An interview Charles Moffat heroic fantasy/literary fantasy author.
Tell us something about your books, including your genre and your characters and/or themes.
I have two settings that most of my current work goes into.
Korovia is the more important of the two and is a Slavic themed setting based on folklore from Ukraine, Moldova, Romania and Russia. Within that setting I have multiple series of books which are character driven: The Adventures of Wrathgar, The Adventures of the Bogatyr, Wulfric the Wanderer, and the Lilith Bloodstone series. Genre wise the first two are heroic fantasy, Wulfric is Sword & Sorcery, and the Lilith stories are Dark Fantasy. The Wrathgar series also doubles as literary fantasy.
My favourite character is Wrathgar who is a barbarian archer/warrior, but in the books he is frequently forced into situations that aren’t what you expect from a barbarian, such as murder mysteries, rescue missions, crime dramas, and I am currently working on another book which will be an adventure-romance similar to Raiders of the Lost Ark / Romancing the Stone.
However, my fans would likely tell you that their favourite character is Soljargon, Wrathgar’s best friend and comrade in arms. Soljargon appears in books one and four of the series, and he will be returning in book six. I suspect my fans like Soljargon’s sense of humour, but also his ethics. I know I like those aspects about him.
I would have to say that I like exploring a wide variety of themes. Everything from youthful naivete to elderly wisdom/arrogance. Time travel, fate, destiny, humour, tragedy, death, honour, bravery, grit, stubbornness, friendship, relationships, the nature of true villainy.
Where are you based?
Toronto, Canada, although I was raised on a farm and I only recently realized that the concept of “a barbarian in a city” was basically symbolic of me being a farm boy in the big city. Funny how personal things like that sneak into your writing without you realizing it.
Latest releases and upcoming titles?
My Wulfric the Wanderer novelette “The Scarlet Arena” is coming out on February 1st 2023. In the past year I have also released “The Exorcist’s Dagger” which is a crime drama featuring Wrathgar and several returning characters, plus multiple pieces of short fiction as part of my Bogatyr series. An anthology of Bogatyr stories is coming out on July 1st 2023.
What are you currently working on?
Multiple projects including:
The newest Wrathgar novel: “The Frost Giant’s Tomb”, two sequels to “The Scarlet Arena”, an untitled literary fantasy book, and a host of other projects. I currently have over seventy different writing projects in various stages of development and I finish roughly ten projects per year.
What inspires you to write?
Do you mean where do I get my inspiration from, or do you mean what inspires me to write? I will answer both.
Every day I spend about an hour researching various topics. History, languages, cooking, weaponry. I get a lot of inspiration from such things. I also read a lot of fantasy books and watch a lot of Netflix/etc. Everytime I get an idea for something I type it into my notes on my phone. Later, when I have more time, I sort through the list of ideas and mix and match them together to make better ideas, decide whether the idea feels like something suitable for short fiction or a novel, and what character(s) best suit the themes of the idea.
Sometimes I get an idea that might be useful for multiple stories. For example, I created giant rat monsters called Ratatuskrs, which have since appeared in “The Coven’s Wolves” and “The Bogatyr & the Gentle Giant”, and will likely appear in other stories in the future.
With respect to what inspires me to write is a combination of factors. I love a good story. I collect good stories and I enjoy retelling them, changing them, and mixing different stories together in unexpected ways. But when I am writing I also get an adrenaline high. So I am frequently high on adrenaline while writing (or painting) and I am addicted to the process of creating things. That high is most potent when I finish writing/painting something, so I can sometimes be high for days after finishing a large project.
When and why did you get into writing fantasy?
The 1980s. What a fun time to grow up. He-Man, She-Ra, Hercules, Astroboy, Mighty Mouse, Superman. If it was a strong character who was a goodie-two-shoes then I was into it. I started writing stories when I was about 9 years old and by the age of 12 I was already publishing them in a local weekly newspaper. Some of my earliest works were pirate stories, historical fiction and science fiction, but over time I gravitated towards fantasy because of my love of archery and swordplay.
Who are your favourite fantasy writers/ fantasy authors?
