Interview with David Forbes

Give us a brief summary of David Forbes the Writer and The Amber Wizard.

I’m 40 years old and worked in banking for about 16 years until a year ago when I was laid off after a merger and decided to write full-time. That ended a few weeks ago with my return to the work force at another bank, but I’m hoping in a few years to be earning enough from my writing to make a go of it full-time again. So get out there and buy those copies (or two or three!) to help me fulfill my dream! 🙂

The Amber Wizard is about the pitfalls of arrogance, and how blind ambition and too much confidence in one’s own abilties can be a terrible thing and have all kinds of disastrous consequences. It’s also the story of a hidden crime so vast and terrible that it threatens to undo the world itself when it is finally brought to light.

More to the point of the plot, it’s the tale of the end of wizards. They are a dying race, and they find a headstrong prince who has the potential to become the strongest wizard their world has seen for eighteen hundred years. It’s about his training, and his overwhelming desire to leave his mark on the world in a way that surpasses even his mighty ancestors. In doing so he inadvertently opens a magical portal that allows a long-dead being to return to the world of the living, who desires to right the wrongs done to him and his people ages ago.

What made you choose to write an epic fantasy? Were there any perceived conventions you wanted to twist or break? Why do you think that epic fantasy has such a vast and fractured fanbase — those who either rabidly support or denounce a particular author?

I’ve always enjoyed epic fantasy. I liked it at first because of the world-building aspects, which is still a big draw for me. It’s interesting to create a different world with its own history and mythologies, unique cultures, systems of magic, and then tie them together in an interesting story.

As far as breaking conventions, I’m trying to avoid the standard quest formula, where our band of intrepid heroes has to find magic object X before the villain conquers the world. And I do not have any “evil” characters at all, at least in the sense of how epic fantasies use them. There are antagonists, to be sure, and some of them are pretty nasty, but they all have their reasons for behaving the way they do. None of them are out to enslave or destroy the world.

I think fantasy fans are fairly conservative in that they know what they like and they just want more of it, with very little variation. Some of the more popular writers who seem to just regurgitate stale plots without adding anything new to them (and that last point is key; I think it’s okay to use a formula as long as you bring something new to the table) get a lot of derision in some circles, but they’re also big sellers and make lots of money.

But honestly, I don’t think that’s different than any other genre. There are stale mystery writers, stale science fiction writers, stale romance writers, stale chick-lit writers — pretty much every category of fiction you can find. It’s just that we’re focused on the genre we like and so it seems that we’re stuck with all the bad ones, but we’re not.

What was the spark that generated the idea which drove you to write The Amber Wizard in the first place?

The original idea was to do a sort of fantasy version of DUNE, focusing on using religion as a weapon to conquer a world. In DUNE, Paul becomes the Messiah of the Fremen religion, but Herbert never really did much with that aspect of it because he was focused more on power and its uses and how it corrupts than Paul’s actual beliefs.

I thought it would be interesting to write a book where a character becomes a follower of a monotheistic religion and uses that religion to unite a fractured continent under a single ruler, similar to the Holy Roman Empire. An early draft of THE AMBER WIZARD had this subplot in it, but it was just too much for the book, so it’s been moved (and greatly changed) to book two, THE WORDS OF MAKING.

The big question is, does he really believe in the religion, or is he just using it to further his own ends.

The Amber Wizard and the Osserian Saga seem like a lot of other fantasy sagas on the shelves, with the youth-with-hidden powers facing off against the Dark-Lord-in-shadows. What would you tell jaded readers sets your work apart from its contemporaries.

Well, I would disagree with the assertion that there’s a Dark Lord at all in The Amber Wizard. There is no evil character in the book, no one out to take over or enslave the world. Asankaru is arrogant and proud, but he is not evil, and when we see at the end what drives him, the horror he had faced, I think one can sympathize with his desire to protect his people. I think that is a key difference from other fantasies where there is a Dark Lord/Satan analog as the protagonist. The “twist” in the formula, so to speak.

The Words of Making is the struggle between two cultures, one of which believes their religious-based caste system is the only true model for civilization, which they need to bring to all the peoples of the world. So there’s nothing even remotely resembling a Dark Lord in it.

And while there is an Adversary hinted at in The Amber Wizard, who becomes more critical in later volumes, he is not going to be at all what anyone expects. Trust me on this.

Your magic system shows a great amount of detail, how long and intricately have you worked out its details?

Honestly, this is kind of funny. I remember back when STAR WARS first came out, there was an article in Starlog magazine where David Gerrold said something like George Lucas should have put in a scene where Ben Kenobi takes Luke out into the desert and calls down lightning or something like that in order to “make” him into a Jedi. And I thought that idea was really cool, and it stayed with me for years. So you’ll see that when Gerin has his powers Awakened, there is definitely an echo or homage to what Gerrold was thinking.

As to other aspects of magic, I thought it would be interesting and fun to have a system where wizards had specific levels of power that were defined by the color of their magical auras, so that for instance a golden wizard could work spells that required X amount of energy but not spells that needed X+10, but maybe a blue wizard could. And I wanted to work out that magic was a natural resource that wizards had the ability to mold and shape with spells.

