Ciara Ballintyne is a fantasy author and lawyer. She enjoys reading, horse-riding, and speculation about taking over the world. If she could choose to be anything it would be a dragon, but instead she shares more in common with Dr. Gregory House of House. M.D. Confronting the Demon is her debut book.
Time to chat with Ciara!
What is your latest book?
Confronting the Demon is an adult high fantasy novella. Alloran’s rather pampered life has just had a severe shake up and spat him out in the worst of the city’s rubbish-strewn back alleys. Everyone’s looking for him, and he doesn’t know who to trust. It’s a short read, only an hour for a fast reader.
Is your recent book part of a series?
Originally, no. Then readers started speculating about sequels, and so I did too. I have three more novellas planned in the series, and there’s always room for more.
What part of writing a novel do you enjoy the most? The least?
Plotting. I love plotting. I would even go so far as to say it’s my drug of choice. Yep, I can totally get high on the rush of a new plot twist. Is that weird? I don’t really care. Playing around with new story ideas is exciting and fun.
Revising is the bit I least enjoy. Not editing, revising. And not all revisions. Some are as fun as writing the first draft. It’s just the hard revisions I don’t like – the ones where I took a short-cut the first time and now I (or my editor) have slapped me across the knuckles for it. Then I have to buckle down and get those hard words on the page
Is it important for you to know the ending of a book before you write it? The title?
The ending, absolutely. How can you foreshadow something you don’t know? Sure, you can put that in revisions, but it’s so much easier if the journey already has a destination. The title is less important, but it helps. Usually I would know the title. Every work in progress I currently have (and there are lots) has a title. I just finished a short story called A Dilemma of Twins, and from the get-go I had a strong theme for that tale. My WIP novel, In the Company of the Dead, is the same. On the other hand, I really struggled with a title for Confronting the Demon and getting the theme and inner conflict of that story really nailed down was difficult. If I don’t have a title, I think it means I don’t have a clear enough direction for the story.
Some writers edit excessively as they write; others wait until a novel is finished to do the bulk of the editing. How about you?
Write first, edit later. If I tried to revise as I go, I’d never finish, and editing the earlier sections really depends on what you’ve put in the back end of the book as well. The exception is that about 20% of the way into In the Company of the Dead I had to stop and re-read it. I didn’t edit a lot, just back-filled a few details that had changed, and the reason was I felt the book had lost its way and thinking about it was distracting me. It turned out I was completely wrong, and once I realized that I was able to get on with it.
After working for a very long time on a novel, many authors get to a point where they lose their objectivity and feel unable to judge their own work. Has this ever happened to you? If so, what have you done about it?
Absolutely. No one can read their own work objectively because they know what it should say, what it actually means, rather than seeing what it really says. You can’t read it with the ignorance of an unfamiliar reader. If you missed a word, your brain fills it in. If a sentence is ambiguous, you read it the way you intended because you know. You can never experience that first revelation of a new world, a new character, because you know everything there is to know. It’s like a reader picking up a book for the first time after they’ve already read the companion to that book. You can’t judge if everything is clear, because to you everything is, and always will be. This is why you need editors. Beta readers are also good. Not everyone uses them, but some of the most surprising directions for my stories have come from the musings of beta readers or my critique group.
How important is the choosing of character names to you? Have you ever decided on a name and then changed it because it wasn’t right for the character?
I’m anal about names. The name has to feel right, sound right, and look right. Because I write fantasy, I have an almost limitless choice, but sometimes that makes it harder. No perusing of baby name books for me.
Most of the time I get it right first time, but I have changed character names twice – Gwaine in my WIP The Blood Infernal became Aaric, and Ellemiaeran from In the Company of the Dead became Ellaeva. I was just never happy with Gwaine, and Ellemiaeran was too long, complicated, and didn’t carry any sense of foreboding. The villain from Deathhawk’s Betrayal also stayed nameless until I came up with something suitably sinister.
One of my biggest naming problems is my obsession with A. Here are some A names from across a range of books: Astarl, Aldenon, Aaric, Alyne, Alloran, and Avram. I really need to watch that tendency sometimes.
Authors, especially Indies, are constantly trying to understand why some authors sell very while their talented fellow authors have a hard time of it. It’s an ongoing conundrum. What do you make of it all?
I fall in the category of having a hard time of it, so incredibly frustrating springs to mind. Some books are easier to sell, I think that’s well-known. Romance, and of course paranormal romance. YA and now NA. I won’t touch those genres, for no other reason except I’ve never read them, so what would I know? I write for adults, and I write high/epic fantasy. Novels also sell better than novellas, I think, and a series better than a stand-alone. So at the moment I’ve pigeon-holed myself into a bad spot, and nothing but time and writing will change that.
