I’m interviewing Dirk Strasser, author of fantasy series “The Books of Ascension”. Enjoy the interview!
1) What’s the hardest part of being an author?
Finding the time to write first drafts is probably the hardest part of being a writer for me. You can edit and revise later drafts in bits and pieces and across fragmented time periods, but I feel a first draft has to be written in a continuous block of time, otherwise it can become disjointed and the flow isn’t there. If I’m in the middle of a first draft and there’s a break of a number of days or weeks in my writing, I need to spend a lot time rereading and becoming reacquainted with what I’ve written, which stretches the whole process out. A first draft of a novel (for me anyway) takes several months of consistent writing, even if I’ve planned the plot trajectory and character arc in detail. With disruptions come inconsistencies in characters and plot — and variations in mood and tone — which are time-consuming and difficult to fix at a later stage.
The Books of Ascension are 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 manage to unite Maelir and Faemir against the threat of the Nazir. Finally the sun itself is affected by the conflict and the days grow ever shorter, allowing the Nazir’s dusk-spawn to gain control of the slopes. The only hope of salvation lies in Atreu’s Talisman, a book whose enigmatic powers enable Atreu to learn the truth about the Mountain; and as the mystery of Zenith is revealed to him, he uncovers the secrets of his own story.
3) Are there any other books planned in the series?
The final book, Eclipse, doesn’t leave any loose threads that could be used as an obvious extension to the series and the stories of the major characters. I personally don’t like series that stretch out past their natural length, and I was really keen to finish the trilogy in a satisfying way. I didn’t want the reader to have the “But, wait, there’s more” feeling. There may be scope for prequels or tangential stories in the same world, but at the moment I would really like to see the story end exactly where it ends at the end of Eclipse. As Atreu says at the end of Zenith: “He already knew the story, and there were other tales he wanted to read.”
I wish I could give a simple answer to that. Unfortunately, the amount of time I spend writing each day varies enormously for all sorts of real-life reasons. During first draft stage of a novel, I would aim for a word count per day (1500), not a time limit, with the aim being to finish a chapter (4,000-6,000 words) in a week (usually 5 working days). More often than not I’d be on a roll when I reach my daily word target and would keep going, and if I finished the chapter before the end of the week, I’d keep going to get a head-start on the following week’s chapter. In practice, this means that when writing a first draft I would write 3-4 hours a day for 5 days a week. When redrafting and editing, it could be anything from 10 minutes one day to 3 hours (or often no time at all), depending on how much time I can find.
I’ll probably have to add “apart from The Lord of the Rings” to this question, because like many (if not most) fantasy writers, I rate this so highly, it’s in its own category. So apart from LOTR, and depending on how broadly you define the fantasy genre, I’d probably put China Miéville’s The Scar at the top of my list. It’s incredible weird (and nothing at all like The Books of Ascension 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’m actually working on a movie script based on a fantasy short story of mine. My intention was to expand the story into a novel (and I’ll still write the novel as well), but I’ve always wanted to have a go at 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.
Zenith – The First Book of Ascension
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.
Equinox – The Second Book of Ascension
The most beautiful city on the great Mountain
The pinnacle of Maelir culture
The home of the Inner Sanctum
The place where secrets hide
The fate of the Mountain hangs in balance at the time of Equinox, and even the Keep can no longer remain untouched. The Maelir are desperate to defend it, the Faemir to demolish it, the windriders to claim it. But unknown to them all, a dark force has already emerged from the chaos to seize power.
As Atreu and Verlinden strive to decipher the power of the Talisman that has defined Atreu’s Ascent, Teyth and Valkyra are locked in a desperate battle that neither of them can win. At a time when darkness and light are in perfect equilibrium, when Maelir and Faemir must find a way to break the deadlock and avoid annihilation, the world’s fate lies in the Book of Ascension.
Eclipse – The Lost Book of Ascension
What happens if after the winter solstice, the days keep getting shorter?
Until there is an eternal night?
What happens as the darkness grows?
And the creatures of dusk take control of the Mountain?
And the quest for the third Book is the only hope?
The Mountain is in its death throes as the Nazir send their wraiths to finish what the dusk-rats and grale had begun. Soon there will be no daylight to protect the Maelir and Faemir, and with each twilight there are fewer places to hide. Will the Mountain finally collapse under its own instability or will Atreu and Verlinden’s descent find the words of salvation in the Lost Book of Ascension?
Dirk Strasser has written over 30 books and has won multiple Australian Publisher Association Awards and a Ditmar for Best Professional Achievement. His short story, “The Doppelgänger Effect”, appeared in the World Fantasy Award-winning anthology, Dreaming Down Under. His fiction has been translated into a number of languages. He founded the Aurealis Awards and has co-published and co-edited Aurealis magazine for over 20 years.
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