Thursday, October 23, 2014

Author Interview: R.A. McCandless

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with (via Facebook) and interview author R.A. McCandless, author of Tears of Heaven published by Wild Child Publishing. Our discussion was as follows (give or take the occasional typo).


Was there a certain book that got you into Science Fiction and Fantasy? Could you describe it, and why it connected with you so strongly?

Tolkien’s The Hobbit was given to me as a gift and really opened the castle gates of fantasy to me.  Suddenly, there was a whole world of swords, magic and fantastical creatures to meet.  Immediately after I finished, I took all the money I had and biked down to the bookstore to buy everything else Tolkien had written.  I had no idea I was getting the seminal fantasy series: The Lord of the Rings.

I’m compelled by any world where dragons can make an appearance.  They don’t have to show up, but the idea that they can?  Please and thank you.  I also like any world where a woman is as strong or stronger that most of the men around.  Personally, I prefer a woman who can go toe-to-toe and sword-to-sword with anyone else.  So my preferred genre is fantasy, but I’ll take urban fantasy, science fiction and even historic fiction off the shelves for those reasons.

I have a similar story. The Hobbit was a childhood favorite. 

It and LOTR remain in my top ten despite numerous excellent authors over the years.

They both have a lot to offer, even after all these years. There's a reason he's the first name people think of in Fantasy.

. . . . .

What is your work about? Would you care to describe it? 

Telling a good story well and hitting some epic high note moments.  It’s hard to not to get carried away from the reality of, say, a sword fight or a battle scene, and into the unrealistic.  Keeping the physics of actions and reactions on target is something I really strive for and enjoy.  This is especially enjoyable when readers catch the effort that went into making a fight scene exciting, but still within the realm of the real.  I have to say that my favorite is when a reader comes to me and says, “You bastard, I can’t believe you killed this character.  He was my favorite.”  They really aren’t mad at me, but it means that I connected with them through that character, and I achieved a realism of life between their mind and the book with that character.  That’s magic right there.

Haha I've heard that a writer's job is to  make the reader go through things they'd never willingly choose to go through on their own. 

Or things they can't go through.  It's really tricky to get on the back of a dragon and go for a ride these days, what with all those damned knights riding off to slay them all the time.

But there's JK Rowling, writing about Harry Potter and his friends climbing on board a dragon in the underground vaults of Gringotts, riding a dragon to freedom.  Wow

That was a good one! 

Yeah, amazing ride!

Such a great scene.

Iconic really, if you think about it.  If you talk fantasy, you think about dragons, but how many fantasy novels actually have dragons in them?  That's not a slam on authors or fantasy as a genre.  Too much, and we'd get tired of "another dragon in another fantasy book".  Rowling did a good job of showing us dragons in her fantasy, but not overselling the creatures.

She did, very much so. One of her greatest triumphs, I think.

. . . . .

In the piece you're currently working on, are there any real-world issues that you're exploring? Would you care to describe it/them?

I’ve been writing (hopefully) strong female characters for a couple of decades now.  I didn’t set out to do so.  There was no conscious effort to make my work specifically male or female.  My very first, very immature story was about my group of friends.  Because I was, have been and always will be interested in fantasy, it was in a fantasy setting.  Everyone carried swords, everyone was heroic with their swords, and that was essentially that.  It was a story meant for my friends, and I thought highly of all of them, regardless of their gender.

HELL BECOMES HER is the follow up to my debut release TEARS OF HEAVEN and follows the further adventures of Del, a strong female protagonist, who faces demons, both real and inner.  This time around, she gets to face some classic bad guys, while at the same time confronting what it means to be both a woman and a mother.  Challenges that face any parent on a daily basis, even one that isn’t fighting supernatural forces.

Sounds really interesting!

I guarantee enjoyment!

So you'd say that the fact you write strong female characters is more a natural extension of your views than an intentional statement?

It’s 50/50.  I didn’t look around and start writing female characters because I wanted to take a stand on feminist issues.  I don’t know how, but my parents raised me to believe that everyone was equal, or at least deserving of equal treatment.  At the same time, I recognize that women around the world are not treated equally, and I am a feminist.  I think everyone should be.  Portraying women as something other than a pretty damsel in distress adds to the conversation.  That doesn’t mean I denigrate men to raise up women.  That’s also the wrong message to send.

I agree. The way I write women now is in response to weaknesses in the way I wrote them ten years ago as much as anything. I hope I've reached a similar point.

It's a process.  I think originally I felt that if women were physically stronger, that would be enough.  But that's just a superficial view.

