Heroic Fantasy Part II: A Discussion with Hot New Authors

Heroicruckley Joe Abercrombie, Karen Miller, Brian Ruckley, and Brandon Sanderson are four of the new generation of fantasists currently putting their mark on the field. Today I'm posting the conclusion of my round table interview with them. You can read the first part here.

Amazon.com: What literary influences do you have that readers might be surprised by?

Joe Abercrombie: Off the top of my head and trying not to get too pretentious--Charles Dickens (for weird and wonderful characters and dialogue), Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn (for how people really behave under pressure), James Ellroy (for shocks and surprises in both plot and character), Philip Larkin (for fearlessness, brevity, and withering cynicism). Okay, so that was pretty pretentious, but hey, I'd stick J.R.R. Tolkien, Ursula K. Le Guin, Michael Moorcock, and George RR Martin in there with 'em. That's quite a dinner party, thinking about it. Then a lot of writers of history as well--let's pick out Shelby Foote for his Narrative History of the Civil War. But I'm a film editor by trade, and so I tend to find a lot of inspiration in film and television as well--everything from Manga, to Westerns, to Film Noir, to Cop Shows.

Karen Miller: Theatre, and Dorothy Dunnett. I'm a playwright, and I act and direct with my local theatre company. Theatre is psychological writing, and it's dialogue-driven storytelling. I think my love of theatre has really impacted on my style--which might explain my answer to question 1. Dorothy Dunnett was an extraordinary writer of historical fiction. Her six-book Lymond cycle, set in sixteenth century Scotland and Europe, really showed me what was possible in terms of creating character, revealing character, writing emotionally. The depth and richness of her work is magnificent. I'm not in her league yet, but it's something I'm working towards.

Brian Ruckley: I'm not sure exactly how surprising it is, but I've always read a lot of history books--everything from the prehistoric Stone Age through Rome and Byzantium to the British and American civil wars. I'd recommend it for any aspiring writer of fantasy fiction: one thing you quickly learn is that real world history is almost always more bloody, brutal, surprising and dramatic than what fiction authors make up. Little bits of all that reading show up throughout Winterbirth. The prologue has a scene that's an echo of the Spartans holding the pass at Thermopylae; one of my non-human races--the Kyrinin--is loosely based on a combination of prehistoric European and Native American cultures; there are hints of the Scottish clans and even of medieval Venice. 

Brandon Sanderson: Herman Melville. Moby Dick is an awesome work for a fantasy reader. The detailed world he creates might have been something from the real world, but it feels as alien and interesting to me as anything from an epic fantasy. I eat that stuff up.

Amazon.com: What are you working on now?

Joe Abercrombie: Editing of the last part of the trilogy, Last Argument of Kings, has just now finally been completed, so it's time to start something new.  In this case it's going to be a stand-alone novel with a simpler, more focused structure, called Best Served Cold.  You could term it a fantasy thriller, kind of a cross between Corum and Point Blank, and in case you didn't guess...It's about revenge.

Karen Miller: I'll be starting the third book in the Godspeaker trilogy. The first book is called Empress, and it's out in the US and UK next year, 2008. It's character-driven, again, but a lot darker than my previous work. The setting is more sweeping, not so self-contained as in the two Kingmaker, Kingbreaker books. It's a huge challenge, but I'm having a lot of fun with it.

Brian Ruckley: I'm working on the third and final book in the trilogy (book two, Bloodheir, is already done). I've always known how the whole story ends, but inevitably there are some slight surprises along the way, even for the author, in terms of how exactly we get there, who lives, who dies, all that fun kind of stuff. It's very satisfying to feel that you're drawing near to the end, and starting to bring all the various plot strands together.

Brandon Sanderson: I've recently begun a questionably-sane foray into the world of children's publishing. The first book, Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians, was just released. Other than that, Mistborn 3 is done and turned in, as is the next book after it. (Not a Mistborn book, but a different setting.)

Amazon.com: Thanks! It's been a pleasure to talk to you.

You can find "outtakes" from this interview here. --Jeff

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