Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Ed McDonald Interview - Daughter of Redwinter

Photo Content from Ed McDonald

Ed McDonald’s debut novel BLACKWING began the The Raven’s Mark trilogy, which continues with RAVENCRY and concludes with CROWFALL.

Ed has been writing stories since he was a child, and studied history for his BA and MA degrees. He is a practitioner of Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA), and his love of history has helped to inspire the books that he writes.


What advice would you give to someone who wanted to have a life in writing.
This is quite a big thing to answer, but let’s try. I’m going to try to answer in the style of Mary Schmich’s Wear Sunscreen speech.

Start writing. You need practice. Lots and lots of practice. Whenever you see debuts rocketing out of the gate doing amazingly – they have already done their practice, even if they’re young.

Don’t expect your first draft to be brilliant, it will probably be bad. Don’t expect your second book to be much better. To reach your goals you’re competing on a global stage for the smallest of prizes. But don’t let any thought of the odds put you off; just to exist in the universe you have already defied odds so vast that no human can even conceive of the numbers in a meaningful way. Be bold in your ambitions, but be humble in your dealings with others.

Don’t expect things to happen quickly. You wouldn’t sit down at a piano and expect go out to perform concerts a year later. Writing is not just typing out words, it requires a skillset so broad and so diverse, and so unique to the individual that not even those who can do it know what it is they do. If anyone tells you they have all the answers: they are wrong.

Don’t wait for inspiration to strike. If it finally does, you won’t have the craft skills to realize it your vision. Everyone needs a dose of luck at some point to make a career in writing, so prepare yourself as best you can for when you get one.

Don’t obsess over one idea. Clinging to an idea is like clinging to a past that everyone else has already moved on from. Write about your current experiences, because they’re current to other people too.

Learn to write quickly, routinely, and understand that to be a writer is to do a job like any other. Well, not quite like any other. But even if you enjoy success, there will be days when it feels just like when you were stacking shelves.

Understand the business. There’s a lot of information out there, so be careful who you listen to. Give your ear to the people who work in the publishing industry; they know what they’re talking about. Watch out for the people whose frustration has made them bitter; they’ll tell you to do what they did, which didn’t work for them and probably won’t work for you either. Authors often don’t know what they did right or wrong anyway.

Don’t imagine you’re writing a series. You need to sell a single book to begin with so focus on that. It doesn’t matter to a publisher that you intend to write 7 books in the series, they want to publish 1-3 of your books, and long series lose readers with each instalment (around 1/3 per book), so book 3 has only 4/9 of your original readership, and book 4 would have 8/27ths. Prove you can finish one solid story to yourself, and to an agent. They know how to get a series from there.

Nothing will improve writing more than real-world experiences. Convincing characters with interesting inner lives are not born on a computer screen, they emerge from the sum totality of everything you’ve seen, and done. Go out and do things. Travel, and see far off places, if you can. Do things that scare you, just to try them out. Be active and experience life. And if it all comes to nothing, you’ll still have those memories, and in the end memories are all we really have.

In life it’s only people that really matter; understand that the same is true for writing. If you write fantasy, it really doesn’t matter what your world building is like, what’s in the magic system, or how many languages you created – the characters are everything, because novels are fundamentally about generating imaginary emotional experiences for the reader. Readers will engage with books where they feel, not where they know. Don’t fail to look out of the window because you’re enamored with designing the curtains.

Don’t try to predict trends. If you try to write to market, by the time you write, sell and publish the book, the market will already have moved on. Write what you believe in.

And lastly, fortunes can change on the spin of a dime, and a career in writing is one that needs to stretch a lifetime. There are hundreds of thousands of aspiring authors out there, and to succeed you need to want it as much as they do and maybe more.

Your Favorite Quotes/Scenes from DAUGHTER OF REDWINTER
These are a couple of my favourite scenes!

