Joining me today is author, Ulff Lehmann, who has a lot to say about writing, and his epic fantasy ‘Shattered’ books in general. Thank you, Ulff, for taking the time to chat to me. Please sit down, get comfortable and let’s begin.
About Ulff Lehmann
German born but English writing author, Ulff Lehmann, was raised reading almost any and everything, from the classic Greek to Roman to Germanic myths to more appropriate fiction for children his age. Initially devouring books in his native language, he switched to reading English books during a year long stay in the USA as a foreign exchange student.
In the years since, he has lost count of the books he has read, unwilling to dig into the depths of his collection. An avid fantasy reader, he grew dissatisfied with the constant lack of technological evolution in many a fantasy world, and finally, when push came to shove, he began to realize not only his potential as a story teller but also his vision of a mythical yet realistic world in which to settle the tale in he had been developing for 20 years.
What’s the name of the book you’re here to talk about?
Tell us a bit about your book
For two years the mercenary Drangar Ralgon has kept his back to his dark past. Afraid to live, afraid to die, Drangar tries to ignore the abyss that lies behind him. Now, faced with a war he wants nothing to do with, he finally turns around and gazes back.
Inspired by the vigorous style of George R.R. Martin’s A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE, and in the vein of historical fictioneer Bernard Cornwell, SHATTERED DREAMS brings to life a stark, uncompromising tale of a man’s path to redemption.
How important are character names to you in your books? Is there a special meaning to any of the names?
Important only in the way that human names should ring if not downright be Gaelic/Welsh/Breton. Other than a character who I incidentally named after a Gaelic deity, no. They might have meaning to the folks living in my world, but I have no clue about that. I just tell stories from there.
Give us an insight into your main character. What makes them unique?
Drangar is a tortured soul. The only thing he sees about himself is the pain he caused and the pain he is feeling. He has no aspirations to becoming a hero, he doesn’t care about the world or himself, yet he has a strong sense of justice which he cannot escape either. In many ways he is utterly broken.
But those looking at him see someone who is fair, with an impeccable sense of what’s right and wrong, who suffers no deception, other than deceiving himself into thinking he is worthless.
Where do your ideas come from?
I got a nightstand, they jump out of there at night. 🙂
Seriously though, asking that question is, while understandable, rather predictable, and beyond impossible to answer. There is no specific place where ideas come from, bouts of inspiration can come anywhere, anytime. The most annoying of which are: a) in bed mere minutes before actually falling asleep (this is the worst because you have to drag your carcass out of bed to switch on the lights and write whatever it is down because otherwise you will forget it), b) the toilet, uncomfortable for a whole set of other reasons, but also involving paper, c) the shower, terrible, yes, especially if you’re shampooing your hair and inspiration strikes (almost as bad as phone calls, or the mailman ringing)
If anyone wants to take any lesson away from that… ideas come come wherever, the killer ideas come when least expected. So keep a notepad within any reasonable distance, but if you are in bed with your partner, make sure they are understanding that inspiration comes first!
What do you think of book trailers? Do you have a trailer or do you intend to create one for your own book?
I think it’s an interesting concept, but I haven’t really thought about it. Maybe for the third part of the trilogy.
What do you consider to be your best accomplishment?
Finishing that first book.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In the same room, at the same computer? I don’t really know, hopefully people will have fallen in love with my stories the way I have fallen in love with them, this way I can write and live off of it.
Have you always liked to write?
I have always liked telling stories. It didn’t matter how or when, really. Be it some silly play of make-belief with friends, or improvising an audio-drama we recorded on a cassette player (I sure as hell hope these things are lost!!!), I believe I was 15 or 16 when I submitted a very short story to a pulp magazine (once more I hope it’s been lost), when we played D&D and other games, most of the time I was the game master, which had nothing to do with ego on my part and only something to do with the laziness of the others who did not want to read them books. I always enjoyed the creative process, coming up with problems that needed solving.
What writing advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Writing advice? No.
Reading advice, yes. Read, read, read, read. Read outside your comfort zone, if you like to write fantasy, read crime, thriller, horror, even “literary” fiction.
Now why did I hyphenate that literary thing? Good question. It’s simple, in my opinion it’s all fiction, with sub-genres, yes, but the common perception is that fantasy or scifi cannot and will never ever be “literary” because they somehow got the weird idea that only barely intelligible and rarely readable texts are the only for of literature. Anything that has pace, or humor, or strange elements, these snobs consider non-literary. Which is ironic, because our literary foundation rests on the works of such fantasy authors as Homer, Shakespeare and the like. What?! He compared Homer and Shakespeare with fantasy authors?! What the damn hell?! Well, yes, we got witches, magic, ghosts, cyclops (what is the plural of cyclops), giants. What is the Odyssey if not a fantasy story? And Hamlet talks to a f@%king ghost and has visions delivered by the spirit! MacBeth is set upon the road of self-destruction by three witches who in turn invoke Hecate, the Greek goddess of all things witchy… I rest my case.
