Interview with Ian Cameron Esslemont

Q: First of all, how exciting is it to realize that NIGHT OF KNIVES is about to be released in hardcover by Transworld? After waiting for so long to see this one get a mass market release, you must be happy that things finally worked out.

It’s just great, is what it is. A long cherished dream come true. Feels unreal. I still sometimes can’t believe it. Maybe I feel this way because right now I’m living in the US and won’t be able to see it on the shelf. If I was in Canada or the UK maybe the whole thing would be playing out differently for me.

Q: I have to say that NIGHT OF KNIVES sports a pretty nifty cover. I like the fact that they more or less decided to go with the theme that was behind the cover for the PS Publishing edition. Were you consulted at all regarding the cover art?

I love the cover art on both the PS edition and on this Bantam re-issue. I’ve been very lucky so far. I owe a lot to Steve Stone. All the moreso because in fact I had no input whatsoever on the choice (as is pretty typical). I do think though that the original great PS cover went a long way to deciding things.

Q: Were you asked to make a few adjustments to the narrative, or will this be the exact same version as the one contained within the pages of the PS Publishing edition?

A few changes have been made – but no major plot revisions! So, no, not the same as the PS edition. It’s another run at the events, so to speak. Some may prefer the original vision, some this second re-visioning.

Q: With both you and Steven releasing a Malazan novel in the span of a few short weeks, are there any plans to do a couple of signings together?

Nothing formalized yet. But should the opportunity arise I’m sure it would happen. In the past whenever we got together things always got out of hand, but we’re older now, more calm; maybe a few books would even get signed.

Q: Are there any news pertaining to a North American publisher for your Malazan books? Have Tor Books shown any interest to publish your stuff alongside Steven’s?

Nothing yet (that I know of). No doubt they’re taking the wait-and-see approach. Think of Steve’s experience – even he had to wait before someone would take on the Malazan material for the US market. Astonishing, now, in hindsight. But there’s so much stuff out there. The fantasy genre is so crowded (which I have to admit is great for all of us, considering the condition of some of the other genres). Nothing’s guaranteed.

Q: There has been a palpable momentum shift in both THE BONEHUNTERS and REAPER’S GALE. It looks as though the first five volumes were meant to lay the groundwork for the rest of the series, but in the last two we’ve seen the storylines coming together and we’re starting to get an inkling of how many of them are related. Even though you know what will occur, how cool is it to see it all unfolding?

It’s damn cool. I love it. I may be his biggest fan. Sure, I may know the bones but by far the majority of the flesh of what Steve is doing with the Bonehunters, etc, is as new to me as it is to all other readers. In the past I’ve talked about how we sketched out the arc for the Malazan stories but I never wanted to give the impression that I’ve seen what Steve’s doing in all his novels (or he in mine). I’m not sure how to explain it. Perhaps it’s the difference between two people planning out what sort of building could be built in a certain site – how many floors, the different rooms, what facing, etc – then one of the two actually going off and building it! The realized project is of course very different in so many surprising ways ….

Q: Okay, you thought we’d let you go easy, but enough of that! The question every fan wants me to ask you has to do with how far along are you with RETURN OF THE CRIMSON GUARD? Will you meet your deadline?

Well, you’ll be glad to know that I’ve just handed in the completed run-through to Bantam. What you may not be happy to know is how much I had to leave out to achieve that completed project. It was agonizing, but perhaps all that material might be another novel …. So, it’s in, deadline met. Now we’ll see what the editors at Bantam have to say. Usually these things take a year. So, spring ‘08.

I say it was agonizing but I also enjoyed it immensely. If the readers have half the fun I had with Return it should do well. It’s very different from Knives, much more expansive. In any case, already I’ve exceeded my comfort level for talking about it. Maybe I’m too damned Canadian that way.

Q: Without giving anything away, what can you tell us of RETURN OF THE CRIMSON GUARD? (Sorry, the good old “read and find out” answer cannot be used! Just give us a little something to whet our appetite!)

The original manuscript for this second novel, like Knives, was actually completed long ago. It spends time with characters such as Greymane, Traveller, Blues, and Skinner – and so I am pleased that many fans of the world have expressed interest in these very characters – ones Steve and I marked out long ago for development.

Briefly, I can say that the mercenary company the Crimson Guard returns to its home and the home of the empire, Quon Tali, where they find the continent torn by a civil war precipitated both by Empress Laseen’s policies and cruel political calculation. They return to fulfill their vow to destroy the empire, but just what that entails becomes one of the complicating issues.