‘And you, Raine?’ he asked. ‘Is that what you think makes a man attractive?
Not a kind heart, not being supportive, not being thoughtful? It’s running
aimlessly around the grounds and a pretty face.’

And there was the trap, sprung. Braithe would have baited it differently, and
would never have allowed an implication that he wasn’t a perfect man. But the
sentiment was the same. Admit that I’m the best man. Admit that I’m being

‘Ovitus,’ I said, not gently. ‘With all the respect due to a future lord, who
may one day dismiss me from whatever position I hold within your clan, those
are not things that should make someone love another person. Being kind,
supportive and thoughtful are the minimum level of expectation we should
have for anybody.’

And just because I always enjoy a good dramatic confrontation:

I was not beaten. Not by Braithe’s careless anger. Not by Hazia’s knife. And
not by some fecking corpse. A silent scream of hatred rang through my head.
My fists clenched tight. I was no Draoihn; the creature had dismissed me. I
was a little thing before it, a nothing, a nobody. I’d been nobody to Braithe.
Nobody to anybody.
No more.

Writing Behind the Scenes
My writing process is an absolute mess. I don’t think it’s even a process. I basically just start writing what I think to want to write, and learn through trial and error what I’m interested in and what’s not – it’s a very organic way of working, and a chaotic one. The beginning ends up changing a lot – chapters 1-4 will be rewritten from scratch about 4-8 times before I finish the book. I neither know what the resolution of the story will be before I get there, or understand my own major themes until I write them, then once I realise (this happened during the writing of the epilogue of Daughter of Redwinter) I go back and change everything to make it work. Usually I just kind of get in tune with the character somewhere along the way, and realise “Oh, this is what her story is all about!” And then I make everything else I wrote fit into it.

What's on Your Desk? 
I don’t have a desk – I lie flat on the sofa with my laptop on my knees. It’s probably very bad for my back. I have a glass of water and a cup of tea or coffee next to me. Quite often I take my laptop to the pub and write there instead. Since we’re both writers, my partner and I often go on trips away where we just go somewhere picturesque and sit writing there.

  • 1. The main character, Raine, is named after Shaldra Van Rane, a character my sister created when we were writing a book called The Phoenix Ruby. I was about 14, so she’d have been 12. I decided to use the name again to honor our old book!
  • 2. I first wrote this book in 2012-2014, and it was twice as long. It was too long to publish, and never went anywhere (and wasn’t very good) so I rewrote it from the ground up.
  • 3. Raine was originally male, and it didn’t feel right so I gender flipped the character and it got vastly better.
  • 4. The magic of the Chronicles of Redwinter is based on existentialist philosophy.
  • 5. I never know what’s going to happen. The mysteries at the end of the book were as much mysteries to me as they are to the reader until I start unravelling them in book 2.
  • 6. The Queen of Feathers is in part written so that a particular actor friend of mine is perfect for the role if ever we make it to TV.
  • 7. The Draoihn are named as an homage to Draoidh, which means ‘magician’ in Gaelic.
  • 8. Don’t worry, I don’t know how to pronounce Draoihn either. Nobody does, it’s a made up word. However you want to pronounce it is fine!
  • 9. I didn’t know Raine was bi until she met a certain girl.
  • 10. My alpha/beta reader and first editor is my partner, author Catriona Ward. I’m extremely lucky to have her.
Meet the Characters
Raine is 17, and her hair is burned white in the early chapters. She has some scars from a childhood accident when she fell down a cliff. She goes through a lot in this book – she starts out uncertain and deferential, and much of her journey is about claiming control for herself, and accepting how others have mistreated her.

The Queen of Feathers is a ghostly visitor who tends to pop up with unhelpful advice from time to time, while trying to pull Raine’s strings. She varies from kind to spiteful – kind of like the worst fairy godmother you can imagine.

Sanvaunt is our leading man – a young, sleepy-eyed Mr. Darcy: handsome, competent, bound to his duty but also frayed at the edges, addicted to narcotics that let him stay awake all night so he can keep working, exasperated but ever polite.

