Author Spotlight – Ryan Howse
Ryan Howse is the author of The Steel Discord and The Alchemy Dirge. He lives in Regina, Canada with his wife, two children, and two cats. You can find him on Twitter @RyanHowse.
Welcome to the Hive, Ryan! Let’s start small: tell us about a great book you’ve read recently!
I’m currently reading John le Carré’s The Tailor of Panama, and it’s fantastic, as Le Carré always is. I’m not far in but it’s so far more upbeat than most of his books I’ve read. Random descriptions of the tailor’s life and job are so well-sketched that I have no problems with a complete absence (thus far) of tension.
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?
I’m not religious, but I’ve always felt an affinity for the cleric—healing and improving others. And frankly, if I’m suddenly in a situation where reality warps, I am absolutely fine with praying to whoever is capable of warping it, especially if they can provide me with those sweet spell slots.
When you’re not trawling (and praying) through dungeons, how do you like to work? (In silence, with music, or serenaded by the damned souls of a thousand dead shrimps? Do you prefer to type or to hand-write? 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 a little bit about your writing method!
I usually listen to music. It’s become generally more ambient than in my younger days. And I only type; my handwriting is pretty atrocious.
I’ve taken to making full concordances for most of my novels. Going forward, I want to have easy reference. So far my projects I’ve used this on have full outlines, character histories and descriptions, world-building details, and so forth.
What (or who) are your most significant fantasy influences? Are there any creators whom you dream of working with someday?
Matthew Stover is one of them. His books dropkick me in every neuron I own. I found Blade of Tyshalle when I was burned out on fantasy, and it snapped me back hard into it. A disabled protagonist who’d already saved the day and was dealing with the aftermath of that? Count me in. It was also grimdark before grimdark was a thing—I sincerely think if those books had come out a decade later they’d have been huge.
I also still have a lot of love for New Weird, even as it’s faded. It’s not what I write, but it hit big just at the right age for me, and I miss that more phantasmagorical fantasy.
What was the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it? Alternatively, what games have you enjoyed recently?
I’ve been watching a lot of Murdoch Mysteries, which is a Canadian mystery show that feels like the old mystery shows I used to watch with my mother. And I’m nearly at the end of Stranger Things. Dustin’s plots remain the best part of the show.
As for games, I’m replaying Final Fantasy VII. When I want my brain to basically reboot itself, I replay old RPGs. Prior to that I was also playing Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, which is fine? It’s fine.
The world shifts, and you find yourself with an extra day on your hands during which you’re not allowed to write. How do you choose to spend the day?
Time with the family! They’re pretty great. Alternately, I love tabletop RPGs and haven’t had a ridiculously long session in forever.
Can you tell us a little something about your current work(s) in progress?
I have a novella called Red In Tooth and Claw that should be ready by autumn. It’s a story of two soldiers on opposite sides of a war forced to work together to survive in the harsh wilderness. It’s a fantasy without overt magic or monsters where the geography is basically northern Canada.
I have the third in my A Concerto For the End of Days sequence, called The Vivus Nocturne. It’s about a frontier mining community where vivus, an essential ingredient in magic, is mined. It’s a weird western. I’m interested in the way this community organizes around a single resource, which means no one has any interest in building a viable future there once it’s extracted.
I have a third, secret project that has been absurdly fun.
So productive! What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
When I was working 2 jobs, or one 60 hour a week job, the ‘write every day’ mantra messed me up hard. Even though I write almost every day now, I still hate the mantra. Write when you can. Maintain forward momentum. Don’t procrastinate, but allow yourself fallow time. Writing’s more than just typing.
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?
Stumbling blocks for me are usually just exhaustion from the day job or kids. I feel pretty lucky that that’s the worst of it.
If you could visit any country at any point in history, where/when would you go, and why?
Assuming I have some ability to understand the languages, Ancient Sumeria. Let’s watch the first cities start to form! I find that whole time period absolutely fascinating.
My second choice would be Antarctica. What can I say? I like the cold.
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
I really liked Raymond St. Elmo’s Letters from a Shipwreck in the Sea of Suns and Moons. It had a strange, circular narrative with a sweet courtship as the emotional core. A strange committee is asking questions to an old sailor who, in his youth, survived a shipwreck on an island filled with gods, and their conversation keeps looping around as both the sailor and the committee try to steer the conversation.
Finally, would you be so kind as to dazzle us with an elevator pitch? Why should readers check out your work?
The Steel Discord is a magitech train heist. When a famous occultist is arrested for conspiracy to commit regicide, his apprentice has to sneak onto the train to break him free. But he discovers strange secrets on that train, secrets people will stop at nothing to uncover.
It’s aimed to be fun without being zany, and without losing a sense of consequence or characterization. It’s the first in an ongoing series, of which the first three books will be standalones set in different places with different characters.
The second, The Alchemy Dirge, is a fantasy noir following a black market arcana merchant and an alchemist whose invention turns volatile—and valuable.
Brilliant. Thanks again for joining us, Ryan, and good luck with book three!
Ryan Howse is the author of THE STEEL DISCORD and THE ALCHEMY DIRGE, both available now.