Interview with Dean McIntosh

Spirit + Stone is the second story you have published featuring Trór Gravewater. Why him?
I presently have two of what I will refer to as "arcs" in my fiction.

Spirit + Stone represents the first episode in what I call the Trór Gravewater arc. I have a naming convention for the "arcs" based on which character that and sets up the story in them. You could also call the two arcs "Mage" and "not Mage", but that is really inelegant. Trór's is the "not Mage" arc, however.

Trór Gravewater was the protagonist of the story Battles With A Dwarf. Spirit + Stone begins approximately sixty years after Battles ended. The story details how Trór ascends to the throne in Aterclius, and how he spends the year surrounding that event.

As to why Trór, it is like this. He is the character that I invented and built the entire world of Melior around. He is the rock upon which all of the other arcs and stories will sit.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
Watching films, listening to music, reading other peoples' work, eating, drinking, and so on. All of these activities create observations that go into a pool of ideas for future work. Sometimes, it is said, the best musical practice is time spent away from the instrument. I believe that can also apply to writing.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
The same way I discover any other book I read. People talk all of the time about what they read or have read. Sometimes what they say about what they have read causes me to make mental notes and go looking. In this age where companies spend millions of dollars trying to tweak an image or promise an experience, it is easy to forget the value of word of mouth. There is nothing like listening to other people talk about the things they enjoy.
When did you first start writing?
I was born. I waited a handful of years, maybe five at the most. I began writing.
*faint chuckle* No, really, when did you first start writing?
I am unable to precisely recall when I started school, but it would have been in the year 1983 or 1984. In that day and age, it was standard to make children write short passages of text in order to assess and strengthen our linguistic skills. This especially became a frequent activity in the second year of my schooling.

It worked, up to a point. A small percentage of the class wrote very fluid prose by the standards of six or seven year old children.

Teachers in that year, and in all of the years subsequent, expressed varying levels of concern and dismay about my ability to fixate upon a subject for my writing and just never let it go. Go figure.
Your personal Facebook profile lists "autism civil rights" for politics.
Yes. One of the first things I encountered when I made my Smashwords account was at least two books that were ostensibly "for autism". Anyone who has been reading the personal online writings of autistic adults or people who deserve to call themselves allies of the autistic will know something terrible. There is a very big disconnect between the feelings and desires of autistic people, and those of people who run charity drives "for autism" or promote "autism awareness".

As an example, let us take "autism awareness". The message of "look out, this person who does this/that might have the autisms!" is offensive, and with the violence and bullying awareness has been bringing us recently, it is well worth asking why we would want the rest of the world to be aware that we even exist.

The second arc in my canon, the Ruby Amelda arc or Mage arc, very strongly comes from a conviction of Magi (or to some extent, Healer) and autistic being closely related. Later in the year, I hope to bring the first volume in the Ruby Amelda arc to the public. This arc will delve deeper into the relationship between the more mainstream society of Melior's Allied Realms and the Magi, including some exploration of why the mainstream segment of the Allied Realms do not feel compelled to murder the Magi simply for possession of an identifiable difference.

There are different kinds of autistic people. Being autistic and growing up during the 1980s can leave a horrible mark on a person, and my writings reflect that. This is also a promise to the reader. You will not find stories where Babyvoice McPretty can be cast as the main hero. I do not consider being "just like all the rest" a selling point, for person or story alike. I want my reader to remember what they have just read with my name on it, and remember something unusual about what they have read.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote or what it was about?
Not exactly. I do remember that it was very badly-written and needed a lot of cleaning up. I am pretty certain that the first story I actually finished in the sense of it having a beginning, middle, and end was set in a fictionalised city that had just been through a euphemised nuclear armageddon. I go through thematic stages. Post-apocalyptic, other worlds, or hybrids of fantasy with science fiction, for instance. All of my aborted attempts to complete any kind of story, prior to the one I have just mentioned in general terms, were horror stories.
What are the tools you use to write?
I have a desktop iMac that I do most of my data-related business and writing with. It is getting "a little old", so sometimes I get frustrated with it. When I go outside of the house and want to be able to write, I bring my Macbook, which I recently replaced. Each has their advantages and disadvantages.

