Tag Archives: Martin Koszta Affair

Interview: Thaddeus Nowak

Thaddeus Nowak is another KC-area writer. He and I had tables near each other at Planet Comicon and we got a chance to chat with each other about writing philosophies and styles. You’ll find some similarities in the way we like to write.

Interview: Thaddeus Nowak

What is your quest?

To be a lumberjack? Or maybe to get funding for my walk?  Not decided yet.

Thaddeus Nowak
Thaddeus Nowak

As a writer, my aim has always been to write what I like to read and that tends toward realistic fantasy. I want a somewhat gritty world that has echoes of our own world’s conflicts and struggles mixed with a magic system that obeys balanced rules. I want to feel the character’s struggles and know they have to use their minds to overcome what they face.

Some of my favorite books include The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin, The Firekeeper Saga by Jane Lindskold, and many of the books by Barbara Hambly. In those series, the magic remained subdued, few people in the worlds mastered the power, and most did not fully understand how it worked. To me, that helped to keep the world in balance and forced the characters to be deeper and more well-rounded.

I do enjoy other genres, including scifi and urban / high fantasy. I even made a trip to England to buy the English copy of Harry Potter (okay, I was there for other reasons, but I bought the whole set and shipped it home when I was there).

A theme across all the genres I read is a desire for stories with strong female protagonists. I grew up in a neighborhood where my family had the only boys and all my friends at an early age were girls. That has greatly influenced what I like to read and write. The key here is to make the protagonist someone who makes decisions and who inspires others to follow her. I really get turned off by indecision.

What is your favorite color?

Heirs of Cothel
Heirs of Cothel

I like subtlety. I want to be nudged in the correct direction and allowed to make the connection before it is revealed—if it is ever fully revealed at all. It is a hard thing to do because you have no way of knowing just how much a reader does or does not know, and therefore, some hints might miss the mark. You don’t want to leave the reader wondering why something came out of seemingly nowhere, but you also don’t want to hit them over the head with facts that they feel are obvious.  The needed understanding must gradually show up as the story progresses.

I also love Easter Eggs. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline was a fun story filled with little bits of geekdom that simply resonated with me. I enjoyed both the book and the movie, and while that story was specifically about paying homage to countless parts of my childhood, I like other books that slide in one or two items for the geek in all of us.  It is a good way to share a common bond.

What is the average flying speed of an unladen paint brush?

Failure is such a friend of mine. I remarked the other day that the best way to learn is to pound your head on the keyboard for a few hours until you find the very obvious mistake you made. Granted, that was in reference to some C# code I was working on, but the same applies to writing. Failure is the greatest of teachers, as long as you can step back and take a clinical look at why you failed and how you were able to overcome it. You cannot wallow in it, even if you want to.

Another challenge I continue to face is one of perfectionism. My first manuscript got eaten up the edit loop and bloomed into more than 200k words and was only a third of the way done. I made a few calls and put a hit out on my internal editor. It wasn’t cheap, but it helped.

Another change I made while the editor’s body was dragged off was that I moved from being a discovery writer to being more of an architect (just at a high-level outline). I won’t advocate one form over the other for anyone, but if you are struggling, try changing your writing style from one to the other. Give it an honest attempt and see if it works. When I did, I finished writing Mother’s Curse in two months.

 (Rob’s note: There’s one true way of writing, and it’s whatever helps *you* get words on the page. Thaddeus is absolutely right. If you’re stuck, change something. It could be your style, environment, chair, music, food, medium, whatever, just change something.) 

What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?

I am excellent at counting to five—three.

When I moved to the architect style of writing, I found that I was able to very accurately judge the word count I wanted for a given scene. I would get a reasonably idea of what I wanted the scene to do from my outline and based on how I wanted the pacing to go (fast, slow, or in between) I would come up with an estimate on the number of words / pages it would take me to write the scene. When I plotted out Mother’s Curse, I was aiming for 100k words. The final word count came in at 96.5k and I was proud to have been so close (as well as under my estimate).

Another realization I had when writing my series is that when you have royalty or powerful people involved in the story, you suddenly have another major character to keep track of: the general populace. When a normal person does something publicly, few people will notice or care, but when a person of influence is seen in public, word will spread, and as a result, the citizens of the world will have a reaction, quite often a mixed one depending on their personal perspective. This means I had to calculate societies responses, how fast the information would travel, and look at the political agendas of everyone who would learn of any given event or statement.

 Lightning Round

Pip
Pip
  • Favorite Muppet? The old grumpy guys. (Rob’s note: Statler and Waldorf)
  • Crunchy or Creamy? No peanut butter for me.  Caramel instead.
  • Favorite Sports Team? Sporting KC
  • Cake or Pie? Tea and cake, not death.
  • Lime or Lemon? Mostly lemon, but lime on certain things.
  • Favorite Chip Dip?  Don’t laugh, but I like sweet pickle relish on chips.
  • Wet or Dry? Wet.
  • Favorite Musical Performer We’ve Never Heard Of? The Rogues (best pipe and drum music around)
  • Whisky or Whiskey? You want me to choose between the Scots and the Irish?
  • Favorite Superhero? Hard one. I’ll go with Hit Girl
  • Steak Temperature? Medium well
  • Favorite 1970s TV show? Monty Python’s Flying Circus of course … though I watched more WKRP in Cincinnati
  • Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall? Fall
  • Favorite Pet?  (Right now, Pip (named after Chiana in Farscape)
  • Best Game Ever? 1990, Risk, six people, New Year’s Eve
  • Coffee or Tea? Tea
  • Sci-Fi or Fantasy? Fantasy

What question(s) would you like to ask me? 

