Another Seton Hill WPFer interview.
This week we have Matt O’Dwyer in the hot seat. Like me, he’s enrolled in Seton Hill’s MFA in Writing Popular Fiction program, but he’s in his first semester. And, here he is.
-What book and/or experience made you want to be a writer?
I started writing seriously in high school. My teacher, Eddie Miller, was wonderful and very encouraging. In college, I enrolled in about fourteen writing workshops. I primarily studied fiction with an amazing novelist, Mark Powell. His passion for writing, along with his ability to help others with their writing, has definitely had a profound impact on my life. I also had a heavy interest in poetry. My professor for poetry, Terri Witek, is truly gifted and taught me so much about writing. I don’t know exactly when I chose writing as a profession. I do know that by the time my senior year came around, I wasn’t considering anything else.
As for a book that really made me want to write, I guess that would be The Lord of the Rings. That was my first true fantasy experience and I loved it. I also always had a love for comic books. I was (and still am) a big Spider-Man fan. I know that for a long time I thought it would be cool to write for comic books.
-What genre(s) do you write?
I primarily write fantasy. In undergrad, my mentor told me to step away from fantasy and read/write other things. It was a wonderful experience and one that definitely made me grow. When I went back to writing fantasy, I saw it with fresh eyes and fell in love with it all over again.
-What projects are you working on now?
I have two projects that might end up turning into one. The first is a short story called “Ajaer’s Will.” The second is my thesis project, which is untitled at the moment. I have a feeling that the short story might work pretty well as a prologue for the novel.
In the short story, I was addressing the idea of a protagonist that (by the end) could actually be the antagonist. In the novel, I’m looking to address magic at an extreme cost. Brandon Sanderson had some wonderful posts on his blog about hard magic, soft magic, and how to construct interesting systems. I would recommend “Sanderson’s Laws” to anyone, if only to hear his opinion (and he’s very clear about it only being an opinion) on magic systems and why they work or don’t. For the novel, that’s all I can really say right now.
This is an excerpt from my short story “Ajaer’s Will,” it’s the very first page.
“Lay your blade to our throat, king’s envoy,” the creature said. It stood like a pillar among the falling snow, as if the world had been erected around the monster.
“Ajaer’s envoy, creature, and I wouldn’t think too dull my blade on your husk,” Vernil said. His gloved fingertips rested at the buckle of his belt while he tried not to tremble. He looked into the creature’s eyes, black with white in the center, obsidian veins crawled from the sunken orbs and faded across swirling white skin. From afar, the abomination looked like the living incarnation of a pearl. It was smooth and hard like a river-washed stone, even though it appeared slick. Vernil knew better than to drop his guard or draw his sword, he knew that a normal blade couldn’t even make a notch on that skin.
“No? Not better than the others? You have seen others like us before. Maybe you scratched your blade on them. Men think we are soft because we share a shape, not you. You know more than the rest, you know better than to fight.” The creature tilted its head slightly to the right and smiled, showing a set of sharpened teeth the color of coal.
“Ajaer’s Breath has given me wisdom where others have courage, creature.” Standing slightly taller than the thing, Vernil narrowed his eyes and looked at the village behind it.
“Not so much wisdom as to avoid insulting us. Do you tell stories about my people? Do you tell them to your young? Tell them about creatures? Honor me, envoy, with a story of Ajaer. Should we worship this thing? Does the god have time for us?”
“Ajaer’s thoughts have never strayed from his people, the hearts and minds of men.” Vernil’s toes curled, his blackened leather boots were encased in the snow that whipped around them. The wind cut through his heavy cloak, it severed him from any thought or hope of warmth. Vernil wouldn’t move to wrap the cloak tight, not in front of the creature. It wasn’t cold, it had no wrappings, no weapon, and showed no concern in its voice, a deep rumbling with a sharp rasp at the end and a habit for calling itself “we” and “us.” Vernil pushed thoughts from his mind. “You could worship Ajaer, as I do, though I do not believe your words would carry in the wind.”
-For other aspiring writers, any tips?
Always know more than you intend to put on the page. For fantasy writers, that might mean knowing more about the history of your specific world. You’ll see it creep into the story. A character might reference a historical event in some random scene. I think the reference will seem natural because you didn’t make up the event for that specific conversation.
Other than that, find readers and listen to their critiques. I sat in a workshop during my sophomore year of undergrad where everyone in the room pounced on half a page of dialogue that didn’t work. I didn’t think any of their suggestions really worked either. However, that didn’t change the fact that my scene didn’t run as smoothly as I intended. Over the years I’ve learned that there’s something to take away from every person’s critique. Even if a reader doesn’t know how to fix your scene, it’s important to know if the scene doesn’t quite work in its current state.
-What’s your favorite book/genre to read?
My favorite genre is definitely fantasy. I just love the complex characters that seem to come out of fantasy.
I don’t think I can choose just one book. My favorite series within the fantasy genre is A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin. I also have to mention The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I don’t think I could ever choose between Martin’s books or McCarthy’s. Both authors have greatly influenced my writing, as well as my studies.
-What’s your favorite thing you’ve ever written?
A poem that I wrote during my senior year of college called “Crush.” There’s something about it that just hits me every time I go back to it. There’s a visual element to it, the way it’s displayed on the page. I was also thinking of someone very special to me when I wrote it. I think I’ve written better stories, maybe even better poems, but I love that one.
Thank you very much, Mary, for offering to do this interview. Your questions made me reflect on some things I hadn’t really thought of in a while.
You are very welcome, Matt, and thank you very much for your insightful responses.
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