Page 1 of 5
Rob Bedford (RB): You have obviously put a lot of time and emotion into your work. How much time and effort did you put into The Darkness that Comes Before prior to contacting an agent or publisher? Did you contact an agent before submitting the book to publisher(s)?s
R. Scott Bakker (RSB): The world of Earwa was born in the basement of a small house in Port Stanley, Ontario, in the early 1980’s. The rudiments of the story started evolving in 1986, my first year of University. I actually have multiple versions of the story, and aside from one sterile exception, I never sought publication. It was my hobby - and one I felt an inordinate amount of shame about, actually. I’ve been working on the monster for a long, long time - so long that its meaning has long ago escaped me.
The only reason I’m published at all is because of Nick, my closest friend while I lived in Nashville working on my philosophy PhD at Vanderbilt University. Though I think the actual language he used would be inappropriate, one drunken night he said something like, ‘Get off your friggin’ ass and send that frigger to my old roommate!’ who just happened to be an agent in New York. Yet another ‘who you know’ story, I’m afraid. Anyway, it took a couple of years, then things just started to happen. I’m still pinching myself.
RB: The cultures you present in the saga, thus far, have a strong sense of familiarity about them. Which cultures or peoples did you use as a basis for the people of this world?
RSB: The analogy I always like to use when discussing worldbuilding is sculpture: when you build a world, what you’re doing, it seems to me, is taking a lifetime of shared cultural and historical associations and sculpting them into different shapes. When writing contemporary fiction, you simply say ‘New York’ and all the associations come ready made. But when you say, ‘Carythusal’ or ‘Nenciphon,’ the words are meaningless. The fantasy author really has one of the most difficult jobs in fiction: he or she has to make the meaningless deep with meaning - the more authentic the better, as far as I’m concerned. This is one of the things, I think, that makes Tolkien such a genius.
Some fantasy authors, Guy Kay comes to mind here, take things ‘ready-made’ from that quarry of shared associations. The advantage is that much of the work is already accomplished: once the reader realizes that Sarantium is an alternate Constantinople, the associational image is immediate and clear. Others mine the collective quarry in a more eclectic, fragmentary, or mysterious fashion - here the work can be more difficult, since nothing comes ready-made. Because my interest lies in exploring and extending the conventions of Tolkienesque epic fantasy, I followed his ‘middle approach,’ making use of fragmentary but still extensive parallels, drawing primarily on the Hellenistic Mediterranean, which I find so interesting because of its inclusion of the far more ancient contexts of Egyptian and Sumerian societies. I wanted a literate, socially intricate, and cosmopolitan world - something I could have fun destroying.
RB: You probably had intentions of publishing all along, but some writers say they reach a point when the story clicks and say to themselves: "I’ve got it." How far were you into the writing of Darkness when you realized things clicked?
RSB: As you might have surmised from above, I actually finished writing The Darkness That Comes Before quite a while before that first ‘click.’
For the longest time I thought publication was a pipe-dream, like saying ‘I wanna be an astronaut’ in elementary school. I sent the original manuscript of The Prince of Nothing away once, in my early twenties - I can’t even remember to whom anymore. It was rejected, I remember that. And I also remember thinking that some editor had stolen my names: shortly after the manuscript was returned several of the names I used started popping up on the Whorf/Klingon episodes of Star Trek: the Next Generation! Ah, the heady days of creative paranoia…
But even then I think I looked upon the whole thing as an impossibility. I pretty much knew 'I lousy writer was,' and that the themes I set myself were beyond my ability to explore in anything other than a hackneyed fashion. There was always this gap between what I wanted to write - the reflections, the feelings, the tapestry of actions - and what I was actually able to write. I never sent the manuscript out again. Instead, I started rewriting from the very beginning, and elaborating and remoulding the world of Earwa.
And I continued doing this into my mid-thirties - at this point I regarded the project as little more than an embarrassing hobby. I was living with my fiancée, Sharron, and my dissolute ways had started to dissolve. I had discovered philosophy, and the endorphins were coursing through my veins. I was hellbent on becoming a professional academic. As strange as it might sound, this was when things ‘clicked’ for me writing-wise. I still farted around with the world and the story, but for the first time, it seemed that I actually could write what I wanted to write. Expression and expectation became one and the same thing. "Some day I’m going to finish this damned thing" - that was my mantra. But as a worshipper of the great god Procrastidemus, I never really believed it. When you’re a radical pessimist, life is full of pleasant surprises.