Saturday, September 22, 2012

Interview with Mason Balfour

Can you tell readers a little bit about yourself and what inspired to write in this particular genre?

I’ve been writing as long as I can recall. I was always the kid in high school that turned writing assignments in a week late, a hundred pages too long and ten times bigger in scale than what was asked for. As for every other subject in school, I sucked. As for the genre... I’ve always loved werewolves and vampires. Other kids loved super heroes, whatever; Transformers. I liked things based in fact or mythology, real-life folklore. I also feel that werewolves are seldom, if ever, given proper literary respect.  I read a review of Glen Duncan’s ‘The Last Werewolf’ where his writing of the book was called “literary suicide” or something else like that. The book turned out great, but he was sort of laughed at for wanting to even write it. I got really damned tired of vampires being sexy, wealthy and cool-as-all-Hell while werewolves are always mindless, one-dimensional monsters or dumb dogs.
What is it about the paranormal, in particular vampires, that fascinates you so much?

I’ve always been deeply fascinated with the paranormal; cryptozoology, as well. I’ve experienced hauntings and inexplicable things since I was maybe seven or eight years old. I’m fascinated with vampires based on the actual origins of the mythology in contrast to what they’ve become. It was really just due to ignorance regarding the processes of decomposition; escaping gases from a corpse seeming like vocalizations, blood leaking from the mouths, hair and fingernails seeming to grow due to skin protracting. They had no medical knowledge of these things. Mix religion with superstition, toss in a bit of fear-based imagination... you’ve got a vampire. Lately I’m fascinated with the reinvention of the vampire. Don’t get me wrong, I love ‘Twilight’ and a few other stories like ‘Interview With the Vampire’ that explores the reluctant and even sometimes heroic vampire. It’s fun to explore occasionally, but it’s quickly becoming the new template. How long will it be before people forget completely that vampires are dead, parasitic, murderous things? I think the only reason the Edward Cullen and Louis are so compelling is that they are a radical departure, a bold exception to the rules.  

What inspired you to write this book?

It sat in my head, in bits and pieces, for years. I think it took rough form during the  season of the ‘ER’ television series that dealt with Dr. Mark Green’s last days. I love the show and the character, and the actor, too; Anthony Edwards. I didn’t want to watch him die and I kept thinking of ways to save him. If he were bitten by a vampire or werewolf, that would do it. being partial to werewolves, I went that way. The character of Dr. Carter Wells in ‘TERRITORY’ is very much based on the Mark Green character in many ways.
Please tell us about your latest release.

My latest release is ‘TERRITORY Book One: The Red Thunder Clan’. It’s the first of four books that are completed. Parts three and four are in the nit-pick editing phase. It’s the origin story, of course; setting up characters and plot lines, as first installments always do. I was careful however to balance the action and suspense with the informational portion. Who wants a werewolf or vampire book that’s two hundred or more pages of exposition?
I have different types of werewolves in the book; different vampires, too. There a three distinct breeds of werewolves, one of those has a subspecies that can not shift back into human form. They’re pure, brutal animal. My vampires walk in sunlight and have the capacity to look fairly human, with a couple aesthetic tricks.  But I also have a population afflicted with a disease that slowly kills them, debilitates them mentally and physically. These will burn in sunlight. I did all of this to create an interesting, layered and unique story, but also to cover the bases and try to give ALL fans of the genre something they want and can enjoy. I have no love story exactly, but my characters are well-crafted and complex. There’s love and a multitude of human emotions and interaction. Most of my characters are married, have strong family bonds or have lost someone they love.  I just ignored the “burgeoning romance” thing.  

Do you have a special formula for creating characters' names? Do you try to match a name with a certain meaning to attributes of the character or do you search for names popular in certain time periods or regions?

I do try to create names that sound exotic or period-appropriate when it’s required. For human characters or immortals that aren’t all that old, I combine names of people I know or actors and other celebrities I like or admire. Individual names seldom if ever hold any layered or hidden meanings in my work.
Was one of your characters more challenging to write than another?

Yes. Felix Lovell. He’s a vampire and a Shadow-Walker; those diseased guys that explode in the sun. He’s sort of the self-declared, unofficial master of all Shadow-Walkers. He was a Nazi, an SS officer. That’s what made him hard to write. How do you get that point and history across convincingly and in detail without going off into a lot of really evil rhetoric and nasty bullshit that could ruin or change the face of the work entirely? How much is too much, how much is just right... you know?

