Interview with Hans V. von Maltzahn

What is your writing process?
My process has, whether for fiction or non-fiction, always been first to develop a very general outline of the whole document (beginning, middle and end), and then I concentrate on generating outlines for each individual section (in the case of reports/essays), or chapters (for fiction/nonfiction).

Before writing one word of a chapter, I spend about a month ruminating over how I want to see it take shape. When I feel that the chapter is ready to come out, I then begin transferring it to paper, which usually takes about three or four days to do and averages about twenty-two double-spaced pages. In my book, "THE BLACK SUN ASCENDANT: An Assassin’s Tale", I created the outline (what I call the skeleton) and did the research even before writing each chapter with pencil (yes pencil!) on lined school paper. As I sit down to hand write the entire chapter, I begin to fill in this outline, putting meat onto the proverbial bones of my novel’s skeleton.

After editing the hand-written copy to my satisfaction, I turn to the computer and type it in, editing as I go along. Sometimes I do so much editing that the typewritten copy will look nothing like the hand-written original. Once in the computer, I will edit the entire chapter until I am satisfied enough to print out a hard copy and move on to the next chapter.

I followed this process for all seventeen chapters (371 pages) in "The Black Sun Ascendant", and if I include the ‘draft edits’ (to be explained next), it took me five years to write the book and six to fully edit it to my satisfaction before it was finally published.
How important is editing to your writing process?
Editing is vital to my writing and I would say it should be equally vital to any writer who wishes to publish their work so that others will enjoy reading it. Editing will help an author turn out a polished and professional product, whether it is a report, essay, novel or even poetry and lyrics – good editing is vital!

Again, I edit the way I’ve always edited my written projects since my university days. For example, with The Black Sun, I would handwrite the chapter and, when finished, would edit the piece three or four times before typing it into the computer. Once in the computer, the chapter is again fully edited before I’m satisfied enough to print it and move on the next chapter.

Every so often I also create a ‘draft’ of my manuscript, which, for me, means that I will go all the way back to the beginning of chapter one and re-edit the entire manuscript from beginning to the end of the chapter I’ve just finished; this is in addition to any individual edits that each chapter has received. I published "THE BLACK SUN ASCENDANT: An Assassin’s Tale" after the eleventh draft and my Smashwords eBook copy came after the twelfth draft. I’ve calculated that in the six years it took to bring the book into publication, that I’ve read it over nine hundred times just through editing.

From my experience, writing is about five percent of the work in producing a manuscript, research about five percent and editing is about ninety percent of the manuscript; editing is arduous and there is no way to soften the blow about this to budding authors.

Finally, get a professional editor to have a look at your manuscript. It helps to have a ‘fresh’ pair of eyes on your manuscript in order to catch those things you would not have found even after a million self-edits. After sending The Black Sun out, it came back even more polished than it had been before (thanks Don!).
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
The first stories to have made a profound impact on me were Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes Canon. I first encountered them in my junior-high years (ages 12 to 15). I remember marvelling at the clarity of voice that Conan Doyle used and his grasp of descriptive narrative. There was none of his contemporaries’ stilted Victorian language or flowery descriptions of scenes and people. He uses plain English that still, to this day, sucks me right into the page.

Expanding beyond “The Canon”, I fell in love with Doyle’s other works, both fiction and non-fiction, appreciating the research he put into every one of his books; his Brigadier Gerard stories are my hands-down favourite. Conan Doyle’s clear and concise language paints powerful images in my mind and makes him my favourite storyteller of all time.

Other authors I enjoy are Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell, Carl Sagan, Lillian Jackson Braun, and Stephen Fry. If an author shows a strong grasp of the language and writes in a clear yet powerful voice, then I’m a fan; I always try to do this with my own writing while still showcasing my own particular style.
Describe your desk.
Huh! I would call it ordered chaos; everything is in its place, but the desktop seems cluttered.

