What are common traps for aspiring writers?

Friends, romantic partners, children, food, and sleep. While I’m at it, I’d add aching joints, computer problems, money, and the ever present, inexorable ticking of the clock.   

Are you Available for Interviews/Podcasts/Debates?

Yes. Feel free to contact at varanmerten@gmail.com. Responses typically take 3 to 4 days. I will be happy to coordinate schedules, and we can set up a meeting time.

Does writing energize or exhaust you?

Both – first one and then the other. When writing, I can and do keep odd hours, staying at the keys long into the night. I keep going without sleep or food, the usual cliché of the obsessed artist, leaving only for bathroom breaks. Once I’m done, I usually am so tired I could fall asleep right there on the floor. More than once, I actually have.

What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?

          I have never done one. I would, however, like to start one. I have the spot in mind, but I don’t want to announce it yet. I want to keep it private.

What is the first book that made you cry?

My 8th Grade English teacher had books lining her room from wall to wall. I was seated beside “The War of the Worlds” by H. G. Wells. One day, I started reading it in class instead of listening to her lecture. When she caught me, she invited me to take it home. It was the first novel I had ever read, but I finished it that night. Having already seen the 50’s movie and having already heard of the radio broadcast fiasco from the 30’s, I already knew the overall story, but I wasn’t prepared for the book. I remember reading the synopsis (blurb) on the back cover. It ended with the line, “Some are calling it the War of the Worlds. But it isn’t a war, it’s a mass murder.” That line was so powerful, so perfect, it bowled me over and brought tears to my eyes.

Does a big ego help or hurt writers?

I’m not sure having a big ego is helpful or harmful per se, but you do need some ego. I’m using this word in an expanded sense, not just a healthy pride, but also a personal charisma and a command of knowledge. Remember that your characters can only be as intelligent, suave or interesting, as you are.

What is your writing Kryptonite?

I absolutely detest waiting to write until the end of the day, all the while hoping that I’ll retain the enthusiasm to finally put down that chapter or scene or paragraph that I’ve been carrying with me.

Have you ever gotten reader’s block?

I am currently experiencing reader’s block as far as fiction. I’m not sure why. It’s been a while since something grabbed my interest. I spend most of my reading time researching.

Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?

The name Varan Merten is a pseudonym. I found that this name better reflects my personality and interests in this aspect of my life. I like how it looks in print, with the sharp angles of the letters. It sounds vaguely menacing and authoritative, which is exactly how I wish to come across with my work.

Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?

After admitting the official response that, “one must strive to balance the two and blah, blah, blah,” I have to say that I write more for me than any other reason. I couldn’t keep coming back to the keys over and over, day after day, making sacrifices solely in the hopes to make a sale.

Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?

Sure… of tech manuals, maybe.

What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

I have socialized a few times with another local author, and we get along rather well, but if I could be allowed an allegory – the Bird does not learn to fly by watching another Bird; the Bird learns to fly by watching the Cat.

Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?

I plan to make further announcements about the full series later on, but all of my books for the foreseeable future (with one possible exception) are all interconnected. The Hercules Cycle will consist of four or five books, and then I plan on writing a retelling of the Greek creation myth, linking it from prehistory to the beginning of the Age of Heroes and thus connecting it to the Hercules Cycle novels. It will be called “The First Age” series and will be four books in length. The titles of all these books will be announced soon.

   The exception to this (mentioned above) is a collection of novellas and short stories that I’m toying with. If I fully commit to it, I’ll release it through my website. The tentative title is “Mosaic,” and it will be darker and more mature in nature than my mythological work.  

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

“Young Man, have you ever read “The Hydra,” by Varan Merten? No? You should. You’d love it. What do you mean it doesn’t exist? Oh, true. Then I guess you know what you need to do.”

How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

I feel like I skipped a grade in school. It was the most frightening and exciting thing I had done in a long time. I had to really try to write well, no cut corners, no excuses. It’s quite intimidating to expose your most treasured interests to the wide world. The world can be cruel, especially in art critiques. I enjoyed the process, and I believe this is reflected in the work.    

What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?

Every cent I spent meeting and working with my book partners – my editor, my cover artist, my illustrator and my narrator. They are all passionate artists in their own rights, and it was inspiring to meet them and collaborate with them. It still is. I currently use the same “crew.”

What authors did you dislike at first but grew into?

Stephen King, H. P. Lovecraft, Mark Twain, but, perhaps most interesting of all, I was turned off by the story of Hercules the first time I read it! Unbelievable, no? 

What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

When I was very young, my mother told me that my name had a secret meaning. I am, of course, speaking of my real name, not my pseudonym. However, once I started elementary school, that same name got me into trouble, because the society around me took it to have a different meaning, a shameful one. As such, I was given a double dose of the power of words as well as context.

What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?

Not a novel.

          Four Quartets, by T. S. Eliot. It may seem strange that I would claim that Eliot is underappreciated. I stand by this, though. These four poems are, as one review I read put it, “the most impressive use of the [English] language since Shakespeare.” I could not agree more. They must be read together, and don’t sully them with Cliffs Notes or other predigested nonsense. They are so intelligent they’ll make your head hurt, so transcendent you feel as if you are outside your own species, watching its heart beat as it tries to make sense of its place in this universe. At the same time, you’ll feel more a part of the wonder that is the human species than you ever thought possible.

As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?

An oikopleura.

What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

I consult nonfiction books written by experts, but I am not above a Wikipedia deep dive or two. For The Hydra, I consulted Ancient Greece by Thomas R. Martin, Ancient Greece: Everyday Life in the Birthplace of Western Civilization by Robert Garand, and The Encyclopedia of Snakes by Chris Mattison (Try to get the latest edition). I can wholeheartedly recommend them to readers interested in Greek Myth or herpetology respectively. Saving the best for last: the people at the Theoi project (https://www.theoi.com) do excellent research, and they are perfect for those who wish to delve into the original sources of the Greco-Roman legends.

Do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice?

It absolutely can be.

If you didn’t write, what would you do for work?

Translation, acting, or perhaps music – professions that serve as a different form of storytelling.

Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?

I sure do. 

What was your hardest scene to write?

The scene where Iole speaks to Iolaus outside Tiryns.   

Do you Google yourself?

To quote G. B. Shaw, “A man of my spiritual intensity does not use Google.” 😉

What one thing would you give up to become a better writer?

We shall see.

What is your favorite childhood book?

Hmmm… The Chronicles of Narnia, The Enchanted World series, or Monsters of Mythology by Bernard Evslin.

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

Maintaining drive.

Does your family support your career as a writer?

The ones I care about do.

If you had to do something differently as a child or teenager to become a better writer as an adult, what would you do?

I would have learned a foreign language at an earlier age, as early as possible.

Do you believe in writer’s block?