Five Author Interviews - Round One
Next week on my blog I'll be interviewing Michael Fletcher, Tom Lloyd, Ilana C. Myer, Peter Newman and Adrian Tchaikovsky. To keep you going until then, here are the five interviews I did earlier this year with Mark Lawrence, Brian Staveley, Luke Scull, Brad Beaulieu and Django Wexler. They're well worth a read.
Interview with Mark Lawrence
To mark the launch of my debut, When the Heavens Fall, I’m asking five different questions to each of five different authors this week. In the coming days I’ll be quizzing Brian Staveley, Luke Scull, Brad Beaulieu and Django Wexler, but first to face the glare of my inquisitorial spotlight is Mark Lawrence, author of The Broken Empire series and the Red Queen’s War series.
Hi Mark, and thanks for doing the interview.
1. Let’s start with something easy. What is your bank account number and password?
#1, and like Jorg my password is divine fecking right!
Ah, a Prince of Thorns quote! And while we’re on the subject of quotes . . .
2. The protagonist of The Broken Empire series, Jorg, has a wonderful turn of phrase. What’s your favourite “Jorgism”, and how long do you think it will be before the word makes its way into our dictionaries?
The most popular Jorg quote on Goodreads is not my favourite: “Tell me, tutor,” I said. “Is revenge a science, or an art?”
But I liked the next three most popular:
“We die a little every day and by degrees we’re reborn into different men, older men in the same clothes, with the same scars.”
“There’s something brittle in me that will break before it bends.”
“Memories are dangerous things. You turn them over and over, until you know every touch and corner, but still you'll find an edge to cut you.”
But perhaps you were referring to actual Jorgisms which are things Jorg would say, but didn't actually say in the books. I have some here.
Of Jorgisms I like: You’re either part of the solution or small bloody chunks of the problem.
My favourite is actually sixteenth on the Goodreads list: “Most men have at least one redeeming feature. Finding one for Brother Rike requires a stretch. Is 'big' a redeeming feature?”
3. Neither Jorg nor Jalan from the Red Queen’s War series are what you might call ‘heroes’ in the traditional sense, yet I still found myself rooting for them. What do you think is the key to making an otherwise unsympathetic character sympathetic?
Possibly it's not caring whether you do or not. I just aim to make characters interesting. Sympathy is over-rated. I guess a sense of humour helps. Jalan and Jorg both share that, though they have little else in common.
4. I’ve heard it said that there’s a little bit of every author in each of their characters. Which part of the ‘drinker, gambler and seducer of women’, Jalan, do you most relate to?
It may be said, but I don't think it's true. Once you've written enough characters it's quite clear you can't share something with all of them. I'm not an extrovert, which pretty much gives me zero overlap with Jalan right there.
5. Congratulations on your deal for the forthcoming Red Sister trilogy. I understand the inspiration for Jorg was Alex from Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, and the inspiration for Jalan was George MacDonald Fraser's Flasman. Who, if anyone, is the inspiration for the Red Sister protagonist, Thorn?
In this instance there is none ... I'm ripping nobody off ... scary stuff!
Thank you again for your time!
Interview with Brian Staveley
To mark the launch of my debut, When the Heavens Fall, I’m asking five different questions to each of five different authors this week. Yesterday I spoke to Mark Lawrence, and next to stare at me with a mixture of suspicion and dread is Brian Staveley, author of the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne. Book two in the series, The Providence of Fire, is out now.
Hi Brian, and thanks for dropping in.
1. I always like to break the ice with an easy question. So what’s the one thing about yourself that you’d least like the rest of the world to know? (Don’t worry, we can keep a secret.)
I have a really hard time working – really working, ass in the chair, fingers on the keyboard – for more than two hours at a stretch. This feels preposterously lazy. I try all sorts of things to trick myself into squeezing out an extra hour of focus – turning off the internet, taping insults to the top of my computer screen, etc. My roommate years ago came home to find a sign on the wall to our apt that read: WRITE THE FUCKING BOOK YOU PIECE OF SH!T. Nothing seems to work. Even when I put in a twelve-hour day, that probably boils down to no more than seven or eight hours of real work. Luckily, I’m able to focus and write quickly during those hours. Still, I’ve always been in awe of people who can get it done hour after hour after hour, stopping only to put more coffee in the cup.
