Christoper A. Lyness lives in Brisbane, Australia with his wife and daughter, a horde of books and an impressive sneaker collection. He is a university dropout, formerly studying commerce. Cut him and coffee will ebb from his veins. He is a self-proclaimed kitchen wizard and is nursing a debilitating addiction to World of Warcraft: Classic.
Inspired by the works of accomplished authors (N. K. Jemisin, Nicholas Eames, Marlon James, Guy Gavriel Kay, R. J. Barker), he finally began his own journey into writing.
‘Raiders’ is his first book.
CONNECT WITH C. A.
Welcome to SPFM, Christopher! Since we already have your bio, describe yourself in three words.
Glutton; loquacious; ursine.
Summarize your book, Raiders, using one gif.
If you could recommend three self-published books, which would you choose and why?
The Thunder Heist, by Jed Hearne — let’s go, Australia! I have to represent the home team at all times. His book is a seafaring tale, just like ‘Raiders’ and there are many things about it that make me envious about not including in my own. Jed is a wonderful writer and I’ve found his podcast (Wizards, Warriors and Words) to be a great resource that talks about all things writing. It even has a highly decorated triumvirate, including Dyrk Ashton, Michael R. Fletcher and Rob Hayes (all with their own phenomenal books).
Senlin Ascends, by Josiah Bancroft — while it is now traditionally published, it was originally self-published. It is one of the best books I’ve ever read and is a fantastically wonderful use of language, plot and character development. Josiah could write his grocery list on a napkin and I would gladly purchase a copy of it.
Paternus: Rise of Gods by Dyrk Ashton — need I say more? It’s almost the fun uncle of self-published fantasy.
What is your favorite part, and your least favorite part of self-publishing?
Self-publishing is a rather irksome dichotomy. My favourite part is, in fact, also my least favourite. Being in control of the final product is an exhilarating experience — working with artists for the cover; choosing how the innards of the book appear; fine-tuning every detail until they gleam and sparkle. All of it is addictive and I find myself craving more.
But addiction can be scary.
For years (this is not hyperbole) I wrangled my plot, characters and syntax into a workable order for self-publishing because I am one of the many authors who believe their work is just never truly acceptable. After the doubt and loathing finally ebb away somewhat, I push my book out into the world in the hopes that it will be received well and maybe inspire someone else to give writing an attempt. But the failure (and, maybe, the success) are on my shoulders entirely. There is no editor to hide behind, no publishing house to point a finger at and certainly no way to condemn the scant readers because, at the end of the day, it was my choice to put it out.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
One of my childhood favourites — Matthew Reilly — always included a quote in his acknowledgements. It read, ‘There is no such thing as an ‘aspiring writer’. You are a writer. Period.’ I abide by this notion of his. So if you’ve sat down to write, believe that you are, in fact, a writer.
To the traps!
Delaying The Start — some of my favourite books that I’ve written began when I thought I wasn’t ready. Truthfully, I never feel ready to start a new book and jumping the gun, so to speak, has resulted in quite a few grand projects. The trap of not writing is much more perilous than the trap of gardening (a George R. R. Martin term, describing writers that begin before they’ve detailed every possible characteristic and plot-point) so choose the one you’d like to step into. Writing is fun and a craft, which needs to be honed and specialised, which can only be done by actually writing. Get to it.
Thinking You Need To Be Great to Get Started — there are very few authors that garnered talent without writing. So just write and the greatness will come. If it is thirty minutes a day — before work; during the star-speckled midnight; on your lunch break with a laptop — then on a long enough timeline, you will have the bones of a project to flesh out. It might not be pretty and it might not win a literary award, but you cannot edit a blank page.
Focusing On Perfection — I don’t, for the life of me, remember who I got this from, but I learned very early in my writing journey that it is better to finish something average than circling the first chapter, trying to perfect it. Editing is a wonderful process and all the mistakes can be smoothed over, but if you remain glued to the first portion of the book without ever getting out of the swamp, there is no book. Finish what you start.
Underestimating The Process — it is created with grit and focus, honed with talent and perfected by obsession. For me, personally, I need to work on my writing every day to even get in the same realm as ‘decent’ so that is what I do. It takes a lot of time and energy, and you’ll no doubt have obligations of life (work; family; love) to tend to. A routine time-slot is essential. Don’t just write when you ‘have the time’ because we never have the time until we carve it out for ourselves. A twenty minute routine every day will be more fruitful than waiting for life to present you the opportunity to write for five hours.
