something in print a month three weeks after you finish polishing it, rather than three years. But you have to be careful; once you self-publish something, a lot of traditional publishers and agents won’t touch it.
Because The Crown and the Chain is kind of a lifelong project, and publishing the first volume might compromise the whole series, I don’t want to “waste” it on self-publishing when it might do very well in the mainstream. So instead of pushing a saga meant for traditional publishing into a model it’s not meant for, I’ve set out to write a series of one-off works specifically with self-publication in mind. That’s where my original fairy-tale, Heartblood, came from.
I think the strengths and weaknesses of both traditional and self-publishing models lend themselves to different works, and it behoves writers of all kinds—and at all stages—to think about what those differences are, and how they might each be served. I’ve fancied doing a sci-fi novella, and putting it in the same book as Heartblood, where you flip the book upside-down and there’s another novel on the back, like the old Ace Double pulp books. That’s the sort of thing a traditional publisher would never let me get away with. In general I’m determined to try both avenues of writing, depending on which one makes the most sense at the time.
All these ambitious are slow ones for me, though, as I’m doing law school in the daytime, and also just released a folk album. The CD, Desolation Sound, has been a major project of a different kind, and maybe it’s the biggest piece of work I have available right now.
Can you share an excerpt with us from one of our novels/projects?
I’ll share the opening of Heartblood, which—being an opening—stands up pretty well out of context.
Chapter One: Blackthorn and Bluebell.
In a far country across the sea, two kingdoms stood divided by a thundering river. Long ago, even before the first chieftains arose to broaden that divide with their vainglorious pride, a winding valley was carved out of the landscape by the mighty Mandeo: the Lord of Rivers ran, so say the bards, as fierce and cold as revenge.
The river roared down from the southeastern hills. He danced through twisting lowlands and skipped over the smooth stones of a few murmuring shallows; there, catching the salty scent of his betrothed, the river plunged with the eagerness of a young lover over the last few cliffs to the waiting sea.
First, after the tribal chieftains, came the Rhovain with their magnificent towers and walls of stone. After subjugating the old blood of the land, the river was to them no more than another beast to be chained. This they did, building intricate canals and immense bridges whose broken skeletons towered over the river long after their makers had turned to dust.
But for all their cunning, even the great builders had forgotten the secrets of the river known only to the wise. It was indeed clever men who tamed the river, men who brought his waters to a dozen villages, men who fed the growing cities and brought an age of prosperity to the twin kingdoms of Bergancia and Milesia. But it was the women who tended its secrets, who were in all the ages to come the quiet keepers of its old mysteries.
Just a short while ago in the memory of the river, but long ages past by the reckoning of the wise-women, a thick hedge of hazel trees overgrew a shallow ford in the river, just a few miles below the largest and strongest of the men’s bridges. It was a place of power—one of the old gatelands, if the stories are true—and it was here that the washerwomen came with their heavy loads, bent low under sacks of linen, their kneeling-boards laden with ash lye and bundles of fresh lavender. Always, it seemed, there was more work to be done than hours to do it; as the years passed, and the farming improved, there were soon twice as many surviving children to tend, which left the washerwomen even more pressed for time than before. But time, like the river itself, had a way of flowing differently at the ford. Life was never easy for a farmer’s wife, but those who crept down to the sacred place of hazel trees to do their washing never seemed to want for time to finish it. They came in the red light of dawn with their work-songs, and returned home with the day still ahead of them.
If there was any magic to be had in that place, they did not speak of it aloud. But the river was in the first language called Mandeo, the place of thought, and that name survived a thousand years and a dozen languages, until even the washerwomen called the river by his name, but did not know why.
Moriath was a stranger in those lands, but she knew the river’s name. She knew many things about rivers and magic and naming, and she knew the way to the heart of the hazel grove. The old ford was on no maps and had escaped the eyes of the Rhovani surveyors; it could not be found except by story or by song, and the dark-haired woman had both of these to guide her. The land here was foreign to her, but its stories were not, and in the dark of a moonless night she made her way from the City of the Crown to a place in the forest that was nigh to the ford. There she went about her secret art in ways that must not be written, until the dawn had nearly broken and the first of the washerwomen came to the ford and raised her voice in song.
Moriath followed the song on the air until she found the hazel grove. It was there she met the first of the washerwomen, who toiled alone in the blue haze before dawn.
“Good morning,” she said, and meant it.
The washerwoman’s face brightened. “And to you,” she said. “Fine weather for the harvest, if it lasts.”
“It will last,” said Moriath, who knew such things. She looked down at the riverbank with uncertainty, and the washerwoman stood and offered her hand.
