I’m thrilled to have author Lee Collins on the blog today! Lee is the author of The Dead of Winter, coming up on Nov. 1st from Angry Robot Books, and he was kind enough to answer a few of my questions.
Please welcome Lee to the blog!
Lee, your brand new book, The Dead of Winter, comes out Nov 1st from Angry Robot Books! Have you always wanted to be a writer? Will you tell us a bit about your journey?
When I was in the first grade, my school library hosted a local children’s book author who told us that the author’s magical question is “What if?” At the end of the presentation, I distinctly remember telling myself that there was absolutely no way I wanted to be a writer. I harbored a rather intense dislike for my grammar lessons, and the thought of spending all day writing sentence after sentence seemed repulsive. This mindset persisted all the way through high school, even as I discovered how much I enjoyed writing poetry. Once in college, I was briefly distracted by the siren song of a music degree until I discovered that such a degree is more reading sheet music (which I can’t do at all) and less jamming with other musicians. After reading Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, I decided that writing might be a fun thing to do after all, and not even a formal university English program could discourage me.
Will you tell us a little something about The Dead of Winter?
The Dead of Winter started out as a synthesis of a Warhammer Online character and a Morpheus Tales call for Western-themed horror. Cora (then named Miriam) and Ben Oglesby sprang into being more or less fully-formed, bounty hunters who specialize in eliminating other-worldly threats. After I wrote a short story for my Morpheus Tales submission (which appeared in Issue IX), they hung out in the corners of my mind, waiting on me to come up with something else for them to do. A year or so later, I stumbled across some American Indian lore about something called a wendigo, and The Dead of Winter began to take shape.
She Returns From War, the 2nd book in the series, comes out early next year. When you began writing The Dead of Winter, had you already planned on it being a series?
I hadn’t, actually. When I first wrote the ending, I intended the book to be a stand-alone title. I had a vague notion of how a sequel might end but lacked the in-between events to get me there. After The Dead of Winter reached the editors’ desks via Angry Robot’s Open Door Month, I realized I might need to have a sequel synopsis on-hand in case they came asking. They did, and I sent them my synopsis with fingers crossed.
You must have done something to please the Cover Gods since you scored covers by Chris McGrath! Do you feel like the covers do justice to your stories?
Absolutely! Chris did a fantastic job of capturing the mood of each book as well as the spirit of Cora Oglesby. Two things in particular stood out to me about them. In The Dead of Winter’s cover, I was absolutely blown away by Cora’s expression. I’m not one to precisely visualize my characters when I write, so to have a face staring back at me that so perfectly embodied her essence was almost eerie. The other thing that really grabbed me was ominous air surrounding the She Returns From War art. Instead of Cora and Ben fearlessly confronting their enemies, Chris evokes a feeling of creeping danger, a threat just beyond the edge of sight. It’s brilliant.
What made you decide to set the books in the Wild West?
The decision grew out of the Morpheus Tales call for horror-themed Western submissions. It seemed like a fun idea to me. With the semi-structured government, multiple threats to one’s life from both nature and man, and the diverse array of people, the Old West really is a great setting for all kinds of speculative fiction. Why more books don’t explore the possibilities of this rich landscape continues to baffle me.
What’s one of your favorite aspects of that time period?
I really enjoy the great expanses of the unknown that press in on the edges of human settlements. Even today, with all of the interconnectivity technology brings, there are still great swaths of land in the American West that can make you feel completely and utterly alone. To have that wilderness on the other side of your wall when you sleep at night gives rise to all kinds of imaginings about what may be crawling out of some unknown hole.
What do you like most about writing fantasy?
Quite simply, the fantastic. In my creative writing program, we weren’t permitted to write genre fiction. Every short story had to fall into the bowl of Literary fiction (yes, I’m pretty sure it was capitalized). One of my instructors even admitted that most of the stuff we read as examples of short stories was published by university presses for consumption by other universities. My senior year, I tried to incorporate some paranormal aspects into a workshop story and was told I had to rewrite it before the class could see it. The experience rankled.
What are some of your biggest literary influences?
For The Dead of Winter specifically, I must credit Larry McMurtry, Hirano Kouta, and Stephen King. In a wider shot, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Karen Russell, Orson Scott Card, and George R.R. Martin come into frame.
If you could read one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
I keep trying to come up with something profound for this one, but I always end up back at Stephen King’s Duma Key. I’m not sure what it was about that particular book of his, but it really resonated. The setting, the characters, the monster, the lore…all of it was spot on. I read it on the bus into work one winter, and the feeling has really stuck with me.
On a personal note, when you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
I have been an avid gamer since the age of four. I even took a month break from writing She Returns From War last January because my girlfriend’s parents bought my Skyrim for Christmas. Perhaps not the best arrangement of priorities, but the manuscript was still delivered by the deadline. I’m currently absorbed in XCOM: Enemy Unknown when I’m not playing The Secret World or another MMO with my girlfriend.
What’s one piece of advice that you would give to a struggling writer?
Struggle on. As the immortal President and First Tiger Hobbes once said: “Until you stalk and overrun, you can’t devour anyone.” Also, it helps if you find yourself some other pack members to help you on the hunt. Everyone knows that the bigger and juicier the wildebeest, the more help you need bringing it down.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!)?
I have a few projects on the radar at the moment. One is a science fantasy set in Soviet Russia, and the other is a (probably) young adult urban fantasy with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon influences. Naturally, I’m also ready to move forward on a third book in my current series.
Keep up with Lee: Website | Twitter