Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Featured Author Q&A with Ken Mooney

Ken has very kindly agreed to answer some questions about reading, reviewing and being an Indie author.

1-What were your favourite childhood reads/authors?

I was a bit weird as a kid, and some of my big “childhood” reads aren’t really kids’ books: I remember reading The Hobbit fairly early on. And a hell of a lot of Star Trek tie-in books. I always liked fantasy and SF, or certainly things that promised they would lean that way. Some names and books that stand out are Susan Cooper’s Dark Is Rising books, Luvenders At The Old Mill by June Considine and Robin Jarvis’ Tales From The Wyrd Museum trilogy. More on that last one later.

2-Do you have any outstanding memories of reading as a child/teen? 

Long holidays where I spent most of the travel time reading in the back of the car. And sun holidays where, no matter how many books I brought with me, I’d be finished the lot about three days before I came home. I also remember being a teenager as everyone started the Harry Potter books and was totally in awe of them, and trying to gently hint to people that this wasn’t reinventing the wheel and there were plenty of books out there just as good (Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials was the case in point.)

3-What genres do you enjoy?

I can enjoy everything, but that doesn’t mean I’ll read everything. Most of my favourite reads focus on characters and how things happen (rather than just what.) With that in mind, I often find myself reading books that crossover multiple genres, or even “defy” generic conventions. But I suppose if I had to give a traditional list, it would include SF, horror, fantasy, thriller…and so on…

4-Are there genres that you never read?

Yes, for many reasons. I can’t bring myself to read romance and “chick-lit”; which is actually really weird, since I love Jane Austen and have even been known enjoy movies that fit into those genres. High fantasy is another one, though not as all-encompassing: I like reading about the human condition, so giving me non-human characters in an un-relatable environment where the values and hopes and dreams are so drastically different…yeah, it does nothing for me. I’ve similar problems with some hard-SF: there’s no point throwing story and technobabble at me with no characters to back it up.
5-Is there a book world that you would love to step into? A book hero you'd love to be?

There’s something awesome about William Gibson’s cyberpunk worlds, and that melding of biology and technology is something that I’d love to inhabit. Also…I love telekinesis and telepathic powers, so any world where that exists (and I can have it.)

6-What attracts you to buy/choose a book? 

Well, honestly, I think that one of the greatest sayings in the English language is a big lie: of course you judge a book by the cover. The blurb/summary sells me too, as well as recommendations of friends and family too.

7-What do you enjoy seeing in a book?

It varies based on what type of book it is, but I like reading about characters and situations that are self-aware: I don’t want to read a book where it takes a couple of hundred pages for characters to add two-and-two together, especially not when that sum has already been done for the readers. (That said, I know that sometimes, that’s just got to happen to keep the story going.) I like seeing humour and wit, even in the harshest of circumstances: we’re complicated people with complicated feelings, and we don’t think the same way all the time, so I like books and writers that can capture a bit of heartache in the happy moments and that memory that brings a smile to your face in the saddest times.

8-What puts you off a book?

The big one is probably selfish and/or hypocritical characters: I’ll finish reading the book, but I sure as hell won’t enjoy it. Of course, in some cases, that’s the point, but it’s one of my big problems with a book like The Catcher In The Rye: I literally want to reach into that book and kick some sense into Holden Caulfield.

9-What current authors do you enjoy?

Chuck Palahniuk is one of my favourites, a great explorer of that human condition (and usually under such weird circumstances too.) The same goes for Bret Easton Ellis and Douglas Coupland. I’m also…wait for it, I’m also a comic-book nerd, and while not “authors” in the traditional sense, I really love reading the work of Matt Fraction and Jonathan Hickman.

10-Have you been influenced by any authors?

Absolutely, what author hasn’t? There’s always a turn of phrase or a way of doing something that will inspire you, whether that’s to write, or that inspires a particular scene or thought. I mentioned Robin Jarvis and Susan Cooper earlier, and their talent at bringing the supernatural (and a very grand sort of supernatural) into the real world blows me away. The same goes for the wit and humour of Oscar Wilde and Jane Austen. There are obviously many many more too, but I think…as a writer, everyone and everything influences you in some small way, even if that’s just a way of doing something that you decide you don’t want to do.