By that I mean, that's how I wrote them.  Simply physically stronger.  That's overly simplistic.

. . . . .

In your opinion, is fiction useful in society? Does fiction reading benefit the reader? If so, in what ways? What benefits, if any, have you encountered from reading fiction?

Fiction and fantasy are really reflections of our world, only better.  Even dark fiction or dystopias tend to hand us heroes that rise up above the blackness and are able to make choices that sort out the good guys from the bad guys—they can decipher good and evil, right from wrong.  That’s not always true in our own world, and so it’s quite a relief to sit back and be transported to place where considerations over extremism, and Ebola and politics aren’t realities.  Or, if they are realities, they’re going to be handled, in one way or another, by the characters.

We also learn the most from stories, as examples of how to behave, or how we want to behave.  When confronted with similar situations, while we can’t use magic, and probably shouldn’t use violence, we still look to our heroes for a means for how to act.  How would Kvothe or Aragorn, or Katniss, or Dumbledore deal with this particular scenario.  Fantasy and fiction provide us with multiple perspectives for dealing with the realities of our own day-to-day lives.

That's a really unique perspective! I agree, though. Even a story that demonstrates the complexities of the issue eventually allow the character to be decisive, to do what they are sure is right. Which is an opportunity that we don't often get in this world.

Exactly.  And there can even be an exploration of bad choices too, although there is something to the idea that at the end of the day your hero, even an anti-hero, still needs to be somewhat relatable, or you'll lose your audience.

. . . . .

What responsibilities, if any, would you say a writer of speculative fiction has to their readers, and to society? 

Beyond telling a good, realistic story with compelling, relateable characters, none.  It's not our job to change the world, it's not our job to right all the world's wrongs, or to take up arms against a sea of troubles. We can be part of the discussion, and we certainly should be, but we're only one voice, one thread in an enormous social tapestry.  Fiction and fantasy are first and foremost about a good story well told.

. . . . .

What is your opinion about fiction's ability to change the world? Does it have such an ability? Or do you feel that's an overstatement of its power?

Star Trek.  It’s a perfect example of how fiction writers go about trying to solve actual, real world problems, not just through technological or philosophical advances, but viewing the whole history of humanity, extrapolating from our past, through our present and attempting predict our future.  Star Trek wasn’t alone in seeing some of the writing on the wall, but it’s a great example of how fiction writers can view problems, or see potential improvements years or decades into the future and present them as science fact.

Even if the result is a far-fetched or impossible outcome, that doesn’t remove the potential for inspiration on many levels.  If you ask astronomers, physicists, rocket scientists, etc. what inspired them, you often get back some science fiction show or writer that caught their imagination and prompted them to pursue a career in that particular field.  In return, the science that is developed, inspires new writers, and inspiration and change spin outward in an often beautiful spiral.

Yes! I actually recently heard of this story Nichelle Nichols (who plays Uhura in the original series), often tells...

I think they all have a story like that.  It's wonderful.  I'm sure there are actors from other, less well-known sci fi shows of the era who also have similar stories.  I can't imagine it not being that way.

Very true. I think fiction can often be on the forefront of those kinds of things, because it's far enough removed.

Exactly.  It's always based on a concept that is current, but solves a problem, sometimes just for the show itself, but extrapolated out, a problem that exists in our real world as well.

. . . . .

Is there a trend in the public's perception of fiction that you have noticed? A general opinion the public has toward fiction, and speculative fiction in particular? If so, what?

The internet and indie publishing has allowed access to stories on a scale that we’ve never seen before, let alone imagined.  In some ways this has been very good for storytelling in general (although it’s also had its bad/dark side).  I like to listen to fantasy/fiction podcasts when I go running, and that was something that didn’t even exists five or ten years ago.  Now, you can get them for free, and they’re wonderful, imaginative, innovative and amazing.

The storytelling is more intimate, too.  Even epic series like “The Wheel of Time” or “The Kingkiller Chronicles” tend to be about the characters, and are driven more by internal choices rather than externally by the plot (or the plot’s needs).  Even if the story is a sweeping epic, like “The Song of Ice and Fire” readers know a lot more about the characters and their relationships than in previous generations of fiction, even going back to Professor Tolkien and Lord of the Rings.  That’s likely borne out by fans and writers who loved these works, but wanted to know more about their favorites.  It’s wonderful to see that attention to detail, that realism in fiction and fantasy.


Again, I want to express my thanks to McCandless for taking the time to give these fantastic answers.

You can find McCandless's first book here:

No comments:

Post a Comment