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Interview with Darian Smith



He is a New Zealand-based fantasy author. He has won the Koru award and the Sir Julius Vogel award, and one of his novels was a finalist in the SPFBO competition. He has a background as a counselor/family therapist and adapted his training to write The Psychology Workbook for Writers. He lives with his wife of 20 years, Adrienne, a writer, and their noisy black cat named Athena, who he describes as having a fluffy fire alarm for a pet.


Q.1 Tell us something about yourself not many people know?
A.
I was an extra in the TV series Spartacus and played a Roman soldier who was eventually killed by the lead character in the show. I got my throat cut and thrown down the stairs many times! The actor who played Spartacus was a really great guy, though, and after every take, he helped me up and checked to make sure I was okay. Sadly, the falling down the stairs part never made it into the show, but if anyone finds me annoying for any reason, it might be satisfying to know they can watch me die on TV!

Q.2 When should we expect your next book? What will it be about?
A.
I have two novels in the works at the moment. The first is the fourth book in the Agents of Kalanon series. I’m excited about this one because it takes us to Ylani’s home country of Nilar and puts most of the characters in enemy territory, as well as revealing a bit more about Ylani’s background.

The other is a young adult urban fantasy set here in New Zealand that has some overlap with Currents of Change, which is my paranormal romance set in New Zealand, so I’m hoping that will be fun for fans of that book. As for when to expect them…I should have the urban fantasy out later this year, and ideally, Mercury’s Return (the fourth Agents of Kalanon book) won’t be too far behind.

Q.3 What made you write the Agents of Kalanon series?
A.
I’ve always loved the fantasy genre, but I think it’s fun to mix it with other things as well. There’s so much potential when blending genres. I’ve also always been a fan of TV murder shows. Back when I was a kid, it was Murder She Wrote, and then it was CSI and Criminal Minds and Law and Order. So one day, I was walking, and it struck me that I could blend these two genres into something entertaining. So basically, that’s what I did. Agents of Kalanon is what you get when you merge a police procedural murder show with epic fantasy. I often describe it as CSI with swords and magic.

Q.4 Do you feel any competitive pressure from fantasy films? If not, why?
A.
I don’t think it’s a competition. I think the success of fantasy films creates a huge opportunity for fantasy authors. I’m from New Zealand, so obviously, the Lord of the Rings films were a huge influence here in terms of tourism and the film industry but, more than that, I think fantasy films have brought a greater acceptance of the genre. When I was growing up, the special effects didn’t quite do some of the stories justice, but now they do, and films show people just how wonderful and interesting fantasy can be. I like to think that will encourage people to explore the genre more fully by picking up some books. I’m also glad to see that more fantasy books are being used as source material for film and TV. There are so many wonderful stories out there just waiting to be adapted for the screen. It’s an exciting time to be telling these stories!

Q.5 What is one stereotype about fantasy writers is absolutely wrong? What one stereotype is dead on?
A.
It’s the same stereotype: that we are all total geeks! We really are. In my experience, fantasy writers are just as many fans as they are creators. But what used to be geeky and looked down on is now mainstream. It’s normal to like fantasy and superheroes and magic and enjoy those stories and characters, and I love that.

I also think there’s a stereotype that fantasy is ALL about dwarves and elves, but the reality is that there is a wide range of fantasy styles available now, and some of them will really surprise you.

Q.6 Do you ever research real events, legends, or myths to get ideas?
A.
Funny you should ask that because the YA I’m working on draws from a local myth but adds to it in a current world kind of way. Inspiration can come from all kinds of places, and I think there’s excitement in drawing on lesser-known events, myths, and legends to bring a different flavor to the story.

Q.7 What is the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
A.
I don’t think it should be a terribly difficult thing because writers are always writing characters who are different from themselves. Still, there are definitely some bad examples of it - sometimes to the point where you wonder if the writer even knows anyone of the opposite sex! I think a huge trap is to go into it with template thinking where you say “Women are like this” or “Men are like that.” There are trends, perhaps, in the differences between genders, but each person is individual, so I try to write them as a person first and have their sex be just one of the many things they are. I’ve been very pleased to see some reviewers comment that they found my female characters to be at least as strong and interesting as the male ones - or even more so.

