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Category Archives: Interviews

An Interview with Brian Libby

Hey everyone, yes, I’m finally back! 🙂 After some CRAZY problems with the internet and the bank, everything has been sorted out. 🙂 I’m really sorry that I haven’t been able to update the blog so far this week! 😦

Anyway, back to the interview!

Brian Libby is the author of the Epic Fantasy novel, Storm Approaching (reviewed here) that uses practically nothing that we’ve come to take for granted in the Epic Fantasy we’re used to and still stands as a proud example of the genre. 🙂

I interviewed Brian via email, wanting to get a bit more info about him and the novel, and here’s the result:

Please tell us a bit about yourself and your work:

I’m a historian, age 60, single, who has taught at a prep school in southern Minnesota for many years. I attended Johns Hopkins, UMass, and Purdue (Ph.D. 1977); my fields are European military and diplomatic history and modern Germany.

I have always enjoyed writing; I have a fantasy “trunk novel” tucked away, along with the nice letter Lester del Rey wrote me when Ballantine rejected it in 1978. I don’t really know why I did not continue to try writing for publication, but it was probably because I was too busy teaching. In the late 90’s I published (POD) And Gladly Teach, a satirical novel about life at a (fictional) prep school, which has been well received by a discriminating (i.e. small) audience. But having loved fantasy since I read Tolkien, and many others, in my teens, I decided I wanted to try something along those lines again, so I went part-time in 1999 and took up a pen (literally). The result is four books in the Mercenaries series, the first of which, Storm Approaching, is now out. I was fortunate to get a very good agent for it (the same agent Patrick Rothfuss has, in fact) and unfortunate in his not being able to place it, despite a good recommendation from the first reader at DAW. I decided to publish it myself. I hope to publish Gold and Glory in the next few months, and the others later.

I also write occasional humorous items for the amusement of colleagues, and am now posting these on a blog. (Humor and satire are my favorite genres, although you might not guess it from my answers to these serious questions.)

Will you please give readers an introduction to Storm Approaching?

The first three books—Storm Approaching, Gold and Glory, and Resolution—are a trilogy; the fourth, The Free Lands, is a stand-alone. They are set in a pre-gunpowder world whose society and technology roughly correspond to late-Medieval/early-Renaissance Europe. Storm Approaching concerns a young orphan, Andiriel, who wants to see the world; she winds up being sent on an espionage mission, which gives her more excitement than she bargained for, and getting involved with a broken-down mercenary infantry regiment. (There are no standing armies in the New Empire, so mercenaries are the usual military forces.) Her adventures are set against a backdrop of growing friction between the New Empire and a foreign state, Sarenia. Although Andiriel and her surroundings are the focus of the book, some chapters are set at the Imperial court and do not concern her.

What was the spark, the idea, which gave birth to Storm Approaching?

About fifteen years ago I wrote on a slip of paper, “She was running as fast as she could, but it wasn’t fast enough,” and I said to myself, this will be the opening line of a novel. I do not know why I did this, but I kept the slip of paper. I knew I wanted to try writing something extensive; I did not know exactly what would happen when I started writing. (And that first line was changed, of course, in one of my later edits.)

What themes did you want to explore in Storm Approaching?

I wanted to deal with war and diplomacy more accurately than, so far as I am aware, these topics are usually treated in speculative fiction. I wanted to explore the inner workings of a mercenary regiment. I wanted to look at the importance of friendship, honor, education, and intelligence. I wanted a book that was character-driven, not plot-driven. (The trilogy has a story arch and develops plots, but there is no “main quest”—as I say on the back cover, there are no prophecies or magical trinkets in sight.)

What kind of research did you do for the novel, and how do you approach research?

As a historian, I was trained to do research. But I have not had to do much for the books. I’m conversant enough with my field so that I have little trouble “designing” countries, royal courts, or military units, or including logistics and economics. The polity of the New Empire, for example, bears a resemblance to that of the Holy Roman Empire. The Internet is a very handy source for minor but important matters like the parts of a horse or some detail of heraldry,.

You’ve given readers a fantasy novel that is practically devoid of the usual tropes found in Fantasy – why did you take this risk, and why was it important for you to write this way?

I am very glad you perceive the book that way, because prospective readers, hearing that it centers on an orphan who goes looking for adventure, might well groan, and exclaim, “Ick. Pooh. Not again.” After all, the number of adventurous orphans in Fantasy could populate a small town; they should form a union. But “fantasy” to me means a created world not requiring the inclusion of non-human races or much magic. (Surely dwarfs, elves, etc. have been comprehensively covered by others. None of my major characters is a mage, though magic does exist.) New novelists are told they must do something different, so I tried. They also say to write what you know, and what I know is history: military, diplomatic, political. (And I keep nearby Diana W. Jones’s Tough Guide to Fantasyland, a wonderful prophylactic against clichés.)

I hope that Mercenaries is written with a lightness of touch—not zany or satiric, but with a certain joie de vivre, jeu d’esprit, or other quality we sober English-speakers often use foreign words to describe. My books, though their theme be war and politics, are not meant to be depres-sing. There are enough novels like that in circulation. Good actors, jewellers, farmers enjoy their work. Why shouldn’t good soldiers?

As it happens, I’m writing this on the 203rd birthday of Robert E. Lee, who embodied all that a good soldier can be.

In Andiriel, you’ve created a strong female lead that surprised in more ways than one – what about Andiriel impresses you the most, and has she surprised you in any way, deviated from the path you planned for her?

There are more characters in the books than I expected. All except Andiriel appeared as I wrote; she is the only (human) character I knew about when I started. So her actions have not been too surprising to me, although her, um, friendship with Lana took me a bit by surprise. Andiriel’s sex was not vital; my wish to write about a decent, well-educated person who proves to have talent as a leader could have been done with a man. But I thought that having a young woman in her position, in a society where women are rarely (but not uniquely) found as soldiers, would make things more interesting. Andiriel is not a natural fighter (although she’s good with a bow), nor boisterously aggressive (except on a battlefield), and certainly not like the usual mercenary in a fantasy novel; her strength comes from her intelligence, quickness, and courtesy. Baron Gurlarga sums up her attitude when he uses the famous quotation “No glory without honor.”

The characters who most surprised me in Volume I—first by appearing at all, then by their development—are Lana and Dagget. I’m still learning about them after four volumes.

Lastly, can you give us some info about the sequel to Storm Approaching?

Why yes, I can. 🙂 Gold and Glory finds the Pelicans Mercenary Regiment looking for a contract and getting more than one. Readers who might have been a bit disappointed that Storm Approaching did not contain more war will not be further disappointed. And affairs in distant Sarenia develop in ways that involve some subjects of the New Empire. Gold and Glory is considerably longer than Storm Approaching, and, I guess, contains more “action.”
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Thanks very much for this opportunity to speak to a large audience. I hope that your readers will investigate my books, and my blog (http://andiriel.blogspot.com) and website (http://www.blibby.com), or drop me a line if they have questions (brnlbb(at)gmail.com.)

You can order your copies of Storm Approaching from the publisher, Author House, or from Amazon (US/UK). South Africans reading this can also order the book from Kalahari and Exclusive Books.

Brian has also kindly agreed to let me post excerpts from Storm Approaching, which should start appearing on the blog from next week onwards. 🙂

Until then,

Be EPIC!

P.S. I’m meeting Liz and Mark De Jager tomorrow, the fine folk who run the awesome blog My Favourite Books! 🙂 They’re in South Africa for a visit! Looking forward to it!

 
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Posted by on January 29, 2010 in Interviews

 

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Nights of Villjamur Interview Part Two: Investigator Rumex Jeryd

Hey Guys and Girls, I’m back with Investigator Rumex Jeryd! 🙂 He was good enough to give up some of his time to answer the questions I had, and here’s the result:

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Dave: Thanks for agreeing to this interview, Inspector Jeryd, I appreciate you giving up your time during this important investigation. First off, what brought you to the Inquisition? And why in Villjamur? Surely there are quieter spots throughout the Empire?

Jeryd: Well it wasn’t the paperwork, that’s for sure. It’s been so long since I’ve joined – decades and decades – that I can’t really remember why. A calling. A safe job. The need to do some good in this city. I was born and raised in Villjamur, but I don’t fancy making my way out in the sticks. It’s not as violent as some cities. And sure it’s quieter out in the country, but there’s no protection, no guarantee of food, risk of attacks from tribal uprisings and the likes. Plus now the ice is kicking in, I’m glad I’m behind these city walls.

Dave: When you’re not persuing a suspect, when you feel the need to relax for a time, where do you go? What do you do?

Jeryd: Time to relax? Very little of that these days. Back in the day, me and my wife, Marysa, we’d take in some of the underground theatre shows – she loves a golem show. Maybe dinner out, read a book. My breaks are when I get to a bistro, and I watch the world go by. There are a lot of characters in Villjamur. There’s a lot going on beneath the surface – but you need to look hard to see what’s really going on.

Dave: Coming to your wife; How does she handle your work? Has it put a strain on your marriage or does she handle it well?

Jeryd: Hey, I’m hardly the guy to answer that one well am I? I mean, I guess you have to work at relationships, right? But with Inquisition work, well, it just takes over your life. I’m hardly there to see to her needs and when I am everything seems trivial to murders or whatever. No, I’m not so good when it comes to these things. I’d like to think I can turn things around though.

Dave: Well, the city does have a way of bringing out the best or worst in a person. Coming back to the Inquisition, can you give us a short history of the Inquisition? Do you know anything of how it was formed and how long its been in charge of justice in Villjamur?

Jeryd: As to how it was formed in the first stage, no one really knows. Most of the stories suggest it started with Jamur Joll, the Emperor who five thousand years ago re-named the settlement as Villjamur, and had the walls built. He established some kind of order (though you might think that order never really came), and the Inquisition was to enforce civil obedience. The Inquisition really took hold within the last couple of thousand years – in its current capacity. There was a great deal of combat between human and rumel, and the upshot of these tensions were that the rumel would be allowed to form the main rank of Investigators. It was a peace offering of sorts, to force two races to live side-by-side in peace. And we’re a relatively liberal city compared to others, so I’ve heard, so I guess the policy worked.