11-What made you decide to write a novel?

It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, ever since being about ten years old and having to do an art project where we drew our future careers: mine was me sitting at my desk, which was probably the most boring image I’ve ever seen in my life. I’ve always wanted to tell the story that’s told in Godhead, it was just a case of how and when. There was a lot of stuff going on in my life, but I found myself with the time, drive and desire to tell this story.

12-What are the most rewarding and frustrating things about being an author?

There’s an awful lot to answer there. But I’d say the most rewarding thing is having someone that I don’t know and have never met, just deciding to pick the book up…and then getting in touch afterwards to tell me that they enjoyed it. As for frustrating…hrm, I’d say negative reviews, and I don’t mean a “bad” review, I mean the kind that really make you wonder if some people have far too much time on their hands. And I’ve seen this for other writers as well as myself, a review so brief and contradictory that it makes you doubt the reviewer even read the book.

13-How difficult is it to promote your book?

As an indie author…very. I’ll be honest, there are days where you just don’t feel like doing it. But at the same time, it’s a luxury to be able to do it. I’m fortunate enough to have a pretty busy day-job too, so I have something to distract me. That…that’s both a blessing and a curse.

14-What are your strengths as author? Anything you want to improve on?

I think characters, reactions, motivations…I’d like to think so, anyway. Just like I like to read about complex characters and relationships, I’d like to think I create them on the page as well. As for things to improve on…I know I can spend a bit too much time describing or setting up a scene: sometimes, I need to cut straight to the chase. To be honest, even when I’m “happy” with it, I absolutely hate writing exposition. I hate it with a vengeance. When you’re writing this sort of novel, at some stage, someone has to sit down and explain the rules to the characters and the readers. That said, I’d like to think that Godhead adds some interesting ways of doing it, and interesting reactions to it.

15-What do you like to see in a reader review?

I really like to read reviews that make me want to read the book, and that goes for all reviews: someone can enjoy a book but still not like parts of it; similarly, someone can love bits of a book, but think it doesn’t work as a whole. The reader who knows that is the best sort of reader, someone who knows the difference between the two. Even better is a reader that doesn’t like something, but recognises why it’s there.

16-What do you prefer not to see in reader reviews?

The reverse recommendation, where someone says they wouldn’t bother with a book and/or the author’s other work. If it’s a short review, and that’s all they say, then it’s even worse. As a writer, it’s not productive or conducive to conversation; as a fellow reader, it doesn’t really give much away, does it? Believe it or not, I’m all for (figuratively) tearing a book to shreds if you didn’t enjoy it, provided you can give your reasons, and it’s based on more than just a dislike of a certain character or scene (and in some cases, if you dislike a character or scene, doesn’t that mean the author has done their job?)

17-How did you decide on the title Godhead and what is its significance?

I went through so many names during the initial phase of writing, and none of them really worked. So many initial options were The X Chronicles, and while they sounded cool, I don’t think any of them would have captured the sense of grandeur and awe that I wanted to have in a story involving the gods. My working title for most of the first draft was Kaos Rising, named after the demonic forces (and the idea that they would be returning); but as I rounded the end of the first draft, Aphrodite really came into her own, and I realised that the demons weren’t really all that important to this story. Once I got my head around the fact that this wasn’t a story about good versus evil so much as these characters becoming gods, the title sort of just fell into place. As a word, it has many meanings in both religious and classical ways, but what I like in this context is that it’s a sort of state of being, like “brotherhood” or “fatherhood” but…y’know, for a god. That makes so much sense when you look at what happens during the book, and especially that last scene..
18-How would you describe your book?

It’s one of those questions I hate, because there are so many different ways of doing it. My official synopsis is a “new adult dark fantasy that brings the Greek gods and their influence to the present day.” My synopsis that I use with tongue firmly in cheek (but that I love) is…The Iliad, rewritten for a post-Buffy world.

