Interview with Austin Briggs, author of Five Dances with Death

Austin Briggs, whose book I recently reviewed (Five Dances with Death: Dance One), has granted me an interview with a look into the research and future of his work. I received his book through Adopt and Indie and have really enjoyed communicating with him. I hope to get involved in this program again in February. To learn more:
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1. What gave you the idea for such a unique and complex setting?
I’ve been attracted to the Native American cultures as long as I can remember myself. In my childhood, I was mostly obsessed with the Incas and Mohicans, Hurons and Cherokees. The Aztecs caught my interest relatively late.

Mexico is an incredibly compact location with all sorts of climates and conditions crammed into a narrow, relatively small space. This has enabled many diverse and rich cultures to develop, making the place endlessly interesting.

I’m also intrigued by the idea of a society that is about to lose itself entirely, because I’ve lived through such collapse.

2. What kind of travel or research did you do for Dance One?

Before I dared publish the first book, I spent 10 years researching.

I have, of course, read every single tome I could find about the Aztecs, starting from the first letters sent home by the Conquistadors, to the latest research papers. I studied both the European and Native documents. I learned some Spanish and Nahuatl to understand them better.

Most importantly, I travelled across Mexico and visited the places where my characters lived, fought their battles, and struggled with their choices.

Mexico taught me some hard lessons. For example, I had two books worth of text by the time I first visited the country, written based on what I imagined the Aztec culture would be after reading many historical sources. After two weeks of travelling around Mexico, I understood that I had written complete rubbish. So I deleted my books and wrote everything again, this time, hopefully, bringing real life into my texts.

Some readers ask me why did I add elements of magic into the story. I did that after visiting Mexico. If you slow down, step out of the cities and listen, you may see magic in many places. I’m not talking pretty flowers. I’m talking sorcery, old beliefs, persistent ideas that may seem either beautiful or superstitious, depending on your mindset.

3. Will your next book (in this series) be in a similar setting?

Yes, absolutely. The setting will naturally expand to include more details of the Spanish conquest, but the action will continue along the route of Cortés from the Caribbean coast to what now is Mexico City.

4. Tell me about your current work — are you working on any side projects or just focusing on Five Dances with Death? Do you have the other four books planned out, and if so, when can we look forward to reading them?

No side projects for me. Between a full time job in corporate business, a family with three kids, and much travel, I have time to focus on one writing project at a time.

The rest of the series is fully planned and developed. In a week I’m returning to Mexico to start writing the second book.

It takes a few months to finish writing and prepare the book for launch, so will be adding books reasonably soon.

5. Do you have any fun/weird habits that you do while you write?

Yes, I do.

Here’s one. I try to feel my protagonist’s mood. If he’s scared, I try to find the scariest place in my house to write – for example, at night with my back to the dark forest outside. If he’s drunk, I get drunk. If he’s angry, you can bet that so am I at the time.

Another habit of mine is to put either a piece of black obsidian from Mexico, or a silver statuette of a dancing Aztec warrior on my desk as I write. These things get me in the mood. The obsidian mystifies me, and the warrior doesn’t let me relax.

6. What are you currently reading: book or series, what do you like about it? Would you recommend it?

Right now, I’m enjoying the Lyonesse series by Jack Vance. I literally can’t put that book down. Just before that, I read Vanessa Wu’s stories. I passionately recommend both. Although dramatically different, they share true love for good language and a good story.

7. Tell me a little about your involvement with Adopt an Indie. Are there any myths or stigmas surrounding small publishing that you would like to abolish?

I heard about Adopt an Indie by chance, and decided to apply. Happy that you’ve found me, I’ve enjoyed our interaction.

As for the myths and stigmas… I remember feeling puzzled when one reviewer mentioned twice or thrice that my book was self-published. My first reaction was “Who cares?”

Then I realized that some folks indeed care. I don’t.

A book is a book. When I read, I judge the book, not the publisher. I never notice who publishes what. I love books, not the brand of the paper they’re printed on.

I self-publish by choice; I don’t feel stigmatized for choosing freedom.

8. Do you have any advice for authors who are looking to either self-publish or publish with a small company?

I’d suggest taking your time. Don’t rush to publish. Edit, then edit again, and edit yet again. Respect your readers, and spare them your rushed scenes and typos. You’re an entrepreneur, not an amateur; behave like one!

Here’s an example: I gave my book four professional edits and seven proofreads. Both commercially successful authors and Ph.D.’s in literature worked on perfecting my text. Still, at least one typo made it through. A friendly reader pointed it out to me, and I’ll fix it soon.

And another thing… don’t spend too much time with the fellow authors. Quit checking your sales numbers every hour. Get off the Kindle Boards or whatever forum you frequent.

Instead, connect with your readers, listen to them, and write quality stuff.

9. If you could pick one question that I didn’t ask that you wanted me to, what would it be, and how would you answer?

Is your book coming out in any other languages?

Yes! The Spanish translation will soon be ready. After that, I may translate my books into German, French and Russian.

10. Any last thoughts?

Thanks for your nice questions

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Adopt an Indie has authors left to adopt « Realm of Reviews

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