Dave: Granted, it does seem to have worked. Looking back over your years in Villjamur, is there a memory that stands out more than most? Something good or bad that you’ll never forget.

Jeryd: Memory is a strange thing. My species can live for a good couple of hundred years, so I tend not to rely on what happened all that long ago. We can distort things in our minds even after a few hours – think what that’s like for a few decades! Nah, whatever I’m thinking about probably isn’t how it was.

Dave: That seems a sad way to live, but understandable from a rumel’s point of view. Is there then something you’re looking forward to? A dream that you’ve been nurturing?

Jeryd: I’m realistic! You’ve got to think practically to be in the Inquisition. None of this emotions nonsense. I look forward to building a better marriage, but as for things to look forward to? Well, believe it or not, I’m a big fan of the theatre. I’d love more free time to take my wife to see a lot of the shows. Villjamur has great underground shows, and even in an ice age there’s a lot going on. I’m trying not to think too far ahead – what with the ice, nothing is certain.

* * *

The next Villjamur interview that’ll I’ll post will be with Commander Brynd Lathraea! 🙂

Order your copy of Nights of Villjamur here for US, here for UK and here for those in SA, and check out Mark’s site here.

 
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Posted by on September 23, 2009 in Interviews

 

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Night of Villjamur Interview Part One: Randur Estevu

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I’m sure at least a couple of you have been wondering what happened to interviews on the blog? 🙂

Well, this is what I (and Mark, of course) have had in the works – instead of a full interview focusing on the process and info behind the book, and we took this tack. Hopefully, the Q & A’s that you’ll see on the blog will not only bring the characters even more to life but also serve as a tantalizing hint of what those who haven’t yet read Nights of Villjamur can expect – thereby sucking in even more readers. 🙂 And I would have to be completely honest and say that Gav over at Nextread beat me to it by doing this great interview with Mark – an interview that I would have loved to do! 🙂 So, here’s my effort! And thanks once again to Mark for playing along. 🙂 Don’t forget, the sequel to Nights of Villjamur, City of Ruin, has a blurb and a cover (that might just be growing on me, not sure yet)! 🙂

Dave: Coming from a small island and now being in the greatest city of the Empire, is it a bit overwhelming or more of the same just on a bigger scale?

Randur: Well, there are plenty more women here, that’s for sure…

But, I can honestly say that no matter where you go, people are still after the same kind of things. People need to put food in their mouths, need to get by, need the attentions of a lover. (That’s where I come in.) I’ve noticed a lot of lonely people getting tempted by shiny trinkets. Life isn’t as wholesome in Villjamur as much as the countryside – and in this city, the problems are swept into the caves, away from public view. People are obsessed with drinking and generally doing what they can to escape the world. And who can blame them, with the ice coming in?

Dave: Ah, yes, the ice! Tell me, was the coming of the ice discussed in Folke, openly, or was it something relegated to gossips? I guess what I’m asking is, coming from such a small corner of the Empire, surely there are those who still don’t believe in what’s coming?

Randur: You can never really trust what the old women gossip about on Folke. Chances are only half of what they say is even close to true, and even then aimed at bringing down someone in the community. And the men are worse – sitting in silence for much of the day and when they do speak all they do is mutter about bad omens.

To be honest, some people need to make a living, and just get on no matter what the elements bring. But bugger was I going to stay there, given half a chance of some sanctuary. In terms of belief? Well when you’d experienced the recent weather before I left, you don’t need much convincing.

Dave: You seem like a pragmatist, one who doesn’t readily believe rumours – bot from the woman-folk of Folke at least! How would you describe yourself? What terrifies you and exhilirates you?

Randur: In my dance, I am an artist. Actually, same in the bedroom too, given half a chance… Other than that? I’m someone who takes a risk now and then. You might say I’ve blagged my way through life so far, and that’d be fair. You have to – you’ve only go so long and you’ve got to make the most of it. What terrifies me? Not a lot if I’m honest. I tend not to think all that hard about the fears and the likes. I get my kicks out of living close to the edge: getting caught in the act by someone’s husband gets the ol’ heart beating.

Most of all, I enjoy the art of dancing. On my island, it’s a masculine activity. In this damn city, everyone things I’m a bit of a dandy for doing it – but it’s my life, my calling. I lose my sense of self when I’m doing it (which possibly explains why I’m so full of myself when I’m not).

Dave: Should I be glad that I don’t have a wife? Don’t answer that. Although, I might just take up some dancing… 🙂 So, I what are your thoughts on influx of refugees? Do you think the Emperor is in a position to handle the situation?

Randur: I’m sure I would treat her with great respect.

As for the refugees? Not much anyone can do about it in this world. It’s a symptom of things – that money gets sucked into Villjamur from islands like mine. We’re poor people, out on Folke, but we had a lot of resources – ores and agriculture. Doesn’t add up, does it? Exactly. So when you take away everything from them, what else are they going to do but come banging on the only door in this world that has a hope in hell of offering… anything. So of course, the institutions in Villjamur are in a position to do many things. They merely choose not to.

Dave: Well I’m sure that Chancellor Urtika has a plan in motion that will see the refugees taken care of. Moving onto your impressions of the city, what do you think about Villjamur? I’m not talking about sights and sounds, mind you, but your impressions – when you look at the city, when you breathe it in, how does this city of cities make you feel?

Randur: It makes you feel very humble. There are what, eleven thousand years of history on this site. It’s vast. It’s architecture is a mishmash of designs. It imposes itself on you. It makes you feel very insignificant. You can loose yourself in the mass of people – which is strangely liberating, being a nobody.

Dave: Last question for you: Considering the palpable building of tension in Villjamur, and the kind of people who are in charge, who have known only this city and this life, is there a place for you in Villjamur? And if not, what would it take you make you choose to stay? Hypothetical of course.

Randur: For me to stay, I’d need an endless supply of women to charm and teach to dance… hypothetically, of course. All I have are my sword skills and dance skills – which aren’t that dissimilar; you can use them anywhere, so my home is also anywhere. But I don’t think I’d like to stay in Villjamur too long though – the corruption, the violence, the sin… I don’t know how people could want to make their lives with all of this crap around them. And besides, people have such bad manners in the city.

Well, there you have it! 🙂 Mark and I are busy working on the next character interview – Investigator Rumex Jeryd – and that’ll be up next week some time, so keep an eye out! 🙂

If this interview has wet your appetite, order your copy of Nights of Villjamur here for US, here for UK and here for those in SA, and check out Mark’s site here. 🙂

Be EPIC!

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2009 in Interviews

 

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Christopher Ransom Interviewed & Chelsea Cain – the new Book Trailer

Hey guys, as promised (and better late than never, I s’pose), I’ve got an interview that was done with Christopher Ransom for you – not by me, unfortunately, but still, it’s always cool to be able to read an interview done with an author. 🙂

1. Please introduce yourself and tell us a bit more about you and your writing career.

I’ve been writing prose off and on for sixteen years but took a five-year detour to write screenplays before working up the courage to write my first novel, The Birthing House, which is out now in the UK and will be released in the US this August. I spent three years writing The Birthing House and it was the best education in writing I ever received. I was a terrible student in high school and college, and never attended a writer’s workshop or other writing program, so maybe it took me a little longer to do it on my own. At any rate, I never enjoyed writing as much as I did while working on my novel, so I plan to stick with this for a while.

2. What is your most recent novel about – if you are allowed to tell us?

The Birthing House is about a couple in their 30s, Conrad and Joanna Harrison, who are trying to reboot their marriage, so to speak, by moving from Los Angeles to a small town in rural Wisconsin. Soon after they settle in, Jo leaves Conrad for eight weeks of training for a new job, and Conrad, stewing in the house all summer, discovers that their new home, which is really his new home, was a birthing house at the turn of the century and may now be haunted. Conrad is wrestling with the idea and reality of becoming a father, the growing pains of leaving adolescence and his early 20s behind to become domestic. He is haunted by a destructive relationship from his high school years that continues to wreak havoc in his life and is responsible for almost literally opening the door to the entity that still resides in the former birthing house. In the course of uncovering (or ignoring at his peril) the house’s history and trying to salvage his dying marriage, Conrad becomes obsessed with his next door neighbour, Nadia, who is 20 and pregnant, and has some experience with the evil residing under Conrad’s roof. The novel is about the toll of a dual-income marriage, how our past relationships inform and disturb our present relationships, how infidelity and sexuality fit into the larger scheme of procreation, and—as I like to joke—only incidentally about a haunted birthing house.
I make that joke because, in truth, I did not set out to write a haunted house novel at all, or even a horror novel. I am not particularly interested in or frightened by ghosts or monsters. However, in terms of communicating what’s going on in someone’s head, a house is a great metaphor for the mind, and the ghost is a marvellous mirror of the psyche. And people—they scare me. So I just started writing about three characters locked in a situation I found fascinating. About a hundred pages in, I realized the story was following the classic haunted house trajectory. Coincidentally (or not very), my wife and I had recently moved from Los Angeles to Mineral Point, Wisconsin, which is a town of about three thousand people, so we were experiencing an amusing form of culture shock. We bought a 140-year-old Victorian and later learned it had been a birthing house and small clinic near the turn of the century. I did not borrow my house’s real history in any way; the idea of what it would be like if my house really was haunted was quite enough. During the first draft, I was only vaguely aware that I was writing about a troubled marriage, sex, birth, and all the rest while living under the roof of a birthing house. The potential of a haunted birthing house became intertwined with the questions and themes I was exploring, and the title was too appropriate to resist. Who knows, maybe the house wanted me to write the book (he says with nervous laughter and mild fear).

