Author interview with Brian Staveley
I am going to be honest. There are those times that you come across a book that has everything. Intense action, lovable characters and above all a great and engaging story. The Emperor's Blades has this all and much much more. Brian Staveley introduces the reader to vastely rich lands, ready for further exploration and many cool concepts, I am still thinking about the huge kettral birds! I can safely say that The Emperor's Blades is a heavy contender for best book of 2014. Make sure you get your copy! P.S. 14th of January is the US release and 16th is the UK release. Go-go preorder!
Brian has taught literature, religion, history, and philosophy, all subjects that influence his novels, and holds an MA in Creative Writing from Boston University. He works as an editor for Antilever Press, and has published poetry and essays, both in print and on-line. He lives in Vermont with his wife and young son, and divides his time between running trails, splitting wood, writing, and baby-wrangling.
Hi Brian, welcome to The Book Plank and for taking your time to answer these few questions for us.
BP: First off could you give us a short introduction as to who Brian Staveley is? What are your hobbies, likes and dislikes?
BS: My wife, young son, rescue dog, and I live on a steep dirt road in the mountains of southern Vermont. We have an outstanding fire pit, and when the snow is deep, you can build snow benches around it and a sledding run that will put you right in the flame if you don’t make the turn. The record on the “competition sledding run” is 11.62 seconds, held by my friend Thaddeus Law, who is currently working for the US State Dept. in Afghanistan. I can’t cook, but I’m decent at cleaning up after dinner. I taught English, history, and religion for ten years. I think it’s hard to go wrong with a good Barbaresco.
BP: The Emperor’s Blades is your debut book. Do you still know when you knew that you wanted to become an author?
BS: I think always. I wrote lots of little stories as a kid, including Anty’s Avinchir, a 3-page tale of an intrepid ant who leaves his home to have, well, adventures. I think my agent and editor would fall over if I told them I managed to wrap up a story in three pages.
BP: The Emperor’s Blades is published in a few days. If you had to sell your book with a single sentence, how would it go?
BS: buy book. Buy Book. BUY BOOK. BUY BOOK! BUY BOOK!
This is my twenty-month-old son’s approach to things, and, despite our efforts to teach him manners, he seems to end up with what he wants an unrealistic amount of the time.
BP: There are a lot of cool ideas in The Emperor’s Blades. What gave you the inspiration behind the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne?
BS: Different ideas came from different places. The various religions (three figure prominently in the first volume) come from my time studying and teaching world religion. The structure of the Annurian Empire draws heavily on Tang China with healthy dashes of other civilizations thrown in. The Kettral are essentially the fantasy version of modern special-ops. The power struggled between the throne and the Church of Intarra draws inspiration from a few sources, both European and Asian. Some of the mythology is inspired by the Indian epic the Mahabharata. A lot of the material is invented or imagined, but I’d have a lousy imagination without the real world backing it up.
BP: The advanced praise of The Emperor’s Blades is very positive. I myself was very, very impressed with the story you have written. Had you thought that you book would be so well received and are you feeling pressure for writing your sequel?
BS: I had, and have, no idea what to expect. I’m just thrilled whenever someone writes to let me know she stayed up all night reading the book. As for the sequel (The Providence of Fire), it’s more or less done! I’m going through the final round of edits with my editor now, but I’m starting to shift my focus to the third book.
BP: Writing a debut is a daunting. How did you go about planning to write this epic tale?
BS: I wrote several versions. There was an old, old draft with a hundred thousand words devoted to a point-of-view character, a young Urghul girl, who is no longer in the book at all. The novel that’s coming out bears very little resemblance to the novel I started writing seven years ago.
BP: During your writing did you encounter any specific problems?
BS: One problem is that I am an idiot. When I decided to write a fantasy novel, I eyeballed some of my favorites, concluded that fantasy novels ought to be about a thousand pages, and got to it. Only when I finished up did I realize that my thousand-page beast was going to be about as popular with literary agents as a kick in the cheek. So I wrote it again, from the ground up, starting in an entirely different spot. If I’d done maybe ten minutes of market research first, I could have saved myself about two years.
