Interview with Peter Orullian

Peter Orullian’s debut novel, The Unremembered, published in April 2011.  The book is the first of a series the author is calling The Vault of Heaven.  Evoking The Wheel of TimeShanarra, and Middle Earth, Orullian’s novel tells the story of Tahn and his journey of self-discovery and discovery of an ancient, reawakening evil.  Peter took some time out to correspond with Rob over e-mail for this interview.

Let’s get the standards out of the way, tell readers of this interview about Peter Orullian and then about The Unremembered.

Well, I’m a guy who’s always had a number of passions: writing, music, athletics, etc. Along the way, dreams with regard to many of those things I’ve had to let go. Just not enough time. Oh, I’m still passionate about sports, but as a spectator now, mostly. But with writing and music, I’m still pretty active.

I’m obviously a genre fan, spec fiction of many stripes, actually. And, well, fiction in general. My influences there are extremely broad, as are my musical tastes, but I think we’re going to talk more about that later.

I work for Xbox, which is pretty cool. And among my other interests are: film, art, poetry, astronomy, and above all else, being with my family. Yeah, I said it, family—the best thing.

As to The Unremembered, it’s epic fantasy pretty dead on. While I didn’t start with theme, it’s seems clear to me in hindsight that choice and accountability are important to the book. My interest is often putting my characters in difficult situations, where there is a choice to be made, and no clear “right” way. Or at least, there’s a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” type scenario. Beyond that, I’d say that I decided not to be afraid of making use of a fantasy trope or two if I thought it served my story. Since the story arc across the series will take those conventions and turn them, which was my thought at the get go. I don’t want to say too much about that, since I think that’d ruin what I’m trying to set up. But of course, there’s conflict, magic, invented races, and the like. And while there are “bad guys,” readers will pick up on the fact that even there things aren’t precisely what they seem. I’ve tried to be very subtle about that though, so that if you’re reading too fast, well, you know.

In other interviews, you mentioned the long road to publication this novel, or you have taken to becoming a published writer. How much has The Unremembered changed from the initial novel you were trying to sell with your first agent?

Not much. For most of that time I was writing other books, not focused on the fantasy. I think I’ve done some work to make the characters more real since the first draft. A few other tweaks here and there.

Your influences are pretty clear from the novel – Robert Jordan, Terry Brooks, and J.R.R. Tolkien.  What about those writers were you trying to emulate, and conversely, what were you attempting to eschew with The Unremembered on a novel level, and The Vault of Heaven on a series level.

I certainly appreciate all those writers you mention. It’s interesting talking about influences. I tend to agree with Rothfuss on this topic, which is to say that everything I’ve ever read is an influence. I mean, in genre alone there’s Martin and Rothfuss and Sanderson and others; then skipping the aisle there’s King and Simmons; and then further on there’s Russo and Bellows; and oh my, going back there’s Dickens and Stevenson, and on and on. And in all that mix, there’s never any specific emulation or eschewing going on. What is true, though, is that I decided early on not to be afraid of using genre conventions if they made sense for the story. And where there are conventions that I’ve incorporated, the overarching storyline will take those things and push them into new terrain. Some of this happens in the first book, and a lot more of it happens in the subsequent volumes. Specifics, though, would become spoilers, so I’ll leave it there for now.

I think one of the strengths of The Unremembered is that you’ve written a solid ‘gateway’ novel for readers new to the genre. Why should readers who have read other ‘gateway’ writers (Jordan, Brooks, Tolkien) as well as others who have tread similar ground like Raymond E. Feist, Brandon Sanderson, Robin Hobb, and George R.R. Martin give The Unremembered a shot?

Wow, that’s quite a list of authors. I, personally, have read them all. My experience is that fantasy fictions fans have, too. I think it’s because while fantasy fiction shares some commonalities, magic, war, second-worlds, dichotomies (typically) of good and bad, how an author treats these things is the thing. I mean, in general, if we get down to it, you can distill story arcs to a very finite set, yet the number of books published each your increases. So, it really has to do with how a particular writer treats these plots. I’d say I’m no exception there. I think a reader decides if they like the general premise and then most often “get into” a novel based a lot on their love of the characters and that author’s treatment of that premise.

As an example, The Unremembered has things like a music magic system. I’m not the first to do that, but I’m sure ­how I do that is unique. And I’d say that typifies not just my work, but the work of many writers. In other words, it’s less to do with the what, and more to do with the how. My favorite fantasy novels in the last ten years—big bestsellers, too—have plotlines not unfamiliar to me, but I love them for the “how.”

And I’d use a music analogy to illustrate. When Queensryche came out, critics and music fans told me not to bother, saying that they were a ripoff of Iron Maiden. Geoff Tate was described as a pale shadow of Bruce Dickenson. I ignored them, because that’s what I do. And I’m glad I did, since Queensryche became a favorite band of mine. That didn’t take anything away from IM, but you get the point. Then the same thing happened again when Dream Theater came out. I read in many trade publications and heard from my rock pals that they were a pale shadow of QR. I didn’t listen, and bought the DT albums anyway. Again, glad I did. Part of what was going on is that some folks heard the voices of the front men of each band and thought they sounded similar—great range, clean sound, slow oscillating vibrato. Okay, yeah, they all do that. But each of those voices is extremely distinct. I wound up loving both Queensryche and Dream Theater—they’re both rock, and they’re both great. Now, a country fan probably doesn’t hear the difference, but I won’t go there . . .

