1. So, tell us about Shattered Hopes.
It’s a book. (insert canned laughter). Ok, more serious answer. (insert canned applause, moderate). Shattered Hopes is the recently published sequel to my first novel, Shattered Dreams. It used to be bigger than its 150k words. Around 300k words, to be precise. David Wilson, my publisher, suggested I cut it into two parts because it was too big. Dreams, in comparison, was only 158k words or thereabout, so I looked for the perfect cliffhanger; and I think I found it.
When I was still planning to self publish I wanted a trilogy, because fantasy trilogy is a thing, and it’s cool. Now it’s a pentalogy, more of a tongue twister, but David’s correct, at almost 700-800 pages, it would have been freakishly huge. I should know, I had a proof copy of the initial version. If I make it big, this will be a one of a kind collectible… if not, a handy doorstopper.
Starting with Hopes, I have changed my approach. Gone are the in-chapter viewpoint shifts, now it’s like A Song of Ice and Fire, one chapter, one viewpoint.
The story begins almost immediately after the events of Shattered Dreams come to a close, things are shit, the enemy army is at the gates, and winter is coming. (Yeah, that’s a trigger phrase, but that’s actually something the defenders are hoping for because the besiegers can’t maintain the siege, if supply routes are snowed shut) And more shit is piling on… good stuff.
2. What separates your universe from other fantasy on the market today?
The realistic mythological approach, I believe. What’s that? I love mythology, Greek, Roman, German, Norse, Celtic, always been infatuated with the tales of gods and heroes and all the good stuff. So I approached my world that way. If you look at any of the old myths, everyone is, basically, Greek or Roman or Viking, even Etzel who appears in the German Nibelungenlied is a Germanic king, even though he is Attila. They all speak the “native” language, worship the same gods, etc, and it has to be that way because if the Greeks were, for example, to meet the Phoenicians with their different gods and whatnot, the entire thing would fall apart. How can the titans have formed the world and the gods created it, if there are other gods?
So I started with what I like to call creation fact. This is how it all began, and I developed it from there. There is only one language, yes, but over the years it changed, like every living language does. So while the language the, say, elves use is the same the humans learned, there are differences (not that I write things phonetically, but still) -- think American and British English. It’s the same gods that are worshiped everywhere, skin tones will, of course vary, but even that has an in-world explanation.
Since I wanted a more Dark Age-y feel to humanity, I made the conscious choice to have my humans be a young people. They are the inheritors of the elves, at least in the region the story takes place in, and they are technologically far less advanced than the elves of old. Where does the realism kick in? Well, the world is brutal. You don’t see knights in shining armor. There is no good or evil, people are, by and large, just people. (cue Depeche Mode) And while there are places where people fling shit out of windows, it’s not the places that also have running water.
3. Would you consider your work to be grimdark? Why?
I don’t know. My characters are flawed, for the most part, sure, but I don’t relish in having bronze broadsword cut through silver mail to have guts spill out onto the marble. If the Saw-esque torture porn of psychotic killers doing their super-heroic butchery on the pages while swearing like Hit-Girl on an acid trip is grimdark, then I would not consider it grimdark at all. If that is the definition of grimdark, I don’t want any part of that kingdom.
I’ve always loathed the good vs. evil shit that is going on in far too much fantasy, and I agree with you, Charles, that A Song of Ice and Fire has, ultimately, become the same black and white thing. The white walkers are evil, humanity is not. Sure, there might not be a straightforward goodness to most characters, but overcoming the evil from without is still the endgame.
Are there monsters in our world? Yup, some even rule countries. But I think most people just want to get by. You know, do what’s right, care for their kids, work, help others. The psychopaths are the exception. And even most of them aren’t categorically evil, because that would require a direct agenda other than “I do what I want because no one is my equal” or “The rest of humanity is but meat”. Good and evil are concepts that go along with monotheism. Even Loki or Hades weren’t evil, they just did their thing.
Look at our society; does the CEO of Monsanto see himself as evil because they produce toxins that fuck up the planet’s eco system? Most likely not, he just doesn’t care. That’s not evil, that’s sociopathic. Or sociopathetic if you will. You have people like Rockefeller who thought they were chosen by their deity to be grand, which was reason enough for him to manipulate and sabotage all his competitors. I bet he didn’t see himself as evil either, far from it.
So, taking a mythological world and populating it with real people, people who doubt, smile, fear, fight, even kill to make it just to the next day or week or month, that’s what it is… whatever that is.
