Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Five or So Questions with Matthijs Holter on The Devil's Cub

Today I have an interview with Matthijs Holter, creator of Archipelago, about his book "The Devil's Cub" and it's upcoming sequel.


Tell me a little bit about "The Devil's Cub." What's the story?

The main character is a 150-year-old noaide - a Sami shaman. When she encounters the devil on a lonely forest road, she decides to seduce him - and becomes pregnant with his child. So the question is, what will she do with it? Her plan is to use it to gain more power, but will she manage to do that, and how? How will it change her?


What made you choose this time period and these folklore elements?

It's set in the 1800s in Norway, which, at that time, was a place of contrasts and changes. A few families became extremely wealthy selling timber to warring countries, while most people were poor, often starving. The church tried to educate and civilize the population, but the population often didn't give a shit - or, rather, they stuck with their traditions and beliefs. In the book, of course, most of those beliefs are true, and I get to play with a lot of half-forgotten elements from our history and folklore. Some are pretty horrible! There was something called the utbord, for instance, which is the spirit of an unchristened child; the image of an undead baby, buried somewhere in the forest, screaming… It's pretty bad. And it says a lot of things about the culture at that time; about religion, about the expectations towards women, about how children were treated…

I wrote a game in this setting in 2004, "Draug", and did a lot of research. Back then, I tried to be very historically correct; now I'm having fun with it, using history and superstition to make a great story.


You used some methods from gaming to help write the book. What were they and how did they help with the process?

The most important one was what Ron Edwards calls "Driving with bangs". A bang is something that happens to a character that they have to do something about. Often you, as a player (or writer), don't know what they will do until it happens. The situation that starts this whole book is a bang: "You're pregnant with the devil. Now what?"

Another one was to use phrases from my own game, Archipelago. (It's available for free on the internet). I didn't do this very consciously, but at points I definitely thought to myself "More details!" or "That won't be so easy!"

And then there's what Vincent Baker calls "Play to find out what happens" - in this case, write to find out what happens. I didn't plan ahead a lot; I was just curious to see where the story would go, and was often surprised at what the characters chose to do. There was a lot of laughing, shaking my head, and cursing in frustration as I saw their stories unfold.


Tell me about the sequel. What can I look forward to? When is it coming out?

I can't tell you too much, of course, because that would spoil it! But we do see some major changes in the protagonist. She meets new dangers that are, in their way, much worse than the devil ("Better the devil you know" is an apt expression here). She also gets a new circle of friends - or, should I say, her first ever circle of friends, as she tends to be a loner. There are ghosts, unexpected sexual attractions, a huge fire and some pretty good parties. It's a little like "Pride and Prejudice" with lesbian witches.

It's coming out this spring - we're editing it now!


What was the biggest challenge writing "The Devil's Cub" and its sequel? Do you have any suggestions for how to deal with it for new writers?

The biggest challenge… Actually telling myself and the world that this was what I wanted to do, and then doing something about it. I took time off from work, dropped off the internet, didn't see a lot of people for a while, and just wrote, wrote, wrote. And once I got that momentum going, getting up every day and knowing "Today I'm writing", the book took on a life of its own.

My suggestions for new writers:

- Decide whether you want to make money or have fun. You'll probably never make money from this, so have fun instead.

- If you want to write, you have to write. Read some, too. But mostly just write, write, write. Open your document and start typing words. If it's crap, you can throw it away later, but while you're writing, you can't actually know if what you've written is great or terrible!

- Use a treadmill. Write while walking. It's great! You get flow, your brain gets oxygen and comes up with lots of ideas, you get a little exercise along the way. Amazing.

- Last, but not least: Get a good editor. I'm working with Lizzie Stark right now, and really enjoying that. Talk in person (or via Skype).


Thanks to Matthijs for a great interview!



Author's web page: http://matthijsholter.wordpress.com/