I’m interviewing Dirk Strasser, author of fantasy series “The Books of Ascension”, on my blog. Thanks for answering my questions.
1) Please tell us about yourself
Although I was born in Offenbach, Germany, I’ve lived most of my life in Melbourne, Australia. I’ve been a High School teacher of Mathematics and German, a private tutor, a creative writing teacher, a textbook writer, a freelance journalist, an editor and publisher of Small Press Publications, and a Senior Publisher and Publishing Manager at multi-national companies. Almost everything I’ve done has to do with writing or education or both. I co-publish and co-edit the magazine Aurealis – Australian Fantasy & Science Fiction and founded the Aurealis Awards. Nearly all my fiction is either fantasy, science fiction or horror. I’m not a big fan of semi-dried tomatoes, caraway seeds or capers, but will eat pretty much anything else.
2) Tell us about your books.
The Books of Ascension have had a long and complex history. Books 1 and 2 in the series, Zenith and Equinox, were first published in Australia and New Zealand by Pan Macmillan when the company started publishing a line of SF books in the 1990s. However, after a new Fiction Publisher was appointed, the decision was made to axe the SF line (it’s called “changing the strategic direction of the company” in the corporate world), which meant that I was left with a two-book trilogy. No-one was going to publish the third book of a trilogy when Pan Macmillan had the rights to the first two books. Luckily, I had a European agent at the time who sold the German Rights to all three books to Heyne Verlag. So, for a long time the only way you could read Eclipse, the final book, was if you could read German. Eclipse, which is ironically about the search for a lost book, was itself a lost book for many years. Last year, Macmillan’s new eBook-first Momentum imprint decided to publish the trilogy in full, and not only is Eclipse finally available in English, the whole series is now available outside Australia and New Zealand for the first time.
The Books of Ascension are set in a giant world-Mountain where three races – Maelir, Faemir and Nazir – are battling for ascendancy and where the Mountain itself is a living entity that reflects the damage done by the conflict. The Maelir control the world through the power of Zenith, the phenomenon of the sun reaching the highest point of the Mountain for nine days each mid-summer. This control is maintained by the ritual of twins being given a Talisman by the Holy Orders and undertaking an Ascent to the Summit each year. Atreu and Teyth begin their Ascent from the Base at a time when the Faemir have become a major threat under a new leader, Valkyra, and when the Mountain is at its most unstable, with massive pillars erupting from the surface and giant chasms forming spontaneously, allowing fearsome dusk creatures to emerge. Atreu enables Verlinden, Valkyra’s twin, to be the first female to undergo the Zenith ritual, and the two manage to unite Maelir and Faemir against the threat of the Nazir. Finally the sun itself is affected by the conflict and the days grow ever shorter, allowing the Nazir’s dusk-spawn to gain control of the slopes. The only hope of salvation lies in Atreu’s Talisman, a book whose enigmatic powers enable Atreu to learn the truth about the Mountain; and as the mystery of Zenith is revealed to him, he uncovers the secrets of his own story.
3) What inspired you to write The Books of Ascension?
I think most novels start with a single image or idea. I can still remember the thought process behind the trilogy. I’ve always liked epics – tales told on a large canvas – and I was very ambitious in terms of the scale of The Books of Ascension. I wanted the basis of the world I was creating to be something on a grand scale. I ‘d been reading Dune and the Riverworld series, and I was thinking in terms of enormously large desert, enormously large river, enormously large… er… mountain. That was my starting image. And once a mountain is your world, your characters have no choice but to climb it. I then did some research on myths where giant mountains were featured, and I came across the legendary Mount Kailās which is sacred to a number of religions including Buddhists, Hindus and Jains, and which has been the destination of pilgrimages for thousands of years. This was how the whole Eastern mysticism feel entered the trilogy.
4) How many hours per week do you spend writing?
