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Let's all give a big welcome to Ardyth Debruyn! Welcome to Unwritten, Ardyth. Kick off your shoes and tell us a bit about yourself. What's life like when you're not writing?
I have a life other than writing? *tries to find it* Actually, at the moment, my non-writing life is fairly dull. It mostly consists of things like driving my husband to work, paying bills, and cleaning the kitchen (why is the kitchen always filthy no matter how much you clean it?). I'm a full time author at the moment, but other things I do and enjoy include teaching children catechism classes, hiking, Polish Paper-cutting, working with seniors, and reading books.
Probably the biggest thing I'm excited about that's not writing related is Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, a Montessori-based non-denominational program for teaching young children about Christian spirituality. The principles of learning involved, a hands on approach that tries to help children explore wonder and prayer, would work with any religion, but I don't know if the method has yet been adapted that way. That would be rather fascinating.
I see from your website HERE (everyone go join it now), you have a degree in anthropology. The only thing I remember from my one anthropology class at UK was the Yanomamo people of the Amazon. Two questions: Did you study those people? And most importantly, does your education come in handy for your stories?
I did study the Yanomamo people and I've seen several videos about what their lives are like right now. Unfortunately oil businesses have cut deep into the Amazon, destroying a lot of their native environment. They're a fascinating society, even as they face modern changes. They're actually only one of some once rather huge civilizations that lived in the heart of the Amazon, but because things decompose and most of the huge cities were built out of wood, archaeological evidence is scarce.
For some excellent fiction about the Yanomamo try "Oxana's Pit" by Ariion Kathleen Brindley. Or, if you want to learn more about the more complex civilizations that once populated the Amazon, try "The Lost City of Z" a non-fiction account of explorations and studies, by David Grann.
But, back to the interview... A resounding YES to the usefulness of Anthropology in writing fiction, in particularly, fantasy and science fiction. By having studied so many other cultures and how they work, I have endless material for creating my own societies and worlds, religions, customs, art, even magic (a popular concept in many cultures). Several anthropologists have become authors and the daughter of one of the founders of modern Anthropology (Alfred Louis Kroeber) is Ursula LeGuin, so there's a large and healthy relationship between speculative fiction and Anthropology.
I didn't know that I was going to be a fantasy author when I first picked Anthropology, but I did discover that fact on my second field study. I was living in El Paso, studying culture while working at a homeless shelter for immigrants. I was supposed to spend the year learning Spanish and preparing for applying to grad school... instead, in between working, I wrote two fantasy novels. It was this that prompted me to set aside grad school and go for being an author instead.
Now, tell us about your most recent release, A School For Villains. I've started reading it to my girls, and it's fun so far. I love the idea of the "Dark Lord Academy". Where did this idea come from?
It came out of a combination of reading Harry Potter (which I'm a total fan of) and my discussions about villains with my critique partner A. Merc Rustad. We both enjoy exploring stereotypes against villains and poking a bit of fun at fantasy cliches. It felt natural to me to put that together into wondering what a school that tried to create and enforce these cliches might be like.
Written around the same time and exploring some of the same issues about what it means to be a villain, but in a very different short story that I completely love is Merc's own "Hero's Choice," published in Silver Blade magazine. One of the most exciting things for me about writing, is how two people who both are excited about the same subject can create two completely different but equally entertaining stories exploring it.
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I usually start my writing time off with exercise, actually. The body and the mind are connected, and health matters a great deal towards keep your mind active and productive. A 20 minute walk and then a healthy breakfast gets my body off to a good start. Then I write or edit. After lunch, I take a second walk, usually because by that point I've gotten distracted and the walk again gives me time to ponder what exactly the next step in my project is. Many of my best ideas were ones I had during my walks.
Another writing related question: Have you had rejections and what would you tell a struggling writer who has yet to get a story accepted?
"A School for Villains" had about 30 rejections before I decided to go indie with it, including one agent rewrite request. She ultimately passed on the book, but also said a ton of positive things about it. My advice is be brave, send things out. Get rejections and see what agents and publishers are saying to you. I knew I had a good product when my rejections were coming back full of compliments but with comments like "the book is for a limited market," "I don't know the right editors," or "we just bought something too similar to this project." While it was disappointing, it also is a huge learning experience, and the book would not be as well put together as it is now without that agent critique and suggestions.
My advice is, create a plan for yourself, one that you feel positive and strong about, and stick to it. My plan was 30 agent rejections, then self-publish. This plan reflected my goals for the book from the beginning. Sure, I had moments of doubt when I was tempted to scrap the whole project after some of the rejections, but my plan kept me on track. Discover what you want, plot how to get there, and go for it.
Prepare thine self for the random question! If you had to enter a competition for the "Most Uselessly Unique Talent," what would your talent be?
Hmm... I can do a pretty good imitation crow call... as loud and obnoxious as the real thing.
Finally, Ms. Debruyn, would you be so kind as to share an excerpt of your work with us?
From A School For Villains:
Black smoke billowed in the front door. Danny scrambled after Amos, trying not to breathe in the fumes. Coughing, he blinked back tears and waved his hand in front of his face. A large, black carriage sat in the middle of the yard. Amos stood a few yards away from it, gaping. Harnessed to it were four of the strangest looking creatures he had ever seen—their heads and necks were shaped like a horse’s, but their front legs ended in claws and their backs were snakelike, curled beneath them. Large black wings, similar to bat wings, sprung from their shoulders. While impressively disturbing, they didn’t quite look logical. Did they fly the carriage around or slither forward, dragging it? Danny wasn’t sure how that worked.
Dicky pushed past him through the doorway for a better view. “Wow,” he whispered.
A twisted, green-faced man jumped from the driver’s seat—another goblin. He was only about Dicky’s height. His beady eyes fixed on Danny and he grinned, showing off the tips of his fangs. “The Dark Chariot is here at your call.”
Danny’s stomach tightened. “I didn’t call anything. There must be some mistake.”
The goblin’s sneer deepened. “You are Daniel Stronghammer?”
“Y-yes.” The cold morning breeze on his sweaty face made Danny shiver and his leg ached where Dicky had kicked him.
“And you have just performed the recent and preparatory dark act of attacking your brother for a thoughtless, but quite harmless comment?”
“But he deserved it!” Danny didn’t see how he’d done anything special. Brothers punched each other all the time, right?
Thank you so much for coming to Unwritten, Ardyth! I wish you much success!