Q: Without giving anything away, could you give your readers a taste of SHADOWPLAY?
It takes the stories in the first volume and deepens them. We find out more about what really exists BEHIND the world that the main characters knew — what they thought was the truth. We also see a lot more of both the human world and the lands behind the Shadowline, and get to know some of the “bad guys” a lot better and learn why they’re doing what they’re doing. And there’s monsters and stuff. (I always like monsters and stuff.)
Q: Authors often claim that the second volume of a trilogy is the most difficult one to write. Was it the case with SHADOWPLAY? Working on SHADOWMARCH was in all likelihood different from any of your previous writing endeavors for it started off as a web-based project. Was it more or less “business as usual” working on its sequel?
It was definitely difficult, because I had to do a lot of plotting and world-construction that would normally have been done during the first volume, but didn’t because at the time (while it was an online serial) I was just making it up on the fly and writing for deadline. So in the second volume I was often figuring out answers for things I would normally have already known AS I WAS WRITING those things. Interesting. Not restful. But I think in the long run the odd origin will work, as most hurdles do, to make the story interesting and unique.
Q: What was the spark that generated the idea which drove you to write SHADOWMARCH and the rest of the series in the first place?
Way back when — and I mean WAY back, like mid-90s — I had some talk with artists Roger Dean and Mike Kaluta about working on a fantasy film. That never happened, but I started thinking the genre was better suited for episodic television, since one of fantasy’s glories is extensive worldbuilding, something you can do a lot better over 26 episodes or whatever than in a 2 hour movie. So I began to construct a story that would mostly be based in a single location. I never managed to make it happen as a television show, but I became interested in the characters and the setting and wanted to do something with it, so I made SHADOWMARCH first an online project, then a book.
Q: Have the plotlines diverged much since you began writing the series, or did you have the entire plot more or less figured out from the very beginning? Were any characters added or further fleshed out beyond your original intention? Have you made any changes to your initial plans during the course of the writing of the series?
Yes, yes, and yes. I had some general ideas, some of which are still in play, for the overall story, but I didn’t think much beyond what’s become the first volume precisely because I didn’t want to lose the air of spontaneity — otherwise, why bother to publish online as you write. I’d like to say I always know everything that’s going to happen in my books, but I find that although I need to know a lot of the ending, and lots of highlights, I also need to discover things along the way. That’s what makes books more than simply plot, at least for me.
Q: Were there any perceived conventions of the fantasy genre which you wanted to twist or break when you set out to write SHADOWMARCH and its sequel? What about Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn?
Not so much break conventions as to take what I’d learned in the past fifteen or twenty years of writing and apply it to another epic fantasy. I’m not really an iconoclast so much as a BENDER of icons and expectations. I like to create an unconscious dialogue with the readers who are trying to outthink me. It’s like being a baseball pitcher: even if you have great stuff, a blazing fastball and a vicious curve, you still do best against professional hitters if you also change speeds a lot on those pitches and mix them up — deliver them at unexpected moments. Fantasy readers tend to read, well, a lot of fantasy fiction. I like to use that against them and keep them off-balance. (It also works for readers who aren’t as deeply into the genre, but they may not realize what’s happening to them.)
Q: After what can only be called an illustrious and prolific career, what motivates you to keep on writing?
Samuel Johnson said the prospect of being hanged “concentrates the mind wonderfully.” With me, it’s the prospect of not paying the mortgage and having to go live with my wife and children in an old refrigerator box under the freeway. Of course, if you’re talking about the ARTY side of the whole thing, there’s also the fact that every year that goes by as a writer I discover a hundred new things I don’t know how to do and wish I could. One of the great things about being a writer, or any kind of artist or craftsman, is that the challenges still remain right up until the day you pop your clogs.
Q: You have been writing novels for over two decades. What has changed the most in the fantasy genre since you began your career?
Not enough. It’s still largely (as far as I can tell) a comfort genre for a lot of readers — that is, many people will read any old rubbish as long as it has enough fantasy tropes in it. I still can count the number of writers whose work I look forward to on the fingers of two hands, and that’s because the ones I used to wait for eagerly have mostly died and only a few new ones have come along to take their places.
