Monday, September 26, 2016

CL WERNER ON WRITING: An Interview


I met C.L. Werner, in the virtual world, while writing for FLASHING SWORDS EZINE wa-ay back in, eegad, 2006-ish. (When Howard A Jones was editor so...a while ago.) I had read some of his shorter works for Black Library, which led to picking up some of his novel-length works, the first being the Matthias Thulmann: WITCH HUNTER omnibus. Once I read that, I was hooked.

So without rambling like a fanboy, here is Mr. C.L. Werner...

Oh, and his most recent work is the image above: LORD OF UNDEATH

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CREATIVES HELP BOARD: When did you first realize that HEY, THIS WRITING THING. CREATING FANTASTIC TALES. WELL...IT KIND OF ROCKS!

CL WERNER: The first piece of writing I can recall working on was in elementary school. I did a Sherlock Holmes story that ran over fifty pages of loose leaf. So I guess that would be the first thing I wrote. The 'bug' as it were didn't really hit me until I was finishing up high school. I tried my hand at horror short stories, submitting to any magazine I'd stumble on. Nothing landed and over the course of the next ten years the only things I placed were in small press magazines like Eldritch Tales and Cthulhu Codex. Not until I had a piece accepted into Black Library's Inferno! Magazine did I really get that sense of finally creating something that would have a wider reach.

CHB: What was your very first published piece?

CLW: My first published work was a scenario called 'The Old Dark House' for the Call of Cthulhu RPG which was published by Pagan Publishing in Alone on Halloween. That was in 1991. I didn't have another paying published piece until 1999 with 'A Choice of Hatreds' in Inferno! #22. That was the first piece of fiction that I was paid for writing.

CHB: There may be probably many obvious answers, but compared to that first piece, how has your writing, writing skill, writing focus changed?

CLW: I think any writer will improve as they continue to tell stories. The more you read, watch, experience – all of that will inform new ideas and characters. Any book or movie can teach you new things about style and pacing, tone and direction. What works to sustain a mood or what makes for an engaging character. To be certain, you can also learn a great deal about what doesn't work from these things too. A badly written book can be even more instructive than a well-crafted masterpiece, highlighting things to avoid and some of the pitfalls that can sabotage a narrative.

Over the years, I think that the biggest thing which has changed in my writing is an appreciation for different perspectives. To be certain there are rare instances of a character who is unabashedly evil, but for the most part everyone believes themselves to be justified in what they are doing. A thief rationalizes his robberies, a tyrant has a defined rationale for his manifold oppressions, a tyranid has – well – the expansion of the species. Each character, no matter how despicable, is something I try to approach as an individual, to make them more than just a one-note simulacrum of villainy. It makes the contrast all the more vivid and unsettling when a murderer has all these fine qualities yet at the end of the day is still the perpetrator of heinous crimes. And by the same token, it is equally disarming when the noble hero is endowed with some less than sterling attributes.

CHB: What is your writing routine? Tons of coffee? A full nights sleep then hit the keyboards?

CLW: Much of my writing is done at night, when it is quiet outside and the air is a bit cooler. The dark, I suppose, lends itself to some of the grim things I write about. Sometimes I'll have marathons where I write for nine and ten hours at a stretch. Other times it is difficult to stay at it for two in one sitting. The dreaded curse of writer's block can sometimes be mitigated by jumping ahead in the narrative and coming back to the problem spot, which is usually best approached after stepping away for a little while. I find if I try to jump without that break it causes a sense of disorientation – a befuddlement so far as the pacing of the piece goes. I'm always very aware of pacing and try to ensure scenes are neither too ponderous or too abrupt (unless of course that is the intended effect).

On the matter of coffee, I'll likely be branded a heretic but I can't stand the stuff. Even the smell of coffee disturbs me. In hot weather I resort to energy drinks and in cold weather it is lots of tea.

CHB: Are you a plotter or a pantster? (I hate that latter word for folks who loosing plot and fly by the seat of their pants, but, meh, guess it fits.)

