Interview with Brian Castle

Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Yes, I was eight years old and had just read the Hobbit for the first time. Immediately after that I had a grand plan to become the next J.R.R. Tolkien, so I sat in my bed with a stack of loose leaf notebook paper and penned the first eight year-old adaptation of the Hobbit, which took eight pages to write and included a twist: that the dragon Smaug was actually Bilbo's father. I was a big fan of Star Wars, too.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in the southeast U.S., just to the right of the buckle of the bible belt, in Georgia. I think it influenced my voice and dialect a bit, and I certainly write southern characters into my work--Cole is from Virginia--which is probably not something most people will even realize unless they're from the South. Aside from that, though, living in that region instilled in me a very real sense that as a gay man I was well outside the acceptable threshold of oddness that my community would put up with. This made me rebellious, and ultimately drove me to want to change how genre fiction presents and utilizes LGBTQ characters. Hence, Adam Saint.
Who are your favorite authors?
Jim Butcher, for the Dresden files--I still haven't read the Codex Alera series. Ilona Andrews for her (their) Kate Daniels novels. Ursula K LeGuin for her Wizard of Earthsea series that I read shortly after I read the Hobbit and was just as in love with. J.R.R. Tolkien, but I'll admit that's mostly because I read his books when I was young and they enchanted me. I've read them since and while they're still incredible they don't hold the same magic for me they used to. I like a little more moisture in my reading nowadays. Terry Pratchett, may he be resurrected--fully functional and whole, of sound mind and body, and not possessed by anything nasty (in case anyone's listening)--to continue to thrill and entertain his millions of fans. No one's books made me laugh quite like his, I think Pratchett's book Wyrd Sisters was the first book that I grinned ear to ear over while I read it. I was crushed when he died--his was the first sort of 'celebrity death' that actually affected me.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
All my favorites, actually. That, and agents wanted me to straighten out my main character when I first started pitching Rune & Claw and the Adam Saint series as a whole. It made me furious, and I had already been publishing under another pen name for a while and doing quite well. So I gave the finger to traditional publishing. I think that eventually there may be a day when it's okay for a main character to be gay in a book that isn't special interest, a coming out story, a romance, or something like that. Mercedes Lackey did it--I should have listed her in my favorite authors. Indie Publishing means being able to write my characters and my stories the way I want them to be told. It means a lot of extra work as far as marketing and managing as well, but it's worth the freedom that comes from being your own authority.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
Well, there's about an hour between waking up and sitting at the computer each morning, when I eat breakfast. About mid-day I take an hour or so for lunch, and then around eight I start making dinner for my partner and I so we can eat as soon as he gets home from rehearsals. Oh, and of course I sleep.

There was a time when I loathed going to work. I barely managed to get out of bed and would trundle about my home getting ready and muttering curses and imagining the long and arduous day ahead of me that I did not want to face. I planned all the confrontations I would likely have, and field questions to myself about issues I might have to explain--in short, I rehearsed my bad day. I did this five days a week, and only had to spend six to eight hours of those days, depending on the work load, before I got the other eight (not including the eight or so that I slept each night) all to myself.

Now, I wake up thinking about work. I go to bed thinking about it. I lay away at four in the morning going over scenes, twists, thinking up clever lines of dialogue, turning characters over in my head--and I love it. I am excited to wake up in the morning and get to work, and I have to make myself step away from the keyboard in the evening. I set timers and reminders to help me keep track of time, and I work seven days a week, twelve hours a day sometimes. Eight to Eight. I carve out some time for my partner, of course, especially on his days off, but for the most part writing is my hobby, my job, my relaxing 'me time', all in one. It's insane--I'm a crazy person, for sure.
What is your writing process?
Like most creative folks I'm pretty visual, and I'm pretty cerebral as well. I plan my scenes for the most part, and outline a lot, but when it comes to writing a scene I spend some time putting myself in it and imagining the sort of unseen moment just before that lead into it. Then I write down what happens. I meet my scene goals most of the time, I think, and sometimes a new goal presents itself. I ask myself that all important question--what happens next.

I think one of the most important things I picked up about how to let that process be both organic and planned is to step more into the role of the antagonist than the protagonist. The best stories are those where the hero is forced to take action, to react and then to get focused, and then become proactive. I have to goad my heroes into doing something, so for me it's best to be the bad guy, to imagine my master plan, and think about how to account for the hero who wants to stop me. It makes answering the question of What Happens Next much easier. I outline in those terms, and then throw the hero in and see what he does.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Something ironically wordless. Without getting too sappy about it, it's a magical process of using little chicken scratches that represent sounds, and cobbling those together into concepts that are strung in just such a way to create a world. A world, made of chicken scratch. To bring to life a character out of this chicken scratch who has dimension and depth shows that human beings are wildly complex, imaginative, impossible things. It's mind boggling: a story is purely insubstantial information--a story has no mass, no matter, it is nothingness, a dream passed from one person to another. And yet--it exists, it makes an impact, it creates change from nothing. We package it up and pass it around. There's something supremely zen about that, and transcendental. The greatest joy for me is being one of the people shaping nothing into something.

