Geetanjali Mukherjee

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

How I Write: Authors on Their Writing Process - Ulff Lehmann

Today's interview is with German fantasy author Ulff Lehmann. 

1.          When did you first start writing?
My first, rather wobbly, attempts in writing came in my teens, with what now would be called fan fiction. Not that it was anything too spectacular, several handwritten pages here, a ludicrous fan-submission there. In comparison to how and what I write now, it wasn't a true beginning either. I guess it was more stop and go, the typical underachiever's path, I suppose. Meandering through life until the walls quite literally came crashing down around me, and I came face to face with the fact that if I wanted to live, I had to write, be creative.

2.          What are your books about? Are you self / traditionally published or hybrid?
In a way they are about the questions all of us should ask ourselves most times: Who am I? What do I want from life? I know that's a rather generic answer, but in the end, I think it's the most appropriate. Yes, it is fantasy, so in a way it is escapism, but it's also a reflection of us, our world.

Once more I sound like a pompous idiot, but it's also true.

As for a publisher, I self-publish. Why? I tried finding an agent over several years, and while we had initial contact, but it always ended with the coy note that my style/sample was not what they were looking for.

In the end, and it took a while to get there, I decided that to retain my creative integrity and tell the story the way I wanted to tell it without having to worry about marketing guys butting in with their demographics and target audiences. It might be tougher, sure, but in the end it's more important to be able to look at yourself in the mirror and like what you see. Were I to compromise my vision, myself, I'd end up where I was before, and I really don't want that.

3.          What led to your love for literature? Any favorite books / teachers / writing mentors?
At heart I've always been a loner, and initially it was audio dramas, but I switched to novels rather quickly. One of the cassettes I loved was the Odyssey and when I got the classical myths (Greek and Roman) around my 12th birthday, I was hooked. Initially most of the books I read were fantasy and sci-fi, but in recent years, I've read anything that caught my fancy. A good story is a good story, in my opinion, screw the genre.

As for favorite books, it might sound cheesy, but the Star Wars novel I, Jedi by Michael Stackpole is the only book I have read several times. I could have lied, could've said I prefer something more "high-brow" like Ulysses or Dorian Grey, you know, one of those names that draws lots of "ooohs" and "aaahs" at gatherings, but why? I like what I like and won't hide it under a veil of pretentiousness.

Writing teachers, tough one. Life I guess. Living and suffering or seeing others suffering is probably the best teacher. You can't write about stuff you never experienced, well, ok, you could write about it, but that is the kind of phoniness I abhor.

As for mentors. Since, I'm self-taught, with few of the how-to-books actually being of use to me, I guess the most influence anyone has had in that department would be Stephen King with his On Writing. Other than that, I write in my voice, picked up style and delivery from a lifetime of reading. It's funny though, that the good novels, while always teaching me something new, have influenced me less than the, in my opinion, bad books. You know, the ones you can't bear to finish because the writer's style feels like a vinyl record with a major scratch that keeps jumping back to the same phrasing over and over and over and over and over and over again. (You can ignore most of the "overs," I was trying to make a point.)

4.          What's your writing process like? Do you outline? Do you write by hand / type / dictate?
I've developed a sort of ritual on the days that I write: get up at around 8-8:30, watch one episode of a TV drama and 2 episodes of a sitcom while having my breakfast. During that time I select the music I will listen to while showering. Shower with music loud enough to piss off my neighbors and incidentally reach me in the bathroom. Once dressed (I listen to The Blood of Cu Chulainn whilst getting into my clothes) I grab the novel I am currently reading, and head out to my favorite café. There I clear my mind by having a large cappuccino and reading and chatting with the staff. Then home, fire up my writing computer, put in my writing soundtrack, and go. (The first two novels, Shattered Dreams and Shattered Hopes(in beta-read) were written this way).

I have a general idea where the story will go, but I stopped outlining when I realized that the stupid characters have their own ideas about what to do and where to go, I'm just along for the ride.

5.          What's your editing process?
The editing process, or "Why I don't write all the time"

Basically it's the same as the writing process, at least the first few steps. For Shattered Dreams I did not leave the café after one cappuccino, I hogged a table and stayed there for 6-8 hours straight for several days, drinking cappuccinos and smoking cigarettes, and reading/editing the crap out of the print out. (Which is the reason why I don't write regularly nowadays, because my funds took a major hit during that time!) Once that bit is done, superfluous words and such purged, I correct the manuscript, print out the sucker again, and after a few weeks of not touching the story at all, the entire process begins again, only this time I focus on story, gaps, holes, and smooth it all out, again in the café. Back to the computer, and a third printout. Days and many, many cappuccinos later, the third batch of changes is done, and the manuscript goes off to the beta readers (of which I need some, incidentally, since life always messes with people's lives).

For the second novel, I went to a friend's place in order to avoid paying myself silly at the café.

6.          Any favorite apps / software / technology for writing?
I've been using Word for all my computer supported writing since I started.

7.          What did you find most / least useful in learning to write?
Least useful: Having bought so many how-to books, when all I needed to get to where I needed to go was in Stephen King's On Writing.

Most useful: Discovering how point of view can affect the reader in A Game of Thrones.

