An Interview with Brian Staveley, Author of The Emperor’s Blades

This month Tor and Tor UK have published The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley, and we’ve been delighted by the response so far. It’s been wonderfully reviewed, fans seem so excited on twitter, etc., and it’s made a flurry of “Best of…” and “Most anticipated…” lists. We could just say – “it’s brilliant, read it.” Only we work with words, so we feel we have license to be a lot more verbose than that! Indeed, we’ve put together a list of questions no less, which Brian has been kind enough to answer.

See below for the best bits of writing a book while in Asia, what’s surprised him about the publishing process, and other insights into what being a debut author is all about. You can also get hold of the first seven chapters of the book for free here in the US and via SFX Magazine here if you’re in the UK. Now over to Brian…

1) Have you always wanted to write a novel?

Photo by Laura Swoyer

Pretty much. Life, though, has a way of leading you down unexpected paths, and so it took me a while to get it done. I was actually chatting with my wife in the car yesterday, and I said, “Why didn’t I do this when I was twenty?” She pointed out that at twenty, I lacked both the discipline and the maturity to see a project of this size through from start to finish, then to revise it effectively. You get this kind of frank insight when you marry someone you’ve known since high school. Photo by Laura Swoyer

2) Is there anything you’ve created within your fictional Annurian Empire that you’d love us to have over here? (giant fighting birds – the kettral – perhaps?!)

The thing that always shocks and disappoints me is how quickly we acclimate to our own world. The truth is, this reality right here is filled with truly amazing things – porcupines, cinnamon, single malt scotch, Canada geese flying in formation – but we get used to it so quickly. It would be tempting to import the kettral into our world, but I’m sure I’d end up looking right past them most of the time, just as I do everything else.

That sounds depressing. I didn’t mean to sound depressing. The up side of the equation is that every so often when you remember to pay attention, you realize just how much ass our own world really kicks.

3) You’ve been on a number of ‘Most anticipated SF/F for 2014’ lists, have received rave reviews on Goodreads etc. and have had great write-ups in Locus and on blogs such as Fantasy Faction and many others. How does it feel to have so many others read your work, that at one stage was presumably for your eyes only?

It’s thrilling and terrifying all at once. There have, actually, been quite a few people who have read drafts of the book along the way; their feedback was crucial. Somehow, though, that didn’t feel the same. Once the book is finished, set in stone, the whole game seems to change. I always used to explain to my creative writing students that the reason I didn’t let them talk in discussions of their own writing was that the work had to stand alone. You can’t follow your novel or poem or whatever through the world, peeking over the shoulders of readers explaining the bits you left out. Living that truth on a global scale, however, is very intimidating.

4) What part of the publishing process has most surprised you? Or wasn’t what you expected?

The freedom. I expected both my US and UK editors to take a heavier hand in saying, “You can’t do that; it’s not suitable for the market.” In fact, the editorial process was far more collaborative. This isn’t to say my editors weren’t involved – they’ve been really wonderful – but every suggestion is couched as just that, a suggestion. Usually, they’re so damn smart that I incorporate the advice, but it’s been really great to realize that in the few cases where I don’t agree, I can keep the book the way I want it.

5) You wrote The Emperor’s Blades mostly in Asia, which sounds amazing. What do you most miss from that time (apart from the weather!)?

The chance encounters and impromptu relationships with people. I was over there alone, and I met a lot of wonderful folk in the places I went. In Laos, for instance, I tutored English some mornings, and struck up a friendship with one young man who invited me back to his village in the mountains – a really gorgeous place. He just friended me on facebook a couple weeks ago. In Lijiang, China, I fell in with a rock band. They didn’t speak any English, and I didn’t speak any Chinese, but we’d go listen to music one or two nights a week, and somehow the whole thing worked despite the communication barrier. Those unexpected human connections were really delightful.

Also, I could eat Thai food every day of the week and die a happy man.


This article was first published on and you can see other interviews and articles featuring Brian Staveley and The Emperor’s Blades here.

Bella Pagan is a Senior commissioning editor for Pan Macmillan’s Tor imprint in the UK, working on out-of-this world SF, fantasy, urban fantasy and genre YA (plus other subdivisions, factions and associated areas). On twitter as @BellaPagan.


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