It’s lucky your roommate didn’t see that sign and think it was aimed at them.
2. Which of the characters in The Emperor’s Blades was the most fun to write?
I’ve had a great time with the characters who have a sense of humor. Epic fantasy can be so deadly serious – the fate of humanity is always hanging in the balance; there are all these ancient prophecies; people keep dying in horrible ways… My books include all of that stuff, but it’s a relief when someone – one of the characters in the world – looks around and says, “Hey! Why are all you assholes getting so worked up?”
3. I loved the giant birds that the Kettral fly into battle on. Are we going to be seeing more of them in book two?
Absolutely! And I’ve just finished up the concluding volume, The Last Mortal Bond. No spoilers here, but it’s packed with Kettral. Would be a shame, after all, to introduce a giant-hawk-mounted elite fighting force in the first book and then forget all about it. Those birds aren’t cheap to feed, either. If they’re eating one sheep a day, they’ve got to pull their weight…
Sheep? I was kind of hoping there were giant squirrels out there somewhere that they fed on!
4. Now that you’ve finished the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne series, are your thoughts already turning to what comes next? Would you like to write more in the same world, or do something completely different?
I’m almost certainly going to write more in the same world. Stories, even the shortest, are never entirely hermetic. When the characters walk off-stage, they don’t evaporate. Towns that our protagonists pass through in the middle of the night are still there the next morning, even if the reader isn’t reading about them; the inhabitants have their own struggles, their own victories and tragedies. When you write a story the size of most epic trilogies, there are hundreds of these threads, probably thousands. I’d love to explore some of the physical locations that are barely mentioned in this tale, and I’m hoping to devote entire novels to some of the secondary or tertiary characters in this series.
5. What sort of things do you want readers to take away from your books? What do you want them to feel when they finish the last page, aside from a pressing urge to pick up your next book?
I think a writer’s on pretty shaky ground when he tries to tell readers what to make of his books. My take is just my take, and it’s clear to me, from talking to hundreds of readers over the last few years, that these books are alive in different ways for each person who opens the cover. That said, it might be worth mentioning that I write the prologue to each book last, after the whole thing, including most of the editing, is finished. That’s because I’m hoping, with each prologue, to offer a sort of lens through which to look at the rest of the novel, or a key that might unlock certain scenes.
And now a bonus sixth question just for you! You kindly provided a quote for my debut, When the Heavens Fall, that appeared on the front cover of the US edition. Could you please explain to our readers, in no less than TEN THOUSAND WORDS, why you think they should rush out and buy the book right now?
Okay, you don’t really have to answer that one.
Thanks again for the interview!
Interview with Luke Scull
To mark the launch of my debut, When the Heavens Fall, I’m interrogating five different authors this week. Mark Lawrence and Brian Staveley have already taken their turn. Next to struggle uselessly against his shackles is Luke Scull, author of The Grim Company. His second novel, Sword of the North, is out now in all good bookshops. And in a few bad ones too, probably.
Hi Luke, and thanks for joining me.
1. As with my other interviewees, I’ll start with an easy question. What are the roots of the equation -6x =2x² + 5 in simplest a +bi form?
The answer is of course -1.5 =/-0.5i.
What—was a simple little equation like that supposed to throw me? Me? A man of my towering intellect?Why…. I'll have you know it took mere seconds for Prince of Thorns author Mark Lawrence to give me the answer over Facebook…
(Apparently it's a formula taught to school kids for solving quadratic equations. I don't remember it… but then what I do remember learning from school doesn't include much beyond tying my shoelaces and swinging a mean conker.*)
* For those American readers out there, "conkers" is a school yard game where young boys attempt to break each other's nuts by swinging them fiercely at one another. This is but one of many reasons young Brits grow up to become such skilled grimdark authors.