I would like to be able to give a straight-forward answer to this question. Unfortunately, the amount of time I spend writing each day varies enormously for all sorts of real-life reasons. During the first draft stage of a novel, I would aim for a word count per day (1500), not a time limit, with the aim being to finish a chapter (4,000-6,000 words) in a week (usually 5 working days). More often than not I’d be on a roll when I reach my daily word target and would keep going, and if I finished the chapter before the end of the week, I’d keep going to get a head-start on the following week’s chapter. In practice, this means that when writing a first draft I would write 3-4 hours a day for 5 days a week. When redrafting and editing, it could be anything from no time one day to 3 hours, depending on how much time I can find.
5) If you could meet three authors, dead or alive, which authors would you choose?
J R R Tolkien – I’d play my Lord of the Rings DVDs and ask him, “What do you reckon?”
Stephen King – I’d ask him why he keeps persisting with his Dark Tower series (which I think doesn’t work) when his other novels are so good.
China Miéville – I’d try to find out how he came to the ideas of the slake-moths in Perdido Street Station and the mosquito women in The Scar.
6) What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on a screenplay based on one of my fantasy short stories. My original intention was to expand the story into a novel (and I’ll still be writing the novel as well), but I’ve always wanted to try my hand at a full movie script, and the idea behind the story seemed to be crying out to be a movie. The writing process for the screen is totally different to the novel writing process, so it’s proving to be a challenge. A movie is primarily a visual medium, and you can’t go into a person’s head and give their thoughts and feelings like you can with narrative fiction. Your plot and character development really has nowhere to hide in a screenplay.
About the Books
Zenith – The First Book of Ascension
A mountain so great it takes a year to travel from base to summit
A sun so powerful it drives you into madness if you look at it
An ascent so vital it determines the fate of the world
A summit so precious it holds the key to the divine
The world of the great Mountain is unstable. Giant pillars erupt from the surface and yawning chasms form unpredictably underfoot. Since the Maelir first stood on its slopes in the distant past, they have sought to still its anger and control its power. Each year, twin brothers are chosen to make a perilous journey to the summit. If they survive they will be witness to Zenith, and the secrets will be revealed to them.
When Atreu and Teyth embark on their Ascent, their Talismans lead them onto conflicting paths that will ultimately set brother against brother. And this time the Ascent itself is in peril as unknown forces that have long craved the power of Zenith will stop at nothing to make it their own even if it means destroying the very thing that sustains all life the Mountain itself.
Equinox – The Second Book of Ascension
The most beautiful city on the great Mountain
The pinnacle of Maelir culture
The home of the Inner Sanctum
The place where secrets hide
The fate of the Mountain hangs in balance at the time of Equinox, and even the Keep can no longer remain untouched. The Maelir are desperate to defend it, the Faemir to demolish it, the windriders to claim it. But unknown to them all, a dark force has already emerged from the chaos to seize power.
As Atreu and Verlinden strive to decipher the power of the Talisman that has defined Atreu’s Ascent, Teyth and Valkyra are locked in a desperate battle that neither of them can win. At a time when darkness and light are in perfect equilibrium, when Maelir and Faemir must find a way to break the deadlock and avoid annihilation, the world’s fate lies in the Book of Ascension.
Eclipse – The Lost Book of Ascension
What happens if after the winter solstice, the days keep getting shorter?
Until there is an eternal night?
What happens as the darkness grows?
And the creatures of dusk take control of the Mountain?
And the quest for the third Book is the only hope?
The Mountain is in its death throes as the Nazir send their wraiths to finish what the dusk-rats and grale had begun. Soon there will be no daylight to protect the Maelir and Faemir, and with each twilight there are fewer places to hide. Will the Mountain finally collapse under its own instability or will Atreu and Verlinden’s descent find the words of salvation in the Lost Book of Ascension?
Dirk Strasser has written over 30 books and has won multiple Australian Publisher Association Awards and a Ditmar for Best Professional Achievement. His short story, “The Doppelgänger Effect”, appeared in the World Fantasy Award-winning anthology, Dreaming Down Under. His fiction has been translated into a number of languages. He founded the Aurealis Awards and has co-published and co-edited Aurealis magazine for over 20 years.
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