3. What do you think makes the horror genre so fascinating to readers and writers?

The power, for one. The raw, straight-to-your-primal-center-ness of it. There is no question fear is one of the most compelling emotions, that it is one of the strongest and most fundamental. It’s not like delight or melancholy, relative lightweights. Fear is right up there with love. It is crucial to our survival. From one perspective, it is fair to say fear drives nearly every other emotion, including love. Do we not love out of fear of being alone, at least partially? Do we not work for fear of going hungry?
For readers, horror fiction is a safe venue we visit to experience fear without being overwhelmed by it. No one wants horror in their life, but we will all face it in one form or another. I forget who said stories are tools for living, but I believe that. I cannot imagine living without quality fiction. So, if that is true, then horror stories might contain some tools for learning how to deal with the bad shit life throws our way. Maybe that is a stretch, but I find reading dark fiction fortifying in some way. I also just like experiencing a good thrill, without the hangover.
As for writers, for this writer anyway, the horror genre comes equipped with another marvellous set of tools. The ghosts, the houses, the monsters, the descent into a self and reality (even an everyday, real-world reality) we did not know existed, the whole range of darker human psychology. It’s almost another language. There are tropes and tricks and rules to break. When the writing is going well, the writer feels every event in the story as it is being written, as if by surprise, as his reader will experience it eventually. This makes for a fun ride behind the keyboard. But more importantly, writing horror, like writing in any other genre, should be an exploration of the self. It’s not easy to plumb one’s deepest fears and bring them into the daylight, but it is rewarding on many levels.

4. As a horror writer / fan, what sells a story / concept to you?

I don’t care much for concept anymore. Ideas are cheap. When I was younger, all it took to convince to buy a book was a vampire or a knife on the cover. But like any habitual reader, over time I have discovered that the writing is what counts. Without the execution, without quality writing and an original voice and real characters, no monster or end-of-the-world concept is scary. So I try to find authors that write well and then I follow them. One of my very favourite authors, Dan Simmons, wrote horror novels in the early portion of his career, and they were all stunning. But then he went and did this crazy thing—he turned his back on millions of dollars and branched off into science fiction, which I had never much cared for, and I followed him there. He later went on to write mainstream, hardboiled crime, historical fiction, and much more. Now the real joy is seeing what he does next. As a writer, I don’t have the guts or the talent to pull that off. But as a reader, I can’t ask for more. Concept bores me. Narrative force, good writing, brave authors—these things sell me.

5. What movies / books influenced your development as a genre writer? Similarly, what books, movies, comics, get you excited as a fan?

I suspect we live in an age when there are two types of horror writers: those who admit they were influenced by Stephen King to some degree, and those who lie. It might be a cliché at this point, but King’s books taught me to love reading. I read Cujo when I was 11 and I never looked back. Pet Sematary is the scariest novel I have or probably ever will read. It’s also a very serious novel, when you look beyond the cat that comes back from the grave. He’s writing about the most painful things a human can face: death, burial, the loss of child. How our culture does almost nothing to prepare for the natural eventuality of death. I honestly don’t know how he found the courage to go that far–that deep into his fear. I reread it again for the fifth or sixth time last summer and was struck by how even the vocabulary and syntax King uses in Pet Sematary reek of sour earth, embalming fluids, medicine, cold soil. There is a vintage texture, as if it were aging well in the sense of a classic, which of course I feel it is. So, yes, like many readers in the 80s and 90s, I was weaned on Stephen King, Peter Straub, Clive Barker, Dean Koontz, Robert McCammon, and many others. They all influenced me in some way, large or small.
Dan Simmons’s speculative-horror-love story of a novel, The Hollow Man, is quite different than my novel (or any that I will likely ever attempt to write) but it was a pivotal book in my life. I read it when I was 20, trying to decide what to do with myself, and the novel terrified me, challenged me, and made me weep, all in the span of about seven hours. I decided shortly after that to become a writer. There were a lot of books that nudged me toward the decision, but The Hollow Man was the nail in my coffin.
As I neared my late 20s and began to get serious, there were a few other authors, in various genres, not just horror, that changed how I thought about style and narrative, and I am sure they influenced me as well. Colin Harrison’s Afterburn took my head off. I still study the way he achieves such momentum without sacrificing nuance of language and depth of character. Nabokov has playfulness and an ability to find humour in the most wretched of circumstances, and that can be useful when writing horror.
What gets me excited as a fan is when one of my favourite authors releases a new novel. Peter Blauner is in my humble opinion the best “crime” writer working today, though he is much more than that. The only problem is, he only publishes a new novel every four years or so. But I am glad he takes his time, because the quality really shows and he is always worth the wait.

6. Who do you go all fan-boy about when it comes to the horror genre? Have you ever met anyone more famous than yourself and how did you react?

When I worked a Barnes & Noble in Los Angeles, I once waited on Julia Roberts, just like Hugh Grant in Notting Hill. She was very polite but she didn’t fall in love with me. Does that count? No, I guess not. Well, I haven’t met too many famous writers. I did meet Dan Simmons years ago, when I had just decided to become a writer and he was signing copies of The Hollow Man (which as I said had just become my favourite novel). Dan was seated in this tiny newsstand on Main Street in Longmont, Colorado, near my hometown of Boulder, so it was easy for me to wander over on my lunch break. Anyway, I was the first (okay, only) person in line; Dan was not yet the supernova he is today. I probably could have had his ear for half an hour, and he was very polite, but I was too frightened to squeak much more than, “Thank you.” I quickly fled the store, clutching my signed first edition to my bosom like a schoolgirl with her first love note.

7. If you had a chance to invite any horror legend, be it actor, writer, director, author (living / dead / undead) over for some tea, who would you choose and why?

After reading Charles LaBrutto’s excellent biography of Stanley Kubrick, wherein he chronicles many of the director’s bull sessions with writers and actors, I couldn’t stop thinking about what that must have been like for those who had the privilege—and some would say the curse—of Kubrick’s company. I realize Kubrick was not a horror guy per se, but he was tuned in to the dark side of human nature. There is a coldness to his work, his control, his obsessive nature. But he was also reputed to be a very sweet man, and an expert on a huge array of subjects. There is something tantalizing and terrifying about getting one of Kubrick’s phone calls in the middle of the night, being whisked off to his hidden estate, and hired to be a writer on one of his films, only to find oneself locked in a seemingly endless conversation with the man, who, it was reported, went through phases where he and his guests ate the same meal over and over for weeks, until he tired of it. Visiting writers seemed to emerge from the Kubrick compound like aged moles, gray-haired and blinded by his intensity and brilliance. I wouldn’t have been able to resist that call, had it ever come.

8. Lights on or off when watching horror flicks?

Off, of course, without exception. I am allowed to make my wife watch only one scary movie per year, so that means for all the others it’s me and one of my dogs under a blanket, lights off, eyes bugging out. Actually, watching a scary film by yourself increases the potency, so I don’t mind. Last summer I watched The Orphanage all by myself and that one got me pretty good.

9. Which do you prefer: Romero originals or remakes?

Oh, I know this is sacrilege, but I’ll go with the Dawn of the Dead remake here. The screenwriter on that one, James Gunn, is a very funny guy who gets zombies and I thought he handled it very well. It was scary and funny and full of great action set pieces. His characters were solid, his dialogue chewy. The sniper going after “Burt Reynolds” bit in there is priceless.

10. What is the best advice you ever received from someone about horror writing?

The best advice I know of for writing horror is no different than the advice we hear for writing any other kind of fiction and literature. The same things are important. Quality writing, characters that feel and behave like real people with real problems, realistic dialogue, evocative setting, all of it. In fact, when it comes to writing horror, or any genre that tends to rely too much on the wowee factor, we need to be extra vigilant, mindful of the fundamentals—namely, writing well. Plot and suspense are the least of our problems. We can’t rely on ghosts and serial killers and zombies to fool the reader for long. Or maybe we can, but we shouldn’t. Because while the apocalypse might get some fanboys in the door, the fanboys are all growing up, too, and eventually the day will come when they demand better of us. Actually, in all fairness, they already do. So, we owe it to our careers, our genre, our publishers and readers, to strive for quality. The writing is everything. That is what I tell myself every day, because I know I have a long way to go, and if you’re not constantly trying to improve the quality of your writing, you’re dead.

11. The horror genre has seen many incarnations over the past few years – what do you think the future holds for the genre?

I have been hearing about the death of horror in publishing since I attended The Pike’s Peak Writer’s Conference in 1993 or thereabouts. But good writers kept on publishing horror novels every year, right up through today. The vampire stuff seems to be bottomless. I know a lot of the large houses in New York are a little skittish about horror, but on the other hand, my editor at St. Martin’s Press told me he had been looking for a good ghost story for four years before he acquired The Birthing House. Now, look, I’m not saying I wrote The Turn of the Screw or The Shining—I know I did not. But four years? That tells me that either agents are extremely gun shy about submitting horror or there just aren’t that many well written and truly frightening manuscripts floating through the channels. In either case, we have only ourselves to blame.
But of course there are cycles. Trends. You can’t plan for them or write with an eye on them, though, so why bother? Hollywood ate up a ton of ghost stories after The Sixth Sense made $300 million domestic, and once that milked out, they went after harder stuff, exploitation fare, torture porn (which does nothing for me), and some great zombie flicks (which I do like). Now that those are playing out, we’re back to psychological stuff and ghost stories and dark fantasy and . . .
All of which is to say, I don’t have a clue where horror is going, and I never gave it much thought. I focused on writing the book that I wanted to write, to the best of my abilities, and it worked out. I am fortunate that it did. I am sure timing was a factor. But the reality is that there will always be a market for quality horror fiction and writing that truly moves the reader.

12. Do you have a zombie apocalypse survival plan – apart from going to hide in the Winchester, that is! – and will you be able to implement it?

You know, if it comes to that point, where we are truly being overrun by the zombie hoard, I think I would rather just join them. I mean, think about it, do zombies looked stressed to you? Other than finding food, what’s a zombie got to worry about? They don’t have to get up and go to work every day. They don’t have to pay taxes or fret about the state of the world or try to get laid. They have no fear of death because the worst has already happened to them. All a zombie has to do is duck some bullets and find some brains to gnaw on, and there are plenty of those to go around. Hey, I’m a foodie. I could live like that. Kind of do already, now that I think about it.