What is your favorite obscure event in history?

My Answer: The easy answer here is the Martin Koszta Affair which many of you have seen me discuss in panels at conventions. I had a to do a project in grad school based on the letterbook of the USS St. Louis during the time of the Koszta Affair and I became perhaps the world’s leading authority on this particular event. That’s not actually hyperbole, oddly enough.

However, I have so many other ones I could choose. I modeled Edward to an extent on Imma from Chapter XXII of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Imma gets knocked unconscious in a battle and wakes up in a pile of dead including his lord and all his brother warriors. He is sworn to die before the lord, which does not happen. However, he is limited in what he can do after the fact because of the oaths he has sworn as a Christian. I love when characters have competing oaths that cannot be reconciled.

In all honesty, I get curious about everything. There are too many fun and wonderful moments in history to limit myself to just one.

Tell me again where we can find your stuff?

And where can we find you?

Usually at Planet Comicon.  My schedule this year is light because of some local moves I am making.  Next year I plan to be back on the convention train.

Map of Cothel
Map of Cothel

Do you have a creator biography?

Thaddeus has always been interested in fantasy and science fiction. Early on, when just starting high school, his avid reading grew into a desire to write. A desire which has turned into a lifelong pursuit.

When not reading or writing, he enjoys hiking in the mountains, landscape photography, drawing, and spending time with his wife and two demanding cats.

He has degrees in Chemistry, Computer Information Systems, and Business Management and has held a handful of jobs: some in retail, some in healthcare, but primarily in the technology fields.

Thaddeus currently lives in Kansas with his wife and two cats, but wishes there were more mountains visible on the horizon.

Final question for you: What should I have asked but did not?

What are your current and/or upcoming project?

Life events have delayed me about a year, but I am working on two different pieces. The first is another series set in the same world as The Heirs of Cothel Series, but with new characters living in the far north. I am borrowing bits from Norwegian and Scottish history and culture and the main character is living in an occupied country and she has to figure out what she wants to do about that.

The second item is an urban fantasy that involves a young woman who has been living off the grid with her parents deep in the Rocky Mountains. However, both of her parents die and she has to discover the modern world and why her parents isolated her from everyone.


Finally, let me know any suggestions or comments you have about this interview format so I can keep tweaking it.

Thanks for reading. If you’re interested in any of the other interviews I’ve done, you can find them all here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?cat=326.

If you are a creator, especially an independent creator, and you want to be spotlighted in a future interview, email me at rob@robhowell.org.

Also, if you want to join my mailing list, where I’ll announce every interview, as well as what’s going on in my life, go to www.robhowell.org and fill out the form (Name and Email Address) or drop me an email and I’ll add you.

 

ConFluence AAR

Greetings all

This weekend I left Pennsic and went about 45 minutes south to ConFluence. It was a very busy weekend for me.

It started with panel about genre blending. Obviously, this provided me an opportunity to talk about the fun of adding mystery to swords and sorcery, as I do in the Edward series.

Following that was a reading. Again, I did the portion from I Am a Wondrous Thing. It went well, better than the last time I did it. I know I got some sales from it.

Friday evening was generally laid back. Much of my time was spent in the TV Gods: Summer Programming release party chatting with Lee Hillman, an editor of the TV Gods series and a friend of mine. It was a very enjoyable time, especially since they got a pack of various IPAs to share.

Saturday morning started with my signing session at 10am. At that hour, I didn’t expect much, but this was the most successful signing session I’ve ever had.

After that, I had a bit of a break until my next session. I spend much of that time trying to write. Not my best writing session, mostly because my mind kept wandering, but it wasn’t completely unproductive.

Starting at 2pm, I had three sessions in four hours. The first was perhaps the most intimidating for me, a discussion of exoplanets and how we can use them in our fiction. It was intimidating because everyone else on the panel were astrophysicists or geologists, except for the guy who was both a scientist and an artist. Then there’s me. Still, I held my own, because to a certain extent, the philosophy of things is always relevant, and I am a philosopher.

One fascinating thing came out of the discussion that I must mention. I do not generally like elves and dwarves and such in my worlds. For someone who writes fantasy, I don’t like magic to be, well, magical. I want everything grounded in a scientific basis. This, by the way, is why I was chosen for the panel in the first place.

However, one person at the end, and I’m sorry I didn’t get her name, pointed out that throughout the panel we’d been focused on the macro side of things, not the micro end. As often happens for me, the right thing said at the right time helps my mind make a jump and I finally have a justification for elves.

