Courtesy of Indie Author News, Indie Author Interview with Hal Emerson - Author of the Epic Fantasy The Prince of Ravens
Hal Emerson is the author of six books, including Bones, Oberon's Children, and In the Land of Aeon. He writes primarily epic fantasy and science fiction, and enjoys books by Steinbeck, Stephen King, and Neil Gaiman. The Exile Trilogy, begun with The Prince of Ravens, remains his most popular series. He is also an actor and older brother, and he has an undying obsession with raspberries.
Interview with Hal Emerson
Author Hal Emerson
Alan Kealey (Indie Author News): What is your (writing) background?
Hal Emerson: I was a Theater major and English minor at UCLA, so most of my formal training as a writer comes from my Bachelor of Arts degree. I read a lot of classics and specialized in Shakespeare. Other than that, I’ve written eight books now, five of them published, and I read constantly. I’ve learned more from actually writing books than I ever really did studying them – it really is something you need to do over and over again before you figure it out.
Who are your favorite writers, your favorite books, and who or what are your writing influences?
I have a number of favorite writers in a number of categories, but probably the top three are John Steinbeck, Shakespeare, and Stephen King, all for very different reasons. East of Eden is one of my favorite books, and Steinbeck’s handling of prose is constantly moving to me; Shakespeare’s drama, word choice, and syntax is the reason the plays have survived for so long; and Stephen King does emotional realism like no one else and is unafraid to look at all the darkest corners of people’s thoughts. Other than that, I re-read the Harry Potter series about once a year. It’s a little like going home – I don’t know if it will stand the test of time, but I sincerely hope it does. I grew up with those books, and I hope my children will some day as well.
When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer?
I actually still don’t know if I want to be a writer! I want to tell stories as honestly and truthfully as possible, and writing is simply the way I’ve found best suited to that purpose. I love acting as well, for similar reasons. Writing, though, is a compulsion for me and has very little to do with want or desire – if something happens in my life, I need to write about it in order to process it. Usually the way it comes out is via story. It’s hard for me to write a good story just because – it needs to have a personal meaning for me, or else it doesn’t get done.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Yeah, I was eight or nine and I was tired of waiting for the next Harry Potter book to come out, so I wrote an unauthorized sequel for my elementary school class. I got rave reviews, even though it was only a dozen pages long and had the title “Harry Potter and the Magic Cyclone” or something similar.
"I try to write no less than 2,000 words [...]"
Tell us about your writing process. Do you have a writing routine?
I try to write no less than 2,000 words and no more than 4,000 words a day, though I take Saturdays off. I used to be religious about every night getting the words out, but I’ve eased up a bit. I write better when I’m happy and healthy, so I make sure not to neglect health, friends, and family just to get the words done. I think that’s important – too much focus on the word count and you lose sight of the joy that writing can bring and you turn the process into a stressful, mechanic process.
Please, describe your desk/workplace.
I’m a horizontal writer in the style of Mark Twain and Truman Capote, so my workspace isn’t much more than a laptop and somewhere to lie down. I also use Google docs on my phone when I’m having a hard time concentrating - I text myself the story. Something about the texting is more focusing than typing, though I’m not sure why. Whenever I’m up against a deadline, though, I put everything else down and text myself the story using Google docs. A bit slower than typing, but in the long run I can go for two or three hours straight doing it that way.
"Writing is easy; good writing is quite difficult."
What do you find easiest about writing? What the hardest?
The easiest thing about writing is putting the words down one after the other. Writing, the act itself, is simple. The hardest thing, though, is making the words mean something. Anyone half-literate can write an understandable sentence. But what’s really hard is to write a sentence with the exact right words in the exact right order with the exact right cadence so that they mean more than the sentence itself.
If you do that enough times over, then you get a magnificent paragraph, then a magnificent chapter, and finally a magnificent book.
It’s very hard, though. Writing is easy; good writing is quite difficult.
"Figuring out a problem through my characters."
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Figuring out a problem through my characters. A lot of why I write is to process my own life, and a lot of times when I write, answers just flow into the story that I hadn’t even thought about. That’s usually the greatest joy – when something from my subconscious just shows up and surprises me and works perfectly on the page. I love nothing better than upgrading my original outline with happy accidents.
Hal, please tell us a little about your Epic Fantasy The Prince of Ravens.
The Prince of Ravens is the story of a young man who has been raised by a tyrannical family and known nothing but power and privilege all his life. When he is the subject of an assassination attempt, though, he is forced to flee across the empire he had been bred to rule.
