It is my pleasure to introduce Ulff Lehmann. His debut novel, Shattered Dreams, just recently hit shelves!
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
All right, if you draw a line between where I was born and where I primarily grew up, you not only find the place where I finished school but also where I live now. To make things easier, I was born in Wattenscheid (now a part Bochum) grew up in Sprockhövel, and went to school and now live in Hattingen. All three are cities in the Ruhr area of Germany.
Unlike the US, we have no high school here, and no SATs. If you want to go to college/university you need to have the Abitur, a school qualification. The Abitur helps you with some things, like getting apprenticeships in many more academic-leaning professions, like banking. I was stupid enough to go into banking, finished that by the skin of my teeth, went to college a few years but didn’t finish.
I am German, obviously, but for the past quarter century I have almost exclusively read books in English, which is why I write in that language. In my youth I was state champion in rowing, which is why I loath any regular kind of sports. Seriously, I hate sports. .
2. When did you start writing?
I first took writing seriously when I joined the first German fantasy club, and decided I would want to write about the character whose persona I slipped into when going to cons. But it wasn’t until afterwards that I started writing in English. I realized that since I was reading only in English I was unable to phrase things properly in my native tongue and thus switched.
3. Why did you start writing?
As I said in 2, it was because dressing up as a fantasy persona was not enough for me. But there is, obviously more to it. (Isn’t there always?) I always made up stories, even when not writing, but it took me 2 nervous breakdowns to go to therapy and figure out who and what I was, turns out the answer is the same, a writer. I write because without it, I would go out of my mind.
4. Do you recall the moment you first conceived the idea for Shattered Dreams?
Initially I merely wanted to write about my character in the shared world of the fantasy club I joined. I wrote several connected short stories but never reached the end. Once I left that club, I felt that I needed to properly tell that story due to the constraints a shared world put on me, also having to rely on others for specific input (can I do this and that in this city? Several months later came the answer: No. for example) So I set out to put down the tale I wanted to tell.
Ironically, what I wrote back in the late 1990s early 2000s is nothing like the finished book. Some story beats are there, yes, but the now published version of Shattered Dreams has nothing to do with what I wrote back then.
When I began I was reading a lot of D&D related fantasy novels, which, naturally influenced my writing style. It was all shining knights, wizards who threw fireballs and that sort of shit. I haven’t looked at that stuff in ages, it was a whole different animal, structurally and tonally. As I said, I was influenced by the novels I read, but over the years I stopped reading those novels and delved more into suspense and other genres, including historical fiction. I liked the realism, the grit if you will. Also, upon an acquaintance’s recommendation, I began to read A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin, and fell in love with the style, the story was nice, but it is the style, that very narrow third person very limited narrator that changed chapter by chapter that really caught my heart. And while the initial novel(s) had some of that, when it came to getting back into the story, as part of my therapy, it became clear to me that I had to change the entire structure and tone. Basically, aside from one or two passages, I wrote the entire book again, sticking to the beats I had already established, but changing everything. There were no shining knights, no fireballs, just dirt and pain and blood, even the magic changed.
5. Tell us a little bit about your book’s title.
Initially the title was Awakening, but I changed it to Shattered Dreams. Awakening was always more of a working title anyways, but it stuck for a decade or so. When I delved deeper into the marketing side of things, what attracts readers and why, which happened after I had finished the rewrite during therapy, I knew I had to change it. I wanted the title to be enticing, sure, but I also wanted it to relate to the story. So I sat down and asked myself “what is happening?” and by that I meant the simplest most basic answer I could come up with. You know, if you have to sum up The Lord of the Rings with as few words as possible, you’re bound to come up with something like “Two little people toss a ring into a volcano to save the world” not precise but that is the gist of it. Tolkien could’ve named the book The Ring, or The War of the Ring, and it would have made people look twice. I wanted that sort of title, something attention grabbing that would only reveal its deeper meaning once you read the book. So I looked for the premise… the one thing that this part of the trilogy was about. Once I reached Shattered Dreams, the remaining two titles fell into place.
