Welcome to Community Fridays!
During Community Fridays, I interview authors, editors, publishers, and pretty much anyone else who I can get my hands on from the writing and publishing community. Hope you enjoy, and feel free to suggest new participants. Check out current and past interviews here. Only have a minute? Click here for interviews at a glance.
Today's interview is with Resa Nelson, author of The Dragonslayer's Sword and real-life swordswoman.
You say that one of your favorite parts of writing a fantasy story is doing the research for that story. Could you tell us a little about the kinds of research you do, the processes you go through, the way you keep track of information, etc.?
Because my strengths are ideas, theme, and characterization, I do research as a way to help the story come alive through details that I’d never dream up on my own. My weakest area of knowledge is history, and my novels tend to take place in the past. I don’t have any interest in writing historical fiction, but I want to make the time and place feel as real as possible. So I often begin by reading history books about the time period in order to get a lay of the land and to give myself a framework to work within. I’m also a big fan of museums. I’m lucky to live in an area where there are plenty of museums, so I’ve had good luck finding exhibits related to the novels I write. I take lots of notes about what I’m seeing and how I’m feeling. Whenever possible, I also do physical research to help me get inside the skin of my characters. Keeping track of information boils down to keeping files of notes online (from the books I read) and piling up memo pads (with notes from museum trips and other expeditions) on a bookshelf. My “filing” method is pretty haphazard, but somehow I always manage to find what I’m looking for!
While we're at it, would you like to tell us a little about your latest novel?
The Dragonslayer’s Sword is a combination of medieval fantasy, action/adventure, mystery, and romance. It’s about a female blacksmith who makes swords for dragonslayers. Everything starts going wrong when her sweetheart, the local dragonslayer, goes missing without explanation. The people in my novel are shapeshifters, but I’m doing something different with this concept. Shapeshifting is all about how you perceive yourself and other people – in other words, what you think and feel has the power to change the appearance of you or someone else. Society dictates that you always have the right to change yourself, but you don’t have the right to change other people. Because my main character is a blacksmith, I thought, “How can I write about a blacksmith unless I get some experience?” So I took a blacksmithing course. Ironically, after I took the course, I learned that I come from a long line of blacksmiths — several of my relatives are still blacksmithing today. (I even have an ancestor whose middle name was Hammer!) I also studied historically accurate methods of using medieval weapons, because I wanted to understand as much as possible about these weapons and reading about them in books didn’t give me a deep enough understanding.
How does research change the original plan you have for your story?
Doing research — especially physical research like blacksmithing and sword work — changes me. When I change, that has an impact on my characters because I always feel very close to them. For example, in April I gave a presentation at a Medieval Forum. This was a weekend conference and I originally thought I’d only have enough time to show up and give my presentation. But then I realized that it was a great opportunity to do some research, so I attended the entire 2-day event from beginning to end. There were two presentations that blew me away and revealed information about the Middle Ages that came as a big surprise to me. For weeks, I couldn’t stop thinking about what I’d learned. I contacted the professors who had given these presentations, told them about my work, and asked if it would be OK for me to be influenced by their presentations. They both said yes. This was important to me because The Dragonslayer’s Sword is the first novel in a series. I’ve just started writing Book 2, called The Iron Maiden. I had a general idea of what Book 2 was going to be about, but the story of Book 2 snapped into place after I heard those two presentations at the Medieval Forum. What I learned just happened to be a perfect fit with my goals for this series. The general idea for what I want to accomplish in Book 2 is still the same, but the story changed completely.
In addition to your novels, you've also written many articles and short stories. Do you research differently for an article or short story?
Yes. When I write an article, I’ve been given an assignment by a magazine editor, and the topic is very specific. For example, the last article I wrote was a preview of the movie Watchmen, which will come out in theaters next year. I’d read Watchmen many years ago, but I re-read it to refresh my memory. Then I interviewed the director and producer and asked very specific questions. I also use the Internet to do fact checking before I deliver an article. Short stories are very different. It’s very rare that I do any research when I write a horror story. A lot of my fantasy stories are the result of “accidental” research. For example, a few years ago I was at Connecticut’s Mystic Seaport, a living history museum. There were two exhibits that I found compelling. One was an exhibit of ship figureheads, and the other was an exhibit about women and the sea. I took lots of notes because I was interested in both exhibits. Months later, I got an idea for a short story, went back to all the notes I’d taken at Mystic Seaport, did some library research, and wrote “Black Magic,” which has just been published in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword and Sorceress XXIII.
