Epic Fantasy filled to the brim with Grimdark Reality
Hey folks, I'm very pleased to give you an interview with the author of SHATTERED DREAMS. It's a book we've reviewed twice here on the Booknest.eu with both of us loving it.
1. So, tell us about the Drangar series?
It all started out on a day long in the past. No, seriously, it did. I wanted to hang with some friends, accompanying them to one of their fabled cons. Those cons, for me at least, were all about partying, but I also wanted to contribute to the shared world. So Drangar Ralgon was born, and I wrote a bunch of connected short stories about his adventures. These short stories were my first steps into writing. All in German back then.
Fast forward a few years later, and I wondered why I had trouble finding the correct words. Writers need to read a lot, and I did! Then it hit me, I read everything in English. Primarily because most translations sucked at that time. One short story that made people laugh later (a story which wasn't really that good, but hindsight is a strange animal) and I knew that I had to continue writing in English.
At first I wrote in the style found in the books I was reading at the time, mostly omniscient narrator and all that heroic stuff. The plot followed the short stories, but given the scale of an actual novel and the lack of restrictions due to not writing in a shared world, it quickly expanded. But I wasn't happy, neither with myself nor with the writing. Me and it lacked focus. The first part of solving that particular puzzle came in form of George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire. When I read those books, I knew how I wanted to write. What I lacked now was actually the motivation of writing again. To say I had hit a slump would be a grave understatement, I was depressed, had suffered throughone breakdown already, and by 2007 the second breakdown was at hand. My best friend kicked me until I went to therapy.
As part of that therapy, I rewrote the entire first novel in three months, and then, with the aid of another friend, honed what would become Shattered Dreams.
Not to sound too conceited, but in a way the story, Drangar's story, is as much about self-discovery and healing of one's spirit as it is about people and swords and magic, or people with swords and magic. In the beginning the protagonist is a wreck. Ironically enough, that part has existed since the very beginning, my alter ego was damaged, only I didn't know I was just as damaged. Over the course of the story he gets better.
Sure, there's more to it, but you have to read the book to find that out.
2. What separates the Drangar series from other epic fantasy about there?
I didn't want to write a "genre book" per se. Sure, it's fantasy, but I want it to appeal to non-fantasy readers as well. Even with GRRM's books, the base appeal is to fantasy fans, with the hurdle of others picking up the novels lowered only by the TV series. I tried to focus on people rather than mythical dangers and such. And given that the non-fantasy-people who have read it, love it, I guess I succeeded there.
While writing the story, I did not read any fantasy. Instead I read every other kind of fiction, and some books for research, of course. That was and is intentional, since I do not want my prose to "echo" any other fantasy author's. No idea if it's bad or good, but it's mine, my voice, my prose. Another thing, it's small, contained, the story literally takes place in an area smaller than most states. Since I focus on characters, I figured that territorial intimacy is preferable. Shit that happens, happens in the neighborhood and affects people.
3. Who are the protagonists?
Drangar, a mercenary turned shepherd who tries to avoid facing his past
Kildanor, one of 24 Chosen of Lesganagh, the Lord of Sun and War
Ealisaid, the last Wizardess due to the fact that no one woke her from hibernation
Jesgar, a young man who took up thieving as a hobby
Anneijhan, short Anne, a noble warleader with the enemy army
Mireynh, the invaders' High General
Lightbringer, a being who has had her fingers on the tillers of history for millennia
Lloreanthoran, an elven mage tasked with retrieving forgotten artifacts
Bright-Eyes, Lloreanthoran's squirrel familiar
4. Could you describe your world for us?
I like classical mythology, Greek, Roman, Celtic. In each of these the world is created by deities who then rule over the thing. There are no differing religions or gods, because, well, it's their world. Basically I go with what I call creation fact. The world as the people know it, was created by the gods, no other deities are present, and since the people have one origin there is, literally, no difference in outward appearance, with variations according to geography (i.e. closer to the equator and skin color will grow darker)
There is only one language. The former masters of the world, the elves, have all but vanished, leaving behind a humanity that tries to figure itself and the elven technologies out.