Software-wise, I use an odd combination of Microsoft Word for Mac, TextEdit, and Pages. Again, all of these pieces of software have their respective pros and cons that overlap. TextEdit is very simple and user-friendly, but it leaves one without any tangible idea concerning the length of their document. I use all three of those programs regularly, but sometimes I wish for a word processor that had all the pros of all three and none of their cons. Then again, at least I am not using Commodore 64 or Commodore Amiga word processors anymore.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
I do not remember the absolute first story I read. I was a hyperlexic child and could read at what we jokingly call a university level before I started school. So the likelihood of me remembering exactly what story I first read, in the true sense of the word, is non-existent.

I can mention some likely candidates. Dragonfall 5 novels are the absolute earliest thing I remember reading outside of Doctor Seuss and Little Golden Books. Asterix and Tintin books were readily available at the local library, and I really got into those as a little boy. There were a few other titles laid out in a similar format to that, a Dracula-themed one for example. I daresay that if e-readers had been available in 1984, I would have complained a lot less about having difficulty focusing on the text on the page.

In a sense I am glad that I grew up during the 1980s when I see what is being pushed as good reading for small children today.
What do you read for pleasure?
Robert A. Heinlein, Philip K. Dick, Charlaine Harris, Cormac McCarthy, George Orwell (both his fiction and non-fiction), Richard Matheson, Vincent Bugliosi, even mangas such as Riki-Oh, Rosario To Vampire, or Koroshiya Ichi. Really, if you put something in front of me, I will read it. If I am bored enough, I will read the boxes of things that I have just bought. Whether I enjoy it or not is another matter, but you best believe that if it has text on it somewhere, I will read it. As I really hope I made clear at least once, however, I get more ideas from music and film than I do other authors.
Which films or music do you get ideas from, then?
The short, snippy answer is "any and all good ones". For a slightly longer example, scenes from RoboCop inspired certain parts of Spirit + Stone.

But to give you a more involved answer, whilst I was rewriting Battles With A Dwarf, I found two sources of inspiration that caused me to delete most of the content and take the story in a very different direction. There is a Norwegian band called Glittertind whose most recent album, Djevelsvart, begins with a one-two stroke of an introduction (Inngang) and the song Djevelsvart. Writing about a Dwarvish Prince visiting an Elvish city and taking part in a dance, there are few better sources of inspiration.

The other inspiration that more affected the way I chose to end the story was the music in the second part of the 2014 teaser trailer for Mad Max: Fury Road. As we jump-cut in to the Brides and one of them looks at the approaching vehicles through her fingers, the music we hear from that point going forward was ringing in my ears throughout writing the ending battle.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
Truthfully, I am undecided. Thus far the only e-readers I have had are Sony PRS-T1, 2, and 3s. I am carefully considering going Kobo soon, too. It is easier for me to tell you which e-readers I will not use. Kindle.

I am not normally one to endorse specific apps for specific platforms, either, but Marvin on my iPad mini represents the direction I hope all electronic reading goes in. Leaving aside the need for better options to organise books into "collections" (such as doing it at the sync-program level as the Sony Reader and its corresponding software does), Marvin brings a lot to the table that should have been there from the get-go. And the makers of Marvin are not paying me to say that.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I was born in the Central Western Sydney suburb called Parramatta, and grew up in one of its satellite suburbs. Other people who lived in the area will know which one I mean when I say that I encountered a wide variety of peoples from numerous cultures, nationalities, and social backgrounds during the time I lived there. Much of my writing concerns itself with interactions between different cultures, especially how they differ from those I encounter today, and how they build a great society together.
What are the stories in your latest book about?
In 2004, I wrote the first draft of a book about a Dwarvish Prince overthrowing the King and bringing his realm back to its former glory. Most of the stories in my latest book are set in the same world as that. There are presently ten stories in the book, with a possible eleventh being considered. The stories concern themselves with the very early history of that world, an early episode in the life of the aforementioned Dwarvish Prince, an episode in a Halfling Mage's tertiary education, the life of an Ursine Bard, the reflections of one of the enemy soldiers, a Dwarvish Healer's training, mercenaries mostly Human and Dwarvish seizing an oil platform, and two events in an analogue of our "real" world.