If you had asked me 20 years ago I would have said George R. R. Martin. If you had asked me 10 years ago I would have said Robert E. Howard. Today? I am tempted to say Mervyn Peake, the author of Gormenghast. My favourites are ever changing.
What are your favourite fantasy genres?
I used to really like epic fantasy, but these days I gravitate towards heroic fantasy/Sword & Sorcery because it focuses on individual characters more, is often smaller scale, and consequently more realistic. Is Realistic Fantasy a genre? I would argue it should be. I am not a fan of stories which get ridiculous with respect to the scale, powers, too much magic, etc. Those stories lose the personal element and just feel like the author is on an ego trip or something. “Ooh, look at me! My main character is a super powerful wizard who did nothing to earn it and can devastate armies with a single spell.” *sarcasm* So yes, that’s the opposite of what I like… I like characters with feelings who bleed. Magic with limitations. Wizards who get tired and need to sleep. Villains with back stories. Monsters that are deadly. Plots that aren’t convoluted and full of plot holes. I love a well organized plot.
Who are some of your all-time favourite fantasy characters? And why do you think they became your favourites?
That’s easy. Steerpike from Gormenghast. My favourite villain. He’s so devious and cruel, and yet because you see his origin story you get to feel like he is the main character of the story. I also love Severus Snape from Harry Potter, but in his case you don’t learn his true motivations until the final book. (On a side note: RIP Alan Rickman. I loved him in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Die Hard, and the Harry Potter series.) Snape is a fantastic anti-hero.
I also like Conan the Barbarian, Imaro (from the Charles Saunders series), Tyrion from ASOIAF, Fflewddurr Fflam from the Chronicles of Prydain, and unfortunately I could just keep going. Too many enjoyable characters.
Do you follow any fantasy entertainment outside of books? (Video Games, Boardgames, Comics etc)
I pretty much watch every big budget fantasy film or TV series that comes out. Some smaller budget ones too. Everything from Willow to Rings of Power. Even if something is disappointing I am still analyzing the stories from a writing perspective. Same thing if I play a character in a Dungeons and Dragons game, I am analyzing the interplay between characters and the plot. Comic books wise I like Green Arrow, Batman, Superman… and She-Hulk. So happy they finally added She-Hulk to the MCU.
What’s going on in the next few months? Anything on the Horizon?
I have multiple projects on the horizon, including that anthology of Bogatyr knight stories I mentioned before coming out on July 1st 2023. I am also hoping to release book 6 of the Wrathgar series in late 2023, plus various works of short fiction. I usually release something new every one or two months, always on the 1st of the month. So about 6 to 10 pieces per year.
What kind of books did you read that contributed to your upbringing, as far as fantasy and science-fiction?
Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms, various books by David Eddings or Dave Duncan. I also still have quite a few He-Man children’s books which have passed down to my son. When I was young I also read a lot of Lassie books, Call of the Wild, and various stories about dogs by Terhune. This no doubt influenced a trend to have dogs and wolves in my books. Eg. “The Coven’s Wolves” or “A Hound Named Hunter”.
During the pandemic I wrote a short story that was basically a cross between John Wick and the Hobbit. I have been meaning to publish that one, so maybe I will release it later this year. I need to make a book cover for it. (I paint or illustrate my own book covers.)
Was your upbringing pretty geeky?
Deliberately so? Not particularly. My upbringing was pretty outdoorsy. My parents were farmers, but creative. My mother was fond of Star Trek (TOS) so that was a staple on Saturday mornings. I was in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. I got into archery and sword fighting at an early age. That and He-Man/Astroboy and other influences it is kind of no surprise that I became an archery instructor and a fantasy author.
Why should anyone read your book?
If you want to be entertained by a good story that is both realistic and makes you happy, read my books. In my stories the heroes (usually) win and the villains (usually) lose. Unlike real life. If you don’t like that then there’s this place called “reality” that is pretty grimdark. Read my books if you want to escape from reality and yet still feel immersed in a realistic story.
The writing process ( Inspiration, discipline, planning, software, editing)
Do you have a process, do you plan or do you fly by the seat of your pants?
