02 September, 2015

#Interview with Eirik M. Dahll-Larssøn, #Author of In The Seraphim City

About the Author:

Eirik M. Dahll-Larssøn has spent most of his life in fiction, and before long decided hey, why not try his hand at it. He’s written two previous novels, neither of which anyone read, because he threw them off a cliff as soon as they were finished. He’s currently living in Bergen, Norway, with his girlfriend and their imaginary dog, Waffle.

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Interview with the Author:

When did you first realize that you wanted to be a writer/ a storyteller?
I was fairly young – around nine or so, I think. I’d always liked drawing comic books and writing, making (very basic) video games or recording mock radio shows. Basically doing anything at all that let me tell stories. I didn’t seriously consider it, though, until I started my first novel (which I never finished because it was terrible). Then, once I started thinking about it, it just clicked. It was what I wanted. I’ve written on a consistent basis ever since. 

How did you come up with the idea for your current story?
For In the Seraphim City, I read the word ‘Hive’ at one point, in some context I no longer remember, and for whatever reason it stuck with me. From there came the idea of a city built upward, in so many layers and over so much time that most of it had fallen to pieces – that it stretched on downwards, with these horribly decayed buildings sitting beneath a glossy surface. And then that much further below there was a literal ‘Hive’ of people, who couldn’t or weren’t allowed to live on the surface for some reason or other. So the story grew from that set-up.

Are there some stories tucked away in some drawer that was written before and never saw the light of the day?
Definitely. I’ve written two previous full-length novels (400 and 600 pages respectively), as well as probably hundreds of short stories. I didn’t consider any of that good enough to publish (and I still don’t). But maybe I’ll go back to that well eventually, if I ever run out of new ideas. 

Tell us about your writing process.
Characters first, and no caricatures (unless that’s the point). Everyone’s got sides to them, everyone’s got subtleties, different wants and needs, and different things about that make them who they are. Until I understand the person I’m writing about, I can’t put anything else down. Once I do find that character’s voice and personality, the rest is just finding situations where those things are challenged, which comes pretty easy most of the time. So my process is essentially just trying to understand someone fully, and once I do, I throw them in the fire. 

What is your favorite scene in the book? Why?
Well, In the Seraphim City is, at its core, about the dichotomy of truth and lies. I don’t want to go into details (spoilers and all that), but there’s a scene fairly late in the book, a conversation between two characters, that perfectly crystalizes exactly what that means. Essentially, it’s everything the book is about, summed up in a couple of paragraphs, but without breaking the flow of the story at all. Which is why I like it so much. 

Did any of your characters inherit some of your own quirks?
Theo, definitely. He’s kind of a smartass. Very sarcastic. Which is… well, something I’ve been accused of being, once or twice.  

Do you read? Who are your favorite authors and how have they influenced your writing style?
I read quite a lot. I love books. After my girlfriend moved in with me, we’ve had to ban buying any more physical copies, because we can’t fit them all anymore. The shelves are overflowing and there’s piles of them everywhere… So we’ve gone over to using Audible and Kindle a lot more. 
I’d say my favorite authors are probably Jeff VanderMeer and David Wong. Jeff VanderMeer is probably the most influential on my writing style – the way he uses language (especially in City of Saints and Madmen) is just incredible. He really takes his time, setting the stage and telling the story, and using a lot of beautiful language doing it. A sentence that can stand on its own as aesthetically pleasing is a thing to behold – and there’s tons of them in all of VanderMeer’s work. 
David Wong, I like more as an essayist, rather than an author of fiction. I love his fiction as well, but it’s his articles I can really get behind. He’s got a fascinating sort of simultaneously positive and cynical outlook on the world, which perfectly encapsulates most what I’d quite like my own to be. Even if I fail at that sometimes.  

