TQ: What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
Douglas: I think perhaps it’s a slightly antique quality to the prose.
TQ: Who are some of your favorite writers? Who do you feel has influenced your writing?
Douglas: It’s nearly impossible to single out authors from a lifetime of constant reading without doing injustice to a lot of people, but I’d have to start with Jack Vance, and mention Conan Doyle—particularly his medieval books, which he considered his masterpieces: The White Company and Sir Nigel; Ursula K. LeGuin, Cecelia Holland, Tanith Lee; Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin novels and C.S. Forester’s Hornblower novels, both set in the British Navy in the Napoleonic era, Michael Chabon, a consistently inventive writer; for modern tough-guy escapism, John Sandford’s Lucas Davenport novels are very good, especially for such an extended series, and Thomas Perry. I especially recommend two of Perry’s earlier works: Metzger’s Dog, and Island, for exuberant quirky fun. Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories. When I was young I read a lot of Robert E. Howard who, despite his egregious racism—a product of his time—was a vivid, if simplistic, writer. Tolkien, of course.
Influences: Jack Vance; Lord Dunsany; Robert E. Howard (and, oddly enough, T.E. Shaw’s (Lawrence of Arabia’s) vivid translation of The Odyssey, which reminds me of Howard’s writing); E. R. Eddison (but only The Worm Ouroboros—couldn’t get through A Fish Dinner in Memison and subsequent works); and probably a thousand others who don’t come to mind at the moment.
TQ: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Douglas: Definitely a plotter. I need to know the story I want to tell, and usually the main events—the most dramatic scenes, which I often, but not always, write first—and then I fill in the narrative.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Douglas: Because I write slowly, and spend a lot of time polishing the sound of the sentences, and the exact sequence of expression (which I think is the influence of my poetry on my prose), it’s difficult for me to turn out a high volume of writing.
TQ: Describe Something Red in 140 characters or less.
Douglas: Evil stalks 1200s English winter woods; Irish grandma and family flee in vain to monastery, inn, castle; finally must turn and face threat.
TQ: What inspired you to write Something Red?
Douglas: Here’s how I came to write this book:
The Cambridge don M. R. James wrote ghost/horror stories to be read at Christmastime to his friends. They usually featured a mild-mannered antiquarian like himself, and would begin slowly with bits of scholarly detail, very dry. This would go on for about two pages—the stories are quite short—and then, ten or fifteen pages later, you realize that you are never going to sleep again for the rest of your life.
So I thought I would write a story to read to my wife, Theresa, over the holidays. I don’t know where the exact idea for the story came from, but I knew the general arc almost at once, and that I wanted to make a strong woman the hero. Soon I found that I had to explain this or that; I had to get my people from here to there; etc. I wanted to make the story historically accurate and vivid, which involved a lot of research. I finally realized that this was going to have to be a novel.
Then I got very busy with other things and put the story away. Some years later, when things were less hectic, I returned to Something Red and got it done.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for Something Red?
Douglas: I’ve been an avid reader all my life, and I studied medieval literature in college and in some grad school courses. So, between reading and formal study, I realized that I had a feel for the period, and I wanted the architectural isolation of a snowed-in castle: nowhere to go, just you and the monster. The movie Alien functions this way, as does John W. Campbell’s 1938 novella, Who Goes There? (which was the basis for the 1951 movie The Thing from Outer Space).
I thought I knew a lot about medieval life, but I’d come to something and think, “Wait, I need to know a lot more about this, just to write one paragraph.” So I knew a fair amount, and probably learned an equal amount, about the thirteenth century while writing SR.
TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? Hardest and why?
Douglas: The boy Hob was perhaps the easiest because I have been a teenage boy myself. Nemain was in some ways difficult, because she is also coming of age, a young girl with a bit of a ferocious older soul; someone coming into power but a little young to temper it with wisdom; someone unsure of whether she’s jealous of Hob or not. Another character who required some work: Sir Jehan. It was a challenge to convey adequately a sense of his peculiar restless energy.
TQ: Without giving anything away, what is/are your favorite scene(s) in Something Red?
Douglas: The big action scenes, of course, but also, just after the major conflict, there are the reactions of the characters to the aftermath—I was pleased with the way that turned out. And I did enjoy writing the ten murderous mastiffs.
There’s a scene, a little more than a page long, where two servants at the inn are drawing water from a well, and the older man is telling his nephew what happened a long time ago. It’s essentially a one-page murder ballad, a miniature drama told in heavy dialect. Later this episode will bring Hob to a kind of epiphany about adult life, but by itself it’s a tiny story within the main story that was interesting to write.
Other things I enjoyed are small stylistic touches. There’s a scene from “The Exile of the Sons of Uisliu” in Irish literature, where Derdriu (Deirdre) sees a raven drinking drops of blood that have fallen on the snow from a dead calf her father is flaying, and she says, “I could love a man with those three colors: hair like a raven, cheeks like blood and a body like snow.” I was thinking of that when I began describing Nemain obsessively in terms of three colors: the white of her skin, the red of her hair and the green of her eyes, which vary from being plain and everyday: “blotchy . . . green as spring grass . . . red as apples”; to goddess-like “white as . . . drifts of snow”, “ruddy . . . as embers”, ”green . . . as smaragds [emeralds]”; to sinister “white as a cleaned skull . . . red . . . as spilled blood . . . green and cold as an old serpent's”; to romantically beautiful “green [as a] fern-shaded pool”, red as roses, white as lilies.
TQ: What's next?
Douglas: I’m working on a sequel, which will also be published by Simon and Schuster. It follows directly from Something Red, takes place a year and a fraction later, and follows the same major characters, with the addition of several others who are very, very scary.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Douglas: It’s been my pleasure entirely.
About Something Red
Something RedEmily Bestler Books / Atria Books, September 18, 2012
Hardcover and eBook, 336 pages
From debut author Douglas Nicholas comes a haunting story of love, murder, and sorcery.
During the thirteenth century in northwest England, in one of the coldest winters in living memory, a formidable yet charming Irish healer, Molly, and the troupe she leads are driving their three wagons, hoping to cross the Pennine Mountains before the heavy snows set in. Molly, her lover Jack, granddaughter Nemain, and young apprentice Hob become aware that they are being stalked by something terrible. The refuge they seek in a monastery, then an inn, and finally a Norman castle proves to be an illusion. As danger continues to rise, it becomes clear that the creature must be faced and defeated—or else they will all surely die. It is then that Hob discovers how much more there is to his adopted family than he had realized.
An intoxicating blend of fantasy and mythology, Something Red presents an enchanting world full of mysterious and fascinating characters— shapeshifters, sorceresses, warrior monks, and knights—where no one is safe from the terrible being that lurks in the darkness. In this extraordinary, fantastical world, nothing is as it seems, and the journey for survival is as magical as it is perilous.
Douglas Nicholas on Facebook and Goodreads and on Twitter (@DouglasScribes)
What: One commenter will win an ARC of Something Red from The Qwillery.
How: Answer the following questions:
What is one of your favorite novels that is not set in the present day?
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