Mostly plan. I go through a long process of collecting ideas for stories, monsters, villains, heroes, neutral characters, and plots. When everything is together I will write a chapter by chapter synopsis of what needs to be written, usually in point form. Once I know what needs to happen during each chapter I can start writing, usually in chronological order, but not always. Sometimes I will write snippets or whole chapters out of order. The writing of each chapter is where I get to flex my pantsing muscles because all I have to go on usually is one to three lines of ideas and maybe a snippet of something I previously wrote.
How has your writing process changed since you first started writing?
I was definitely a pantser back in the 1980s. I didn’t plan things much. By the 1990s I was planning things more. Now I sometimes spend months or years planning before I even write the first paragraph.
How long does it normally take you to write a fantasy novel, and what proportion of the time is spent doing what?
On a good day I can write 5,000 words, and my current benchmark for novels is 120,000 words or more. (Although the untitled literary fantasy book I am working on will be closer to 400,000.)
So in theory I could write a novel in a month, but I wouldn’t have much of a life during that month. Also I juggle different projects from time to time. I have a To Do List and I use self-imposed deadlines to keep my eyes on the target. If I leave a project for too long I will have to read it again when I restart it.
Writing the first draft is the biggest time consumer. Usually. Then come the rewrites. This can sometimes end up being more time consuming. Then editing, formatting, and making a book cover and/or illustrations.
What is your favourite part of the writing process?
The adrenaline high.
Have your previous vocations influenced your writing?
I am an archery instructor, so yes. Lots of archery in my writing, as well as swords, axes, and such. I have hobbies that definitely influence my writing as well. I have developed an interest in bow making, blacksmithing and woodworking since the 1990s and it shows up whenever a character is doing any of those things. There’s a scene in “The Blizzard’s Daughter” during which a character repairs a broken shield that I particularly enjoyed writing.
As far as writing goes, what do you use? Software, Apps, Hardware etc?
Samsung Notes on my phone, then I email the notes and snippets to myself and import that into Google Docs so I can work on my laptop. My most important “hardware” is my writing desk where I keep my laptop and various books used for research. Plus drinks and snacks.
Do you do a lot of research for each book? If so, how do you conduct your research?
Yes, a lot of research. Back in 2020 I learned how to ride a Honda motorcycle (diesel) just because I had a supporting character who needed to ride one and I wanted the character to be using the proper lingo and motions. I am a firm believer in learning how to do the things that are in your book. Got horses in your book? Learn how to ride. Got dogs? You had better know a lot about dogs. Archery? Go get archery lessons. Different languages? Time to learn! Food? Time to watch some cooking videos on YouTube. I especially like watching tourism videos like Rick Steve’s Europe. Tourism videos give you a great overview of culture, food, architecture, art history, historical events and they’re very useful for research and inspiration.
How do you overcome blank writing spells?
I don’t get writer’s block. My problem is that I get distracted by shiny objects (eg. A short story idea) while I am writing a novel and I will sometimes pause what I am writing to write a short story instead. When I finish the short story I go back to writing the novel, read everything I have already written, change a few things since I have had more time to think about it, maybe proofread and rewrite a few parts, and then resume writing. Hopefully I then finish the novel before getting distracted by another idea. This is why I use a To Do List and self-imposed deadlines, so I can stay focused on finishing projects.
As long as I finish six or more projects per year then I am happy.
A number of fantasy/sci-fi authors have been known to use art, music, exercise, alcohol and even drugs as a way to find inspiration to enter the zone! Do you use any tools to enter into your creative headspace?
I am already high on adrenaline while writing, but I am a fan of music while I write. Lately jazz or various things by Adrian Von Ziegler. Art, exercise, chocolate and Coca-Cola are also handy.
Do you prefer to write in silence and or have some sort of sound in the background?
Music with no lyrics. Sometimes a fireplace video on the TV.
Will your next book be traditional or indie published?
Indie. The vast majority of my work is indie published, with rare exceptions in magazines. The literary fantasy book I am working on will be shopped around for an agent who will then have the task of traditionally publishing it.
Would you recommend self-publishing to aspiring authors, or would you suggest a more traditional path?