13. Are there any “how to” books on your bookshelf you would recommend to aspiring authors?

I apologise if this sounds obvious, but writers aspiring to contribute to the field of horror should be reading well beyond the field. It’s not enough to read every Stephen King book. We need to read the classics, non-fiction, biographies, anything that is well written and expands our palette. We are what we eat, after all.
The literary critic James Wood recently published a jaw-droppingly insightful book called How Fiction Works. It is not the same old tired book on how to write. It’s a rich but concise study of the techniques that separate the giants from the rest of us mere mortals. It’s a bit more advanced and I won’t claim to have gotten my head around most of it yet, but it’s a treasure of a book that encourages one to become a better reader as well as unlearn a lot of bad writing habits, which can be painful but very helpful to do. I would tell aspiring writers to read as many good books on writing as they can get their hands on, study them, practice what the books preach, and then move on. Put them back on the shelf and just write. All the books on writing won’t do a damn thing for us if we don’t remember to dive in and write.

The Birthing House

And then I’ve got this cool book trailer for you: I haven’t read any of Chelsea Cain’s work yet (goodness knows I merchandize enough of it when I get stuck into the fiction section), so maybe its about time. 🙂 All of you out there who are looking for a new crime-thriller to get stuck into, check out this trailer! Maybe Evil at Heart will be just what you’re looking for. 🙂

Also, if you want any more info on Chelsea Cain, check out this link for a press-kit PDF of Evil at Heart, and this link for more info on the book. 🙂

Evil at Heart

Be EPIC!

 
3 Comments

Posted by on September 7, 2009 in Book Trailer, Interviews

 

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An Interview with Jo Graham

After reading Jo’s second gorgeous novel, Hand of Isis, I knew I had to get her on the blog again for another interview, and not only did Jo agree and answer the questions I had, she also gave me some great news to post here – the first public announcement of a new project! 🙂 I’ll bold it, of course, so that you don’t miss it!

Jo_Graham

First of all, thanks for once again agreeing to an interview, Jo! 🙂 It’s an honour to have you back on the blog! 🙂 So, Black Ships, Hand of Isis and soon, Stealing Fire: how does it feel? 🙂

It feels wonderful! I’m delighted to be able to write full time right now. I’m already working on the next Numinous World book, tentatively called Lioness. It’s about a Persian princess in the 6th century BC, the daughter of Darius the Great.

    I also have a new project, which I’m talking about publicly for the first time here, a Stargate Atlantis novel, Death Game, which is due out in the US and UK in November 2010

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It couldn’t have all been a walk in the park – how do you deal with life while having to remain focused on your writing?

My partner, Amy, is a saint! She’s wonderful when I have deadlines, and she puts up with months of conversation about the most obscure things.

Now that you have two much-loved and acclaimed novels out in the world, has your life changed markedly since Black Ships or has it been much of the same?

As I said, it’s wonderful to be able to write full time. And unsurprisingly I’m getting much more done!

black_ships_UK_232x354

Let’s talk about Gull and Charmian – can you take us behind the scenes (without spoiling those who haven’t yet read Hand of Isis) and talk about the creation and evolution of these wonderful characters?

Both of them are explorations of different archetypes that aren’t very common in fiction, especially fiction about women. Gull is a priestess, and while heroic fantasy has plenty of young warrior maidens, the priestess has been largely overlooked in recent years. You really have to go back to Marion Zimmer Bradley, Diana Paxson and Judith Tarr to find her. Gull puts her vocation first. It’s more important than any person in her life, more important than anything else in her life. We don’t talk about religious devotion very well in our society, so it’s very gratifying to me to hear from readers, from a female rabbinical student, from a woman minister in the Midwestern US, from a female Church of England divinity student, that they see their experiences reflected in Gull.

Charmian is a different archetype. She’s Isis Pelagia, not Isis the Lady of Amenti, the Queen of Love. And as such, she doesn’t belong to any man, doesn’t commit to any lover. She belongs to herself, and shares herself where she chooses. And yet it’s not selfish. Charmian is honest, and she’s not playing games or “working through issues.” It’s who she is. And she doesn’t know one end of a weapon from the other! She’s not a warrior maiden, and we have very ambivalent feelings about a woman like her in our society.

They’ve both been fascinating to write, the same person embodying two entirely different archetypes. In Stealing Fire we’ll see her as a man, Lydias, a soldier and adventurer.

hand-of-isis

You told me a while ago that you wanted your Cleopatra to be as close to the historical Cleopatra as possible and not to let your own opinions of her influence her characterization – was this difficult to do?

Very difficult! Almost everything we know about Cleopatra comes from her enemies. We don’t have contemporary Egyptian sources, so it’s very challenging to reconstruct.

Comparing Hand of Isis to Black Ships, your talents for world-building and characterization have really blossomed, and you’ve really built upon the work done in Black Ships and made Hand of Isis a bigger, more beautiful book: were there any specific areas you wanted to improve upon?

Thank you! I’m glad you think so. It’s a much longer book, and I think a lot of the difference is the depth of the world building. So…more space!

The characters that share Charmian’s tale are all unique in their own right, able to carry a novel on their own – how difficult was it to keep them fresh and engaging without making them echoes of the supporting cast from Black Ships?

Well, the echoes go forward and back! Many of them are meant to be the same characters, but they don’t present the same way each time. They are echoes of each other, and of the characters from other stories that aren’t told yet. But I think their life stories, what happens to them, makes them distinct. For example, Dion and Ashterah aren’t by any means the same person!

What are you feelings on the recently unveiled new over art for the re-print of Black Ships? Is that your Gull, or as close as it could be?

It’s gorgeous! That’s definitely my Gull!

jjpartblackships

Are there any plans to give your novels a ‘series’ title? Maybe something like The Saga of the Companions? 😉 Or would you like each novel to stand on its own?

I’ve been calling it The Numinous World. But the question of a series title is really up to my publisher.

How is Stealing Fire progressing and are you able to give us a sneak peek at what we can expect?

Stealing Fire is finished! It’s strange with the publication delay to wait so long for you to see it after I finish it. Stealing Fire was done in December! Since then I’ve written an entire other book, which is not currently sold so I can’t say when you might get it, a Numinous World book called The Chariot set in 1805. I’ve also started on Lioness and on Death Game. So finishing Stealing Fire seems like it happened a long time ago to me!

Sneak peak: Alexander the Great has died in Babylon, leaving the ashes of his empire to his quarrelling generals and his unborn son. Lydias of Miletus is a Companion Cavalryman, a soldier in Alexander’s service. As chaos reigns and the generals start to kill one another, General Ptolemy trusts Lydias with a charge of incredible personal importance, to get his longtime lover, the hetaira Thais, and their two young children out of Babylon and safely away from the bloodbath. Fleeing Babylon for the loyal fortress of Pelousion, Lydias is dragged into a deadly game — not just between generals and Companions, but between gods.

And finally, what would you like to explore further down the road? Any other genres you’d like to dabble in?

I’m looking forward to the challenge of the Stargate Atlantis novel. As a long time fanfic writer, it’s wonderful to be paid to write fanfic! I hope it will be a pleasure both to Stargate Atlantis viewers and to Jo Graham readers.

Thanks, Jo, for once again taking the time to answer these questions! 🙂 We all wish you continued success and many, many more wonderful books on our shelves! 🙂

Thank you so much! I appreciate it!

Well there you have it! Not only will be Jo be bringing us more of her own trademark beautiful tales, following an amazing cast of characters, but she will also be delving into the world of Stargate Atlantis! 🙂 I’m sure you’ll all agree with me when I say that all of this is definitely much to look forward to! 🙂

Be EPIC!

 
5 Comments

Posted by on June 26, 2009 in Interviews

 

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An Interview with Shane Briant

You all know how much I enjoyed Shane’s excellent thriller, Worst Nightmares! 🙂 So, thanks to Shane and Imran (the reason I got the book in the first place) I now have an interview with Shane for you! 🙂 Enjoy!

ShaneBriant

First of all, would you please tell us a bit about yourself and what led you to choosing writing and story-telling as a career?

I’d been a film actor since leaving Law School in Dublin in 1971. I’d taken part in a play, which was the hit of the Dublin Theatre Festival and transferred to the West End. I was nominated for the London Theatre Critic’s Best Newcomer Award. After that I started in on movies and never looked back. My father was novelist and biographer Keith Briant, so writing was probably always in my genes. In 1994 I started in on my first novel while touring Europe with a television series. I never looked back.

Worst Nightmares – how did the idea come to you?

It occurred to me one day how we’ve become accustomed to dealing with the Internet in such a cavalier fashion. There are clearly people ‘out there’ hoping to harm us in some way; either to steal our identity, bank balances, our love and affection — our lives! Yet we deal with them without caution, revealing aspects of ourselves we wouldn’t do face to face. We reveal intimate secrets with our doctor but not at the dinner table – so why do we do so on the Internet. Hence the idea of an Internet psychiatrist – someone who wants only to track you down and kill you?

In Dermot Nolan, you’ve created a character that’s successful and well-loved, and you’ve also given readers an insiders view into certain aspects of the publishing industry – were Dermot and the story’s setting there from the beginning, or were there some changes that had to be made?

They were there from the beginning. In some aspects there’s a lot of autobiographical material there. But what I found interesting was to think “how far would I go personally to create a huge career for myself if I had writer’s block? What would the average man or woman do to achieve success?”

The thriller genre continues to evolve – what, in your opinion, makes thrillers so addictive and violence so commercial? Is the world a bit nuts? 🙂

I find thrillers addictive because they are purely escapist and take me places I’ve never been and show me people I never met before. This is in sharp contrast to reality, where I have to watch or read about what actually happened – man’s inhumanity to man; something I find deeply disturbing on a daily basis.

How did you go about balancing the tension within the unfolding tale while also keeping the characters engaging?

This seems to come naturally once I have established who the characters are and what makes them tick. If you read a book and bond with a character initially, you are more likely to understand and forgive his/her moral transgressions when they occur. That way you are on their side regardless of their transgressions (within limits, of course!)

Did you do any research before or during the writing of the novel, and did the research end up changing any aspects, such as events or characters?

Research is everything! I hate it when people tell me things that aren’t true, such as a supermarket in Paris being open at ten in the morning when I know it opens at midday. Silly things, but they make you lose belief. So all the most interesting aspects, such as gun calibres, how long before flies inhabit a dead body, etc are important. Vital!

In Worst Nightmares, one of the themes you deal with is the theft of intellectual property – did you want to explore that theme from the beginning or did it grow out of telling the tale?

