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Interview with Alan Baxter

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Alan Baxter is a British-Australian author based in the Illawara region of New South Wales. He is an International Master of Choy Lee Fut Kung Fu, and if that’s not impressive enough, he’s one of Australia’s best writers of speculative fiction. He’s also a jolly nice bloke.

HarperVoyager have just released Alan’s novel BOUND, the first of the Alex Caine series, and the next two books int he series will follow in short order.

Alan was kind enough to give me this interview:

JF: So tell me, how did you get started in this whole writing caper? What made you want to do it and what made you stick with it?

AB: Honestly, I’ve just always told stories. Since I was a little kid, I loved the idea. When I was 7, we had to write a story for class. Most kids came in with two paragraphs about something. I came in with 8 pages about a dude who travelled back in time and had run-ins with dinosaurs and mad adventures. My teacher rang my parents – when they assured her they knew nothing about it and it must be all my own work, the teacher asked me to read it to the class. As I did, I saw for the first time the power of storytelling. I’d always loved stories; now here was a class of kids all enraptured by a story I wrote. It was magical. I’ve never looked back. 

JF: When did you get serious about writing? Was there a particular moment when you decided it was time to start submitting, time to get published?

bound-cover-largeAB: Yes, actually. I’d always been a martial artist, always trained and fought in comps. I just did drudgery 9-5 jobs to finance that. Then one day I decided I was in a rut and needed to shake things up, decide where I wanted to go in life. I took off, went travelling. While travelling through South East Asia and Australia I decided I needed to make a career of martial arts and I needed to seriously have a stab at writing professionally. It took a long time to build my life that way, but I’m slowly succeeding on all counts. Slooooooowly! 

JF: What was your first story sale? Did you have a particular breakthrough in your working habits or methods that led to publication?

AB: I’d had a couple of publications in places that didn’t pay – very small time – but my first actual sale was for an online horror zine called The Harrow. I think they paid $5 or something. I was very pleased, as it was the first time an editor actually picked a story of mine from slush and paid for it, even if it was a very token payment! And the only thing that lead to publication then and continues to work now is bloody-minded hard work and determination. I keep doing it and always strive to get better.

JF: You work mostly at the intersection of the fantasy and horror genres. Do you think of yourself as most at home in one or another of those areas? 

AB: No, I try to not think about it too much. I’ve written a fair amount of sci-fi too (though not as much), and some crime. I just love genre fiction in all its guises and often try to mash them up together. I do seem mostly drawn to contemporary settings and dark fantasy/horror, but I don;t know that I’m really more at home there. It’s just such a rich field for stories.

JF: Are there any particular themes or structures that you find yourself returning to in your work? Subconsciously or deliberately? 

AB: There are definitely themes in what I do, which is often why I get drawn to write darker fiction. Consequences is a common theme. I’m also fascinated by the nature of belief and how that affects people. Magic and its misuse is another thing I play with a lot. Death and injustice, in numerous forms, creep in a lot too. Often these are not conscious themes, but I recognise them as I start to write and see them coming out again.

JF: Your first novel, RealmShift, is a terrific book that seamlessly combines the fantasy, noir, adventure, and horror genres. Originally you self-published this book before Gryphonwood Press picked it up. Can you tell me a bit about that experience?

AB: Oh man, that’s a loooong story. I’ll give you the abridged version. The book originally scored me a very good agent, who shopped it to all the usual suspects in publishing. It landed a couple of very near misses, but never quite got picked up. The agent in question only dealt with Australia and suggested I start looking for an overseas agent (or an Australian one who dealt internationally.) At the time, I’d just learned about Lulu and Xlibris and all those outfits – it was the beginning of the new surge in digital publishing. I knew (thanks to the whole agent thing) that I had a good book on my hands. I wanted to write MageSign (the sequel). Rather than start all over again with the agent hunt and submission and all that, I decided to try out the brave new world of self-publishing. So I set it up through Lulu. It was a really interesting experience and I learned a lot about all aspects of writing and editing and publishing. It was pretty fascinating and the book did okay. Nothing huge, but okay for self-publishing.

In the meantime, I’d written MageSign. So I took all I’d learned and set up Blade Red Press as a micro-press, bypassing Lulu and going straight to Lightning Source to keep prices down. It meant I had to do all the stuff myself, without Lulu’s support, but I actually preferred it that way. I re-released RealmShift along with MageSign and they did okay. Subsequently they were picked up by Gryphonwood Press, a small press outfit in the US, who have done great things with them. That’s where they reside now.

