Q: You know how eager your fans are regarding the new novel. Without giving anything away, what can you tell them about Red Seas under RedSkies?
RSURS is my attempt to move the series forward substantially while retaining the flavor that made TLOLL whatever it was… to sort of broaden the horizons of the story while preserving that somewhat gritty, grimy, people-actually-live-here sort of feel of the world.
RSURS is also my attempt to write a nautical adventure fantasy in which… how can I put this… in which sailing ships are not stable, comfortable, rock-solid little platforms that zoom conveniently about the ocean for months at a time, with blessedly content and pleasant crews. Despite their romantic glory, they’re also creaking, swaying, tossing, smelly nightmares for those who aren’t used to them, including our protagonists.
I like to have it both ways — beauty and grandeur and mystery piled on top of a grounded sense of the muck and hardships of actual life, especially in this sort of archaic age.
Q: When we did the interview last year, you had yet to sell a single book. Yes, the hype was rather high, but no one knew if this thing would be a success or not. I guess it’s now fair to claim that it was a success! Yet by the time The Lies of Locke Lamora was released, Red Seas under Red Skies was almost completed. So you basically wrote these two manuscripts in your basement, as any aspiring author would.
Sort of. The first portion of TLOLL, the part that sold the book and kicked off this whole wild affair, was quite literally written in my parents’ basement. In late 2004, I moved to the townhouse I live in now, where TLOLL was finished in my third-floor office. That’s where RSURS was put together, and where the third book has been shaping up. So I guess at some point authors stop barricading themselves in underground retreats and start seeking the high ground.
Q: I was wondering if your approach to writing volume 3 has changed with everything that occurred this last year? For instance, you now realize what it means to have fans. How does it feel to have them analyze every little detail, putting everything you write under the microscope?
It was an extremely paralyzing thought at first, but I suppose you just have to shrug and get over it, since you can’t do even the tiniest thing about it. Learning not to freak out about that crap is the first survival skill an author should practice. There are no stalkers camped out on my front lawn, so all attention at this point is good attention.
Q: And with TLOLL’s commercial success on both sides of the Atlantic, do you perceive that expectations from your publishers will be higher, now that you have proven that you can make it?
I certainly hope so… higher expectations all around mean that it’s easier to convince the people holding the purse strings to cut loose for crazy publicity stunts involving blimps, holograms, and fireworks displays. But seriously, I’m not sure if ever-higher expectations are actually what it’s about. The second book, barring freak success, is probably not going to suddenly sell ten times as many copies as the first. What they’re looking for now, as best I know, is to make sure each new book retains at least a significant portion of the sales of the first, and doesn’t plummet like a rock. There’s an awful lot of inside baseball I could throw out in response to a question like this, and I’d be lying if I said I understood it all yet myself.
Q: I guess I want to know if graduating from the aspiring writer status to the “established” author with his own fan base alters the way you approach your craft?
No. Fundamentally, I try to write books that I myself would want to read if I hadn’t written them, and I of course flatter myself that I like to read entertaining and worthwhile books. I don’t write ‘for’ anyone; I just write in the sincere hope that first my wife, and then my little circle of first readers, and then my general readership will all like it. But that’s a hope, and not my driving imperative.
Q: As a reader, one of the highlights of Red Seas under Red Skies for me was the character growth between Locke and Jean. These two share a very special bond, that goes without saying. From a writer’s standpoint, was it interesting to let these two share the spotlight for the better part of the novel?
Absolutely, because their interaction on the page reached the point where the only way to preserve a naturalistic feeling was to ditch most of the emotional arc I’d plotted out for them in advance, and sort of wing it based on what the little bastards were more or less demanding.
It’s not that you’re out of control of the writing process; it’s not that I’m trying to throw in quasi-mystical bullshit about character autonomy. They’re just fictional constructs, but if they’re any goodat all, they exist in your mind as ideal models of a sort. And those ideal models may reject the forced intrusion of plot points that seemed quite logical when you set them out “cold,” devoid of context and development, weeks or months earlier.
They correct you when you try to write them wrong, basically. And if you can accept that sort of criticism from imaginary people, the process is loads of fun.
Q: I know that you’re a big fan of Patrick O’Brian. Could the entire”piracy on the high seas” story arc of this book be considered somekind of homage to his work?
Absolutely. O’Brian wrote a historical series that has the transportive effect of the very best science fiction and fantasy; his Napoleonic era is so vividly and meticulously evoked that it inspires a genuine sense of wonder and bewilderment. He never paused to frame anything in a context for modern readers. He plunked you down, in medias res, in the routines, prejudices, jargon, and minutiae of the early 19th century, and expected you to keep up on your own. I can’t claim to be constantly doing anything of that sort, but I love the Aubrey/Maturin books dearly and will cease homaging them when somebody pries my keyboard from my cold, dead hands.