Q.8 Where do you as an author draw the line on gory descriptions and/or erotic content?
A.
I tend to keep the door closed on sex scenes. The characters do have it, but I don’t show the details. For me, that’s not the story I’m trying to tell, and if it doesn’t add to the story, then it probably doesn’t need to be in there. Given that the story contains murder mysteries, however, there’s a little bit of gory detail. I’d say it’s on a level with what you’d see in some of the murder/cop shows.

Q.9 How many books have you written? Which one is your favorite?
A.
I have six books available that are just mine, and I’ve been a contributing author to several others. I have a couple more that I’ve written, but they were my first attempts, and let’s just say they should stay unpublished!

As for which is my favorite - well, that’s like asking me to pick a favorite child! If I’m honest, my favorite is always the one I’m going to be working on next because that’s where the excitement and creativity are for me. But if I had to pick one of the published ones, I’d probably say Kalanon’s Rising because it’s where you get to meet the Agents of Kalanon characters for the first time.

Q.10 Among all the protagonists of your titles, who’s your favorite and why?
A.
Another tricky question! I think Brannon is probably most like me in personality, so I guess I’ll say Brannon.

Q.11 What about the supporting characters? Who does think is dearest to you?
A.
I have a lot of fun with Draeson - he’s one of those characters that gets to say all the funny, snarky things you’d never say in real life. But I also really like Ylani and Ula, at least in part because they don’t take any crap from Draeson!

Q.12 Do you believe in writer’s block? If yes, how do you deal with it?
A.
I have learned that often what feels like writer’s block is my subconscious trying to send me a message. The message might be that the scene I’m working on isn’t quite right or that I need to plan what’s happening next a bit more. I’m getting better at listening to those messages. Sometimes I need to pause, do something else, and let my subconscious work out how to fix the problem. Other times I just need to sit myself down and push on through it. The difficult thing is knowing which is the right course of action at the time!

Q.13 Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with good or bad ones?
A.
I do sometimes read my reviews, but I try not to take them personally. The wonderful NYT bestselling author Nalini Singh is in a local writer group with me, and she has told me on more than one occasion to never read the reviews, and I think that’s good advice for a writer’s mental health… but there are days I just can’t help myself! I love hearing from people who enjoyed my books. The downside is that there will always be people for whom the book wasn’t the right fit. I’m getting better at letting those ones go. As they say, you can’t please everyone.

Q.14 Do you have any unique and quirky writing habits?
A.
Not really. Although I will admit to consuming an absurd quantity of Coke and chocolate during the process.

Q.15 Outside of your family members, name one entity that supported your commitment to become a published author?
A. SpecFicNZ
is a New Zealand organization that supports writers of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, and I was fortunate enough to receive a grant from them early on. I also received a Sir Julius Vogel Award from the fan organization SFFANZ and two Koru Awards from the Romance Writers of New Zealand, so I feel very privileged and supported.

Q.16 Who designed your book covers?
A. Amygdala Design
. They do great work and are easy to deal with. I’m delighted to have found them.

Q.17 What three things should readers expect from your books?
A.
High-stakes magical mysteries, interesting characters with dark and mysterious pasts, and exciting twists.

Q.18 Which famous person, living or dead, would you like to meet and why?
A.
Weirdly, I often meet famous people in my dreams. I’m not sure what that means. But for the purposes of this question, I think I’ll choose Oscar Wilde. It would be fun to compare notes about being writers from different centuries, and he was notoriously quick-witted and funny, so I think it would be a good time.

Q.19 What is your favorite book from other authors and why?
A.
I better say Home of the Heart by Adrienne Smith... partly because my wife wrote it! While I might be a tad biased, she actually won two awards for it, so if you like small-town romance, it’s well worth picking up.

Q.20 Share the experience of your journey so far?
A.
My writing journey has been quite a long one. I started writing my first novel at 16, but, of course, it wasn’t perfect, so it was never published. I wrote off and on for years after that until eventually deciding it was time to take it more seriously. I wrote another novel and several short stories and won some competition prizes with them. Then the unpublished manuscript of what would eventually become Kalanon’s Rising also won a competition, and I decided it was time to get an agent and start putting out books. And I don’t think I’ll ever stop.


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