VERY occasionally, a new storyteller will come along to remind fans of fantasy why they love the genre. S G Night is one of those authors. His novel, Attrition: The First Act of Penance, is the first book of a stunning epic trilogy which follows the struggles of men, elves and battle mages against formidable demonic powers. Beautifully executed, this debut showcases a writer with maturity, dedication and unfettered imagination who is utterly committed to the panorama and characters he has created. Readers will be surprised to know that he is only 18 years old. A self-professed cynic, S G Night prefers the realms of imagination to the grim confines of reality and perhaps this is why he produces such quality fantasy fiction. Here he talks candidly about his work and what drives him.
1. Who do you think you are S G Night?
I’m a storyteller. A purveyor of words and characters. Other people have called me a kid with too much time on his hands. I have to disagree with that though, there’s never enough time to write. If anything, I’m a kid with too much stuff in his head and too little time to get it all out.
I do things differently. Whenever there is a traditional method of doing something, I find my own way to do it. Not because I’m stubborn or abstinent, but rather because I’m not a typical person. The traditional methods just don’t appeal to me, or work for me at all. So I find my own path.
2. What started you on the journey of becoming a fantasy writer?
For me it was a number of things. I was blessed with parents who read to me as a child. When I got older, I was given my siblings’ old audiobook cassette tapes. So I’ve always had a love of books. What really got me started, though, was my older brother. He’s always been a lover of science fiction and fantasy, and he imparted a lot of that love to me. He is a compulsive reader, and he’s also dabbled with writing fantasy of his own on occasion, which influenced me to try the same. However, as we got older, it became clear that we were each other’s inverses: he reads the same way I write (almost an unhealthy amount), and he writes the way I read (not nearly often enough). But conversation about the fantasy genre with him always fuelled the stories in my head.
3. Has your writing style developed over a period of time or have you always been able to effectively convey thought to paper?
No question it’s developed over time. I started ‘writing’ when I was just a kid, and back then that meant 8 1/2 x 11″ printer paper and crayons. I wasn’t a Mozart: that stuff was just as much garbage as any other six-year-old’s scribbles. But what made me different is that I never grew out of it. I kept ‘writing’ things like that because I loved it, because the stories just kept coming to me. I got better over time, but it really wasn’t until high school that I truly learned how writing works. I went through an honours program that focused heavily on writing and critical reading and, as I learned to pick apart and analyse the works of others who had gone before me, I also taught myself how to apply those techniques to my own writing.
4. What qualities, in your opinion, make a ‘good’ writer?
Firstly, dedication. Writing can’t just be something you do as half-hearted hobby — you have to put one hundred percent of your heart and soul into a story for it to really come to maturity. You also have to have a thorough understanding of the rules and tools of writing: the fundamentals of language, the value of character vs. plot, etcetera. Personally, though, the most important thing for a writer is the urge; the insatiable impulse to get a story out of your head and shape it into something readable.
Definitely. I subscribe to Patrick Rothfuss’ philosophy that if you’re going to do something — for both Rothfuss and myself, that something is writing a book — it’s best to take your time and do it right. I’d much rather take years to write and rewrite a story that I can be proud of, than spit out a new piece of sloppily constructed content every three months.
6. What process did you use to invent your fantasy world?
The world Attrition is set in has been building up in my head for as long as I can remember. In order to get any coherent ideas out of my head, I have to pace around in circles and verbalise them to myself — which makes me appear mildly schizophrenic at times, especially when I start responding to myself. Most of the thoughts I have are flimsy, or they just don’t fit in with the rest of the story and the world. But about one out of every four ideas is something I can use. When I get ideas like that, I have to write them down and make them concrete, so that I don’t get them mixed up in my head with the slush that I discard. I have files upon files of appendices about the world: geography, historical timelines, cultures, languages, religions and mythologies, regional economics….
One of the most beautiful things about writing fantasy is that the story will usually come as a result of creating the world. While you’re building the world, you get a glimpse of the conflicts and characters therein, which eventually develops into the central story.