Q: What can we expect from the third volume in the main sequence, The Republic of Thieves? What’s the progress report on it?
In progress, is the progress report. I think this is going to be the biggest of the sequence in the sense of what it contains; all the various plots and counter-plots and revelations. It’s a bit crammed with important things. Whether that will translate to a brutally huge page count, well — I’m trying to keep it in check. The size of RSURS began to stretch what my publishers can take in stride, and I’m trying very hard not to go *too* far beyond that. Remember that I originally meant to have RSURS end up significantly smaller than TLOLL, and in the end I had to chop roughly fifty pages even to get it to where it is…
What to expect? The events of The Republic of Thieves are going to make the previous two books look simple and straightforward, that’s what. There will be an interwoven chain of flashbacks to the Gentlemen Bastards as rather hormonal teenagers. The ongoing rivalry/love affair between Locke and Sabetha. Exploration of the rules and secrets behind the working of magic. And a few story closures that are not entirely cheerful… I guess I do a lot of plot shopping at the Unhappy Ending Discount Warehouse.
Q: Are you eager to finally introduce Sabetha to your readers?
Hell yes. What, you wanted more? Eh, I’ve concealed her for two years. I can conceal her for one more.
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?
The overall shape of the series remains concrete; the ending is set in stone, the path there is charted. It’s not so much the results that have shifted but the means and the details. The longer you spend at a project like this, the better you get to know the characters, and that lets you come up with new ways to bring about certain results. Possibilities for conflict and growth that you never saw before suddenly become as obvious as a brick to the head.
Some characters do force themselves into broadened or adjusted roles; Zamira Drakasha, for example. And the Falconer’s mother, Lady Patience of Karthain. Originally she was a very minor character in The Republic of Thieves. She’s since come to loom over nearly every aspect of the plot.
I have been sorely tempted, at times, to veer away from some of my original ideas for the series, but I’ve stuck to my guns… nothing that can’t fit into the size I’ve dictated. No major plot digressions in the main-sequence books. Possible illumination or expansion of certain points in novellas, so long as nothing therein becomes indispensible to understanding the main sequence.
Q: Speaking of those novellas, what can you tell us about them? Any tentative release dates? Will the omnibus that will be released by Gollancz next summer be comprised of the same novellas that Subterranean Press will publish?
The first two will be called The Mad Baron’s Mechanical Attic and The Choir of Knives; the title and topic of the third, at this point, are an utter mystery to me. The first two deal with the acquisition of the cask of Austershalin brandy that the Gentlemen Bastards use in their scam in TLOLL, and the consequences of that acquisition. Call it a prequel in two parts if you like.
Q: Speaking of Subterranean Press, I was fortunate enough to get my hands on an ARC of their limited edition of The Lies of Locke Lamora. How cool is it to see a special edition of your work so early in your writing career?
It’s just freakishly damn cool, is all. I cannot for the life of me wrap my brain around Bill Schaefer’s business model; he pays an extremely respectable fee for the subsidiary rights, then he hires a world-famous illustrator to do multiple color paintings for the thing,and then he puts out lovely-looking custom typeset edition in very limited quantities, and he… conquers. He flourishes. He must be Cobra Commander or something, using this as a legitimate front for some nefarious revenue-generating operation.
I suppose you wouldn’t expect me to bad-mouth them even if I disliked their presentation, but I’m fortunate. I really love it. They’re just really incredibly cool-looking and well done.
Q: What was the spark that generated the idea which drove you to writeThe Gentleman Bastard series in the first place?
Gah derp argh. It’s pretty difficult to recall, at such a late remove,and after spending several years deepending and broadening a thing, what ‘the spark’ was. I’ve cited a lot of other aspirations and influences elsewhere, so I guess I’ll just restate one of my underlying rules. I wanted to write a series in which I was never allowed to wave my hands about the alleged cleverness or wittiness of the characters… regardless of whether you actually agree that what’s happening is genuinely clever or witty, I have to show my work. I have to show the processes, the plans and counter-plans, the intellectual swashbuckling between protagonists and antagonists. I don’t get to just write something like, “and then the characters all spent a happy night laughing at one another’s delightful jokes.” I need to show the delightful jokes, or skip them entirely, but just alluding to them is the prime no-no.
Q: Now that it’s water under the bridge, I was wondering what went through your mind when the whole “bribes scandal” occurred last summer. In the end, I believe that the amount of publicity the novel received because of that debacle turned the entire thing into something positive in terms of sales and exposure. But still, it musthave been like a slap in the face to be the object of such accusations?
