Paul Briggs is the author of the Locksmith Trilogy, a series with the premise of a 12 year old boy finding a portal to an abandoned world in a closet. His Amazon page can be found here.
Wallace: What made you start writing?
Briggs: I've been writing for as long as I can remember — I can't remember exactly when I started.
Wallace: What gave you the idea for your "Locksmith Trilogy?"
Briggs: It started with an image of a boy exploring an abandoned world. I fleshed that out to "boy discovers a portal to the future, finds nobody there, tries to discover what happened." Then I gave him a friend, Gary — someone who's a lot smarter than he is and can help him explore time travel and its ramifications.
Of course, in both science fiction and YA fiction, it's better to write a whole series than just one book. In this case, three books — Lock finds the portal, Lock learns the secret, Lock saves the world — seemed like the most natural structure.
Wallace: The protagonist of your series, Lachlan Smith, is only 12 years old at series beginning. Did you intend this to be a young adult novel?
Briggs: Twelve was sort of the perfect age for a story like this — old enough that it's plausible for the character to have a certain degree of self-sufficiency, but the hormones haven't fully kicked in yet. (If they had, the story would be completely different.)
Wallace: The premise of a portal to an empty world subverts a common trope in similar fiction. Is this a deliberate commentary?
Briggs: There is inevitably a little commentary on the Narnia books and other fantasy stories. (When they first go through the portal, Gary says "I'm telling you right now — if a weird little dude with hooves and hairy legs comes by, or any kind of talking animal, I'm outta here.") That said, I always liked walking in the woods even as a kid, and a lot of kids like exploring abandoned buildings, so a world that's nothing but woods and abandoned buildings does have a little of the same appeal as a place like Narnia. And you don't have to think of a quest hook, because there's a perfectly good one built right into the concept — where is everybody? What happened?
It hadn't occurred to me until just now, but I think in both the Narnia series and my series, the worlds are matched to the characters. The Pevensies, four extraverted and adventurous children, have been taken away from all their friends and shut up in an old house where all they can do is try not to break anything. They escape into a world where they make new friends and have adventures. Locksmith is introverted, solitary and secretive. He wants to get away from his mom and older brother, but also to be useful. He escapes into a world where he is completely alone (except when he brings Gary along) but one where he has something very important to do.
Wallace: Your Amazon page states that you have a degree in journalism. Did this have any effect on your writing?
Briggs: I think it may have influenced my style a little. I like to think it helped me write more clearly, and save the emotion for when it's needed. (As a writer, I sometimes get the urge to dabble in poetic imagery from time to time. I usually have to edit out the results.)
Wallace: Similarly, you also have written plays. Does this experience influence your writing?
Briggs: Definitely. Writers are always told "show, don't tell," but when you're writing a play you don't have a choice — there is no way for you to tell the audience about your characters except through what they say and do. If a character is supposed to be kind, they have to speak and act in a kind way. If a character is belligerent and confrontational, they need to belligerently confront other characters as soon as they're on stage. It imposes a discipline on your writing. And when I watch a play I've written being performed, it gives me a mixture of pride and humility — pride because this thing I've created is on stage being enjoyed by many people, humility because I realize how much the director and actors have improved it.
Wallace: You state that "nobody talks the same way they write, or vice versa." What made you realize this?
Briggs: For one thing, I spent my formative years having people look at me funny when I talked like a book. For another, whenever I read a books where the author used dialogue for exposition, it always sounded wrong. This was another area where playwriting helped me, by giving me practice at writing dialogue that actually sounded like people talking.
Wallace: You're on alternatehistory.com and have been for five years. Has this community influenced your work?
Briggs: Alternatehistory.com is a great community that loves a good story, but they are sticklers for two things — historical accuracy and plausibility. What I've learned from them, besides the importance of Doing The Research, is that if your hero does something stupid or out of character, you'd better have a good reason why.
Wallace: Do you have any other projects besides finishing the trilogy in the works?
Briggs: Yes — and one of them began as a timeline in the Future History section of alternatehistory.com. It was called "The Day the Icecap Died," and was basically my own speculation as to what would happen when the Arctic Ocean had its first ice-free moment in human history.
"The Day the Icecap Died" won the 2013 Turtledove Award for Best New Future, so I decided to share it on my own Website. On the advice of a publisher, I'm writing a climate fiction novel loosely based on the timeline, called Altered Seasons. I was hoping to finish it this year, but now I plan to finish it next year along with Locksmith's War.
Wallace: What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Briggs: Get into a community of writers, if you aren't already in one. Critique groups, if they're both honest and supportive, will definitely help you improve your writing. And listen to people when they talk — this is how you develop an ear for dialogue.