Author Interview – Brhi Stokes

This time we head all the way down under to talk with urban fantasist Brhi Stokes.

Who are you? Where are you? What kind of stuff do you write?

My name is Brhi Stokes, I’m an Australian author with an upcoming novel to be released within the next month or two. I write short stories and novels, predominately.

Tell us about your most recent book, story, or other project.

I am currently finalizing a novel for release, Caligation.

Caligation follows the story of Ripley Mason, university dropout and newly-fledged hitchhiker, as he travels north from his home. When he awakens after a car accident, he find himself in a strange city filled with horrific beasts and a population of people with strange abilities. In a desperate attempt to figure out where he is or how he can find his way home, he becomes embroiled in the dealings of the Cavanetti mob; an organization of dangerous men and women with preternatural powers. He quickly finds himself in over his head and his search for home becomes a race against time.

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 In what genre do you primarily write? Why did you choose that one?

My favourite genres are sci-fi and fantasy, both modern and traditional, and I’ve written stories that fill both. I definitely have a soft spot for urban fantasy and thoroughly enjoy writing it; the idea that there’s something hidden away in our mundane world absolutely fascinates me. However, I have also been dabbling in young adult fantasy (a more traditional medieval-style fantasy setting) lately, as well.

Tell us briefly about your writing process, from once you’ve got an idea down to having a finished product ready for publication.

I’ve tried several different writing processes. My first novel-length work was written from scratch and I found it very difficult to go back through edits without a guide. Caligation was a setting I had in my head for years and had been struggling to find a proper narrative for. Eventually, I came up with the idea and made use of the Snowflake method, so that I had everything ready to go (including an excel spreadsheet of every ‘scene’ before I tried writing it). I found that I quite like this method as you start small (at one sentence) and work your way up so that, by the end of your process, you already have your summary and blurb.

For my latest endeavour, however, I used a combination (and I think this is my preferred method). I put pen to paper and wrote out the first few scenes, letting ideas form naturally as I wrote. Then, I began to jot down a few ideas I had for the world in a separate document. As I wrote, more ideas for plot came to me so I had, essentially, two documents to work on simultaneously: the story itself, and a separate file with information. In the information file, I wrote down a brief summary of every scene as I wrote it, along with the plan for the plot. That way, it was much easier to re-arrange scenes, figure out what was going on and generally be able to keep track of a plot outline.

I go through several editing phases, preferring them to take a year or longer as I find that taking long breaks from a finished work really helps my editing process. I usually do a general read-through for plot and consistency, then a line edit (for style and form), and then a copy edit (for grammar and spelling errors). Then I hold off for a bit, maybe a month or so. After that, I re-read and see if it’s still up to par and ensure every line sounds perfect. Then, I get other authors and readers to give it a read-through (ideally, one general read for cohesion and plot, and then a copy edit). There’s a few more of those edits (me, then other, then me, etc) until I’m completely satisfied.

That’s when I start organizing publication.

What is the “Snowflake method”? I’ve seen that referenced a couple of times here and there but never gotten a good explanation.

The snowflake method was developed by a man named Randy Ingermanson. The basic concept is that you write it out like a snowflake – you start with a very small idea and you grow and expand it out in each direction until you have a completed work. It consists of ten steps where you start very simply: step 1 tells you to write out a one-sentence summary of your book, for example. Then, as the steps progress, you add to that. You build on the sentence until you have a paragraph, that moves into three paragraphs with each detailing the classic “problem, characters make problem worse, characters resolve problem” dynamic as it suggests. I found it interesting because you really end up with a well-planned book – one of the steps involves making an excel file of every ‘scene’ in the book that you use when writing. It also suggests character-building exercises and so on. It’s a hard topic to delve into without me explaining the entire process, but I hope that helps clear it up a little.

I probably won’t use the entire method again, myself, and it definitely doesn’t work for everyone. However, it is a great place to start if you’re completely lost, and I will definitely incorporate some of its method in my future book-planning.

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You mention having the setting of Caligation for a while before you found a proper narrative for it. I think that’s a common issue with sci-fi/fantasy writers – you come up with a nifty idea for a world to set a story in but no actual story. Is the story you wound up writing for Caligation something that you decided to stick in that world or did it derive from the world itself that you had built?

I had to alter the setting a bit to work as a book, rather than a roleplay site, but I definitely ended up making a story for Caligation, rather than making a story to insert into Caligation. I actually struggled a little bit at times because I would use the main character, Ripley, too much as a vehicle for showing off the world, rather than engaging with his emotions and feelings. It took a lot of thought and editing of the first draft to remedy this, but I am definitely glad I recognized the problem early on.

