Today I am interviewing my good friend, indie author, Aaron Volner. A screenwriter, game designer, and playwright, Aaron is launching his first published novel, which I must say is an awesome debut. Chronicles of the Roc Rider has all the hallmarks of a great fantasy adventure, with the flavor of the wild west.
CJJ: Tell us a little of early life and how you began writing: What books influenced you most as young reader?
AV: Hi Connie! Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me, I really appreciate it.
I was influenced by a wide range of titles as a youngster. My parents made sure I read widely, everything from “Hank the Cowdog” to “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” I would have to say one of the books that has had the largest lasting impact was “Watership Down” by Richard Adams. For a novel about rabbits, you can learn so much of human relationships from it, and it’s one of the few books I’ve reread multiple times. The “Animorphs” series by K.A. Applegate rings in right up there with it. However the books that really inspired me to start writing my own fantasy were “The Wheel of Time” series by Robert Jordan. My lifelong passion for fantasy began there.
Early life was spent buried in books and playing make believe a lot longer than most kids do, with a healthy dose of video games on the side. There were a number of factors that first influenced me to start writing, but one of the strongest was the example of my sister, Heather. She wrote what I remember as truly wonderful poetry when she was in Junior High/High School, even having some of it published. Much of it was serious, inspired by our pet rabbits and grandparents, and some of it was funny for the sake of it. Through her I learned how much fun playing with words and the language could be.
CJJ: How did these books influence your early writing?
AV: The first novel I ever started writing (in about 5th or 6th grade) was a blatant Star Wars ripoff with my friends and I under different names as the swashbuckling crew of a rebel starship, one of whom could change into different space animals because of how obsessed I was with the “Animorphs” books.
My first completed novel was inspired by “The Eye of the World,” but I wanted to take a different spin on things. I chose to deliberately explore fantasy without “The Dark Lord,” but a regular, albeit unusually powerful, person with terrible ambitions as the antagonist. At the time, I thought this was a really new and novel idea, hahaha. I also have a scene in that book inspired by “Watership Down,” where one of the main heroes discovers he can communicate with animals to a degree. He strikes a bargain with a local rabbit warren to have his compatriot with plant-based magic provide them a great feast in a safe spot in exchange for sending a rabbit sentry forward to scout out information they need.
CJJ: What inspired you to write Roc Rider?
AV: I’ve always had something of a fascination with falconry and birds of prey. I suppose, given my penchant for fantasy, it naturally followed that I fell in love with the idea of rocs, the elephant hunting birds of middle eastern legend, as well. I realized a few years back that there weren’t as many rocs in fantasy as I would like, and decided to do something about that. I started thinking about how humans and rocs would interact, where a roc would realistically fit in the food chain, how a human who rode rocs would be perceived by others. The characters and the story naturally flowed from those musings.
CJJ: Tell us about your main character, Tanin Stormrush. Who is he as a person, and what is he capable of?
AV: When we first meet him Tanin has suffered a terrible loss. His wife and his original roc partner have both passed away, leaving him to raise his new roc partner, Zera, alone. His first roc partner died laying her final clutch of eggs. His wife died protecting one of them from the man who murdered her. Tanin is on a quest to find the man who killed his wife and discover what happened to the other egg from the clutch, at her final request. So in Tanin we see a man who is undergoing several stages of grief at once, while trying to raise an animal partner with care and compassion at the same time. In a way his quest is a form of bargaining, in that he hopes to make everything right in his world if he can just find the egg. But in some ways, it’s also a form of denial.
Tanin comes from a proud tradition of warriors on the wing, but one that has been declining for many, many years. Tanin’s early life after learning the ways of the roc rider was spent flying campaigns with various armies to protect against invasion by the Narn, a mysterious religion that rules the lands beyond the desert to the north. It was there he developed his own code of honor, based on Roc Rider values but combined with his own worldview. Tanin doesn’t speak of this directly in the book, but we do see hints at it throughout. There are moments when Tanin is more than capable of muscling his way through a situation to get what he wants, but chooses a different path even if it costs him. I intend to explore this a bit more in the second book, with Tanin’s code being challenged more openly in situations where he must decide if it’s worth the pay off to break with it.
CJJ: Do you have a specific ‘Creative Process’ that you follow, such as outlining or do you ‘wing it’?
AV: So far, my process changes quite a bit from book to book. I do wing it in a lot of respects, however I’ve always had a tendency to plan ahead at least somewhat. My first fantasy book began with me writing out the rules for the magic system and then diving in and discovering the character and story through a few chapters. Throughout that book I would periodically stop writing altogether to try and get my thoughts together in my head for where the story was going. I never wrote them down, just got a plan in my mind and then pressed forward a week or so later once I liked what I was thinking.
My second book, on advice from a writers conference, I wrote an outline before I started writing. That didn’t go so well. The book turned out good after major rewrites, but I discovered that written outlines and I have some issues and just don’t work well together.
With Roc Rider, I had a notebook and spent a few weeks riffing ideas in it. A lot of world building, character, and potential plot stuff. Whenever I faced a question I would write that question down and then riff possible answers. Obviously, the majority of what’s in that notebook never made it into the final product but it served as an invaluable resource when crafting the first draft of the story.
For the second Roc Rider novel, I’m going to do the same thing with one added step. Last year I took part in the 3-Day Novel Contest while Roc Rider was out with my beta readers. Since preparation is allowed for that contest, I tested out writing a story treatment for that book and loved what it added to the process.
