Author Brian Staveley, he of the recently released The Emperor’s Blades, was featured in an AMA over on Reddit Fantasy recently and had some interesting things to say about what didn’t make it into his debut fantasy novel, which character’s randiness had to be copy-edited out, and how that Max Gladstone better watch his back.
Check out the full AMA here. Highlights below!
On the entire book that had to be cut out of The Emperor’s Blades:
…I cut whole novel-length sections before this thing [The Emperor’s Blades] saw the light of day. There’s a POV character with 100,000 words devoted to her that just didn’t… work. I still haven’t recovered from her loss. […] I’d love to do a stand-alone about her at some point. We’ll see. I can’t stomach the thought that she’s just gone…
If you have an Emperor’s Blades ARC, you get bonus sexy times!
There’s a typo in the ARCs. Should read, “Il Tornja made a casual flicking motion.” Instead, it reads, “Il Tornja made a casual fucking motion.” The copyeditor wanted to know if I wanted to keep it, or no. So, so tempting…
Author Max Gladstone wondered, “Are there wild kettral anywhere, or are they exclusively tame? If wild, what do they eat? Super-sparrows?”
Oh, there are wild kettral, alright. They eat a type of creature known as the gladstone… very wily, very fierce, a good match for the kettral.
(To which Gladstone replied, “My people! For ages we have fought!”)
Hints and clarifications about the world and the second book:
Li is on the other side of the world. The Manjari Empire is a part the Eridroan continent. […] Don’t want to spoil anything for the next book, but it’s safe to say that Adare’s plot line is not politics as usual.
Oh, and if you ever want to buy him a drink, he likes…
I’m drinking a Good Life Descender IPA. I like big, hoppy beers, and this one is filling the role pretty well. Never had it before.
On future plans and getting the first novel into shape:
The Emperor’s Blades was about 187,000 words. [The sequel] Providence of Fire is about 215,000.
After these three, I’d like to write some stand-alones in the same world.
All I can say about cutting is that I did a whole damn lot of it. There are at least 200,000 words that never made the final volume. So, to refer back to one of the questions above, although this was my first book, it went through many, many iterations.
Also, my wife isn’t shy about telling me what’s bad. She’ll look at a chapter and say, “Yeah, this is just really boring…”
Why Brian Staveley wanted to write a fantasy novel:
Fantasy is the genre that kept me up flipping pages until 3AM as a kid, and it’s usually still these books that entice me into decisions that lead to bad parenting, non-existent housekeeping, and failure to hold up my end of conversation with my wife due to exhaustion. If at all possible, I want to inflict these things on others…
I studied and wrote poetry for years (undergrad and grad school). Loved it, but the enterprise was about as lucrative as competitive felting. (Sorry to my wife, who is really an excellent felter). I taught high school for a dozen years while I was working through the book, and, while I enjoyed that job tremendously, I kept wanting to write more. Fantasy, my first true love, seemed like it might be a way to pursue that…
User calvnhobs6 asked, “Staveley! How many times have you brought a dead fish into your sophomore English classroom to inspire some poetry?”
Twice. I just couldn’t believe it didn’t work the first time around.
Besides poetry and teaching, what influenced the world of The Emperor’s Blades?
Well, I wrote the first draft of the book when I was living in southeast Asia, and many, many of the sights and people that I met there crept into the novel. As for the teaching, there are all sorts of things: Chuang Tzu’s writings, for instance, or the bureaucracy of Tang China, or the character of An Lushan. There were just so many elements, especially elements outside the Western European tradition, that I couldn’t avoid playing with. Does that answer the question? Am I headed in the right direction, at least?
Justin Landon asked an insightful question that one imagines every author asking themselves at one point or another:
I’ve read EMPEROR’S BLADES and thought it was very solid. The writing was good, the structure was fine, the world building was original and creative, but the themes felt very familiar within the genre.
Why did you write an epic fantasy? What do you feel like EMPEROR’S BLADES is adding to the conversation?
I’m glad to see this question at the top of the list, because honestly, I think it’s a great one.
Modernist and romantic writers tend to insist on originality, and though the tricks and techniques people like Woolf and Faulkner pioneered are now old hat, the boldness of novels like As I Lay Dying and Mrs. Dalloway still sometimes makes me want to quit writing and take up something more in keeping with my talents: maybe moving mud from one place to another.
This interest in originality, however, is not shared in all places and all times. Take J. S. Bach. For his day job, Bach wrote over 300 sacred cantatas, and they are wonderful, even sublime. They are not, however, defiant statements of originality. Bach’s approach to his art was not the approach of Faulkner and Woolf. He worked within the boundaries of tradition, often so assiduously that many of his contemporaries completely overlooked his talent. Scores of other baroque composers were doing the same sort of thing, often more flamboyantly. What set Bach apart from them was his execution.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not comparing myself to Bach. The man had more brilliance in his left large toenail than I’ll ever possess, but his model, the model of an artist working inside a fairly rigid tradition (rather than one trying to blow the doors off of one), is a model I admire.
That said, there are some elements in The Emperor’s Blades that I’m pleased with. The monastic veneration of the Blank God by the Shin, for instance, looks a lot like other pseudo-Buddhist business we’ve seen before in fantasy, but the origins of the Shin discipline are much darker, the implications much muddier, than what I’ve seen elsewhere. I enjoyed writing the Kettral because I’ve never quite seen a fantasy analogue to modern special forces (although there may be one out there – anyone?) The leaches (the world’s magic users) intrigued me because I thought I saw a little corner of the fantasy magic world that (to my knowledge) hadn’t been staked out yet. So, although my model is Bach, not Woolf, I think there’s enough new material to engage hardened fantasy readers.
Check out the full AMA for a lot more on Staveley’s worldbuilding, writing advice, and more!