1. How did you make the shift from writing fan fiction to creating your own series of novels?
I wrote fanfiction because of peer pressure: whereas most teenage groups try to find ways to get wasted on a six-pack, my friends and I would write stories, usually about anime we enjoyed. I've also dabbled in poetry. Both were crap. But getting heavily criticised by my peers would make me try harder, and that's an attitude I kept when dealing with rejection letters.
I started focusing on creating a book when I got to a point in life where I asked myself what did I enjoy doing. I've always had one criteria for a career and that would be waking up on a Monday morning and not feeling suicidal at the prospect of having to drag yourself to work. Writing always gave me that, serenity I guess it's called, where I get these stories that I constantly dream or think about and give them a voice. There really is nothing better than finishing a scene which has been pestering you and then reading it aloud. It crosses the barrier between your head and the real world. All of a sudden your story becomes real and everyone can read it. There's something in that that makes me wanna run away screaming and dance in a cheesy 1990s way at the same time.
2. What do we learn about your protagonist, Erik, in Firstborn?
In the opening chapters, Erik is your typical superhero: he come to the rescue, kicking down doors and guns blazing. He carries a magic sword. He wears a black trench coat. He's nearly immortal, given the fact that he gets mortally shot in the second chapter and walks away from it. But by the time we get to him being in the office and the cat is outsmarting him with sarcasm, then we see that Erik is, at heart, just another guy trying to make his way in the world. Yes, he is a Wizard; yes, he is a Warlock (which in the series is a Specialist branch); and yes, his partner is a talking demonic cat named Amaymon. He and his twin sister Gil come from an aristocratic family which harbors many, many skeletons in many, many closets: one of which explains the curse that Erik and his sister are under. But he's plagued by the same demons most of us are: doubt, guilt, pressure, stress, making the rent, not seeing eye to eye with family members, trying not to smother roommates when they empty your side of the fridge (in Erik's case, it's the cat) and choosing whether to do the easy thing or the right thing. And doing the right thing for the right reasons.
3. In writing about a character with supernatural powers, how do you meet the challenge of combining the everyday details of his family life with the fantastic details of his encounters with monsters, one of the Seven Deadly Sins, and the like?
The good part about writing in the Urban Fiction genre is that I don't have to create a Tolkien-esque sort of world. I do, however, have to keep in mind that my characters can't go off flying a dragon into the night because that is bound to attract attention or, knowing me, I'll have the dragon crash with a helicopter or something.
My editor loved the idea that I'm from Malta (which is in Europe) and wanted me to set it in Europe. I, however, had my sights set on America because that is where most of my influences come from (see below). So after a small discussion I settled with Eureka because when I googled it, the first thing that came up was a Victorian style house and I squealed like a little girl. But I'm also lazy so I opted to set the story in a fictional district called La Fortunata. It has nothing to do with Fortuna which is a city south of Eureka. It literally translates into "The Lucky One," and I that's my idea of an inside joke since it's constantly being invaded by demons and such.
As for the family issue: it's easy not having to explain to your family that you're a monster-hunter because they do the same thing. The issue is sibling love, or lack of thereof. Erik and Gil do have a reconciliation moment of sorts after they almost die. But my favorite is the relationship between Amaymon and Mephisto. They're brothers and demons as old as time itself. Mephisto is Gil's familiar and, because I have the sense of irony of a two-year-old, I made Amaymon as a cat and Mephisto as a dog. (Could have been worse: cat and mouse anyone?) I enjoy writing scenes with those two in it because they really hate each other, and the only thing stopping them from ripping each other apart is a pact which I will explore in later books. Awesomely, I think it's the mortal-to-wizard interaction which makes Urban Fiction fun: there's a scene in Firstborn where Erik has to convince a nurse that he has to see a patient, and the nurse think he's threatening her, and Erik really wants to shoot her but he can't. So he tries using his words and fails utterly. I was wiping tears of joy and malice when I wrote that.
4. Who are some of your favorite fiction authors, and what are some other influences on your work beyond the scope of (conventional) novels?
My interests vary wildly. I started writing about a week after reading Changes by Jim Butcher (who is my favorite author) and Mortal Coil by Derek Landy (who writes impeccable dialogue and humour). Both books are part of a series and I liked the idea because more books meant more money. Little did I know that I would be spending the following two years banging my head on the table, trying to find substitutes for words like "big" and "small".
I tend to think in movie scenes, so that is of course an influence. None come to mind but there are alot. I also watch a lot of TV series on the internet. Anime and manga are vital to me: as long as it's supernatural and there is no lovey-dovey crap, I'm in. Firstborn reeks of Japanese influence; heck, the final monster Erik faces (and the one on the cover) is an Ushi-Oni, a mythical Japanese monster.
When I'm writing I need music and I'm usually looping a Celldweller song. I rip off Celldweller all the time. Firstborn was created whilst I was listening to the song "The Last Firstborn" and carries that dark, aggressive theme, especially during fight scenes. Ironically, video games inspire me a lot: the first draft for the book was created when I was spamming Devil May Cry and some of that game's themes were incorporated into the Legacy universe.
As for how the magic works I looked into "soft" marital arts and their concept of Chi and Qi and Chakra and Auras all that jazz. I am a martial artist myself, so for the fight scenes I would draw on my training to make it as realistic as possible. Before I throw in a fireball. Just because I can.
5. How does your participation in online/offline communities of writers and artists (attending Comic-con events, maintaining a blog, and participating in online forums, etc) affect your work?
I have yet to participate in a forum (cos I have little idea of how it works) but I do maintain a blog. I also have a twitter handle, @Enkousama, and a facebook page, RyanAuthor. I'm not a social person but I love talking about myself and the work I do, because I'm so vain and my ego is huge. So I make it a point to reply to anyone who asks anything in either comment section or personal message. I participate in a blog called SFFSat, which is where I post snippets and meet these crazy talented writers.
Funny you should mention Comic-Con: my first was the London MCM Expo last October and just last weekend I finished with the Malta Comic-Con. This weekend I'm selling books at a local stand and half the proceeds will go to charity. I love comic-con because you never know who you're gonna meet. It's the best form of fieldwork for aspiring artists. People love it when you stop them from behind your stand and instead of pushing a book on them, you point out how cool their costume is. It shows that you're just a nerd like them and we're all one big geeky family.
I use my blog most of the time because there is where I post short stories and fanfiction. I also post updates on novels and what my schedule is like and what story am I currently working on. I also post rants and of these I am most proud and ashamed at the same time. When something triggers a rant, I just go ballistic with the keyboard. Here you can see "writer" Ryan vs "pissed-off-uses-more-Fbombs-and-other-words-to-channel-his-rage-in-an-attempt-to-drive-home-a-point" Ryan. And I do it simply because I can.