Author interview with Douglas Hulick
Hi Douglas, welcome over to The Book Plank and for taking your time to answer these few questions.
DH: My pleasure. I’m happy to be here.
BP: First off, could you give us a short introduction as to who Douglas Hulick what are your hobbies, likes and dislikes?DH: I’m married and am a stay-at-home father for two boys. I have two degrees in medieval history (which don’t get much use around the house on a day-to-day basis), practice and teach 17th century historical Italian Rapier (which actually gets a bit more use, oddly enough), and am extremely tall.
BP: Among Thieves was your debut fantasy book and kicked off the The Tales of the Kin series, how did you come up with the idea of the series?DH: I’ve always had a bit of a penchant for rogues, to be honest. Be it in games or fiction, I tend to like the gray-shaded character skulking about in the shadows. So when I stumbled across a dictionary of thieves’ cant years ago, it only seemed like a wise investment against some future date (plus, it was just plain cool. I still read it sometimes just for fun). When I finally got around to starting the Tales of the Kin, I knew two things: that I wanted to write it from a first person point of view (I love classic hard-boiled detective tales), and that I wanted to make use of this dictionary I’d had lying about. Given those two criteria, making the narrator a criminal who used the cant seemed like the natural choice. Things just grew from there.
BP: Do you still know the moment when and where you decided that you wanted to become an author?DH: It was the summer between 7th and 8th grades. My 7th grade English teacher had organized a mass order of “The Hobbit” for our class, since the television animated special had aired during the school year. Being a 13 year old boy, I’d gotten the book and then simply watched the TV program rather than read the story (it wasn’t required, just encouraged). But over the summer, I ended up getting sick for several days. Having nothing to do on a summer day (this was well before the internet or cable TV), I’d dug out my copy of the book and begun reading out of sheer boredom. It hooked me right away. I spent the rest of the summer and fall devouring fantasy and science fiction novels. Somewhere between Tolkien and Robert E. Howard, I decided I wanted write magical tales as well. I never stopped wanting to do that.
BP: Writing a debut can be a daunting task, how did you went about and start writing it?DH: I always knew I wanted to write a book, but to do that you have to actually start writing at some point. For me, it came when my wife and I got a chance to visit Alaska for a month. She was doing a visiting residency for her medical program. I basically came along for the ride. Since we were only going to be there for thirty days, it wasn’t like I could get a job – so instead I got up every morning, saw her off, then drank coffee, looked out the picture window at the mountain across the inlet, and started writing.
BP: Did you gain valuable experience when you were writing Among Thieves that you were able to use in Sworn in Steel?DH: You learn something with every book you write. Plotting, character, pacing, dialog, foreshadowing, efficiency, voice – there’s always something to improve on, something to get better at. It’s a never-ending process: you’re never so proficient that you can’t improve. And this is especially true with a first novel. First novels are where you learn how pull all the different parts of a story together and turn it into a whole, completed, working thing. That experience alone is invaluable.
BP: If you would have to sell Sworn in Steel with a single sentence, how would it go?DH: Thieves, sword fights, intrigue, betrayal, sword fights, magic, redemption, and sword fights. With sword fights.
BP: Did you encounter any specific problems so far in writing the The Tales of the Kin?DH: Mostly deadlines. I’m not a fast writer, and I don’t have a consistent schedule at home to structure my writing around. That isn’t a problem for some people, but I’ve discovered that, for me, a regular writing schedule helps a lot. I also tend to be either an early-morning or late-night writer; problem is, having kids, my mornings start early and my nights can’t run too late. Mid-day is my writing time, but it is also a hard time for me to settle in for some reason.
BP: What has been the hardest part in writing either Among Thieves or Sworn in Steel?DH: I wrote Among Thieves over 10 years, off and on. I also did it without any kind of contract or obligation. That gave me a lot of time to follow the story down blind alleys, over cliffs, and so on, and still have plenty of time to go back and fix it. I essentially let the story take me where it wanted to go. That process didn’t work so well when it came to Sworn in Steel, since I was on a deadline. But I am still very much a discovery writer, meaning I figure out the story as I go. Balancing the desire to follow the narrative against the need to get things done in a reasonable amount of time has been the biggest overall challenge so far.
BP: Besides the hardest part, which chapter/scene did you enjoy writing about the most?DH: I love writing fight/action scenes. I have over twenty years experience with fencing and Western Martial Arts, which means I can visualize a lot of the combat in my head. This frees me up from having to spend a lot of time blocking out the fight, and instead allows me to think about the cool things the characters can do while they try to kill each other. It lets me play.
That being said, my favorite scene from Among Thieves has to be the scene where we first meet a character who later turns out to be an Imperial guards woman name Lyria. Drothe is nearly unconscious from blood loss and shock at the time, so her arrival is half-dreamlike to him. I’m very happy with the imagery and the way it turned out.
As for Sworn in Steel, I think I like the Epilogue the best. It was just plain fun to write.
BP: If you would be given the chance to retract Sworn in Steel and make one final adjustment, would you do so? If yes, which parts and why?DH: My wife says I have trouble letting my work go, and I agree. I’m never fully happy with it. If I could, I think I’d like to go back over the book one more time and tighten it up on the sentence and paragraph level. I’m happy with the story overall, but there are bits here and there I’d like to tinker with. But then, I’m forever tinkering with my sentences and paragraphs, even as I write them, so it’s probably just as well I can’t call the book back into my hands for one final pass. I might never let it go if I could.
BP: With Sworn in Steel being published last May, do you have plans to write a third book in the series or are there even more books planned in The Tales of the Kin series?DH: I’m working on the third book right now (no title yet -- they’re usually the last thing I come up with). After that my publisher has the option to buy a fourth book, but there’s nothing contracted beyond that. Would I like to do some more books in the series? Absolutely. But at this point, I can’t say whether I will or not. A lot will depend on things beyond my control (sales, interest in the series, and so on). But I’ll keep writing, be it the Tales of the Kin or something else.
BP: Everyone enjoys science fiction and fantasy in their own way, what do you like most about it?DH: I’m a historian and I fight with swords in my free time. What’s there not to like about fantasy for me?
BP: If you would have to give your top 5 favorite books, which would they be?
DH: That’s hard, and the answer will likely be different depending on when and where you catch me. Right here, right now, for SFF, they would be: The Chronicles of Amber, by Roger Zelazny (I know this comprises 5 books, but they’re short and read as essentially one book); Bridge of Birds, by Barry Hughart; A Spectacle of Corruption, by David Liss; When Gravity Fails, by George Alec Effinger; and The Heroes, by Joe Abercrombie.
BP: And just lastly, can you give us a sneak peak as to what will be in store for the readers of Sworn in Steel and possibly the direction of the third book?DH: Drothe finds himself out of his element in a couple of ways in Sworn in Steel, both as a newly-minted Gray Prince and as a foreigner in the Despotate of Djan. There’s a lot of hidden agendas in this book, and a lot revolves around the mercenary group known as the Order of the Degans. By the end of Sworn in Steel, readers will have found out more about that group and its members.
The third book will find Drothe back in Ildrecca, the capital of the Dorminikan Empire. This time, though, the emphasis is more on politics, both criminal and Imperial, with Drothe’s sister Christiana telling half of the tale. I’m excited to be seeing the world of the Tales through another set of eyes, not to mention getting an outside view of Drothe. It makes for an interesting dynamic.
BP: Thank you for your time Douglas and good luck with your future writing!DH: Thank you very much for having me.