Author Interview: David Rae

Today’s Author Interview is going to go a bit differently. Rather than regale you with witticisms and turns of phrase in a fanciful intro, I’m going to let my guest speak for himself.

There are some people when you meet them that have a quiet sense of worldliness that transcends language. Even though our ‘meeting’ was over a few paragraphs across miles, I got that same sense of composure when I ‘sat down’ with David Rae to talk about his dark fantasy novel, Crowman (which I reviewed last week), along with his upcoming works.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I started writing when I was a child and had a few stories and poems printed in my school magazine. After I left school I really didn’t know what to do with my writing, but still wrote anyway. Before I wrote Crowman, I wrote a Spy thriller, a Science Fiction novel, and a Children’s novel. I’m a bit scared to go back and read them. Then I started to write short stories and I had some success placing them in anthologies and magazines. That led to me writing Crowman and then I managed to find a small publisher that was willing to work with me and bring it out as a novel. I’m hoping we can collaborate further and bring out more of my novels. It’s been a long journey, but I think I still have a long way to go. 

What is your favorite novel, and has it inspired how you write? How?

Just one! I’m going to cheat and use two. I love Gene Wolfe. He’s my favourite Science fiction writer and when I read Shadow of The Torturer for the first time it blew me away. I loved the archaic feel to the world he created and the sense of mystery that seeped out of every line. I love how he made the everyday magical and the magical every day. I loved the beauty of his writing and depth of his characters. I loved the deliberate inconsistencies that made you question every word he wrote. I love how he made reality like shifting sand, and showed that in the end, we make our own reality. 

Another book that challenges your perception of reality is Confessions of a Justified Sinner. This is a story in two parts; the journal of a murderer and the narrative of someone who finds his manuscript. It subverts ideas of right and wrong, good and bad. It challenges the notion of freewill and of the supernatural. God, the Devil, and demons all are dismissed as superstitious nonsense by the narrator, but you can’t help believing in ghosts in the chilling dark when you are all alone. And even if that ghastly apparition is only a figment of your imagination, it does not make it any less terrifying. This is a morality tale, and the moral is, always consider your actions because you are not always in the right even if you think you are.

Tell us about your novel, Crowman.

In North American and Western Pacific myths, the sun used to be kept in a box and was then set free by the crow. I tried to imagine a world of perpetual darkness, and what that would be like, and about how it could be changed and the sun set free.

The story is about darkness. It is set in a world ruled by a dark spirit that keeps the sun captive. It is about how such a world would work and what it would be like. Utas has a daughter that shines like the sun. The Dark spirit wants her destroyed. Utas tries to escape and save her. On his journey he is aided by many people, a dark swordsman, a kindly soldier, a bandit boy. But in the end his attempt to escape is futile and he must face both the dark spirit and the darkness within him. It’s been compared by one reviewer to THE SLEEPING GIANT and HERE LIES ARTHUR was also an inspiration for the writing style. I have tried to layer it with meaning and it could be read as an anti-capitalist fable, or a parable about faith, forgiveness, and redemption. But most of all, I hope it is an exciting and entertaining read. 

What inspired your book, Crowman?

I think I wanted to write a manga book, and certainly there are loads of manga and anime references in Crowman if you can recognise them. Crowman is both a reference to the Crow of North American and Western Pacific legend, a sort of trickster god, and to Tengu, Japanese crow spirits. But what really inspired the book was a story that I felt I had to tell and an adventure that I wanted to share. Ultimately the writer may wish to inspire or change readers, but in the end it is the writer’s job to entertain, and that is the measure of our success.

What are some key takeaways you’re hoping readers get from your books?

I hope first and foremost that readers come away feeling entertained and enthralled. While there are themes in Crowman about darkness and light and it tries to subvert some of the stereo-typical thinking about these things, I don’t want any message to be at the expense of the story. I hope readers are entertaining and find the book thought provoking.

Crowman has some big themes; light and dark, good and evil, redemption, love, hate, men and women. And I hope they make readers re-evaluate some of the certainties that we have about these themes. I’m not saying our preconceptions are wrong, just that we should examine them and make sure we are happy with them and where they lead us. But most of all I want the readers to come to know the characters. There are some great characters in the book, Utas, Eroi, Mukito.  If the readers come to enjoy them just as much as I enjoyed writing about them then I’m happy.

My other stories are not at all dark and believe it or not The Lepidopterist’s Beautiful Daughter has lots of humour in it, as does my collection of short stories Midnight in the Garden of Naughty and Nice. My short stories mostly fall into the category of quirky. You could think of them as magical realism. Most of my stories have an element of truth in them somewhere. 

Do you find that there were any events in your life that have contributed to how you approach your writing, and how you handle your themes?

Yes, of course. I’m not sure I want to dwell on any single event nor can I think of any pivotal moment in my life. But everything that I’ve done feeds into my writing and what I want to write about. Sometimes it is only when I reread the story that I think to myself; so, that’s what that’s about. There are always two sides to everything. Sometimes more than two sides. And I don’t think you can tell a story fully without showing different perspectives.

What is different about your novels?

I try to make myth and mystery central to my stories, but I try to ground them in reality. I try to make these myths relevant to today. I don’t mean retelling them in modern settings. I mean I try to find the myths that we have made for ourselves to help us deal with modern life and explore them. There is an element of me in all of my books, where I try to explore something that  

What are your plans for future novels?

