BookView Interview with Author L.J. Duncan

Welcome to BookView Interview, a conversation series where BookView talks to authors.

Recently, we talked with L. J. Duncan about his writing and his novel, End of Pride, the debut installment in The Soteria Trilogy (read the review here).

L J Duncan is a fresh new voice in the crime fiction and dystopian thriller genre. He comes from a small town in the Adelaide Hills in South Australia. His interest in heavy-hitting literature and cinema has helped fuel his no holds barred approach to storytelling.

His style is gritty and raw, as all good thrillers should be, and he doesn’t water things down. The SOTERIA trilogy is ready to shock you, awaken you and hopefully immerse you in a future that might not be too different from what we have faced this year.

Outside of writing, L J Duncan is an adventurer at heart. His love for the rugged South Australian outback is only surpassed by his love for his wife and family. You can find them searching for the next wild adventure, the next empty stretch of coastline of the next mountain peak. For L J Duncan, a good book is like a wilderness adventure. It provides escapism. That’s what we all search for.

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

Prior to writing the original Soteria manuscript, which then became End of Pride, I completed three full-length crime-fiction manuscripts. I set them in Australia, they’re violent and gritty and they fall well within the expected tropes of crime/ thriller fiction. While those around me love the plots, characters and overall stories, the writing and prose were not polished enough for publication. To polish them to a standard I would be happy with would require more work than just starting from scratch. So sadly, they will spend the rest of their lives on a flash-drive in the top drawer of my desk. Although End of Pride is my fourth completed manuscript, it’s my first worthy of publication.

What’s the most difficult thing about writing a novel?

I’m fortunate that for me, the writing itself is the straightforward part. I can turn my computer on and the words appear on the page. I’m never short on ideas, nor do I struggle to find motivation to write. The most difficult thing about writing is balancing time between writing, family commitments, and work commitments. I’m the General Manager of an organisation with over fifty staff members and I have two children. In order to get words on the page, I have had to set a strict schedule in which I get up each morning and write until my oldest daughter wakes up. As an indie author, the hardest thing by far is managing time to get words on the screen and being strict enough with yourself to stick to uninviting schedules.  

Does writing energize or exhaust you?

This is an interesting question. I think most avid writers would agree that writing fiction is energising. There’s something empowering and exciting about bringing your ideas to life. Seeing the paragraphs form from inner thoughts or dot points into tangible prose is without a doubt an energizer. I can get up at 5:00am and start writing. Within minutes, I’m right into it. For me, it’s a great way for me to start each day. The editing and marketing processes are exhausting, but the creative process itself is all energy.

How often do you read?

I used to read tirelessly. I would find time to read almost every day. I read many genres, from fantasy to crime to historical fiction. For me, an entertaining story is an entertaining story, regardless of genre. Since deciding to take writing more seriously, and stick to a strict writing routine, I have found much less time for reading. I now feel guilty when reading. I feel I waste an opportunity that I could write if I open up a book to read. My love for books is as rich as it has ever been, but where I’m at in my writing life I feel the small windows of time I have available are better suited to writing. I have read nothing in well over a month.

Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?

Through the self-publishing courses I’ve taken part in, I have learned about ‘writing to market’. This is giving readers what they want. I’m torn with this one as I see so many cliché stories, often in genres like paranormal romance, urban fantasy and even thriller that lack originality. If you go onto Amazon and search titles with a vampire/ werewolf blossoming teenage love triangle, it will amaze you at just how many there are. But guess what? They sell. These authors are delivering what the readers want, as there is a market for it. I endeavour to be original. I want to write stories that a fresh and exciting and push boundaries, but I also want to sell my book. It’s about balancing on the fine line between writing to market and having a story original enough that it earns the respect it deserves as a creative original. I don’t want to write the cliché tropes, I want to state my claim with entertaining and inventive fiction.

What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?

As an indie author, their key expenses are on editing and covers. The copy needs to be bang on. No one is going to get rave reviews with clunky prose or grammatical errors so I would say a reputable and thorough but affordable editor is a wise use of your money. Be careful, though. Editing ranges between $300.00 and $3000.00. Do your research before giving away your savings for a mediocre copy edit. This however is not my answer to the question. The best money I ever spent for my writing was on Mark Dawson’s Self Publishing 101 course. It wasn’t cheap but the value for money is undisputable. It covers every aspect of self-publishing for interior formatting, covers and blurbs through the marketing and advertising metadata.

What are your favorite books?

As a reader who regularly navigates from genre to genre, my list of favourite books is a little all over the shop. It isn’t a list that fits the mould of a certain genre or reader stereotype. Shantaram and its sequel, The Mountain Shadow by Australian author Gregory David Roberts, are up high on my list. Shantaram built a cult following and is such a fantastic look at combining real-life experiences with fiction and philosophy. The highly anticipated sequel, which came out fifteen years after the first book, is equally entertaining. If we move across to fantasy, Magician by Raymond E. Fiest is an absolute masterpiece. This is possibly my single favourite book ever written. Fiest’s story telling is top notch. Philip Jose Farmer is another sci-fi/ fantasy favourite of mine. His World of Tiers series for the 70s and 80s, and notably the first in the series, The Maker of Universes is an absolute classic.

