Romelia: WHICH OF YOUR CHARACTERS ARE MOST LIKELY TO BE AN ACTIVIST, AND WHAT KIND?
Darian Smith: In the Agents of Kalanon series – pretty much all of them! They all played a role in the war – Brannon as a war hero, Ylani as a spy, Draeson as a mage defending his country. So they have passionate loyalties and ideas about what’s right and wrong. Part of what I like exploring in the books is when there’s a conflict between the character’s loyalty to a country or person and their integrity about what is right and wrong. I think that’s when activism is at its best too – when you can say “I love my country (or whatever) but we are doing this bit wrong and we need to fix it.” At the moment, their efforts mostly go towards maintaining peace between the countries and they do that with their connections and, of course, by solving magical crimes.
Romelia: DO YOU PLAY MUSIC WHILE YOU WRITE – AND, IF SO, WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE?
Darian Smith: I used to have a set type of music that I played while writing – usually light on lyrics and put me in a creative headspace. Enya, Enigma, that sort of thing. I’m sure if we scanned my brain you’d see a change in my brainwaves when listening to that stuff. These days I usually don’t bother. Or sometimes I even just have the radio on. There is definitely something to be said for using music to create the mood though.
Romelia: HAVE PETS EVER GOTTEN IN THE WAY OF YOUR WRITING?
Darian Smith: Many times! We had two black cats called Athena and Apollo (sadly Apollo passed away so we now only have one). Apollo would love to sit on my desk next to the computer and hang out while I worked but he would also get bored pretty quickly so he would start chewing things to get my attention. Athena, on the other hand, is more direct. She just walks up my body and head-boops my face demanding cuddles.
Romelia: IF YOUR BOOK WERE MADE INTO A MOVIE, WHICH ACTORS WOULD PLAY YOUR CHARACTERS?
Darian Smith: I really don’t know for most of them but I’ve always pictured Ambassador Ylani as Morena Baccarin.
Romelia: HAVE YOU EVER KILLED OFF A CHARACTER YOUR READERS LOVED?
Darian Smith: Yes. I won’t say who so as to avoid spoilers but I do prefer not to hand out plot armour. I very seriously considered killing off my main character at the end of Kalanon’s Rising but in the end decided he was more useful alive. My wife is always trying to mitigate my murderous tendencies in writing. She writes romance so her instincts run a little differently on that topic.
Romelia: WHAT IS THE MOST VALUABLE PIECE OF ADVICE YOU’VE BEEN GIVEN ABOUT WRITING?
Darian Smith: Just sit down and do it.
Romelia: WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE BEST WAY TO IMPROVE WRITING SKILLS?
Darian Smith: Write more and don’t be afraid to learn. There are lots of craft books around and writer groups that can help you improve. I also think one of the best things to do is write short stories for a while. That way you can make your mistakes and hone your skills using fewer words.
Romelia: WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO HELP OTHERS CREATE PLOTLINES?
Darian Smith: For me the plotlines often grow out of who the characters are and the setting. If you’re stuck, I tend to say look at your characters and how they’re reacting to what’s happened and to each other and what their drives are. I come from a counselling and family therapy background and wrote The Psychology Workbook for Writers and part of that is not just about building the characters but also about what kinds of conflicts can come from it and how that can drive the plot.
Romelia: WHAT HAS HELPED OR HINDERED YOU MOST WHEN WRITING A BOOK?
Darian Smith: As mentioned, I think my counselling background has been very helpful to my writing. But also just enjoying stories. I read so much growing up and I have a love of fiction and an imagination that just won’t quit giving me story ideas.
Romelia: DOES WRITING ENERGIZE OR EXHAUST YOU? OR BOTH?
Darian Smith: Definitely both. But there’s nothing quite like the high from finishing a big chunk of writing or a particularly tricky scene or finishing the book.
Romelia: WHAT IS THE BEST MONEY YOU’VE EVER SPENT WITH REGARD TO YOUR WRITING?
Darian Smith: Going to the Romance Writers of NZ conferences. Some people look down on romance but not me. Those writers know the business and they hone their craft. Even those of us who aren’t writing romance can learn a lot from them.
Romelia: WHAT ARE COMMON TRAPS FOR NEW AUTHORS?
Darian Smith: I sometimes do manuscript assessments for people and honestly, the issues are, more often than not, the classic stuff that is drummed into everyone everywhere: Show, don’t tell. Have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Learn the rules before you break them. Of course, it’s much easier to see all this stuff when it’s someone else’s work.
The other one I see a lot is the trap of thinking you need to explain all the backstory up front before you can get into the actual story you want to tell. NO! I will rap you on the nose with a rolled up newspaper. Stop it!
Romelia: HOW MANY HOURS A DAY DO YOU WRITE?