What if elves are the result of a micro-organism that causes a mutation? That makes sense to me, and maybe I’ll add them to Shijuren after all. I’ve already got some plans from interesting mutations that already exist in the human genome, but it’s nice to have more options.

I moderated my next panel. This one discussed writing in someone else’s sandbox. Since I’d like to turn Shijuren into a sandbox, I wanted very much to participate in this so I was happy to moderate the panel. I think the most important thing we decided was that all participants need to respect the sandbox and its contributors. People who just jump in without that interest and respect show up all too obviously.

At 5pm I participated in a whimsical panel where we created Vogon poetry. This year’s theme was the limerick, so we created a number of those. Yes, we had one that started, “There once was a Vogon from Nantucket.”

The one limerick I can remember off the top of my head went:

There was a Vogon named orange
Who gurgled one morning in purple
He heard a mime rail
About the slime trail
Amidst callipygian silver

I will say, it didn’t make my intestine want to strangle me, so I think we’ll need to do better.

Saturday evening I watched Consortium of Genius’s show. They were a lot of fun and surprisingly metal. Most bands at SF/F cons are acoustic in nature, but these guys played their music loud and hard. I had a blast, though I think some of the other people were a bit bemused. I especially enjoyed Think Tank and Middle-earth Needs Me.

I had met the lead singer and the bassist earlier in the day because we are all Rush fans. In the category of small worlds, I found out they are friends with Beth Waggoner Patterson, who I’ve met at other cons who is also a Rush fan. Had I not known ahead of time that the bassist was a Rush fan, I would have guessed after hearing his complex bass lines. Good stuff.

Sunday morning involved two sessions. The first at 10am discussed the Ten-Volume Trilogy. We all shared our own experiences with our worlds taking a life of their own. Yeah, that means lot of stuff to come in Shijuren.

The last thing I did at the con was a Kaffeeklatsch where I discussed the Martin Koszta Affair again and how I can use it to inspire fiction. I was shocked to have so many attendees, actually, as the way they set these up they were designed to be intimate discussions involving less than ten people. I believe I got a full dozen, who seemed to really enjoy what I did. I’ll keep doing this panel as long as people keep enjoying it.

After that I got back on the road to return to Pennsic as quickly as I could. I enjoyed ConFluence quite a bit, but I was ready to get back to the Middle Ages.

ConQuest AAR

This past weekend was ConQuest 48 here in Kansas City. I had originally intended to attend with the plan of getting a dealer’s booth, but decided against it when I had the opportunity to be on 7 panels.

Two of the panels were a little whimsical. One was about beer. Not necessarily beer in science fiction and fantasy, just the kinds of beer we like. It was well-attended, which was nice from my perspective as the moderator. I went around the room and let everyone talk about their preferences, because otherwise it would have been a short, boring, rambling panel. By going around the room, we all participated and riffed off of each other.

The second whimsical one was bars in science fiction and fantasy, which didn’t go as well. I moderated this one as well, and I couldn’t really think of many good questions to move things along. Fortunately, the panelists, Selina Rosen and Tom Trumpinski, didn’t need much prompting.

I moderated another panel, this one on writing strong characters. This panel had four panelists, and ranged far afield. I didn’t do a good job here, because I think we could have focused on some specifics but instead talked more theory and philosophy. Obviously, those are important, but I don’t know that what we discussed was overly helpful to anyone there. The panelists did a good job and were always contributing, but I never emphasized a focus, and in retrospect, I think we could have given more had I done so.

I was a panelist on three panels. My favorite was Selina and I talking about writing combat scenes. One specific I need to print out and put in my office is: “Remember what your character is actually fighting.” Just because a particular opponent is facing them doesn’t mean that’s the character’s real battle. Luke isn’t fighting Vader, really. He’s fighting the Dark Side. This actually came from a discussion ahead of time in a conversation about both strong characters and combat scenes. It’ll help me going forward, I think.

I was also on a panel about using sources from across the world, not just the Arthurian / Celtic / Norse / Greek myths that form the basis of much fantasy. There are already a bunch of hints of that in Shijuren, and more to come. I include Russian, Balkan, and Middle Eastern myths already, along with a touch of Sub-Saharan African and Mongolian. There’ll be more coming from Amaranth, too, which will be heavily influenced by the Mahabharata and Bhagavad Vita from Indian traditions. There’s good stories in a lot of traditions, and I’m happy to use them.

My other panel was my using history in SF/F by going through the Martin Koszta Affair. I’m going to continue doing this, as the people there seem to be really interested in how I look through things. My big problem is that I get so excited I go too fast. I need to pace a little better. I had about 5 minutes of flex that I should have used simply by going slower.

Finally, I had a reading on Sunday. Not surprisingly, there weren’t many people there. The other reader, Jeri Frontera, had a great idea to Facebook Live her reading. I’m going to do some research to see if I can’t start doing that. I definitely need more media on my website.

Overall, a good weekend of schmoozing and meeting people, which is what a con is supposed to be.