Veteran writer CL Werner takes a few minutes out of his insanely busy schedule today to talk to us about how he approaches the challenges of being a writer.
He2etic: What is the writing process like for you? If you were to describe the process in what word, what would it be?
Clint: Each book is a little different, so the writing process really varies. Chaotic, I suppose would be the best word. Sometimes the narrative flows very easily, at other times you fight it every step of the way.
There are times when it is easier to write in the dead of night and at other times it is easier to get work done during the day. A lot of that tends to depend on the material too.
Since I usually write about dark deeds and monstrous creatures, I guess night helps set the proper mental state.
He2etic: What kind of music do you listen to while you write?
Clint: I listen to a lot of instrumental stuff when I write. Soundtracks, so-called ‘trailer music’, orchestral scores, even ambient sounds like rainfall or howling wolves will sometimes turn the trick. It’s usually good not to have vocals though as these can distract and end up breaking my concentration. They’re great for getting into the mood, but very bad during the actual writing.
“Capture small objectives, enjoy those accomplishments. Don’t let them become empty victories because you can’t stop thinking about the campaign ahead.”
He2etic: Who are your favourite characters amongst both those you’ve written, and by other authors?
Clint: I’ve kind of kidnapped him from William King, but I’d have to say Grey Seer Thanquol. He’s just such an insane/brilliant jumble of megalomania and paranoid delusions that no matter what he’s doing you can’t help but root for him. He’s one of two characters I’ve written who has actually hijacked the narrative and started changing the direction of the story as I’m writing it.
The other character who did that is my other favourite: Brunner. Anytime I strayed into making him a softie it was like a cold voice at my shoulder telling me the bounty killer wouldn’t do that and then suggesting something entirely different and invariably far crueller and more calculating. He has a definite code of honour, but as Brunner would be the first to say, not everybody is worthy of his restraint.
Some of the characters from other authors I like range from Walter B. Gibson’s The Shadow to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Professor Challenger. Tolkien’s Gandalf certainly gets mention and so would Sax Rohmer’s Dr Fu-Manchu.
Robert E. Howard’s Conan and Solomon Kane. Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula is an eternal fixture with me. C. L. Moore’s Jirel of Jory, Manly Wade Wellman’s John the Balladeer, Hodgson’s Carnaki.
I think the big problem is that a lot of the folks I read didn’t really do a lot of recurring characters. Lovecraft, Whitehead and Clark Ashton Smith, for instance, or Arthur Machen and M. R. James.
He2etic: What are your strongest influences when it comes to character creation?
Clint: I think the strongest influences rise from what I read and what I watch. I might find a peculiar character in a movie or book and start wondering what would happen if they were put into an entirely different situation.
Or I might take aspects of an actor’s portrayal and use that as a starting point to develop a character’s personality. Boris Goldgather in the Black Plague books started out as a condemnation of manipulative politicians but he wasn’t more than a caricature until I started envisioning Charles Laughton wearing the Imperial robes. Then everything fell into place.
“There will always be room to improve, but if you keep trying to make it perfect then nobody will ever have the chance to read it. Know when to let go.”
He2etic: Are there any dream characters or settings you want to write about? Not just those in the Warhammer universes, but in other franchises or even of your own make?
Clint: I suppose the big one would be to do something in an official capacity with Godzilla. I’m such a big fan of kaiju-eiga that a project involving him would be absolutely fantastic.
Another arena I’d love to play with would be Robert E. Howard’s Hyborian Age. That setting still conjures a magic and mystery for me that no others can. Doing something with The Shadow would be epic, but I’m not sure I have the proper skills to do Gibson’s creation the justice he deserves.
I’ve always thought it would be nice to do a Dungeons and Dragons novel as a thank you to the game for getting me through some really black times.
In the Warhammer universes, there’s lots I’d love to explore. Excusing for a moment doing more Thanquol, Brunner or Thulmann, my big dream projects would be a series of orc (or ork) novels, a Time of Legends cycle exploring the Doom of Kazavar and the creation of the insidious skaven, and a book delving into the lizardmen would be a challenge I think I could make really work.
In 40k, I’d really like to do some more with the Emperor’s Warbringers – especially if I can get Andy Smilie on board for a collaboration I suggested.
There’s so many things I’d like to do as far as original material goes I don’t know if I could even concoct a short list. I know I’d like to write a classic dragon novel, especially since I have a very clever and very plausible way of taking care of the wyrm in the denouement.
I’d also like to do more with Shintaro Oba and my Japanese-style sword-and-sorcery stories (and if I can steal the time, maybe we’ll see such a thing yet – Rogue Blades’ Enterprises has shown some interest in a collection).
