5-STAR Fantasy / Sci-Fi

Monday, May 12, 2014

Indie Author Interview: Richard Milner

Indie Author Interview with Richard Milner - Author of the Contemporary Fantasy Novel Vessel of Kali.

Richard Milner is an author who loves tackling challenging and disturbing topics through allegory and myth. He is a writing consultant, a former English teacher, and a narrative designer in the video game industry. He is also the creator and moderator of Sit Down, Shut Up & Write (Orange County), a productivity-focused writer’s group on meetup.com.

Interview with Richard Milner

Author Richard Milner
Author Richard Milner
Alan Kealey (Indie Author News): What is your (writing) background?
Richard Milner: It might sound horribly derivative, but I’ve been writing my entire life. As a child, poetry was my mainstay – out of a love for elegant language and a need to express myself through it. Over time, my writing evolved into song lyrics, short stories, and eventually full-on novels. Career-wise, I’ve taught English here in the U.S., as well as abroad. I’m also a narrative designer in the video game industry, and a one-on-one writing coach for writers in all phases in their careers.
Over the years, I’ve written largely in private, honing my voice and practicing various styles. My work is very personal to me, so I’ve been teaching myself over the past few years to get used to sharing and opening up. The writing group I started, Sit Down, Shut Up & Write, has played a major role in getting me accustomed to releasing my writing to the public.

Who are your favorite writers, your favorite books, and who or what are your writing influences?
My influences are kind of a bizarre hybrid of pop and classic. As a teenager, I was carrying around Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Conrad, Austen, Kafka, and reading them for fun. I consumed the entire canon of Shakespeare’s plays. On the flip side, I was also playing tons of video games, watching anime, and reading piles of comics. I’m very much a sponge when it comes to influences: all the TV shows, movies, and books I’ve read get absorbed into my inner lexicon of storytelling.
In general, I’ve always been enthralled by the supernatural, the mythological, and the occult. Poe was arguably the first one whose use of language I really fell in love with. Most recently, I can credit Frank Herbert and China Mieville for providing stellar examples of brilliant storytelling. Bar none, though – the most important single book in my library is 1984.

When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer?
Since I’ve always written, my transition to writing full-length fiction has been more of a gradual slide, as I’ve experimented and grown more confident in my abilities as a writer. However, there was a definite period where I started to seriously realize that I could choose to write professionally, and not just keep it on the shelf like a trophy dream.
For me, that transition period was in my early 20’s, when I read the Dune series by Frank Herbert. The books were an absolutely epiphany. More than anything, they proved to me what modern fiction could accomplish – the intensity of Herbert’s intellect, the depth of his insight into his characters, and his unflagging belief in self-determinism. Through the series, I came to believe that I was capable of using the literary arts to contribute something of value to other people’s lives.

Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Yes! I was in the single digits, age-wise. Second grade? Third grade? I think I was reading Madeline L’Engle at the time. The story I wrote had a graphic component. In other words: a comic. I hand drew a ridiculous amount of pages and bound them into this massive bundle thicker than Bibles from the 12th century. Carried it around everywhere. It was a story about a ninja on a search for his alienated father, fighting through hordes of assassins and genetically mutated monsters, in caves, science facilities, rooftops – all the good stuff. So basically: not too dissimilar from a good geek-out movie I might enjoy right now.

"The wave has to be ridden until it finishes, or I go crazy."

Tell us about your writing process. Do you have a writing routine?

Daily, standardized routines don’t work for me. I have to be able to write when I need, where I need. Once I lock into “writing mode” though, it’s ultra-serious go time. I can’t be interrupted, ever. Trust me on that. The wave has to be ridden until it finishes, or I go crazy.
That being said, I have enough tiny little rituals to make me an honorary shaman. To get me in the proper frame of mind, I really need to *do* things, bodily. Vessel of Kali, for example, I meditated on a lot of artwork, and listened to very specific pieces of music. I used certain types of incense that evoked images of the moon & the night, and I typically wrote after sunset. Ambient light is super important (hate overheads), as is the height of a table. I even like facing certain directions. Everything lends itself to the flow of energy and emotion that feeds the writing process. And oh yes – coffee! Sometimes the scent alone helps.

Please, describe your desk/workplace.
My desk is in a constant state of expansion and collapse (kind of like the universe). I’m a clutter-phobe, so I always remove from the workspace what I put into it (keys, snacks, that kind of thing). Messy spaces distract me. Clean environment, clear mind, I’ve found.
That being said, you’ll usually find the following items around me and my laptop: a half-drunk cup of coffee, a stack of well-used Moleskins, another stack of reference books for whatever I’m writing, a couple pens, a Kindle, my phone logged into Pandora, Bandcamp or Soundcloud, and my crow feather, which I found and made into a piece of objet d'art with some wax and a candleholder.

What do you find easiest about writing? What the hardest?
This might sound kind of odd, but the easiest part of writing is crafting the overall sentence-by-sentence rhythm and flow. Writing is very much a sonic experience for me, where “hearing” and “feeling” are the same act. So long as I can sense what the overall rhythm is supposed to be, then it becomes effortless to select words to match the cadence of the prose’s demands. Usually, this happens with non-dialogue passages, or segments of action interspersed with description.
For me, the hardest part of writing is syncing with a character’s state of being. It’s a deep and emotionally trying process. I have to fully invest myself into that person – in some ways, become that person. It’s a process I dub “method writing,” after method acting. My wife tells me that physical, visible changes overcome me when I’m writing for specific characters, especially if a character is troubled or violent. It’s turbulent, and lovely, and often takes me hours to reach that point.

"[...] crafting entire realities with nothing more than the power of a single, solitary mind."

What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
For me, the greatest joy of writing is the act of writing itself: I love – need, in fact – time to sit quietly and digest complex thoughts and feelings. Writing is the ultimate way to transform that need into something tangible and meaningful, crafting entire realities with nothing more than the power of a single, solitary mind. I wouldn’t hesitate to say that writing is a spiritual act, where I crack myself open, examine what’s inside, and transmogrify ugliness, conflict, and confusion into something beautiful.

Richard, please tell us a little about your Fantasy Novel Vessel of Kali.
Vessel of Kali is a dark fantasy myth that fuses Hindu and Zen traditions. It’s about the need to strip away falsities, ego, and illusion, and discover purpose amongst confusion. It’s a story about spiritual transformation, where the power of tragedy can be used to renew and rebalance.
New Corinth, where the book takes place, is a city so twisted, manipulative, and abusive (particularly towards women) that indignation and rage are the only solid realities that don’t lie. This is why the story features a main character, Elara Aeve, who grows by accepting her inner darkness, not resisting it; darkness born in a pleasure-obsessed society where the highest value is “feeling good.”
The central conflict of the story centers on a schism in the secret order of the goddess Kali, the Kali’ka, who have kept to themselves for centuries, away from the eye of New Corinth. When our story begins, a group of violent extremists have arisen from their ranks, seeking to forcibly change the outside world.
The book is very much a genre-bending experience. It’s a metaphysical sojourn, a journey through political machinations, and a deep exploration of the arcane and the macabre. At the very least, it contains cool stuff like dagger fights, chase scenes through catacombs, religious zealots, apocalyptic visions, and torture. You know, light dinner conversation.

Vessel of Kali (Richard Milner)
Click to Read an Excerpt

What inspired you to write the book?
A single piece of artwork inspired me to write Vessel of Kali. I received a large book of sacred art for my birthday one year, and there was a painting of the Hindu goddess Kali inside. I’d seen the goddess depicted before then, but for some reason, that single image ignited something inside of me. From one moment to the next, it was as though I’d entered into a pact. I knew exactly what I had to write, what the overarching themes were, even exact characters and specific scenes.
As I continued working on Vessel of Kali, I came to realize that the book was basically a roadmap for my own personal growth, and the changes I’d had to undergo as I overcame childhood abuse. I found, in that original picture, a mirror for my inner self – the self I was starting to understand, the self I wanted to be. All those traits are imbued into the main character of Vessel of Kali, Elara Aeve (along with some self-injurious tendencies).