My interest in anthropology also helps me build a fantasy world. It helps me realize that the relations between social groups are not linear, but dialectical, where one group influences the second group, and the second group reacts back upon the first group to create a perpetual cycle of power dynamic. This social and political climate would in turn shape the characters and influence their decisions. This is what I mean by “worldbuilding is another character in the story.”
If you were to write a spin-off about a side character, which would you pick and what would it be about?
Funny you should ask! Brolin Thake has his own book, coming February 2022, titled ‘The Lobster.’
Brolin’s ship is ruined, his crew have been slaughtered, and his family might follow closely behind — but that’s just the beginning. For the fabled Lobster, there isn’t much redemption to be found in the Southlands. After his skullduggery goes awry, it’s Brolin’s family that will pay the price. A marauder robbed him of some expensive cargo and he isn’t allowed to forget it.
All Brolin has is a name — the Reaver.
She harries the water like a storm, yet no one knows who she is. Wherever the Reaver goes, only the detritus of a swift, bloody battle remains. She must be found, but a life of marauding has left few friends willing to aid Brolin in his search. Worse still, the Reaver has been planning a final attack for a long while and it was because of Brolin that she can finally grip the realm in her hands.
If he doesn’t find out where she is, his family will meet a horrible fate before his own head is lopped off. The sea is vast and the days are withering away. The Reaver took most of what Brolin held dear, but he must find her before she takes away everything else.
Because when the Reaver strikes, the realm will be dealt a blow it might not recover from.
What’s your process for creating fully fleshed-out characters?
For villains, I always apply a simple, yet underrated, trait — you must empathise with the villain, on some level. Far too often, we read about villains who only desire to conquer the realm and destroy all humanity for reasons unknown. Evil is just in their blood for no other purpose than the need for an antagonist. Initially, I disobeyed this simple concept and wrote a villain that was evil for the sake of it, or merely because of their birthplace, before stumbling upon a very important lesson — Christopher Vogler, in his book, (The Writer’s Journey — a great stepping stone into story construction) wrote that ‘every villain is the hero of their own story’.
To those who haven’t read the end of ‘Raiders’, I won’t spoil it, but (after a massive overhaul) my intention was to get readers to put themselves in Raynar Bloom’s boots and feel why he did what he did, and empathise with him. It was hard, because, while what he wanted was pure, how he sought that goal was evil (there is no denying it). I wanted to make the line between hero and villain so threadbare that the two characters might step over it sometimes. Frankly, I desire the readers to believe that they themselves might be capable of doing such things, given the same circumstances.
For the protagonist of the story, I often apply Brian Michael Bendis’s strategy — put your character in the situation that scares them the most. For Shiphead Jun, what scared him the most was having to confront the man responsible for ten years of agony, long after Jun thought him dead. The pain was buried as best it could be and it was nothing but a rotten memory, until it has to be dug up and tended to. He must assemble his crew in order to hunt down the Halfsight, despite knowing it will likely get them killed because he can’t do it on his own. These are not comfortable tasks, nor would it be easy for anyone to dismantle their life in order to mend the past.
Characters, before the triggering of the plot, will likely be living comfortably before having to face the enemy or situation. How will they react? Will they reject the mission? Or will they stand tall with their weapons drawn, facing evil to keep it from swallowing the world?
Fleshed-out characters require fleshed-out thinking — where do they live? What is their purpose when they wake up in the morning? What annoys them? How do they solve problems? What do other characters think about them, displayed through their actions and dialogue? How does that make them feel? All of these questions (and many, many more) are essential to developing a character, no matter how minor or central to the story.
You feel uninspired and you’ve sat at the computer for an hour without conquering any words. How do you get your creativity flowing?
In a wooden dish by my screen, I have a baseball, which is essential to keep my hands occupied so I can’t use them to browse YouTube. Fiddling with this trinket often gets my mind out of a slump before I dive down the rabbit hole of procrastination.
When there is simply nothing I can do to fill the page, I’ll plot my next work-in-progress (there is always another on the go) or design a character, read a book or exercise. Most often, these activities help, but if they don’t, my wife is usually the one to talk me down and assure me that it is all well and good to take a day off.