And why you see so many funny walks out there, perhaps.
2. You mentioned in an interview with Written With A Sword that you thought you could rewrite The Grim Company now as a better book. How would you say your writing has improved between books one and two?
You learn all sorts of things writing your first book. From what I understand (because this never actually happened to me), a stream of rejections followed by a period of fierce denial and then grudging reflection are important milestones on the road to self-improvement. I skipped all that and went straight to selling my first novel in a blaze of hype and six-figure deals—which was incredibly fortunate but meant I didn't have the feedback (or time) to be able to critique my own writing until after I was published.
If we're talking about specifics, I learned some lessons about structuring a novel that would have greatly benefitted the first book—particularly the opening 100 pages. Some of my influences were too obvious in my writing. Unless there's a very good reason for cracking open the Thesaurus, I've also learned not to use a complex word when a simple word will do the job.
I think my writing improved significantly during the course of the first book. The second half of The Grim Company is noticeably stronger than the first.
3. In a review at Tor.com, The Grim Company was described as “as grimdark as fantasy gets”. Does grimdark correspond to your world view in general? When you see a parade, is your first instinct always to do a rain dance?
I try (and occasionally fail) to maintain a positive world view in the real world. My wife sometimes accuses me of being cynical but I doubt I'm alone in this among the writing profession. If we didn't constantly question the world around us—if we weren't always striving to seek the truth—we wouldn't be writers.
There's a lot of humour underpinning the "Grim" in The Grim Company. It's intentionally theatrical and over-the-top in places—the most terrible of situations often will stride the line between horror and comedy. It's all subjective but I certainly wouldn't say my writing is "as grimdark as fantasy gets." I recently read a book where a young child gets sliced in half due to a careless protagonist (who gives hardly any thought to the deed) and thousands of slaves are butchered by another, with no humour to leaven events whatsoever. Now that's grimdark—or possibly just "grim" depending on your definition…
You’re probably right about a lot of authors being cynical. Not me, though. And that noise you just heard was my wife falling off her chair.
4. Aside from being a writer, you’re also a designer of computer roleplaying games. What lessons have you learned from writing computer games that you have been able to bring to writing books?
I'd never have written a publishable first manuscript without the platform my game writing experience gave me. It taught me how to world-build, how to structure a story, and how to write snappy dialogue. It was also useful in training me to think through the permutations of my plot and character choices. And I had a whole depository of rejected ideas from my game work that I could plunder for my novels. That certainly made it easier to get the story rolling.
5. You did an interview for the Gemmell Awards where you mentioned you were thinking about writing outside the fantasy genre. Which genres in particular would interest you? Have you spotted a gap in the market for a grimdark/chicklit crossover? Or maybe a grimdark children’s book?
I'll be honest—and this may come as a shock—chicklit is not my forte. And didn't Joe Abercrombie already do the grimdark children's book?* I'm not writing anything that will get endlessly compared to Mr Abercrombie again!
I have some ideas for books that fall firmly outside the fantasy genre. I'm never as excited about a project as when I'm entering the unknown—doing something that I haven't done before. The key is to be realistic—acknowledge where my strengths lie and figure out how they might be applied to write a novel that hits the right notes commercially whilst offering something original.
I'll still be writing fantasy—it's my bread and butter. But my fantasy novels will probably be standalones for the foreseeable future. Multiple-volume secondary-world epic fantasy is incredibly challenging to write and I’d like to explore other forms of storytelling before rushing into another multi-book epic…
* Insert troll face smiley here.
Thanks again for your time!
Interview with Brad Beaulieu
To mark the launch of my debut, When the Heavens Fall, I’m asking five different questions to each of five different authors this week. Today, no doubt already regretting his decision to take part, is Brad Beaulieu, podcaster and author of the forthcoming Twelve Kings in Sharakhai.
Hi Brad, and thanks for being here.
1. I always like to open with an easy question. Rock, paper or scissors?
When I play with my kids, I typically start with rock. At the very least, if I win, it’s so much more satisfying when I smash their scissors.
Ha! I was thinking of paper, would you believe that? What do you mean ‘no’?