The desk is an old wooden one once used by my father, two feet wide by four and change long. It holds my reference books (dictionary, thesaurus, etc.) on the upper left side. My Viking statue (once my father’s), my goose-neck lamp, and pencil/pen holders are at the top center and right of the desktop. The telephone is directly on my left hand side. However, this is not where my initial writing happens!

Across the room from my old desk and under a south-facing window is an old, green velvet armchair, covered in a “bookshelf” themed throw blanket. It is here that I put my feet up on the nearby Ottoman, sit back and begin to hand write each chapter. This spot becomes even more magical when the wind and rain or snow outside beat timpani against the window, and the amber glow from the bridge lamp at my right shoulder falls across my lined school paper. I usually add a pot of herbal tea to the mix because I know that I’m in for a long day of heavy writing.
How does your environment aid your writing process?
I’m a ‘visual’ writer, that is, as I begin to write a scene I quite literally see it play out in front of my mind’s eye, just as though I’m watching a movie. For me to be able to write fluently, with feeling and accuracy, it is important that I have a comfortable and quiet place to write. Unlike some other authors, I cannot write in crowded, noisy environments; my study is my sanctuary, my place of retreat where I can open up my thoughts and let them flow onto the page.

People I talk to sometimes wonder at how quickly I can write a chapter, which usually only takes two or three days and averages about twenty-two double-space pages (for The Black Sun the shortest was twelve pages, the longest twenty-eight). Well, when I only have to describe what I am seeing in front of me it is easy to jot down. Much of the chapter development, organizing, and writing happens in my head before it ever sees the page. The process in my head can take a month or more and usually starts when I’m typing the previous chapter into the computer.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I was born in Dublin, Ireland, but only lived there with my parents until I was three. Still, my brother Kai Wolfram and I like to think that just a little of the Irish creativity infused our respective natures at our birth.

Our family does have creativity in it. My brother inherited his artistic abilities from our mother and grandmother, while I inherited my father’s love of the English language. Dad was an avid letter writer and those that survive are very entertaining to read. If he’d lived into old age, I’m sure that he would have written a book or two – maybe even one about his time in the Canadian Secret Service in the 1950’s and early 1960’s. I based the assassin in "THE BLACK SUN ASCENDANT: An Assassin’s Tale" on my father, including tidbits of information that he gave my mother; she said to me that she chuckled to herself when she came upon those items in the storyline. The book is homage to my father, Hans Victor III.

The voice that comes through in my father’s letters is strong, confident, clear, and tinged with a subtle sense of humour; I am sure that this is where I first learned to appreciate this style of writing.
When did you first start writing?
My first serious attempt at writing anything creatively was in university. I began with poetry, many of which grew from old diary entries written during my angst filled, teenage years. I look back on much of this unpublished poetry now and see a very different person.

I also dabbled in short fiction, even entering a story ("The Betrayal") into the Toronto Star’s short story contest in the mid 1980’s, but ultimately I wasn’t happy with the result and dropped my attempt at fiction writing. I planned to come back to it sometime in the future although at that time I hadn’t a clue when that would be.

My primary problem was that I hadn’t developed my own voice on the page; I only emulated the style of those authors whom I admired. This mimicry produced something that sounded stilted and awkward. When I speak to would-be authors, I always tell them that the best voice for them to use on the page is their own – this becomes their signature style. Write as you would speak (cleaning up the grammar and check the spelling) and the result will sound natural and very original.

I returned to writing fiction in 2006 on the advice of an old friend with whom I anticipated a collaboration, together producing one of his book ideas that was to ultimately become the published book, "THE BLACK SUN ASCENDANT: An Assassin’s Tale" (c. 2011). Although the collaboration fell apart and the friendship ended in 2009, I do acknowledge that without his initial encouragement I may not have come back to writing for pleasure ever again (though that may not have been entirely true).
What’s the story behind your latest book?
An assassin, Victor Colvin, is considering retirement after growing tired of the killing business and so has taken one last assignment with this end in mind. Meanwhile, a Turkish archaeologist, Dr. Ahu Eser, finds that some important artifacts of hers has gone missing and people related to her excavation are dying; who is behind the theft and these murders and are they related?

