Name: Dirk Strasser

Age: ageless

Where are you from: born in Offenbach, Germany

A little about your self, ie your education Family life etc:

I live in Melbourne, Australia, with my wife, two teenage children and fluffy white dog.  My day jobs have included being a High School teacher of Mathematics and German, a college creative writing and freelance journalism teacher, a textbook Publisher and Publishing Manager.

Fiona: Tell us your latest news?

Dirk: Just sold the movie rights to my latest 7 book fantasy series, The Seven Prophets, to Peter Jackson’s production company, which won the rights in a bidding war with HBO who were looking for the next big fantasy series after Game of Thrones.  What, you don’t believe me?  Okay, stomp all over my dreams then!  My latest news: new hardcover and paperback editions of my Books of Ascension trilogy (Zenith, Equinox and Eclipse) and the paperback version of my first short story collection Stories of the Sand, published by Satalyte Publishing, have just been released.

Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?

Dirk: I remember writing a Superman story at an early age, making copies, stapling them, and then going door-to-door around our neighbourhood and selling them for 2 cents each.  I made enough to buy some ice creams for my friends!  So, I guess I started writing and trying to sell what I’d written from the very start.  I was always writing stories up until school and university study started to take up a lot of my time.  I didn’t get back to it until I had been teaching High School for a few years.  By then, I’d decided to to have a serious go at writing a novel (which ended up being Zenith).

Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?

Dirk: I had sent a short story, “Waiting for the Rain” (which is appears in my collection Stories of the Sand), to the big-time US anthology, Universe 2, edited by one of my favourite writers, Robert Silverberg, and the acceptance came back in an envelope that had “Welcome aboard” hand-written on it.  I took it to mean “welcome aboard, you’re one of us now”.

Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?

Dirk: I’ve always liked epics – tales told on a huge canvas – and I was very ambitious in terms of the scale of my first book, Zenith.  I wanted the basis of the world I was creating to be something on a large 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.  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 where the whole Eastern mysticism feel to the book came from.

Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?

Dirk: I like writing to be evocative, but also have a clear narrative and keep up the pace.  These two styles fight each other, but if you can get the balance just right, you can end up with stunning fiction.  I always aim for this balance.  Sometimes I feel I get close.  Then I read what I’ve written again, and think… who am I kidding?

Fiona: How did you come up with the title?

Dirk: Zenith is about climbing the largest mountain that ever existed, so I wanted a title that suggested height.  Alternative titles I considered were “Pinnacle”, Apex”, “Peak” and “Summit”.  I liked the sound of Zenith best.

Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

Dirk: There is an underlying idea about the nature and the power of books, but you need to read all three Books of Ascension for to become clear.  In Zenith the main characters are pretty naïve, and they are only starting to understand what’s going on around them.  The two key Talismans in the series are Atreu’s Book and Teyth’s battle-axe.  The power of ideas and creativity on the one hand, and the power of brute force and destruction on the other.  I have a real problem with many fantasy novels in that they have embedded in them the unswerving assumption that military might and brute force is what changes things.  Any student of history would know the power of the idea is the instigator of change. Brute force and militarism only has an effect when linked to an idea or belief.  In the Books of Ascension, I was really keen to present a conflict that can only be resolved through an idea – a victory of subtlety, diplomacy and the human spirit over brute force.  Sure there are still plenty of battle scenes and sword fights (it wouldn’t be legitimate epic fantasy without these), but the assumptions underlying the world about the effectiveness of these as a way of resolving conflict are challenged all the way through the trilogy.

Fiona: How much of the book is realistic?

Dirk: The main characters spend much of their time trekking rather than climbing.  I’m not a mountain-climber, but I’ve trekked in the Himalayas and the Andes, so that part should be pretty realistic.  For large parts of the terrain I was picturing Nepal in my head.  I don’t have a twin, but my brother is close in age to me, so maybe there are some elements of realism there.  I think fantasy needs to feel real to be effective, so hopefully Zenith is realistic in that sense.