Along the same lines, if somebody who isn’t as well versed in the genre were given The Eye of the WorldThe Sword of Shannara, Ray Feist’sMagician, and The Unremembered, why should they read your book first?

Oh, that’s easy. They should read them all. I have. And I’m not just being glib. I feel good about recommending that a reader get all four. Just like I’d recommend both QR and DT.

The characters writers create have been said to be reflections of the writers themselves.  Of the characters in The Unremembered, with whom do you most closely identify?

Yeah, it’s an interesting question. I don’t buy the premise. It’s not that there may not be some writers who do that, but I tend to think it’s a slim minority. If, though, you mean that this happens subconsciously, well, I still think it’s guesswork on the reader’s part. To the degree that anything anyone writes is a reflection of who they are as a person, then yeah, okay. But for my part, I didn’t cast myself in my own book; and looking back, I don’t see that I did it inadvertently, either. That said, they all sprang from my creative innards, so they’re all my children. Elements of each of them are dear to me. I, like Tahn, have been known to get up early to see the sun rise. I, like Wendra, have found song to be a critical part of my life. I, like Braethen, have studied extensively in pursuit of a dream and persisted down that difficult path. And I, like Vendanj and Grant, have remained steadfast with regard to certain ethics despite the consequences. You see my point.

Same question, but for other writer’s characters?

I really dig Roland Deschain from King’s Dark Tower series. He has a kind of unrelenting pursuit of his goal, an inescapable wisdom, and an ultimate heroism. Really like him.

I think you’ve built a solid foundation for The Vault of Heaven as a series with The Unremembered.  Will the second book pick up soon after or will we see the world through a new set of characters?

Both. The action will pick up not long after the end of book one. And we’ll certainly still have some of the characters from book one. But there are new POV characters in book two. This is all part of my evil master plan to take the conventions and turn them. There are hints to some of these changes in book one, but they’re subtle. I’m not fond of drubbing my readers over the head. I know the risk is that some will miss these intimations, as some already have, but the alternative seemed boring to me.

You’ve had your hands in all sort of creative ventures from video games to music to, of course, writing.  What do you find the most challenging, rewarding, and which comes to you with the greatest of ease?

The challenge isn’t in the creative ventures themselves, but in finding time for it all. I so envy writers who can do this full time, for the simple fact that they have so much more time. I have a day job, and it’s not just a 9-5 job. It’s quite a demanding job, one that takes a great deal of time and personal energy and creativeness. I lament that we don’t have the old patronage system, ya know.

Anyway, on the reward side of things, I like best that moment of creation, whether new words, a new song, or anything else. There are few things as satisfying to me.

Does your music making (and listening for that matter) influence what you write?

Not that I’m aware. Plus, as you know, my tastes are extremely eclectic. If I was that guy who just listened to death metal, and then wrote the goriest of horror, then you could draw the line between the two. But since I listen to everything, and, well, write in several genres, I think it’d be hard to make any sort of association.

On the subject of music, based on your Facebook postings, your music tastes are very eclectic. What would you consider the music you mist enjoy performing and hearing?

What I most enjoy performing is the music I’ve written myself, which could be a rather broad set of things. That has to do with having invested myself emotionally in the song during its creation. The other part of it is that I want to be thrilled. My vocal trainer and I had great simpatico in this regard. I studied with the guy who trained Lane Staley of Alice in Chains, and Geoff Tate and a host of others. And here’s the deal, if it doesn’t thrill me, what’s the point? Now that doesn’t mean it has to be loud or fast, etc. But I’m not a fan of background music. I either want it to command my attention, or leave me alone. So when I listen to music with vocals, I’m a harsh critic, since I know voice. And I don’t have a lot of patience for sloppy or badly-rendered vocal lines and lyrics. That said, music is subjective, and each is entitled to his or her opinion. For my part, I like Dream Theater, Queensryche, Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis, Mannheim Steamroller, the Les Miserables soundtrack, Journey, Disturbed, Cole Porter, Wagner, Thomas Newman, Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, Sevendust, Irving Berlin . . . we could be here a while.

Eclectic, right.  Can you picture any of those singers/lead singers joining in with Wendra for a blast of music magic?

Well, sure. It blows the fourth wall completely away—and could make for a very surreal tale or image—but a guy like Sebastian Bach would probably have a heckuva lotta fun scream-singing alongside Wendra. Or the drummer for Sevendust; that guy rocks!

What writer (living or dead) would you like to read The Unremembered and say, “Nice going!” or some other congratulatory words of encouragement?

That, my friend, is also a very long list. Guys like Dickens, Stevenson, Hardy, Tolkien; and more recently, guys like Martin and Jordan and King and Ellison, and Simmons, yeah Simmons, for sure.

The craft of writing – did you workshop your novel or get feedback from a choice group of alpha readers?

Yes, but if I tell you who they are, this would be the last interview you’d ever conduct. Capiche?

How important is the Internet for writers today?

I think it depends on the writer, and the usage. There’s research, of course. And then there’s connecting with other writers and the online community. All good things. The intrinsic danger is that these things can gobble up your time, and ultimately what both you and readers want is more story. So, important, for sure. But must. Exercise. Discretion.

Do you have anything else you’d like to add?

Not especially. Just thanks to those who’ve already read the book and begun sending me kind notes. The emails I’m getting are so amazingly perceptive with regard to the subtleties of the groundwork and story of book one. My faith that they would perceive and appreciate not just the new terrain my story would cover, but also the evolution of “the familiar” begun in book one, is proving to have been well placed. Readers are awesome! They get it. That’s so cool!

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