6. Does your story have a moral?
Pretty sure there is one, at least one, but I’d have to read it again to make sure. It’s been years.
7. Using five words or less, describe the protagonist in Shattered Dreams.
8. What does a typical writing session look like for you?
I start with the routine, because the process and the routine go hand in hand. The day before I return to writing, I make sure to go to bed so that I wake up at around 8 to 8:30 in the morning. From there, I fix a cup of tea (well, tankard is more appropriate, seeing that the bugger holds 0.75 litres) switch on my TV and watch one episode of a drama and two episodes of a sitcom. I also have my breakfast during that time. When the second episode of whatever sitcom is done, I shut off the TV, switch on the stereo to blast something metallic through the speakers, loud enough that it will reach me under the shower. After that, and before I get dressed, I change the song to The Blood of CuChulainn and then get into my clothes. With the final notes of Blood ending, I open my windows, put on my shoes, grab whatever non-fantasy book I am currently reading and head to my favourite café. There, I enjoy the novel whilst drinking a large cappuccino. Then, with my mind clear, I return home, switch on my writing computer and the stereo with my “writing-soundtrack” and begin.
The process is rather straight forward. I check where I left off, recheck some of the previous chapters to get my bearing, and write. I generally have a good idea of what I want to do, where the story will go, and while that first day of writing is mostly spent fixing some stuff from where I left off and before, I add another few pages before I stop. The following days are the same, only now I am fully back in the zone and new pages start flowing.
9. How do you feel about outlines? Are you for or against them?
Personally, I don’t care much for them, the stupid characters will do whatever the hells they want to do, so they will refuse doing something that is against their nature.
10. What is your favorite book genre?
I read anything that is good.
I currently write fantasy, but I refuse to limit myself, or be limited by even this genre.
11. What are you currently reading?
The Bourne Supremacy
12. What is your favorite book?
I, Jedi by Michael Stackpole
The first person style of the book just works for me. It’s one of the few Star Wars novels I have read more than once, and the only one I have read several times. Yes, it is SW, but it also is a detective story, a spy story, a story about personal growth, it has bits of piracy in it as well… Mike Stackpole didn’t let the genre define the story, but the character, and it, the story, takes us where it takes us without checking off beats of a to-do list.
13. Any project in the works?
Shattered Hopes, the sequel to Dreams is in beta read, and I am working on Shattered Bonds, the conclusion.
14. How long does it usually take you to write a book?
Until it is finished.
15. In your opinion, what makes a story ‘good’?
Whatever you like. Story is as important as delivery or style. If the style sucks, the story might be a good one, but I will not finish it just for the sake of the story. If the style’s great but the story sucks, same thing.
16. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Read! Read! Read! Read! Read! And read out of your f***ing comfort zone! Also, read books that suck, because you learn more from them… only thing is, the more you read, the more you may come to realize that the books you adored are actually books that you would consider sucky now. 😛
And now for a game of “Which Do/Would You Prefer?”
1. Books or movies?
2. Dogs or cats?
3. Summer or winter?
4. Cake or ice-cream?
5. Car or motorcycle?
6. Ebook or physical book?
Dead trees all the way
7. Nights out or nights in?
8. Living in the city or living in the country?
9. Making a phone call or sending a text?
10. Travelling by car or travelling by airplane?
11. Staying in a hotel or going camping?
12. Working in a group or working alone?
13. Losing all of your money or losing every picture you’ve ever taken and every picture that has ever been taken of you?
14. To find true love or to win the lottery?
15. Going without internet access for a week or going without watching any movies/television shows for a week?
16. To never speak again or to never eat solid food again?
17. Staying awake for forty-eight hours (continuous) or walking for twenty-four hours (also continuous)?
18. To never read another book or to never watch another film?
19. To never again eat a piece of chocolate or to never again drink a cup of coffee?
20. Finding yourself trapped in the universe of The Walking Dead or finding yourself trapped in a slasher film?