What is the best piece of advice you have received, as a writer, till date?
Someone told me once (I can no longer remember who) that it is important to understand what about your story is essential, what is hurtful, and what is arbitrary – and learning how to fold the latter two into the first. 
What is essential would be the things that need to be in there to make this the story you want to tell. 
What is hurtful would be the things that might undermine that story. If you want to tell a straightforward story about a hero (super or otherwise), maybe not show them demolishing city blocks with wild abandon while chasing the bad guy. Or firing wildly into the air, civilians be damned. 
What is arbitrary, is the stuff you can change without changing the story. Does it matter if you main character is a woman or a man? Does it matter if they’re black or white? If you’re telling the story about a mother, she needs to be a woman. If you’re telling the story of someone who just happens to have a kid, then the gender of this person is arbitrary. 
Changing things that are hurtful is simple enough (if not always easy) – you just try to make all your dominoes fall the same way. Anti-Heroes can kill people. Heroes probably shouldn’t. But it’s the arbitrary stuff that’s interesting, because this is where you get to ask yourself: ‘How can I change this arbitrary thing into something that will be essential to, and thus strengthen, my story?’ Could your character benefit from being gay? From being a woman? If so, then why aren’t they? And then, once you ask those questions, you can begin to make changes that might turn your book from good to great. Or from bad to worse. There’s really no recipe for this, and there’s no guarantee any changes you make are really for the better. But it’s still good to consider this stuff. 

What is the best piece of advice you would give to someone that wants to get into writing?
You have to write. If you want to be a writer, just write. Anything you come up with, put it on a page. It won’t always be good, but that doesn’t matter. You won’t get better without practice. It’s persistence, really, I’ve found, that makes books happen. You can’t just write when inspiration strikes you – sometimes, you just have to force it. It’s not always gold, what you’ll come up with, but at least bad words can be edited into something better. You can’t edit an empty page. 
Also this: Please know that any work you do and any skill you develop, regardless of genre or appeal, has value. Are you fantastic at writing gay badger-on-badger porn? Great! Go do it until your fingers bleed! There’s no shame in it, if you’re good at it. People will tell you there is, but they’re wrong. The internet exists now – there’s a niche for everything, so no matter how absurd or obscure, you’ll find an audience for it. 

You just have to keep at it. 

What would be the Dream Cast for you book if it was to be turned into a movie?
They all need to be played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. All of them. 

How do you spend your free time? Do you have a favorite place to go and unwind?
I find video games very relaxing. Doesn’t matter what kind, as long as I can play it alone. Sometimes, I’ll turn the sound off and put the most brainless thing I can think of on my laptop, and then just… let the hours slip away.  It’s great for when I’ve been at something for fifteen hours straight, and my head feels like a damp sock someone left on the freeway. 

Tell us three fun facts about yourself.
- Transformers-movies give me migraines. Every time, without fail. 
- I’m currently doing a Master’s Degree in literature. 
- Though I’m actually Norwegian, I’ve never liked writing in Norwegian. 

What do you have in store next for your readers?
A trilogy of fantasy novels. It’s about a world in which criminals of particularly high standing, instead of being thrown in jail or executed, are exiled to a different country through an old tradition called the Exile March. The Exile March itself can be anything from thousands of people to just a few hundred. It mostly consists of people hoping to find a better life in a different place, and that hope to rise in the world through helping the March reach its destination. The first book follows one such March. I’m hoping the first book will be done by next summer, but we’ll see. It’s a lot of work, and I’ve got my Master’s paper to think about. 

About the Book:
For centuries, the city grew. Aided by the Alchemists, it grew past any boundary, until its lower levels could no longer sustain life. It grew until its foundation fell, its core became decrepit, and it grew until it reached the sky. Only the Alchemists remain, shunned and hated, in the bowels of this monstrosity; in the rotted centre of the city called the Hive. Up above live the rest. On the Surface, and on the grand island floating in the sky, the Plateau. Few still fight for the rights of those forgotten - for the Alchemists who helped the city climb so high. They are left to rot at the city's feet. None seem to care, or even remember that they are still there, waiting to be let free. To smell the open air, and to see the sky again. None but Ian Allant. A man whose life was spent attempting to bridge the gap between the people above and those left below - and to bring light to the darkest corners of the city. Theodore Donovan is tasked with finding the people responsible for his death. He descends into the endless night below, and finds that there is more to the truth than he bargained for - and that Ian Allant's murder is perhaps better left unsolved.

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