Author Spotlight – Allan Batchelder
Allan Batchelder is a professional actor, educator and former stand-up comedian. In addition to Steel, Blood & Fire, he’s also written plays, screenplays, online articles, dialogue for computer games, greeting card sentiments and more. He holds a Master of Fine Arts in acting from the National Theatre Conservatory and a Master’s in Teaching from Seattle Pacific University. He is a huge fan of Shakespeare, Steven Erikson, Joe Abercrombie, Glen Cook, George R.R. Martin, Tad Williams, and R. Scott Bakker. Allan lives in Seattle with his wife and son, where he enjoys walks on the beach, reading in the garden and puttering around on his computer. Oh, and naps. He LOVES naps.
Thanks for joining us today, Allan. Let’s start small: tell us about a great book you’ve read recently!
I just finished the latest Harry Bosch novel, Dark Sacred Night, by Michael Connelly. He’s an example of an author who won me over as a fan years ago, and I’ve stayed loyal ever since. I really feel like Bosch is a part of my life and want him to stay that way. At the same time, Connelly recognizes that Bosch can’t work or even live forever, so he overlaps new characters with new narratives that we can also get hooked on. This book’s a really fun read, and I have no reservations about it, but when I think “great,” I think A Tale of Two Cities, Fahrenheit 451, 1984, etc.
Okay, time to escalate things: reality warps and you suddenly find yourself leading a D&D-style party through a monster-infested dungeon. What character class are you, and what’s your weapon of choice?
It’s funny you should ask, ‘cause I kinda hate myself on this point: when playing a computer or video game in this genre, I am always – ALWAYS – the barbarian basher. But when I play D&D, I am usually anything but. What does this mean? Also, the MC of my first series is definitely a basher, but I have a real soft-spot for the eccentrics and also-rans. As for weapon of choice, I’ve always been a fan of war hammers since reading Marvel’s Thor as a kid. But, when it comes right down to it, I’m a sword guy. I’ve had a fair amount of experience with longswords and some rapiers, and there’s just something special about ‘em. They’re like the six-shooters of the ancient world.
When you’re not trawling through dungeons, do you prefer to type or to hand-write? Why?
Type. For one thing, I’m nearing 57, and the hands and fingers don’t like holding a pencil or pen for long periods of time. For another, I can write a lot faster and edit quicker on a keyboard. Plus, that’s where my cats sit. I can’t imagine them trying to sit on my pen. Ooh, nasty visuals.
And how do you like to work – in silence, with music, or serenaded by the damned souls of a thousand dead shrimps?
I write in near old-world darkness, staring at my screen as if looking into a magic mirror. Usually, there’s a beverage nearby, and sometimes it’s an adult beverage (hey, it worked for Hemingway!). Naughty, I know. But at least I’m still wearing pants.
Are you an architect or a gardener? A plotter or a pantser? D’you write in your underwear, or in a deep-sea diver’s suit? Tell us something unusual about your writing method!
I typically know how a story begins and ends, along with several major episodes along the way. But I do my share of pantsing. Some of my favourite moments have come to me through this method – or lack thereof. For example, Spirk’s magic stone or Long becoming the head of House D’Escurzy were both spur-of-the-moment inspirations. Other times, I have a plan, but then have to adapt it. I was planning to end Book Two with a climatic battle on a frozen lake, but then Peter Jackson’s Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies came out and stole my thunder – or frost. I didn’t want anyone to think I’d stolen the idea, so I had to change my book. I like how it turned out, but DAMN that Peter Jackson!
What are your most significant non-book fantasy influences?
Steven King, Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, Shakespeare (I’m a former Shakespearean actor).
What was the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it?
Vikings. I’ve been hooked since episode one. There have even been times when I’ve preferred it over GoT. Shocking, I know, but that’s how I’ve felt.
The world shifts, and you find yourself with an extra day on your hands during which you’re not allowed to write or otherwise do any work. How do you choose to spend the day?
Are you kidding? Draw. Paint. Learn to play an instrument. Exercise. Read.
If you could choose one punctuation mark to be made illegal, which would it be and why?
