Interview - Robert M. Leonard
Q. You’re the author of the critically acclaimed Alexander Gambit sci-fi trilogy and I’d like to ask you about this one first. The premise and main ‘character’ is quite an interesting idea.
A: It took a few years to evolve into the final state. It started off as a man, returning fifty years after being abducted, living in a new body, creating a new life, new identities, and playing all the parts himself. Somewhere along the way, I said to myself “this guy would have to be crazy to try to carry all this himself!” Voila! The birth of an artificial intelligence with multiple personalities.
Q. To add to the Alexander Gambit trilogy, you’re the author of the Brotherhood of Freeswords epic fantasy series, and the ‘genre-bending’ Thomas Hunter sci-fi series. I guess one could say that you enjoy writing sequels.
A: It’s not so much about writing sequels as it is I can’t let good characters go. I put so much time and effort into creating them to make them real, giving them a childhood, childhood events, growing up, education, etc, that they become like children to me. Hard to let them go after one story.
And besides, I’m long-winded. Trying to get better, but it’s still an issue. The original draft of Alexander Gambit was over 330k words.
Q. I’ve heard that you’re also working on a new trilogy but that rather than releasing them one at a time, you’re going to wait until all three books are finished and release them all at once.
A: I’m still kicking the idea around, not sure yet which way to go. I’ve learned that readers tend to not buy the first book of a series or trilogy or the like from an “indie” unless there’s more than one book published of said series. I’m not sure if I’ll wait to publish until all three are ready, but I will wait to publish the first until after I’ve gone through a couple of drafts of the whole trilogy. Nothing worse than getting to book three and realizing you wish you’d done something different in book one, because now you have glaring plot hole of the like.
Q. I read somewhere that you’re a big fan of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time fantasy series. Has this been an influence on your work? Could you give us a quick introduction to this series for those who may not be familiar with it?
A: I am a big fan of Robert Jordon and made sure to buy a hardback copy of each instalment on the day it came out. Once I got my first Nook, downloaded copies on it so I could reread the series without destroying the books.
Quick introduction? Hmmm. Brevity in writing is my kryptonite, but I’ll try.
The story primarily revolves around three main characters, three young men (late teens when this starts, I assume) although there is a plethora of other interesting, pivotal characters. It’s a wide-ranging action and adventure yarn, told from multiple POVs, taking all the characters not just all over their world, but through various forms of “magic” to other worlds, alternate worlds, copies of their own. It’s a tale of personal growth, tragedy and triumph, of discovering oneself, and growing up to accept adult responsibilities and burdens. Romance, intrigue, adventure, conflict, combat, all intricately woven in a series of 14 massive books.
Extremely well-written, I often found myself staying up all night reading each new book the day it came out, then would spend the next couple of years eagerly awaiting the next instalment.
On a personal note, news of Robert Jordan’s passing, especially since he died before he was able to personally finish the series, was the initial spur which goaded me into taking up writing again. I was glad he left enough notes that Brandon Sanderson was able to do a decent job of finishing the series for him, and for his fans. But it was the idea of “work unfinished” that prodded me to getting off my arse and start putting down the stories running around in my head into tangible form. Few things sadder to me than a great story that is never finished.
Q. Are you more a fan of modern or traditional sci-fi?
A: Traditional, which apparently shows based upon comparisons from readers to some of the late great writers like Herbert, Asimov, and Heinlein. It’s not that I don’t like modern touches, and I certainly try to be visionary in my own work, but it’s about the style of writing. Something about the way the old-school masters put their stories together that captivated my imagination far more than can be said for most modern authors. I’ve enjoyed much of David Weber’s works, for instance, but I usually have a lot of trouble reading to the end works written within the last couple of decades.
Q. You’ve been praised for your gift for language and dialogue, and your ability to balance detail and plot. What in your opinion are the ingredients for a great novel?
A: It all revolves around the characters. I like to say that I am just the conduit through which my characters tell their own stories.
Part of it may well be my greatest pet peeve when it comes to writing, and that’s using the same major word or words more than once in a paragraph, or sometimes on the same page. If, as an example, I see a writer use the word “lightsaber” two or more times in close proximity, it vexes me greatly.
For dialogue, I create my characters from birth as previously mentioned, and in my head they develop their own voices, word usages, verbal idiosyncrasies, etc. And in my Brotherhood series, they speak in their own accents and dialects, and I try very hard to make the reader hear how different each one talks, to be able to know immediately who is doing the speaking without having to “he said/she said” them to death.
As for plot, I guess it’s my attention to detail. I hate plot holes. Hate them with a passion. If I can’t find a way to put my characters in and walk them through a situation without it seeming at least reasonable, possible, or logical, I find another way, or scrap the scene all together.
The English language is so rich, so fluid, our thesaurus is so thick, there’s no excuse for not finding a couple of dozen different and entertaining ways to say the same thing. Not doing so is literary laziness.
