Clayton Wood is the author of the Runic series, the Fate of Legends series, the Magic of Havenwood series, and the Magic of Magic series. He’s been a computer programmer, graphics designer, martial-arts instructor, and now works in the medical field. He has a wife and three wonderful children.
Writing was always Clayton’s passion, but it wasn’t until the birth of his first son that he found the inspiration necessary to finish his first book. Five years later, he published Runic Awakening, the first entry in the Runic Series.
This week I had the great pleasure of interviewing a talented and successful author of epic fantasy! Read the interview right here.
Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview! To kick things off, tell me a little about yourself. Apart from writing, what are your hobbies? What is your background? Where are you from?
I was originally born in Wisconsin, but moved to the east coast when I was young. In high school, I decided I either wanted to become a writer, an actor, or a doctor. I started working as a computer programmer and graphics designer during high school and for a couple of years afterward, then went to college to pursue a career in medicine. Eleven years later, I graduated from residency and now work as an ER doctor. As you can imagine, being an ER doctor during the COVID-19 epidemic has been quite the experience!
On the side, I’ve been a martial arts instructor, and enjoy Tae Kwon Do and Kung Fu. I also enjoy gardening and weightlifting. I find that diversifying my interests keeps me happy, especially given the high-stakes and stressful nature of my primary career.
Thank you for your hard work and dedication during this pandemic! So, what led you to write fantasy, and what sub-genres do you prefer to write and read about?
Growing up, I read voraciously, mostly fantasy with some science fiction as well. The idea of writing a book was something I was always interested in, especially after taking a creative writing class in high school. But I stopped writing after high school, and stopped reading fiction as well. In fact, I’ve read two fiction novels in the last 22 years, for better or for worse, and only finished one of them.
I didn’t start writing again until after graduating from residency. I was 31, and my oldest son had just been born. After having had so much of my life dominated by studying medicine, I decided to revisit the dreams I had when I was younger, and made a pact with myself to write a fantasy trilogy (at minimum) for each child that I had. Thus, I wrote the Runic series, with my son Kyle as the protagonist. Since then, I’ve written fantasy series for each of my three children, and have expanded beyond these to other series as well.
My favorite sub-genre is probably epic fantasy, but I don’t particularly consider genre before writing a book. Whatever best tells the story is fine by me.
What an incredible legacy to give to your children. I love that. Do you write with a particular message or worldview in mind?
Very much so! All of my books start with a central theme, an idea that I want to explore. Something important to me at the time of their writing. Each book is a meditation, a way of learning about myself and how I feel about different aspects of my life. This is the very reason I do write…and writing for any other reason holds no interest for me.
For the Runic series, it was exploring different kinds of father figures and the importance of mentorship. And the importance of allowing children to make their own mistakes and figure things out for themselves. To have their hero’s journey, so to speak.
For the Fate of Legends series, as the father of mixed-race children, I wanted to explore themes of racism, nationalism, cultural identity and the concept of cultural genocide, as well as the theme of self identity versus group identity. So I created a unique world where the very nature of reality made these themes unavoidable.
For the Magic of Havenwood series, I was interested in exploring the creative process itself, and the theme of redemption. Currently, redemption is a bit out of favor, and I wanted to explore why having a path to redemption is important. And why forgiveness is as important to the forgiver as it is to the person being forgiven.
Lastly, for Inappropriate Magic, I explored the idea of the mid-life crisis. While mid-life crises are often derided, I think they stem from leading the life others want you to lead rather than the life we want. It’s very easy to make choices early in life that cause us to go down a path that is safe, but makes us profoundly unhappy. And the magic of life is in chasing our bliss, rather than working so that one day we won’t have to work anymore.
I really like your approach to storytelling. I agree it should be an exploration of questions and answers. What is your preferred writing style? Is your reading preference the same or separate?
My preferred writing style is third-person past-tense. I’ve done present-tense, but don’t find it as enjoyable. My reading preference is first- or third-person.
How do you feel about a hero vs. a protagonist in fiction?
I think heroes and protagonists similarly to villains vs. protagonists. There’s a tendency to separate people into categories, but most people consider themselves the heroes of their own story. So I try to write people in this way. My antagonists are often heroic in their own way, and my heroes are sometimes villainous from a certain perspective. I avoid the “good vs. evil” trope, because I don’t particularly agree with these as categories. In fact, I find these labels do more harm than good. Once you’re labeled as a hero or a villain, people stop seeing you as a person.
You already answered this in part, but do you prefer a sympathetic villain or someone a reader loves to hate? Or is there another kind of villain you prefer to write?
I prefer a sympathetic villain. In fact, in most of my books, there is no “villain” per se. Just a person with a point of view the protagonists – and often the readers – disagree with.
Tell me more about one of your published works.
My most recently trilogy is the Magic of Havenwood series. It involves a world where the arts are quite literally magical, and the Flow – that feeling of artistic inspiration one gets when they do art – is the source of an artist’s power. I think that all artists are storytellers, regardless of the medium through which they tell their stories. And I believe that stories are truly magical, both in the process of creating them and of others experiencing them.
That’s why I write, I think. For the magic of my muse providing inspiration and revelation. If my readers feel the same magic reading my books as I did writing them, then I’m happy.
