Monday, November 27, 2006

Interview With Tee Morris

Tee Morris, author of Legacy of Morevi and Billibub Baddings and the Case of the Singing Sword, and host of the podcast, The Survival Guide to Writing Fantasy, makes podcasting sound easy. And once you read this interview, you'll see why.

What made you decide to start The Survival Guide to Writing Fantasy?

It was shortly after the premiere of Legacy of Morevi in 2005. Two weeks before, I had completed the MOREVI podcast, and I had a blast doing that. I was thinking about podcasting another novel, but I wanted to wait until my next WiP was closer to completion. Throughout Westercon 58 (in Calgary, Alberta, where my publisher is based and also where Legacy debuted), I had people coming up to me complimenting me on how I was marketing and promoting myself. What people were commenting on, though, was common sense to me, and that was when I noticed that many writers just never thought about their books past the printing of them. It's the truth, and few if any publishers give advice on how to get the word out. Many of the big press authors are told "Let Publicity take care of the details..." and then suddenly their names are passed on future sales according to current numbers. Writers need to promote in order to survive...

...and in October 2005, The Survival Guide to Writing Fantasy launched.

What I'm thrilled about are the amount of NON-Fantasy authors who listen to the show. Mystery, Romance, and non-fiction authors chime in their two cents, and I have a few podcasters that listen so they can snag promotion ideas. I have a modest audience, but they sure are dedicated, and I feel very lucky to have the fanbase I've got!

I hear the Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Moment is the most popular part of your show.

*LOL* Yeah, the Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Moment. It's amazing what stupid things writers will do to either sabotage their career, their image, and themselves. I've even had a few trip-up's and have showcased them in the WTF Moments, to show that while I point out the faults of others (with names changed to protect the ignorant) I will not hesitate to turn the WTF on myself. I'm always on the lookout for WTF's, and one I just heard about one this weekend concerning an author that has so much experience that the author-in-question should have known better. Very tempting, but here's the risk though in naming names, describing situations, and just going out on a limb with the WTF's -- depending on how I present it, I can step on a lot of toes and even go out of my way to burn bridges for future work. Writers who believe the writing industry is an open community welcoming all kinds from all backgrounds is half-right. There is still politics. There is still a hierarchy. Piss off the ruling class, and you're going to face an uphill battle in getting published and STAYING published.

However, avoiding names (which I've suspended only twice -- once for an author who tried to sell her fanfic on Amazon and the other time to take an alternative look at the James Fry plagiarism) makes it sound less personal and puts more focus on the poor judgment the author in the WTF Moment which is the point of the show's segment. I've been accused of being "bitter about not being published with a big house" and "unable to practice what I preach" to which my reply is "I'm not naming names. The WTF is applicable to me as well as others. And if I was really coming across that way, why is it the most popular segment of the Survival Guide?"
It's all about perspective.

What are the Morevi books about, and how did you come up with the idea?

The best way to describe the series is Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon meets Pirates of the Caribbean. The hero of the book, Rafe Rafton, discovers in "The Graveyard of Lost Ships" a rift in the space-time continuum and a realm known as Morevi, a kingdom that falls under the rule of Askana Moldarin. She is known in her realm as "The Black Widow" following her swift and bloody ascent to the throne. She is also the heroine of the book. Askana has led a revolution, the downfall of the old government duly replaced by a rule of women. She has unearthed hidden traitors in her own regime threatening to destroy everything she has won. She knows that her kingdom hangs in a delicate balance and that someone close to the throne is about to move against her. Askana, independent of council, seeks help outside of Morevi to reveal the conspiracy against her...

Enter Rafe Rafton, captain of the Defiant. From there, the adventure kicks in!

As far as how _I_ came up with the idea, it was actually how _we_ -- Lisa Lee and myself -- met in an online RPG chat room called Nia's Tavern. It was merely a morning's diversion. I had entered Nia’s early one morning and was casually observing the clientele. A character popped up on my screen and caught my attention. Alongside the character's chatroom post was one of the most unique portraits I had seen for a character. Her character motto read ‘The female of the species is deadlier than the male.’ The name was Askana Moldarin, First Queen of Morevi. I knew, whomever this player was, this character would be a lot of fun to roleplay against. Lisa told me that she was heading out of the Tavern when on her way out of the Tavern, she caught my post. She described it as "He roleplayed with me as if the tavern's roof was on fire!"

Lisa's such a flirt.