Actually I am going to recommend that beginning writers try nonfiction first. Start a blog, write on Wattpad, submit to magazines, focus on learning the craft of writing. Write both fiction and nonfiction, continue submitting both to magazines/journals and anthologies, and keep your ideas for novels in a notebook. Eventually, when you feel ready, then try writing a novel. Whether they end up going for indie or traditional is really personal preference.
Also here’s an interesting statistic I heard recently. Less than 10% of beginning writers who try writing a novel actually finish writing it. Of that 10%, only 3 out of 10 publish either traditionally or indie. I suspect someone made up this statistic, or perhaps it was based upon a non-scientific poll, but there’s probably a ring of truth to it.
This is why I recommend beginners learn the craft first. You need to learn the basics before you try to make a masterpiece.
What sort of input do you give to formatting, cover design, marketing?
I do all that by myself so I have final say on such things. What was the point of me studying painting in university for 6 years if I cannot make my own book covers/etc?
What do you do pre and post-release to help get your books noticed?
I have a list of marketing things I do daily, weekly or monthly. Things like blogging, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube videos, etc. Not a fan of Facebook however. Facebook is a waste of time from a marketing perspective.
Marketing is so important nowadays, what’s your best advice to fellow authors?
Network. In the beginning for every month you write, spend two months marketing/networking and over time write more and market less as your sales go up. Don’t give up your day job. When your annual writing income exceeds your regular income then you can potentially switch to writing full time, but you aren’t going to reach that point unless you put the effort into marketing.
What legal publishing advice can you give?
Keep all your writing notes from the process of writing your book. Email copies to yourself. Keep every draft and different versions of drafts. Delete nothing. Create a paper trail that spans years or decades. A lot of authors are worried about people plagiarizing their work (which hardly ever happens), but if you are worried about this then having a paper trail proves that you wrote it.
How did you decide the pricing of your material?
$0.99 for flash fiction ebooks, which is the lowest price Amazon allows. $9.99 for full length novel ebooks, which is the highest price where you still get 70%. Various prices between those for short stories, novelettes, novellas, and pulp fiction length novels.
Pricing for paperbacks and hardcovers follows a similar range, but higher due to printing costs.
Must Read Fantasy novels?
I recommend that everyone should read the first two books of the original Gormenghast Trilogy. Skip the third book. Also read all of the Earthsea books. Watch/read Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Hamlet and other fantastical works. Various versions of the stories of Beowulf or Siegfried. Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Moby Dick (just think of the whale as a magical monster). Imaro by Charles Saunders. 1001 Arabian Nights. Conan by Robert E. Howard. The Stand or Needful Things by Stephen King. All of the Dune books by Frank Herbert. Memory, Sorrow and Thorn by Tad Williams.
Must read non-fantasy novels?
Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Mythology by Edith Hamilton. Neuromancer by William Gibson.
Most prized fantasy book in your collection?
“And Their Memory Was A Bitter Tree” by Robert E. Howard, a collection of Conan the Barbarian stories.
Do you read digital, paperback or hardback or do you listen to audiobooks?
I read paperback, hardcover and audiobooks. I rarely read ebooks. I like having physical copies. I will sometimes even listen to the audiobook while reading a physical version, assuming I can find copies of both.
What are some difficulties you’ve experienced in your writing career?
I have removed a number of older books that I wrote during the 1990s and 2000s. My intention is to someday rewrite them and release updated versions. To me it feels like my early work just isn’t up to snuff. I also went through a dark period during the late 1990s and 2000s where I was worried that my ideas weren’t “special enough” or “unique enough”. I have since come to terms that all ideas are inspired by other sources and that there’s no shame in writing something similar to other people’s work. Every book is similar to some other book. Being special or different doesn’t matter so much as just having a good story and wanting to tell it in a manner that does the story justice.
What are the best experiences in your writing career?
I love getting reviews and fan mail. Those make my day.
What are some encouraging words you’d give to another author/writer?
Ignore criticism. Don’t go to writing groups where people say things like “your work is too low brow”. To hell with those people. Write the types of books that you would want to read.
Get in touch
Author Charles Moffat Social Channels?
Subscribe to fans-subscribe@charlesmoffat.
Any final words for the readers? (Anything, open platform)
Final words hmm? How about a free piece of flash fiction? It’s only about 1200 words.