Speculative Fiction Reviews, Interviews, Art and Whatever Else!
Ashley Capes is an up and coming Australian author of many publications, and has now joined up with Snapping Turtle Books to release his spanking new Fantasy novel City of Masks, the first of the Bone Mask Trilogy. He decided to put up with my crazy to do this interview for Book Frivolity, and here be the resulting insanities…
Kristy: So lets get straight into the meaty bits and talk City of Masks! The first thing the reader will notice, is that the book has a very Hitchcock-ian ‘The Wrong Man’ feel about it. What made you decide to use ‘a wronged man’ as one of you main points of view? Is it a challenge to write a character that is limited in his actions due to fear of recognition?
Ashley: I think I was attracted to the idea because it’s a classic approach but also because it allows me to hold some things back from the reader and character at the same time. Both Notch and the reader are learning the truth behind the mysteries together – when I read about a character who is trying to put everything together, I tend to become more engaged with them, it’s fun :)
And yes! There were some challenges I hadn’t foreseen – one was forcing myself to remember that Notch has to remain in disguise or at least be discreet for much of the book. It also limited how direct he could be, now and then, which even drove the plot a few times – but it was also fun to put those limits on him and watch how he handled it.
Kristy: Notch has the ability to change his name and walk away from the whole debacle, but refuses to give it up. What’s in a name?
Ashley: Great question! Yes, he’s awfully stubborn and I know part of it is that he’s not truly happy with things now that he has done it once. He also knows, on some level, that changing his name won’t change his past and probably not his future.
He was always been proud of his name but now he’s not sure he’s worthy of it and so the reader meets him as ‘Notch’ in the book.
K: Secrecy and the unknown elements of each character fuel the books plot line.. Do you know these secrets before you start writing or are you as surprised as the reader when they are revealed?
A: It’s definitely a little of both. I knew one big secret from the start but there are details about events Flir alludes to from her past, that I didn’t fully realise until I started The Lost Mask (Book 2).
Some of Seto’s secrets definitely surprised me though – which is part of the joy of writing. Often I think writers set up a character or a set of circumstances and the way they come together in the subconscious and then in turn onto the page during writing itself, can be a real delight. I’m never bored, that’s for sure!
The characters that stood out as unique for me when reading the book, which I think stemmed from them both having innate supernatural-ish type abilities, whereas the rest of the characters rely on their human traits to struggle through. I’ve always wondered, is it easier to write a character with innate abilities because of their skilled advantages in facing obstacles (or harder because you have to build those advantages up with a more fantastical back story) ?
A: I think harder for two reasons – one because, as you mention, the back-story can be more demanding and two, because characters like Flir and Ain often require bigger hurdles. I can’t have them solving every problem too easily, otherwise I’d lose the tension, so it forces me to get creative when hurling obstacles at them! It’s a bit like Superman – without kryptonite, he’d win easily all the time and the audience would never feel any fear for him.
Both reasons also present me with lots of fun as an author too. I can come up with interesting back stories and I can thwart my characters and see if they can figure out a way to solve the problems. The best example I can think of this is actually in The Lost Mask with Flir – despite her strength she can’t fight the foe I give her, because it’s not a physical enemy.
K: Of course, as the name suggests Masks are a big part of the novel; a mark of power, secrecy and a character in themselves occasionally! Is there a myth/legend/belief that the magical sentient mask is based on? Other than say, the world of Crash Bandicoot?
A: Maybe Majora’s Mask? :) think the seeds of the idea actually came from an old show that I dimly remember being on TV when I was a kid, called Worzel Gummidge. A reasonably scary scarecrow who would swap heads for different occasions or to use different skills, it really stuck with me.
The masks in my stories are a bit different of course but there’s definitely something of all those texts rolled into them, while the look came from the carnival masks of Venice, which I find pretty captivating and a little spooky.
K: And may I present Worzel Gummidge to you all?! Hello Sailor!
K: The book certainly has Italian/Venetian influences, how do you utilise identifiable ‘real world’ sources, yet make the world different enough that it is still fantasy world building? Is there a rule of thumb?
A: I think part of it comes down to the other elements in the story – for instance, the sentience of the Greatmasks and carvers or the Sea Beast and Storm Singers all contrast (even perhaps, distract?) with the elements that are influenced by the real world.
Another approach is to keep the real world influences recognisable but not comprehensive – for instance, I considered placing aspects of Renaissance art into the story at one point, but that would have been too much.
It’s certainly a tricky balance to strike and I hope I did a good job!
K: Are you an architect or a gardener?
A: I have more gardener in me than architect I suspect. I outline and plan certain aspects of a novel but I have no problem changing an outline if the story begins to shift and move – as most stories do for me. That’s what keeps the process fun for me I think. It often means more revision at the end, but that’s a trade I’m happy to make :)
K: We’re you the type of child to build sandcastles, just so you could jump on them and destroy them with evil glee?
A: Not quite – though I seemed to enjoy building them close enough to the tide-line so that I could see them slowly dissolve. I hope that doesn’t reflect too poorly on me?
