Ulff Lehmann, author of the Light in the Dark series, fellow music addict, bookworm, and a hell of a patient (for putting up with my ramblings) German gentleman. He was the first who reached out to me and asked for a review officially. Twice. He claims he has a good memory though. I’m inclined to believe him and I feel free to pretend he just wanted my attention that much 😉
Last month I had the pleasure not only to read his book but to pick his brain too along the way. It’s an interesting place, so take advantage of it before he buries himself in writing for the summer.
Let’s start at the beginning. Many fantasy authors and lovers are coming from D&D. What about you? How did you get into fantasy? Which book inspired you the most?
Drangar’s story has been in development since 1992 or so. I was very much a D&D fan, read so many Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms books, but I always hated the simplistic good vs. evil thing of D&D in general, still my prose very much resembled that of those novels, omniscient narrator and all. My first serious stories already were about Drangar. But before that my feeble attempt was in sci-fi, Perry Rhodan to be exact. But I had read mainly D&D by then. It was my escape mechanism for decades. Then I read a Game of Thrones. For me it was a revelation. Stylistically, first and foremost, but also the story. Not so much the who and how but the motivation and all. These were people. Up until then I had grown tired of fantasy. I was so tired of the heroes and world saving shit. And the omniscient narrator. It also changed my whole approach to storytelling.
I love mysteries and thrillers and misdirection in stories. I was inspired by two series in particular: the Thrawn trilogy by Timothy Zahn, and one scene in Memory, Sorrow and Thorn by Tad Williams. I want people to think, to fever with characters, to actually say „uh oh” when someone does something because the reader knows it’s a bad idea, not because of plot but actual knowledge.
Yeah, Game of Thrones was a game changer for many in fantasy. You mentioned the approach to storytelling. What kind of writer are you? The planner or who just goes along with his characters?
Many people plan ahead, I don’t. Bastard characters do what they want anyway. And it feels more natural.
While reading Shattered Dreams it was refreshing not to be overwhelmed by descriptions and details. Some might complain it was too few though. Was it intentional?
I keep the descriptions to a minimum because we’re in the heads of the characters, and none of us look at shit we see every day and go like “well, again, I marvel at the architecture”. I write stories I want to read myself, and I love figuring out shit. So naturally I write stuff that requires people to think. Predictability in books and films is the most horrible thing ever.
Shattered Dreams is mostly written in past tense. Why the present with Drangar’s dreams? It didn’t make sense to me to be honest.
I was experimenting. I had read a crime/thriller novel and the POV of the killer was in present tense. I found it really intimate and used it for the dreams.
Who was you favorite character to write?
I have two, Drangar and Bright-Eyes, for different reasons. Drangar is finally the character he needed to be, so to speak, and Bright-Eyes is just fun!
Hah. Yes! I have to admit, Bright-Eyes is my favorite character in Shattered Dreams. You also mentioned Drangar. Is he the one who you relate to the most?
Yes. He’s been my alter ego since his inception, but I didn’t realize how broken he really was until I realized how broken I was.
Sometimes we all find something in our characters about us we never saw coming I guess. These are interesting lessons about ourselves. Which scene you had the most fun with?
“You try living with a bunch of squirrels…” the entire exchange that culminates in this sentence still cracks me up.
You have to love that little furball, don’t you? Which was the hardest?
The scene in the make-shift chapel. I don’t want to go into more detail because spoilers.
You are right. We don’t want to ruin the fun for others. Let’s talk about the names. How did you come up with them? They are sure a mouthful and they are hard to remember too.
I always wanted something Gaelic/Celtic, so the city names were, mostly, created in that vein. So for many of the characters, although Drangar (obviously), Kildanor, and a few others have been in existence since I began the story back in the early 90s.
Geez. I just started to read around that time – fairy tales and such. I was about 3. Anyway, you’ve been working on this story quite some time now. It grew on you I’d say. Would you change anything in Shattered Dreams if you could start over?
That would be the second start-over for that book. For Crossroad I did a revision of Dreams to bring it more into line with what is now Hopes and Fears, so I did part of the changing bit. I’d change a certain Wizardess’s relationship with Culain, build up to it a bit more. I don’t know, haven’t really given it much thought since, mainly because I’ve been so focused on the rest of the story.
I can agree with you regarding that relationship. I would work on that a bit myself. You self-published Shattered Dreams, then got published by Crossroad. Did this change your working method for Shattered Hopes or the coming books?
Not really, no. Considering that Shattered Hopes has been waiting on publication since May 2017 (yes, the book has been finished a long time), Hopes has never been of much concern to me in terms of approach. What did change, however, was the length. The original manuscript was 300,000 words long, roughly the size of a close combat weapon, and Crossroad said it’s too big. So instead of one massive tome, I cut the book in half, turning one book into two (try saying that real fast a couple times).
As for the books after these two, book 4, Shattered Walls, is partway done, with the first rough assembly with the beta readers now, although I still need to add a bunch of chapters, and of course modify existing ones. The last book is partially done, but so complex in terms of staging that it does take a whole lot of planning and logistics. That’s the primary change for Shattered Bonds. I do not plot things out but I need broad strokes of battles, timelines and such to get it right.
Sounds exciting and I can’t wait to get my hands on them. Can you tell me something about Shattered Hopes? Release date?
I know the series is now 5 books long. After that? Do you have any plans? New ideas?
The continuing story of the survivors, so to speak. There are tales I had to abandon due to focus shifting in book 3, Shattered Fears, away from some of the viewpoints. This story is already fermenting in my mind. I don’t want to say more because spoilers.
Right. Tell me about inspiration. I know you love music. Do you have a favorite music to write to or whatever comes? Are you thinking about putting together a soundtrack? Maybe on Spotify.
I write to soundtracks. I’ve always read books to music, so music affects my mood and this my writing. I think as with descriptions, a reader should always put together their own soundtracks when reading; it’s far too emotional and intimate an experience to let someone else tell you what you should listen to.
Did you ever think of collaborating with another author? I don't mean an anthology, but a full length novel. Who would you like to work with? If anyone.
Collaborations, for me, are a tricky thing. I’ve always been a loner, and while I have worked in teams before, I usually took charge after a while, so a writing collaboration would be me telling whoever what to do and that strangles creativity. I’d have less of a problem honing someone else’s ideas to a fine point, but whose ideas would they be in the end? At which point would I try to take control? If none of this were an issue, however, I’d love to work with Troy Denning whose work I have always enjoyed. Most of what I’ve read of Troy’s is set in one shared world or another, thus limiting what he could do. I’d love to see what he and I could come up with given utter free reign, I imagine Troy and I having some major fun.
Other than that, pretty sure there’s someone out there who can tame this mad mind of mine.
Well, I’m sure there is indeed someone like that out there. Thanks for taking the time to make this interview. It was fun!
If you’d like to get in contact with Ulff, you can find him on social media: