Vance Huxley, author the dystopian science fiction novel Fall of the Cities, sat down recently to discuss his writing and his publishing experiences.
When and why did you begin writing?
I sat all day with a computer screen in front of me, and had a lot of thoughts about my wife dying that I didn’t want to think. So I thought about different places and people, and wrote about them. The length grew until I wrote millions of words, for me, not for publishing. Then one day I wondered, are these stories, or maybe books?
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Not yet. I’m still learning, kept on track by the dreaded editing hatchet.
Do you have a special time to write, or how is your day structured to accommodate your writing?
Sometimes I physically can’t write. Other times, as I wrote to a friend – “the muse sang in my blood and I sat and wrote until she slept again.” – Flowery, but true (the muse must have still been murmuring in her sleep).
Do you work to an outline or plot sketch, or do you prefer to let a general idea guide your writing?
How I write is changing. My initial attempts were written without anything but a vague idea of plot or character or even conclusion, and simply happened as I typed. The current book is the opposite, since I must connect the first with an already part-written third volume in a series. Though characters still appear or develop in response to situations, and I can’t write to a tight plan.
What made you decide to sit down and actually start writing this book?
My editor told me a manuscript was too clogged with backstory. I sat down to write out the back story, so as to work out which parts were needed to explain where the people and places in the manuscript got to their situation. Everything was needed, more was needed, and suddenly I could see a whole book.
If your book was made into a movie, who would you cast?
Unknowns, if possible because too many actors and actresses have a perceived persona – the original book and character are influenced by that during filming. That would apply especially to this book as the characters are from England and should have a regional accent and manner of speaking. Though some of those who are, or were, stage actors seem much more adaptable. Regardless of casting I would be exceedingly grateful if the book became a film, as would my heirs. 🙂
How do you feel about indie/alternative vs. conventional publishing?
After a brief, disastrous foray into self-publishing, I will always be grateful to Entrada for picking up my manuscript. Personally, I found the self-publishing route to be expensive, confusing, and very hard work, though others obviously don’t. In contrast, Rachel, my publisher, does all the work and it’s even free from my point of view while I get the same royalties as from the self-publish. I consider myself doubly lucky because I didn’t have to send the manuscript to dozens of publishers first.
What is your next project?
I have three possible manuscripts approaching beta status: a bucolic, mild fantasy; a near future on-earth with a sci-fi storyline; and an aliens and spaceships series. They might all end up in the scrap bin, or be my next book. There’s also the other five ‘Cities’ books to write.
What one person from history would you like to meet and why?
Harold of England. I’d like to advise him to slow up, take a lot more archers – and don’t look up. Then hopefully, he would win. I believe the type of government evolving here before the Battle of Hastings would have been much better for the average peasant than the absolute monarchy of the Normans. In addition, the sheer destruction in the north of England influenced the whole development of this country for centuries. Though I’d also love to give Boudica a few tips on sorting out Romans, because unlike many I don’t believe their rule was a long-term benefit to this country. Especially for women.
What role does research play in your writing?
I research as I write. As a ‘for instance,’ I needed a rifle for Soldier Boy, a civilian weapon available in England. Eventually, I ended up talking on the telephone to a local sporting shop in England, and a very kind gentleman went through the requirements and suggested a particular rifle. People selling items from steel plating to assessment of precious stones have been very helpful, giving their time and expertise to help my writing.
Who or what inspires your writing?
An item on the news, a fact I come across while on the internet researching, or anything I read from a snippet to a particular book. My mind plays ‘what if’ and suddenly there’s a possible book. The current one began with how much of India’s petroleum is refined in one place. I have the ideas for dozens jotted down, if there’s ever time to write them.
What is one thing you hate about being a writer?
The slow progress from idea to book. I have this idea, and then I’ve got to sit here and pound it into a computer, explaining what my head is seeing in coherent English. The result then goes through beta reading, editing and rewrites, and hopefully publishing. Meanwhile, I’ve had this other great idea…. There will never be enough years.