I have a follow up to Crowman called Crowtower which I hope will be coming out next year, and a third book Crowbait is in the works.. But I’ve also recently finished a cyber-steam novel called The Lepidoperist’s Beautiful Daughter, and I really hope that I can share that soon. Wheels within wheels and all that. But I’m optimistic that they will be out as soon as possible. I’m also working on a series of three crime novels the first of which is called Brittle White Bones.

What inspires you to write?

Good question, I’m not entirely sure. Certainly not fame or fortune. There just comes a point when a story has to be told. For years, I wrote little bits and snippets 

What do you enjoy about publishing, and what do you struggle with?

I love writing. I really do. There is nothing better than when the words flow. It really is like being possessed by some divine goddess that takes your hand and writes for you. And then when someone reads it, and likes it or better still loves it, that’s great. But any comment or feedback is wonderful. It’s like somehow our minds have met. And I have made so many great friends on this trip into publishing and writing. I have had so much support and encouragement from the writing community.

I hate it when the words don’t flow, but usually I find this is because there is something I have to write and don’t want to. For example, I was writing this story and was going great until I had to write a scene where a disabled boy is attacked and beaten up. I really had to work that through in my head before I could put it down on paper. It was distressing to write, and it needed to sit and work in my head. Is that writers block, or is it just that sometimes the thought process is more complicated than at others.  

I’m also not great with the business side. I do all the social media stuff and shameless self-promotion, but it just takes so much time, and I’m not really good at it. And you can’t really measure if what you are doing is having an effect. Contracts, promotion, marketing, it seems like I have so much that I need to be an expert on. 

What has been your greatest struggle in the writing process, and how would you inspire other writers to overcome it?

Fear. I think it is what stops all of us. Fear that our work will be poor or fear that we’ll be rejected, or fear that it won’t sell, or fear of bad reviews. Fear is never a good motivation for anything. Be brave, be fearless. But also don’t take yourself too seriously. I’m not saying you will never write anything bad, or that you will never be rejected, or that bad reviews are always wrong, or that your book will sell. I’m saying; so what do it anyway. One of my non-literary heroes is David Bowie, and much as I love Diamond Dogs, Hunky Dory and Low, he also did “the laughing Gnome,”  “ the little match girl,” and Tin Machine. They say it’s a fine line between genius and madness, but it’s also a fine line between genius, and the banal, the ridiculous and the pompous. It does not matter. Keep going and keep doing what only you can do. 

That’s an interesting concept: “there’s a fine line between the genius and the banal, ridiculous and pompous.” Most people would define the dichotomy as ‘greatness’ vs ‘failure’, but do you see it differently?

I think I might. Greatness is overrated. I just mean that for example the self-restraint shown by the likes of Hemmingway, or Steinbeck or Fitzgerald in their writing borders on the banal. The florid lines of Melville, or Wolfe edge close to the pompous and ridiculous. And that we should not be afraid to skirt close to these. We need to be brave in our writing even if that means we run the risk of being pompous or banal. Believe in your own voice and in your own style.

How can we purchase your books?

All of my books are on Amazon and you can find them on my Amazon page. You can also follow my blog where I put loads of free stuff for you to read or follow me on facebook

Book Review: Crowman

Touch the light. Hold the light. The light burns. The light runs away. Hold the light. Lock the light away.

Crowman by David Rae is an ethereal dark fantasy with a striking cast of flawed characters, immaculate world-building, and a swirling miasma of a plot that left me guessing until the very last word.

The story opens around Utas, a silk merchant on the road to a nearby town. Along the rainy road, he picks up the mysterious traveler, Erroi, tall and thin and of few words. After a bandit tries to hold him up for his wares, we begin to learn there is mystery surrounding both the traveler, and Utas’ cargo.

Utas is fleeing the City of the Sun, where the darkness, Vatu, keeps the Sun in a box and opens it but once a year. Vatu wants Utas’ daughter, why we do not know, but Utas’ will do anything in his power to keep her safe. But Utas’ daughter, Alaba, is weakening in the darkness.

As Utas continues his travels, others are pulled into the gravity of his situation, until we are left with a varied cast of characters that are struggling to survive in a world where survival means that no one’s soul is left unscathed. 

The Good:

Though the cast of Crowman seems ever-expanding, There are no ‘throwaway’ characters. Everyone serves multiple purposes to bring the story forward. 

Mukito became one of my favorites, as we see a transformation in him from beginning to end more than any other character, but each of the main characters had their own time to shine.

The world-building is first rate, Rae crafting a world where the Sun shines only one day of the year down to how the economic system would be affected for different classes and ranges from the epicenter. You can tell there was no stone left unturned as far as research went. It definitely shows that Rae is passionate about this world he’s created, and it’s so easy to get immersed into it.

Should You Read It?:

This story is dark. There is nothing included that seems gratuitous, but there are no holds barred either. So make sure you check the trigger warnings below before you read if you’re concerned.

Some of the truths discussed especially by Erroi and Utas can be like nails to swallow, but it makes the reader think. It’s what I love about Erroi as a character, he’s a mischievous, seemingly erratic character who has a plan that the reader can only guess at, but his truths hit home. That said, I would suggest readers make sure they’re in a good mental place to be pondering such things before tackling such a raw, emotional book.

There are areas of the story that are dream-like and experimental. Along some parts of the journey, the threads never quite weave together tight enough to be certain what is real and what is a fantastical reimagining of events. While I loved the uncertainty personally, if you’re looking for a concrete, straightforward book, this won’t be your cup of tea.

Spark Level: 

I rated Crowman by David Rae as Torchlight, lighting our way as we plumb the depths of what we will become, do, or return to, in order to protect the things we cherish.

The Trigger Warnings: Mentions or Rape, Attempted Rape, Torture