2. Twelve Kings in Sharakhai will mark the opening chapter of your second fantasy series, The Song of Shattered Sands. When you started writing it, was there anything in particular you wanted to do differently from what you’d done in your first series, The Lays of Anushka?
I’ve long wanted to scratch the itch to write a desert story. I can attribute this partly to liking the tales of the Arabian Nights (or One Thousand and One Nights), particularly the milieu. As The Lays of Anuskaya progresses, you can see more and more of the Persian-influenced Aramahn coming into the picture, culminating in long stretches of desert scenes in the final book, The Flames of Shadam Khoreh.
So the desert was something I really wanted to explore, but I’d probably give the most credit to the Thieves’ World anthologies for the inspiration for the setting. I loved the city of Sanctuary when I first starting reading the anthologies in high school. I loved that it was the “armpit of the empire,” that it was a meeting point of old and new as the Rankan Empire drove into Ilsigi territory, that there were pantheons of gods vying for power, and in fact commingling even as they fought. Above all, I loved the vastness of Sanctuary and the hidden wonders it contained.
The feel of that is what I wanted to explore with Sharakhai. Sharakhai is in some ways a mere city state. But in effect it controls trade throughout a massive desert bordered by four powerful kingdoms, and because it controls trade, it has amassed incredible wealth and power among all four kingdoms and the desert itself. It hasn’t done so without making enemies along the way, however. The twelve immortal kings of Sharakhai are hated by many.
And that’s where the story begins.
3. I note that you’ve already received some great comments on Twelve Kings from the likes of Glen Cook and C.S. Friedman. What’s the nicest comment you’ve ever received about one of your books?
I was really pleased to have the Lays of Anuskaya trilogy be named one of the Top 50 Essential Fantasies by Justin Landon of Staffer’s Book Review I was also honored to receive the Most Promising New Voice and Debut of the Year from Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist when The Winds of Khalakovo first came out. But really, I think the comments that I get the most joy out of are those that compare me to other authors.
Certain aspects of my writing have been compared to that of C. S. Friedman, Brandon Sanderson, George R. R. Martin’s, Guy Gavriel Kay’s, L. E. Modessit, Naomi Novik, and more. I’m not saying they were right. I don’t really like to compare myself to other writers when those authors have accomplished so much and I’ve yet to hit my stride, as it were. Even still, it’s very nice for others to see some things in my writing that remind them of authors that have written some beautiful stories and gone on to sell boatloads of books. I especially love comparisons to people that inspired me as a writer. C. S. Friedman was one of my biggest influences early on, and later, so were George Martin and Guy Gavriel Kay. To have their names mentioned in reference to my own work is an honor and a joy.
4. It’s good to see your Speculate Podcast still going strong. Do you think reviewing other authors’ books has caused you to re-evaluate your own writing?
Well, I don’t know if I’d use the term re-evaluate. But certainly I (we all) learn through osmosis. I feel fortunate to have read the works that we’ve picked for the show and then gotten the chance to talk to the author about it in our interview episodes. There’ve been some real “ah ha!” moments for me on the show while talking to such wonderful guests—some of the best writers in the entire industry. And the writing technique shows force me to really dig into the work to pull out what I think was working well or, in some cases, not working so well. I definitely think I’ve learned from running Speculate, and I suspect (though who can really tell?) that it’s accelerated my progress as a writer as compared to where I might have been had I never started the podcast.
5. When you yourself were interviewed on Speculate last year, you gave advice on how writers could promote themselves. What’s the most shameful piece of self-promotion you’ve ever done, and do you mind if I use the idea myself?
I’m hoping you meant shameless and not shameful. And gosh, what have I done? I will say that most self-promotion makes me uncomfortable, and I think this is a truism for most authors: that we want to get ourselves out there but that we also feel uncomfortable talking about ourselves, because we’re taught that to do so is self-centered and boorish. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about it. I think if we can approach our writing obliquely, our potential audience will be much more receptive than simply taking a “buy my book” strategy.
