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RB: Much like fellow Canadian author Steven Erikson, your work appeared up North and across the Ocean before hitting the US shelves. Do you feel being a Canadian/non-US writer was a hurdle or obstacle to finding a US publisher? And how important was it to you to be published by a US publisher?
RSB: I’m green, so many of my opinions on this issue are simply guesswork. Many US publishers, I think, have simply rolled the Canadian market into the larger American fold, so for them, purchasing works without Canadian rights can be something of a pain in the ass - this was a barrier at places like Tor, for instance. So I guess it was something of an obstacle.
From what I understand, it’s very hard to make a living as a writer unless you have some kind of US presence. Since eating becomes an issue when you can’t make a living, you could say that getting a US deal was pretty important. Up there with sex, definitely...
Jokes aside, there are benefits to being published in Canada first. There’s what I like to call the ‘home son effect,’ which allows even a lowly fantasy author a crack at radio and television interviews. And the publishers here know the Canadian market much better than those in New York, (where Canada often seems, as A. Whitney Brown puts it, little more than "a summer camp with its own currency"). As a first time author, you’re literally at war with your own obscurity. Building a readership, I’m discovering, is far more difficult in the vast clamour of the American market.
RB: You’ve received some high praise from well-known and regarded names in the genre; specifically the blurbs on Darkness from Steve Erikson and John Marco and on The Warrior-Prophet from Kevin J. Anderson. How rewarding was this acknowledgement from you peers and did it help secure a US publishing deal?
RSB: Peers - I’d never really thought of them that way before! The acknowledgement is good, very good. I can still remember the day when my editor forwarded Steve’s blurb to me… I was floored. Here I was, this egghead with a small deal in a small market, casting about looking for ways to reach those I thought would love the book: world-junkies (such as myself), and those who’d abandoned epic fantasy when they went to university. All I could think was ‘9-out-10-first-novels-fail-9-out-of-10-first-novels-fail…’ You really feel helpless in that situation: As I said, I hadn’t taken publication seriously, but once I had the taste… That first book seemed like a hopelessly tiny doorway I had to squeeze through. Then without warning, Steve kicked open the cover from the other side and cried, ‘Where the hell have you been?’
It’s hard to explain. All I can say is that I’m very grateful to those who helped during the darkness that came before The Darkness That Comes Before. I intend to pay it forward.
RB: With Darkness, you probably did not have a deadline and the most pressure was probably from yourself as your own editor. In completing The Warrior-Prophet, was there a deadline and/or external pressure, to complete the book? Did the critical success of Darkness have an impact to your approach to writing The Warrior-Prophet?
RSB: I can honestly say that last year was the most trying year of my life - labour-wise. I taught part-time at Fanshawe College here in London, rewrote and defended the prospectus to my dissertation, and completed The Warrior-Prophet. I woke up at 5AM every morning seven days a week. Between May 2003 to March 2004, I took only one day off (to get messy with my buddies and watch The Return of the King). I wrote on Christmas. I even worked (with a hangover) on New Year’s Day.
Because I had about 15 years to finish The Darkness That Comes Before, I really had no idea what I was getting into when I signed the deals for The Warrior-Prophet and The Thousandfold Thought. Suddenly my private passion had become a collective enterprise - and I just don’t mean the immediate circle of commercial interests that suddenly spring up around an author (your agent, editor, publicist, greedy relatives, and so on), there’s your readers as well. Buying into an uncompleted series, especially by an unknown author, is an act of faith - $26 is a tank of gas or a week’s worth of groceries for me! The idea of defaulting on my end of the bargain tormented me, and the idea of writing anything other than the book I felt compelled to write was unthinkable. Pressure-pressure.
Add to this all the crazy reviews The Darkness That Comes Before was racking up. I really thought the book was a ‘love it or hate it’ work, which was no problem as far as I was concerned, because I didn’t write it for everybody. I thought the reviews would be split, and that the raves, if I received any, would be peppered with telling criticisms. After all the reviews the book has received, I think the first review I read (and what a nail-biting experience that was!) comes closest to my own feelings toward the book. Everyone else has been too kind - including you, Rob!
This is where I think the pressure was a good thing. Because my schedule was so tight, I really had no time to fret (that much) over whether The Warrior-Prophet would live up to its predecessor. All the collective concerns faded into a single imperative: ‘Write, write, write your ass off!’ And as strange as it may sound, suddenly there was me, the world, the characters, and a blank screen - just like the good old days.
Now that I have time, I’m freaking out.