- Developing maps and world building for fantasy stories.
- The importance of a book’s first line and how it is a promise to the reader of what’s to come.
- Our writing space and setting rules to free ourselves from distraction.
I’m a proponent of the short, sharp paragraph.
Welcome to the eighteenth episode of Interviews from the Void, where I interview writers about their writing process, discussing the mechanics and physicality of the craft.
In this episode, I chat with fantasy writer Bill Ricardi about focus and the importance of writing a books’ first sentences.
Arthur: I always love a book that starts out with a map. In ANOTHER STUPID SPELL, how did you develop Panos? How much world-building did you do before (or during) the writing of the book?
Bill: Panos had about a month of backstory work before I wrote a single word that appears in the actual book. I started with the major gods, since I knew that they would be pivotal to the story. Then the Orc nations, because that was going to be my character’s main focus. The magic system came next, which is a mix of Kabbalistic principles and gaming tropes. Then the rest of the races, which in turn determined the landscape, the politics, and everything else.
Arthur: The first line of ANOTHER STUPID SPELL is: “Me smart orc.” You had me right there. There’s a lot of writing theory about developing a great first line of a book, even beyond that to first lines of chapters and paragraphs. Did you have any strategy behind this or did it just happen with your book?
Bill: I’m a proponent of the short, sharp paragraph. I think if it’s important and you want it to stick in the reader’s mind, you lead with a swift jab. “Me smart orc” is my promise to the reader. I’m telling them that they’re about to read something from a perspective that they haven’t seen before.
I also wanted to immediately pay homage to FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON by Daniel Keyes. This book wouldn’t exist without him and his masterpiece. So the perspective of a not-so-smart smart orc had to be established right away.
Arthur: The first few chapters of ANOTHER STUPID SPELL are written in a non-traditional way, which goes well with the main character and his development. Was this book difficult to write, given you were able to “break a few rules” when it came to traditional grammar and sentence structure?
Bill: I broke every rule of grammar, because I knew that I had to pull the reader into a more primitive way of thinking. It had to be about food and survival, the lowest level or Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Communication had to be blunt and primitive because that was the life that the reader was being thrust into. There were enough words to get the point across, enough for humor, and enough for emotion, and not a single word extra.
I also wanted to make it as hard as possible for my audio book voice actor! Seriously though, I just got the previous audio files from the upcoming release of the books. James Patrick Cronin nailed it. His linguistic progression as Sorch becomes more intelligent is inspiring.
There were enough words to get the point across, enough for humor, enough for emotion, and not a single word extra.
Arthur: “Stuff get done” is used a few times in your book, and I love it’s use here because in the way the story is written, it legitimately moves the story forward. There are times when I’m writing and I wish I could put just that: “stuff happens,” so that I can move on to writing the fun parts of the story. Do you get to places when writing when you want to just skip the boring “stuff” and move ahead? How do you push through these times?
Bill: It’s funny because “stuff” as well as “stuff and things” are important social concepts in Orc culture. If someone asks you what you’re doing today, you don’t actually bore them with the details. You just say “stuff and things,” and you move on.
The “stuff happening” and “stuff getting done” is one of the unique advantages to telling a story in the first person. If the narrator finds it too boring to relate, well that’s it. He skips it. And you as the reader are prisoner to the whims of the narrator! But it’s a good thing, because it provides a focus on things that matter.
Arthur: Is writing your full-time job? How did you start writing and how to make time for the craft?
Bill: Yes, writing is my full time job. I started early in 2017 after my tech company closed shop, failing to find a final round of funding. I moped around until my husband told me to write the book I always wanted to write. And the rest was history.
I had been writing part time for years. Sports coverage, gaming and gambling, mixed martial arts, website content, magazines and the like. Googling my name provides boatloads of different articles throughout the ages. And ghostwriting of course, which I can’t talk about, but certainly prepared me for the industry.
Arthur: How do you promote your work? What marketing strategy has had the best return?
Bill: I promote through week-long 99 cent sales and promotions on mailing list sites. I also open my books to the Kindle Unlimited Reading Program, which is nearly half of my profits. Results have been good, needless to say. I have social media and all that, but the vast majority of sales are driven through advertising.
Outside of lunch or timed 15 minute breaks, no programs are to be open other than the web browser for Google Docs; not even messengers or social media.
Arthur: Simon Winchester built a barn so he could focus on his writing. Tell me about your writing space. Are there specific attributes to your work space which help you focus on your writing? How do you free yourself from distraction when you’re in the middle of a writing session?
Bill: I’m a hard core Stephen King method guy. How hard core? Here is my post on his message boards describing my writing space. I lock myself away in my little office and nobody is allowed to disturb me outside of my breaks and emergencies. During work hours, I avoid distractions, other than my wonderful cat, Loki.
Here’s an excerpt from the article:
Room: 9′ by 13′. It is essentially a small converted store room. Some room is taken up by a water heater, some by networking equipment, some by an old dresser, etc. It could just as easily be a guest room or even a large closet, given how much space the writing activities actually take up.
The key features are a closable door, electricity, a networked computer, and a heater. The key NON-features are anything that someone could want or need in an emergency. Everything stored in here is ‘extra’ or guest related stuff. Nobody is going to be banging down the door for this stuff, they can wait until my office hours are over.
Work Area: Standard build-it-yourself ‘small’ sized computer desk that you could get at IKEA or Target, or Argos on this side of the pond. Mine is about 40 inches wide, enough to fit one large and one small monitor. Bog standard padded office chair. Oil-sealed space heater, nothing with open coils. Computer capable of running Google Docs. One 23 inch monitor and one 14 inch monitor. Logitech HD webcam and Blue microphone for any streaming / appearances / recordings required.
Rules: Other than myself, only one creature is allowed in or out during my 40 hour work week: My cat Loki. I have a mobile phone on vibrate should there be an emergency. Outside of lunch or timed 15 minute breaks, no programs are to be open other than the web browser for Google Docs; not even messengers or social media.
Arthur: What kind of experience are you trying to create for your readers?
Bill: For every novel, I’m trying to get readers to experience a modern fable. I want them to understand that there’s a moral to this tale. I want them to know that it might not follow the typical hero’s journey, but they’re going to be in for a ride. If they experience a new point of view while being entertained, even a fleeting one, I’ve done my job. They’re having fun, and their brains did something new and different in the process. An author can’t ask for more.
Arthur: ANOTHER STUPID SPELL is coming out in audio book format. Do you feel there is a change from the written form to audio form in how we consume stories? How do you think this will change our work as writers?
Bill: James Patrick Cronin has finished primary recording on all three books in ANOTHER STUPID SPELL trilogy. The first should be on Audible at the end of June. There “might” be a sneak preview up on a popular audio book website a week prior. WINK WINK. NUDGE NUDGE.
There’s a massive change when you experience the books as audio books. Chief among them is the personality given to each race and character. I never knew my humans had Brit accents before! Now I’ll never “hear” them the same way again. And the tone of some of the conversations took on a different twist than I had envisioned, which blew me away.
I’m a cadence writer, so I’m constantly looking at things like stress and meter in my sentences. I think more writers, if they want a really good shot at audio book conversion, will start paying attention to some of the little details of the craft. They’ll make their book not only readable, but relatable in a very real, multimedia kind of way.
I think more writers, if they want a really good shot at audio book conversion, will start paying attention to some of the little details of the craft.
Thank you so much, Bill, for sharing your writing wisdom with us here in INTERVIEWS FROM THE VOID. Be sure to check out ANOTHER STUPID TRILOGY, and we can’t wait for the audio book in the coming months. ew