I’m excited to be interviewing author D.H. Willison today. Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. Let’s dive right in!
First, why don’t you tell me a little bit about Harpyness is Only Skin Deep, and Finding Your Harpy Place.
In a word: fun. The novels take place on Arvia, a beautiful, dangerous, crazy world filled with colorful, larger-than-life characters and mythical monsters more colorful and larger still. The world is seen through the eyes of two very different characters. Rinloh, the harpy main character, is one of the mythical monsters, and at a mere three stories tall, one of the smaller ones at that. Yet somehow she remains cheerful, empathetic, and insatiably curious.
And on a world brimming with danger, crawling with giant mythical monsters, a world where only the strongest, boldest warriors would dare set foot, what is the main human character like? Let me introduce Darin: a weak, nerdy, introspective adventurer wannabe, who’d love to whip out the blistering broadsword of badassary and charge in, but whose equipment is more along the lines of a rusty dagger, three novelty stink-bombs, and half a flask of cheap brandy.
I could tell you about the nefarious plot behind the disappearances in the city of Xin in Harpyness is Only Skin Deep. Or the mysterious artifact casting a long shadow of tragedy in Finding your Harpy Place. But that’s not what the books are about. They are about Darin and Rinloh, two incredibly different characters who find friendship in the most unexpected places. And fun.
What? You want me to actually describe the books? OK, fine.
Harpyness is Only Skin Deep is a portal fantasy. Darin is shocked at the dangers of this strange world he finds himself stranded on. Rinloh may be native to Arvia, but she and her flock are anything but “birds of a feather.” The two meet under difficult circumstances indeed: a human hunt. Yet as they get to know each other, they learn that they can be stronger together because of their differences, not in spite of them.
Finding your Harpy Place is a quest story. Our characters face long journeys, discovering new cities, new cultures and new monsters as they struggle to complete their quests. Using novelty stink-bombs. Or not. Release date, November 14, 2020.
Harpyness is Only Skin Deep is the first story chronologically, but they are independent and can be read in either order. Both are written for the adult reader.
What first inspired you to write? What drew you to writing fantasy?
I’ve written stories since I was a child, usually of some crazy adventure I had playing through my mind. And although I’ve written in a variety of genres, I like extremes, and the fantasy genre is most accepting of extremes. You can break the laws of physics, biology, economics, and occasionally even good taste, and still make it work. The heartfelt story of a friendship between a giant harpy with talons that would shame a t-rex, and a human that should, by all rights, not have survived the first ten minutes of his trip to Arvia? Why not? It all makes perfect sense!
When working on a book, what comes first for you–the characters or the plot?
Characters are most important, but the plot is frequently hardest to write. Once a character is fully developed in my head it’s usually clear what they will do or say in certain situations. But then the fun begins: how do I actually get them into those situations? To me the plot is a frame, it has to show off the characters at their best and their worst, and that can be damn tricky.
Did you base any of your characters on yourself in any way?
I wish! Darin is way cooler than I am. And he doesn’t freeze when he’s put on the spot! Seriously though, it’s hard not to put parts of yourself into characters – subconsciously at least, though I do it consciously as well. I find it especially helpful when writing how a character feels in certain intense situations: is there something from my own life I can relate to? While I’ve regrettably only lived on contemporary earth, for many situations in my novels, there is something I can relate to from my life. I’ll remember a situation where I was genuinely afraid for my life. Or elated, or furious, or jealous. I try to remember the details of how I felt. What did I say? And was there a gap between how I felt and what I said?
So while I’ve never encountered a harpy or a mermaid, I can relate to that time I nearly stepped on that huge timber rattlesnake that was crossing the path. Or that time at work where I got thrown under the bus in the middle of a big meeting. Or the party where I felt awkward and embarrassed. Or any number of others.
And Darin’s ability to think and talk coherently even in the most dangerous situations is like a superpower for me.
What was the hardest character or part to write?
My writing mantra: if it’s funny, go for it. And since I prefer making people laugh, tragic scenes are usually difficult for me to write. I really don’t like torturing my characters, even the ones that kinda deserve it. But even though the tone is generally light, it is a dangerous world, and bad things do happen.
You have a large amount of the fantastical in your world. How do you come up with so many unique creatures?
Most of the creatures on Arvia have roots in either mythology or real animals. Harpies in mythology are generally portrayed as ferocious and ruthless. On Arvia they are taken to the extreme: giant-sized, with an appetite for human flesh. But the real fun comes from taking their characteristics and thinking through what it would mean if you were that creature. I treat all my creatures as if they could be POV characters. They are not monsters to be conquered, but a part of the world, and they have their own day-to-day problems. Can you put yourself into the shoes of a harpy?
That was a trick question. Harpies don’t wear shoes. And they also find it totally bizarre that humans have feet so weak as to require them–and can’t even properly grasp a branch. To me, what makes a creature interesting and unique is not just how they look, but how they think.
Is it easier for you to write a villainous character or a hero? Which is more fun?
I tend not to use the classic heroic character archetype, but my version of a hero is easier and more fun. I try to put myself in the shoes of all my characters (even those that can’t wear shoes) to make them feel authentic, to give them realistic-feeling motivations. And I find it downright painful putting myself in the shoes of a truly evil character. But, we must suffer for our art, right?
What do you do to “get in the zone”?
I used to put on a suit of harpy feathers and walk around the neighborhood saying things like “tremble in terror, puny humans.” But then the neighbors started giving me strange looks, rumors started spreading, and feathers kept getting stuck in my keyboard. Honestly, I tend to work non-sequentially, so if I’m drawing a blank for the next scene, I’ll skip ahead a ways and work on a different type of scene. Or if that doesn’t work I can do research. Or work through background stories for characters, or the history of cities. It’s really just a matter of making the time, sitting down and writing. Regardless of my mood, there’s always something I can do.
Lastly, I’m always curious? What is your favorite book (and you can absolutely say your own!)
I absolutely love my own, but have a soft spot for the first fantasy humor I ever read, Another Fine Myth. I still love the dialog (especially Aahz) and outlandish situations. Puts a smile on my face every time.
About the author:
D.H. Willison is a reader, writer, game enthusiast and developer, engineer, and history enthusiast. He’s lived around the world, absorbing history, culture, and food. Actually he’s eaten the food. It has been verified that he is a complex, multicellular life form. Fascinated by nature, technology, and history, and especially anything that can put all three of these together, he has an annoying habit of dragging his wife to the most unromantic destinations imaginable, including outdoor museums, authentic castle dungeons, the holds of tall ships, and even the tunnels of the Maginot Line.
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