Q: The fact that Steven has written 7 novels and 3 novellas in the Malazan universe has laid down a lot of groundwork for the saga. Is it harder to write a novel like RETURN ON THE CRIMSON GUARD now, knowing that everything must fit with what has been established by previous Malazan volumes? Or does that existing structure make the process easier?

It makes it all both easier in some regards but harder in others. Basically, he and I both know the major structural turns of any of the novels, but the devil is in the details, as they say. Throwaway lines in any of his or my pieces could derail plans for things further down the way. Such potential will always remain a danger but it should be clear by now that neither of us are the sort to obsess over small continuity issues, we’re interested in the big picture.

Q: In terms of timeline, will the events chronicled in RETURN OF THE CRIMSON GUARD coincide with the events of MEMORIES OF ICE? Will we see Iron Bars and the other characters introduced in MIDNIGHT TIDES?

Q: Speaking of characters, will we finally see Prince K’azz D’Avore, Skinner, and others we met in GARDENS OF THE MOON, like Fingers, Cowl and Corporal Blues?

I’ll answer these two questions together. In terms of timeline, RETURN follows BONEHUNTERS relatively closely. Neither Steve nor I are precise in dates and years and such as, thematically, such definitive absolute views of time are actually an artifact of our modern world. Time and dates and such were, and are, interpreted differently in other cultures and in the past. Anyway, so much for that anthropological hobbyhorse. Iron Bars and other characters introduced in earlier works will all be in RETURN – that’s why they were introduced in the first place! Blues and Cowl (and others) were mentioned in GARDENS because Steve and I hoped that, eventually, we would have the opportunity to tell the whole story.

Q: M. John Harrison recently wrote this post on his blog:

“Every moment of a science fiction story must represent the triumph of writing over worldbuilding.

Worldbuilding is dull. Worldbuilding literalises the urge to invent. Worldbuilding gives an unneccessary permission for acts of writing (indeed, for acts of reading). Worldbuilding numbs the reader’s ability to fulfil their part of the bargain, because it believes that it has to do everything around here if anything is going to get done.

Above all, worldbuilding is not technically neccessary. It is the great clomping foot of nerdism. It is the attempt to exhaustively survey a place that isn’t there. A good writer would never try to do that, even with a place that is there. It isn’t possible, & if it was the results wouldn’t be readable: they would constitute not a book but the biggest library ever built, a hallowed place of dedication & lifelong study. This gives us a clue to the psychological type of the worldbuilder & the worldbuilder’s victim, & makes us very afraid.”

Needless to say, a multitude of people disagree with Harrison’s postulation. What’s your take on Harrison’s post and the concept of worldbuilding in general?

Wow, Harrison really gives it to the anvil on that one. My approach would be to define terms here. By “worldbuilding” Harrison seems to mean the lumpish dumping of details in novels, such as when an author spends an entire page listing the agricultural and industrial products of the valley the characters are entering. If this is what he is criticizing (and I think he is) then I am in full agreement.

Character, tension, and intrigue must be foremost to capture the interest of any reader, ie: narrative. The worldbuilding ought to remain in the background. Ideally, the two can be dealt with hand-in-hand and therein lies the art of what good writers do. But then who am I to talk? I’m as guilty as anyone. It’s a bad habit I’m still working on shaking – like a small determined dog that has hold of the cuff of my pants.

For those interested in an example of the impetus of worldbuilding taken to is logical conclusion I refer you to the wonderful parable by Jorge Luis Borges, “Of Exactitude in Science”, in which an empire fixated on exactitude has a gigantic map commissioned whose scale is 1:1.

Q: We know that the next book in your Malazan sequence will have to do with the Korelri campaign. Greymane, although we’ve never seen the character yet, has already intrigued a multitude of fans. Are you eager to tackle that next project? Does the book have a tentative working title?

I am very eager. If it proves to be as much fun as RETURN then I’ll certainly get my entertainment dollar out of it. For this one I’m having difficulty in settling on a title. So far I know the world has a style of using “of” or a possessive “’s” in the title and I may be obliged to follow along with that but right now I’m thinking of perhaps STONEWIELDER as a working title – it doesn’t show up on Amazon as a title yet. But it maybe too out of style for the world. I may have to go with a phrase. Anyway, yes, it would deal with the Malazan Korel campaign and, yes, Greymane (who we see in RETURN) will feature prominently.

Q: Anything else you wish to share with the Malazan fans?

That’s about it except to thank all Malazan fans for their open welcoming reception.

Many thanks to all.

Yours, Ian Cameron Esslemont.

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Interview by Patrick
fantasyhotlist.blogspot

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