Thursday, November 8, 2018

Rowan Rook

Here is my interview with the lovely Rowan Rook!

Tell me a little more about yourself:

I’m Rowan, a late-twenties writer of speculative fiction and poetry, as well as an indie game designer. I’ve been drawn to writing for as long as I can remember, but the role it plays in my life only increases with time. I could say I have a scripturient soul. I’m also aromantic asexual and agender, an introvert, a crazy cat queer, an almost goth, and an all around geek.

What do you love most about writing?

I write as both a way to escape from reality and as a way to explore it more deeply. I think it’s amazing how, through both reading and writing, we get to experience so many emotional journeys and alternate realities and other lives that we otherwise never would. As someone who deals with anxiety and an overabundance of existential angst, writing is also a cathartic outlet for me and a way to connect with other people, my fuller self, and the wider Universe.

Which teacher was your biggest inspiration and why?

I first took an interest in writing because I watched both of my parents dabble with it when I was young, but there were several teachers who encouraged me to pursue that interest as far back as kindergarten. One that stands out was my 6th grade English teacher, who’s curriculum incorporated everything from fiction to non-fiction to journaling. We sometimes butted heads, as I didn’t always agree with the “rules” she taught, but that tension actually helped me discover my own writing voice. Plus, she was always positive and enthusiastic even when we didn’t see eye to eye, which helped a lot with my confidence.

Oddly enough, I had a somewhat similar experience recently in college. A professor in one of my English classes was adamant about how speculative fiction can’t achieve the level of character development and thematic meaning that more literary works could. While he was a fine teacher overall and had a lot of other interesting insights, my vehement disagreement with that idea actually demonstrated to myself how much I love speculative fiction that does lean more towards character and theme. That realization was instrumental in helping further develop my writing voice.

How long on average does it take you to write a book?

That’s a hard question to answer because there is such a huge variance. I’ve written novels in under a month before, usually as part of NaNoWriMo challenges, yet just yesterday, I finally finished the first draft of an epic-length novel I started in 2012.

I’ve come to realize that how long it takes depends on essentially two factors: how thoroughly plotted out the novel is before I start drafting, and on how emotionally challenging the novel is to engage with. For me, writer’s block usually comes from one of those two sources - not knowing what happens next or not feeling ready to write emotionally intense scenes when they’re needed.

I’ve learned to deal with the first obstacle by plotting my novels beforehand, which also ends up making the editing strage much easier as well. It front loads what I find to be some of the most challenging work. The second obstacle doesn’t have as straightforward of a fix - rather, it comes down to managing my anxiety and trusting my instincts. That’s a lot easier said than done, but I’m getting there. In many ways, writing bravely also helps me learn to face other parts of life bravely.

Who is your favorite character that you've ever created?

It would have to be Amaranth, the protagonist from a fantasy novel, tentatively named Paragon, that’s currently in the final stages of editing. Paragon is one of those novels I’ve been working on for a long time, but Amaranth as a character precedes even that, originally having been a character I invented for online roleplaying games in high school. Afterwards, he was actually featured as an antagonist in a variety of other works-in-progress that never quite saw the light of day, before I eventually decided that the way he kept reoccuring in my ideas meant that he should have a story of his own.

He is very much morally gray as a main character, and he does some truly terrible things, but I understand the inside of his head so well that I can’t help but love him. I hope Paragon’s eventual readers feel at least some of that connection as well.

Which character in the literary world is your favorite and why?

I’ll have to go with Shade Silverwing from the Silverwing trilogy by Kenneth Oppel, at least in terms of a character from actual novels. The Silverwing trilogy was my favorite series as a teen, and inspired me to start chasing my writing dreams again just after they’d started to wane. He was everything being a hero meant to be - brave, determined, loyal, and clever. A part of my soul is still crushed by the ending of Firewing, haha.

In terms of fictional characters in general, others that stand out to me are Cooro from the +Anima manga series, a seemingly simple character hiding so much more beneath the surface; Nier from the game series of the same name, a harbinger of tragedy who only wanted to save his daughter; Susan Ashworth from The Cat Lady narrative game, a woman who overcomes many of the anxieties and challenges we face in this sometimes cold world in spectacular fashion.

Do your characters seem to hijack the story or do you feel like you have the reigns of the story?

There are definitely times when it feels like the characters are making all the decisions on their own and I’m just along for the ride. It’s a fantastic feeling when that happens - it means I’m doing something right in terms of bringing the characters and world to life.

There are also moments where I reign the characters in a little if they start veering too far from the character arcs I had planned in a way that doesn’t feel right for the story. For instance, in Paragon, one supporting character caught feelings for another and wanted to start up a love triangle, but a love triangle had no place in the plot, so I didn’t let him go down that route. When something like that happens, it usually means there’s some insight going on subconsciously, so I try to step back and figure out why this seems to be the natural course of development for that character. In doing so, I usually learn something about them that I can then utilize in a more purposeful or useful way.

Still, there are also times when the characters behave unexpectedly in ways that end up being fantastic. A counter-example from Paragon would be when Amaranth absolutely refused to perform a certain plot point I had planned, which also set off chain reactions in all the other characters who were involved and seemed to spread that same spark of life to each of them. Every character responded in interesting ways that had far more impact than what I’d originally intended. That whole incident sort of blew my mind. It was at that moment, in fact, that the whole story seemed to come to life.

What is the most important thing about a book in your opinion?