Fiona: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

Dirk: I had a friend say to me it’s obvious that Atreu is me and his twin Teyth is my brother.  Basing a character on someone I know is not something I do consciously.  If you’ve ever had the experience of writing something that’s really flowing, you would know that it’s almost as if the words appear magically, as they do in Atreu’s book.  So, although you need to stretch the connection, I guess there are some real life events in Zenith.

Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most?

Dirk: I remember being inspired at 10, after reading The Hobbit, to plan out a fantasy novel with a friend.  I recall our novel was actually quite different to The Hobbit because our small creatures were called Zabbits (a crucial difference).  After I read The Lord of the Rings a couple of years later, it took my interest in fantasy to an even higher level.

Fiona: What book are you reading now?

Dirk: I’m reading George R R Martin’s A Song Of Ice And Fire (to give Game of Thrones its proper name) series.  I never cease to be amazed how much richer the book version always is, no matter how good the screen version is.

Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?

Dirk: As the co-editor of Aurealis: Australian Fantasy and Science Fiction, I see a lot of new authors emerging.  We’ve recently accepted stories from a number of interesting writers including Lachlan Huddy and C S McMullen which we will be publishing this year.

Fiona: What are your current projects?

Dirk: I’ve been working on a full length version of a short story of mine called “Conquist” that appears in my collection Stories of the Sand.  If you can imagine Spanish Conquistadors invading a fantasy world in search of dwarf gold, you’re getting some idea of what it’s about.

Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.

Dirk: I started seriously writing Zenith as part of a professional writing and editing diploma at Holmesglen TAFE, a college in Melbourne.  I’m not sure how long it would have taken me to write the first draft without the structure of having to churn out a chapter every couple of weeks.  The teacher of the novel writing unit, Mike Slusher, took the time to edit everything I wrote during the year and even after I’d finished the course.

Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?

Dirk: I do, but because of the level of payment, I’ve also had other careers simultaneously.

Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?

Dirk: I am extremely pleased with the collection Stories of the Sand collection.  I had the opportunity to make some changes in the stories as I was preparing them, but apart from some really minor stuff, I left them all as they had been originally published.  It would have been too much like forcing your child to undergo plastic surgery.

Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

Dirk: I’ve always thought that reading and writing are like inhaling and exhaling.  I started writing stories from the time I learnt to write.  There was a period when I was quite young when I spent a lengthy stretch in hospital and pretty much all I did during that time was read and write, so I guess that’s when I started.

Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?

Dirk: Here’s a small section from Conquist, which I mentioned earlier:

On the eve of the Holy Trinity in the year of Our Lord 1542, I, Cristóbal de Varga, humble servant of His Imperial Majesty Charles V, King of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor, led my four hundred conquistadors through an entrada into a new world. I have decided to write of the wonders of this world that lie beyond the wonders of New Spain in the hope that others who may also discover the entrada in the mountains of Peru will contemplate entering only with the full knowledge that I bring. Only thus will those who follow be able to complete what we have begun for the glory of Our Lord and for the Empire on whose horizon the sun never descends.

Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

Dirk: I always find first drafts a bit of a slog.  You’re really creating something out of thin air in a first draft, and although you hope it can be done with the ease of a magic trick, usually it’s just hard work.

Fiona: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?

Dirk: I’m going to say China Miéville even though I haven’t enjoyed his most recent novels.  His works burst with more ideas and inventiveness on almost every single page than most fantasy authors have in a seven book series.

Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?

Dirk: Conquist is set in Peru and I’ve travelled there.  Zenith is set in a Himalayan-type world, and I’ve been to Nepal.  The seven book series I’m working on The Seven Prophets is set in a desert world infused with Arabic mythology and I’ve travelled through Egypt.  I usually get the ideas after I’ve travelled to these places.

Fiona: Who designed the covers?