The most frustrating thing is that story captures the reader’s mind, and that’s why otherwise mediocre books can do tremendously well. It’s like the story resonates with the reader to such a degree that it short-circuits the quality of the writing. The reader is so connected to the story that the writing almost ceases to matter. No one knows when they have a story like that. We hope every story is, and some may just languish undiscovered. My gripe is that there’s absolutely no reason why such a story can’t also be well written. Instead, some writers point to the success of these stories as evidence that there’s no need to improve their craft, when in fact the exception does not prove the rule, and that author was more lucky than anything else.
Have you received reactions/feedback to your work that has surprised you? In what way?
A few, yes. Some readers called Confronting the Demon paranormal romance. I wouldn’t call it that, but if the readers of that genre think it is, and enjoy it, I’m not going to argue. One reader compared me to a favourite author, Brent Weeks. That tickled me. My editor said I write in the style of Jacqueline Carey, another author I enjoy and respect. I don’t really think I’m that good, but I get giddy on the comparisons all the same. A test reader recently compared something I’d written to Joss Whedon, which was the high point of that day! Even some readers have shown an appreciation for the fact that Confronting the Demon is targeted at adults, or that it is short (even while hoping for more!) just as a change to other offerings.
Having our work out there to be judged by strangers is often daunting for writers. Do you have any tips on handling a negative review?
Some people say don’t read them. I’ve never had one that made me feel that way, and I suspect the ones that make people feel like that are personal attacks and bullying. If an author starts getting that kind, it might be best to just not know.
Otherwise, all you can do is remember that you can’t please everyone. Not every reader will like your work – and that’s OK. My approach is read the reviews, look for any constructive criticism or something that objectively indicates a problem with the book, and take it on board. If it’s subjective, and the reviewer is just not part of your target audience, don’t worry about it.
I have one 2-star review that criticized me for an unoriginal cliché. It took a long time to work out what the reviewer was talking about, but apparently I mimicked a rule in Dungeons & Dragons. I never played, except the computer game variety, in which the rules are less apparent because the computer does all that calculation. I probably did, once, know this rule, but it was such a long time ago I’d forgotten, and it certainly wasn’t in my conscious mind when I wrote the story. C’est la vie. That reader didn’t like the book for that reason. So be it. Plenty of other readers, as ignorant as I of D&D, have enjoyed it very much.
If you can’t take criticism, you are in the wrong industry.
What might we be surprised to know about you?
I have owned precisely one pair of riding boots in my life. I bought them in 1994 when I was 13. They still fit, although they are probably in need of replacing by now. At the same time I have also owned precisely one bicycle, although I definitely outgrew that. You can probably draw some conclusions about my attitudes to horses and bikes from that.
Also fun, is that all my uncles by marriage are named Rob. So my mum’s two sisters married a Rob, and so did my dad’s only sister. For a fun bonus, my dad’s name is also Rob. So basically my grandparents had four daughters between them – and they all married a Rob. My husband is very confused!
What makes you angry?
Lately, as the mother of two girls, the continuing inequality of women. I’ve never struggled against this much myself, but now I have to wonder how it will affect them as they get older. Society’s general attitude to women, the way the same quality can be treated positively in a man and negatively in a woman, the unrealistic nature of women’s body image, the level of ignorance in the general population about what a healthy woman’s body looks like – both before and after pregnancy. These all make me angry.
And child abuse. Babies dying, neglected children rescued. Child marriage. Every time I see one of these headlines I question whether to read the whole article or not. I usually cry if I do. It astounds me that parents can so mistreat their own children. It shakes my faith in people, and I have to go home and hold my babies close. I currently donate to an organization called Menindanca for this reason – they help girls, pre-teens and early teens, in Brazil who are sent out to sell their bodies on a major Brazilian highway to provide income for the family.
What music soothes your soul?
Country music. No matter what anyone else every thinks of it, there’s something about the steel guitar, the banjo and the fiddle that just soothes my soul. No matter how angry I might be, I can turn on some country music, crank it up loud, and everything feels better. It’s about family, friends, love, loyalty, respect, and honesty. Things that so often society seems to be turning its back on but which remain important to me.
What was the most valuable class you ever took in school? Why?
Jursisprudence at university, which is the study of legal philosophy. That might seem odd, but the lecturer asked if we thought slavery was wrong. We all agreed it was. But in Ancient Greece, it was actually unethical to release a slave in certain circumstances, and a slave owner had certain obligations to care and provide for his slaves.
We talked about a lot of things like that. It was important for understanding how context is important to people. Not only does this teach tolerance for others in the real world, but it’s invaluable when writing fantasy worlds for understanding how your invented world might shape the people.
What’s your biggest pet peeve?
Misuse of the apostrophe of possession and people who drive under the speed limit are on par – these cause me a certain amount of annoyance and frustration in my day-to-day life. The apostrophe of possession because when I read something like ‘FAQ’s’ I’m immediately wondering what belongs to the FAQ, and slow drivers because traffic congestion is bad enough without people unnecessarily slowing it down when there are no traffic problems! Time is precious, and while there may be times I am content to sit back and enjoy the journey, all too often driving is dead time.
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