Special Feature Q&A: The Martini of Destiny, Written Not Stirred

Shrines and pubs: Researching future Rucksack Universe stories during a 2013 trip to Japan.

People have begun asking various questions about The Martini of Destiny, the Rucksack Universe, and shop-talk-type-stuff such as my writing process. I’ll try to answer some of your questions here. Have a question? Ask away »

Where did you get the idea for The Martini of Destiny?

It began with the title, which dropped into my head one day like an olive into a martini. The story is part of an ongoing world and series. The world is similar to ours, but different due to a catastrophic incident known as The Blast. Throughout Rucksack Universe stories, the characters wrestle with decision and destiny—and some characters actually influence those very forces. For The Martini of Destiny, I wanted to introduce the world and a few of its major characters.

The core premise is simple: When you’re in charge of people’s destinies and decisions, what do you do when something unexpected happens to you?

Why a novella? And what the hell is a “novella,” anyway?”

Definitions vary for things like “short story,” “novella,” etc. The rule of thumb I use is this: a novella is a work of fiction that is 7,501 to 40,000 words words long (or approximately 30-160 pages). The Martini of Destiny is 15,048 words, or the print book equivalent of 60 pages.

Originally I thought The Martini of Destiny was going to be one short story in a larger collection. I developed brief ideas for 10 stories, and attempted to draft the collection during NaNoWriMo 2011. The more I worked on it, though, the less satisfied I became (and not just because it was NaNoWriMo, where the focus is quantity not quality).

In time I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to do justice to the stories in the way I’d originally envisioned. There are a few reasons for that, such as how e-books have made it far more feasible to publish and market shorter works, which is a big plus. That gives authors like me the creative liberty to tell a story more fully. The biggest reason, though, is that I’ve learned I’m just not a short story writer. I doubt I’ll ever publish anything shorter than a novella.

Why Hong Kong?

Rucksack Universe stories are set all over the world: Ireland, London, India, Hong Kong (and that’s only the first 4 stories I’m actively developing). Hong Kong appealed to me for a few reasons: it’s a world-class major city, easily on par with Tokyo, London or New York; plus I’ve been there (but that’s another story for another time).

In the world of the Rucksack Universe, New York does not have the same prominence it does in our own world. London was destroyed by The Blast, and while the city has been rebuilt, it hasn’t regained its previous status. Hong Kong struck me as a perfect mix of Asia and the West, old and new, traditional and modern, a city that would attract people from all over the world.

Also, Hong Kong was the home of the Aw Boon Haw Gardens, which is the setting for one of the scenes in The Martini of Destiny. Similar gardens exist in other parts of the world (there’s another Aw Boon Haw Garden in Singapore, for example), but I have my secret author reasons for using Hong Kong’s (again, another story for another time).

What is The Blast?

The Blast is a catastrophic incident that took place during the British Empire. The explosion destroyed parts of Ireland and England, burned London to the ground (and then burned the ground) and was felt all around the world. This pivotal incident separates our world from the world of the Rucksack Universe. Though in many ways these worlds are similar, the destruction of the British Empire greatly affected the world’s technological and cultural development. Every Rucksack Universe story will give us more insight into The Blast, how it happened, what happened, what it’s meant for the world since—and what it means for the future.

How does travel factor in to your stories?

Travel has defined my entire life. When I look back at pivotal moments, many of them involve a road trip here, a flight there, or weeks or months in some far-flung corner of the world. When figuring out the stories I was burning to tell, it didn’t surprise me at all that my characters, in one way or another, were all travelers.

And when I talk about travel, I’m not talking about luxury cruises or 5-star hotels. I’m talking about the kind of travel where you throw a pack on your back and wear natty t-shirts while wandering through some back street in India. I’m not talking about the kind of travel where you nip away from the office for a few days, worrisomely checking email while supposedly enjoying yourself on a beach. I’m talking about the kind of travel where you wander for months, sometimes years, be it in one country or all around the world.

It’s often referred to independent travel, backpacker travel, or indie travel, and you may know it from guidebooks or websites such as BootsnAll, Lonely Planet or Intrepid Travel. It’s traveling with your ear to the ground, and with a certain willingness to take chances. For me, it’s been a rewarding, challenging, definitive part of my life, and in one way or another travel influences every facet of my Rucksack Universe stories.

What was your writing process for The Martini of Destiny?

Part of the fun of writing (and rewriting and rewriting and rewriting) The Martini of Destiny has been how the story evolved my behind-the-scenes process of developing and writing a story. Some authors can simply take the barest hint of an idea and run with it (perhaps the most famous example being Tom Robbins, who doesn’t plan his novels but simply crafts them word by word until the finished manuscript is basically ready for publication).

Other authors, such as me, really need to work through the story’s action, meaning and framework. Behind the scenes of all my stories, there are tens of thousands of words that will never make it to the final page. That’s not because of editing. This is simply supporting detail that I’ve developed so I know my story, world and characters through and through.

I liken my writing process to how I travel: I have a map and some rough ideas of where I want to go, but I then give myself free rein to see what happens. This way I have some concept of where I’m going, but as things develop I can see how I wind up getting there (or if I need to go somewhere else altogether instead).

When I develop a story, I first figure out what I consider the main point of the story to be. To put it another way, if I were telling my best friend why they should read a story, this is the short-and-sweet thing I could say that would compel them to run and get the book straightaway. From there I map out the characters and scenes, from the physical action to the emotions and plot points being affected during that action.

Once drafted, the scene goes to my Chief Reader, who takes first crack at reading it. She and I discuss what works and what needs changing, and then I go back to the manuscript and make any needed changes. After one more read-through, I turn the manuscript over to my Beta Readers, people I not only know, but who are the types of folks I think would be interested in Rucksack Universe stories. Once I’ve incorporated their feedback, the story is close to ready for the world.

What happens next?

I’m figuring that part out myself 🙂 Once The Martini of Destiny has been loosed upon the world, I’ll continue revising my novel. I’m just about far enough in revisions where I’ll have an idea of when the book will come out. Before that time, I’ll publish one or two more Rucksack Universe novellas.

You can learn more about the stories and be in the know about what’s coming next by signing up for my free mailing list.

This didn’t answer my question, jackass. What now?

Thanks for reading, and please get in touch »


Through June 18, enter to win one of 5 free copies of The Martini of Destiny »

The Martini of Destiny, by Anthony St. ClairAbout The Martini of Destiny

A special martini gives courage to a doubting man, a ghost doesn’t pay for his pints, a destiny-slinging bartender questions everything, and the world will never be the same. The first Rucksack Universe Novella E-book, The Martini of Destiny is available June 20, 2013.

About The Martini of Destiny »

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Photo: vlnjodie/Anthony St. Clair

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