Monday, June 4, 2012


Ross Harrison, author of the science fiction novel Shadow of the Wraith, answers questions about his characters, inspirations, and writing process. Check out his blog, Like his Facebook page, or Follow him on Twitter.

One of the most difficult things about writing a novel is naming your characters. What prompted you to choose these particular names for your heroes and villains?

Sadly, there’s no particularly interesting story behind any of them. I can tell you what some of them started out as, though. Travis didn’t start out as Travis; but I forget now what he was. He also wasn’t an Archer—it took some cycling through different names to find one that I liked, and that fitted.

Miller started out as Anderson, which I later decided was a terrible name. Jin Li started as Nathan Kang; which I then decided was slightly stereotypical. Bastian Faust started as Hans something—again, stereotypical.

As for the aliens, sometimes I’ll follow the foolproof method of taking a normal name and making the Cs Ks or sticking the odd X or Z in and it’s magically transformed into an alien name! Okay, I try to stay away from that, but sometimes it works (I think Zak would agree). Of course, I don’t always have any idea how they’re meant to be pronounced. I’m still not sure if Jindor is meant to be "gin" like the drink or "yin" like…uhh…yin yang?

Mostly, for aliens, I start with a letter, and then see what comes next. Usually, after a minute of sticking in letters, taking them out again, putting them back in in a different order, and trying out hyphens, I have a name. Or a garbled string of random letters; in which case, I’ll swear at the keyboard and put in "Billy."

Which part of your novel did you most enjoy writing and why?

I enjoyed most of it, because of the way I just let it all come to me; meaning that I’m just as surprised by every twist and turn as the reader hopefully is. For that reason, the twists are probably the more memorable parts for me, writing-wise, because of how exciting they were. They were a lot more exiting for me than they probably are for any reader, simply because I’m the writer, and I had no idea they were coming!

But I liked lots of bits. I liked the bits with Rialen. It wasn’t that easy to get across what I was trying to say, but then that was a problem of the character, too, so it worked out well.

Which part was the most difficult to write and why?

If there were lots of bits I liked, there were probably an at least equal number of parts I didn’t. As memorable as the twists were, even more memorable was the one part, on the dead Necurian planet, where the team is in a room. I wanted them to leave the room. I couldn’t for the life of me think of the words to simply get them up and out. I knew why they had to leave; I just couldn’t make them. I then gave up writing for a year. I suppose that’s writer’s block.

There are other things, too, such as space battles. They’re difficult to write simply due to how easy it is to get carried away and describe too much unnecessarily. The battle at the end is huge, and could have taken up a hundred pages on its own, but it would have been almost entirely irrelevant. It also wouldn’t have been particularly entertaining. So I had to find the right balance of describing some of it, and keeping it in the picture, without making it the main focus of the final chapters.

Did you have any sudden inspirations or epiphanies about Shadow of the Wraith while you were writing it?

Most of my sudden inspirations and epiphanies came in the middle of the night when I was half asleep and too tired to get up and write them down. Subsequently, I forgot 99% of them.

Do the twists count here? The Travis twist was the first one. I thought, "I’ve written myself into a big hole here. How is he going to get out of OH MY GOD, WHAT IF…"; and there it was. One of the biggest and most important bits of character development in the book. That one epiphany also spawned book three (or four—I haven’t quite decided the order yet), Rialen’s character, and an entire species.

There was also the Baorshraak twist, and some smaller bits that came up, which I hadn’t planned at all, and yet everything that had gone before lent itself perfectly to the new ideas. Perhaps it knew all along where it was heading, and just didn’t think to let me know.

One of the most interesting things about the main character, Travis Archer, is that he seems very aware of the stereotypes he embodies (and he seems to do his best to embody them to the fullest). What types of things in his backstory drove him to behave this way?

It’s a mix of things:

Travis is a big fan of heroes—the more stereotypical the better. Clint Eastwood’s cowboys are his favourites.

