Michael J Ward is the author of the smash-hit DestinyQuest books. I bribed him to give us this exclusive interview. It’s full of insight and secrets on how to become an international fantasy author – or your money back. Enjoy!
Michael, your DestinyQuest books are pretty hefty. How much does size matter in fantasy, do you think?
Yes, the books are certainly epic tomes. Hmm, I don’t think size really matters at all (as I’ve been told soothingly on many an occasion, ahem); a good story is a good story, and whether it can be told in a few hundred pages or a thousand, it is still going to come down to those critical elements – characters, plot and setting. For me as a reader, I never really consider size when I’m purchasing a book. Although, the last George R.R. Martin in hardback almost broke my wrists from holding it!
With DestinyQuest, I never set out with the goal to create the ‘biggest’ gamebooks in the world (which they have often been labelled). In fact, particularly with the first book, I was deeply concerned that it’s size might put a lot of people off. The way the books are structured makes them difficult to keep short, as each “act” has to have a certain amount of quests and each of those need to branch into options, to give the reader an interactive experience. Once you start mapping all that out (and writing the entries) it is very easy to burn through pages and suddenly be faced with a monster of a book. It means I have to be a tough editor – so often, entire sections might end up on the cutting room floor as they would just take up too much space.
With hindsight, I wonder if splitting the books up might have made more sense (would certainly have raked in more cash!) but that could have been potentially confusing for readers. Who knows.
Of all your books, do you have a favourite… or do you love all your children equally?
I do have a favourite and its Book Three – The Eye of Winter’s Fury, which is due to be published in April next year. Cynics might say ‘yeah, what a surprise – chance to plug the new book, eh?’. Well, I’m never one to shy away from a good bit of plugging, but in truth it really is my favourite of the three.
In Book Three I moved away from a generic hero character (the “You”) to actually have the reader play a specific named character – in this case, a weak and sickly prince who has been pushed out into the big wide world and has absolutely no clue what he is doing or the potential danger he is in. Having you play an actual character gives me so many more narrative options. It makes the story-telling richer and, I hope, will give you a better sense of a journey – as this character will change a lot over the course of the adventure, and you will have a part to play in making some of those key decisions based on how you view his character and his morality.
The tone of Book Three is a lot darker than earlier offerings. It feels a little more adult. When I was writing it, I was going through a very emotional and difficult time of my life, and I think a lot of what I was feeling helped to craft the character and setting of Book Three. I personally think it is my best writing to date – but I guess the readers will be the (harsh) judges of that!
Readers always ask authors where they get their ideas or inspiration. Do you have a muse? What’s your secret?
I tend to find that if I force an idea, it never comes. If I sit down at my computer and stare at a blank page, willing the words to come they rarely do. It’s hard to say where ideas come from – I could be reading a book, playing a game, watching a movie and see or hear something and that could immediately place an often unrelated thought into my head. Often, I can be lying awake (usually 3am) and suddenly it will be like a flood gate has opened. I’ll be having dialogue and all kinds of things flitting through my head – so I have to grab the nearest pen and paper and get scribbling. It’ usually nonsense when I read it the next morning, but occasionally a few good ideas will stick.
For Book Three, my muse has to be my ex-partner and good friend, Mary. She has Multiple Sclerosis, which is a terrible neurological disease that can affect the body in many ways – mobility, sight, muscle control etc. I’m still her primary carer and do all I can for her – watching her daily battle against the disease breaks my heart, but also humbles me when I see her strength. She is my hero in many respects, and I think, she is truly the emotional heart of Book Three.
Who’s your favourite fantasy author now deceased? Why them?
I suppose most people are going to choose Tolkien here, and I’m sadly no different. The Hobbit is just one of those magical books that hooks you from the first line and doesn’t let go. I can still read it now and have that same experience I had when I first picked it up. And, of course, it led me to The Lord of the Rings. Nuff said.
Who’s your favourite living fantasy author and why (apart from Michael J Ward or A J Dalton)?
It’s hard to say because my tastes change. As a teenager it would have been Michael Moorcock without a shadow of a doubt – nowadays I read so many that it is hard to pick out an overall favourite. Peter V. Brett and Brent Weeks are certainly firm favourites. George R.R. Martin (of course!), Neil Gamon, Mark Lawrence are also up there. And, of course, your good self!
What’s the best thing about being an author?
Being able to take the crazy characters and worlds that exist in your head and share them with other people.
And the worst?
Living on minimum wage!
What are you currently working on that you can tell us about without then having to kill us?
Actually, since finishing Book Three I have taken a break from fiction writing. My freelance work is also writing-based (I create educational resources for schools) so I’ve been fairly focused on that, which hasn’t left me much creative space to work on any more books.
I do have an idea currently gestating for a new book – not a gamebook, but a “proper” novel. I keep scribbling notes every now and then, but not had a chance to really throw myself into it. Hopefully next year. I guess it all depends on the success of DQ and Book Three. If it sells well then perhaps I’ll be writing a Book Four instead!
If people want to find out more about you, what sites do you maintain and what’s your handle on Twitter?
I have the official DestinyQuest website (http://www.destiny-quest.com/), where people can find out more about the DQ book series and how the game works.
As for social media, I have begrudgingly yielded to the modern age with a linking Facebook page….
(https://www.facebook.com/pages/DestinyQuest/147503898614009?ref=mf) and Twitter account @destiny_quest (https://twitter.com/destiny_quest). Blurgh!
What question have I not asked you that I should have done? And what’s the answer?
The answer is 42. I forget the question.