CLW: Detailed outlines are something I always try to work from. As mentioned above, I find that having a map of where the story is going will allow me to jump ahead of any problem spot I encounter. When I start a new chapter, I'll go to the outline and break down each individual scene and then lay them out in sequence within the chapter. Then, as I write, I can see at a quick glance how much material is yet to go. I can judge the pacing more closely, so if a scene with a dragon eating goats runs into a thousand words I can then evaluate how much more story I'm trying to fit into the chapter. Except when I'm going for a particular effect, I try to keep chapters between 5,000 and 6,000 words, which I feel is the ideal size for a reader to tackle over their lunch break, riding the train home from work, or some other situation where their time is restricted. If I find that there's a bit more story than I still have room for in the chapter, I'll evaluate if a scene should be moved into the subsequent or preceding chapter. Working like this, I've come to attack a novel in blocks of three chapters at a time – which is fine early on but becomes a problem if your deadline is in arrears.

CHB: What is the best way to market one's written work, in your opinion.

CLW: To be honest, I'm not certain what the best way to market one's work is. There are so many options out there these days. The scope of anthologies and magazines to submit short stories to is much broader than it was in the days before the internet. There are a great many small and mid-range publishers out there that either have open submission windows or will have 'open calls' at set periods of the year. This includes some of the tie-in publishers as well, so if a writer is an enthusiast of a particular game or film series or what have you, then it might not be remiss to keep one ear to the ground.

Online retailers have made self-publishing a much more feasible enterprise for those of us without hefty inheritances to squander or wealthy relations to exploit. The pitfall of this route is that the onerous of generating buzz and advertising the book falls on the author, and not all of us are so skilled at marketeering as we are at composing. Beyond the time involved writing the book, there's usually some manner of fee for listing the volume with the retailer.

One thing that I was always advised against, and which I will pass along, is to be very wary of any business that wants you to pay them to publish your book. This is different from services that offer editing and formatting – in this instance we're talking about businesses that promise to do everything but write it. There's a reason that so-called 'vanity presses' have a bad reputation as they can be predatory and promise far more than they deliver. Approach anybody who wants you to pay them to be published with a wary eye and do your homework before agreeing to anything.

CHB: Words of advice for new writers?

CLW: The first and most important thing I'd advise any new writer is to look very long and hard into why you want to write. If it is for the passion of story-telling, if it is something you'd do even without a dime of remuneration, then I think it is something you have to pursue. Constantly improve your craft, when you read the work of someone else, analyse it like a mechanic taking apart an engine. See what makes something effective work and see how you can develop your own technique to be as effective. When rejection comes, and sadly it will, try to see if there is any hint to how to improve in the editor's feedback – but by the same token recognize when the fault is simply that it wasn't the kind of story that was right for that particular market.

If you are pursuing a career as a writer for the financial aspect, go in understanding that a great many authors have to maintain day jobs to make ends meet. The big celebrity authors who make a zillion dollars a year are very much the exception rather than the rule. It is a very fortunate creator who can achieve a degree of success where they can comfortably extricate themselves from the daily grind and devote all their resources to writing. A goal to pursue, but also a caution to bear in mind.

CHB: What does being able to write, to put the story "on paper" do for you? (Obviously put a little extra cash on the table, but what else. Myself personally, it often gives me something to look forward to when the day job and life are rough.)

CLW: For myself, personally, being able to write gives me a sense of accomplishment. It is the one thing in my existence that at all excuses it. I've seen for myself that my writing has helped carry readers through tough times in their lives, providing them with an escape from their troubles even if only for the briefest spell. I've had a few writers say they drew inspiration from my own stories and that helped them develop their own skills and pursue their own publication. It is a very humbling thing to consider having such an impact on somebody's life and ultimately makes it worthwhile. Even if you don't become rich, even if your work doesn't become famous, even if you fear there will be no posterity to leave it to, you can still help others through your work. Sometimes you're even blessed enough to find out about it. It's the old adage about the stone thrown into a pond – you don't always see the ripples or where they go, but the ripples are there just the same.

Thanks for your time, Clint.


AUTHOR BIO
C. L. Werner has written a number of pulp-style horror stories for assorted small press publications, including Inferno! magazine. Some of his Black Library credits include the Chaos Wastes books, the Mathias Thulmann: Witch Hunter novels, the Brunner the Bounty Hunter trilogy, and the Thanquol and Boneripper series. Currently living in the American south-west, he continues to write stories of mayhem and madness set in the Warhammer World.



AUTHOR LINKS
Website
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Some other great interviews with C.L. Werner (not associated with this blog)
The Bloghole Interview
Interview on Snowbooks Site
MengelMiniatures Interview