- fantasy writer by way of England and Maine
Readers! Let’s give a good hearty welcome to Thomas Kane!
After a few years publishing supplements for D&D and other role-playing games, Thomas M. Kane moved from the US to the UK where he lectured in international politics and strategic studies at the University of Hull. He has now returned to his original home in the Maine woods, where he writes fantasy.
Thomas, thanks for agreeing to be here today. Most interviews start off with bios and such, and while I’ll get to that as always, let’s start with the important stuff!
If you could have any pet (real/fantasy/no-allergies/no worries about feeding it) what would it be?
My WIP features a princess with a pet lizard. While writing it, I researched real-life pet lizards and fell in love with bearded dragons. Apparently, many of them play with toy balls, recognize their humans and like to snuggle. I had never known reptiles behaved that way, but now that I do, it fits with a lot of what I believe about the world. And I think they’re really cute!
My late step-mother used to have an Australian bearded dragon! She’d set it on her shoulder, wearing a leash and just walk around. On occasion, it would move, and she’d get surrounded by people asking, “oh, wait. Is that REAL?” They’re great pets.
What do you write and how did you get started?
My father was (among other things) an editor and my mother was (among other things) a poet. They encouraged me to write stories and poems from early on. I discovered fantasy at age 11 when a teacher read The Lord of the Rings aloud in class. He did the Black Riders’ screams.
After that came D&D. I learned about the business side of writing by producing supplements for role-playing games. Meanwhile, thanks to an excellent professor, I became interested in international relations and I pursued and academic career with the thought that it would allow me to write as part of my day job. I did, indeed, publish eight scholarly books in my field, and I also had a fair number of adventures which now show up in my fiction.
My current series is about an introspective woman named Mara growing to adulthood in a time when two powerful countries are slipping closer to war. It’s an adventure story with a lot of intrigue, but it’s also a story about Mara’s home life, her friendships and her observations about her world. Much of my fiction explores similar themes – I am interested in my characters’ inner lives, I am interested in relatively ordinary people and I set my writing in imaginary settings. My academic career taught me some things about real-life war, espionage and international intrigue and I bring this into my writing.
What an excellent environment to grow up in, as a future writer. I’m sure many of us know the appeal of the ‘day job that can support our writing habit,” how lovely to have one that could add compelling stories to the craft itself! And? I have to confess to sometimes caring more about the character’s inner life than their surroundings.
What do you like to read?
I read broadly! The books that most directly inspire my writing these days are Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Tombs of Atuan and Tehanu. I love Le Guin’s use of the language and I love her willingness to engage with ideas.
Tombs and Tehanu are about a priestess in a sinister cult who runs away and tries to find a life that’s right for her. As someone who has moved across the ocean twice for not-entirely-dissimilar reasons, I appreciate that plot!
Ah, I remember having a soft spot for Tehanu back when I read it. Le Guin is an amazing writer and an excellent muse.
Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that doesn’t work for you.
When people treat writing advice as unbreakable laws
I think all writing advice needs to be taken in context. Writing advice becomes pernicious when it encourages people to try to catch others out for breaking arbitrary rules. I also have to say I have limited patience for gatekeeping, domineering behavior, and the attitude of “no pain, no gain.” This is another reason I like Ursula K Le Guin – she has written clever essays querying such attitudes as the Hemmingway-fueled presumption that every adjective, adverb or punctuation mark is a sign of weakness.
When I was learning to write, I listened to virtually all the advice I received and worked hard to apply it. This attitude probably helped me develop a consistent and readable style. It certainly helped me work successfully with editors. However, I found it impossible to make progress with novels until I gave myself permission to stop worrying about taboos and simply say what I had to say. That’s one of the reasons I like to write in first person – it lets me express myself the way my characters express themselves, rather than the way I have been told I must.
Definitely. To quote Pirates of the Caribbean – “They’re more like… guidelines.” But, by studying them, you’re aware of the rules and why they exist, and you break them for a purpose, an intent. The rules give a decent framework to start from… and then you can work your magic.
Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that they can pry out of your cold, dead hands.
When teaching. I often recommend Gregory G. Columb and Joseph M. Williams’ Style: Toward Clarity and Grace. Columb and Williams make the point that each sentence is a miniature story in its own right. They also talk about how to organize ideas into coherent “strings.” I find their system valuable for making writing make sense.
Fascinating! I’ve heard that each chapter should be its own story, but never taken down to the sentence level. *Adds ANOTHER book to her massive to-read pile*
Shameless Self-Promotion time!
Mara of the League Book One: The Witches of Crannock Dale
Eleven-year old Mara tries to save her family from invaders. When the knights protecting her town arrest her aunt for witchcraft, she wonders who her real enemies are.
This is a story of war and espionage, set in a low fantasy world.
It is also about a child getting to know her mother and father in a new way.
Mara of the League Book Two: The Rebels of Caer City
Throughout five years at a strict boarding school, Mara has turned to her friend Annie-Rose for comfort. Now Annie has disappeared. Mara teams up with two other students – bold Gretchen and soft-spoken Ginny — to find her missing friend.
Together, Mara, Gretchen and Ginny take on a conspiracy involving some of the most dangerous people in their world.
For more check out my website, facebook, and twitter for blog articles, books reviews, and supplemental material on my novels.
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AND? Join the conversation! Discuss the Mara series and other thought-provoking stories in the Facebook group Kane’s Coffeehouse.