7. How do you develop your characters?
It really depends on the character. Sometimes I build them piece-by-piece. When I do that, I tend to rely on the ‘Alignment Grid’. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a tool for characterisation that measures a person’s character based on two factors: morality (good vs. evil) and order (law vs. chaos). It’s an indispensable part of my process, and I encourage anybody who doesn’t know how it works to look it up.
On other occasions, though, I just write and let the character develop as I go. Once I figure out who the character is at their core, I can go back and add in some life to the parts where they hadn’t quite been fleshed out yet. I always get the best surprises out of this kind of development. The character of Notak, for example, didn’t develop a character at all, he just stayed flat and emotionless. Which, in the end, actually imbued him with a deepness and complexity that far outstripped many of my other characters, and I’ve often been told by readers that Notak is a favourite.
8. Do you think it is more difficult to write fantasy than produce a story based on reality?
The opposite, actually. Reality is so restrictive and confining. When you write realistic fiction, you’re forced to compress your story to fit inside the neat little box of the world we know. Writing fantasy takes longer, sure — you have to start from the ground up, with no precedent or pre-existing setting to work off. But it gives you so much more room to work with. It’s almost a godlike feeling, looking into this empty space and creating a universe, a world, a time — a place where your story can exist with none of the shackles of real life.
Reality is stale and overly familiar. Our world doesn’t interest me in the slightest — we already have to live in this world, why should be confined here in stories too? No, the worlds of fantasy offer a much greater source of inspiration.
9. Why do you describe yourself as a ‘cynic and a libertarian’?
That description actually came out of a friend of mine, but it was just so fitting that I’ve stuck with it. Mostly because it’s true. I have very little faith in people as a whole — which has always often made people wonder why Attrition’s central character, Racath, places so much love and trust on the human masses.
As for my libertarianism, it’s just an essential part of who I am. It doesn’t take too long talking to me to realise that I hate anything and everything that smells of government. I’m not a fan of being told what I can’t do and I absolutely despise being told what I must do. That trait I do share in common with Racath.
10. If a publisher offered you a lucrative deal for the series, would you take it?
Probably, but not necessarily because of the money. See, being self-published is great in that you have a free rein over everything — the cover art, the editorial process, the marketing, the reviews, the distribution, and so on. But it’s a double-edged sword. Free rein also means that I have to do all those things myself: I have to oversee the artwork, I have to acquire an editor personally, I have to spend my own time and money on marketing. The problem eventually becomes that I have so little time to write.
Now, if all I cared about was getting a book written and published, and to hell with sales and readership, that’d be fine. But that’s not me. I want writing to be something I can win bread with, a lifelong career. And it’s not enough for me to write the story; I want people to find it and read it too. That means that the book has to sell, and sell well.
While it’s been great having total control over the book, I would gladly hand it off to a team of professionals to handle the logistics and marketing. You can think of that as selling out, but in the end, which is really the greater artistic tragedy: selling the book to a corporate publisher, or never having any time to write?
11. Tell us a bit about the story and what you are working on at the moment.
Attrition, the first instalment of Three Acts of Penance, is the story of a nation held captive by tyrannical oppressors known as the Demons. The humans of the land have been subjugated and enslaved. The elves have been exiled. And the Majiski, a race of strong, powerful battle mages, have been almost entirely wiped out by the Demons and their Dominion. The story is about the last of the Majiski, who must struggle against a myriad of opponents and obstacles as they try to save their race and their country. I won’t say too much more than that — don’t want to give anything away, now do I?
At the moment, I’ve just finished outlining and storyboarding the Second Act of Penance. I’ve put that on pause for a moment and begun working on a pair of short stories that elaborate on some of the background and side-stories from Attrition. I’m hoping to be ready to publish those two short stories in early January 2014, and then move on to drafting Book II, which I aim to finish in the fourth quarter of 2014.
You can buy a copy of Attrition: The First Act of Penance from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00EVEAEH0
Find out more about the author:
Self-Publisher Showcase: http://selfpublishersshowcase.com/s-g-night