This was merely the device that led to the discussion of what people will do for money and success. It could have been anything. Stealing is stealing; a lover, money, intellectual property – you name it.

In this age of You Tube and blogs, how important is non-publisher marketing, and do you see the publishing industry having to evolve to incorporate these mediums in their efforts to reach a wider audience?

Yes, absolutely. I believe the Internet is paramount. One strong video on YouTube that’s passed from one person to another can receive a million hits in a week. How many people look at an advertisement in a national newspaper and buy a book based on it? Very few. Cyber space is a huge marketing tool now. And it provides me as an author with a direct line to my readers – which I love.

How is work progressing on the sequel to Worst Nightmares, and can you whet out appetites with some info about the book? Same characters, etc? 🙂

The sequel is already written and in the editing process. I found it HUGELY enjoyable to write and went that extra mile into the darkness. It was great fun (because it is fiction!) I could be really inventive and very cruel yet maintain some humour within the writing.) It was a blast. It takes over directly from the last page of Worst Nightmares and takes us on another horror ride of mayhem from Los Angeles to Paris and back.

Finally, any advice for budding writers out there? Any important points to keep in mind while writing or building a tale?

Try to have an original concept. By that I don’t mean the basis (mine was the theft of intellectual property – something that’s been done a thousand times.) It’s the ride you take the reader on that’s important. Keep up the pace. MAKE the reader turn that page, and then REALLY surprise him.

Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions! 🙂 We all wish you nothing but continued success and many more nail-biting thrillers on our shelves!

Many thanks for showing such interest in my book. I’m really pleased you liked it!

worst-nightmares

Many thanks to Shane for answering these questions and to Imran for getting the ball rolling and my foot in the door. 🙂 I’m sure we’ll be hearing much, much more from Shane Briant in the future and I can assure you, I’m looking forward to the sequel to Worst Nightmares with great anticipation! 🙂 It’ll definitely be one of my must-reads as soon as its available!

For more info on Shane, check out these details on IMDb, and don’t forget to check out the Worst Nightmares website! There’s also a chance to win a signed, personalized copy of Worst Nightmares! 🙂

And for those who want to order the book (it’s an excellent book! Read my review here), here are the links:
UK & US. No info yet on availability in South Africa, but since the book is available, get onto your closest Exclusive Books branch and get them to order it for you! 🙂

This novel is published by Vanguard Press.

 
3 Comments

Posted by on June 16, 2009 in Interviews

 

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An Interview with Brandon Sanderson

Thanks to Brandon for taking time out of one of the most important projects in Epic Fantasy’s publishing history to answer a few of my questions! 🙂 I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I did! 🙂

Brandon Sanderson

Thanks for agreeing to this interview, Brandon, and welcome to the South African SFF scene! First off, will you please tell us a bit about yourself? Where you grew up, what started you reading, and why you started writing?

I grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska. I was a big reader as a child, then fell away for a while. In third and fourth grade, my favorite series was the Three Investigators books, a mystery series. As I grew older, the books that other people gave me to read were realistic fiction–books that bored me out of my skull, so my reading habits dribbled off. By junior high I wasn’t reading anything new, until I had a wonderful English teacher who told me I couldn’t keep doing book reports on novels that were four grades below my reading level. Instead, she gave me her copy of Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly. I had no idea books like that existed–it engaged my imagination like no other book ever had. At that point I started reading every fantasy book I could get my hands on, including Eye of the World when it came out in paperback. I was hooked, and there was no going back. I even started writing some myself–on my website in the library section there’s a short story I wrote in high school for a writing contest at a local SF convention. It’s really not very good, but it took first place in the student division, and at the awards ceremony was one of the first times I can remember thinking, “Wow, maybe I can do this.”

My mother, however, thought I should study something more concrete and said I could keep writing on the side. I started college as a biochemistry major, but when I took two years off to serve a mission for my church I realized I didn’t miss chemistry at all and just wanted to write. On my off days I worked on what eventually became my first novel, and when I got back to school I changed my major to English and determined to become a professional author.

You have amassed a well-loved body of work, attaching your name to epic fantasy even before being approached to finish A Memory of Light; will you please tell us about your work, and why a reader who has never read your work should buy and read a copy of Elantris, the Mistborn series or Warbreaker?

I love epic fantasy, but I’m of the generation who grew up reading Robert Jordan and Tad Williams and are now trying to say, what else can we do with the genre? I want to write books that feel like the great epic fantasies of the past that you’ve read, but don’t use the same, familiar stories. In Mistborn, for example, the idea was to turn the standard fantasy story on its head–what if the prophesied hero failed and the Dark Lord took over and has ruled the known world for the last thousand years? My books are also known for their spectacular, interesting magic systems that are very rule based and almost a science unto themselves. But of course none of that matters without characters whose motivations you can understand and who you can care about as a reader. In Elantris I have three very different main viewpoint characters, and readers are fairly evenly divided on who’s their favorite–in writing as in anything else, it’s impossible to please everyone all the time, but I’m happy that my books have shown so many different people a character they can relate to and root for.

Between writing Mistborn 2 and Mistborn 3, I wanted to try something new, and my series of humorous middle-grade novels beginning with Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians was the result. I love epic fantasy, and don’t intend to ever stop writing it. However, sometimes we all need a diversion toward something more lighthearted. If you want to get a taste of what my writing is like, because Alcatraz is so different from my other books I recommend that unless you’re between the ages of ten and thirteen you start with the first Mistborn book–or Elantris or Warbreaker. Mistborn is a good entry point for people who like trilogies and series (and the writing is better in Mistborn than in Elantris; I can see how much I have improved over the years). The other two are good entry points for people who prefer standalones–and Warbreaker is available for free on my website (as well as coming out in hardcover in North America from Tor next month), so it may be the most convenient starting point of all.

You’ve been using the Internet as an excellent tool for marketing your work and getting readers a behind-the-scenes seat on being an author; what led to you taking that path?

There are some authors out there who are really good at sitting down and blogging about themselves or whatever’s on their mind and building a following of likeminded people, but I actually find that a bit of a struggle. Perhaps writing fiction kind of sucks away all of the “writing juices” from me, leaving me unmotivated to write anything promotional. Or perhaps it’s because I’m really a recluse at heart. I want people to read my fiction, but I don’t necessarily care if they know about the man behind the screen. He’s not important–only the story matters. So while I do manage to do some of the normal blogging things–talking about my life and the creative process–I also see my website and blog as an opportunity to give back to the fans. In the publishing world, a lot of time passes between one book’s release and the next’s, and I hope that giving my readers something to read regularly while they’re waiting is a good way to keep my books in their mind. If someone who reads a book by me puts my name into a search engine, I want something interesting to show up–I think of a lot of my website content in terms of the bonus content you get on a special edition DVD. The biggest example of this is the chapter-by-chapter annotations I post regularly–think of them as the director’s commentary track that you can listen to while you watch a movie, usually on the second or third watching of a movie you like. You can read a chapter or section of the book, then read my companion discussion of that particular section. The annotations alone add a lot of text to the reading experience–the annotations for Mistborn 3: The Hero of Ages that I’ll start posting soon total 40,000 words, which is long enough to be called a novel in its own right (though my novels themselves are quite a bit longer than that). Also like on a DVD, you can find deleted scenes and alternate endings on my website–earlier drafts that I had to discard but which the readers might find interesting. And I do like to let people know the status of the projects I’m currently working on, with handy progress bars in one corner of the page.

You also run the Writing Excuses podcast with Howard Tayler and Dan Wells; did the idea start with you, or was it the brainchild of a get-together? And why do you think it has become so popular?

A couple years ago, I realized that there’s a whole lot of writing talent hanging around my area. I also realized that my brother is getting a degree that focuses heavily on web marketing, and that he had just taken a podcasting class. These two ideas started battling to the death in the arena of my mind, until they merged into the weekly podcast known as Writing Excuses. Dan Wells and I have been friends since college, and before we were published we went to conventions together to hit up editors. (His first published book, horror novel I Am Not a Serial Killer, recently came out in the UK.) Howard I met more recently, but I’d long been a fan of his Schlock Mercenary webcomic (schlockmercenary.com). I felt that our combination of writing styles and backgrounds would make an interesting mix for the podcast, and Dan and Howard were enthusiastic. As for why the podcast has become popular, I think our slogan has a lot to do with it–“Fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart.” Our goal is to be quick, informative, and conversational–and, if possible, occasionally amusing. That has clearly struck a chord with our listeners.

The Gathering Storm

Moving on to the Wheel of Time, I’m sure you can remember exactly where and when you were when you first laid eyes on The Eye of the World; what, in your opinion, makes the Wheel of Time series so popular?

I do remember exactly where and when I first laid eyes on The Eye of the World. It was right after the paperback came out, and I was at the local comic store where I bought all my fantasy books. While browsing the new paperback shelf, I saw this huge fantasy novel there. I can almost feel that moment, standing and holding the book in my hands, listening to someone play an antiquated upright of Cadash in the background. I think the cover of Eye is the best Darryl Sweet has ever done–one of the best in fantasy. I loved the cover. The feel of the troop marching along, Lan and Moiraine proud and face forward. . . . The cover screamed epic. I bought the book and loved it. I still think Eye is one of the greatest fantasy books ever written. It signifies an era, the culmination of the epic quest genre which had been brewing since Tolkien initiated it in the ’60s. The Wheel of Time dominated my reading during the ’90s, influencing heavily my first few attempts at my own fantasy novels. I think it did that to pretty much all of us; even many of the most literarily snobbish of fantasy readers were youths when I was, and read Eye of the World when I did. Robert Jordan showed us what it was to have vision and scope in a fantasy series–he did a wonderful job giving his readers a sense of immensity to his story, while at the same time focusing on the specific lives of his characters. He did an excellent job of creating a large set of empathetic characters and keeping them straight in the reader’s mind. He’s a model writer for walking the line between familiarity (the “farmboy saves the world from an evil overlord” story) and originality (his use of magic, his political worldbuilding). The descriptiveness of his writing is great. And the prologue to Eye of the World is hands-down one of the most interesting introductions to any series. All those factors have won readers over and cemented the Wheel of Time as one of the most popular fantasy series of all time. Nobody in the adult fantasy market today has left more of an impact on more people’s lives than Robert Jordan.