The analogy that I chose is: Elves = Romans at the height of Empire, humans = Dark Ages. I didn't want the all too generic mix of technologies one finds in far too many games, be it D&D or WoW. I basically sat down and wrote out my creation fact, how the world came into being, added the obligatory battles between various godly factions and all that. There are loads of familiar things in this unnamed world, but I strive to take clichés and turn them inside out. It's a world in turmoil, and no side is good or evil.
5. Do you prefer high fantasy or low fantasy?
High fantasy, to me, screams Dragonlance or Lord of the Rings, and I found the older I get the less I care for it. For the stereotypical good vs. evil stuff, I mean. When I look at Conan or Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, I see low fantasy. And while I like the yarns REK and Leiber spun, I think I prefer an amalgam of both, with a serious influx of realism. That's what I like about A Song of Ice and Fire, on the surface it's gritty realism, and the deeper you dig, the more fantastic it becomes, without losing the grit.
6. Would you describe your book as grimdark?
Hah! To be perfectly honest, I didn't know about grimdark when I wrote it. I read GRRM and considered it well written, realistic fantasy. I'm just gonna say: "I consider it a damn good story" because in the end the rest, the trappings if you will, are negligible. To paraphrase a famous German movie producer: "A book is good when it's good." In the end that is the only thingthat matters.
7. What do you think of the grimdark phenomenon?
Realism is always a good thing, and I think that every piece of fiction should be realistic, within the logical confines of the world. Grimdark is a counter movement to the heroic fantasies like Shannara, D&D-world novels, and such. It's necessary. Our world has changed, and in the wake of the end of the Cold War, lines have become blurred. Sure, we got moronic and sociopathic leaders, but more and more people realize that the "Russian" or the "American" or "French" or "Chinese" or "German" are, all in all, just people.
Fantasy and Science Fiction can easily adapt to such societal "revelations." But I think that brutality for brutality's sake or shock value just to be called "grimdark" is abhorrent, similar to torture porn. If a novel's cast of characters just consists of psychopaths and sociopaths, people who have no inherent redeemable qualities, who cannot by their very nature have redeemable qualities, a reader won't connect… or if they do, I wonder what kind of people they really are.
Give me realism any day of the week. Have people swear, sweat, fuck, fight, love, lose, kill, die all you want, but if you're just out to shock people or outdo someone else, that's not for me.
8. Did you do a lot of research to create your world?
I'm still researching things. To truly portray a lived-in world, you need to know how people lived in the times similar or close to similar to what you are describing. You need to know a bit of everything, basically. Of course, it does help if you live in a town whose oldest buildings were erected before the Thirty Years War, and have two castles and one castle ruin in your neighborhood. But those locales are only visual aids, the actual research comes from historians and archaeologists, of course. Applying real world history to a fantastic world, replacing certain things with fantasy elements, that is the fun part of one's world development. And understanding the evolution of things, be it architecture or weaponry, just makes things, again, more realistic.
9. Do you have a favorite character? If so, why?
Drangar. He's been with me for over twenty-five years, and yet I discover new things about him whenever I write from his perspective. He and I are a lot alike, and, I guess, we both do our healing together.
10. How has fan reception been so far?
So far. The people who have read Shattered Dreams love it, for the most part. Some complain that it isn't a self-contained story but the first book of three, but that's complaining on a very sophisticated level. Understandable, but I couldn't cram the entire story into one book of well over 1000 pages.
11. Do you have any other authors you want to give a shout out to?
Ed Greenwood: for the support and the blurb, and for pointing out that "Hell" is a shitty term to use in a non-Judeao-Christian fantasy setting.
And Charles Phipps: for the fun conversations, both in Candlekeep and Facebook, and the support. Thanks, friend!
12. What can we expect from you next?
I think I will have some tea. Hehe, other than that I am pondering whether to finish Drangar's saga first, or start something different, smaller, more fast paced to maybe attract an agent with. I guess the many viewpoints are too much for an agent to sell as newcomer author.