That’s a terrific premise! What are you working on now?
I’m currently working on three fantasy books and my first science fiction novel.
So many! That’s great. Are you traditionally published or do you publish independently? Why did you choose that path to send your books into the world?
I publish independently. I chose this path for many reasons. The first is that as an independent author, I have full control over my work. I’m not beholden to a publisher, and if I want to write and publish a book, I can do so without requiring approval from someone else. A publisher’s incentive structure is primarily monetary, so they have a different focus.
I also enjoy the challenge of learning new skills, and learning how to format books, do print-on-demand publishing for paperbacks and hardcovers, create my own website, make my own graphics for ads, and run advertising campaigns through Facebook, Instagram, Google, and Amazon is rewarding for me. Not only because it makes a profit, but because I find mastering a discipline is one of the most enjoyable things I can do. I enjoy the process of being bad at something, failing over and over, and the sense of accomplishment as I eventually gain some measure of mastery.
Who are your favorite authors?
Since almost all of the fiction books I’ve read were before I was 18, my favorite authors are from that time period. Piers Anthony, L.E. Modesitt Jr., Terry Brooks, Robert Jordan, Raymond E. Feist, and R. A. Salvatore were important fantasy authors to me, and I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some of them at fantasy conferences. Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and particularly Frank Herbert were big science fiction influences for me.
What are your writing habits?
I am a creature of habit, so I write every day, on my laptop. I usually write in silence, but occasionally write to classical music. I used to write one book at a time, but now I try 2-4 at a time. I thought this would decrease efficiency, but it actually improves it. If I reach a sticking point in one book, I have a few others to choose from, and find that I can get two to three times as much done per day if I give myself options.
Do you prefer to plot your books out in advance, or do you dive in and see where the story takes you?
I start with a theme, come up with a beginning, middle, and end scene, and fill in the rest as I write. This way, I give myself some direction while allowing for a fair amount of spontaneity. Magic lives within mystery, and not knowing what’s coming next…and discovering it through my muse…is tremendously satisfying to me. Maybe that’s why I chose to be an ER doctor; I enjoy surprises!
Do you enjoy writing plot-driven or character-driven stories more?
Plot to me is the worm on the hook. It gets the reader interested in the book. But to me, the story and characters are paramount. Plot itself is merely what happens, and without the characters’ internal struggles, all you’ve got is a history book. This then this then this. The magic is in the relatability of the human experience. So I think you need both plot and story to make a compelling book.
What type of fantasy medium do you enjoy most?
I don’t read fiction anymore, mostly because every time I have a choice between reading and writing, I want to write more than I want to read. But I enjoy movies, and have learned more about the art of storytelling from analyzing movies than I have from reading books, oddly enough. That’s my personal preference, of course, and not a put-down of reading fiction. It’s simply what my heart wants to do right now, so I stay out of my own way and let it do what it wants.
What destination in the world would you most like to visit?
Honestly, I don’t know. I think I’m more interested in experiencing different cultures and belief systems than I am a particular geographical location. I like seeing things from a different point of view, and the perspective it offers on my own views.
Writers, and artists in general, usually have a few quirks. What is a fun quirk you have?
Puns. And a dark, twisted sense of humor, as I think almost everyone who works in the ER develops.
Sounds like you have a great handle on balancing ER work and your writing career, and you’ve got a lot of books under your belt as a result! In closing, what advice do you have for up-and-coming writers?
I think it’s important to focus on the process rather than on the outcome. Work on the process and results will come. Develop momentum by writing regularly, whether you feel like it or not. Human beings are creatures of habit, and what we did yesterday and the day before is probably what we’ll do today. Books are words on a page, so if you keep writing, eventually you’ll have a book!
Also, beware of the concept of Writer’s Block. I think this comes from a misunderstanding of inspiration. Some people think they have to be inspired to write, but I think it’s the opposite. The process of writing itself is what leads to inspiration, in my view. It’s a kind of settling in to what you’re doing, relaxing into the moment. So write, and don’t worry too much about it being particularly good. The good stuff will come eventually, and you can always edit the rest!
The first book is always the hardest. Proving to yourself that you can write a book – that you can finish – is the most important first step. It doesn’t need to be good, it just needs to get done. You can always go back and edit to your heart’s content later. So don’t compare your first draft to professional authors’ final, professionally-edited books!
In addition, be kind to yourself. I see so many authors questioning whether they’re good enough, or whether they’ll ever be good enough. The fact is, when you start out at anything, you’re probably going to suck. Expect that, accept it. Fail forward. I remember watching my oldest son learn how to walk; it was perhaps the most profound thing I’ve witnessed when it comes to a lesson on how to succeed. He fell over and over again, but he didn’t understand the concept of shame, or think that he’d never succeed. He just got up and tried again. Over and over. Until one day he succeeded.
So I guess the lesson is to stop thinking like an adult…and act like a baby!
Thank you again for interviewing with me, Clayton! It’s been rewarding to get an inside look at your writing process! Best of luck as you continue weaving magic.
To keep up with Clayton Wood and his fantasy books, check out the links below!
The Runic Series
The Fate of Legends Series
Magic of Havenwood Series
The Magic of Magic Series