If you didn’t like writing books, or weren’t any good at it, what would you like to do for a living?
Do you read reviews of your book(s)? Do you respond to them, good or bad? How do you deal with the bad?
I read them. Haven’t gotten a bad review yet, but one of the not so glowing ones, I privately asked the reviewer what made the book so difficult for her.
How do I deal with the bad? I knew from the start I couldn’t please everybody, so I didn’t even try. I write primarily for myself. I need to like the story first and foremost, and given that I know there’ll be people who will dislike the novel, who will in fact put it aside at the end of the first chapter, I can live with that.
Some people don’t like pancakes, will the cook who prepares pancakes worry about them? I think not.
What is your best marketing tip?
Write a good book. People blindly recommending your work might have some effect in the beginning, but if you have a bunch of people who really love your work, they will go out and spread the word with more vigor than “Oh, my friend wrote a book…”
What is your least favourite part of the writing / publishing process?
Is there one subject you would never write about as an author? What is it?
Pelicans, I would never write about Pelicans.
Jokes aside, the one thing I refuse to write about is stuff that marketing types would want me to write about. Around 1999 or so I was singer and lyricist in a band, and my lyrics were always gloomy, bitter, so my co-singer asked me to write some happy lyrics. I packed that song with each and every clichée I could think of, all the happy shit that makes you groan in love songs and whatnot. Think too much sugar and add a pound, that’s what that song was. And I hated every line of it.
Oh, I’d also never write any sort of real world religious nonsense, shoot me first please.
Is there a certain type of scene that’s harder for you to write than others?
There is a difference between love and sex scenes. Love can be romantic, even a fight might be about love.
I’m good at writing emotions, things I can relate to, and I recently learned that I can in fact write love scenes. If I can visualize it and have an emotional entry point, I can write about it.
How long does it usually take you to write the first draft of a book?
The first book, Shattered Dreams, was initially written between 1998 and 1999 or so, but that is not this book. When I began to pursue writing as a way of life, I rewrote the entire novel, and since I had that old manuscript as a sort of map, writing that first draft was quick, 2-3 months I think. But I knew where I was going. The second novel, Shattered Hopes, is currently being edited, but it took me close to a year to finish that first draft, due to summer heat preventing me to write (I hate the heat!!!)
I have been working on the last part of the trilogy for 2-3 years now, not constantly but on and off, since I had not, until recently, figured out how it all should end. So for the next story I will have to prepare a tad better.
What are you working on now?
The final volume of the trilogy, Shattered Bonds.
Can you give us a few tasty morsels from your work-in-progress?
Nothing I wish to show around right now, sorry. The perfectionist in me strikes again.
How has your environment or upbringing impacted your writing?
Of course. The area I grew up in, and where I still live, used to be heavy industry (the Ruhr area of Germany) so lots and lots of workers, who never had time for bullshit. We speak what we think and think what we speak. Maybe I wear my heart more on my sleeve than others, but I couldn’t care less.
As for upbringing, naturally, but certainly not in the way my parents expected. I consider everyone an idiot before I can talk with them, people do not get my automatic respect just because they are “white collar” or less respect because they are “blue collar,” both of which are terrible concepts to begin with. Just because someone is a Doctor of something doesn’t give him the right to demand respect! Hells, I don’t know this person! So I don’t judge a book by its cover.
But there are other things my parents gave me, I am truly grateful for. I traveled to foreign countries from a very young age (not that I could make heads or tails of it back then, yet seeing how people lived in Romania back before the Iron Curtain was lifted, or how very different the folks in Tunisia treated each other compared to how they treated tourists) which helped me be a lot more open to foreigners and the unknown than anyone who has never ventured beyond the narrow world in which they live. Also, visiting museums, learning about ancient civilizations from an early age, some might call it geeky or nerdy, but frankly I don’t give a f@%k about. Those calling one geeky or nerdy are the idiots who never left their country, never read more than the books assigned to them, and who claim they are better because they could kick a ball, or throw it, but who have never made more out of whatever meager talent they had.
Describe what your ideal writing space looks like.
Table in front of a window, desktop computer, monitor, thesauri and dictionaries next to the monitor, window overlooking roofs with very little movement. Kinda like what I have 🙂
Why should a potential reader buy your book(s)?
Wall of text incoming… I copied this from an initial post I had on my facebook page
Shattered Dreams is, of course, merely the first part of a trilogy. Not that that is any sort of surprise, trilogies are the fantasy genre’s bread and butter. There’s a lot of trilogies out there, so why read mine? Because it’s good. (here I am, ruthless self promotion) No, seriously, why read something from a newcomer when you can have the latest tailor-made, target-group perfect YA novels? The next Twilight. Or something.
