Some of you may remember way back before #Writober started, I asked What are you planning for #Writober? Back then, a million years ago, I mentioned that I planned to do Readers Imbibing Peril XII’s Peril in the First. I listed the books I planned on reading and half of those have changed, but I also mentioned a surprise. Here is that surprise. I was given a copy of Harbinger of Darkness by Richard C. White in exchange for a review. He also agreed to an interview. Imbibing So Much Peril!
Though I’m not usually a kings and princes, guilds and taverns kind of reader, I enjoyed many things about this novel. I especially enjoyed the strong female protagonist. Perrin, by day, working in her father’s bookshop, uses a charm to change her appearance and becomes Raven, by night, master thief who doesn’t play by the rules. I was pulled into her world through visual description and quick-moving action scenes. I also enjoyed the crisp, natural dialogue.
There were some areas of the novel that I felt dragged slightly. Though there was a rich, layered story being told, I sometimes thought it could be told with fewer words. There were a few times I worried the story would turn to fairy tale stereotypes, but the story took a creative turn and rewarded me for my continued reading.
Harbinger of Darkness is a visceral adventure through a world of magic with well-developed characters, dynamic dialogue and a good dose of two-handed sword fights.
Interview with Richard C. White
Reading your bio at the end of Harbinger of Darkness, was fascinating. You have a career with a defense contractor and you write novels? Can you tell us about a day in the life?
I‘m a technical writer, by trade, so as I like to describe my life as six weeks of boredom followed by two weeks of panic. Most of the projects I work on are what we call eight-week spins, so for six weeks, there‘s not much for me to do while the developers and programmers work on their projects. However, once the code goes final, I have one week to write the user‘s manual, update the technical manual, review and update the requirements spreadsheet, and write the change sheet. Once that‘s all done, then I have to get the government lead to review and approve my documents before the end of the second week, so we can release on time.
I try not to let that six-week slack period go to waste though. Most of the time, I‘ve been able to work on my latest story while I‘m on the slow part of the spin. I‘ve been able to sell my project managers that I‘m getting in “typing practice“. Generally, they‘ve been cool about it though – as long as I am at my desk, answer my phone/email, and help out when needed, etc. – it‘s sort of like being “on-call“.
Most of my writing is done at home though. I try to carve out an hour or two before bed for writing, but that doesn‘t happen all the time. Getting a chance to spend time with friends and family is pretty darn important for physical and mental health.
One of my favorite writing exercises is going on writing walkabouts on the weekend. I‘ll take a Saturday or Sunday and go out and do an hour or two of writing at a coffee shop, then walk to the park and write, then hit a restaurant to write/eat, then maybe a local pub or a bookstore and write some more. The object of a walkabout is getting outside of the house to write, but not abusing a business‘s hospitality. If I hit a coffee shop, I only stay a while and I order something—same for a restaurant, pub, bookstore, etc.. I‘m not there just to leach their electricity or wi-fi.
So, between working in some writing at work, in the evenings at home and on the weekends, I manage to balance family, work, and my writing. I wish I could say I was one of those who wrote every day, but I do what I can. Maybe after I retire, I‘ll consider trying to write full-time, but I don‘t see it happening anytime soon.
I would see the Star Trek and Star Wars book titles on the bookstore shelves and assume they were books that rehashed the scripts. I only learned about the media tie-in genre this past summer, but you’ve lived it. What, to you, is the purpose/joy of media tie-in and what’s it like to write for licensed media?
There are a number of different types of media tie-in stories. Some are novelizations of an existing property, say, Star Wars. There you take the movie and expand on it. A movie script would probably make a long novella, so to get 80-100,000 words for the novel, you get to go into descriptions, what the characters were thinking in certain scenes, what might have been happening right off screen, or how did that character we last saw on this planet manage to get to the other planet in the nick of time? Novelizations are a way to linger over a movie/tv show/game and fill in a few blanks.
Other media tie-ins are original stories set in the established universe. Now the authors get to maybe go back and revisit characters who only appeared in say one episode of Doctor WHO or NCIS and maybe instead of them being just a walk-on, now we get to do an entire story about them. Sometimes, we can tell stories of what happened between two episodes or even two seasons of a show to cover what happened to the characters (provided the season didn‘t end on a cliff-hanger). Other times, we come up with completely unique stories about characters–perhaps we tell the story of what they did before they came onto the show or if they‘ve left the show, perhaps we do a reunion story, to catch the fans up on what‘s happened to this or that person.
However, writing media tie-in stories has its own unique pitfalls. First of all, most people don‘t get to start off writing media works. You can‘t just write a Supernatural novel and send it to the publisher and hope they‘ll pick it up. Most of the authors you see who‘re writing media tie-in have been approached by an editor and asked to pitch something. Studios are very protective of their properties, so for the editor to sell you as the author, they like to be able to point to something you‘ve already done to prove you have some writing chops.