Is there a character that you enjoyed writing more than any of the others?

I think I honestly love them all, except for Felix. And with him, I love to hate him. There are qualities and traits in all of them that I enjoy writing.

Do you have a formula for developing characters? Like do you create a character sketch or list of attributes before you start writing or do you just let the character develop as you write?
It’s different with each character, I think. With main characters, I tend to map out their purpose to the story and build their personality around that; what type of person I think would be shaped by the role in life I’m about to throw them into. With secondary characters I recognize gaps in the story; things that need to be done or need to be said. These are things that maybe a main character would not say or do, so I build characters for these things. I’m still careful however to flesh them out completely. I work hard to avoid one dimensional or disposable characters.
What is your favorite scene from the book? Could you share a little bit of it, without spoilers of course?

That’s a tough question. I don’t know that I have a favorite, but a couple stand out. I really like the prologue. It establishes the nature and temperament of my werewolves right away, and in a unique way. I also like a scene in there where Sophia, one my main vampires, demonstrates real compassion for one of her human girls. She does it in a fierce way of course, like a mother lion. But it’s the first time you see that side of her, and that becomes important later on.

Did you find anything really interesting while researching this or another book?

The disease I used for the Shadow-Walkers. It’s real affliction, incredibly rare, but quite bizarre. It’s called Porphyria.

What is the most interesting thing you have physically done for book related research purposes?

I ran around my yard for about an hour in my socks, on the balls of my feet. I was trying to get a feel for how a werewolf might move; its gate, the bounce... posture. I feel like an ass now. Can we move on?

Can you tell readers a little bit about the world building in the book/series? How does this world differ from our normal world?

It’s set completely in the real world, almost to an exhaustive extent. I really studied the geography of Washington and Oregon. It’s the best place to see these types of creatures or set these types of events; huge, bloody battles that need to go unnoticed by humans.

With the book being part of a series, are there any character or story arcs, that readers jumping in somewhere other than the first book, need to be aware of? Can these books be read as stand alones?

No, they don’t really work as stand-alones. And unfortunately I’m not big a fan of redundancy or call-backs. I don’t do a lot of recapping, unless the introduction of the information was awhile ago and complex.

Do any of your characters have similar characteristics of yourself in them and what are they?

Niven Durraunt, maybe. He’s the Alpha of the Red Thunder Clan. I didn’t do it intentionally, but going back and reading it.... a lot of my personality with regard to my relationship with my sons is in there. I see quite a bit of me in there when he’s dealing with other members of his colony in a leadership capacity.

Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? How do you deal with it?

No, I never do. I may struggle a bit here and there with how to say something... but I never run out of things to say. My wife hates that, I think.
Do you have any weird writing quirks or rituals?

Umm... I don’t think so. At least, I’ve never caught myself doing anything weird before I sit down to write.
Do you write in different genres?

Yes. I’m currently re-working a novel I published over a decade ago. I was never happy with it. It was too “artsy” and pretentious. It’s steampunk, sort of... I guess. Sort of like a Tim Burton, ‘Sweeny Todd’ vibe set in the future. Maybe it’s actually reverse steampunk then? It’s definitely weird. I love that about it.

Do you find it difficult to write in multiple genres?

No. I find it to be a lot of fun, and very useful as a mental exercise. It keeps me from getting tired of anything.... getting overloaded from the monotony.

When did you consider yourself a writer?

Around 1991. I think that’s when I consciously thought, “Yes, I want to do this professionally.” I originally wanted to break into comic books. I was too thick-headed to realize you were supposed to write stories and create art based on very popular, well-established characters. I was doing my own completely original stuff. I gave that up and took a script I liked and expanded on it. That became ‘A Tiny Thread’; my first published novel.
What are your guilty pleasures in life?

I like a lot of things people wouldn’t expect me to like. I’m told that I should feel guilty for some of the stuff I like; Twilight, Fried Green Tomatoes, Lady Ga Ga, Steel Magnolias, Titanic.... I don’t feel guilty about any of it.

Other than writing, what are some of your interests, hobbies or passions in life?

Movies. I love movies. I sculpt, too. I really enjoyed building my website. I didn’t expect to, but I did. I might try to do a bit of that free-lance or something.

