Author in Focus: Alan Baxter
Interview by: Kylie Fox
Alan Baxter is a British-born, Australian author, motorcycle enthusiast and martial arts instructor.
His dark fantasy duology RealmShift and MageSign are available from Gryphonwood Press. (See my review of RealmShift here.)
Alan is a prolific writer with short stories, novellas and novelettes appearing in many anthologies both in print and online. He also writes reviews and opinion pieces that are always informative and entertaining – you can find these on his blog The Word According to Me!
Alan’s expertise in martial arts ensures that he always writes the fight right – and he’s written an ebook with precisely that title to help other writers create believable fight scenes.
Alan has several stories due for release next year, you’ll find the details on his website.
Here’s a snippet of what’s happening in the world of Alan Baxter right now.
Kylie: You have a short story making an appearance in “The One That Got Away”, a crime anthology to be released early next year. Can you tell us about that story and how you, who usually focuses more on horror and dark fantasy, came to be published in a crime anthology? (Alongside the likes of Lawrence Block and the boys from Crime Factory, no less!)
Alan: It’s very exciting this one – the ToC is awesome. Initially I thought I’d written a horror story, albeit a non-supernatural one. Two horror editors I submitted to both came back with, “This story is great, but it’s more a crime story than horror.” When I got that response the second time, I figured I should pay attention, so I sent it out to Dark Prints Press for their crime antho, the theme of which was perfect for the story. And that was that. I’ve always wanted to write more crime, and noirish tropes sneak into a lot of my work, so I guess it’s not that much of a leap.
Kylie: As I’ve said, most of your work falls more into the category of dark fantasy, but I’d argue that there is still very much a crime basis for most of your work. How do you think crime fits in with other genres?
Alan: I have trouble with genres in general. I usually tell people that I write dark speculative fiction, and that in itself crosses many genres. But I’ve always loved noir crime stories and mysteries and a lot of my speculative fiction is based around crime or mystery tropes. I think the ideas covered by crime fiction make wonderful fodder for stories of all kinds. And there is often a crime or mystery element in pretty much any story you can imagine.
Kylie: Do you think that too much emphasis is put on classifying books into genres given that so many blur the lines between one and another?
Alan: I really do. I understand that genres are necessary, and help people to understand what they might be in for, but I think they’re restrictive too. So many people say, “Oh, I don’t like science fiction” but they love Star Wars or Doctor Who. There are all kinds of SF, all kinds of fantasy and so on. In many ways it’s a carry over from brick and mortar book stores, who always need to shelve like books with like. With the advent of online shopping, categorising books by genre is becoming far less relevant.
Kylie: You write across several genres, including horror, dark fantasy, crime and science fiction – some even crossing several genres in the space of one story! For example, “Ghost of the Black: A ‘verse Full of Scum”, which is a very noir crimey sci fi novella.
What is it that characterises an “Alan Baxter” book, regardless of the genre?
Alan: That’s actually a really hard question to answer. I’m not sure I know! I always try to tell a fast-paced exciting story that delves into the human condition in one way or another. Most, thought not all, of my stories have some kind of supernatural, magical or science-fictional angle. Many have a crime or mystery premise, though certainly not all. All my fiction does tend to be dark, often verging on horrific. But I’ve written some lighter stuff and even the occasional happy ending. Although most of my happy endings, few though they are, are quite bittersweet. I hope that an Alan Baxter book is recognisable more by my voice and style than by any common theme. And in the end, I don’t really mind if people recognise an Alan Baxter story as being that or not – I just hope they enjoy and are entertained by my work. The work itself, and people’s enjoyment of it, is more important to me than my recognition as the author.
Kylie: You have a novelette being serialised in four parts starting in January. The idea of serialising, though not a new idea (thank you, Mr Dickens!) is making a resurgence in popularity. Do you see this as one of the possible “new waves” of the future of publishing given the state of “traditional” publishing at the moment?
Alan: Most definitely. I originally serialised Ghost Of The Black on my website, posting a new episode every Monday for 34 weeks during 2008, though it’s available complete as an ebook now. Ebooks and online magazines are giving new life to two classic forms of writing – the serial and the novella, both of which I love. And both of which are notoriously hard to sell. I’m really pleased with the serial coming out in January. It’s about 18,000 words, so long novelette/short novella length, but I think that’s a perfect length for this sort of story. It’s being published by a great online magazine called The Red Penny Papers, who publish regular e-issues of short fiction, interspersed with serialised longer work.
This story, The Darkest Shade Of Grey, is one of the best things I’ve written to date (if I may say so myself) so I’m really excited to see it published. It’s another dark urban fantasy that uses some crime tropes as its base – a rather broken, alcoholic reporter, with some supernatural power of his own, stumbles across what could be the story of his career. But it’s a mystery that he starts to unravel at his peril.
I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of these kinds of publications now that online and ebook publishing is gaining such momentum, and I think that’s great for authors, emerging and established alike. Apart from anything else, readers can get a feel for an author’s work with a smaller commitment of time and money by reading novella-length or serialised work, which may then tempt them to go and buy that author’s novel-length work.
Kylie: On the same note, how do you see trends in publication and the consumption of books changing in the near future?
Alan: I think ebooks will quickly become our primary consumption medium for stories. Print books will never go away completely, but they’ll become more artefacts, in limited editions, or available print-on-demand rather than offset print runs. I see this as a good thing – our bookshelves will only hold our most treasured physical artefacts, yet we’ll have access to thousands of great stories at a reduced cost, on a single device, saving trees and space. And hopefully, given the greater ease of access to ebooks in the developed world, we’ll see authors selling more stories, and readers trying out more authors too.
Print books will still be essential, especially to get stories and knowledge out to places without ebook technology, or even power to charge devices, but print-on-demand makes that a very viable prospect. It wouldn’t surprise me if, not long from now, pretty much all releases are mainly ebooks, with POD options available.
Kylie: Purely a question for my own benefit, are we going to see a third book featuring the fabulous Isiah (RealmShift & MageSign) any time soon?
Alan: I’ve been asked this question a fair bit. RealmShift and MageSign are a duology, and complete in that sense. There are two Isiah short stories out there – Stand Off, published by Wily Writers, and Running Wild With The Hunt, published by Seven Realms in their anthology, The Game.
I do love the Isiah character and would love to write more with him, but I would need a really good idea. Through the course of RealmShift and MageSign he become very powerful and I think I covered a lot of what he was about, so I don’t want to just churn out more for the sake of it and devalue him as a character. So, nothing in the schedule, but never say never.
Kylie: What’s next for Alan Baxter?
Alan: I’m currently working on a new series, most likely a trilogy. It’s set in the same “universe” developed in RealmShift and MageSign, but with all new characters. There is a very brief Isiah cameo in the first book, and some secondary characters from MageSign crop up as well. The first book is written and out looking for a publisher right now and I’m getting close to halfway on the second. The third in that series is just a small collection of notes and ideas at the moment.
Otherwise I’m always working on short fiction. As well as The Darkest Shade of Grey at Red Penny Papers and In The Name Of The Father in The One That Got Away, I have a sci-fi/horror story coming out in Midnight Echo 6, which should be available any time now, and a sci-fi/horror yarn in Anywhere But Earth, a fantastic anthology from Coeur De Lion, which has just been published and is available now. There are a couple of other short stories slated for publication next year, and hopefully more all the time.