Thursday, March 18, 2010

Interview with Shane Jiraiya Cummings

Today, my guest is author, Shane Jiraiya Cummings. Mr. Cummings wrote Phoenix and the Darkness of Wolves, which I reviewed this week. He has agreed to answer some questions about his writing life.

1.How long have you been a writer, and what made you decide to become a writer?

I began writing fiction in a serious manner in 2003. At the time, I was climbing the corporate ladder but I didn't appreciate the view from my rung. Writing had been a lifelong passion, and so I quit my job to tackle my first novel, which I'd been dabbling with for a couple of years, even though I was a complete novice. I also obtained writing and editing qualifications.

2.Are you a full-time or part-time writer, and how do you organize your writing life?

Right now, I'm a full-time writer and editor (I'm taking time out from the workforce to complete a novel trilogy and some editing projects I've had in the works). My regular routine consists of taking a long walk along the lake near my home first thing in the morning. I then work on my novel for four to five hours. After a break, I spend two hours on editing and another hour dealing with emails. Well, that's the theory, anyway!

3.Please describe your writing process from initial idea to completed story.

I usually envision the ending of a story and build the story around that. In my earliest work, I allowed the muse to take hold and wrote with planning toward that end, and that tended to work pretty well for short stories. However, with my longer work, I write a synopsis and plot out the major arcs, which then helps writing the story. I'm still not much of a planner – certainly with the finer details – but I'm becoming more meticulous as I get older.

4.How did you research details for Phoenix and the Darkness of Wolves?

I've experienced a number of bushfires in my lifetime. Once, in the 1990s, my hometown of Sydney was completely ringed by bushfires. From the top of a nearby hill, you had a panoramic view of the entire city. The sky was dark from the smoke and orange from the fire. For days, the city was trapped in an apocalyptic haze. That imagery stayed with me as I was writing Phoenix. Also, my family has a tradition of serving in the volunteer bush fire service, so many of the details were familiar to me. Aside from that, I've always harbored a love of mythology, and so slotting in elements such as monsters and druids was relatively seamless.

5. What is your formula for your rules of magic and how did you determine it?

I'm fascinated by runes and therefore I wanted to incorporate a physical element (drawing runes) into the story. I believe magic in fiction should be more than simply waving a wand and saying a magic word. Magic users should be required to muster willpower and make sacrifices to draw on their power, and this so was a central tenet of the magic in Phoenix and the Darkness of Wolves.

6.How did you create the world your characters inhabit?

The novella is set in Western Australia, the state I've lived in for fourteen years. It's a vast, isolated, dry, and empty place, which is why I believed it would be an excellent location for a post-apocalyptic story. Adding an element such as the Fire made the location even more desolate. However, the characters and setting are, in fact, part of a cycle of stories. A novelette in Robert Hood's Daikaiju 2 anthology entitled "Beneath Southern Waves" introduces the concept of giant monsters with Bill (one of the main characters in Phoenix) as that story's protagonist. I've also had a story entitled "Colossus of Roads" published on Ticonderoga Online that features a small colony that survived the Fire in the distant, post-apocalyptic future. However, Phoenix and the Darkness of Wolves is completely a standalone story. These other stories only enrich peripheral details of the novella.

7.What other types of writing do you do, which genre do you prefer, and why?

I primarily write subtle horror (or what I prefer to term 'dark fiction') – stories that explore the darker emotions of fear and despair. I feel stories should do more than simply entertain, I feel they should evoke an emotional reaction in the reader, which is why I write dark fiction. It elicits the most profound emotional reactions when done correctly. I've written a number of fantasy and science fiction stories, too, and I have a Japanese fantasy novel trilogy in the works. I like these types of stories because they evoke a sense of wonder.

8.What are your thoughts about a writer having an agent?

An agent is essential if an author is seeking to have a novel published by a major publisher. Personally, I have a good understanding of contracts and rights, but I know a good agent will lobby on my behalf for a better deal. Getting an advantageous deal as a first time novelist is a challenge, and without an agent, a first time novelist is negotiating from a position of weakness. Of course, agents are completely unnecessary for small press sales and short stories – and besides, the agents' margins are so low, I don't see why they'd bother.

9.What was your process for getting published with Damnation Books?

A novella is a tricky length to have published. Novels and short stories have well established markets but novellas fall somewhere in the middle. I tried a sympathetic publisher in Australia but the novella just couldn't fit into their schedule. I was reticent to submit Phoenix outside of Australia as it is a very Australian story and I was concerned Americans wouldn't really appreciate in the same way. However, when I saw Damnation Books open up, I thought I might give them a try, and lo and behold, they accepted. Kim and the Damnation crew have been a pleasure to deal with.

10.Where can people learn more about Shane Jiraiya Cummings and your work?

The best place would be my website (, where I have plenty of biographical info and quite a few free fiction downloads. I also maintain a page over at the Australian Horror Writers Association ( as I'm the current Vice President. For up-to-date news, I maintain a blog at

11.Any tips for new writers?

1.Dedicate time to write every day, even if it's only a modest amount.
2.Spend some time understanding proper grammar and story structure. Very few writers seem to understand that writing requires as much training as other jobs (although the training for writers is largely self-driven). If your sloppy work is published, your mistakes are enshrined for all to see (and ridicule).
3.Read as much as you can – within your genre and outside of it.
4.Perfect your skills by writing short stories and submitting them for publication. Having short stories published and working with magazine and anthology editors is a good litmus test for if you want to publish novels.
5.Have a thick skin (and drink a cup of concrete if you need to). Don't be a haughty princess when it comes to accepting rejection, bad reviews, or editorial changes.

Shane, thank you for being my guest today; it’s been a pleasure having you here.

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