8.          Who or what inspires you? Where / how do you get your book ideas?
Inspiration comes when it comes. Sometimes I struggle with a specific plot point, as in how to implement it, and I have to stop writing, until inspiration strikes. There is no recipe for it, no muse, so to speak, inspiration hits me wherever, whenever. An idea, however, is just the proverbial pebble in the pond, the work, and the world so to speak, develop as I follow the ripples ever further outward. Sometimes it's little things that pique my interest, and then the ripple-following begins. The What is not as interesting as the Who, the How, and the Why, but those you only get if you follow the ripples.

9.          When in the day do you usually write? For how long?
Around noon, for up to 2 hours. That time is solely dedicated to writing, no disturbance tolerated.

10.       Where do you feel most inspired to write?
At my writing computer/desk. I have a space in my apartment which is solely dedicated to writing, stuff may get placed on the table, but in the end, when I switch on that computer, and sit down, and have my soundtrack playing, I write.

11.       Describe your desk / writing corner / favorite writing spot.
The table is an old dinner table which, when extended, could seat up to 16 people, but that never happens. On it is my writing computer, an older model desktop, nothing fancy, and not attached to any network, I loathe distractions. The table is situated in front of a rather big window overlooking the roofs of my hometown and the sky. Computer and monitor are on top of the table, between them stand the various dictionaries and thesauri and a book with names of every culture, literally tens of thousands of names.

12.       Do you listen to music while you write? What kind of music?
I've mentioned my soundtrack before, so yes, I do listen to music. My reading is usually accompanied by music as well, but unlike that music, which can be anything I fancy, my soundtrack usually begins with the music from Gladiator followed by Conan the Barbarian followed by The First Knight (if I ever get that far.) Depending on the mood I want for a specific part, I switch CDs around. I couldn't write a romantic scene to Death Metal, for instance.

13.       Do you ever get writers' block? What are some ways you get around it?
I take a step back, shut down the computer and stop. Forcing it is pretty useless. I watch a movie, something that I have loved for a long time, I listen to music that makes me dream so to speak. And then, sooner or later the solution jumps me in a dark alley, and the block is gone.

14.       Do you now, or did you ever have any day jobs? Did they add to or detract from your writing?
I did have a day job, several in fact, and yes, they did detract me. I'm one of those people who cannot leave their job at their job when they clock out, so I never found the calm I need to actually write, drove me beyond the point of breaking... twice.

15.       How do you make the time to write?
Since my second break down (see previous answer) I have been on disability, being unable to work or be under pressure for more than 3 hours. It sucks in the money department, but it has done wonders to my creativity.

16.       How much research do you do? What kind?
Since I currently write fantasy which is roughly defined as being set in somewhat medieval equivalent, I've read up on life in the Middle Ages. Since I also have a battle or two to describe, I have familiarized myself with the "feel" of battle, more so than strategy and such. I research what I need to. Since I've always been interested in ancient and history in general, and visited my share of museums, and live in a town whose oldest buildings date back to the Middle Ages, figuring out stuff has always been easy for me. What I don't know or cannot figure out gets researched.

And courtesy of several years of behavior therapy, I am fairly familiar with emotions. :)

17.       How much marketing do you do? Which platforms are you most active on?
I give interviews such as this, and I am fairly active on my Facebook page. I encourage those who've read or are reading my book, to review it on Goodreads and Amazon, and of course recommend it to their friends.

18.       What's the most fun aspect of marketing? The most challenging?
Reading a positive review, hearing how my words can make people laugh and cry, and reading their demands for the sequel, all of this gives a tremendous ego boost.
Challenging? All of it, really. I realize that posting "Hey, read my book, it's GREAT!" really doesn't do anything, and is rather silly. Yet, finding blogs such as yours, while well worth it, requires time, and since I can't let go of things easily, and obsess about them hours later, the time spent on finding outlets is tripled.

19.       What project are you working on now?
As I said before, Shattered Hopes aka the sequel to Shattered Dreams is in beta read, and once the heat has subsided, I will return to work on the trilogy's finale, Shattered Bonds. Once that is done, I will ponder what to write next.

20.       What books do you like to read? What are you reading now?
There's very little I won't at least try to read, and since I follow the motto "A book is good when it's good" genre really doesn't bother me. Sometimes the choice of book is determined by my needs for an idea I intend to pursue in the future. When I write, my choice of book always is non-fantasy, since that'd distract me too much.

Currently I'm reading The Bourne Supremacy, in part because I want to learn more about spies and such. Another reason: the film only has adopted the novel's title and nothing else, and on top of that: it's not fantasy, of course.


German born but English writing author, Ulff Lehmann, was raised reading, almost any and everything, from the classic Greek to Roman to Germanic myths to more appropriate fiction for children his age. Initially devouring books in his native language, he switched to reading English books during a year long stay in the USA as a foreign exchange student.
In the years since, he has lost count of the books he has read, unwilling to dig into the depths of his collection. An avid fantasy reader, he grew dissatisfied with the constant lack of technological evolution in many a fantasy world, and finally, when push came to shove, he began to realize not only his potential as a story teller but also his vision of a mythical yet realistic world in which to settle the tale in he had been developing for 20 years.


1    Shattered Dreams

For two years the mercenary Drangar Ralgon has kept his back to his dark past. Afraid to live, afraid to die, Drangar tries to ignore the abyss that lies behind him. Now, faced with a war he wants nothing to do with, he finally turns around and gazes back.

Inspired by the vigorous style of George R.R. Martin's A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE, and in the vein of historical fictioneer Bernard Cornwell, SHATTERED DREAMS brings to life a stark, uncompromising tale of a man's path to redemption.

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