It must have been surreal when you found out you were going to finish a series you loved and work from the notes of an author you (and many others, myself included) admire so much; does it still feel as if you’re dreaming, sometimes? Is there still that little voice telling you you’re going to wake up soon?

I still feel a little stunned at times. It’s odd. It’s been a year and a half, but from time to time I still stop and think, “Wait, how in the world did this happen? Out of all of the people who could have been chosen, did this really happen to me?” I kind of feel like Sam, carrying Frodo the last few paces up the mountain. I’m finishing the Master’s work for him, since he is unable to. I’m just glad I could be here to help for the last stretch when I was needed.

How has finishing (and it’s not completely done yet, guys and girls) A Memory of Light changed your life? Are you still the same Brandon Sanderson you were before A Memory of Light?

It’s far from completely done! The first part of the three, The Gathering Storm, is turned in and in production, and I’m only about halfway through the second part’s rough draft. There’s a lot of writing left to go. But working on the Wheel of Time has forced me to grow immensely as a writer. Back when I sold Elantris to Tor, they were interested in following that with the book I was working on at the time, called The Way of Kings. But I felt my career and writing skills weren’t yet in the right place to pull off the ten-volume epic fantasy series that I wanted that book to lead into, so I wrote the Mistborn trilogy instead. Now, after working on the Wheel of Time for over a year, I finally feel ready to dive in and do a revision of Way of Kings. If I can effectively use all I’ve learned, I might be able to make the book become what I want it to be.

How has it been working so closely with Harriet? Granted, you are in different States, but you know what I mean. 🙂

Harriet is a world class editor–she really is great at what she does. I’ve had several opportunities to meet with her in person–she, and Mr. Jordan’s staff, are awesome. His two assistants, Maria and Alan, are continuity experts and went through my completed manuscript pages fact checking and giving feedback on general issues as well. I had worried that having three editors on this project would make it more difficult to work on, but so far it’s simply been a big help. There is so much going on in this book and this world that having the extra sets of eyes is very helpful.

I’ve really enjoyed the process. At the beginning, after I read all the notes and explained to the team my feelings on the various outlines for the different characters, Harriet pretty much let me call the shots when it came to the actual drafting of the novel. As an editor, she works best when I provide material to her, then she works her magic to turn it from good to excellent. When I turned manuscript pages in, and she came back to me with line edits–where she goes through and tweaks the language of the book–it quickly became obvious what a pro she is and how much she loves this series. It’s truly an honor to work with her.

The Gathering Storm US

Not only are you finishing A Memory of Light, you’re also writing your own work; how on earth to you balance and juggle everything? I s’pose it helps to be a full-time writer. 🙂 andWhat is your day like while working on A Memory of Light? Do you work according to a schedule? Are there enough hours in the day? 🙂

Let me combine the answers for these two questions. You may not be surprised to hear that I have many more ideas for books than I have time to work on them. There are several first drafts or partial drafts of novels that I’ve written that need serious revision before they ever see the light of day, but I have to prioritize according to the urgency of the project and the deadlines I’m working under. Part two of A Memory of Light (the working title is Shifting Winds, but this will ultimately change) will be getting the largest share of my attention during the next year. I also have to finish the fourth Alcatraz book in the next few months–Scholastic will probably start breathing down my neck around July or August, but my goal is to write it when I have a rough draft done for Shifting Winds. I often work on two books at once–writing new material for one book and editing another. Writing and editing take different types of attention, and I can usually only write new material for four to six hours a day, but I can revise all day long–maybe this is the difference between mental heavy lifting and mental long-distance running. I recently hired an assistant to handle a lot of the non-writing tasks associated with being self-employed; this should free up another couple hours each day during which I can work on revising Way of Kings as I mentioned above. I generally put in an eight-hour workday, then call it quits if other things are happening. From 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. is family time, and then if nothing pressing is going on I head back to work after dinner and after my son is in bed. It works for me–most of the time, the fifty or sixty hours a week I spend writing are quite fun. As my wife says, writing is my job and my hobby. I’d generally rather be working on one of my books than sitting in front of the television.

With Red Eagle Entertainment doing the live-action movie and the various games of the Wheel of Time, why do you think many fans have had such a strong reaction against this? I know I’d like to shout, “If Harriet’s okay with it, leave it alone!”

Maybe they’ll get made. Maybe they won’t turn out so well, like some other recent fantasy book adaptations. Or maybe we’ll get lucky, and they’ll get a director who understands the books and can bring out the same feel of the novels while still adapting them in a way that suits the film medium. The thing is, you never know which of those you’re going to get until you try. Now that I’ve met with representatives of Red Eagle, I’m much more comfortable with them working on the project. They really impressed me with their sincere desire to do the series justice.

We know you can’t say anything specific or even in general about what takes place in A Memory of Light, but you have to be able to answer this one, at least – does Bela save the day? 🙂

I’m afraid Bela’s future exploits are still under wraps, but I have already revealed that it was Bela (with the assistance of Narg) who killed Asmodean.

Finally, Michael A. Stackpole once commented on whether or not the world of the Wheel of Time should be expanded by having other writers writing the stories of, let’s say, Artur Hawkwing’s rise to power or how the Seanchan tamed Seanchan, and so letting Robert Jordan’s world expand and grow – good idea or bad idea?

I think the concept of anyone else working on the Wheel of Time was very painful for Robert Jordan. But in the last months before his death, he became determined–even insistent–that the series be completed after he passed away–and that means the part of the story that he had outlined to appear in the final book, now split into three due to length. He also previously had ideas for two more prequels and the outrigger novels set after the series’ end, but those were not a priority in his last few months. At this point we’re not sure Robert Jordan would have wanted those books to be written in his absence, and no one involved in finishing the series now feels the same urgency about them. I know that a lot of fans want to see those books eventually, but I ask that you please respect Harriet’s ability to decide their fate. If Harriet feels that he would not have wanted them done or that there aren’t enough notes or materials to complete the books in a way that would have made him proud, then the books should not be written. As for other books in the Wheel of Time universe that Robert Jordan did not have any plans to write or to arrange to be written, that’s not something I contemplate. When an author creates a world so rich that readers want an unending supply of books set in that world, that’s just a testament to the author’s skill as a storyteller–it doesn’t mean that having people write an unending supply of books in that world is a good idea. Stories have beginnings, middles, and endings for a reason, and ignoring that is detrimental to the integrity of the story. Robert Jordan had a vision for the Wheel of Time, and it’s important to be faithful to that vision. We’d rather leave his legacy as it stands than have bad books attached to his name.

Thanks, Brandon, for finding the time to answer these questions! 🙂 We wish you nothing but the best, all the time you need to write, and more spots on the New York Times Bestseller list! 🙂

Thank you! It’s been my pleasure.

Check out Brandon’s site for wayyy more info and behind-the-scenes stuff!

Mistborn

To order Brandon’s Mistborn novels, check out this link! 🙂

Elantris

To order Elantris, click this link!

Warbreaker

To pre-order Warbreaker, click this link!

Also, check out Writing Excuses here, Dan Wells’ website here, and Howard Tayler’s website here!

Be EPIC! 🙂

 
27 Comments

Posted by on May 15, 2009 in Interviews

 

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An Interview with Michael Cobley

Hey guys and girls, David here! I have a real treat for you!

Michael Cobley

Michael Cobley

As you know I did a review for Micheal Colbey’s Seeds of Earth a few weeks ago, and soon after that i got in touch with Mike himself. He graciously agreed to do an interview with me and, well here it is.

Hope you enjoy it!

For those fans of the Shadowking Trilogy and undoubtedly the new Humanity’s Fire series, what have you been up to during the last few years leading up to where you are now?

shadowkings-1

Hmm, just dipping my head in the infostream of the world I guess. Well, to be more accurate, after the 3rd Shadowkings book, Shadowmasque, came out from Simon & Schuster, I was working on various outlines. The main one involved some storylines and concepts which will actually form the next Humanitys Fire epic. The trilogy commencing Seeds Of Earth actually came after those other ideas. Other things I was doing – being involved with the Liberal Democrat party, campaigning in Glasgow and surrounding areas, and even standing in a couple of local elections (didnt win).

(The obvious question) Where did Seeds of Earth come form? Did inspiration bludgeon you over the head one morning or was it something you had been mulling over in your head for some time.

As you see from above, SOE came about after some other groundwork had been done. Various ideas came together for it, though – SF space opera has a long and rich history and therefore has built up a fabulous store of imagery and concepts and notions which are just there for the taking! I love space opera and the sheer scale of it, across time and space and mind, and after the heroic fantasy I was ready for a total change.

Some of the reviews I have read, including my own one, for the Seeds of Earth novel talks about familiarities in some aspects of the story. Let’s clear this up, were there actually some main influences in your design of the story? Such as? Or where you just following your own train of thought and it just happened that these familiarities popped up.

Well, in terms of tone and flavour, I had David Brin’s Uplift War and Banks’ Culture books at the back of my mind – I admire them so much, but when those influences are filtered through my own experiences and technical abilities they are bound to become something else. Luckily, its become something that people are enjoying reading. As for the main story, well I suppose the idea of the rediscovered lost colony has been done before, but did those writers treat it the way I have, with the political aspects and the deep galactic background and the levels of hyperspace? Hmm, probably not! That’s the key, you see, when brainstorming ideas for writing, coming up with concepts that move you and which have not been done before either in certain ways or in combination with other ideas.

Even though you are currently involved with this sci-fi/space opera, do you think you will be doing another fantasy novel somewhere in the future?

shadowgod

shadowmasque-3

I do have a few ideas for what could be another Shadowkings novel, or mebbe just a unique, stand alone fantasy novel. Just have to wait and see how that would pan out, set against all the other book and story ideas I want to grapple with.

Just for interests sake, what book are you reading currently, or is your time fully occupied with your own writings?