I’d be a liar if I said the Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code wasn’t in my top ten. Australian biographer and historical legend, Peter Fitzsimons is up there with my favourite authors. His renditions of Mutiny on the Bounty and Batavia are enthralling, well-researched and bloody good to read. Fitzsimons has an ability to make history sound like fiction. Anyone interested in maritime history, especially of early colonial Australia, should read his books.

Is writer’s block real?

I’m sure it is for some people. For me, it’s never been a problem. My mind doesn’t switch off. I’m always thinking of ideas, sub-plots, fresh stories and exciting characters. It’s almost the opposite for me. I have too much going on inside my mind and not enough time to get it out into a manuscript. For those that do struggle with it, maybe they are trying too hard to write. Writing provides a creative expression for me. I don’t write because I want to write, I write because I enjoy the creativity and the freedom it allows.

Tell us a little about how this story first came to be. Did it start with an image, a voice, a concept, a dilemma or something else?

End of Pride and the whole Soteria series is pretty confronting and heavy. It came about after looking at what the world would be like with a ruthless totalitarian government. The story blossomed from questioning the power of the human spirit. How much would and could someone push themselves if they could not know the freedom that we know today? Growing up with George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, I’d always been a fan of dystopian fiction but never thought my first novel would follow with such big shoes to fill. I watched the success of titles like The Hunger Games, which although written for a Young Adult audience, possess some pretty heavy themes. Although I enjoyed both the books and the movies, it was quite ‘watered down’ and ‘Hollywood’, as I suppose it needed to be for the Young Adult market. I wanted to write something that possessed the same heaviness and confronting feelings for the reader that dystopian themes of control tried to convey. I didn’t want a ‘watered-down’ dystopian thriller. I wanted heavy. End of Pride is violent, gritty and frightening, as I imagine living in a totalitarian dystopia would be.

Which scene was most difficult to write? Why?

SPOILER ALERT. By far the most difficult scene to write was Brie’s rape scene. At the command of their sadistic superiors, a group of Union soldiers rape Brie while she’s in captivity. In a totalitarian world of no human rights and zero-tolerance to crime, rape would be a very realistic sentence for a powerless convicted felon. I had to rewrite the scene several times and have others around me (my wife and mother included) read the scene to make sure it wasn’t over the top and that the emotions were conveyed correctly. I wanted the reader to feel dirty reading it. I wanted the reader to feel disgusted. In order to convey the lack of freedom, the helplessness and the total lack of concern the Union places on its citizen’s wellbeing, the scene needed to happen. It’s an integral point to Brie’s character development. Was it enjoyable to write? Not really. Was it necessary? Absolutely.

What is more important? Characters or plot?

Neither is more important than the other. They need to gel together harmoniously for an entertaining read. You could have a fantastic story with mediocre character development and the readers may struggle to relate to the characters of experience their growth throughout the journey. At the same time, you could have great, relatable charters with growth and development throughout, but a bad plot is a bad plot. No amount of character development would change with. The ideal story for a reader is one that nails the balance between a captivating, fast-paced plot that keeps readers guessing and believable, relatable characters.

What do you hope readers will take away from this story?

Other than being entertained for entertainment, I hope End of Pride allows readers to test their own pursuit of happiness and freedom. I hope it enables readers to appreciate what we have in life, and what we often take for granted. I hope it encourages readers to dream or something bigger. I hope it encourages readers to search for their own utopia. End of Pride is a test of courage and willpower, with an overarching battle between hope and doubt. I hope readers take hope away from End of Pride. Hope, courage and optimism are integral for the growth of independent, freethinking members of society. I want people to feel hope, courage and optimism.

Your protagonists are in their twenties except for Eli. But he comes out as more assured and well-versed with the ways of the world than many of the adults in the story. How did you decide on his character? What challenges did you face while channeling the voice of an adolescent boy?

I wanted Tyson to meet someone living on the surface, and a street-wise, yet uneducated, self-assured teenager just felt right. Eli comes across well-versed because his circumstances forced him to mature beyond his years. His life of survival, homelessness and solitude required him to develop resilience, responsibility and problem solving. Those living within the confined control of sub-plazas, through no fault of their own, lacked these integral life skills.

Eli is street-smart but still quite naive. He is confident, but he cannot read. He has courage, but he’s a stranger to human connection. The main challenge I faced was developing an authentic and believable relationship that a mid-twenties main character would have with an neglected teenage boy. Eli was able to learn a great deal from the older characters, but they too, learned a great deal from his authenticity and outlook of the world.

At times I found it difficult to maintain appropriateness for an ‘underage’ character in such a confronting story. The novel is not written for a teenage or even YA audience, so I wanted the character to find his place within a brutal world, without crossing too many boundaries. When dealing with heavy themes such as those in End of Pride, I tried to put myself in my own shoes as a teenager and how I would have processed things. Eli has been a fan favourite. He adds wit and humour in all the right places.  

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