The worlds of these two principal characters collide and set them spinning together toward a breathtaking conclusion. To get there they must travel on three continents and evade agencies and individuals who are hell bent on capturing them. This is a fast-paced mystery thriller with lots of action, chills and some romance; it is also the first of a three-part story. The sequel is almost finished, is entitled "AN EARTH ECLIPSED: An Assassin’s Revenge" and I hope to publish it at the end of 2014.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
In the sixth year, the year after THE BLACK SUN ASCENDANT: An Assassin’s Tale was finished I attempted to find a literary agent and/or a publisher that would take my manuscript. As with job-hunting, I sent out approximately forty odd emails that contained a book synopsis and small portions of the book. There were no takers and only half of those individuals to whom I sent Query letters even bothered responding to me.

Since there was little interest in my manuscript from the so-called ‘legitimate press’, I decided to go Indie and publish only a limited number (200) of physical copies of my book. On the advice of a Writers and Editors Network (GTA writer’s organization) friend of mine, I was encouraged to look into ePublishing my book on Smashwords and Amazon.

Without regret, I will continue to self-publish my future work because I love the creative control (insert ‘higher quality product’ here), larger royalties, and ease with which I can publish both physical copies and electronically. I’m one-hundred percent behind Indie publishing since it ultimately gave me full control over the look and feel of the finished book, a larger reach in the eBook world, and of course, the larger royalties!
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
Smashwords has invited the world to read my book; their network of eBook sellers is extensive and quite literally, my book is available worldwide in electronic form. They are also continuing to expand their marketing tools (like this interview section) all of the time, making it easier for future readers to discover authors like myself. These tools continue to aid in increasing my book’s visibility on the Internet.

I will admit, as does Smashwords itself, that it is not easy to prepare your manuscript for Smashwords’ ‘premium catalog’, but once you get it right (it took me about a month!) the exposure and reach of your book is incredible. My novel is available for sale worldwide and in every tablet format so far known; there is no barrier to anyone picking up a copy of my book and enjoying it.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Apart from the opportunity to be creative and weave a story from only the germ of an idea, I love the fact that I can share my finished product with other people.

I have four books in the local library system that I donated back in 2011. At least one of those books has been out every month since that time, and on the odd occasion a person has renewed the book so that they can finish it. Mississauga’s library system allows you to track the borrowing of a book without knowing who took it out or where they live, which makes this tool handy for authors looking to see how popular their book is with the public. It’s a terrific feeling to know that someone has enjoyed your book so much that he or she bothers to renew it in order to finish it!

I’ve had nothing but positive feedback from people who have read either the physical or the eBook copy and it is satisfying to realize that I added a little bit of pleasure to their life through my writing. This is my greatest joy in writing – being able to share what I write with others.
What do your fans mean to you?
My fans - who would have thought that I have fans – but I do!

My fans, those who’ve contacted me both in person and by some other means, have been the engine that keeps me writing. Had I not had this tremendous response to my first book, I seriously doubt I would have continued with The Black Sun series (despite the fact that the sequels are floating around in my head already). As it is, I’m now four chapters from completing the second book in the series and hope to publish at the end of 2014 (after some more major draft edits).

I enjoy hearing from those who have read my book whether they have enjoyed it or not, and fan or not, the fact that they have taken the time to read it is just fantastic. Anyone can find me on Facebook under Hans Victor von Maltzahn, to read about the continued progress of the sequels and other writing information and links, and they can email me at:
What are you working on next?
"THE BLACK SUN ASCENDANT: An Assassin’s Tale" has two companion books in the series, "AN EARTH ECLIPSED: An Assassin’s Revenge" and "A BRILLIANT DAWN: An Assassin’s Redemption" (this last is still a working title).

