Interview with Craig Munro, Author of 'The Bones of the Past'
When inspiration strikes, Craig A. Munro writes story fragments and weaves narrative only after the fact; such is to be expected from a debut novelist who flourishes in the face of the unknown.
"Many fantasy tropes were slain and harmed in the making of this book." This is just one of the early accolades extended to author Craig A. Munro in anticipation of his debut novel The Bones of the Past, the first in his epic fantasy series "The Books of Dust and Bone." In fact, the slaying and harming of convention is par for the course for jack-of-all trades Munro, who's residences have spanned everywhere from his hometown of Ottawa, Canada to Europe, North America, Asia and the Middle East, and who's vocations are just as varied. Among a number of other fields, the newly-minted novelist has work experience in government, construction and molecular biology under his belt.
The Bones of the Past tells of Sacral, a city that vanished long ago and has reappeared just as suddenly. The event sets off global warfare, as its inhabits–some human, some not–try and navigate their new world order, complete with sinister demons, omnipotent deities and ravaging armies.
In an interview with Geeks, Munro reflected on the inspiration for his novel, his piecemeal writing habits and how his experiences have shaped his worldview, both real-life and the one transmitted–by hand, mind you–from pen to paper.
Geeks: How did The Bones of the Past come to be, and what inspired you to write it now?
Craig Munro: I knew I wanted to write something REALLY EPIC. I sat there and thought for a couple minutes, and then a song came on shuffle called "The Forever People" by My Dying Bride. Something about that title sparked my imagination and I just started to write. It was raw and chaotic. I wrote about legends for my world, gods, wars and events. I wrote about the founding of a mythical city and its fall. I just kept writing and moving forward in time or backing up to fill in offshoots or to develop other peoples or cities during the same periods, all while scrawling a rough map as I came to understand the shape of the continents and the evolving nations that were involved.
I had been writing daily for a couple of years (almost always on this first project though I did dabble in other things) when I felt I had a great starting point for a novel. I’m very fond of all this early content, if not overly happy with the form and quality of the writing. But everything that came before gave me a rich background for the world and those who lived in it…And so, I started writing The Bones of the Past and about the return of Sacral.
In one sentence, what is your novel about?
Life twisting magic, demonic possession and immortals who have outlived many of the gods themselves, crashing together in world-shattering events.
Walk us through your writing process.
The first step of any writing for me is just putting pen to paper–literally. I jot down story fragments, bits of dialogue or entire scenes in frenzies that often don’t allow me to decide who the characters I’m writing about are or where exactly the events are taking place. The handwriting is essential for me because typing doesn’t give me the immediate freedom of scrawling diagrams or symbols on the page or in the margins.
In a second phase, I transcribe and clean up my jumbled notes and organize them into Scrivener. Usually when I’m re-reading them, I realize just who the characters are and how the fragment fits in with the story as a whole. Other times they just go into a pile of semi-organized snippets and wait for the time when they’re needed–those times sometimes strike me like little epiphanies where I see how the pieces of the puzzle fit together and I’m usually sent scrambling for a piece of paper to jot down the connection before I forget it.
Only after all this is done and the story has started to take shape am I able to focus on big picture planning. I use a role-game campaign planning program called Masterplan to play with story elements and plot lines. Once I get them into a configuration I like, I finally start filling in the blanks and writing all the in-between parts of the story.
It’s a chaotic process, but I can’t imagine doing it any other way!
You’ve worked in government, language instruction, construction, tech blogging, and have a degree in molecular biology. Were these various career changes a matter of indecision, or did you always envision yourself being involved in a range of fields?
I have always had a need to learn and understand how things work. Living creatures and their evolution have always been particularly fascinating to me, which led me to my choice of studies. Unfortunately, after my first taste of lab work, I realized that as much as I loved the study of molecular biology (and life sciences as a whole), the pace and repetitive nature of research just wasn’t for me. From there, I changed fields and even countries, sometimes choosing the next destination because of a job, and other times choosing purely because of the destination and found whatever work I could. There are always new places to see and new things to learn!
As a debut fantasy author, what did you find challenging about world-building?
My biggest challenge was in writing out all the necessary detail. I can imagine most of my world so vividly that I sometimes forget that things aren’t always obvious to others, and I need to give my readers a chance to acclimate.
From where–or who–did you derive inspiration for your characters, setting, and plot in The Bones of the Past?
My characters sometimes borrow traits from people I know or have met. At other times, they’re an amalgamation of several people or even inspired by characters from D&D (Dungeons & Dragons) or Shadowrun campaigns from back in my Secondary School and University days.
The places….Well I’ve been inspired by a lot of different places. I absolutely love traveling and I’ve never been anywhere new that hasn’t led to a flurry of fresh ideas. The final form for Sacral (the city at the center of the story) came to me when I was sitting outside some ruins in Cambodia, and the grand temple was inspired by a place in South Korea. Changes in environment work wonders, though the locations often aren’t clearly related to the ideas I get from them!
Once I have characters and locations in place, the plot generally creates itself based on the wants and needs of those characters and cultures, and how they all fit together.
What was the best advice you’ve ever received?
You can’t please everyone–No matter what you write or who you are, some people are going to like it and others aren’t. Focus on those who like what you do, and try to keep improving.
What’s next for you?
I’m hard at work on The Tide of Madness–the sequel to The Bones of the Past. There will be one more book in the series with the possibility of a second trilogy set in a different time period. I’ve also toyed with the idea of exploring the background of some of the secondary characters a little more and perhaps devoting a novella to a couple of my favorites.
How many hours of sleep do you get on a typical night?
I suffer from insomnia. I’d dearly love to get 8 hours, but I’m lucky if I get 5 or 6 hours of actual sleep. Getting up and writing for a half hour is one of my more effective methods for getting back to sleep when I’m having a bad night.
Favorite city in the world?
If I had to pick just one: Sana’a, Yemen. I was fortunate enough to visit Yemen during a period of peace and was totally floored by how unique and beautiful it is–the landscapes and the architecture, not to mention the local clothing and culture are really something else. The people were also among the friendliest I’ve met anywhere. My short stay inspired a slew of new characters and places for my books.
Any plans to extend into other genres and if so, which would you choose for your next book?
I think I’m ‘reality averse' in my writing–I have toyed with Sci-Fi, Apocalyptic or even my own brand of Urban Fantasy, but anything I write is sure to be firmly under the Speculative Fiction umbrella. None of these ideas have been developed enough for a book yet–Epic Fantasy is where I’m staying at least for the next 2 books.
Without any spoilers, which character in your book is most similar to you, and why?
Carver–He has the thirst for knowledge and the deep interest in the workings of living creatures. I may have left the field of molecular biology, but I continue to read on the subject and have even taken a few online courses when I’ve managed to find the time.
Who’s your all-time favorite author?
Steven Erikson–His world building and epic stories are a large part of what reawakened the desire to write in me. The foreword he wrote in Gardens of the Moon was part of what made me actually sit down and do it (the other part being my amazing wife, who supplied the necessary kick in the butt once I admitted how I felt to her).
As someone from Ottawa, what’s an underrated travel spot in Canada that our readers should visit?
The Mer Bleue Conservation Area on the east side of Ottawa is an incredibly underrated spot. Most of the people living in the area have never heard of it. Its ecosystem is more typical of the Arctic and yet it’s literally just outside the city–a great way to experience a taste of the far North without the 3,000-kilometer trip!
Learn more at The Bones of the Past website