I am expecting that book to be available either sometime in the closing months of this year or early in 2015.
When and how were the stories in your upcoming book written?
The stories vary in age. Some are quite recent, one is very old, the rest are variably in between.

Every story in this collection has been taken from another source and pasted into a singular Pages document. That was the start of the process, and I was happy to have a collection in a rough form, but I was not content to leave it that way. I began by transferring the collection to my e-reader and reading it back myself, just to see how much work it would need. I did not even get halfway through that first reading.

The longest story in the collection, Battles With A Dwarf, was originally over 60,000 words. I had thrown it together in a matter of months to offer a potential publisher back in 2005 or thereabouts. Trying to read through it this time, I finally understood why communications with that potential publisher broke down in the end. The version that appears in this collection is around 25,000 words or less. Essentially, I am trying to say I am doing it right rather than just being vulgar. Or at least I am trying to do it right.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
I let a very limited selection of people who are known to me either in person or online read draft versions of my work. Their responses and suggestions are what has kept me going for the last ten years. Right now, however, the focus has been entirely on getting this volume of short stories ready to be offered on Smashwords (and hopefully elsewhere).
You mention sources other than books or writings as inspiration for your work. Would you elaborate?
When I wrote the first draft of my first novel sometime around 2004, the political situation was a major source of inspiration to me. I wanted to write about a realm being ruled by the wrong kind of person, with that wrong kind of person being replaced with the right kind, and then elaborate on both the positives and challenges that the new ruler would encounter.

I also wanted to extend the amount of literature available that gave insight into the Dwarrow as people. Dwarvish folk are not very well-represented in film at all, and literature tends to be a little narrow in focus. I wanted to write it all. What a Dwarf does when he is not mining or fighting. What a Dwarf enjoys other than singing about gold or drinking enough beer to kill an elephant. Oddly enough, a good source of inspiration in that direction was Terry Pratchett and the fact that although he was very thick with the Dwarf-based humour, he did it well. Solid material, not just signalling to the audience that they are supposed to laugh now.

Around 2009, another stream of ideas came to me. What if there were a specific kind of structural mutations in the brain that were necessary to become a Healer or Mage, and how would this affect their role within society? As a result, although Magi are frequently mentioned in this second phase of novels, there are only about 400,000 of them in total, scattered across nine or ten realms with a total population of approximately fifty million. Healers are somewhat more numerous, but the important question was how do these two groups function together.

Films like Repo Man provide a lot of inspiration when writing about youthful characters. For inspiration about soldiers, there are films like Flesh + Blood or RoboCop. (And yes, I mean the real RoboCop.) But any film that is unusual or has particular inspiring content can get my writing into high gear. As can a good doom metal band like Yanomamo, Cruciform, or Hollenthon. It is all about the inspiration for me.
Hypothetical. You can go back in time and make your younger self read a specific story. Which?
Second Variety, a short story by Philip K. Dick. I understand that it was made into a film called Screamers, which is by many accounts terrible.

In the story, a soldier in an apocalyptic wasteland attempts to answer a summons to peace talks. When he reaches his destination, he discovers that the robotic weapons his country used to reverse their nearly-terminal losing streak in the war are now capable of manufacturing and maintaining themselves. Even more horrifying is the discovery that these robotic weapons are now able to manufacture robots that look exactly like people. The implication being that unless something is done to stop the process, it is curtains for the Human species.

There is a popular saying that anyone in the military should read William Butler Yeats. Well, anyone who believes they want to write fiction for a living should read both about and the work of Philip K. Dick.
What are you working on next?
I never like to make predictions beyond what I might be doing in the next week. That said, I intend to make the first Ruby Amelda novel, titled The Raven and The Ruby, available before the end of this year.
Published 2015-01-07.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.