I’m always reading something, usually for about a hour before lights out at night. Went through a phase of madly reading every progressive politics book I could lay hands on, anything by Chomsky, or Greg Palast, Mike Davis, Naomi Klein, or Mark Curtis. Recently I reread the Orcs books by Stan Nichols, several David Gemmell books, and am reading Ian McDonald collection, Cyberabad Days. Waiting to be read I have Richard Morgan’s Black Man, Steve Erickson’s House Of Chains, and Jack Vance’s Galactic Effectuator.

Lastly, how about something to tickle the taste buds of our readers, and mine. Is there anything you can give-away about the follow-up to Seeds of Earth, something to make us sit on the edge of our seats with anticipation? Personally I can’t wait to see happens with the other 2 colonies, the enhanced and Robert’s whole journey.

Well, the title of book 2 is The Orphaned Worlds so basically it takes a closer look at what happened to the other two lost colonies, on Tygra and Pyre, what happened to the colonists there and how they dealt with their situations. Some dreadful truths will be revealed and certain realignments will take place. The Enhanced’s role becomes clearer and Corazon Talavera makes a reappearance. Robert Horst’s voyage through the bizarre levels of hyperspace takes him to the very brink of mortal danger, and then later comes into contact with the Achorga, known as the Swarm, the hiver species which almost destroyed Earth a century and a half ago.

Well there you go, hope you found it as interesting and revealing as i did. If you have not yet checked out the review I did you can find it here; there you will find links to order the book.

Once again i just want to say thanks to Mike for the doing it interview and all the best for the rest of your endeavors.

To get more info about Mike and his work, follow this link to his site, and also, check out this interview Mike did with Mark Chitty over at Walker of Worlds. 🙂

seeds-of-earth2

 
9 Comments

Posted by on April 27, 2009 in Interviews

 

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An Interview with Philip Palmer

Philip Palmer

You know how sometimes life becomes so busy that you have to sacrifice a few less-important things to get focused on the really important ones? That’s what happened with Philip, and why this interview took so long to get onto the blog. 🙂 After all, the man is not just a SF / Space Opera Author; he works in TV too. 🙂 But in retrospect, Philip’s timing couldn’t be better – with his latest novel on the way, this interview will give his fans (and I am most definitely one of them) some insight into his thought-processes, and wont spoil Red Claw at all. 🙂 So, without further a-do, I give you Philip Palmer!

First of all, welcome to the South African SF-reading public, Philip, and thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. 🙂

It’s a real pleasure Dave.

Here’s my first question: Were you smoking something when you wrote Debatable Space? 😉

I’m tempted to try some illicit drugs as a way of calming myself down a little; my natural metabolism is WAY too high. But I prefer to use endorphins – Nature’s natural narcotic.

I do like safe formulaic writing – when I’m looking for something to read on a Friday night. But when I write, I want to take risks. We’ve all read so many novels, seen so many films; so I want to know, what else? And how else?

Will you please tell us a bit about yourself? Your work in TV, influences, etc?

I’ve had a gipsy life as a writer – a bit of this, a bit of that. I worked as a script editor, and a script reader – David Puttnam was my boss for many years, when I was a humble reader. I’ve been a TV development executive, a TV script editor, I wrote for the British cop series The Bill, I’ve even been involved in the production side of things, for a company called Lucky Dog.

Working in TV taught me about story – how to tell a story, how to brainstorm a story, and how you need to never underestimate your audience when telling that story. (Which of course most British TV shows do ALL the time – but it’s good to know your enemy!)

Will you please take us through the process of writing the book – what led to Lena popping into your head, any ‘eureka!’ moments where something worked even better than you thought it would, and seeing your book on the shelf for the first time?

I really don’t know where Lena came from; I just had that voice in my head, and I listened to it. I knew I wanted an “unreliable narrator”, someone self-deceiving, but ultimately loveable. And the moment Lena started talking to tinbrain, her remote computer – the tone and energy of the book was all there.

I started with a mind full of hazy ideas – solar yachts, space pirates, the notion of writing a story that was a yarn, not an interior monlogue. And then each section leaped into place as I continued through the book. The Cambria sequence was a particular delight for me.

Some stuff I had to work at – building up Peter Smith’s character, getting the balance between Lena’s thought diary and action-adventure. But most of it really was eureka stuff.

And I remember I went with a friend into Blackwell’s Bookshop on Charing Cross Road, just before the official publication date of the book – and found 3 or 4 copies on the shelf, which had snuck out early. My friend actually bought one, and got me to sign it! Now that was a good moment. Then a few seconds later, my wife phoned up to tell me the roof was leaking and we had an infestation of ladybirds in the bedroom. So I said, ‘Yeah, but who cares? My book’s on the shelf in Blackwell’s!’

The main concepts that you dealt with, such as Emergence and Primary Imagination; did they grow out of telling the tale, or did you know from the beginning that you wanted to deal with them?

Before I started writing, I did quite a bit of science reading to get my head in that space, and it was then that I became fascinated by emergence. It just struck me as the only answer I know of to that vital question; how does this stuff actually happen? Evolution explains how complicated things evolve, by surviving or dying out; but how do simple things get to be complicated things? Why isn’t the universe just a great big mush of mess? If entropy and chaos are the natural state of things then, huh? Explain a snowflake!

The concept of Primary Imagination is something that has always intrigued me. At University I was a huge fan of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who wrote ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, and who also wrote philosophy, and coined the phrase ‘suspension of disbelief’ to explain how we read and actively perceive fiction – and that phrase is still the best definition ever of the amazing magical thing that happens in our heads when we read a book, or see a film.

And it was Coleridge who coined the phrase Primary Imagination – based on his reading of Immanuel Kant – and guess what, it makes absolute sense. We each of us create the world, every time we look at it. We find pattern and beauty when we perceive matter that is actually made of atoms inhabiting weird quantum states, we see colour because of the way light interacts with our eyes, we make the real “real”. How cool is that?

You’ve given life to some incredible characters in DS; did any of them ever sneak up and surprise you with something you hadn’t planned?

Kalen’s ‘miaow’ was a bit of a shock to me. And Alby was the character I loved writing most – because he is so unpredictable, and hard to define, and so effortlessly powerful. I would love to have a friend like Alby.

You spoke of Michael Crichton’s novel Prey in the ‘Extras’ section at the back of DS; what are your opinions on ermergence and the ‘Hollywood’ threat of AI? (I say ‘Hollywood’ threat because it’s such a money-maker there)

Prey was indeed a great influence – Crichton (bless his memory) is such an uber-nerd that he actually has a reading list at the back of the book – which I devoured voraciously. The reading list proves he knows what emergence really is – a powerful ‘theory of everything’ for biologists. But he’s also smart enough to know that you can’t have a book without a villain; so he quite shamelessly uses emergence as a way of creating monsters.

I can’t be judgemental about that – I use the same approach myself all the time. You take the truth – great concepts in science – profound ideas – then you make a rattling good yarn out of them. So though I don’t really think emergence and nano-technology are any kind of urgent threat to us; it’s cool to write stories in which that is so!

You left clues all through the novel as to the final fate of Peter; how was it writing the particular character that did the deed?

The clues were particularly cunning because I didn’t really know that was going to happen at the end. But, without giving anything away – I wanted magic in the closing sections of the book, and hope I achieved that .

Lena is vibrant and emotional and utterly fearless (when it suits her); Will Lena (and Flanagan, and the rest of the pirates) ever return? We certainly miss her (all of them) already. 🙂

I’d love to write another Lena and Flanagan book, and hope to do so. I’d be wary, to be honest, of making a series of books about the characters – because that might make them seem ordinary, and it’s their extraordinariness that defines them.

But I do have a notion for a follow-up novel, featuring Lena’s son (a son she didn’t know she had) in cahoots with Flanagan and Lena, on a mission at the far edge of the galaxy…But I have a bundle of other ideas too, so I’m not sure which ones I’ll write next.

And finally, what’s next for you, and for us? Already working on the next novel?

I’m having a joyous time at the moment writing my third book, a noir sci-fi novel set several hundred years later than Debatable Space, in what I call the Exodus Universe. It’s a detective drama, a murder story, it has killer aliens, it has it all really! That should be ready to send to my editor (DongWon Song) in the autumn I hope.

Meanwhile – book number 2 is to be published later this year. It’s called RED CLAW, and it’s similar to DEBATABLE SPACE, despite being totally different in every single respect. It’s not a space opea, it’s a thriller set on a planet rich in deadly aliens. And the main characters are a bunch of scientists who, like me, are geeks; geeks in peril no less.

Orbit have put a lot of work into designing a cover and approach for the new novel that will, we hope, make it stand out. The cover is “pulp”, but with attitude; and it’ll be published in the rather snazzy “B Format” – the paperback format that’s used for Iain M. Banks’ books here in the UK.

RED CLAW is my love song to the old fashioned ‘bug eyed monsters’ genre – the twist being, each of the bug-eyes monsters in my story has a Latin name, and a beauty all its own. It’s really a novel about the joy of discovery, and the naturalist’s love of nature – with a bunch of killer doppelanger robots shooting the hell out of everyone along the way.

Thanks, Philip, for giving up your time to answer these questions, and for writing such a brilliant novel! We wish you all the best!

A pleasure – and let’s keep in touch.

If you haven’t had a chance to read DS yet, and are wondering what DS is, check out my review of the excellent debut here. 🙂

debatable-space

I’m sure the wait for the interview was worth it, don’t you agree? 🙂 And I’m sure you’re all looking foward to Philip’s second book for Orbit, Red Claw. If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the cover; and go ahead, have a good laugh! I know I did! 🙂

redclaw5

Check out Philip’s website here for further updates from him, and check out Orbit’s website here. 🙂

You can also order Debatable Space here (US) and here (UK), and pre-order Red Claw here (UK).

Be Fantastic!

P.S. Did you know that John Jarrold is Philip’s agent? 🙂

 
3 Comments

Posted by on April 11, 2009 in Interviews

 

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An Interview with Kate Elliot / Alis A Rasmussen

Yep, for those of you who didn’t know, ‘Kate Elliott’ is not a real person. 🙂 Hehehe you know what I mean. 🙂

Kate Elliott and Alis Rasmussen

Kate Elliott and Alis Rasmussen

First off, welcome to the South African SFF-reading public, Alis (Kate), and thank you for doing this interview! 🙂
Would you please tell us a bit about yourself?

