We interviewed Paul about his experience and creative process.
Paul, your previous publications have been poetry. What made you pivot into long form fiction, and specifically a dark contemporary fantasy novel woven with myth and folklore?
I have written poetry since high school, as well as song lyrics, but have always admired novelists and their grand achievements, novels. And truth be told, I read way, way more novels than anything else. When I earned my MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Montana, I concentrated on taking fiction classes, because I felt that’s what I wanted to learn. I felt, perhaps erroneously, that I knew the craft of poetry, but fiction (it still is to some degree) was/is a mystery to me. The seed for Mirr came to me while traveling in Greece in 2015. I thought it would be interesting to introduce certain Greek mythological characters to life in contemporary rural Montana. Something a bit similar to Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. And I wanted to have strong naturalistic and environmental themes running through it.
Where did this book start for you? Are you a “plot first, then the characters” writer? A “build the world and the characters will come” person? Did the characters spring to life first, and then you decided where they belonged?
The book started with the scene of a wilderness pool in the Bitterroot Mountains where three Pegaiai (water nymphs particular to springs) were camped, and a man who stumbles into their camp. It was that simple, and for the year and a half it took me to start this novel, that image stuck with me. To elaborate on your greater questions, however, I always start with a scene and a rough idea of which way the novel is headed, and go from there. Other characters arise, as do paths, plotlines, and twists. Which is what makes the writing fun for me. I never know where the novels are going, and thus experience similar surprises as the readers.
What have you learned from your own writing?
Many things. Attentiveness, discipline, the need for endless revision. I’ve also learned that this identity, as a writer, feels truer than other identities I’ve had in the past linked to careers. And much more.
To what concepts, intentional or not, do you think you’ve exposed your readers? What matters to your characters, and what do you want your readers to take away from your work?
This varies by novel, of course, and I have several others I plan to publish with BVC.
I see novels as a locus to play out certain social and political scenarios, as well as to investigate technology and its effect on humanity, both positive and negative. The characters and plots are born out of the place, both material and social/political, where the novel is based.
My protagonists are moral, yet often conflicted. I always do a lot of research while writing, as do many novelists. I would hope my readers would learn something (wolf biology, for example, in Mirr), think about issues I introduce, have an enjoyable reading experience, be surprised, and close the book wishing to pass it on to a friend.
Has writing fiction taught you anything you didn’t expect?
It has to taught me to trust the process, as cliché as that sounds. When I hit an obstacle, I’ve always, so far, found a way around it, a solution to the problem. The fact that many of these come in the sleepless wee hours of the morning renders insomnia less of a pain. I have been lucky in never experiencing writer’s block.
Why writing to communicate your vision, and not, say, art or drama?
I have in the past worked with several visual arts (collage primarily, and photography), but writing has always been open to allowing me in. Or stated another way, there’s a comfort level I have with writing. I’m jealous of fabulous musicians, and think that would be my path if I had any talent.
What do you think of the labyrinth of modern Internet promotion and publishing? Fun? Challenging? A distraction from the writing?
New to me, and challenging. I enjoy learning new things, so in that way it’s fun, but like all technology, it’s a double-edged sword, with frustration always present. I certainly don’t enjoy it the way I do the writing. It’s a separate experience for me. Writing is my true love and the best escape.
How much of your own life did you bring to The Wolves of Mirr?
Well, my sister is reading Mirr, and she keeps telling me she finds pieces of me in there. I was a biologist, and an avid backpacker, and I lived in Montana for 23 years. I worked for wilderness protection with several NGOs. And I love the idea of alternate realities intertwining. So I guess there’s a fair amount of my own life in there.
What sparks your creativity?
As weird as it sounds, discipline. The American novelist Jim Harrison once said that if you write a page a day, you’ll have a novel in a year. I take that to heart. I sit and write every morning I can, and sitting at that keyboard is where I see creativity come to life.
Where else can readers find your work?
Much of my published work is listed at my Amazon Author’s Page.
Please visit Paul’s bookshelf at the BVC Ebookstore.