What was the last amazing book you read?

I recently re-read ‘Tale of the Body Thief’. I love that book. I’m about to read a book by Lovecraft I’ve had forever and never read... ‘The Shuttered Room’.

Where is your favorite place to read? Do you have a cozy corner or special reading spot?

Anywhere outdoors.

What can readers expect next from you?

The next three books in the TERRITORY series and maybe two more of those. The ‘Tiny Thread’ rewrite; don’t have an official new title yet.

Where can readers find you on the web?

On my website, I’m on Facebook, too and I have a blog. They’re linked on my site.

Would you like to leave readers with a little teaser or excerpt from the book?

Of course! This an excerpt from chapter 7 of The Red Thunder Clan. Enjoy...
 Derik was following something else, too; laughter. Yes, it was laughter and it came from the same direction as the commingled and offensive stench.  He ascended a massive tree overlooking the area he sought with an astonishing and graceful motion and impossible speed; a virile house cat chasing a squirrel up a tree. He perched quietly in the cover of the thick leaves of the highest branches.

He could see a couple, a man and woman in their mid twenties, perhaps. They held hands as they walked; laughing as they spoke of this and that and of nothing in particular or of importance to the First-Breed who watched them in silence. They were dressed in jeans and brand new, brightly colored Eastman jackets and new hiking boots, all of which seemed as if it had only just arrived in the mail from a J. Crew catalog; two people clearly out of their element and out of sorts, perhaps part of a group from the campground a mile or so to the north, or so Derik supposed this from the smell of a particular perfume he had also detected on another young woman at the campsite he had observed earlier that morning from the edge of the forest. 

The scent of the tainted werewolf intruded again and Freak could see it just beyond the tree line to the north; crouched in the brush and inching silently forward in the couple’s direction. It was very typical in appearance and behavior for a Second-Breed non-shifter. Its length was roughly that of an average man, though it was on all fours just now. It was massive at the chest and shoulders; thickly gnarled muscle flowing into a massive neck and broad head that gave the whole of its upper body the appearance of a single massive and indistinguishable knot of muscle and filthy, tangled dark fur. Its body was very slender from the ribcage down; the exaggerated build of a greyhound. Its legs were thick and powerful but with much shorter forelegs than those of First-Breeds. Its paws were massive and broad with heavy blood-stained claws. It had the human-like hands of First-Breeds, with long heavy claws on four of the fingers; a shorter claw on the thumb. 

Its face was broad with a long muzzle and large black nose that flexed excitedly as it tracked the couple’s position from its place in the thick brush. Its large yellow eyes glowed with anticipation of the kill under its thick and furrowed brow; its elongated and pointed ears lay flat against its head in the attack position.  Dark matted fur crested its forehead between its ears in a dramatic and sharp peak and flowed down over its shoulders and back and crested its heavy jaw like a wild beard that dragged in the brush and mud produced by the heavy rain of the region. Its skin was dark and mottled; an almost camouflaged pattern of dark human flesh tone and pitch black. 

The werewolf lowered itself even closer to the ground, digging its massive rear claws deep into the soil and sprang forward from the brush toward the young man and woman; a terrible freight train shredding earth and foliage as it closed on the couple with impossible speed. They turned toward the sound and froze with horror and confusion at what they saw, unable to move or to even breathe; trembling violently and uncontrollably.

People always think that they will respond instantly in these moments; lightning-quick actions triggered by that primal fight-or-flight impulse. Or maybe they imagine they would scream; scream out with terror as they come to understand what they’ve seen before fleeing. But this rarely happens, hardly ever; it doesn’t work like that. The fact is people freeze in such a situation. When confronted with the impossible, standing in the shadow of what we’re taught does not exist, we freeze; the mind stammers like a computer struggling to process too much information and it just freezes and tires to sort it; to comprehend the incomprehensible. They froze in this manner, the man and woman; rooted to the ground wide-eyed, slack-jawed and confused as that primal response screamed at them to run without question or hesitation while the more evolved and intellectual mind struggled to make sense of it all.  

 The creature roared now; an unimaginable sound like a tiger’s roar blended with a deep human scream; a terrifying sound like nothing they had ever heard. It was almost on them now, extending its massive arms out in front like an Olympic diver as it came off the ground and sailed through the air like a missile in what seemed like slow motion. 