I've done a lot of mushrooms in the past, too, so, my perspective is pretty wide. In more down-to-earth terms, I love the process of creating. I feel for my characters, agonize over a first kiss, struggle with how hard to make it on them, what to take away. It's weird how it happens, they just gradually take on more and more life. Part of the joy is seeing that life properly represented on the page, finding the fit that makes the bridge from my brain to the readers'.
What's the story behind your latest book?
It has a kind of odd story, actually, and the sort that you can only end up with in the Indie publishing world. I actually intended Rune & Claw, and the Adam Saint books overall, originally, to be a serialized erotic romance series. I was writing that kind of work at the time more consistently, and I wanted a piece of the PNR (paranormal romance) pie because the genre is wildly popular. And I wrote an original forty-thousand word version that moved too fast, kind of veered off topic, and resolved kind of randomly. So, I rewrote it from scratch, still to that novella length, and it was a little better. I was tired of rewriting it and didn't think it could ever be perfect, so I published it under my pen name. It got to be really popular, and I started getting emails from readers about when the next book was coming out, that sort of thing. I was really excited and started book two.

Then I got a few emails from gay readers. They were disappointed that it was so short, but were glad that the relationship between the characters stayed PG for this book. They wanted a realistic, slow burn, and they were happy to see a book about a gay character being the hero. I got messages on facebook and emails from a couple dozen gay readers encouraging me to make the next book longer, and really develop Adam Saint into a fully realized character that could stand next to Harry Dresden and Kate Daniels in this urban fantasy genre. So, I took the book down, picked it apart, made a new plan for a hundred thousand words, finished two other planned projects for that pen name and then disappeared into my cave for a couple of weeks to rewrite a final time.

The more I wrote, the more invested I got in it; the characters and the story, of course, but what it represented for me as well. I never read books about gay characters growing up. I came out at fifteen, and there weren't any. Eventually I found Mercedes Lackey's books (Magic's Pawn, Magic's Promise, and Magic's Price), and fell madly in love with them, and all her Valdemar books, and I still do. But those kinds of characters are so rare. I ended up reading lots of your classic gay interest coming out stories, romances, tragedies, etc.--books where the story hinged on the main character's sexuality. If you were gay, these books demonstrated, then being gay was all that you were, all that was interesting about you. All the other interesting characters are straight.

Adam isn't that. He's gay, but it's just another aspect of his character. It informs some of his perspective, and certainly forms the platform for his relationships with some male characters, Cole in particular (at least for now), but this story is about him taking up his Uncle's cause, facing a changing world, trying to save lives and become better, stronger, and smarter and trying to survive, and help his friends and allies survive. I don't know how it's going to go over because you never know how that works out until it does or doesn't--and it can take years before you even find out--but that's what makes this series important to me. I hope it comes off that way to other gay readers as well, because we need that kind of representation in literature. We need heroes that are like us, and show us we can be more than just gay.
What are you working on next?
I plan to release three Adam Saint novels this year. I'll probably slow down a bit after that, as things start to get complicated for him and his world. Well... more complicated, I guess is a better phrase. I also have a collection of short stories that are vignettes about life in the new Portland. So, it'll be Rune & Claw first, then Hard Magic(k) - Tales from the New Portland, then Blood & Bone, and then Fur & Fang. After that the next sort of 'phase' of the series starts so I'll take a bit of a break to look at how the series has evolved and account for that. I've got fifteen books planned, and some supporting novellas as well, and short stories... but that plan ends up being fluid no matter what you do. I write a book, send it to my editor, and start on the next one.
What do your readers mean to you?
Everything, of course. They should to every writer. Not just because without them there's no bread to eat, but because without my readers the stories I have to tell never really come alive. I experience them, of course, but the way that you experience something you created and know intimately well. There's a certain static quality to it that I can never escape--I can never experience it just as it appears to be, the way a reader can. I hope Adam Saint comes alive, along with Cole and Vanessa, and even Lester. But I'll never be the one to make that happen, not really. It's the readers that give life to these constructs that I made. They are the lightning to my Frankenstein.
What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
1. Read one page from a dictionary every day.
2. Write every day.
3. Read about writing--it's a craft as much as an art.
4. Don't forget that it's about telling stories.
5. There's a difference between telling a story, and telling a story well.
6. Talented people also have passion. If you have passion, don't doubt your talent. Either way, you still have to practice every day. It's the only way anyone gets good at anything.
7. Don't publish when it's perfect. It's never perfect to you. Publish when it tells the story the way you want it told. Trust your reader to hear it.
Published 2015-06-17.
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