Does a hashtag count? If not, I’ll say the dash. I use it a lot, but MS Word doesn’t let me use it to indicate interrupted dialogue within quotation marks, so I have to use an ellipse and end up looking an even greater fool.
In no more than three sentences, tell us a little something about your current work in progress!
I’m writing the last book in my first series, Immortal Treachery. It’s the book in which the shit hits the fan, and the chickens come home to roost. Or the shit hits the chicken whilst fanning the roost.
If you could co-write or co-create a series (like The Expanse, or the Malazan Book of the Fallen), who would you choose to work with and why?
Well, I adore The Malazan Book of the Fallen, and I can proudly boast I’m the first person in my little world to read the whole thing, and I convinced others to do so as well. Erikson’s an archaeologist, too, so it would be fascinating to pick his brain in regards to world-building. Finally, I could write in a line in which Karsa Orlong confesses he’s terrified of Tarmun Vykers.
What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
The most common piece is, simultaneously, the best and worst (“This were sometime a paradox, but now the time gives it proof.”): namely, just write and keep writing. It’s sort of like Schrödinger’s Cat. It’s both good and terrible advice, in that if you’re a passable writer, you will improve, but if you’re terrible and possess a tin ear and little imagination, you likely won’t improve enough to make the difference you desire.
If you could visit any country at any point in history, where/when would you go, and why?
Well, I teach middle school social studies – a man’s gotta pay the mortgage, and stripping wasn’t doing it for me – so I have too many answers to list here. I would like to witness the battle at Thermopylae, One of Christ’s miracles (if they happened), Gladiatorial battles in the Coliseum in ancient Rome, the Library at Alexandria, I’d like to drink with Shakespeare and ask him a few million questions (if he could understand my dialect and visa-versa), I’d like to visit the court of Ramses II, I’d like to spend a day at Valley Forge and meet Washington, Hamilton, Von Steuben, the Marquis de Lafayette, etc. I’d like to gaze on the face of Helen of Troy in person. For that matter, I’d like to stand on the walls of Troy and stare down at Ulysses. I’d like to meet the actual Ragnar Lothbrok. I could go on…
Every writer encounters stumbling blocks, be it a difficult chapter, challenging subject matter or just starting a new project. How do you motivate yourself on days when you don’t want to write?
How timely. I’ve been struggling with Book Five for some time now. Not, perhaps, as much as GRRM or Patrick Rothfuss, but it’s taken more than twice as long as the previous four books and I can see at least another six months ahead of me. I think part of the trouble is a reluctance to say goodbye to these characters and this world. Another part is a fear that I can’t live up to everyone’s expectations. As much as I adore Malazan, the final novel was a bit of a let down for me. I don’t want to do that to my readers. But also, honestly, the current political climate in my country (USA) has stymied me a bit and absorbed so much of my mental energy. We are living in strange, unprecedented times. “If this were played upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction.”
So, how do I press on? I try to force myself to put SOMETHING on the page. Something, after all, is better than nothing. As Shakespeare said, “Nothing will come of nothing.” A day in which you take only one step towards your goal is better than a day in which you sit idle.
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
Watership Down. Yes, yes, I know it’s been remade into a new tv miniseries. I’ve always loved it and wish more people would discuss its merits. Maybe they will, now, but it’s not the same as reading it as a child, when the experience is (and was) transformative. If you enjoy epic novels about survival, adventure, the unknown, exploration, etc., you’ll truly enjoy this book.
Finally, would you be so kind as to dazzle us with what we like to call a ‘shark elevator pitch’? (It’s exactly the same as an elevator pitch, but with sharks.) (Well, one shark. Which, by the way, is currently picking between its rows of teeth to try and dislodge the remains of the last author who stepped onto its elevator.)
Ahem. So: why should readers check out your work? A shark elevator pitch of your own book(s) in no more than three sentences – go!
Tarmun Vykers is brutal, bloodthirsty and arrogant. He’s said to have defeated entire armies singlehandedly and toppled empires by himself.
And he’s the good guy.
Awesome. Thanks again for joining us today, Allan!
Allan Batchelder is the author of the grimdark fantasy series IMMORTAL TREACHERY.