I also have a crackpot idea for a fantasy novel set in Arizona circa 800 AD with Romans fighting proto-Aztecs and based on some incongruous archaeological finds.
The big one for me though would be a whole series of fantasy books delving into the character of Vlad III, taking him from mortal voivode to undead vampire.
See, I told you Dracula never leaves me alone.
I’ve also thought about doing stories about a witch hunter in Colonial America, circa the evocative year of 1666. I’ve also got notes for a few WWII weird novels, one of which will be seeing publication in truncated form as ‘The Lost Blitzkrieg’ in the Bolthole’s next fiction anthology.
I’ve been lucky recently to be invited to do stories in two really fantastic settings. The Iron Kingdoms of Privateer Press probably need no introduction. The other setting is the sci-fi world of Wild West Exodus, and I encourage everybody to check out what they’re developing because there’s a really neat style and storyline being created. On the same subject, if Black Ball Games ever wants to do AE-WWII fiction, I’d jump at the chance to contribute.
Probably my most eccentric idea is to do a retelling of the Gospel as a sword-and-sorcery novel. I think worries about blasphemy will keep it from happening. Still, the story of Jesus has all the ingredients: demons (Legion, who could ask for a more sinister name), a decadent and oppressive empire, an evil sorcerer (Simon Magus, who will always look like Jack Palance to me), miracles, the undead (okay, so Lazarus was the only mortal who came back from the dead that didn’t cause anybody to grab a stake and a hammer) – it’s all there. The big issue for me would be taking such a peculiar concept and maintaining the proper respectful tone.
He2etic: What are your favourite drinks, both alcoholic and not? Do you occasionally partake while writing?
Clint: I get very depressed when I drink alcohol, so I very rarely imbibe. I usually saturate myself with tea or Coca-Cola (yum, tasty carcinogens) and while I’m writing there are always some of those nasty energy shot things sitting at my elbow (and don’t believe any of this stuff about ‘no crash’ – they lie).
He2etic: If you could cast anyone to play the roles of main characters in your work, who would you pick?
Clint: Most of the people I’d pick are sadly no longer with us. Mathias Thulmann, for instance, was patterned after the mannerisms and stylings of Vincent Price while Streng is Oliver Reed.
“I find it best not to make any long term plans. What we want, what we get and what we need are things we have no control over.”
The black magister Rudol is one of several characters I’ve done with Bela Lugosi in mind, the various members of the Klausner family were all Boris Karloff. Shintaro Oba is Toshiro Mifune while I always imagine the spirit of Takashi Shimura motivating the benign mummy Kambei-kai.
I do think Vinnie Jones would make a fearsome Brunner though and the necromancer Carandini has always been Brad Douriff in my mind (more for his role as the psychotic computer genius Dante in a low-budget flick called ‘Death Machine’ than for anything else).
When I write female characters they will often end up acquiring the image of a Hammer studios ‘scream queen’, usually Caroline Monro or Veronica Carlson.
He2etic: Do you have any long term projects for writing? For example, do you intend to someday spin your own franchise or complete a long novel series?
Clint: I find it best not to make any long term plans. What we want, what we get and what we need are things we have no control over.
When you outlive enough dreams, you find it best to think small. Capture small objectives, enjoy those accomplishments. Don’t let them become empty victories because you can’t stop thinking about the campaign ahead.
He2etic: Are there any novels you would consider required reading?
Clint: I have very eccentric and probably archaic tastes, so I’m not entirely sure my advice will be as helpful as what somebody more versed in contemporary works would give. Obviously The Lord of the Rings is essential to anybody writing fantasy because it has shaped so much of what people think of when they hear the very word.
For anybody doing Warhammer I always point them to Kim Newman’s Drachenfels, even if the lore is out of date, it remains the very best fantasy story produced for the setting.
He2etic: What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Clint: Just one word: read. Read as much as you can, read it with an analytical eye. Take the narrative apart the way a mechanic takes apart an engine. See what makes the story work or what doesn’t.
See how another author successfully portrays an emotion or an action, discover the tricks other writers have used and start building your own bag of tricks to use in your own stories.
Above all, keep writing, even if only for yourself. The caveat to that is to know when it is time to leave a story alone.
I think it was Hitchcock who said that a great film is never finished, it is simply abandoned. The same holds true for books. There will always be room to improve, but if you keep trying to make it perfect then nobody will ever have the chance to read it. Know when to let go.
Thanks again to CL Werner for the amazing interview!
Follow the @BLBolthole on Twitter for updates, articles and more. This blog’s art was crafted by Manuel Mesones, and you can check out his portfolio. The author can be followed @He2etic, or on his blog.