“Here, old woman,” she said. “Let me help you down.”
Clutching the washerwoman’s hand tightly, Moriath stepped down from the grassy embankment to where the water met the stones. The washerwoman’s hand was rough from labour and hardship; her own was pale, delicate, and dove-soft, though there was some strength in it.
“You’ve not brought much,” said the washerwoman.
“I’ve not much to bring,” said Moriath. “My husband is dead.”
“And mine,” said the washerwoman. “You’re early, yet. You may be done ere the others come. Perhaps before the sun.”
Moriath said nothing but knelt to her work. She laid down her little bundle and unrolled a single garment, wrapped around a sheaf of bright blue plants.
“Have you enough lavender to spare a sprig?” asked the washerwoman.
Moriath shook her head. “Blackthorn and bluebell,” she said. “That’s all I have brought.”
The washerwoman shrugged. “Will’t please you if I sing, old woman?”
“As you will,” said Moriath, twisting the blossoms of the bluebells.
The washerwoman knelt on her board with a grunt and took up a stained and patched skirt with practiced hands. As she raised her voice in song, the wind rose in the trees and she shivered from the cold of the rippling water.
She knew not how long she had been at her chore when she chanced to look up. Several yards downstream, standing tall on a high rock, the old woman had taken down her mantle and cap. Under a brightening sky she was not old at all, but a dark-haired beauty in the summer of life, her long limbs steeped in a regal grace that was not soon forgotten. With fiercely strong hands she wrung the water from a single white garment, then unfurled it in the wind as she dried it with a shake.
The washerwoman dared not stop singing. There, in the hands of the stranger, was an exquisite little eslene—a sleeved burial shirt so slender and short that it could not have been made for a grown man. It was the death-shroud of a young child, and the sight of it stole the words from her song and left her wailing wordlessly as she threw aside her laundry and fled into the darkness. Washerwomen, too, are women who know things, and what she knew deep within her weighed like a terrible chain around her heart.
It was another hour, by the reckoning of ordinary folk, before the sun was high enough to crest the hills with its proper face. With the light of dawn, a half-dozen more women came to the river, each bent double under their workload. The first washerwoman was nowhere to be seen as they set up their chore. Moriath, likewise, had gone from that place. Most of the women saw no sign that she had come this way at all, so light was her step. Only one, a young girl come to help her sister for the first time, caught sight of the crushed and mangled bluebell petals where they drifted on the river’s surface, floating gently southward against the current.
Do you have any tips for other aspiring writers?
When you’re a professional writer, even a pretty successful one, rejection is a daily reality of your life, and success is a very occasional byproduct of that. If success is your core motivator, you’re going to be delighted a couple times a year and miserable the rest of the time, and eventually you’ll get tired of that ratio and quit.
Instead, try to enjoy the daily reality of what you do. If you can learn to enjoy a life of failure, you’ll adapt very well to success when it happens. People who learn to enjoy a life of success don’t do so well with failure. If writing is just an endurance game, and you’re on a clock, you have to “make it” before you burn out. Find a way to stay in the game longer, and to enjoy it irrespective of the results. That’s what will keep you going long enough to strike gold
Is there anything you would like to share with us before you go?
About a year ago, one of my readers posted one of those Internet forwards on social media, a “birthday scenario” style meme called “What Is Your Animé Series Title?” You would read down the chart based on your initials, and it would spit out an unlikely made-up animé title. Mine, for L.R.J.M., was “Robo-Chef Sushi X.”
As an exercise, I made the huge mistake of telling my friends that if they would work out a title based on their initials, I’d come up with a treatment for their imaginary show. I got about forty responses, which was way too many, and spent the next six months working out what I now realize are fully developed outlines for about forty really eccentric novels. The titles generated really were like bad animé titles—“Mermaid Princess Memories,” “Bubblegum Bride Detectives,” “Death Moon Hunter”—but each one of them immediately evoked a genre and a setting, and a style of storytelling. Not all of them were good enough to run with, but I probably got the basic ideas for seven or eight workable novels out of that.
What it taught me was just how
What that exercise taught me is how quick and easy it is to generate ideas. Ideas aren’t the writer’s commodity; execution is. One of the biggest “tells” of an aspiring amateur is the persistent fear that somebody’s going to steal your idea. It’s like opening a restaurant and being afraid that somebody else is going to see your menu, and steal the idea of selling hamburgers. Of course they are;
About the Author:
Luke R. J. Maynard is a writer, poet, musician, literary scholar, and student of the law in Toronto, Ontario. His poetry and short fiction have appeared in numerous small-press anthologies, and his first CD, Desolation Sound, was released in the summer of 2018.