Interview with Sebastien de Castell
This week I’m asking five different questions to five different authors. Anthony Ryan, Kameron Hurley, Teresa Frohock and Jeff Salyards have all taken their turn. My final victim guest is Sebastien de Castell, author of The Greatcoats series. The third book in that series, Saint’s Blood, is out now.
Hi Sebastien, thanks for joining me.
1. Let’s start with something easy. On the FAQ on your website, you assure readers that whilst Sebastien de Castell might sound like a made-up fantasy author name, it is in fact your real name. Since we’re all friends here, though, can you give us an exclusive on what your *real* real name is?
When my mother was pregnant, she and my father argued at great length over what to name me. The question proved unresolvable through reasoned debate and so my father suggested approaching the issue scientifically: since they wanted me to one day become a respected novelist, why not survey a large group of people about what name would most exemplify my future profession?
That’s why my real name is Writey McWriteface.
Maybe you could use that as a pen name if you ever needed one. It would certainly catch the eye on a cover.
2. I often see the trio of Falcio, Kest and Brasti from the Greatcoats series compared to the Three Musketeers. Did you have the Musketeers in mind when you planned the books? Is theirs a period of history that you are familiar with?
I’m thrilled when readers make comparisons between my books and those of Dumas, but I think that comes less from similarities of character or setting and more from sharing resonances with the broader tradition of swashbuckling adventure novels. Despite being a fantasy novelist, my roots aren’t so much with Tolkien or his antecedents but more with the writers of the roguish, picaresque tales that began in the 16th century and eventually wound up more in the cinema than on bookshelves.
Those influences blended naturally for me with the narrative voice of the noir stylists like Raymond Chandler and the combination of the two is where I live as a writer. Whether I’m writing about swordfighting magistrates in an Early Modern fantasy world or about weird detectives in our own, the mixture of swashbuckling optimism and noir world-weariness are always compelling for me, so they’re always at the core of my writing.
3. On your blog, you talk about how the emotional stakes for your long-suffering protagonist, Falcio, need to escalate with each new book. Did you ever worry that you might run out of ways to torment him? When other authors kill off their characters, do you feel that they are letting them off lightly?
I absolutely worry about running out of ways to torment Falcio. Despite all his heroic (and sometimes not-so-heroic) qualities, Falcio has always felt very real to me—someone who sees the world for what it is but desperately wants to believe that there’s some perfect combination of skill, wit, and decency that can change it. Purely cynical characters are easy to write because cynicism doesn’t require a lot of internal fortitude. With Falcio, though, I have to push him as far as I can without ever reaching that point where a human being would simply not have the emotional capacity to try and stand up one more time. That’s why the other characters like Kest and Brasti--but most especially Valiana and Aline—are so important. It’s only when Falcio sees someone new stepping up that he finds the strength to do so himself.
As to killing off characters, I think most writers genuinely wrestle with that decision. It’s always risky—there are readers who simply won’t stand for it. None of us want to alienate the people who love our stories, so when a favourite character dies in a book, it’s because the author truly believes that it’s a necessary consequence of what’s taken place before.
All fantasy writers are mass murderers. Except me, of course. I don’t kill any of my characters – the other characters do it, and I just write down what happened. ;)
4. The fight scenes in The Greatcoats are full of great detail. I understand that your experience of duelling comes from working in the theatre as a fight choreographer. But what experience of fighting did you have before you became a fight choreographer? (Note, pleading the fifth amendment is not allowed.)
I used to fence quite a lot, but I’ve never been someone who got into a lot of fights. I think we often forget that the experience of injuring another human being is actually quite horrific unless you’ve got something terribly wrong with you.
Oddly, my career as a musician has at least as profound an effect on my writing of duelling scenes as my background in fight choreography. For me, it’s all about finding that tempo and rhythm, and making the flow of the fight and the cadence of the text come together.
5. Your forthcoming young adult series Spellsinger is described as bursting with tricks, traps and magic. What else can you tell us about the series?
If Harry Potter turned out to be a muggle and a female Han Solo decided to teach him how to survive in the world on swagger and ingenuity instead of just magic, you’d have Spellslinger.
The book is definitely full of tricks and traps and magic, but I wanted to write a novel about someone for whom those things don’t come easily. Spellslinger is really a book about that moment in your life when you discover that you are not, in fact, the ‘chosen one.’
Despite what parents, comics, and television have been promising, most of us really aren’t the smartest or most talented or even the most likable people around. We usually discover this at the worst possible time—in our teens when everything is telling us that we should be special and unique and amazing. To be ordinary in that time is terrifying, and it feels like the only choices are to keep deluding yourself that if you just keep waiting your grand destiny will reveal itself, or else to become morose and self-absorbed, convinced that the world will only allow you a mundane existence. Sometimes, though, if you’re very, very lucky, there’s someone in your life who knocks you on the head and shows you that, while you are indeed not special, if you can cleverly combine all the little vaguely interesting pieces of who you are, you can make yourself special.
When I was growing up as an awkward, non-special teenager, that was the most powerful and valuable magic trick of them all.
Thanks again for the interview!
To find out more about Sebastien, check out his website here.