This is about four years compressed into two paragraphs, not counting everything that came before the agent decided she couldn’t sell RealmShift, so the whole story is far more complicated. But that’s the bones of it.

JF: You recently signed a three book deal with HarperVoyager for the Alex Caine series. The first book, BOUND is out now. Tell me about this project. What’s it about? How does it build on the work we know you for and how does it differ?

AB: It’s a whole new series with all new characters, but there are a couple of cameos from RealmShift and MageSign. The books are completely unconnected in terms of story and theme, but I’m a nerd for Easter eggs, and there was a good opportunity to use cameos and one of the groups from MageSign is involved quite heavily. After all, there’s a whole lot of room in the world for all kinds of stories. The style is similar, of course, as I wrote them. They explore magic and choice and destiny and refusing to give in when all hope seems lost. Where The Balance books deal with a very powerful person in the form of Isiah, the Alex Caine books start with Alex just as he’s coming into a power he never knew he had. Where The Balance dealt with belief and its effect on people, the Alex Caine books deal with more urban and everyday magic and monsters and mayhem. Here’s the blurb for Bound, the first of the trilogy:
Alex Caine, a fighter by trade, is drawn into a world he never knew existed — a world he wishes he’d never found.Alex Caine is a martial artist fighting in illegal cage matches. His powerful secret weapon is an unnatural vision that allows him to see his opponents’ moves before they know their intentions themselves.An enigmatic Englishman, Patrick Welby, approaches Alex after a fight and reveals, ‘I know your secret.’ Welby shows Alex how to unleash a breathtaking realm of magic and power, drawing him into a mind-bending adventure beyond his control. And control is something Alex values above all else…A cursed grimoire binds Alex to Uthentia, a chaotic Fey godling, who leads him towards chaos and murder, an urge Alex finds harder and harder to resist. Befriended by Silhouette, a monstrous Kin beauty, Alex sets out to recover the only things that will free him – the shards of the Darak. But that powerful stone also has the potential to unleash a catastrophe which could mean the end of the world as we know it.

JF: The first Alex Caine book came out last week, with the other two quickly to follow–by the end of the year, if I am not mistaken? This is something new in publishing, I think–pushing out the sequels as quickly as possible to build on sales momentum. Did you have all three books complete when your agent sold the trilogy, and if so, do you think this helped to sell the book? 

AB: Bound is out now in print and ebook, with the ebooks of Obsidian and Abduction to follow in August and September respectively. The print editions of books 2 and 3 are out in 2015. I think! Anything can change in the publishing world. But yes, the binge-read is a thing people are using more and more often. Also, a lot of people wait for a series to be completed before they buy in, so publishers are trying to get on top of that trend.

I sold the trilogy with the first and second books complete and a promise that book three would be done before the end of the year (2013). I had to deliver it at the end of January this year. That was possibly the most pressure I’ve ever known from a deadline, especially as my son was born at the end of October. But as book three of a trilogy is was well outlined and I knew where I was going with it. It sold base don its synopsis. But it definitely helps to sell a book if there are more coming – a publisher will see you have the chops to turn out more than one book. Plus, you’re almost certainly never going to sell a book that isn’t written (despite the situation I described above.) Having two of a trilogy written and the third well underway is what worked for me here. I would advise anyone who’s writing a series, or planning to, to write s many as possible before submitting the book to agents. At the very least, have one book written that you’re trying to sell and have strong synopses of possible sequels to help sweeten that deal.

JF: You’ve had a booming couple of years. What’s next for you, now that Alex Caine is rolling out into the world?

AB: I certainly do seem to be seeing some benefit from all my hard work – it’s very gratifying. After Alex Caine? Who knows? I’m working on a standalone novel at the moment which I hope to get finished well before the end of the year. That’ll go to my agent and we’ll see what happens. I’d love to write more Alex Caine books if these ones are successful. And I love the short form, so I’ll certainly continue to write, and hopefully sell, short stories. I’ve got way more novel and story ideas than I have time, so I’ll stay pretty busy, I hope.

JF: Thank you so much for your time, Alan. I can’t wait to get my hands on Bound and I wish you every success. 

AB: Thanks mate! I hope you enjoy it.

Go find Alan’s books here:

or at your local bookstore.

The electronic version of BOUND is available FREE for the month of July:

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