As mentioned earlier, I’m four chapters away from finishing AN EARTH ECLIPSED and hope to publish it in late 2014. In it, we see the continued adventures of the assassin, Victor Colvin, and the archaeologist, Dr. Ahu Eser; I hope to make this book as good as or better than the first. I never thought that I would set the bar so high for myself with the first book – now there are many people hoping for an equally ‘cracking tale’ as a follow-up piece!

When the three books in The Black Sun series are finished, I’d like to settle down and write something that has been rattling around in my head for a long time – the story of my father during his time in the Canadian Intelligence Service during the Cold War years of the 1950’s and ‘60’s. The book’s story may be fictionalized, for my mother’s sake, and would probably focus more on the history of the intelligence establishment in Canada during that time. I’m interested to see whether Ottawa will ‘unlock’ his files by the time I’m ready to write the book.
How do you approach cover design?
For The Black Sun series, it seems the simpler the better. I use two photo programs: Microsoft’s "Picture It! 2000" and Corel’s "Photo House". With these two programs, I create a photo-montage that, so far, seems to appeal to potential readers. The cover of my first book stands out from other books when lined up and on display on a bookshelf or a table.

All I can suggest when it comes to cover design is to carefully think about the theme of your book and then try to capture that visually with a good graphics/photo program. Show your work to others and ask them if the image grabs them, making them interested to see what lies inside the covers of the book. I think that half the battle in attracting readers to your book is having an attractive cover.

If you feel that cover design is too difficult for you to master, then it might be a good idea to seek the help of someone who is able to create that perfect cover for you. I cannot stress enough how important a good cover is in making a book an attractive choice for someone looking to purchase or borrow a book. I tend to be a ‘do-it-yourself’ type of person, so it was important for me to learn how to use my graphics programs in order to create the right sort of cover for my series.
When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?
I am semi-retired, working as a horticulturalist in the spring and summer months and writing in fall and winter. When I do take a break from my writing, my wife and I love to cycle, snowshoe, cross-country ski, and day-trip. I’m also pushing for more long duration trips now that we have the time.

I find that the time away from writing, both while at work and during my outside activities, helps to recharge my creativity battery. After a winter of writing, I am often exhausted mentally and ready for some good, heavy-physical activity, which the horticultural work provides. The reverse is also true, physically I am worn out when my contract ends, but ready to start writing again because I am mentally rested; it is just like my university years all over again and this arrangement suits me just fine!
Do you have any last advice for budding authors?
If you want to write - just do it! The toughest part of wanting to be an author is sitting down and just getting started, and you, the budding author, tends to be the biggest obstacle to getting words on the page. If it weren’t for my old friend’s encouragement, I doubt that I would have pushed myself hard enough to pick up the pencil again.

Begin by writing down thoughts and ideas and then try to expand on these. Do not censor yourself at all; just let the thoughts flow onto the page. Also, have the courage to overcome any doubts you may have about your abilities and just write. Before you know it, you will have developed your own particular voice and fallen into a routine that will eventually lead to a finished product - Good Luck!
Published 2013-10-20.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

An Earth Eclipsed: An Assassin's Revenge
Series: The Black Sun, Book 2. Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 73,300. Language: English. Published: December 9, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Action & suspense, Fiction » Adventure » Action
"An Earth Eclipsed: An Assassin's Revenge" is the second novel in the "Black Sun" series (of which there will be three). It continues the adventures of Victor Colvin, assassin, and Dr. Ahu Eser, archaeologist. Once again the chase is on through countries such as Turkey, Germany, and Canada, as Victor and his team race against time to save the missing archaeologist.
The Black Sun Ascendant: An Assassin's Tale
Series: The Black Sun, Book 1. Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 88,310. Language: English. Published: May 1, 2011. Categories: Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Action & suspense
An assassin on his final job, meets an archaeologist investigating the murder of some of her coworkers. Through the plans of a diabolical 'puppet master', their lives are thrown together in an unnatural union. Together they must learn to trust each other, stay ahead of those agencies bent on capturing and possibly killing them, while racing to solve a mystery that no one seems to want solved.