“Scandal” is a bit much, isn’t it? It was essentially one reviewer saying some really silly things, and a few people here and there choosing sides, adding perspective or nonsense as they saw fit.
The amount of hot air expended on that teapot tempest was ridiculous, as is any attempt to frame it as some sort of momentous event. I would have been utterly charmed to read a scathing review of TLOLL if onlythe reviewer had described the plot accurately. God, hate away, despise it at length in sarcasm-drenched paragraphs, but for crying out loud get the simple facts of what you’ve read straight. I cherish entertaining and/or incisive abuse directed at my work, so long as it’s directed at my actual work and not a vague semblance of it.
If the editors I work with really did have the resources and the lack of scruples necessary to simply bribe their way to a mass state of hype, why would they waste money sending manuscripts and ARCs on a purely speculative basis to early readers and reviewers, including me? I’ve been heaped with ARCs in the past couple of years, some of which were utterly delightful and at least one of which I flatly refused to endorse. A publisher could have saved an awful lot of money on that one, for example, by not even bothering to send it to me without the promise of a good word. If they could have just paid me to lie, or spent the money on an internet sock puppet campaign or something, why didn’t they?
Publishers do what they do in the undeniable hope of generating interest and sales, but to suggest that all hype, especially in our genre, comes from some sort of networked lie machine is just batshit. If a large number of people like something you don’t, the message the universe is sending you is “tastes differ,” not “conspiracy afoot.”
Q: After being extremely active on various message boards, your interaction with fans ceased late last fall. Was there a reason why you “disappeared” like that?
I did slow down last fall, and more or less submerged for these past few months. I have decided that periodic cooldowns from heavy ‘net use are a wise idea. I greatly enjoy surfing message boards and trying to be in as many places as I can be, yet… I am not a public commodity. People do not need to worry if I go quiet for a while. My job is to slowly induce carpal tunnel syndrome by writing books. When I go quiet, I am content to read journals and messageboards to keep tabs on folks I care about, and tend to respond on them very lightly.
I have gregarious periods and I have reclusive periods. A gregarious period is about to burst out; the urge to be sociable is bugging me the same way the urge for privacy was bugging me a few months ago. So it goes.
These past months, I’ve also had a ton of stuff to do… a pile of books to finish reading, a novel to finish, a novel to start, several short stories for various people, and I’ve spent a lot of private time with my wife. Our shared hobbies are important to us and we’ve devoted some time to rekindling some of them.
I am always flattered and flabbergasted by the attention people pay to my work online. Occasionally decompressing from heavy interaction is my way of avoiding screeching grumpiness, because I am really insufferable when I’m in a mood.
Q: Will you be touring during the course of the summer to promote Red Seas under Red Skies? If so, are there any specific dates that have been confirmed as of yet?
No, nothing resembling a tour. I will be doing at least one event in the Twin Cities, and I will be at the World Fantasy Convention, in the comfortable role of Wide-Eyed Starstruck Neophyte once again. Next year I hope to Get Out And Do Stuff, but details will have to be forthcoming.
Q: Cover art has become a very hot topic of late. What are your thoughts pertaining to that facet of a novel, and what do you think of the various covers that have graced your books? Do you know why Bantam decided to go with different covers? Do you have a personal favorite?
Bantam changes things, when they change them, because of their experience with what works or doesn’t work in the US market. Ultimately, I’ve got to trust that each editorial and marketing staff knows best for a given sales area. After all, they’re certainly not out to *decrease* sales, if possible.
This is all very easy for me to say, of course, because nobody has yet come back to me with something truly, utterly ghastly for a proposed cover. You do see it, from time to time… utterly magnificent novels with covers that had to have been designed by chimps on drugs… but I’ve ducked that so far.
Tough as it is to pick a favorite, I’d have to go with Bragelonne’s French covers for TLOLL and RSURS. They’re just so damn good, and intricate, and atmospheric.
Q: Your wife was overheard saying that you’ve never been the same since winning the MVP Award for the author of the year in the Fantasy Hotlist Awards last December (my very own year-end awards!). What’s up with that!?! No but seriously, how rewarding is it be nominated for the John W. Campbell Award?
It’s neat as all hell. I honestly doubt I’ll win, but I’m up against some very nice people, so I’d be okay with that.
Q: I don’t mean to imply that you don’t approach your craft with seriousness, but are you having as much fun writing as I think you are!?!
File this under “silly questions.” I have a full-time dream job and a part-time dream job. What more could I want?
Q: Anything else you wish to share with your fans?
ANAK HAK HAK DRAKKHEN. That, of course, and thanks for all your kindness over the past year.
Interview by Patrick