BP: What was the hardest part to write in The Emperor’s Blades?
BS: The monks are wonderful, but they’re tough. After all, they train themselves not to feel emotion, and it’s hard to write a compelling character who doesn’t feel emotion – sort of like writing about set of Tupperware. Fortunately, the monks aren’t Tupperware. They are human, and humans have flaws, so even the most advanced among them has cracks in his psychological armor. Cracks are good. I can work with cracks.
BP: Besides the hardest part, which part did you enjoy writing about the most?
BS: I really enjoy some of the secondary, non-POV characters, particularly The Flea and Pyrre. It’s great fun writing middle-aged characters. They’re not old enough to be either wise or decrepit, not young enough to be totally rash or indestructible. Middle-aged people have to pull off an interesting balancing act. It’s one I enjoy living and well as writing.
BP: If you would still be able to retract the book to make a few last minute adjustments would you do so? And if yes which part(s) and why?
BS: I’d love to see more Adare in the first book. I think that will be pretty obvious when people get to The Providence of Fire – she has far more screen time there. In fact, I’d say she’s really the heart of the second volume.
BP: Now that you have written your first book, did you have some learning moments that you will be able to take with you when you will be writing the sequel?
BS: Many. Chief among them might be the following: If you can’t frame a scene in terms of a conflict or a decision (which is a psychological sub-genre of conflict), the scene doesn’t belong in the book. For instance, “Kaden and Valyn talk about their father,” will be a shitty scene. “Kaden and Valyn argue over their father’s final lesson,” is far more promising. I now give every chapter a working title that takes the form: X vs. Y. It could be “Valyn versus Adare” or “Valyn versus His Own Impatience,” but there’s got to be conflict.
BP: There are three main characters in the book: Valyn, Kaden and Adare. Their stories are all totally, which of these three is your favorite character?
BS: Difficult question. Valyn’s the most physically adept, Kaden has the most emotional control, and Adare is the smartest. I understand Valyn and Adare better than I understand Kaden, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like him. I just need to work harder to get into his head.
BP: The series title: Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne doesn’t mention anything like a trilogy of duology, have you already mapped out how many volumes the series will run?
BS: Three books. There may be future volumes set in this world, but this story will be over at the end of the third book.
BP: Can you tell us a bit more of what we can expect further on in the series? And maybe a more burning question, when will be the expected pub date of the second book?
BS: As I mentioned above, the second volume, The Providence of Fire, is essentially finished. I’m working on a few final things and then it goes to the copyeditor. In fact, the US cover will be revealed pretty soon. Hint: it’s gorgeous. I’ve started work on the third book, and though I’m not very far into it, most of the major pieces are in place.
BP: Do you have any other projects that you wish to pursue besides the Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne in the near future?
BS: Nope. If I’m not writing, I want to be sledding with my son, chatting with my wife, or drinking beer and making bonfires with my friends and family.
BP: Everyone enjoys Science Fiction and Fantasy in their own way. What you do like most about reading and writing it?
BS: The possibilities. You’re not constrained by anything except the dual imperatives to create compelling characters and a great story. Beyond that, if you want a sword that’s also a portal to a prison dimension (Steven Erikson), you can have it! An Egypt-esqe civilization on a moon orbiting a gas giant (N. K. Jemisin), done! Sentient spaceships thousands of years old with human bodies as ancillaries (Ann Leckie), no problem! If you’re going to write fiction, why not go for fiction that lets you do whatever you think needs doing?
BP: and just lastly, if you would have to give your top 5 favorite books, which would they be?
BS: This list doesn’t mean much, since it was probably different yesterday and will change tomorrow, but here are five great books that have stuck with me over the years: Middlemarch (George Eliot), Absalom, Absalom (William Faulkner), The Last Samauri (Helen DeWitt), Disgrace (J.M. Coetzee), and The Tombs of Atuan (Ursula K. LeGuin)
BP: Thank you for your time Brian and good luck with writing the sequel!