4. What is grimdark to you?
To be honest, the bit of grimdark royalty that I read is as appealing to me as poking my eye with a chili peppers. What others might consider grimdark is, to me, merely realistic fantasy, scifi, or whatnot. The really revolting psychotic stuff is like rape porn, to me, shit I don’t want to watch, find in no way appealing, and don’t want to touch again.
5. Tell us about your protagonists.
Drangar Ralgon – a broken man on his path to uncovering more of his past.
Kildanor – a warrior bent on helping Drangar find peace.
Ealisaid – last of the Phoenix Wizards, a novice mage with delusions of grandeur.
Rheanna – a priestess of the god of justice, one of the Riders, warriors who kill wrongs.
Jesgar – a spy in training.
Anne – warleader of the invading army.
Urgraith Mireynh – High General and warlord of the invaders.
Lloreanthoran – an elven mage with a mission.
Darlontor – leader of the Sons of Traksor.
As you can see, it’s quite a list and I can’t really talk about that much since it’s all tied to the story somehow. Suffice it to say that there’s a lot going on and to explain one story thread would also unravel the rest.
6. What inspired you to write this universe?
I wanted to get away from good vs. evil, shining heroes vs. vile villains. I wanted something that is wholly my own. Sure, I put a twist on almost every cliché in the book, my elves are vicious, my humans aren’t much better, but I didn’t want the “oh – an orc kingdom here, let the gnomes live there” D&D-ish approach. There’s a reason the elves are farther along than the humans, it may not make sense to most readers, but it has to make sense to me. There has to be a logic to everything on a grand scale. Developing languages doesn’t interest me, especially when there’s bronze broadswords to avoid.
One day, I’d love for someone to just take a step back and look at what I created and say something like “Damn, that is brilliant…” not as praise, I couldn’t care less about that, but appreciation of the logic that went into the world. I want things to be there for a reason, not the haphazard shit with “wouldn’t it be nice to have a Viking culture next to this renaissance society?” or “Hey, there’s a huge desert with this city in the middle” with no river or major roads that people still use, you know the shit that actually causes cities to be built. If they’re missing, people will abandon these places. Cahokia, Pi Ramesse, Petra, all places that were abandoned because the circumstances changed!
7. Who is your favorite character?
Truth be told, I have two. Drangar, of course, since he’s been with me since 1992. And the squirrel I killed off in Dreams. And YES! I know people hate me for it. But I needed at least one hero in the story. (Heroes are those that give their lives to save others, the rest are survivors.)
8. What would you say the themes of your book are?
In the end, I think, it all boils down to choices and living with the consequences. Who am I? Part is my surroundings, part is my parents. We’re all so many parts of something or other, and in the end we must decide which parts we allow to dominate our lives. Some parts we can’t escape, or if we try, we cut off a part of ourselves. Which are the parts worth keeping? Which are save to discard?
Life… life’s the theme.
9. What sort of things bother you in fantasy today?
To be perfectly honest, I barely read fantasy anymore. First it was because of it distracting my own work, now it’s that and I have discovered a passion for crime/thriller books and such. But in essence it’s the same thing as I addressed over various prior answers. Lack of consequence, realism, even normal physics. Sure, one might say that physics have no place in fantasy, but since the people still wear boots, use rain coats, and horses, we can be sure that gravity does work, rain still falls down, and mounted movement is still more comfortable than walking. So yes, this stuff matters, and a city without fresh water for fields and such is about as useful as nipples on a Batsuit.
10. How has the response been to your book so far?
Shattered Hopes has just been released, but the reactions so far have been very positive, but only time will tell.
11. Would you recommend any other indie fantasy writers?
See 9, but Dyrk Ashton comes to mind, his Paternus stuff is out of this world. Damien Black, his work, the level of detail and the richness of his world reminds me ofKen Follett. I’ve a few books lined up that I’m giving a try soon. (Once I’ve finished Lucifer’s Star by this dude called Charles Phipps, mad as a hatter, I tell ya! And I love him for it.)
12. What can we expect from you next?
Right now we only have the ebook version of Shattered Hopes out. The city map my friend Faith has been sweating blood and tears over for over a year now requires a further touch up for the print version of Hopes, when that’s done, the dead tree version will be released. After that I have a short story coming out in an anthology edited by Charles Phipps (shameless plug, I know, but still).
Shattered Fears, the third book in the series, is complete, but we haven’t determined when to release it yet. Another short story is in the works. All the short stories take place in “Drangar’s world” (for lack of a better word), including the one published in Booknest’s own Art of War. (plug again!) And last but not least I’m developing something super insanely amazing for Charles Phipps’s Lucifer universe… seriously, I almost shat myself when I came up with this idea.
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.