Thursday, September 27, 2012

Interview with Jeroen Steenbeeke

The 27th of September is an important day for many reasons, and not just because it happens to be Google's fourteenth birthday.  It was also the day that the Romans battered down the walls of the upper city of Jerusalem.  It was the day that William the Conqueror and his troops set sail for England.  It was also sadly the day that the legendary bassist Cliff Burton from Metallica died.  But it just also happens to be a very significant date in The Raven's Endgame and Gift of the Destroyer the books written by today's featured author, Jeroen Steenbeeke. 

Today Jeroen is sitting down with us to tell us a little bit about his latest Novel, The Raven's Endgame, and to tell us more about his process of writing.

Welcome Jeroen.  Tell me a little bit about your latest book?
The Raven's Endgame is a fantasy novel, and a direct sequel to my first book, Gift of the
Destroyer. It takes place several decades after the events of Gift of the Destroyer, and follows
a teenage girl with amnesia who wakes up in an alleyway in a foreign city. The only clues about
her origin are a strange accent, skin and hair color that are out of place, and two daggers in
concealed pockets in her sleeves. In many ways, the story explores the ramifications of the
events of Gift of the Destroyer and how they affected the various lives of those involved, and
their families.

How did you come up with the title?
The Raven is an antagonist in both Gift of the Destroyer and the Raven's Endgame, a
supernatural creature that can predict the outcome of events, and change them accordingly.
Most of his plans take decades or even centuries to come to fruition. His master plan, his
endgame, was ruined because of the actions of the protagonists in Gift of the Destroyer, and
now he is forced to act more directly.

When and why did you begin writing?
I've been writing stories in some form or another since I was 7 or 8. It started with attempts to
write comics, but later switched to writing actual stories when I was 11 or 12, mostly because
I'm not that good at drawing.

I've always had an active imagination, so I've always had plenty of stories to tell. I made my first
attempt to write a novel when I was 14, but lacking any sort of outline, or even a climax to work
towards, that effort stranded after eight chapters or so. In retrospect, this was probably for the
best.
I continued to create worlds and stories in my head as I grew older, and used them in various
ways. A fictionalized history for a gaming clan, a background story for a volunteer MMORPG
project, and even a few scary stories to tell my younger cousins (some elements of which
were later incorporated in Gift of the Destroyer). All this time, I figured I'd want to write a book
someday, and I even made a few attempts to start, but never in earnest.

There are two things that served as catalyst to finally start writing. The first was reading
Sometimes the Magic Works by Terry Brooks, which was quite an inspiration. The second was
buying a netbook, so I could easily write during my commute by train. This was in early 2009,
which is when I started working on Gift of the Destroyer.

Do you write in the same genre you like to read?
For the most part, yes. I primarily read fantasy, which is also what I write. On the other hand,
I also read a lot of alternative history and science fiction, and I enjoy the occasional vampire
novel. I can't really imagine myself writing any of those. I'd like to explore Steampunk or Urban
Fantasy and/or paranormal stuff someday, but not before I finish my current trilogy.

Do you have a specific writing style?
I tend to write in past tense, from a third person perspective, and I switch to present tense when
writing visions or dreams. I've never felt all that comfortable writing in first person ("I"). I have a
tendency to include multiple points of view in my stories (even if only briefly), which is hard to
pull off in first person.

Do you have a writing schedule?
More or less. I usually write during my commute, so essentially I write "before and after work".
This was true for most of Gift of the Destroyer, but I did a lot of extra writing in the evening when
I was working on the Raven's Endgame.
Do you plan your work or just go with it and start with the initial idea?
I'm definitely a planner. Before I start writing I divide the story into the usual 3 acts, and then
divide each act into sequences and then chapters. Each chapter I then divide into scenes. Each
of these then gets a 1-2 sentence summary of their contents. Once I'm satisfied with these
descriptions, and I feel the story will flow nicely with these contents, I'll start writing.
This outline usually changes a bit as I write, but never that much.

How do you deal with writer's block?
It depends on the situation. If I'm working on a scene and have no idea how to write it, I usually
stare out the window for a few minutes and then it just comes to me. If not, I put away my
netbook and try again the next session. Usually this solves things. A nap also works, if the
situation allows it. Other things I find useful are doing a workout and taking a shower (usually
both).
I can't say I've ever had any cases more serious than this, unless you count a few rather large
cuts I've had to make: 10K words of subplot in Gift of the Destroyer, and restarting from scratch
after 30K words with the Raven's Endgame. In both those cases it was simply a matter of going
back to the drawing board, and things just came naturally.