Is it Twilight good? I f@%king hope not! Don’t get me wrong, I would like to sell ludicrous amounts of books, but that ain’t the primary goal. It never was. I started the story well over 20 years ago, in a shared world environment, and I never got to finish it then. It was in interconnected short story form, but never quite what I wanted. The constraints of that shared world were one factor, and while I do owe my first tender steps in writing to that shared world, it wasn’t the story I wanted to tell. Not really. Then again, I was on a course of self-destruction and basically resented myself. I had the story, or its basics rather, and knew too little to make it work. Sure, there was a first version of the novel, a testosterone fueled piece of fantasy very much inspired by what I was reading then. Magic swords, magic spells, magic shit… was it readable? I don’t think so. Then again, I never read it. There are bits and pieces of that first version still in Shattered Dreams, but all in all it was more a study of what I was: all facade with very little substance, again, it’s how I saw myself.
I even wrote parts of the sequel… then what even the most perceptive of my circle of friends did not see set in: depression. It waxed and waned, like any malady of the mind does, but most of the time I felt like shit. Unemployment didn’t help either, and instead of working on my writing, procrastination was the name of my game. I dived into dungeon mastering, the way any obsessive personality does anything… to excess. I got a new job, and once more suffered verbal abuse to the point of breaking.
Fast forward a few months after becoming unemployed once again, therapy was my way of finding myself, of figuring out who and what I am. In short: I am a writer, a story teller. “Write what you know” is something any writer has heard a few times along their paths. Does it mean us writers need to spend weeks in a wheelchair just to know what that feels like? I don’t think so. You do not need a wheelchair to know helplessness, you do not need to be locked away in prison to know loneliness and despair.
Most stories, the important ones, in my opinion, convey feelings. We feel with the characters, we live with and in a way through them. We see through their eyes. And any such emotions have to be real, for the reader and, more importantly, the writer. That is what we writers must know… the emotions, any emotions. Never been so furious as to wanting to bash someone’s head in? Don’t write about berserkers because chances are you’ll get it wrong.
The good stories are about feelings, about overcoming adversity. Sure, that can mean lobbing a ring into a volcano and killing the big bad. Truth be told, I never finished the book, it bored me to tears. Why? Because, other than Boromir, I did not understand anyone’s point. Frodo knows the ring is bad, still he slips it on. Sure, I get the addiction, but it’s not really shining through. Most people on the outside do not, cannot, get depression, or addiction. So how can someone who has never been traumatized, never suffered from the need to light up the moment shit hits the fan, never been furious enough to bash someone’s head in, write characters who are going through such things convincingly? “Write what you know.” I know about trauma, I have seen red to the point where someone had to get stitches after a fight, I have clawed my way back through the quagmire of despair.
And if you’ve come this far and not turned off the screen and done something else, I have at least that bit of the ability to bind you with my words.
That’s why you should read Shattered Dreams.
What’s the strangest thing you have ever had to research for your book?
Strangest… Roman military formations and maneuvers… in fact I am still researching that.
What’s something you’re really good at that few people know about?
Telling a tale with compelling, believable characters.
What’s an interesting fact about your book?
You either will finish it after reading the first chapter, or you will not. Seriously, it is designed that way, if at the end of ch 1 you decide you like it and you wanna know more, you are in for the ride. If you hate ch 1, you will hate the rest of the book.
Where did your love of books come from?
Books were basically my only true friends when I was a kid.
How long have you been writing?
25 years or more… on and off.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Don’t start smoking, moron!
What would the main character in your book have to say about you?
Research faster, moron!
Of all the characters you have created, which is your favourite and why?
I love ’em all.
Are your characters based on real people, are they imaginary or a combination of both?
They are a combination. Some more then others.
When you’re writing, do you listen to music or do you need silence?
Music, I’ve read books with music since I started listening to music, and now it puts me in the right frame of mind.
Who are your favourite authors, and why?
George RR Martin — his Song of Ice and Fire introduced me to the style I am writing in now, a style I love with all my heart: third person f@%king limited 😀
Bernard Cornwell — writes the best and most realistic battle scenes, every chopped off limb, every sawed off appendage, he shows there is nothing heroic or fun about war
Val McDermid — creator of incredible mysteries that keep you glued to the page
Dan Brown — he might as well have created a metronome for pacing prose
Robert E. Howard — Conan and his economy of language
Tad Williams — Osten Ard and the surprising and refreshing change a jump in perspective can bring
What’s the best thing about being an indie author?
Having no one to tell me to make my work more appealing for the mass market.
What do you find most challenging about writing?
Finishing a story.
How much background did you develop for the world?
I have a bible of some 6 or 7 pages detailing the creation and the first god-war so to speak, then a few notes here and there but the most is in my head.
Available formats: ebook and paperback