The boom and the blog – interview with Kai Meyer

Kai Meyer is one of the most prolific writers of German language Fantasy, with 45 published books since 1993. He is internationally successful with his „Wave Walkers“ and „Dark Reflections“ trilogies, his latest book is out now in German and the next four novels are already planned. We asked the 38 years old writer what makes him tick. Kai, what’s the best thing about being a writer?

Kai Meyer: Despite all the dead ends a freelance job can steer you into: it’s the little addendum „free“ that is the most pleasant element of being a writer. Yet it can never be the best part of it – otherwise I could be working as a freelance tiler as well. Very high on the list is the chance to let my stories become real for others. At least for the time they spend with my book. Do you model yourself on someone? Which authors have influenced you the most?

Kai Meyer: When I read „Lord of the Rings“ at the age of eleven I thought that I wanted to do something like it. Not so much concerning the content – although some of my first teenage writing attempts went into that direction – but from the often-conjured „sense of wonder“ side of it. It was always this amazement I was looking for in fantastic literature. When I succeed to put someone in a similar state I was in when I watched „Star Wars“ for the first time at the age of seven or eight, then I’ve reached my objective. When a story’s images and emotions stay with the reader I have accomplished what I set out to. So I’m not so much influenced by single authors but the genre's visual and emotional potential. What motivates you to keep on writing?

Kai Meyer: Before I reach the end of one story, the next one is already in my head. Not completely but first ideas, first images – it’s similar to the effect I've just described, just in a reverse order. I have to put the images from my head to paper and share them with others. Which themes in particular do you want to express?

Kai Meyer: My books do have themes – some more, some less – but I beware of listing them. If you summarize a theme in one sentence it tends to make it appear flat or, even worse, pretentious. With a novel like „Herrin der Lüge“ (transl.: Mistress of the Lie,) which more or less circles around one specific theme, I take care on its more than 800 pages not to make it too obvious. The story and its emotions have to work, the rest lines up behind that. Creator figures play a central role in your Wolkenvolk (transl.: cloud people) trilogy. How important are religions for your work?

Kai Meyer: I use them like any other myth. First Dark Reflections and now the Wolkenvolk both have strong girls as protagonists. When do you decide to use female main characters?

Kai Meyer: The Wolkenvolk trilogy has a male protagonist, the Wave Walkers and the Merle trilogies have male supporting figures that are on par. I’m not quite sure myself where people get the impression I only write about girls and women. This question pops up quite frequently. But nobody asks J. K. Rowling why her books are called „Harry Potter“ and not „Hermione Granger“. Do you separate between Young Adult and Adult literature?

Kai Meyer: Never in terms of style or intensity. My so-called young adult books feature as much dying, killing and betraying as my other books. The only difference up to now was the broader use of fantastic elements in books like the „;Dark Reflections“ trilogy and „Seide und Schwert“ (transl.: sword and silk). But this is changing now. My next book, published by Lübbe in fall 2008, is not a historical novel. What do you do when characters and story develop their own unplanned dynamics?

Kai Meyer: I let them do it to a certain extent. Then I pull the emergency brake and whip them back into shape. What are the chances for Fantasy in German speaking counries? What will be next?

Kai Meyer: German Fantasy – or what is currently sold under this label – is successful like never before. But the boom will end some day and then some authors will face problems. All the others will keep on writing and will be read, just like before. When a boom implodes, and I fear it is inevitable, it doesn’t necessarily drag along all careers. But some for sure. You write historical Fantasy or, if you will, weird historical novels. When do past and present become fantastic or weird?

Kai Meyer: Very often it begins with little things. I don’t have to deploy whole dragon armies like in the „Wolkenvolk“ books. In my novel „Das Zweite Gesicht“ (transl.: the second face), the uncanny and fantastic originates from small gestures, sometimes only certain metaphors that are used to describe something completely real and commonplace. You live close to the Eifel (a low mountain range in western Germany). Its Celtic past and volcanic activity could be a well of ideas – would that be too much of regional Fantasy?

Kai Meyer: Is Stephen King writing regional Horror? Yes and no, I guess. Writing about the Eifel suggests itself, there are plenty of motifs, but somehow I just don’t seem to get into it. I had various invitations to contribute to local Horror anthologies, but it never fit in my schedule. I’m neither disinclined nor do I feel an urge to do it. Maybe it’s because I live a little too close to the Eifel to fully realize the fantastic potential. Behind many romantic canyons or abandoned mine galleries there’s always an awful country inn. Still, „Das Buch von Eden“ (transl.: the book of Eden) begins in the Eifel, because I wanted to have a strong, almost cozy contrast to the heroes´ journey, which leads them to the orient. You are internationally successful, especially in the US and Great Britain. What’s the difference between your readers on both sides of the Atlantic?

Kai Meyer: I used to think the difference would be bigger. The only one that was tangible for me was the bigger curiosity of teenagers in the US. Their questions were not so much about sheer content but the writer’s job. I assume this is because over there writing has a different significance: creative writing is taught at every high school, which makes being an author much more tangible for the kids than over here. Especially in the US, the Fantasy and SF scene is a blogging scene. How much does this almost direct contact change the relationship author/reader?

Kai Meyer: The good thing about blogging is that you never really know who reads all this. Time and again, I’m surprised when somebody talks to me about things in my journal. And often enough I think „How do you know THAT?“, even though I’ve written about it in this or that entry. You write into a vacuum, and then you’re amazed it turns into real people. But basically it’s the same with writing books. For me, this hasn’t really changed the relationship with my readers – but I think it has on the other hand for many readers. For them, an author becomes more three-dimensional and gains more presence through blogging. The Creative Commons discussion is not over yet. Would you make your novels avalaible under CC?

Kai Meyer: No. Second to last question: What are you reading currently?

Kai Meyer: I have to pick out something at random from those 20 or 30 half-read books lying around here. At the moment I rediscover Leigh Brackett. She is almost forgotten but her Mars and Venus stories are admirably atmospheric. What are we going to read next from Kai Meyer?

Kai Meyer: In fall 2008 a fantastic novel, published by Lübbe. And, starting in fall 2009, a new trilogy, published by Loewe. Next to that various comic and audio book adaptations. 2008 sees the screening of „Das Gelübde“ (transl.: the vow), and – if everything went the way it should – the filming of „Sieben Siegel“ (transl.: seven seals) should have begun by then. Thank you fort his interview!

This interview was conducted and translated by Frank Dudley