Abandoned by his family and in possession of the Raven Talisman that his mother will do anything to regain, he is forced to seek refuge in the unlikeliest of places, and to decide who he’ll be.
What inspired you to write the book?
The inspiration was a fascination with the idea of taking a good man and putting him in the role of a villain. I like playing with the line between good and evil, and I wanted to see what would happen if my hero had inherently evil powers – specifically, the power to feed off the death of others. In order to do anything of note in order to be a hero, he would have to access those evil powers, powers that have been given to him by an evil family of which he very much wants to be a part. Then, add in the fact that the family he loves tries to kill him, and you have a person at the nexus of a dozen life branches, where he can go in a dozen different directions.
Who do you see as your target audience?
My target audience is anyone who enjoys modern high fantasy. It isn’t Lord of the Rings but more in keeping with The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, or the Brandon Sanderson Mistborn trilogy. I intentionally wrote it so that anyone from thirteen to eighty-three would be able to read it, and I hope that everyone can find something in it to which they can relate.
What makes your novel special?
What makes the novel special to me is that it follows the arc of someone who was never supposed to be a hero at all. Not only was he never supposed to be, he actively grew up thinking he would be a member of the Empire and a ruler, and all of his life was spent preparing to be, for lack of a better word, a villain. He doesn’t see himself as a villain, nor does he see his family as evil, but when he is given a choice over what to do, he thinks back to who he is and what he’s done and cannot see anything heroic inside himself. It’s a more interesting take on the hero myth than the usual take of an ambitious young person who sees themself as special. The Prince of Ravens prefers reserve and anonymity, and in fact thinks himself unworthy of anything resembling heroism, which makes it all the more interesting when he’s the only one around to do the job.
How would you describe the success of your self-published books so far?
Pretty encouraging – the book currently has 63 reviews on Amazon for a total of 4.7 stars. I’m very happy people are enjoying it and going on to read the rest of the trilogy.
"Just sit down and do it."
Can you give some advice for other Authors regarding the writing process?
Just sit down and do it. Forget that you’re writing a book and just put the words down one after the other, a little bit every day, and then come back and edit them all after the first draft is finished.
Realize that the first draft of anything is absolute shit. It’s supposed to be that way. I usually go through a minimum of five drafts before I even send the book out for feedback. Also, people are much better editors than they are authors – so get the bones of the story down, even if it’s poorly worded, because you’ll go back and add the flesh later. An author’s number one enemy is perfection. Your job isn’t to be perfect; it’s to write one word after another every day. Eventually, without realizing it, you’ll have a book.
Are you working on another book project? Can you tell us a little about it?
I’m currently working on the beginning of a new planned sci-fi trilogy.
The first book is called “Bones” and follows two boys that crash-land on an alien planet in the post-Earth era. Their colony, Arvun Cristi, orbits the planet and is known as the center of the Genetic Revolution. In order to save humanity, the colonists turned to genetic engineering to produce seven preset genetic human templates. The seven Presets are base personalities reinforced by training and education to fulfill the niches necessary to sustain human civilization. The story follows the two boys as they’re picked up by scavengers and forced to find a way home.
"Indie bookstores have recently started to flourish again."
Where do you see the book market in 5 or 10 years? Will there be only eBooks and will book stores disappear like record stores disappeared?
Bookstores will be around for a long time still, but in 5 to 10 years there will be highly advanced digital platforms for everything imaginable. Some people will always want the tactile experience of a book, though – that’s the difference from CDs and records. Records and CDs both produce sound in varying qualities – for books, the quality is essentially the same, but the experience of actually handling the book itself is very different. So, I don’t see bookstores going away. In fact, Indie bookstores have recently started to flourish again.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
I had a Nook for a long time, but I switched to Kindle because Amazon is easier to deal with in general. I have nothing against the Nook – I still have my Nook, in fact, and after five years it still works great – but generally I stick with my Kindle Paperwhite.
Do you write full-time or do you have a day job? When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I’m a part-time writer for now. My day job is in sales development and operations, which fulfills the other side of me that needs to be involved with a team of people. I do a lot of systems work behind the scenes, which is what I enjoy most, but the solitary life of an author is a tough gig. If/when I begin to write full time, I’ll still probably work part-time as a business analyst of some kind, which is the role I enjoy most.
How can readers connect with you?
Feel free to reach out on Twitter via @Hal_Emerson and also check out my website www.halemerson.com. Either way, looking forward to hearing from you!
Thank you very much for the Interview, Hal.