Dirk: The Stories of the Sand cover and internal illustrations were done by Andrew McKiernan, who is one of the few people in speculative fiction who are both outstanding writers and outstanding illustrators.  The Books of Ascension hardcover and paperback covers were done by Les Petersen who is arguably Australia’s top fantasy cover artist.

Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?

Dirk: Finding the time to write first drafts is probably the hardest part of being a writer for me.  You can edit and revise later drafts in bits and pieces and across fragmented time periods, but I feel a first draft has to be written in a continuous block of time, otherwise it can become disjointed and the flow isn’t there.  If I’m in the middle of a first draft and there’s a break of a number of days or weeks in my writing, I need to spend a lot time rereading and becoming reacquainted with what I’ve written, which stretches the whole process out.  A first draft of a novel (for me anyway) takes several months of consistent writing, even if I’ve planned the plot trajectory and character arc in detail.  With disruptions come inconsistencies in characters and plot – and variations in mood and tone – which are time-consuming and difficult to fix at a later stage.

Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?

Dirk: I always learn the same thing from writing each one of my books: I’m not as good a writer as I thought I was!

Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?

Dirk: Write what you would love to read.  If you do anything else you’re cheating your readers and your cheating yourself.

Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

Dirk: In the immortal words of Australia’s three time world boxing champion, Jeff Fenech: “I love youse all. With 12,000 of the most beautifullest people in the world cheering me on, it’s hard to feel pain.”

Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?

Dirk: It was part of a series called Blackberry Farm.

Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?

Dirk: Movies rather than books tend to make me laugh or cry.  However, I was a mess at the ending of Markus Zusak’s novel, The Book Thief, whereas the movie was nowhere near as powerful.

Fiona: Is there one person past or present you would want to meet and why?

Dirk: J R R Tolkien.  I’d want to watch The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings movies with him and ask him what he thought.

Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why?

Dirk: It’s actually a George R R Martin quote: “They can keep their heaven. When I die, I’d sooner go to Middle-earth.”  As to why, here’s another George R R Martin quote:

“The best fantasy is written in the language of dreams. It is alive as dreams are alive, more real than real … for a moment at least … that long magic moment before we wake.

Fantasy is silver and scarlet, indigo and azure, obsidian veined with gold and lapis lazuli. Reality is plywood and plastic, done up in mud brown and olive drab. Fantasy tastes of habaneros and honey, cinnamon and cloves, rare red meat and wines as sweet as summer. Reality is beans and tofu, and ashes at the end. Reality is the strip malls of Burbank, the smokestacks of Cleveland, a parking garage in Newark. Fantasy is the towers of Minas Tirith, the ancient stones of Gormenghast, the halls of Camelot. Fantasy flies on the wings of Icarus, reality on Southwest Airlines. Why do our dreams become so much smaller when they finally come true?

We read fantasy to find the colors again, I think. To taste strong spices and hear the songs the sirens sang. There is something old and true in fantasy that speaks to something deep within us, to the child who dreamt that one day he would hunt the forests of the night, and feast beneath the hollow hills, and find a love to last forever somewhere south of Oz and north of Shangri-La.”

Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies?

Dirk: Not sure if all of these class as hobbies: reading, technology, movies, travelling, swimming, watching AFL, watching soccer

Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?

Dirk: TV shows: Game of Thrones, Vikings, The Returned, QI, Big Bang Theory

Films: Groundhog Day, Galaxy Quest, The Lord of the Rings, The Godfather trilogy, Goodfellas, The Shawshank Redemption, Django Unchained, Life of Brian (and many others)

Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music

Dirk: Malaysian / Blue / Reggae

: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?

Dirk: I have done it as well: a publisher.

Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?

Dirk: www.dirkstrasser.com.au

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/pages/Dirk-Strasser/210656335777613

Twitter https://twitter.com/DirkStrasser

Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/570974.Dirk_Strasser

Stories of the Sand front coverZenith front cover 590 x 879Equinox front cover 590 x 879Eclipse front cover 590 x 879Zenith coverEquinox coverEclipse cover

The Books of Ascension book trailer