K: Create a fantasy swear word (with description!)!
A: Ok, in honour of the Italian influence on City of Masks, I’ll try something that might fit the world of the Bone Masks…
It has multiple syllables so I’m hoping it’d be fun to shout as part of a tirade – and it might be considered a cross between piss-ant and meat-head.
K: City Of Masks is pretty high intensity from the first chapter.. Lots of physicality, fight scenes and movement about the world.. As a writer, can you distance yourself from the intensity, or does it become exhausting to keep up that level of crazy throughout?
A: Most of the time yes – but toward the end of a draft or revision it can be hard. It consumes me and some of the bigger scenes, writing them ‘in the moment’ is exhausting. But I’m stubborn when it comes to my writing and I tend to push on. My fear is actually that I’ll let the pace drop off too much, so maybe I end up going in the other direction?
K: Do you ever feel bad for constantly injuring your characters? Cause, you do beat them up.. A lot!
A: A little, yeah. Poor guys. But there’s a quote I can’t find (and will try and paraphrase) that urges writers to ‘put their characters through hell so as to see what they’re made of’ and I’ve tried to do that to some extent. Perhaps with Sofia most in this book. I guess I can temper my guilt with the knowledge that I can cut them a break every now and then :)
K: Fantasy isn’t the only genre you write, so what made you decide to jump in those mighty waters and give it a go?
A: I can still remember my grade 4 teacher reading us The Hobbit so that was a real catalyst. Loved it! And even though my first publications and books were in the poetry world, I was writing short and long fiction at the same time – it simply wasn’t any good. For a long time.
But I stuck at it because genres like fantasy, sci-fi, magic-realism and other speculative sub genres allow me to chase that sense of wonder that seems too often missing from the day-to-day.
And the idea that I might be able to alleviate someone’s crummy day with what I hope is an exciting story is pretty cool :)
K: Snapping Turtle Books is one of those cool little houses that seem to be really investing themselves in giving debut authors a go, with things like their Diamonds in The Rough program.. What’s it like to work with writers like Jennifer Fallon, who actually seem to want to help authors like yourself get out there and do your stuff?
A: It’s amazing!! I’ve learnt a tonne working with Jennifer and Snapping Turtle over the last few years, I’m very lucky. And I agree, ST are quite generous indeed – it’s so great to see a publisher take on a developmental role, something I wonder if the Big 5 do less nowadays, now that editors seem to be forced to move around a little more? Or due to cost cutting after the big shake up the book retail industry?
K: ‘In real life’, you are a teacher… So are you slightly insane with masochistic tendencies or do you actually believe children are our future?
A: Hahaha! Both :) Teaching is a high-stress, high-reward career so in the end, it’s worth every minute. I love helping my students and it’s a nice feeling to think I might be helping build the society of the future. To teach, I must also admit, I require solid reserves of patience sometimes.
K: I’ve been stalking you (well, if reading your blog counts as stalking!), and found you are reading all of the Tin Tin books this year… Tell me, do you think Milou and Scooby Doo are from the same tribe of aliens?
A: Maybe! Though both seem to have earthly vices – Snowy seems to be a right drunk half the time and Scooby I always suspected of being a little stoned via his proximity to Shaggy.
K: You are quite the poet! Therefore it is only fair you write us a poem about ‘fantasy’. Inclusion of Exploding Pixies get extra points! Go!
A: Thank you!
That’s pretty tough – but ok, let me try a haiku:
Christmas morning –
glitter and blood
cover the tree
K: Gee, sorry kids! First Worzel Gummidge and now he destroys Christmas! ;)
OK! The obligatory question: Name your top 5 fantasy books/series!
A: Another tough question :) But here we go, in no particular order and subject to variation in coming months and years:
The Mistborn Trilogy – Brandon Sanderson
The Riftwar – Raymond E Fiest
The Elenium – David Eddings
The Tidelords – Jennifer Fallon
Memory, Sorrow & Thorn – Tad Williams
Each of those had an impact on me, either as a teenager or more recently and I could have thrown Wheel of Time in there but the series lost me at around Book 6 I think it was.
(K: Don’t listen children, I know, don’t cry. I am secretly coercing Ashley to read the rest of WOT at the moment. He shan’t be damned for his foolishness if he repents to the fantasy gods for his sins)
K: For those that have read City of Masks and are gasping for book #2, is there a ETA for publication or are you taking it as it goes?
A: I’m hoping we’ll be ready in the next couple of months but I don’t have a rough date just yet. Fingers crossed it’ll be soon! I’m busting for everyone to read it – there’s more Flir in The Lost Mask and we finally get to see a bit of what makes Vinezi tick :)
K: Is there anything else you want to let the world know? Spill now!
A: Only one thing – I think the world (and Cadbury) should know that Vegemite and chocolate do not mix.
K: Agreed 1000 times over!
….And so he survived! Check out Ashley's Fantasy novel City of Masks right about... NOW! :)