Not only does your research help you write your stories, it also becomes an integral part of your life. For example, after researching about swords, you joined a real-life sword guild! What are the effects you've seen of drawing your real life closer to your fantasy life, i.e. the worlds of your stories and novels?
It makes it easy to drop a bridge between the real world and the fantasy worlds I make up. It’s easier to step into those worlds and walk with my characters and experience what they experience. In The Dragonslayer’s Sword, my female blacksmith ends up in a few situations where she has to defend herself but she has no idea how to use the very weapons she makes! So my own experience helped me figure out what kinds of mistakes she’d make, what the consequences would be, and her most realistic options. Plus, doing something like joining a sword guild and working with weapons is a lot of fun and makes it easy to meet lots of very interesting people. Not to mention that it’s incredibly fun to swing a sword around and actually know what I’m doing.
Do you have any special projects going on that you'd like to tell us about? Can you give us the juicy details?
I’m currently writing Book 2 of my Dragonslayer series: The Iron Maiden. I’m pushing my main character Astrid way out of her comfort zone in this book and giving her plenty of challenges. My novels tend to be about strong women who are independent and have active lives. There’s a lot that Astrid doesn’t know about herself, and the details will unravel slowly over the course of about four or five books. I’ve also written a novel called Our Lady of the Absolute that has just been accepted for publication (due out in 2010). This is a standalone novel that is heavily influenced by ancient Egypt. I’ve been an “armchair Egyptologist” all my life, which means I love ancient Egypt and have my own mini-library of books about it. I’ve also traveled in Egypt a couple of times and love the country so much that I feel homesick whenever I think about Egypt. Our Lady of the Absolute is about a woman who realizes in Chapter 1 that she’s going to have to choose between someone she loves and the country she loves. It’s a combination of action/adventure, fantasy, and thriller.
Lastly, because this feature is about establishing bonds within the writing and publishing industries, can you name one author, editor, publisher etc. who's doing great things right now, and why?
I’m keenly impressed with the publisher of The Dragonslayer’s Sword: Mundania Press. One of my top priorities is working with people who are honest and upfront, and that has been my experience with the folks at Mundania Press. They’re also great communicators. I learn a lot from them because they share information with their authors. I’m happy that when my novel was published, it came out in two formats: trade paperback and e-book. I want readers to have that choice. Also, Mundania Press uses “print on demand” technology, which makes them a “green” company, in my opinion. Ironically, I have yet to meet a bookstore owner, manager, or employee who knows the difference between “publish on demand” (which is essentially a fancy term for “self-published”) and "print on demand" (which is a technology that makes it possible to print copies of books only when they are purchased). Bookstores order books from wholesalers like Ingram’s and Baker&Taylor, who use “POD” as an abbreviation for both terms, which really adds to the confusion. In other words, as far as I can tell, bookstores don’t understand what print-on-demand technology is or why it matters. The publishing industry is one of the most wasteful American industries when it comes to misusing resources and money. I’m horrified that the major publishing houses continue to use a distribution system that dates back to the Great Depression and don’t seem to be taking any real action to go green, at least not to my knowledge. It’s important to me to be aligned with a “green” publisher that focuses on e-books and print-on-demand technology.
Emma's Note: This is an important issue, over which there is a lot of confusion. Simply put, beware of anyone who wants you to pay to publish your book (vanity publishing) but do not fear a reputable publishing house that uses print on demand technology! Thanks, Resa, for spreading correct information about this topic.
About the Author
Resa's book The Dragonslayer's Sword has just been nominated as a finalist for Category 12 - Fantasy of the 2009 Eppie Awards!
To learn more about Resa, check out her website.
© Emma Larkins and Resa Nelson