Our initial exchange in Nia’s lasted barely fifteen minutes, but it was enough to begin an e-mail roleplay. The device was simple enough. We exchanged information about one another’s characters and then one would begin with a series of events, leave an open ending, and the other would respond with a resolution, leading to yet another unresolved situation for the other to begin the next installment. It started very innocently. First she sent a page and a half. A follow-up meeting to the brief roleplay between us. I responded with about three pages. Lisa’s response was another three more pages. I sent back five. She responded with five. Every week there would be a little installment in our e-mail boxes.

Then a tragedy in my family sent me out of town and out of reach of e-mail, but with PowerBook in hand I wrote to give myself a bit of peace in such a dark time. When I got back, Lisa had e-mailed fifteen pages of story. I was afraid after sending it she would be overwhelmed by it all. Her next installment was over twenty pages. From there, we threw caution to the wind and before we knew it, we had a novel!

Are the Billibub Baddings books as hilarious as the titles suggest?

I sincerely hope so as I'm turning Billibub Baddings into a podcast in 2007.

If the Morevi series is "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon meets Pirates of the Caribbean" then Billibub Baddings is "The Lord of the Rings" if Mickey Spillane wrote it. This all-out spoof of the hard-boiled detective novels, epic quest fantasy, gangsters, and any other tropes appropriate for this mafioso-murder-mystery. This book scared me more, I think, than Morevi did because this was a Fantasy that was a cross-genre work, and it was a comedy to boot. When one review came in that said "I've not had this much fun since Who Framed Roger Rabbit" I breathed a lot easier.

Now I'm busy working on the sequel and beginning work (as well as the hype machine) for the Billibub Baddings podcast. It's still in the early planning stages right now, but I've got a LOT of support behind me and even some help from Scott Sigler and JC Hutchins. So yeah, I'm very proud of Billi, and I hope it makes readers (and soon, listeners) everywhere laugh.

Has music been influential to your writing, and if so in what ways?

Music has been an influence all my life. My first album (as in one I chose and bought, not bought FOR me) was the soundtrack for Star Wars. Yeah, a soundtrack. This was before soundtracks were considered "cool" so I was listening to the album waiting for words or SFX, and instead I got music, music, and MORE music...and that was when I started getting into music. I found that music could conjure vivid images from either scenes of film, or even create new ones if I listen to specific pieces. Then I started studying music, playing trombone throughout junior high school, high school, and college. I played everything from classical to jazz to marches, and the more I explored music the more diverse my musical tastes (and collections) became. While I studied music, I found a passion in theatre, and it was in my senior year I read Shakespeare's The Tempest, a play that relies heavily on music and song. So I took that idea and ran with it, developing an unofficial soundtrack for the production. The actors involved, I felt, embraced the music of the production and a few faculty members even commented that the music became a character in itself. Something I took great pride in.

Certain songs inspired scenes in my books, and since Morevi I have gone so far as to compose playlists on my iTunes for all my works-in-progress. I have selections of soundtracks from martial art films, epic fantasies, and even a few space operas for both Morevi and Legacy of Morevi, crime jazz, Mobster themes, and The Rat Pack for Billibub Baddings, and a collection of anime and trance tracks for my Science Fiction work-in-progress. Each helps me with characters or settings, and can inspire new directions. And then in the podcast of Morevi, I was having a great time composing new music with GarageBand. So yes, music plays (pardon the pun) a lot in the development of my works.

When it comes to adding music to a podcast audiobook, what are some of the challenges involved in doing so?

First and foremost are levels. The most common mistake that new podcasters make is bringing in brilliant music that will create a nice tone for the scene but it overpowers the action. You have to tinker and tweak until finally you have a balance between the music and the story. It's amazing how much I see this problem not just in podcasting but in television and motion pictures, especially from people who should know better. The next challenge comes in the music selected or composed. You want it ot be multilayered, dynamic, and dramatic; but sometimes the perfect music is so tough to mix in as a "backdrop" that you struggle with it. Music should capture the flavor and feel of the action, but sometimes keeping the music to the basics works best. For example the music of Mark Snow (The X-Files) and Sean Callery (24) keeps the tension high and adds an eerie depth to the action on the screen but when you listen to their soundtracks, these composers keep it simple.

The best advice I have for new podcasters is to know your music before you start mixing. Really know everything about it and how it works. That way, you know what will and won't work for your podcast.


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