I also thought about why some people would be wizards and others would not be, and decided that long ago they were a completely separate race, and that after a devastating war they began to intermarry with non-wizards, which sealed their doom, since wizardry is something of a recessive genetic trait in Osseria. So over time they have dwindled in number until they are now almost gone.

Even though your story fits the mold of Epic Fantasy, the cultures and world seem more distinct, more flavored than the typical medieval setting. What cultures or books inspired the societies and nations in the Osserian Saga?

Thank you! My father was something of an amateur historian, and I read a lot of his books and always had an interest in history myself. I think by grounding a world in something that is similar to our own past gives it more weight, more verisimilitude. And of course then you need to add your own touches and influences to make it unique.

I have pages and pages of chronological history written out that covers about 14,000 years. By doing that I can make references to past events the way we would in our world — for instance, discussing the Civil War or the fall of Rome. Casual remarks that we understand because we share a common history. By having characters make references to their own shared history, even when we might not completely grasp what they’re talking about, makes it “feel” more real.

I don’t know that there was any specific inspiration for the world or cultures, though. Just a mish-mash of everything I’ve read and studied over the years, plus whatever I could add to it myself.

Do you think your previous life in banking/marketing prepared you in any way for life as a writer?

Not particularly. They’re very different tasks and there’s not a lot of overlap. I got to be pretty creative as a marketing product manager, but it was a very different creativity from my writing.

What do you feel is your strength as a writer/storyteller?

Well, I’m still learning my craft, but I think I can put together a pretty entertaining story that has some thematic weight to it. Lots of my notes are about what the books mean, along with things like plot details and characters. It’s okay if the readers don’t pick up on all of that as long as the story is still gripping, but I an very conscious of subtext as I write.

I still need to work on characterization. They all seem very real to me, but I need to be better about making them feel alive and real on the page. But I am working very hard on that.

The writing is only one aspect of publishing a book. What in the whole of the publishing process was the biggest surprise or debunked myth?

I honestly never realized that the publisher had to go out and sell the books they were publishing to the wholesalers and the stores! I thought HarperCollins would just print 30,000 or 40,000 copies, ship them off and say, “Here you go, stock your shelves.” I was pretty surprised when I found out they have salespeople whose job is to sell and market this stuff in order to help books succeed in the marketplace. I just had no idea.

You have done a lot of self-promoting on the Internet. Do you feel that most publishers don’t yet understand the full potential of this tool, in terms of exploiting the wealth of fantasy-related websites, message boards, and blogs?

I don’t think it’s that they don’t understand or appreciate it, but they simply don’t have the resources. There may be some online advertising for The Amber Wizard, which I’m guessing will be banner ads on certain websites, but I’m not sure. But other than that, they simply don’t have the people or the time to be hanging out online promoting all the different books they publish. They leave that up to individual writers, who can be as active as they want.

Will there be a promo tour this spring? Will you be attending a number of conventions?

There’s no tour for this book, unfortunately. Some local signings, that’s about it. But I may try to get to Balticon in May and maybe a few others. It will depend on my schedule.

What authors makes you shake your head in admiration?

Top of the list is Neal Stephenson. I am in awe that he can be so erudite, pack so much information into a book, and still tell a great story in a prose style that often has me laughing out loud.

I think Michael Connelly is brilliant as far as crafting intricate mystery plots and creating varied and interesting characters. George Martin, R. Scott Bakker, and Steven Erickson are all at the pinnacle of the epic fantasy world right now. James Ellroy is pretty smoking, though his rat-a-tat prose style is becoming kind of old.

Given the choice, would you take a New York Times bestseller, or a World Fantasy Award? Why, exactly?

Best seller, no question. I want as many readers as possible. Not only does that help pay the bills — while I’m not motivated by money, it sure is a nice thing to have! — a bestseller means you’ve probably broken out of the fantasy reader base and acquired some mainstream readers as well.

Peer or fan recognition is always nice, but given the choice, I’ll take the bestseller.

What is a typical writing day for David Forbes?

When I was writing full-time I would get up around six-thirty, get myself ready and get my son off to school, then sit down and pretty much write all day, five days a week. Now that I’ve returned to an 8-5 work environment, I’m back to my old routine, which is writing in the evenings and on weekends when I have time. Basically squeezing it in wherever possible.

You have a YA novel cooking up. What can you tell us about it?

It’s called Foreverness and takes place in the area where I live, Southcentral Pennsylvania. It’s about a sixteen-year-old boy who finds himself in the middle of an ages-long conflict between factions of angelic beings who think he has the key to understanding God’s plan for the world. The central conceit is that angels don’t know God any more than we do, and have their own conflicting beliefs about what they think He wants from them. They argue and fight wars over religion just like we do! So it’s very different from The Osserian Saga, but I really like it and hope it finds a publishing home soon.

Outside of Fantasy and writing, what keeps you interested?

My six-year-old keeps me pretty busy, but I’m a big football fan (I’ve loved the Steelers since the second grade, so I was pretty happy with this year’s Super Bowl, evne though the game itself was something of a bore compared to the playoffs), I read as much as I can, not only fantasy but history, mystery, science fiction, and some mainstream stuff. And I’m a huge Battlestar Galactica fan!

Thanks again for the great questions!

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