Oh, and Grandmaster Vedira Robilar is about as powerful as anyone you’ll meet in this world. She appears at times as a broken old woman, her cracked skull burning on the inside and banded together with iron straps, and at others as a beautiful woman in her twenties, refined and elegant but oh, so cold! She’s ambitious, ruthless and terrifying, haunted by lost love. I really enjoy writing about her in particular, she’s a lot of fun.

Ahhh! There are so many! I delete about 50% of everything I write. This was one of the many alternative openings that I wrote for DAUGHTER:

There had always been faces in the clouds, but I was the only one to see them. Not the simple patterns that look a bit like a chin, or a nose, or a man’s head in profile. True faces. Faces that watch us. Faces that know things. I learned not to speak about the faces long before I learned why that had to be. Words about clouds were bad words. Words about clouds made people shiver. Some of the faces had been people. Some of them had been something else. But I seldom saw the same one twice.

There are no faces in the clouds in Daughter of Redwinter; it was a direction I veered away from entirely in the end. And it would have been the start of the book! This was something like version 6 of 10.

Your journey to publication
I never had a moment when I realized I wanted to be a writer; I just always did. I started off writing stories and comic books when I was a kid like everyone does, and then through my teens I just kept going. By the time I went to university I was working on a second novel. Eventually, I wrote book after book, rarely making any motion towards publishing them. Whatever I wrote, I didn’t think it was good enough.

Eventually I started working on Redwinter. I had this ridiculous job where literally nobody (not even me) knew what I was meant to be doing, so I just had all this time to write and nothing else on my mind. It became a 280,000 word behemoth, and one of the first agents I tried told me it was too long to be published. That’s not always true, but it’s crazy to write what is essentially 2-3 books in one go. So I started working on something smaller, something I thought could be 90-100,000 words. That book arrived as BLACKWING, which was… 160,000 words.

I advise people to send out 10 queries at any one time, replacing them in the pool the moment you get a rejection. On my first round, an agent asked me to cut it down to 120,000, so I did – and he then held it for 3 months and… rejected it! The next day I got a call from another agent, who I’d sent a sample to in the post 7 months before. He received the slicker, shorter version, and after that the rest is history.

By the time I published a book I’d written 1.5 million words worth of novels. I was a slow learner, maybe.

I kept it pretty much on the down-low when I got a publishing deal – I didn’t really believe it. I remember one day trying to work out if it could all be an elaborate prank being played on me. I only told everyone about it when I signed the contracts; I don’t trust anything not to fall apart before then.

I’ve always found friends and family to be a lot more indifferent than you’d imagine they might be – I think that it’s too far out of some people’s experience to understand what it’s like to finally achieve this huge goal. They never saw me writing the 1.5 million unread words, right? I don’t expect friends and family to read my books anymore. It upset me that they didn’t at first, but you come to realize that you have to treat it as a job.

My biggest inspiration is my partner, Cat, who is not only my biggest support but who really loves my books and believes in what I do. I’m lucky to have a partner who understands how a writing life works, and I’m thankful for that every day.

Those who see the dead soon join them.

From the author of the critically-acclaimed Blackwing trilogy comes Ed McDonald's Daughter of Redwinter, the first of a brilliant fantasy series about how one choice can change a universe.

Raine can see--and more importantly, speak--to the dead. It's a wretched gift with a death sentence that has her doing many dubious things to save her skin. Seeking refuge with a deluded cult is her latest bad, survival-related decision. But her rare act of kindness--rescuing an injured woman in the snow--is even worse.

Because the woman has escaped from Redwinter, the fortress-monastery of the Draoihn, warrior magicians who answer to no king and who will stop at nothing to retrieve what she's stolen. A battle, a betrayal, and a horrific revelation forces Raine to enter Redwinter. It becomes clear that her ability might save an entire nation.

Pity she might have to die for that to happen...

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