In a previous interview, you wrote that you have always enjoyed stories where an adventurer discovers something amazing, such as an ancient mystery with implications for present-day people in the story-world. What makes stories like these so good, and where can these kinds of stories go wrong?
The world is an amazing place. We continue to find new and strange things in caves, on mountaintops or miles below the ocean. But in addition to those new discoveries, we also find things we thought had long left us. Not just minuscule bugs in a rainforest, or sprogs in tidal pools, but giants (don’t believe me? Google the Lazarus Taxon).
There are places we haven’t been to yet; still lakes under ice, deep inaccessible or undiscovered caves, and thousands of miles of unexplored ocean trenches. If we can find a 100 million year old tree, or giant lobster insect, or dinosaur fish, there will be more, perhaps waiting… for us.
What can go wrong? Well, there are a lot of stories out there, and you need to hook your readers with either some unique element, or tell the story in a way that changes the previous known narrative. Also, make the legend implications plausible, and remember, most myths and legends start with a kernel of truth – your job is to bring that kernel to life!
You have written, “Most of my novels grow from an underlying myth or legend, and then I bring that myth to life in today’s world.” What is the underlying myth in Black Mountain and how did you approach bringing it to life in today’s world?
The legend of a large creature living in the wilds of North America exists as strongly today as it ever did. It’s been around long before white men came to the country, and was not only described in Native American stories, but in dozens of cultures around the world. Today, there are still multi-million dollar funded searches going on in Canada and the Northern States.
It can be easy to write off the sightings as a hoax or drunken hikers seeing campfire spooks in the night. But did you know that a creature actually existed like those described? Called Gigantopithecus, it stood nearly 3 metres tall (9 feet) and lived in China. It was believed that it could have crossed into North America via the ancient Bering Strait land bridge that existed 35,000 years ago. Fossil records show they were smart, social, and secretive – the only thing they probably feared more than each other… was us.
In Black Mountain, the story starts innocently with pets and livestock disappearing on and around the Southern Appalachians. Then people begin to go missing. Finally, a victim is found wandering on the mountainside covered in blood – on analysis, blood found to be, “not quite human”.
Ancient warnings written in stones thousands of years old are deciphered, and an old Native American, the only man left alive who knows the terrible secret, is brought in to help. An ancient enemy of mankind has awoken, and only Thomas Red Cloud knows the truth of its origins, and what it will mean to the people of the local town of Asheville.
As the death count rises, the mutilations become more terrible and the killings move closer to the residents, there is only one man who can find out the truth and save them. One man who has literally, risen from the dead himself.
All your novels are adventure stories containing a scientific element. How important is the scientific element versus the mythical element of your novels, and how would you describe your approach to combining scientific and mythical elements in the same adventure story?
Science is the new magic. We have technology now that pulls back the veil on myths and legends – sometimes debunking them, other times revealing insights that were once hidden to us. As an example, fifty-year old cold cases are reopened and new techniques used to find and convict killers.
In a few decades, we’ve gone from ham radio and paper-trails, to DNA matching, thermal, ultraviolet and night-vision tracking, supercomputer analysis of data, an ability to touch the bottom of the deepest ocean trenches, or look down on the highest peaks from space – in other words, real science is so fantastic, the trick is not making it sound like fiction!
In my stories, I try to balance the real science, with the wonder of the myth. Don’t try and overcook the techno-jargon, and don’t let the myth run away to become a fairy-tale.
This year, you also branched out into Young Adult novels with the first book in the Valkeryn Chronicles (discussed here). What was a major difference you encountered writing for teen readers rather than adult readers, or was it pretty much the same?
Actually, there is very little difference. There was the same excitement, tension, and terror as in all my works. But if I could put my finger on anything, it was the removal of hard language, and scenes that were particularly visceral. Other than that, as before, I just let the story flow where it wants.
You have written that you write early in the morning and write best in your favourite writing place. What advice on establishing writing habits and a good writing environment do you have for writers about to begin their first novel manuscript?
Patience, persistence, performance – there is no such things as writer’s block. Sure some days the creativity is harder to squeeze out than others, but you just write through it. Put anything down on the page, tidying it up later is what the next draft is for!
I also have several stories ongoing at once, so if one is slowing, I just leave it and work on my other one. Suddenly, ideas pop into my head, and back I go to the original! Oh, and be warned – research can be addictive!
Do you prefer to have two novels in progress at the same time or to focus on one and finish it before starting another one, and why?
In the early stages of a story, I’ll have two on the go. However, this will narrow down, when I’m finishing off a story, and need full focus. It usually means you have three projects in motion at any one time – Story-A, Story-B, and the editing work in from your publisher from a previously submitted manuscript. It’s why writing happens seven days a week!
What is one of your favourite novels you have read in the past year, and what made it stand out for you as a reader?
I’ve been lucky enough to read some great books over the past year. Some writers do great elements well – great action (Chimera Vector), great futuristic dystopia (The Last City), or creature feature (Fragment). But the one I enjoyed recently was a really old one called Alien (yes, that one). This science fiction horror, had some of the best sensations of tension, claustrophobia, good characters, and just damned great horror. It’s no wonder it made such a great movie.
Can you share anything about the fifth novel in your Alex Hunter series for adult readers or the second book in the Valkeryn Chronicles for teen readers?
I have three books that are currently in motion right now – the new Alex Hunter, the second Valkeryn (The Dark Lands), and a story that grew out of a few scribblings that refused to let me go.
This last once is called The First Bird, and will be delivered to my publisher in the next few weeks. It will be both the same and different to my usual works – it will still contain my mix of action/terror/thriller scenes, but will feature Matt Kearns (a character from some of my previous stories), in an Indiana Jones type adventure.
It will also be serialized in either 3 or 4 parts, each between 25,000 to 35,000 words. Each part will be linked, but also contain a stand-alone portion of the entire story.
As an overview, the premise of the story is of a fantastic discovery being made – a unique species not seen since the dawn of time. A specimen smuggled out of the deep heart of the Gran Chaco Boreal of the Amazon. It will be the wonder of the modern times. But the creature brings with it something else not seen by modern man, something that might have been responsible for the demise of the dinosaurs.
The infestation begins, and the race is on to travel back to the hidden place where the specimen was found, to find out how it was able to survive. When the team arrives, they find the hidden place to be a world where mankind is out of time, and where there are monstrous dangers.
While the team is gone, their home is changing, and the race is on to return with a solution or a cure, before the modern world suffers the same fate as the dinosaurs.
Greig Beck author site: www.greigbeck.com