So I think I’ll avoid the shameless question entirely—because to my mind it doesn’t work and in fact is often counterproductive—and instead focus on the most effective piece of promotion I’ve done. And that’d be networking. This is, in effect, one step removed from the actual promotion, but if you can reach out, be humble, make friends, talk about the stuff you love and that other likeminded people will also love, you’ll start expanding your network of fans, reviewers who like your work, industry folks who know about you, and so on. Be friendly. Be positive. Promote other people’s work (the very approach these interviews are taking; well done, Marc!). If you do these things, you can also reach out for requests. Would you like to read my work? I’d love to be on your website if you’d like me to talk about this or that.
Approach it as a long game. Be outgoing and reach beyond your circle of friends and acquaintances, but also recognize that it’ll take time to build from that into a wider network. Over time, you’ll find your reach expanding, and noes will start to turn into maybes and yeses.
Also, write awesome books, because really, what better piece of marketing is there than having a book that people are talking about?
Write awesome books. Damn, I knew I’d forgotten to do something.
Thanks again for the interview!
Interview with Django Wexler
To mark the launch of my debut, When the Heavens Fall, I’m asking five different questions to each of five different authors this week. Mark Lawrence, Brian Staveley, Luke Scull and Brad Beaulieu have all taken their turn. Last, but by no means least, to shift nervously in his seat is Django Wexler, cat lover and author of The Shadow Campaigns and The Forbidden Library.
Hi Django, and thanks for joining me.
1. Let’s start with an easy question. What are your views on Michio Kaku’s account of the structure of the universe from a superstring perspective?
I’ve been disappointed by the lack of experimental verification from the LHC, whose recent experiments have excluded the possibility of s-quarks at energies less than 1.1 TeV. The requirements for six non-spatial or compacted dimensions also seems inelegant, although recent work on the mathematical properties of the Calabi-Yau manifold is fascinating. (h/t Dr. Wik I. Pedia)
Ah, Dr. Pedia, that fount of all knowledge. I know him well.
2. I understand that you read a lot of history. Aside from the fact that writing fantasy books doesn’t require much research, why did you choose to write fantasy over, say, historical fiction?
I love history, I love reading the stories and the great little details you can find. The advantage of fantasy as compared to historical fiction is that you can *use* history, as a guide and a source of ideas, but you’re not *bound* by it. You can grab some elements from one place and some from another to make the story work. I think the strength of fantasy, as fiction, is its ability to create a world that supports and highlights the type of story the author wants to tell.
3. The Shadow Campaigns takes place in a time akin to the Napoleonic era. If you were starting a new series tomorrow, which other period of history would you set it in?
That’s easy. I have a story in the anthology Operation Arcana which is set in a kind of alternate World War I, with huge land-battleships fighting giant clockwork spiders. I’ve got a novel (or series of novels) for that universe which I really hope to get around to someday. There’s a lot of cool history there.
4. Your middle-grade book The Mad Apprentice came out in April. Which do you enjoy writing more, middle-grade books or adult books? And if you say ‘both the same’, then somewhere a kitten will explode.
I wouldn’t want any exploding kittens on my conscience, but it DOES vary. Typically I “enjoy” whichever one I’m NOT currently working on, since the grass is always greener and so on. When I’m writing MG, I keep getting ideas for my adult books, and cool world design or political stuff that really wouldn’t fit. When I’m writing the adult stuff, usually by the end of the book I’m eager to tangle a shorter, more bite-sized project, plus I keep inventing new weird creatures!
5. I understand that writing for 8-12 years olds can be more lucrative than writing for adults. What first attracted you to the idea of writing shorter books for more money?
Ironically, that wasn’t really my motivation, although it has definitely been true. I’d finished The Thousand Names, which is about 200,000 words long, and I needed another project while we waited for edits to come back. I had an idea for another series, but I aimed at a shorter length per book, since I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to do two 200,000 word books per year. That kind of turned out to be a kids book, but I really didn’t know what I was doing; my editor helped me a lot with getting the feel right!
I feel a middle-grade book coming on myself.
Thank you again for your time!