There was little Derik could do now and he knew it; knew it in a way that left a sour taste in his mouth. They had seen it now, this massive werewolf that was not supposed to exist. Random and brief encounters with humans were not uncommon and easily washed away in a jaded and dismissive world but an attack such as this could not be dismissed so easily, nor could a fight between two such creatures should Derik intervene. He could do nothing but let it happen, let this non-shifter kill these humans or be resigned to kill them himself.

The woman finally screamed then as her boyfriend stepped uselessly in front of her and was torn down in a thick spray of blood, washing over the woman’s face and chest as she was thrown violently aside by the impact. The man had not even had a chance to react fully, simply stepping in front of her in a confused and instinctive state. He had suffered little, despite the horror of it all. The impact alone had killed him almost at once, leaving the beast to feed at leisure; unburdened by a struggling victim. 

The woman watched and that was all she could do; soaked in blood, wide-eyed as her lips trembled as if trying to form words or to even find a voice with which to scream. As she watched in horror that terrible, impossible thing had stripped her boyfriend Andy’s body down to bare, blood-stained bone; a hollow and unrecognizable carcass to which his badly torn face was attached. She found her voice then and screamed with such ferocity that it seemed even for a moment to startle the massive animal as it turned in her direction, its jaws and teeth draped in bloody flesh from the corpse that lay steaming at its feet in the chilly morning air. It abandoned its meal for a moment and charged her then as she rose up, screaming and ran toward the tree line. With its belly full it was a bit slower now; less aggressive and driven by a need for flesh. It sprang forward suddenly and punched its long, broad fangs through the woman’s shoulder and drove her down; the pain silencing her as she again lost her voice with the shock of it all.    
Something crashed into the beast then; something massive and powerful that let out the same unbelievable roar as the werewolf had. 

It was another werewolf, very similar to the first in several ways but very distinctly different. They slammed hard into the trunk of a nearby tree with a deafening crack as even the highest branches trembled from the impact and showered the clearing with Fall leaves and splintered bark. 

The first werewolf sailed awkwardly through the air suddenly in an end-over-end fashion as if it had been thrown. It landed head-first in the bright green moss of the forest floor, throwing up a blanket of wet earth and the bright moss. It was on its feet now, shaking its head to clear the effects of the violent impact; standing upright on its massive and powerful hind legs but only briefly; it did not seem capable of sustaining this posture to any effect. It moved on all fours in a cautious half-circle, as did the other one; sizing each other up and preparing for attack. Derik crouched suddenly into a four-legged stance as well now; a defensive posture to protect vital organs. 

He charged the non-shifter now and drove it hard into the ground amidst another shower of earth, moss and debris. They were grappling ferociously now; a lightning-speed tangle of teeth and claws and loudly snapping jaws as they roared violently; each struggling to gain the upper hand, two massive and powerful machines clashing over and over again; shredding the terrain around them and shaking the ground with each impact. 

They toppled from one side of the clearing to another, smashing the trees and upsetting large boulders that rolled out toward the clearing. The air had become filled with the brown and orange leaves of the trees; shaken from their branches and sent adrift like huge flakes of brown and orange snow. 

Derik was thrown back violently now and twisted through the air. But he did not land awkwardly as the non-shifter had; instead he twisted over with fluid grace and landed with one massive paw on a large boulder which he instantly used to his advantage, propelling himself forward; his impossible claws cutting into the very stone as he did so. He struck the non-shifter in an unexpected way and gained the advantage for which he had fought. As they slammed again into the ground Derik managed to get his jaws around the head of the Second-Breed and snapped his neck with a swift and deafening crack. 

The woman watched as it fell to the ground, limp and motionless as the other stood triumphantly in a wide stance, breathing heavily through its massive nostrils like a wild, powerful horse. She watched him, speechless and confused, as the massive creature with its beautiful patch-work fur, splattered and streaked with the spilled blood of both creatures, changed shape quickly and fluidly before her startled eyes; changed into a tall lean man with a bright red Mohawk and several tattoos over his pale, muscular form. 

There was nothing he could do but watch her die as he knelt beside her silently and held her hand. She had bled out almost completely; the wet, leaf-covered ground beneath her dark and slick with blood that steamed slightly in the cold. It was fast, at least; mercifully quick, he thought as he watched her draw one final deep and ragged breath before going limp and motionless. 

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