Hey everyone. As you might know, earlier this year I was commissioned by Kindle Worlds to write in the Foreworld Universe. I jumped at the chance to piggyback onto the universe of The Mongoliad. A universe already created, with an established mystique and resonance. I really enjoyed writing Kingdom of Glass, and it is still one of my favorites. Joseph Brassey was one of the original writers of The Mongoliad series, and today, he talks about his work, as part of the Writing Process blog tour.
What am I working on?
Currently, a contemporary fantasy. After three years of Foreworld Historical Fantasy, I wanted to do something off the wall, completely different, and considerably more supernatural.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
This is a weird question for me to answer, because it’s not a type of comparative thinking that comes naturally to me. “How is your cake different from those of the other bakers?” It posits. “Is it perhaps more moist? Is it’s center perhaps full of nice, creamy chocolate? Or rampaging fire-ants?”
Okay that’s not a perfect analogy. I like to focus on relationships. As such my work tends to be emotion driven rather than concept-driven. I have a tone I’m going for, usually, or an image, a moment, an intersection of passions and ambitions. When you pick up something of mine, you’re more than likely to find something driven by the human element. I cannot promise explanations. I often dislike them, and can seldom conjure up ones that feel emotionally satisfying. I aim to drag my reader through the flurry of events, chasing after the mad, feverish dash of the protagonists and their motives intersecting violently with adversity. Feverishness is important to me. Good writing should induce a drug-like high in its readers, I think. Bloodshed, sex, conversation, scenery, it needs to pop. It needs to sizzle and snap. I like flashy things that go “boom.”
Please, don’t take this as an advisement to roll up my books and smoke them. That won’t do it for you. Well, it might, but you’ll probably get sick.
Why do I write what I do?
Because if I didn’t, I’d be miserable. That’s blunt and simple, but it’s probably the truest answer. The other one is that I’m fascinated by interpersonal interaction. I’m obsessed with exploring the meeting place between reality and personal narrative, where they clash, and what comes about as a consequence. A lot of writers say that it’s about being “grabbed” by an idea. They’re dead on. The idea in question can be anything. Sometimes it’s a character, sometimes it’s a circumstance, sometimes it’s a dynamic. Regardless of the catalyst, the chase has to be worth it. The process is what keeps me doing this, and its function as an outlet for my emotional/mental catharsis. If the seed isn’t robust enough to sustain that role, the idea doesn’t go anywhere.
Good writing should induce a drug-like high in its readers, I think. Bloodshed, sex, conversation, scenery, it needs to pop. It needs to sizzle and snap.
How does your writing process work?
I need clarity of thought and single-minded focus in my brain-space. Now, this doesn’t necessarily have to be physical. Having a 6-month-old son has broken me of that habit, and I can shift in and out of the work-mode and the Stay-At-Home-Daddy mode as needed. What I can’t do is shift between genres or allow my brain to wander too far afield from the current work. I can only inhabit one fantastical matrix at a time, which means that it’s very hard to write more than one piece of work in a given period. Since having children, a lot of my process has changed, which has been itself a valuable learning experience because I now know that it CAN change, and that the urge to create is stronger than any inconvenience or reshuffling of priorities. These are the things that have stayed constant:
Writing functions as the mental counterpart to intense exercise in my life (I am a fitness freak): It’s a violent, explosively cathartic, exhausting mental gymnasium where I work my brain and emotions until settled. I let myself slide into a mental state appropriate to the scene. Mood music can help, but it isn’t strictly necessary. On the bad days it’s like chipping away at a chunk of marble with a shovel. It will never be done. I will never find the beautiful face underneath. I chip away anyway. On the good days, it’s fever-pitch, dream-like. I plough through, feel every punch and find myself gritting my teeth with the protagonists, mouthing their lines, experiencing the rush of their story like a physical high. The technical detail of the process is actually hard for me to describe here, because the act of creating for me is less a set of technical specifications and plans and more a matter of balling up my emotional fists and screaming “FUCKING DO IT!” Before repeatedly loosing a savage hail of blows at a hapless page. The steel sings. The eyes burn. Sometimes the hands shake and I feel light-headed. It can be like winning a good fight: A blur of controlled, focused chaos that leaves you with bruises, but feeling like a God. It’s not always a healthy feeling. It is not hard to imagine someone developing a massive ego after doing this for a long time. Coming back down to earth is important.
The steel sings. The eyes burn. Sometimes the hands shake and I feel light-headed.
I can’t write to please someone else. It has to be for me. I often read what people are talking about in terms of fictional themes, underlying messages, the importance of symbolism, and sometimes those discussions spark something that has me running off into the proverbial woods again, but it’s still fundamentally for me, a means to explore something that’s eating at the back of my mind, or indulging an obsession that won’t go away, or putting my personal demons on the page so I can pound them until I feel better. Life throws a lot of crap at us. Fiction is the white room where we can go and throw it all on the wall to look at and make sense of. It’s the dream-house where our angels and demons live.
At least, that’s what it is for me.
Joseph Brassey lives in the Pacific Northwest with his wife, son, and two cats. In his spare time, he trains in, and teaches, medieval martial arts to members of the armed forces. He has lived on both sides of the continental United States and has worked everywhere from a local newspaper to the frameshop of a crafts store to the smoke-belching interior of a house-siding factory with questionable safety policies. His newest novel is Katabasis. Have a look!