It was a difficult task, trying to make a compelling story that fit into the world and interacted with it in a meaningful way. Originally, I was thinking of just having a story in the world, but then I didn’t get to explore some of the stranger aspects of the place, because a character in the world would be used to them. It was a lot of fun having someone unfamiliar with the world there and able to question it, and I think it serves to assist the reader in answering questions that never would have been answered if the main character was from Caligation.

Who is the favorite character you’ve created? Why?

This is tricky question. A lot of the characters I have in Caligation were based on an old role-playing site I created (and from where the idea formed) so a few of them have been sitting in my head for eight or nine years.

I’d say at the moment, though, I’m having the most fun with one of the characters in the YA fantasy I’m playing around with. The story follows a young woman who is placed in the tutelage of one of the five masters of the magical domains: Master Adimai. Adimai is a cold, stern and generally rather unfriendly man with a dark sense of humour. He fits into your general haughty, jerk mage trope and I’m very fond of writing him. The story is from the perspective of the young woman so I have a lot of fun writing their interactions because a lot of what Adimai says and does is not really very well understood by her. Having a bit more insight into his mind, for me, makes it very amusing when she gets the wrong idea, or is generally just confused or upset by him. Plus, writing jerks is fun.

I’m intrigued by the city of Caligation. Since you mention urban fantasy I’m assuming it’s a modern place? Or is it a kind of “lost city” in the middle of the outback? Or is it in some other place completely?

As the tagline on my site describes, Caligation is “…a city where spiraling gothic towers meet modern glass monoliths. Where the slums of the South are stalked by indescribable beasts.” Ripley notices that it seems to shift from being reminiscent of the 20s, to the Victorian era. It’s a wild mix of both, with technology not quite as advanced as ours and strange fashion. Modern towers mingle alongside old factories and gothic churches, while cars drive down cobbled streets and rotary phones hang in old street boxes.

It’s unclear to Ripley where the city is, but he seems to realize quite quickly that it’s not in his homeland. He actually considers it being some ancient, lost city in the outback (as you queried) but dismisses the thought.

What’s the weirdest subject you’ve had to research as a writer that you never would have otherwise?

Nothing too exciting, I don’t think. A lot of anatomy stuff for the things I wrote when younger. Nothing out of the ordinary, I’m afraid.

What’s the one thing you’ve learned, the hard way, as a writer that you’d share to help others avoid?

Don’t be afraid to put down a piece of writing you’ve spent years on and just let it go. It sucks, and it’s hard, but sometimes you just need to move on from it and start again with something new. I did that with my first novel, one I’d written as a teenager (and gotten halfway through the sequel). I tried very hard to beat that dead horse, to the extent that I rewrote the entire 100,000+ word book to try and fix it. It didn’t work and, in the end, I had to move on. I actually stopped writing for a few years after that, but I’m back into it, now. So, that: learn when to let go and don’t let it put you off writing.

If you won $1 million (tax free, to keep the numbers round and juicy), how would it change your writing life?

To be honest, I’d probably keep doing what I’m doing as far as work and writing amount goes. I’d get a little more experience in publishing then probably use the funds to set up an indie publishing company. I love editing other people’s work, so I’d probably offer those sorts of services, too.

What’s the last great book you read or new author you discovered?

I love anything by Neil Gaiman, and I recently finished Norse Mythology, which I would definitely recommend. But if you’re looking for an urban fantasy that’s not quite as well known, I would definitely recommend the Watch series by Sergei Lukyanenko. He’s a Russian author with a fantastically translated writing style and a great setting.

What do you think you’re next project will be?

I smashed out about 30,000 words at the end of last year in the space of about a month (the YA fantasy). It’s not my usual genre, and certainly not something I had expected to write, but I would love to be able to get back into it and finish it. If it does end up being published and becoming a series, it will focus on five young men and women who have recently graduated from the royal university of their kingdom and are placed in the tutelage of the five masters of the magical domains. Unfortunately for the young graduates, their plans are sent awry when the king decrees that they will be taught by the master of their weakest domain, instead. Neither masters nor students are particularly happy with the arrangement and the year of study will be both a trial and a great learning experience.

Ideally, each of the five books will focus on a different student, master and domain. So far, I’ve been  writing book one: The Element of Chaos which follows Seraphine as she struggles to hone her acuity with the chaotic domain, under the teachings of Master Adimai.

Visit Brhi online here.

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