Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Q&A with Dirk Strasser

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1) First of all, can you sum up what Zenith is about? What sort of themes will you find in the book?

Zenith is set in a giant world-Mountain where three races – Maelir, Faemir and Nazir – are battling for ascendancy and where the Mountain itself is a living entity that reflects the damage done by the conflict.  The Maelir control the world through the power of Zenith, the phenomenon of the sun reaching the highest point of the Mountain for nine days each mid-summer.  This control is maintained by the ritual of twins being given a Talisman by the Holy Orders and undertaking an Ascent to the Summit each year.  Atreu and Teyth begin their Ascent from the Base at a time when the Faemir have become a major threat under a new leader, Valkyra, and when the Mountain is at its most unstable, with massive pillars erupting from the surface and giant chasms forming spontaneously, allowing fearsome dusk creatures to emerge.  Atreu enables Verlinden, Valkyra’s twin, to be the first female to undergo the Zenith ritual, and the two hope to unite the Maelir and Faemir.  The main themes are male/female relationships, the value of spirituality over brute force, and the power of story-telling.

2) Where did the inspiration for Zenith come from?

I’ve always liked epics – tales told on a huge canvas.  I wanted the basis of the world I was creating to be something on a large scale.  I ‘d been reading Dune and the Riverworld series, and I was thinking in terms of enormously large desert, enormously large river, enormously large... er... mountain.  I then did some research on myths where giant mountains were featured, and I came across the legendary Mount Kailās which is sacred to a number of religions including Buddhists, Hindus and Jains, and which has been the destination of pilgrimages for thousands of years.  This was how the whole Eastern mysticism feel came into the trilogy.  

3) What made you want to write in this genre?

My favourite genre has always been fantasy. I can remember reading The Hobbit when I was 10 and immediately wanting to write my own fantasy book.  I started writing it with a friend – our little creatures were called Zabbits (no plagiarism there!).  I went on to read The Lord of the Rings a couple of years later and I was hooked by the sense of wonder and immersion in another world that the genre offered.  Many years later as an adult reader of fantasy I found myself getting a bit jaded by the sameness of the epic fantasy being published, and I deliberately set out to write something different.

4) What are 3 of your own personal favourite Fantasy books and why?

I’d never read anything like The Lord of the Rings – the depth of the world and its conflict was mind-blowing.  I don’t think many quest fantasy authors since actually understood what made this particular quest such a powerful experience: the fact that it centred around the destruction of something, not the finding of something.

Apart from LOTR, and depending on how broadly you define the fantasy genre, I’d probably put China Miéville's The Scar on my list of personal favourites.  It’s incredibly weird (and nothing at all like Zenith except it has a dream-like quality in places), but it is bursting with more ideas and inventiveness than most fantasy authors have in a dozen novels.  Out of the more mainstream fantasies, I would say The Painted Man/The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett is my current favourite.  I really like the central idea and how the author explores the logical consequences of the world he has created.

5) Have you always wanted to be a writer? What made you decide start?

I started writing stories from the time I learnt to write.  There was a period when I was quite young when I spent a lengthy stretch in hospital and pretty much all I did during that time was read and write, so I guess that’s when I started.  I remember writing a Superman story at an early age, making copies, stapling them, and then going door-to-door around our neighbourhood and selling them for 2 cents each.  I made enough to buy some ice creams for my friends!  So, I guess I started writing and trying to sell what I’d written from the very start.  I was always writing stories up until school and university study started to take up a lot of my time.  I didn’t get back to it until I had been teaching High School for a few years.  By then, I’d decided to to have a serious go at writing a novel (which ended up being Zenith).

6) When writing, do you like to base parts of your characters (their traits/personalities etc.) on people you know?

Not consciously. I don’t think anyone I know has ever said to me that it’s obvious I’ve borrowed their personality. I’d say my main characters often have bits of me in them, and there are probably parts of people I know in characters, but because it’s not deliberate I would need to analyse them really carefully to work out where particular traits most likely came from.

7) If you could invite 4 famous people, dead or alive, to dinner, who would they be?

(I’d need four interpreters as well.)

8) If you could have written any book ever written, which book would it be?

Assuming the laws of the universe meant I wasn’t actually cheating anyone, I would have liked to have written the time travel book Replay by Ken Grimwood.  You never know, maybe the way time travel works, I did write it!

9) Any tips for aspiring writers out there?

You should write exactly the sort of book you would love to read. Doing anything else is both a waste of time and soul-destroying. It’s easier said than done, of course, but it should be what you aim for. The chances are, if you love it, there will be a sizable group in the world that will also love it.

10) Are you currently working on anything else that you're able to tell us about? 

I have a speculative fiction short story collection Stories of the Sand coming out in November.  Because I write such a wide range of fantasy, science fiction and horror, I had to try to group the stories in some way.  I ended up dividing them into six themed sub-sections: “Stories of the Sand”, “Stories of the Sky”, “Stories of the Rain”, “Stories of the Dusk”, “Stories of the Dark” and “Stories of the Truth”.  One of the stories, “The Tale of Valkyra and Verlinden” is set in the same world as Zenith.
I’m also working on a screenplay based on one of my fantasy short stories, “Conquist”, which appears in the collection.  My original intention was to expand the story into a novel (and I’ll still be writing the novel as well), but I’ve always wanted to try my hand at a full movie script, and the idea behind the story seemed to be crying out to be a movie.  The writing process for the screen is totally different to the novel writing process, so it’s proving to be a challenge.  A movie is primarily a visual medium, and you can’t go into a person’s head and give their thoughts and feelings like you can with narrative fiction.  Your plot and character development really has nowhere to hide in a screenplay.

Blurb of Zenith:

Can you see the story breathing?


A mountain so great it takes a year to travel from base to summit
A sun so powerful it drives you into madness if you look at it
An ascent so vital it determines the fate of the world
A summit so precious it holds the key to the divine

The world of the great Mountain is unstable. Giant pillars erupt from the surface and yawning chasms form unpredictably underfoot. Since the Maelir first stood on its slopes in the distant past, they have sought to still its anger and control its power. Each year, twin brothers are chosen to make a perilous journey to the summit. If they survive they will be witness to Zenith, and the secrets will be revealed to them.

When Atreu and Teyth embark on their Ascent, their Talismans lead them onto conflicting paths that will ultimately set brother against brother. And this time the Ascent itself is in peril as unknown forces that have long craved the power of Zenith will stop at nothing to make it their own even if it means destroying the very thing that sustains all life the Mountain itself.


About the author:

Dirk Strasser has won multiple Australian Publisher Association Awards and a Ditmar for Best Professional Achievement. His mythic fantasy series, The Books of Ascension, has been republished by Macmillan Momentum, this time including Eclipse – The Lost Book of Ascension for the first time in English. His novels and short stories have been translated into a number of languages. He also founded the Aurealis Awards and has co-edited and co-published Aurealis magazine for over twenty years. 



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