I breathe. I write. I am a parent. I have great parents. I’m married. I paddle outrigger canoes for exercise and focus and meditation . . . oh, maybe you meant about the books? I don’t actually talk about myself much in public. I’m a fairly private person, and I really put everything in my books. That’s not to say that the main characters are some iteration of me, or that I have an agenda when I write, or anything like that, but just that for me I try to make sense of the world and of the human condition by writing fiction. I also write to entertain myself. And, I consider writing a kind of addiction or disorder, but mostly in a positive way, because when the writing is going well it’s just about the best thing ever, it’s like being in an altered state where words are simply flowing through you. If you’re in the zone, you are totally in the moment and not struggling or exhausted. It’s like a form of joy without strictly being joy, a state of being without future or past but right here right now. What’s not to love? I mean, besides the parts of writing where you are struggling and/or exhausted and/or discouraged? The key is that I am very stubborn. That more than anything has allowed me to continue writing over the years.

Do you sometimes think it unfair that you had to publish under a different name to see your novels on the shelf?

I figure I’m already extremely fortunate to be doing what I’m doing, and to be doing it full-time (not having to have another paid job), and to have had 18 novels published so far, with my nineteenth due to be published in August 2009. For me, it’s always been about the work. I don’t much care what name it’s published under. Honestly, what a pleasure and a dream it is–despite all the hard work and tearing out of hair and beating one’s head bloody against the wall when things aren’t going well and all the doubts and fears and setbacks and indeed the entire staggering degree of uncertainty and (impermanence)–to be a working writer.

Will you please give us an overview of your body of work for those who have not yet read ‘Kate Elliott’? The novels and their subject matter?

I think many readers would suggest that I’m best known, and best read for, character and world building. I would say that every book I’ve written has been about cultures in the process of change, and how cultures meet and interact (sometimes violently, sometimes peacefully, and everything in between). They’ve been about other things as well, but my mother is herself an immigrant and my father was a history teacher, so perhaps my thematic interest in this vein was inevitable.

So.

The first four Kate Elliott books are the Novels of the Jaran: Jaran (volume one); An Earthly Crown and His Conquering Sword (volumes two and three, but, confusingly, actually a duology whose over-title is The Sword of Heaven); The Law of Becoming. I facetiously like to call this sf series Genghis Khan meets Jane Austen on the set of Lawrence of Arabia. Jaran has a strong love story component, although it’s also about politics and adventure; the later books really open up outward to deal with ideas about empire, cultural change, a young man’s coming of age, a girl’s coming of age, war, colonialism, theater, sex, and so on. I guess you could call it anthropological sf.

Crown of Stars is a seven volume epic fantasy series. It’s epic fantasy, so: war, magic, and politics; also, I try to highlight the lives of ordinary people whose lives are disrupted by the goings-on around them. Also: dogs. I love dogs.

Crossroads is a trilogy (Spirit Gate, Shadow Gate, Traitors’ Gate), also epic fantasy. It has less overt magic and is more about the meeting and mingling of cultures, as people from one region are exiled into a land called the Hundred, which is under assault by a mysterious army that seems to have risen from within the Hundred. There are reeves who patrol on giant eagles, and the vanished Guardians, whose role in the growing chaos is greater than people at first realize. Oddly, there are no dogs in this book. Oh, wait, we glimpse some dogs in book one whose descendants we will meet in a later trilogy.

Your body of work in Fantasy is
amazing: is there any particular project that remains close to your heart?

That’s like asking if there is one of my children I love better than the others, isn’t it? I could find at least one thing in each book I’ve written that I love about that particular book more than any of the other books–a scene, a detail, a conversational exchange, whatever. There may be a few books whose line-up of favorite things is longer than some of the others, but beyond that I am sure I love them all equally.

I suspect that the project closest to my heart at any given time is the one I’m currently working on, because it is what is absorbing me in the moment.

What have you found to be the best way of relaxing during or between projects? Have you ever wanted to just pull your hair out and demand more hours in the day from the universe?

I’m in a constant wrestle with the universe about the lack of enough time to get all the things done I want to get done. I may not always be actually writing, but I’m always thinking about writing, about character, about plot, about craft, about research, about world building; it never ends.

Having said that, the two best ways for me to relieve stress are
1) reading. I’m one of those people for whom reading is profoundly relaxing, to the degree that reading can put me to sleep because I stop thinking about what is outside myself and focus only on the flow of words.
2) paddling (or exercise–I used to do martial arts, for example, but right now paddling outrigger canoes is my obsession). Being out on the ocean is the single most stress-releasing activity I know. There’s something about being out on the waves, feeling the pattern of the swells and the weight of the vast, knowing that beyond the horizon lie thousands of miles of ocean, and being fully focused on the moment–the water, the sky, and the necessary attention to put your blade in the water at the same time as the rest of the crew–that makes it possible to leave everything else behind. Also, very occasionally the breaks will be just right that we can catch a wave in our six-man canoe, and those seconds of surfing in a big canoe are pretty amazing, too. Also, we commonly see sea turtles, and I’ve also seen dolphins and a whale and her calf close up. The ocean puts you in your place in the great scheme of the universe, and somehow that makes me feel better.

Have you ever done any physical training, such as with weapons, while doing research for a particular novel?

I grew up in a rural area; I have some experience doing outdoor work–for instance, I’ve moved irrigation pipe in a pasture with a bull, although he was a very good-natured placid bull–and I was raised in a house heated with a wood stove whose wood we supplied through our own labor. So for instance, in Book Three of Crown of Stars (The Burning Stone), I spend a paragraph describing Prince Sanglant splitting wood in part because that activity is such an essential part of living in that world (one often ignored or neglected) and in part because it’s an activity I myself enjoyed. In general I try in my fiction to remember the work involved on a day to day basis to stay alive in a society where there aren’t supermarkets and gas stations and ready-to-wear clothing purchased in department stores.

While I haven’t specifically done any physical training *while* doing research for a particular novel in order to teach myself something that is in that novel, I have always been athletic and have done physical training and sports for my own pleasure, some of which were martial arts. I practiced Shotokan Karate for about four years, and the heroine of my Highroad Trilogy (published under Alis A. Rasmussen) is a karateka (although I hasten to add that she is nothing like me and is in no way an avatar of myself; I saw the opportunity to use what I knew within the context of the story). I’ve done medieval broadsword fighting, so I can honestly say that I met my husband in a sword fight. A number of the battles in Crown of Stars are adapted from melees and battles that either I or my husband fought in while participating in the Society for Creative Anachronism some years ago. Without the actual killing and dying part, which I feel it’s well to remember which I hasten to add makes such fighting very much less than “real.” But in terms of weight and movement on a field, one can learn something from that experience.

Look for paddling and canoes to show up in some context in a future novel, maybe Crossroads #4.

With such a sustained emergence of Fantasy authors continuously entering the market, do you think that a saturation point may be reached?

No. Not unless people stop reading. I think the problem comes with figuring out who to read out of the many titles that are available. It’s easy for interesting books to get overlooked in a crowded marketplace. But this–visibility and access–is part of the connected world that is still being sorted out.

You must have been on many book tours and have had to sign many books: is there any tour that stands out in particular, one that you really enjoyed?

While I’ve done a number of bookstore signings, I’ve only been on two book tours, the first for The Golden Key (co-written with Melanie Rawn and Jennifer Roberson) in 1996, and the second in Fall 2006 for the release of Spirit Gate, shared with Melanie Rawn for her release Spellbinder.

I find touring difficult and tiring; I’m not an extrovert and while I really enjoy and appreciate meeting readers, I don’t thrive in the constant “on stage” environment. I thank all the readers I’ve met who’ve been kind enough to come out to see me.

With fantasy changing as a genre and the emphasis turning to grittier, un-formulaic storylines, what do you feel began this shift, and do you see it as a good or a bad thing?

Change is a thing, neither good nor bad. Change is inevitable. To paraphrase Heracleitus, “no one can step into the same river twice.” People’s tastes, interests, and the way they approach writing has changed as society has changed. Glen Cook’s Black Company series was perhaps a harbinger; I also believe C. J. Cherryh’s writing has done a lot to influence the current “grittier” state of the field. Those are just two off the top of my head.

I think we’re in a golden age of fantasy writing, both adult and YA (young adult). There’s so much great stuff being published, far too much for any one person to read, but I’m delighted to have the chance to try. This is a wonderful time to be reading fantasy. Maybe that’s the definition of a saturated market: there are too many good books for me to have the time to read them all.

However, I’m not convinced the grittier storylines are necessarily less formulaic. A certain kind of grittiness seems awfully formulaic to me from my perspective as–let’s be blunt–a 50 year old woman who has seen a bit of life in her time. I’ve developed a bit of a jaundiced view of certain kinds of what I would call societally masculine-gendered fixations, or the idea that certain things are shocking or non formulaic when they strike me as obvious or predictable. I think it’s often a matter of where you’re standing. I still see sexism — less overt, usually, than in days of yore and often arising mostly out of unthought-through assumptions or because of simply not “seeing” or taking notice of entire swathes of human activity — in 21st century science fiction and fantasy. Also, modern life skates over plenty of things that folk in older days could not take for granted, and sometimes that skating translates into the fiction in ways that make certain kinds of “grit” seem not just predictable but a bit shallow. There are matters of taste involved as well. Things that don’t strike me as surprising may strike a different reader as revelatory, and that’s as it should be. We’re not all supposed to have the same tastes or reactions. In fact, few things irritate me as much as a certain kind of reader who would like to mandate what others ought to be liking. So–bring on the grit. I love it. Just don’t try to convince me that it is somehow inherently more stunningly original than other stuff.

Thank you, Alis, for giving up some of your time for this interview, and for the wonderful worlds and characters you’ve taken us too and shared with us! 🙂

Shadow Gate

Shadow Gate

For more info on Kate / Alis, check out here official website here. 🙂

UPDATE: I can’t spell. 🙂 You’ll see that I’ve fixed up the spelling of Elliott (put in the second ‘t’) throughout the post, but haven’t changed the title – there are already links to it, so I left it alone. 🙂 Just call me a dumbass, please. 🙂

 
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Posted by on January 11, 2009 in Interviews