Otherwise, I cook. I’m a self-proclaimed kitchen wizard and, usually, cooking fires up my mind. When I’m waiting for the cake to bake or I’m doing the dishes afterwards is usually when the ennui and brain-blockages deteriorate and I scamper back to my desk to hammer out a thousand words before the sun sets, because I am creatively useless at night.
If Raiders were made into a movie, which actors would play your MC(s)?
It cannot be overstated how much I think about this every moment of the day. It is essential for me to start assembling the bones of a characters to get a feelfor them. For Shiphead Jun, I originally pictured Nathan Fillion (obviously for his character in Firefly and Serenity, but my wife and I are regular viewers of Castle) but there was far too darkness to be portrayed by such an adorable miscreant. From there, it went to Henry Golding (his smooth-talking gangster archetype in The Gentlemen almost sealed the deal) but alas, he is a man too gorgeous to be believed as a filthy pirate. Lastly, I imagined Idris Elba (particularly when I saw him as the Gunslinger in The Dark Tower) donning the livery of the grizzled corsair. The suggestion was met with feverish glee, as my wife adores Idris Elba.
For Raynar the Halfsight, it was John Malkovich — forever and always, especially after seeing him play Cyrus Grissom in Con Air — and by locking in this casting, I knew that Idris Elba couldn’t play Shiphead Jun. Idris would slap Malkovich’s face off his head and dance atop the limp body.
To answer honestly, I don’t know who would play Shiphead Jun and you’re stressing me out by digging this grave up again. Thanks, Justine!
How do you approach worldbuilding?
I harken back to something Neil Gaiman said in a panel at The Wheeler Centre (the video can be viewed on YouTube), about ideas being a confluence — ‘If you get bitten by a werewolf, when the moon is full, you will turn into a wolf… so what happens if a werewolf bites a goldfish?’
My approach to worldbuilding includes the above kind of mentality. For instance, I was just rambling to my wife and wondered aloud — ‘what if the bones of old gods grew from the ground like trees?’ We started discussing a fantastical kind of tree with a trunk that was more akin to bone than it was wood. It couldn’t be sawed at and hacked away from the ground, like a normal tree — it had to be almost surgically removed to keep the bonetree intact. This one conversation about my random, amateurish idea eventually spurned into a whole trilogy, beginning with The Pink Bones (written at the peak of the pandemic) which will be released later this year. I’m immensely proud of it and consider it my best writing.
Also, I read non-fiction books on a wide variety of topics, particularly memoirs about cooks, food figures or restaurant histories. Food writers are wonderfully verbose and I’ve learned a lot of descriptive language thanks to these tomes, which helps me create cuisines specific to my fantasy worlds.
What’s the first story you ever wrote?
When I was much, much younger, I decided to re-write The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time on a purloined laptop while visiting my grandparents. It was woefully bad (and rather unnecessary — that game is phenomenal) while only lasting for two pages. With scant editing, horrible punctuation and replete with plot holes, it was promptly deleted when I realised it wasn’t even close to rivalling the original story.
But my passion and drive for storytelling, writing and creating remained. It took a while to spark that fire once more, but I’ll never let it be snuffed out again.
About Raiders (The Dying Light Saga #1)
A magical weapon in the hands of evil.
It could end them all.
Aboard the Dreadnaught, Shiphead Junathan Reed and the Raiders fight the battles that the Northlands can’t. Peace is fleeting and sharp iron is the only ally.
When a great Northlands vault is breached and a magical weapon plundered, Jun and the Raiders will head to the Southlands to take it back.
The corsair responsible — Raynar Bloom the Halfsight — should be dead, but after coming out of hiding, he has barricaded himself on the Isle of Rats and conjured a deadly storm to deter any interlopers. With the artefact in the Halfsight’s grip, the realm is in danger that no fleet or army could withstand.
But Jun has met with the Halfsight before, when everything he loved was torn from his heart and scattered to the seas. Once again, Jun will have to face the monster responsible for ten years of torment — the death of his family, the pain of his capture and the empty void of his life.
He’ll stop at nothing to get his reckoning and bury the Halfsight.
Even if he has to share the grave.