Today I had the pleasure of interviewing Thomas Fleet, a world building, fantasy writing author who recently published his debut novel, The War of the First Day! Read the interview below.
Q: How long have you been writing?
A: My earliest relevant memory is from a Spanish class in high school. We were practicing conversation by discussing career choices, and when it was my turn, out popped “escritor” (or whatever the Spanish word for writer is).
I first wrote a complete story when I was 25. It lay dormant for a long time before being submission-ready. It’s about a woman in the 1600s who’s accused of being a witch and has no tools with which to save herself but her own wit. She has to figure out how to threaten, beg, seduce, or razzle-dazzle her way out of it.
Q: What inspires your writing? Do you have a muse?
A: There are two things that inspire me. One is just that cool idea or image that pops into your head. For example, there’s a witch in The War of the First Day who constantly has little copies of herself running around all over her. This ended up as the cover image. I don’t remember the origin of this idea. Where do images like that, or story ideas, come from? It’s a mystery, isn’t it?
The other thing that is inspiring is reading great fiction by other writers. A really innovative writer will blow open your conception of the possibilities of fiction. Jorge Louis Borges, with his “Fictions,” did that to me. Even if it doesn’t rise to that level, if it’s fun and capably executed, good fiction makes you want to hop back on the computer and start writing.
The sheer range of possibilities in fantasy is energizing. Two recent examples of this are Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastards series, which follows the insane adventures of a gang of con artists in another world, and Lev Grossman’s Magicians series, which imagines what magic would actually be like in this world if brilliant twenty-somethings got their hands on it. They’re very different (and they’re both very fun).
Q: Tell me about your debut novel, The War of the First Day. What was the original idea behind it?
A: The novel is a fantasy novel about a war between two groups of witches. The idea is to combine pacing which (I hope) takes your breath away with intellectual and emotional themes that engage other parts of your brain. Action novels are all about ka-boom, obviously, but you need some emotional weight to ground the ka-boom.
Its genesis was a vignette in which a young woman wanders across a forbidden border and is captured by a witch. The witch tells her that as punishment for her transgression, she must kill or be killed. I became intensely interested – cough, obsessed, cough – with this vignette and reworked it again and again in my mind before writing it down. Later, that sequence of scenes was to develop into a core sequence in The War of the First Day. The book grew vastly around it, and the captor had her moral rough edges filed down somewhat, but it’s still the heart, in terms of the heroine’s internal conflict, of the novel.
How this got to be embedded in a war of extermination between rival camps of witches, I don’t remember. There’s that mystery again!
Another thing I wanted to do was to get back to the roots of the western world’s fairytales, but that goal sort of got tossed out the car window along the way. E.g., as one reviewer noted, the dialogue sounds fairly modern; it isn’t much like stereotypical fantasy novel dialogue. Ultimately the classic fairytale roots ended up in the setting: The area is roughly medieval politically and technologically, and a lot of it is northern climate with craggy rocks and lots of pine trees. It’s very witchy. I have a lot of affection for this classical fantasy setting and may return to it in the future.
Q: How much ‘grunt work’ goes into your writing?
A: A great thing about fantasy is that you get to make up your world. You could probably get away with very little grunt work, in terms of research, compared to, say, science fiction. Every now and then there’d be something that I’d want to not embarrass myself about, so I had to do a little research. Fortunately, my setting (although in the future) is roughly medieval-ish, and the medieval period in Europe had a pretty broad range of economic arrangements, building styles, weapons technologies, etc., so the writer has a lot to choose from.
I’m also helped by the fact that I’m story-oriented, not world building-oriented, so I don’t have detailed fictional languages, etc., to keep track of. My world building supports the story; beyond that it keeps out of the way.
Q: Are you currently working on any writing projects? If so, what can you tell me about them?
A: One of the many things I learned in the course of writing TWOTFD is that writing a good novel, one you put your heart, mind and soul into, is emotionally and intellectually exhausting! So the brief answer to your question is, a bunch of short stories! I am going to re-charge my batteries for a while before I start in on another novel.
About half of the stories are fantasy. The non-fantasy ones are all over the place: A crime story, a fanciful book review a la Borges or Stanislaw Lem, and a story about a person who house-sits for her vacationing neighbors and gets snoopy. You can play that sort of scenario for horror, as in the classic Bluebeard story, or, as I’m doing, just for amusement value. A short one, which I flung up on my web page instead of trying to get published, is a take on the classic “inertialess drive” from SF. What happens if you actually try to take the physics of that idea seriously?
Q: If you could become a character from any book, who would you be and why?
A: From *any* book, whoa! Hmm… Most stories that are entertaining drag the hero/heroine through some horrible times, so it wouldn’t really be fun to be them. But there certainly are lots of worlds that would interesting to take part in. For instance, the worlds of…
The Magicians, by Lev Grossman. You’d be one of a group of very smart people with magical powers. Also, you can go to R-rated Narnia if you want. ’Nuff said.
Illuminatus, by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson. I wouldn’t want to be Hagbard Celine, but hanging out with him would be great, because he’s creatively crazy. You get the sense that he might do anything at any moment, yet most of it actually has a purpose. He’s the owner and captain of a submarine made of gold, LOL.
Man to Hagbard: “You take yourself too seriously.”
Hagbard: “What do you mean? I own a yellow submarine; it’s straight out of a rock song.”
Dark is the Sun, by Phillip Jose Farmer. A crazy SF book set billions of years from now in which evolution has created tons of weird animals and plants, and remnants of high-tech civilizations are left strewn around to be used or abused by the current inhabitants. A setting in which anything could happen. It would be hair-raising to live in this environment, but you’d never be bored. Come to think of it, maybe I’d just stay home watch the documentary on Animal Planet.
Q: What is something you want the world to know?
A: Good fiction proceeds from who the writer is. If you’re a left-brained person who likes action novels, write like a left-brained person who likes action novels. If you’re a right-brained person who is entranced by the possibilities of meta-fiction, then you should nevertheless write like a like a left-brained person who likes action novels. No, just kidding! Write like a right-brained person who is entranced by the possibilities of meta-fiction.
And if you are made to do this, you’ll make your own contribution. You’ll look at the world of fiction and think, why is everyone else ignoring this thing that they could be doing with fiction? That’s the thing you should do.
Find Thomas Online: