Below you can read an interview with Todd Newton, an author who wrote the novel The Ninth Avatar. I hope these questions will help you understand him and his work better, and also, hopefully awaken curiosity towards his first book.
Could you tell us a bit about yourself? What are the choices and interests that led you onto the path of writing?
Of course! While I’m not writing, I enjoy cigars, fine food, and traveling. My wife and I just got back from a week-long trip to Paris and Versailles, France, and loved it. Growing up, I enjoyed video games including the Castlevania, Wizardy, and Final Fantasy franchises. Early on, these were what pushed me toward the fantasy genre as a whole, and what gave me my first ideas for writing. Even so, it took quite a few years (well into my mid-20’s) to make it a goal to write a novel, and even longer to believe that I could.
Who were the writers you read while growing up? Did some of them influence your decision to write this particular book?
The books I always turn to are The Coldfire Trilogy, by C.S. Friedman. Those three books have long been an influence on how much I respect setting, as well as complex characters like her Gerald Tarrant. As far as influences for this book, there are too many to list. George R.R. Martin was definitely a large one, as his A Song of Ice and Fire series embodies “epic” in a way that few other books I’ve read were able to.
There are quite a few books in the fantasy genre that share the basic idea of The Ninth Avatar. An unwilling hero goes into the world, the forces of Darkness march against Humanity, and a prophecy that might save them all. What is, in your opinion, the thing that makes your book different and appealing?
I completely agree with your point, which is exactly why I wanted to do something outside of the traditional “hero saves the world” epic. For me, what sets The Ninth Avatar apart is summed up in the character of Starka. She’s integral to the story, yes, but she isn’t exactly picking up a sword to rush headlong at the villain and his armies. My goal was to tell the story through her experience, which contrasts well with characters like Cairos and Mayrah who do quite a bit of battling. As Starka experiences the world she lives in and the people in it, so too does the reader. This allows the story to unfold with a great deal of perspective without keeping the reader at a distance.
In your first book, a good deal of the plot lies on religions and systems of belief. How did you come up with them? Did any of our world’s mythology serve as a starting point?
Religion, in general, is one of my favorite topics of study and discussion. I did borrow heavily for the concepts behind Starka’s faith, from different sects of Christianity, as well as Wan Du’s faith, from various Eastern traditions, but I also wanted to set Wizards apart as having their own sort of religion. This last one was difficult, since they are scholars first and foremost, and they don’t pray or worship the Nine Pillars of Magic, but it is a sort of faith that allows someone like Cairos to launch himself into the air or summon a pillar of earth.
The book is focusing on a number of characters, each of them important to the story in their own way. Do you have a favourite character, the one whose chapter you especially enjoyed writing, or are they equally dear to you?
Starka was my absolute favorite from the very beginning, but they are all dear to me for various reasons. Even the minor characters like Kismet and Mendenha required a lot of thought, since I like to keep my options open for what might happen in the future of this world. I had originally planned this story as a trilogy, but now it is turning into something else entirely.
Tell us something about the writing process. Do you have a writing routine? A number of words you tell yourself you must write?
I only wish I were so organized! While working on a project, I try to focus on it daily even if I don’t actually write. This could be anything from typing out all of the unanswered plot questions, sketching out a character or some weaponry, or just brainstorming possible events to come. I usually have a word count goal that I’m working toward, but any progress I make during a writing “session” is a victory in my mind. I don’t have an exact routine, so far, but I’ve found places to write where I can get more done than in others. My one big carrot is a candy bar for every 10,000 words I write on a project. Since I try to eat mostly healthy, this is quite a splurge and, therefore, quite a reward. My favorite? Anything with peanut butter. No joke.
What is your trick for making the characters seem real and alive? Do you know more about them than what is written in the book?
The way I see it, my job is to make a character’s life harder. Anything within reason I can throw at them, I consider using, and I try to stay “in their head” as I’m writing. When something changes, I try to show what it means to them the best way I can. And yes, I have to know more about them than what’s written; their pasts and futures are just as important as what they go through because it shapes each of them differently. When I finish reading a book, I feel like I should know a character well enough to guess how they would react to a given situation, otherwise I feel somewhat cheated. This is one of the biggest things I try to keep in mind as I write.
What are your future writing plans? Can the readers hope to revisit the lands and characters of The Ninth Avatar?
Currently I’m editing the first draft of my third novel, Scions of the Shade; an epic fantasy set in a different universe from The Ninth Avatar. When it’s presentable, I will submit it to Trapdoor for consideration and begin working on my most ambitious project yet: a prequel and sequel to Ninth Avatar written (and, hopefully, released) simultaneously. Even now, there’s far more interest than I ever imagined about how some of the characters came to be where/who they were during this story, and what will come to pass next. I’m very excited, but it’s also a bit daunting to think about.
Thank you very much for your time. We wish you the best of luck with your work.