I should clarify this, actually. When I say “fantasy”, I’m talking about the more traditional part of the genre. If you interpret “fantasy” in its broadest form, including a lot of what gets called modern fiction or magic realism, then there’s plenty to read, and a lot of it very good.
Q: The fact that you have an official website on the internet is an indication that interaction with your readers is important to you as an author. How special is it to have the chance to interact directly with your fans?
I love meeting readers, either virtually or in real life. I can’t talk about it much without sounding sappy. I like the people who read my books, and not just because they help keep my family out of that refrigerator box. After all, it stands to reason that if a writer like me writes things HE’D like to read, then the people who like his work will often share other similarities and interests.
Q: Characters often take a life of their own. Which of your characters did you find the most unpredictable to write about?
The first and classic example for me was the monk Cadrach in MEMORY, SORROW, AND THORN. He was intended to be a minor character — a walk-on, basically — but just kept growing in importance until he was central to the story. That’s happening a bit in the SHADOWMARCH books with the poet Matty Tinwright, although I’m still not completely certain what he’s going to do in the last volume.
Q: In the long run, what will differentiate SHADOWMARCH from the other popular fantasy series on the market?
I hope the depth of characterization, the depth of worldbuilding, and the intricacy of the plotting. In short, all the obsessive-compulsive stuff that I bring to my work instead of having treated by respectable physicians so I could lead a normal life.
Q: Subterranean Press has just released a collection of short-stories and assorted works from you titled RITE? Can you tell us a little more about this book?
I’ve always thought I had more strings to my bow than most people realized, so when Subterranean Press contacted me I was pleased to do the collection. It gives me a chance to show readers some of the stuff — the less genre-specific stuff, the humor — that I also like, and consider to be part of my writing that doesn’t always get highlighted in my novels.
Q: Are you still working on A CHRONICLE IN STONE (short stories set in Osten Ard) while writing the current series, or has this project been postponed?
I’m still planning to do it, and I still look forward to it. I kind of got waylaid by SHADOWMARCH, and multi-volume waylayings take a while to recover from.
Q: If you’ll pardon the boxing analogy, critics and fans alike have often claimed that you are a notorious slow starter. Is this an aspect you have tried to improve on over the years, or do you simply need time to lay the groundwork that will allow everything to fall into place later on in a novel/series?
That’s certainly the reason on my end that my stories often start slowly. I find that if you start a story at high speed, the readers get impatient if you don’t keep that pace up all the way through, and for three thousand pages or whatever, it’s not very practical. Also, I like readers to get to know the world that WAS so they’ll appreciate the drama of what begins to happen to it.It might be instructive to look at some of my shorter works and see if they start slowly too, or if it really is a case of “horses for courses”.
Q: How would you like to be remembered as an author? What is the legacy you’ll leave behind?
I secretly suspect/hope that people will realize OTHERLAND was a unique story. I’m very proud of it. And I hope that when I’m gone, people feel the same connection with my work that I feel with my favorite writers, many of whom are no longer around. That’s the main thing — the connection with readers. We all seek to connect.
Q: Do you have an idea what project you’ll be tackling next when SHADOWMARCH volume 3 is completed? Does the novel have a working title at the moment?
I have two ideas that are currently foremost, a Cold-War-between-Heaven-and-Hell book tentatively titled “And Ministers of Grace” and a science fiction superhero-terrorists-fighting-galactic-war book (with echoes of the Mahabharata) equally tentatively called “Arjuna Rising”. But who knows what will be on top of the pile in a year or so?
Q: Honestly, do you believe that the speculative fiction genre will ever come to be recognized as veritable literature? Truth be told, in my opinion there has never been this many good books/series as we have right now, and yet there is still very little respect (not to say none) associated with the genre.
As long as a large portion of the genre is “commercial”, meaning bought because people read it for comfort the way they read airport thrillers and romance novels, no. The reason literary fiction is “literary” is that it’s not worthwhile to publish the really stupid end of the literary genre because people barely buy the smart end, so the literary folk don’t have to have their idiot cousins in the living room when company comes to call.
Q: Anything else you wish to share with your fans?
Just my profound gratitude that people read my work, and the promise that I will never publish a book I don’t believe in.
Thanks, Patrick, and sorry again for the delay.
Interview by Patrick