Hi guys! Welcome Ulff Lehmann, who wrote Shattered Dreams, which is already out now! This interview was done in real time, over Skype, and I for one am very glad for that because the interview was both fun and genuine. (Friendly reminder that authors are people too!)
Anyways, here we go!
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Well, what do you want to know? Yeah, I’m German, obviously. Live in Germany, will probably die here if nothing goes as happened. I’ve been writing on and off for twenty-five years, maybe longer. How should I put this? I never had this thing where I knew exactly what I wanted to do from very early on, like when you hear some people say “Yeah, I’ve wanted to be doctor since I was little or some shit like that, yeah I’ve never been there I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up.
What actually prompted you to start writing?
Initially, it was me basically sitting there. I joined a fantasy club and you could call it cosplay, and I wasn’t just satisfied with you know, dressing up as a character or something – I wanted to participate in the writing as well because other people were writing and basically that’s how it started. I started writing this shared world scenario, but in the end, when I left – well, I was on quite a self-destructive path at that time. I had an apprenticeship at a bank and most of my weekends were spent in a drunken stupor, so yay me, and in the end, it just was like I needed to get out of there but I still didn’t know what I wanted to do so I figured let’s go to university and study some stuff. I became bored there.
You could say that I’m the poster boy for the stereotypical underachiever. Too much brain, not enough opportunities or support to do something with it.
So you said writing helped you; could you tell us more about that?
I would have to fast forward eight, nine years or so when I hit rock bottom. I was completely out, and I mean full frontal assault, on my way to the loony bin. Well, one of my best friends basically said “I’m going to kick your ass one side up one side down the other if you don’t go to therapy.” and yeah, that’s when I actually figured out “Gee, I’m a writer.”
That’s very inspiring, thank you!
Yeah, it took me two nervous breakdowns and behavioral therapy to actually figure that out, so yay! And, well, that was basically the beginning of it all.
How should I put this? I set myself several goals for what I wanted to achieve, like within two weeks I wanted to do that and then another two I would achieve that point, etc. Then basically it all boiled down to finding my rhythm, which ended up me spending lots of money and coffee. Back then, I was still smoking so I got up in the morning rather early because the best time for me to work was noonish, so I got up at 8 o’clock or something like that, and watched TV, just to wake my mind up slowly. After roughly two hours or so, I cranked up my stereo, took a shower, and went out to my favorite cafe, sat down there, read for an hour, smoked a couple of cigarettes, drank a cappuccino, went home, fired up the computer, and started writing for one hour, one and a half hours, two hours, depending on the flow of things. And that’s what I did for four months or so. Basically, I wrote the first novel in roughly four months.
What inspired you to write Shattered Dreams?
Basically, it’s something I started twenty-five years ago in that fantasy club. Many of the story beats came from what I wrote for that fantasy club, but I never managed to finish the story. And when I left the club, I figured out that it was easier for me to write in English than in German because at that time I had already read more stuff in English than I had ever in German, so the stuff came more naturally to me, and then I was like, “Okay, now I want to finish the story. All parts of it.”
When you started it, did the book have a different title?
It was short stories. Everything there was basically interconnected short stories. There were different titles there for each short story.
Basically, fifteen sixteen years ago, I had the novel finished the first time, but it was a hot mess, let’s put it this way. I’ve seen that you yourself write, so basically when we write, it reflects what we read, and I read lots of the dungeons and dragons type, fantasy novels, so my writing reflected that in terms of terminology, etc. When I came to rewriting the thing, and I don’t know if you’ve read George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, but when I read that many years ago, it was a revelation for me. Not the story, per say, but the style; basically each chapter written from a different point of view, and I liked the intimacy of it all, so I figured well, screw it, if I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it the way I want to read it. I mean, that’s the best advice I could give to anyone who wants to write.
Write the story you want to read. So that’s what I did.
The story takes place in a very fantasized setting – how did you think of it and work out all the details?
The first thing is that this isn’t the first time I wrote the novel. I’ve wrote it once before, and I took all the story beats from that and transferred it into the new version. The world is darker and you gotta remember that I live in Germany. The part of the house that my computer stands on is three hundred years old. There are parts of the city that are like five hundred, six hundred years old. So when I think of a medieval city, I don’t have to really imagine, I just go out the door!
That’s pretty cool!
It does help. A lot. The realism in terms of architecture – it just happens. As far as I remember, I’m not very detailed about any of that, because the stuff that’s important to me is more on the personal, emotional level. How do the people feel?
Speaking of the people, how did you think of the characters?
Yeah, mostly they’re me. And no, I don’t have multiple personality disorder – it’s just that I think most of my characters – well, anyone’s characters – carry certain characteristics of the writer themselves. And it really doesn’t matter if male or female characters, I mean, at least that’s how I see character development in any area. Yeah, there are some stuff there from friends but I didn’t really model them after anyone specific, not really.
How do you deal with writer’s block?
Okay, I approach writer’s block nowadays as “What the fuck is going wrong with the story, why can’t I write anymore?” If it doesn’t come, there is a reason for it, and as with everything else, I just need to figure out what’s the problem. If it’s a personal thing, then tsk, yeah, tough luck. But if it’s something to do with the writing or a story beat that doesn’t work out, because well, you know, know the characters will refuse to do x, y, or z, because they prefer a, b, and c. So that’s what you need to figure out there; writer’s block comes from somewhere and the blockage is usually related to story beats.
Is there any advice you would you give to any aspiring writers?
Yeah, don’t force it, that’s the first thing. Don’t force it. Don’t put pressure on yourself because it really doesn’t work and it doesn’t help the process at all. If you sit on the toilet and squeeze and squeeze, and nothing comes out, it’s just a waste of time. So, I mean, let the characters talk to you. If it has something to do with characters, talk to them. Talk to your characters. See what ails them. They’re your babies, and sometimes they need their nappies changed, sometimes they need to burp, and sometimes they say “I don’t want to play with this fucking doll, I want to play with something else!” And you just have to figure out what they want. I had that problem – not in the first book, but in the second book, where I suddenly realized fuck me! There was this character I wanted to go south, and all of a sudden I realized that this character would never go south. Period. And once I realized that, everything else fell into place and I was able to accommodate the character.
How did you put yourself in your characters?
Well, as I said, there were aspects of me in every character. For the general, for instance, the main aspect for him was that he was tired of it all. And he had a bad back, and I have a bad back. That’s the kind of association I make – I know how it feels if your back hurts all the freaking time. You don’t want to deal with bickering siblings and whatnot, you just don’t have the time and stamina for it, and that’s the kind of angle I used to get into that particular character.
Give us a little progress report on the book’s sequels.
The second one, Shattered Hopes, is in beta read right now. It’s been finished for the last three years or so. I have feedback from my two beta readers and will go and fix whatever needs fixing. I’m currently on the final part of the trilogy, and I’m like two-thirds in – stuff is really hitting the fan there. And afterwards, well I haven’t really thought about that!
Thank you so much for a fun and inspiring interview!
If high fantasy is your thing, you can buy Shattered Dreams from Amazon here.