A story treatment was something I had just recently learned about. A technique used mostly by screenwriters, it involves writing out the story in prose but in a succinct, descriptive fashion. I don’t have the space in this interview to explain it well, but I think of it as sort of a hybrid between writing an outline and simply diving into the first draft. You can dive into a story treatment like a ‘pantser’, but the treatment lets you see story problems and fix them before you start writing the first draft itself. Best of both worlds, in a way.
Anyway, after my notebook riffing I intend to do a story treatment for the second Roc Rider book as well. I believe it will help me get the book out more quickly and be better for the storytelling in the end.
CJJ: I love that. A story treatment is my way of getting a story off the launch pad too. But now, this is the question I hate to be asked, but here I am asking you: how does your work differ from others of its genre?
AV: This is a doozy of a question, isn’t it? But I’ll try.
I think my work is a little different in how it develops themes. A lot of fantasy is either aimed at a specific theme and the stories, characters, even sometimes the magic system is built around that theme. Other fantasy tries to be purely escapist and not speak to any specific theme at all.
I’ve always been dedicated to what I call organic theme development. This is a process that happens both in the writing and the reading of a work. I have certain ideas I want to explore. Not full themes, really, just human ideas. I attach them to elements I want to include in a story for escapist reasons and allow those ideas to develop as they will in the telling of the story. The result is generally a tale that can be interpreted any number of ways. The ideas get layered throughout the story in the writing, allowing themes to develop in the reader’s mind as they experience it.
Some read my first novel and see a story about the resilience of the human spirit. Others read the same book and see a cautionary tale about trusting your instincts and challenging authority.
Probably the best example, though, was my stage play “Behind Stone Masks”. That play follows a German soldier during WWII, who has a Jewish best friend and is later forced to take part in Kristallnacht (“The Night of Broken Glass”), when German soldiers were ordered to ransack Jewish neighborhoods in civilian clothing and the Holocaust began. Audiences had an almost staggering array of reactions to the play. Some saw it from a political perspective, others saw it through the lens of friendships and human relations. I had countless audience members express how they felt it was a poignant reflection of today’s world, but each in a different way.
I know organic theme development isn’t a unique idea and I’m sure there’s other fantasy authors who use it. But nevertheless, it’s what I feel sets my work apart.
CJJ: Why do you write what you do?
AV: I write fantasy because as a reader fantasy is what brings me the greatest joy. Creating it myself adds a whole new level of enjoyment, and allows me to hopefully bring some measure of that joy to other readers through my words.
CJJ: What are you working on now?
AV: I am already hard at work on the second Roc Rider book (notebook riffing stage), which I intend to release in 2018. I have also been working on a text-based choose your path adventure game for my website, but that project is in development limbo while I address some technical problems with it. I am toying with the notion of choosing one other prose project to write on the side. Maybe short stories or one of my other books. But I haven’t decided yet.
CJJ: When it comes to publishing, I know why I chose the indie route for my work, but I’m curious as to why you’ve chosen this path.
AV: I have a bumpy mental history with independent publishing. As a teen writer, I always swore I’d self-publish if I couldn’t find a publisher. I later became an indie skeptic after learning the ins and outs of traditional publishing and the view on indies at that time. Then along came the kindle and I once again got excited by the notion of going indie… until I learned that publishers at that time wouldn’t consider you if you had an independently published book.
However, once things changed and agents/publishers became more than willing to consider indie authors for traditional deals I started seriously considering it again. I guess at the end of the day I just didn’t want to pursue indie if it meant cutting out traditional as an option. I was sold when I realized there really is almost no downside to indie publishing anymore, as long as you put in the work to produce a quality product. Further, based on my research, the majority of writers these days who are breaking into fiction and being successful enough at it to make their living are the ones pursuing hybrid career models. Meaning they have both indie and traditionally published works. Why cut yourself off from either world when both have so much to offer?
CJJ: What advice would you offer an author trying to decide whether to go indie or take the traditional path?
AV: Ask yourself why you want to go indie and why you want to go traditional, and how either is likely to impact your writing. Be as honest with yourself as possible. I want to stress that there’s nothing wrong with wanting success, but at the end of the day you should choose the path that’s better for your writing. For me, choosing to go indie with Roc Rider helped focus me in a way that really helped me improve as a writer in a number of ways. My productivity and decisiveness in editing being two major ones. However, I know there are some writers whose writing would suffer from the decision to go indie. They’d feel compelled to rush the process to get something out, for example. Once you have a good, completed book in hand you can always change course if the one you’re on isn’t working out for you.
Thank you, Aaron. You are a joy to know and to have as a friend, and are an integral part of my personal writing life. About Aaron Volner:
Aaron Volner spends a lot of time creating interesting places in his mind and getting irretrievably lost in them. Fortunately, he managed to find his way back long enough to write this book. He lives in the high desert of southwest Wyoming, where if you don’t like the weather, all you have to do is wait ten minutes.
Writer by night, librarian by day, Aaron also enjoys reading, acting, gaming, crocheting, golf, and doting on his dog.
He is also the author of Behind Stone Masks, a two-act stage play first performed in 2013 that follows a German soldier through the events of Kristallancht (the Night of Broken Glass) when the Holocaust began.
Aaron can be found at these places:
Website – http://www.aaronvolner.com/
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/aaronvolnerauthor/
Twitter – https://twitter.com/aaron_volner
Amazon Book Page: Chronicles of the Roc Rider