The best books, I believe, leave an impact, whether in the form of lingering emotions or thought-provoking concepts or fresh inspiration. I love books that immerse me as I read them, and I don’t necessarily mean in regards to detailed world building so much as in regards to the story feeling like an experience. I want to forget that I’m reading ink on a page - or even that the rest of the world exists - and feel myself drawn in, existing inside the protagonist and their reality. I find that doing so, perhaps ironically, also makes the present moment seem more vivid when I return to it - these sorts of books wake up the sleeping parts of my spirit. I would love it if my books were able to do that for readers, even just a little.

On an entirely different note, I also love it when a book surprises me. A side effect of familiarizing yourself with plot structure is that it makes stories themselves more predictable. A true “gasp” moment is wonderful.

What are you working on now?

Honestly, I’m probably working on way too much at once. I currently editing Paragon, the fantasy novel, and afterwards I’ll need to start editing Glass, the YA horror novel I finished drafting yesterday. I’m also working on two first draft novellas for NaNoWriMo, a poetry chapbook, a serial fiction blog that I started up last month, and several indie games in various stages of completion. My priorities right now are the novellas and Paragon - I’m hoping those projects will be fit for public consumption within a couple of months.

Can you share an excerpt with us from one of your projects/novels?

Sure. Here’s an excerpt from the beginning of Glass:

If Heaven is a real place, can I go there?

Cold. Why was it so cold?
I couldn’t tell. I opened my eyes – or were they already open? – and saw nothing but black. There was no sky. There was no soil. I stretched out my arms. I felt nothing. Nothing but a strange, tingling chill. My fingers trembled. My legs shook. A shiver raced up my spine and gathered at the top of my scalp.
Wait. There was something. I noticed the roaring of the river for the first time. Why hadn’t I heard it before? Had it been my mind or my ears lagging behind? I still don’t know. Maybe the blackness outside was seeping inside. Maybe it was coming in through my ears. Maybe it was traveling over my tongue. Maybe it was bleeding in beneath my eyes, crawling into my veins, and painting over the white of my skull.
I looked around again at nothing. I needed to get away. If I was asleep, I needed to wake up.
The water was loud. Close. But no matter how much I searched, it wasn’t there. My hands couldn’t touch it. My eyes couldn’t find it. I could breathe, so I wasn’t beneath it.
Perhaps it was just an illusion, after all. Perhaps it wasn't even there.
Or perhaps it was me who wasn’t there at all.
My head jerked in the direction of the noise. My pulse crashed against my ribs. That single word pierced the black. My name.
Should I have recognized that voice? For a fleeting second, I almost believed I had, but then that faint tint of familiarity was gone. It passed right through my hazy head, lingering only on the edge that emptiness failed to permeate.
Whoever it belonged to, they were frightened. Terribly frightened. I’d never heard so much dread before.
“D…o…n’t… Go…!”
Don’t go? But I had to go. I certainly couldn’t stay!
“Don’t go!” the voice begged, as if it were arguing with my thoughts. It was a scream. The type of wail that cuts off as a heart stops beating forever.
I didn’t move.
They were calling for help. They were calling me for help.
My throat condensed with a heavy swallow. “Where are you?”
No answer. The nothing ate my noise. Could the stranger hear me at all? That thought sucked the voice right out of me.
My stomach tightened. I needed to save them. I wanted to save them.
But somehow, I knew that I couldn’t.
My own dread drummed in my heart and drowned out the river’s rumbles. “Hey, who – ”

Do you have any tips for other aspiring writers?

It might be a bit cliche to say, but I truly believe authenticity is one of the most important considerations for any writer. If you try to be something you’re not - whether that means writing in genres that don’t speak to you, or attempting to force a certain voice, or following “best practices” that don’t resonate with your process - you’ll only burn yourself out. You need to work with yourself, not against yourself, to reach your fullest potential. Similarly, marketing and publishing are important, but try not to get so caught up in the business aspects of writing that you lose sight of why you’re doing what you do. Don’t let anyone tell you writing isn’t magic. You’re making entire worlds and populating them with people and stories to share with your own world. Remind yourself of how amazing that actually is now and then.

From a more practical standpoint: track everything. Keeping track of the amount of words you write per day or the amount of words you can write per hour provides motivation to push yourself harder. Keeping track of when and where you write can also help you spot patterns of productivity to lean into.

As a final thought, learning how to respond to feedback is important. There are two harmful ways to react: rejecting it all flat out or automatically agreeing with all of it. Try to step back for a while when you’re presented with feedback, then consider each point as objectively as you can. How does the suggestion relate to the vision you have for your story? Is it compatible? Why did the reader feel this way? Putting yourself in a reader’s shoes, even if you don’t necessarily agree with them, often opens up new insights. Still, remember that each person can only offer one opinion. You’re not obligated to enact every suggestion. Mine the information on offer for what might help you or your story and leave behind what won’t. Ultimately, it’s vital to develop trust in your own intuition.

Is there anything you would like to share with us before you go?

I’d like to give a shoutout to other writers who struggle with the sort of obstacles that aren’t often discussed - such as those without the physical energy to write everyday or with anxiety that makes it hard to simply sit down at the keyboard or compulsions that try to pull them away from their work. Be kind to yourself and trust in whatever writing process works for you, even if it might look different from the common writer tropes and adages out there on social media. The world needs your story.

Rowan Rook is a speculative fiction author, game designer, and poet. They aim to craft stories that evoke ideas, create experiences, and leave behind lingering emotions. Their first novel, Night Plague, was republished in 2018.


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