Who do you see as your target audience and where can we buy the book?
Originally, I branded my target audience simply as folks who are attracted to the arcane, mystical, or macabre, and who enjoy having their perspective challenged by pieces of writing. However, the people who’ve been reading and enjoying Vessel of Kali don’t seem to conform to any single leaning or demographic. Stay-at-home moms in their 40s, 20-something TV-devotees, astrologers and youth pastors (not kidding), people who like horror, people who like mysteries, people who like romance – it’s all over the place.
You can buy Vessel of Kali on Amazon – both the paperback and the eBook – or you can buy a signed copy directly through me via my website. I also have artwork for sale on my website, inspired by the novel and created by professional illustrators.

"[The Story] draws from my actual, real life experiences living in Japan, practicing martial arts, meditating, and coming to know my inner self."

What makes your book special?
I’ve had people tell me that they haven’t quite read anything like this before. I think this is due to a combination of factors:
Even though I’m calling Vessel of Kali “fantasy," the genre lines are so loose and fuzzy, that the book is more of a literary story that draws on a whole bunch of genre influences. It contains Eastern topics and philosophy we don’t often see in fantasy settings, but also contains a high degree of Western theological acumen. Take those facts and wrap them around a profoundly tragic story about a very confused, broken set of people, and you’ve got something that feels ethereal yet grounded.
Also, my level of personal involvement in the book is really high. It draws from my actual, real life experiences living in Japan, practicing martial arts, meditating, and coming to know my inner self. All of these things become filtered through a very specific, deliberate voice I chose for this book: something adagio and a bit hypnotic.

How would you describe the success of your book so far?
For me, success has come in the form of individual readers who really understand Vessel of Kali – its messages, its purpose. I embedded a lot of complexity in the narrative, in terms of themes and symbolism. It happened naturally, but once I became aware of it, I made a conscious attempt to *not hedge* any of it, but to go all out and trust in the reader. And I do believe that’s the best approach: Be true to yourself as a writer, and trust in the reader’s savvy and insight.
Also, there’s been a lot of support from other writers before, during, and after book launch, which I’m incredibly grateful for. We all want the same thing, and we’re all in the same boat, and I’m impressed by how eager other writers have been to collaborate and help spread the word about our respective works. That sense of community is something I didn’t have before, or even realize existed.

How long did it take it to write the book?
It took 6 years total, on and off. I moved overseas, got my Masters, started an alternate career, and moved around between cities. During that entire period, I did three full rewrites of Vessel of Kali, working on and off whenever I could. It’s a good thing the book was such a labor of love, and involved characters, events, and settings I adore. Otherwise it might’ve been much harder to follow through. By the end, when I was getting the cover and formatting in order, I was *really, really* burned out. I’m still kind of reeling from the experience.

"First and foremost: There is *no right way* to write. Period."

Can you give some advice for other Authors regarding the writing process?
Absolutely. First and foremost: There is *no right way* to write. Period. Kill the idea. Crush it and crucify it. Write what you want, how you want, and make sure you love it enough to stick with it. Anyone who recommends otherwise is likely shackled to a world of target markets and academia, and is not interesting in facilitating your own unique voice and vision. And that’s what writing is about: Making the voiceless heard, and ensuring that creative people have the freedom to create. Defend your right to write what you please like a fortress under siege.
In a practical sense – find out what type of schedule and daily pattern works for you and your energy levels, and follow it like a soldier. Ignore anything that would derail or distract you, especially internet minutia. Make sure your family, including children, understand that you need dedicated, devoted time to work on what you love. That’s how you’ll actually finish what you start, and avoid making excuses that cause procrastination.

Are you working on another book project? Can you tell us a little about it?
Sure thing. I’m currently working on the follow-up to Vessel of Kali, called Body of Ash. Vessel was written as a standalone book, so its story comes to a full conclusion, but the universe of the book persists. Body of Ash takes place 14 years later, and includes some of the characters from the first book. I'm not going to go beyond Body of Ash. I have no desire to do a never-ending series; too many ideas. I just know that the story of Body needs to be told.
Body of Ash is similar in tone and language – a bit baroque and gothic – but a touch rougher, and definitely slimmer in overall construction. I have the story mapped out, chapter-by-chapter, scene-by-scene. It's just a matter of actually writing it.