He’s a bit of a loner. He lives alone, on an almost deserted planet. He works alone. Since becoming a freelance bounty hunter just over three years previous to the events of Shadow of the Wraith, the only real company he’s had, other than his bounties, are old films he’s watched since childhood. These have sunk into his already slightly eccentric mind and shaped his character quite a bit.

He also feels a desperate need to be a hero, and to always do what’s right; to do what others won’t. This then emphasises his heroic self-image. This need stems mostly from who his father was and the way he died. It is almost as though he has to make his own life mean something in order to ensure his father’s life/death meant something.

Of course, he has no particular delusions that he is a hero, and in some regards that’s part of the problem—he won’t stop trying. But he lives a lot of his life in that moment a lot of men feel just after coming out of an action film. You can watch them walking out of the cinema, and know that at least half of them (or us) are imagining themselves walking out into the dazzling sunshine in heroic slow-motion.

We know that he’s a hero. But I don’t think he’d believe us.

One of the most memorable characters in Shadow of the Wraith is the beautiful and mysterious Juni Lien. What can you tell us about her?

Juni is a difficult one to talk about because, as you say, she’s mysterious! Her motives for joining the team aren’t entirely clear. Travis offers her a lot of money, but with her skills she could easily make several times that with less effort than tracking down a ghost ship.

Juni’s very cold and hard to begin with; something she has found necessary in her line of work. She is surprised and somewhat appalled at the lack of professionalism displayed by Travis and his team. They are all ex-military (or police, in Jindor’s case), and that is the degree of professionalism she expected from them. But as Faust is quick to point out, there really is a reason they’re not soldiers any more.

As time goes on, Juni’s motives start to become clearer to us, just as they start to lose clarity for her. Try as she might to avoid it, she finds herself beginning to like the team and their quirky (read: ‘ridiculous, bordering on inept’), but surprisingly effective ways. Nonetheless, she is a professional, and always gets the job done. If her motives and the wellbeing of the team do not align, then that’s just the unfortunate way of things. She has learnt, after all, that attachments just get in the way.

What was the first idea you had for Shadow of the Wraith, and how did the story grow from there?

Shadow of the Wraith started out as a story about how humans came to leave Earth, and was to detail the journey to their new home. It was very boring.

I’m not sure how it changed into what it is now, though. Not with my memory. I think I condensed the entire story idea into a single prologue, and then got started on a different story direction. One with a ghost ship.

This ghost ship was to be the sole focus of the story. But eventually, a bounty hunter named Travis Archer stumbled into the story, got himself hired to fight the Star Wraith, and discovered that it wasn’t entirely what I thought it was. We can thank him and his team for uncovering the rest of the story.

With the abundance of space adventures ranging from the classic Jack Williamson novels to Star Wars spinoffs, readers have become accustomed to certain conventions of the genre. As a writer, how does that affect your own world building?

I would carefully say that it doesn’t.

I’m aware, of course, of certain conventions such as the obvious big, sprawling, galaxy-spanning nature of space opera, with larger than life characters, and whatnot. But what is the point in creating entire universes if you can’t do with them whatever you want?

I wouldn’t knowingly trample all over any beloved conventions, of course, but I will do my own thing, and there is a possibility that it won’t conform to convention. If I want some of my aliens to be humanoid and eating sandwiches (f.a.o. Gary Gibson!), then they will be and do just that.

I’m well aware that my books contain things that the more hardcore sci fi fans might not like, and that’s perfectly fine. They don’t have to suffer through it any more than I have to write hard military sci fi. But it’s not like I’m saying "that’s wrong, it should be like this."

Most readers will, I think, see the book for what it is—simple fun. Something to relax with and enjoy. Certainly not something that is trying to rewrite any rules! As if I could.

Shadow of the Wraith is available at: Lulu Marketplace (hardcover), Amazon US (Kindle e-book), Amazon UK (Kindle e-book), Smashwords (multiple e-formats)

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