What inspires you to write? Where do you find your influences?
In music, more often than not. I blog about these things from time to time. I primarily listen to
various types of Trance music, but I've also found that a lot of movie trailer music has a similar
effect. Occasionally other styles of music have a similar effect.
Aside from that I'm often influenced by movies, usually ones that have little or nothing to do with
the fantasy genre. The Terminator was big influence to Gift of the Destroyer, and the movie
Unknown played no small part in coming up with the amnesia plot for the Raven's Endgame.

What are your current projects?
Gift of the Destroyer and the Raven's Endgame are the first and second book in a trilogy, so
now that I've finished these I'll start work on the third and final part. Aside from that, I'm slowly
compiling a collection of short stories describing bizarre dreams I've had (and I have a lot of
those).

What are your challenges in writing? What elements do you find difficult?
I am often too sparse on details in my descriptions. Fortunately, the people who proofread my
work are more than eager to point this out. A problem I struggled with when writing Gift of the
Destroyer was bridging major events: knowing where I wanted to go, but not what happened in
between. I've found that rigorous outlining fixes this problem for me.
And then there are real-world distractions. As I've said before, I write during my commute,
and Dutch trains are crowded. While I usually look for the "quiet area", those aren't always as
quiet as advertised. Additionally, I'm often in the company of co-workers traveling in the same
direction and eager for conversation, and writing makes me rather anti-social.
Are there any downsides to being a writer?
Writing is hard work and takes a lot of time, but aside from that I haven't really found any
downsides to it. Also, the fact that I often write during my commute mitigates the amount of time
I "lose" by writing.

How do you come up with your characters?
I have yet to detect a pattern, and I usually feel they just pop up in my head at the strangest
of times. The characters Brenor and Skayd, both of which I introduced in Gift of the Destroyer,
were based on a scary story I told my cousins once over a decade ago, and have changed
considerably since then, but characters such as Lianna I didn't create until I started writing the
outline. Many of the characters for the Raven's Endgame I imagined while writing Gift of the
Destroyer, and while I was writing the Raven's Endgame I imagined a lot of characters for the
third book, and now that I'm starting the third book I've already figured out a few characters for
books I'll write after that.
Are the names of your characters important?
Most of my characters tend to have short names, most of them two or three syllables. I'm not
sure why exactly, as I usually just go with what sounds right, and the names usually just pop
up along with the characters. I feel a name should fit the character in some way, but this mostly
comes naturally.
Of course, it makes little sense to call your noble hero Garlakk the Annihilator, or your villain
Captain Butterfly.

If there was one thing you could have learnt about being a writer before you started, what would
it be?
The importance of editing. I've revised each of my books a dozen times, but even then a good
editor is invaluable.

If you could choose one writer to be your mentor, who would it be?
Brandon Sanderson. Great fantasy writer with a solid reputation with regard to giving writing
advice. And I happen to really like his books.

Favourite book?
Armageddon's Children by Terry Brooks, a really good mix of post-apocalyptic fiction and
fantasy.

Favourite/worst book to movie?
I don't really have a favourite. The worst in my opinion is the Golden Compass. I really enjoyed
reading His Dark Materials, but that movie did no justice to Philip Pullman's work. The worst was
that they left out the ending.

What are you reading now?
At any given point I'm usually reading several novels, though my current focus is the Soldier
Son trilogy by Robin Hobb. I'm also reading A Dance of Death by David Dalglish, as well as
Redshirts by John Scalzi.

Do you have any advice for other writers?
Either go the traditional route or be prepared to spend quite a bit of money on editing and
covers and such. Contrary to what you may believe, you will make a lot of mistakes, and you
won't realize all of them without outside help.

How tough was the decision to self-publish?
It came naturally over a period of time. At first I didn’t consider it at all. Then someone pointed
out Joe Konrath’s blog, and for a while I considered it as an alternative should I face rejection
from agents. Then, as I came closer to finishing my first novel, I started compiling a list of
agents and noticed there weren’t that many that accepted fantasy. And then I started to wonder
if I really wanted to be at the mercy of a bunch of people half a world away, and figured I might
as well publish it myself. I’d be at the mercy of readers regardless of the route I chose, and I
figured I could manage things myself. Many people were having success, so I figured there was
no harm in trying.

How do you perceive the world of self publishing?
Very diverse. There are thousands of people writing books and self-publishing in every genre
imaginable. My contact with other self published authors has been positive, especially on the
Kindleboards.

Thank you so much for joining us today.  If you haven't already done so, head on over to the Amazon links and pick yourself up a copy of The Raven's Endgame and Gift of the Destroyer. 


More about Jeroen Steenbeeke
Jeroen Steenbeeke (1983) is a fantasy writer from the east of the Netherlands. An avid reader
as well as a daydreamer blessed with an overactive imagination, it was only a matter of time
before he started writing.  English is his second language after learning the basics at the age of eight courtesy of Captain Kirk, Mister Spock, and the BBC.  For more information visit Jeroen Steenbeeke's blog.

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