"[...] experience of touching a book, breathing in its smell, & sliding our hands across the paper."

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?
I don’t think physical books will ever totally disappear, because there will always be those of us (note I said “us”) who want the tactile experience of touching a book, breathing in its smell, & sliding our hands across the paper. There’s an irreplaceable connection that occurs through physically interacting with something in 3-dimensions.
Record stores do still exist, in fact – they’re just niche, small scale, and almost en vogue, in a retro way – “true collectors” and all that. That’s how I see brick-and-mortar book stores turning. It’s just convenient for people to purchase things online, but the purchase itself can be either digital or for a physical good. The desire for that type of convenience will grow, but in-person book stores will also persist, as independent entities.

What is your e-reading device of choice?
Kindle. It’s definitely the most proliferate of devices, which is convenient as a writer looking to put out eBooks. I can examine exactly how the text will look on the screen, and be familiar with the device’s control scheme.
I enjoy being able to carry around a ton of books in one spot, which basically means the Kindle is great for traveling. However, for everyday use, I’m only reading one book at a time anyway, which means I can just take a print book with me instead.

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 full-time writer, partially my own writing, and partially as a narrative consultant for a game studio called Red 5 Studios in Southern California. So my studio work isn’t a “day job” – I work remotely, within stretches of time that I choose. The rest of the day, I do whatever needs to be done: novel or short story writing, marketing, following up with professional correspondences, etc.
When I’m not doing all that (har-har), I read, play video games, and watch very specific movies and television shows: things I feel I can learn from, or things that will enhance creativity. I’ve practiced Aikido and Krav Maga, but since I currently don’t have time to go to a dojo, I practice katas at home. I also hike and travel as much as I can. Macchu Picchu, I’m coming for you!

"I want to talk to [readers] directly, and discuss whatever topics they want."

How can readers connect with you?
First off, I’ll say that I *want* to connect with readers. I want to talk to them directly, and discuss whatever topics they want. My door is open and available. I firmly disbelieve in being an “ivory tower writer,” locked away in a literary citadel of superiority and aloofness.
The easiest way to connect with me is email: author@richardmilnerauthor.com. You can head to my website, http://www.richadmilnerauthor.com, and contact me through there as well. There’s also Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr – those are all good avenues. Find me! I exist, and so can you!

Thank you very much for the Interview, Richard.

About the Book Vessel of Kali

Vessel of Kali (Richard Milner)
Click to Read an Excerpt
The disciples of the goddess Kali, the Kali’ka, are broken. Believed to be myth, their arcane order has for centuries rescued those who have awakened from the drug-induced pleasure and religious fervor of the city of light and Logic, New Corinth. Now, the Kali’ka have been fractured from within by extremists turned violent against the world above their underground cloisters, and New Corinth, a city where fear and anger are censured, is unable to cope with the dissident faction’s brutal emergence.

Elara Aeve – Kali’ka ascendant, warrior and teacher, sister to a family left behind in New Corinth – may hold the key to salvaging society. She rails against the ineffectual, divided leadership of the Kali’ka, insisting they take action, swiftly and decisively, to seal the rift in their order before it consumes Kali’ka and Corinthian alike in a bloody conflagration.

But Elara harbors a secret far more dangerous than any extremist force. A dire power swells alive inside of her, growing conscious, hunting her with cataclysmic visions, demanding blood for peace. Soon, Elara is targeted for death and caught in a conspiracy that takes her beyond the walls of Kali’ka cloisters, all the way to the heart of New Corinth and through the planes of reality itself.

Branded as a savior by some, destroyer by others, she may be the only one willing to do what is necessary to protect her home and kin, even if it means succumbing to the dark thirst within and awakening the once-living goddess Kali, Herself.

- "I just bought the book and I am loving it! The book is captivating and I'm having an adventure as i read through it." - Reader Review

Links to the Book

Link to the Paperback Vessel of Kali with Excerpt on Amazon

Link to the eBook Vessel of Kali with Excerpt on Amazon