19-How did the idea for Godhead develop?

The idea has always been floating around in my head, ever since I was a teenager: it was a very different format originally, but Megan, Karl and Hannah were fully fledged characters from older stories, and they always formed this sort of rag-tag team that would come together and fight evil. It was born very much of the 90s and that end-of-days type feel that was starting to crop up throughout popular culture. That and the stuff that I used to write that we would now call “fanfic.”

20-Why did you decide to include Greek mythology in the plot?

That was the point where Godhead really took on a life of its own. I’ve always been fascinated by Ancient Greek mythology and culture, and I love the sense of meddling gods, that characters (or people) can be trapped by this inescapable fate. I needed some origin for my characters’ powers and abilities, something grounded in fantasy, but that wasn’t “magic.” And gods just…clicked. My initial plan was for a series, where each book would deal with a different pantheon of gods; I had even started to plan out a second book involving Egyptian gods, but there is such a wealth in Greek mythology that I had to keep at it.

21-Why did you select Aphrodite as the bad girl?

Well, once I decided that the Greek gods were involved, I needed to figure out how the gods themselves fit into the story: of course, it’s thousands of years later, but they still need to figure somewhere. Hera has been a traditional enemy in so many modern adaptations of Greek texts, usually turning on some of Zeus’ children: part of me wanted to keep with that tradition, with Aphrodite portrayed as this great hero and a champion for humanity because of her great love for them. But I also wanted to do something very different, and turn that ‘tradition’ on its head: Hera’s motivations felt flat for the story I wanted to tell, and Aphrodite’s passions ran too hot for her to truly play the hero. What happened was a simple role reversal, and the rest sort of fell into place: Aphrodite’s passionate nature makes her hot to temper and anger, the kind of villain that can regret her actions a few moments later, but whose actions come from the heart. She fits into a modern world surprisingly well, while still being this sort of alien force that’s so volatile and unpredictable.

22-Who is your favourite character and why?

Aphrodite is well up there: in case you couldn’t tell from that last question, her motivations and backstory meant I fell in love with her while writing. I love writing Hannah as well: she’s so uptight and reserved that she’s sort of like Aphrodite’s opposite and equal in many ways, reining in her emotions to the point that she’s still unpredictable and dangerous. 
23-The characters have grief as a common link-why did you choose this plot theme?

That…is such a loaded question, but one that I’m really glad you asked. I lost both of my grandfathers to cancer in 2009, and something I wrote shortly afterwards was a version of the scene in the hospital where Megan’s grandfather passes away. It came from a very personal place, and was more of an exercise in clearing my thoughts than ever intended to be published. But as I started writing Godhead, that scene lingered in the background, calling my attention until I finally decided to include it in the book. But my own emotions had changed since then, and I wanted to sample how I felt then, and how I would feel if I had lost someone else. Grief itself is such a unifying force, powerful and creative, but at the same time dangerous and destructive, and all of that fit in with the greater theme of gods and humanity.

24-What do like best about Godhead? Anything you wish you had done differently?

That changes every couple of days, and depends on who I’m talking to. I love seeing readers respond to different things, some of them love the drama and the human characters, and others love the fantasy elements. I love both, and I really like that I’ve found this balance between the two worlds: whether that always works is another matter. As for something I’d do differently: well, it’s the first book in a series, and those sorts of books always need a significant info-dump. I’d love to find a way to trim the words back and cut through all that exposition.

25-What can we expect from your next books? 

Well, I’m currently working on the sequel to Godhead; that’s called The Hades Contract and I’m hoping it’ll be out in late 2013 or early 2014. I have an idea for some short stories as well that will cover the small time between both books, but I haven’t even begun looking at them. I also have another trick up my sleeve, a not-so-traditional romance called The Magician’s Kiss, but that’s a different kettle of fish entirely, and I’ll need to try a whole different bag of tricks to tell that story.

Thanks Ken!

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