So, if you get the opportunity to write something, then you get to do the tie-in dance. First off, the editor gives you your right and left boundaries, a.k.a., the licensor is looking for a story about X and Y, but don‘t go into Z or U. Why? They may or may not tell you, but the licensor is the final approver, so learn to keep them happy. Then the writer comes up with two or three plot pitches, which have to be approved by the editor and then the licensor. Once they decide which they like best, then you do a synopsis or perhaps a chapter breakdown and again the editor and then the licensor have to approve them. Finally, you get to write the short story, novella, or novel. And again, it goes through the editor and the licensor.
At any time in this process, the licensor can go, “Nope, that‘s not working,” and that‘s it. Hopefully, your editor can smooth thing over or help you come up with a way to mollify the licensor, but if they say no, then your story is dead. And I mean dead, since you‘re using their characters, there‘s no where else to sell that story. Sure, I guess you could try to file the serial numbers off the story and change it enough to make it your own, but in that case, why not just write a new story?
What inspired you to write Harbinger of Darkness?
It‘s hard to say what was the initial inspiration for Harbinger, but I can definitely trace some of it‘s literary roots to stories like the Scarlet Pimpernel, Batman, Zorro, and the Green Hornet. However, I wanted to make the main character a bit more human. Perrin isn‘t necessarily out to right great wrongs or even make the city safer, although, she winds up setting herself against some of the greater criminals in her own city – but for her own personal reasons. Instead, this is about someone who feels trapped by circumstances and she is forced to take what some would call drastic actions to free herself and be able to follow her own dreams in the end.
I also wanted to try and determine for myself if I could write a story about a nocturnal character who a) is not independently wealthy, so they must maintain their secrets while holding down a regular job and b) must keep their secret identity from their own family – no faithful Diegos or Alfreds for Perrin. It was fun to take the trope of the costumed crime-fighter and morph it into what I wanted for this story. Hopefully, I‘ve succeeded.
Halloween’s coming up, do you have a favorite horror author/novel?
I have to admit, I like dark fantasy, but I‘m not much into modern horror. That being said, I do enjoy the Saga of Pandora Zwieeck series by Steve Roman. Even if Steve wasn‘t my publisher, he does write a damn good yarn with this series. I‘m constantly nagging him to put out the third book so I can find out how this first arc is going to end.
I did enjoy earlier Steven King – The Shining, Carrie, Firestarter, and I remember making the classic mistake of trying to read The Exorcist at midnight when I was 12(ish). Not great for sleeping, let me tell you.
What’s your favorite scary movie?
Alien. Far and away, one of the most intense horror movies that I can remember, It was marketed as a Science Fiction movie, but it was a classic locked-house monster movie. Others I really enjoyed over the years were Jaws, Psycho (1960), The Birds, Cat People, An American Werewolf In London, and for a touch of comedy, Young Frankenstein and Abbot and Costello Meet the Wolfman.
What’s your biggest fear? Do you think it’s rational or irrational?
My biggest fear? Spiders, and of course, it‘s irrational. Obviously, I‘m thousands of times larger than they are, but I don‘t like them, never have, and suspect I never will.
Which dictionary do you use?
My go-to dictionary is the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, ©1964, that I was given when I was in Kindergarten, and still use to this day.
Any advice for writers who have yet to feel their novel is finished or are yet to be published?
If you‘re feeling like your novel isn‘t finished, my advice is to really think about what you‘re doing. Are you really doing restructuring and introducing new plots or are you simply playing with where do the commas go – in other words, are you really making meaningful changers or simply procrastinating? Eventually, you‘re going to have to take that next step and either start writing those query letters to try and get an agent/publisher to take a look at what you‘ve got or else start down the path to self-publishing.
A number of people I know have worked and reworked and re-reworked their novels to death because they were afraid of what someone might say or think if they read it, but writing to be published is not for the timid. After a while, you‘re going to have to put it out there, with the understanding that once you release it, you have no more control over your story. People may like it, they may dislike it. Odds are something you write is going to be misinterpreted – (don‘t even get me started on literary criticism here). Some people may even be offended at what you wrote.
Don‘t let that fear stop you because you have NO control over it unless you never write again. Once it‘s published, the writer part of you has to forget about it, put pen to paper, and start working on your next book. The promoter part of you may have to spend some time with making sure people know your first book exists, but that‘s another tale for another time. As a writer, once you say, “The End”, except for making corrections/edits, it‘s on to the next story and don‘t look back.
Richard C. White has also shared his writing wisdom in a book for writers – Terra Incognito: A Guide to Building the Worlds of Your Imagination.
Wanna see Richard and hear his voice? Here’s a video interview on Youtube.