Fantasy author Brian Staveley, he who forged The Emperor’s Blades and this year’s The Providence of Fire, recently dropped by Reddit Fantasy for an AMA session. We’ve collected the highlights from his answers below, including what’s coming next in the Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne series and his troubles with goats.
Oh, and that’s his son holding his father’s Reddit Fantasy Stabby Award for Best Debut aloft!
On his writing process:
Did you intend your series to be a trilogy from the start or did you just find that was the length you wanted it to be?
Actually, way back in the dark days of my own hopefully ignorance, I thought seven or eight books seemed like a reasonable number. I pitched that to Marco Palmieri, my editor at Tor, and he about laughed me off the phone. Evidently, no-name debut authors without a single fiction credit to their names don’t get eight-books deals.
How difficult is it, writing characters like this, and how they react to a death, and trying to get it right? What about Adare, who has lived a very different life in the palace?
I’m thinking a lot about death as I write this third book — my dad has cancer, and I’ve been spending more time with my parents. Of course, thinking about death is inextricable from thinking about life, about what matters and what doesn’t, about the best way to spend a limited number of days. The main characters in these books are younger than me by a couple of decades, and so I don’t share much in common with their view of the world. Some of the older folks, however, – Nira, the Flea, etc — have perspectives that I’m very interested in exploring. And Pyrre, of course, is who she is… which gives her some unique insight into the subject.
Staveley continued elsewhere in the AMA…
This third book has been, without a doubt, the hardest. Beginnings are easy. You can toss out, say, a mysterious tower with no doors, and readers will be interested. WHAT’S IN THE TOWER? By the end of the series, however, you need to start putting stuff in your towers; finding compelling tower-stuffers is tricky.
There are also about two dozen characters in these books, by the time we get to number three, who require some sort of meaningful resolution. Giving every character the arc she deserves while keeping the plot moving forward has been an interesting challenge. And by “interesting”, I mean, it made me want to bang my head on the table until my nose caved in.
It’s strange to me to think back to the very start of this project (about ten years ago). The Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne sprung out of my years teaching world history and comparative religion. I started with the world and the gods, working forward to the events of the trilogy. I say it’s strange, because now, as I work through the third book, it’s the characters that really matter to me, not some system of magic (although I like the magic system), or military organization (although I like the Kettral), or monastic discipline (although I like the Shin monks). What gets me excited to put my ass in the chair each morning is getting to know all these characters better.
Before I started writing epic fantasy, I studied poetry — that’s what I did both my undergraduate and grad degrees in. Though I don’t write poetry any more, there’s no doubt that all those years balancing meter and lineation play a major part in my fiction. Just a couple of days ago, as I was reworking a chapter, I found myself thinking explicitly in terms of Anglo-Saxon strong-stress meter versus the accentual-syllabic lines that we encounter more often in English poetry; I decided that, to capture the emotional shift of the character, I need to move from one to the other. And so this stuff is all still very much alive for me…
Do you use your running time to zone out, to delve through complex plot issues, or something in-between?
I’m terrible at thinking when I run. Or talking. I see all these people out for runs with their friends, chatting and gesturing away — they’re like aliens to me. I can pay attention to my watch and my heart rate and that’s about it, so I almost never have good ideas while running. Right AFTER a run, however — that’s a different story.
On other authors you should read…
Ursula Le Guin, N. K. Jemisin, Elizabeth Bear, Victoria Schwab
I’d recommend The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt. It’s not fantasy. And it has nothing to do with that horrible Tom Cruise movie. It’s a book about a single mother in London trying to raise a super-genius little boy. It’s funny, brilliant, heartbreaking and hopeful. One of my all-time favorites.
On the third book and beyond…
Book three word count [so far]: 254K words. If the final thing isn’t heavy enough to break a toe, I’ll feel like I failed.
Rampuri Tan vs Pyrre. Each get their own weapon of choice—battle to the death. Who wins, and why? Feel free to write a novella about it and post at a later date.
I think Pyrre has to win, provided the fight takes place during the events of this trilogy. Tan has been running a lot with the Shin, but he hasn’t been fighting. Twenty years off will make a man slow…
Remember that you asked this question, by the way, when you finally get your mitts on Book III…
Any idea when the third book will get a title? Any ideas for possible titles yet?
We’re playing with titles now. I like the idea of something involving MORTAL.
My only question is: when will the third book be coming out? PleasethewaitisgoingtokillmeIneedmoreitwastoogood
March 2016. Less than a year!
What are you planning to write after you finish the Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne?
I’m excited to write a few stand-alone novels in the same world, probably following some of the secondary characters from the Unhewn Throne. Pyrre, maybe. Or the Flea. I’m taking requests, really…
There were 100K words, for instance, about a young Urghul slave girl named Riah trying to stay alive in the fighting pits of the Bend. She’s gone, although hopefully not forever. In retrospect, I’m hugely grateful to Marco Palmieri. Three books (and these are pretty long books, 260K for #3) is enough space to tell a big story, but not so much that you get lost in it.
Are you planning any short stories / novellas before or after the release of Book #3? I am thinking something to the Last Abbot…
I’d like to continue with the characters from “The Last Abbot.” I have in mind a series of short stories that eventually takes the shape of a sort of serialized novel.
What is your favorite way to eat goat?
I don’t eat the neighbor’s goat, I just wrestle it by the horns when it goes after the toddlers in our yard. The snow slows it down… but it also slows me down.
100 cat sized dragons, or one dragon sized cat?
DEFINITELY the cat-sized dragons! A hundred of them? That’s brilliant. We’d take care of the neighbor’s goat in no time!
What is your favorite animal?
I’ve developed a real fondness for porcupines.
What’s the craziest thing a fan has said to you?
There’s this one guy (ahem, Justin) who keeps sending me pictures of Kathy Bates as Annie Wilkes from Misery, complete with her hammer. He lives in Ohio, so I’m not too worried.
Get back to work, Brian.