What was your highlight from AussieCon 4 and why?
Probably getting to meet so many great writers and illustrators. In particular, I loved the panels with Shaun Tan. I’m a huge fan, and I think his work is amazing.
Many people have heard of Joseph Campbell’s work on hero mythology via Christopher Vogler’s book The Writer’s Journey or some form of ‘Hero’s Journey’plot template based on Vogler’s book. What do you consider to be some of the most important differences between Joseph Campbell’s work and what people are often familiar with as ‘the Hero’s Journey’?
Hmmm… I’m not sure what most people are familiar with, but if I had to hazard a guess I’d say the character of the hero. Most people think heroes are kind, or brave, or just plain decent. Campbell’s Hero’s Journey isn’t about what a character is like, but rather what a character does. Achilles, for example, wasn’t a very nice person. He was a strong hero, but he was also very proud. You don’t have to be a nice guy or girl to play the hero.
You have written and studied a PhD in fantasy fiction focusing on heroes. What makes this kind of fiction so appealing for you?
Oh, so many things! Adventure, drama, romance, imagination – it has it all! I think what I like most about it (today, anyway – you might get a different answer tomorrow) is that you can do so much with it. The only limits are your own imagination and the credulousness of the audience. Despite what some people might think, fantasy should be believable, but that’s a whole other question…
Could you give us an overview of the process you went through writing one of your novels?
How long do you have? *phew* okay, very briefly, I usually start with a conceit (in the case of Quillblade it was airships, Wastelands, and Demons). The next thing is character. I sort of try and imagine what I would do if I was in this world, and it sort of spirals out from there. You know, what if I was an airship pilot? What if I was a Demon hunter? What if I was a slave onboard an airship? Then I try to focus on how I want that character to develop (keep in mind there’s a whole lot of world building going on in the background – the physics of airship travel, the Bestia, the gods, etc. etc.). Usually I’ll draw some maps around this point. I like locating fantasy in a concrete world. Plot comes last for me, really. Once I know who my characters are and what they are going to become, I can then look at how they’re going to get there. My original plot outlines are sketchy. I like to draft. A lot. Quillblade went through something like eight rewrites where the plot wasn’t quite working, and each draft was edited three or four or five times, so in the end I think I wrote a total of twenty-nine or thirty drafts. You can’t underestimate the importance of drafting. That’s a very brief and sort of accurate representation of how I work. Keep in mind I sometimes do things all at once (drafting, defining character and inventing gods all at the same time). That’s the benefit of drafting. Oh, and I do HEAPS of research, but that’s another story…
Who is one of your favourite hero characters and why?
Apart from my own? Hmmm… I love them all, really. I particularly love outlandish heroes. There’s an old cantankerous and slightly perverted demonic puppet-wielder in a video game called Shadow Hearts. He’s cool because nothing about him screams ‘hero’. I like that. Skullduggery Pleasant is also kinda awesome – a wise-cracking, Irish, skeleton detective who wields magic? What more do you want? I also have a great deal of respect for more traditional heroes. King Arthur. Achilles and Odysseus. I don’t know, I can’t choose just one! One of the reasons I study heroism is because I find them all so fascinating. I’ll always have a soft spot for Garion from Eddings’ work. The quintessential farm boy-turned-king. I’ll stop now, because believe me, I could go on for hours!
What is one of your favourite types of support characters (that is, characters who are not the main character) and makes them work so well for you?
Support characters are an oft-times overlooked essential in heroic fiction. The mentor characters are usually awesome (though everyone talks about them). The crazy puppet guy mentioned above is technically a support character. A good support character needs to be interesting. They should have as much depth as the ‘main’ hero / heroes. You should always want to know more about them. Any glimpses you get into their past, for example, should make you want to read a book about them. I really like the Gimli / Legolas duo in LOTR. It’s like they’re a part of LOTR but they’re also a part of a whole other novel that you only get glimpses of. I like that.
What is the most important piece of advice you would like to give for new fiction writers?
Write. Seriously. Just write. Oh, and read. A lot. Sorry, that’s two pieces of advice. Consider it a bonus – they’re both equally important.
What is next for your fiction writing?
Well, Beast Child: Book Two of the Voyages of the Flying Dragon is on my publisher’s desk, so I guess I should say getting that ready for publication next September. I’m also working on an urban fantasy set in Adelaide. I’m really excited about it, but I’m not giving anything away just yet!
More on Ben Chandler and his fiction can be found at www.benchandler.com.au.
The Australian Literature Review