Darian Smith: That varies dramatically. I work a day job so a lot of my time is spent there and that can mean just a little bit of writing time in the evenings. But other times it can be all day – or back and forth throughout the day. To quote a certain Gallifreyan, time is really more sort of a big ball of wibbly wobbly, timey wimey stuff. Word count is more often what I track and even that is influenced by editing as I go.
Romelia: WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE BLOGS OR WEBSITES FOR WRITERS?
Darian Smith: I don’t spend a lot of time on them, to be honest but there’s something to be learned from all of them, I think. I always say if you learn just one thing (or even are reminded of a thing you already knew but forgot) then any learning opportunity was worth it.
Romelia: AT WHAT TIME OF THE DAY DO YOU DO MOST OF YOUR WRITING?
Darian Smith: Evenings. And often quite late at night. When I’m on a roll, I will quite often get up out of bed to go and write a bit more because the next part has jumped into my brain as I was trying to go to sleep.
Romelia: HOW DO YOU COME UP WITH CHARACTER NAMES FOR YOUR STORIES?
Darian Smith: With difficulty. Since it’s a fantasy world I pretty much just start rolling random syllables around in my head and see if they sound right. I try to have a similar feel for names from the same country and there are a few naming conventions if you’re looking for them but a lot of the time it’s just random until it fits.
Romelia: DO YOU PARTICIPATE IN WRITING CHALLENGES ON SOCIAL MEDIA? DO YOU RECOMMEND ANY?
Darian Smith: They don’t really work for me, unfortunately. I tend to find myself getting depressed and frustrated and the pressure kills my creativity. I know some people who swear by them though. I do have a writer friend who, like me, is a night owl and so sometimes when we are both up late and spot each other on Facebook we will have a writing sprint just to encourage each other along. It’s not a competition as such, just a “Hey I’m gonna get to the end of this scene. You do your goal too. Let’s go!”
Romelia: IF YOU HAD THE POWER TO CURE A DISEASE OF YOUR CHOOSING, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Darian Smith: Myotonic Dystrophy. It’s the most common form of muscular dystrophy and causes muscles to waste away over time and a bunch of other nasty symptoms as well. My wife has it and it is heartbreaking to see how it gradually strips away more and more of what she can do over time. She is one of the most incredible people I know because she carries on with life anyway and rarely lets it get her down. If I could cure that burden for her and all the other people living with this condition, I absolutely would.
Romelia: WHEN YOU’RE WRITING AN EMOTIONAL OR DIFFICULT SCENE, HOW DO YOU SET THE MOOD?
Darian Smith: It’s usually an internal thing. I take a few moments to really sink into the feeling I want. It’s kind of hard to describe the “zone” but there’s nothing quite like it when you’re there.
Romelia: WHOM DO YOU TRUST FOR OBJECTIVE AND CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM OF YOUR WORK?
Darian Smith: My wife is the main one. She’s a writer too so I trust her opinion – even though we write very different styles. After that I have a few friends and other writers who I trust to give me feedback. In then end, though, it’s my story so I have to trust my instincts.
Romelia: WHAT BOOKS DO YOU ENJOY READING?
Darian Smith: Mostly fantasy or urban fantasy – I’m a sucker for stories with magic. I’ve also become more inclined towards easier reads over the denser style. I guess that’s a symptom of the modern busy life. I don’t want my reading to be hard work, I want it to be easy and enjoyable.
Romelia: ARE THERE ANY BOOKS OR AUTHORS THAT INSPIRED YOU TO BECOME A WRITER?
Darian Smith: I don’t think I can point to any one and say that inspired me to write because I was such an avid reader growing up that it is really a compound effect. Certainly the classics like C S Lewis, David Eddings, etc had a part in it.
Romelia: NAME AN UNDERAPPRECIATED NOVEL THAT YOU LOVE.
Darian Smith: You know, the sad thing is there are books that have stuck in my mind but that I’ve forgotten the title and author of. I wish I could find those books again and give them the admiration they deserve for having stuck with me all this time. Failing that, though, I should definitely mention my wife’s book, Home of the Heart. It’s a small town contemporary romance and if you like those, it’s very good. And I’m not just saying that because I know the author!
Romelia: TELL US SOMETHING FUNNY FROM YOUR ADULT LIFE.
Darian Smith: Despite the fact that I can create entire worlds from scratch and populate them with fully realized people having adventures, I still sometimes put my t-shirt on backwards. Also, it takes me far too long to find matching socks.
Romelia: describe yourself in a few sentences. Tell us something we do not know about you and something you hate about the world.
Darian Smith: I’m in introvert who sometimes still manages to be extroverted for chunks of time. I was killed by Spartacus in the TV show of the same name. I hate that in the real world, good doesn’t always win out and bad things happen to people who don’t deserve it and that’s one of the reasons I love fiction so much – because in fiction the good guys win and that gives us the inspiration to carry on even when times are bad. And when we carry on, we find there is good in the real world too.