Q. How long does it take you to write a book? Do you plan it all out first or do the details, subplots and overall story arch emerge as you write? Do short stories turn into novels? Do stand alone novels turn into trilogies?
A: I am mostly a pantser. I haven’t written an outline or done much in the way of notes since college. And that was a long, long time ago.
Most of my initial writing is accomplished in my head. My day job (very, very few writers are able to support themselves and a family through publishing, in case a reader hadn’t been told this before) often has me drive long distances between appointments. I’m averaging about 800 miles a week. This gives me a lot of time in my head, and I use that to rehearse scenes, action, dialogue, etc. Sometimes endlessly. I can spend an hour on one paragraph, going over and over and over in my head until it’s perfect. Once I get a chance to physically write, which is usually during lunch, dinner, and just before bedtime, I often end up changing everything I’d spent hours putting together.
It works for me.
As for how long it takes, that depends greatly. The Alexander Gambit trilogy took me over ten years from start to publishing book one. I’ve got one I should publish sometime next year that took me thirty days to complete the first draft. I don’t set myself to a schedule, or make myself write so many words or pages per day. I think that’s counter-productive, creates stress where none is needed, and that’s how you end up with plot holes and jumping the shark.
Being short with my words (if you haven’t already guessed that through my answers) is difficult for me. I’ve only ever written four short stories, only two of them intended to be such. The Wraith was supposed to be one, but I couldn’t cut it down below 40k words. Single novels become trilogies because the first draft ends up with more than 300k words. And I usually end up adding a lot in subsequent drafts.
Q. Last year your short story Siege of Vertalska won an award in the Writers of the Future contest. What can you tell us about that, and how did it feel to gain this recognition?
A: FANTASTIC. My first official acknowledgement from objective and professional sources that I have the talent I believe I have. This was especially true for the following reasons:
It’s only the largest sci-fi/fantasy contest in the world.
Thousands will enter, only a couple of dozen will emerge.
That was only my third submission to the contest, the first submission for that story.
Q. So I’ve been asking mostly about your writing, but on your official facebook page you invite readers to ask you: Can you tell me more about yourself and Can I learn more about your background? How about it?
A: Ehhhhh. Not really. Not much personal stuff as I try to keep author me and Real World me in separate cages. I’m married, just starting my second half-century of life, we’ve got four lovable and annoying fur babies (the cat can’t help but try to assist me with my writing and editing, up to and including using my keyboard with me), I graduated from the University of Kentucky a couple of decades ago (no, my degree had nothing to do with writing or literature), and my day job affords me the luxury of writing, publishing, and promoting without having to decide on paying for cover art or the electric bill.
I will further add that I grew up literally dirt poor. The house in which I lived my first five years was four rooms total with no indoor plumbing. I’m one of the few of my childhood contemporaries who found the want, need, desire, or ambition to leave behind our small little towns, to take chances, and move out into the greater world. Most of them are still living within a few miles of where they were born, if not in the same house.
Reading was my escape from reality, especially those first few years. Being “different” growing up, the only redhead in school for a number of years, and having very few friends, books became my best and constant companions.
That is why I write. All my favorite authors save one are now in the great library in the sky.
Not only must I write so I can keep reading the type of stories I love the most, but it’s an homage to those who got me through so rough a childhood. And, I hope, not only can I pass on the love of reading they inspired in me unto future generations, but if I can influence and help just one young boy or girl make it through a difficult childhood and grow up to be a happy, productive, well-rounded, member of society, then I will consider all my efforts here to be worth it.
Q. I read the poem on your blog, Nobody Remembers. I don’t know a lot about poetry but can tell you that it moved me and then some. Any plans to write more poetry?
A: No plans, no. Poetry really isn’t my thing, but that one just came to me. Part and parcel from all that driving alone and seeing so many empty, abandoned houses along the way on some of the rural roads down which I must travel. Some of them with rusted swing sets in the front yards, abandoned toys or cars or the like, and it just haunted me. I couldn’t help but wonder what the lives of those who had lived there had been like, who had been the last one there, and why the place had been abandoned. It became something of an obsession with me, for some reason. All those stories untold, I suppose. Questions I would never get answered. The only way to get it all out of my head was to write it down, and Nobody Remembers is what emerged.
Q. Okay, lastly, anything you’d like to say to your readers? You seem to have built up quite a loyal fanbase.
A: Just this. I will keep trying to surprise and entertain you, keep bringing you fresh new stories, believable plots, and realistic characters, until they pry the keyboard off my cold, dead face.
I thank you, one and all, for your words of encouragement and praise, for your feedback and critiques. Entertaining you has been and will continue to be my pleasure.
Thanks very much for the interview Robert M. Leonard.
You can find Robert’s amazon page here
his website here
his facebook page here
and his goodreads page here