- - March 9th, 2016
We interviewed Adrian Selby, debut author of SNAKEWOOD (UK|US|ANZ), an epic fantasy of mystery, betrayal and bloody revenge publishing this month via Orbit.
Can you give us your best elevator pitch for SNAKEWOOD?
Fifteen years after the legendary mercenary crew Kailen’s Twenty disbanded, they’re being killed off one by one. Told through a ‘found footage’ collection of journals and interviews, SNAKEWOOD is a record of their glory, their demise and the final days of those left alive as they desperately try to evade a lethal and relentless assassin.
When did you first know you were going to write this particular book?
1989. Back then it was the desire to tell a story of two old soldiers, buddies all their lives, crumbling apart from a life of war, with only each other to rely on as an enemy from their past came after them. All these years later it became a more layered narrative, an exploration of how they and their old mercenary crew fell apart, a glimpse also of their glory years and the story also of the assassin hunting them down.
Faded glory and absent comrades are a great theme in the book – what is it about the ‘old soldier’ motif that’s so attractive to you as a writer?
It’s many things all bound up. They’re more vulnerable. This particular crew of soldiers were so badass in their prime, winning every purse, that it wouldn’t have been that interesting to focus on them back then. But having saved each other’s lives so often, there are debts of honour that will now make them take risks for each other. There is an ennui that pervades our middle age, when the people that made us who we are drift slowly away, leaving us only the joy of having known them, something we treasure and, in Gant and Shale’s case, honour enough to act on when these old friends are dying, and in so honouring perhaps do one good thing before their own time is up.
SNAKEWOOD was a fantasy twenty years in the making: can you tell us a bit about the path to publication?
I finally got my head together and researched and wrote the novel over a ten year span, a growing family edging its progress to the corners of my days. I finished the first draft in February 2013, and started querying literary agents in May. Jamie Cowen, of the Ampersand Agency, expressed an interest in reading the full manuscript in December 2013 and offered to represent me the following month. He helped me get the manuscript into shape for a pitch to publishers and in the summer of 2014 approached Orbit, who appeared to quite like it! Now the editing’s done and the first hardbacks have just arrived from the printers, the culmination of all those years of work and a wonderful collaboration with the brilliant Jamie and everyone at Orbit.
Who inspires you as a writer?
I have favourite writers, Hilary Mantel, Ian McEwan, Annie Proulx, and many others who write exquisite prose in the service of magnificent and moving stories. While I’m a sucker for a great page turner, and I’m looking at you Tim Powers, I am also inspired by those writers who deliver hugely original and/or well realised worlds, from the master, Tolkien, to the strange and vivid worlds of John Crowley, Jeff Vandermeer, Robert Holdstock, Brian Aldiss, Jack Vance and Hannu Rajaniemi. Then there are the writers who deliver on all three, such as David Mitchell and China Miéville.
SNAKEWOOD would definitely fall into that category of ‘strange and vivid worlds’, with its varied poisons and ‘fightbrews’ (potions taken by soldiers to enhance their fighting skill) made from ingredients found naturally in their world. No other fantasy writer has explored this in quite the same way – how did this change the story you were writing?
It is in the story’s DNA, as all magic systems must be. The power of the One Ring in Middle-earth moves every living thing in it like the tides as it journeys south with Frodo. In my own world of Sarun, the magic is in the plant life; it is widespread, capable of being harnessed by anyone who can figure out the recipes with which to make effective magic of it. Such power is inevitably held with those who know and own the recipes, and can thus control the rest, not unlike the control of literacy in the dark to middle ages. The political order of the world is shaped by the knowledge of ‘plant’ and the race to innovate and learn new recipes. Such things therefore govern trade, conspiracies, conquests and alliances.
Clearly Quentin Tarantino would have to direct any adaptation of SNAKEWOOD – a dark and gritty tale of assassins, soldiers and mercenaries on the run – but who would be your dream cast?
This was rather harder than I first thought! I see Javier Bardem as Gant, because I’ve seen him be a complete badass and yet he has a sensitive, expressive quality, softly spoken, perfect for an old mercenary that holds a strong love for old friends. Shale, his lifelong buddy and in a way his rock is more Russell Crowe, all Gladiator – calm, ruthless and more stony in demeanour. Karen Gillan would be a great Galathia, a vengeful young princess estranged from her throne. She could easily bring out Galathia’s intelligence and rage. Kailen, the genius former leader of Kailen’s Twenty, has to be Gabriel Byrne. He can transfix you with those eyes, he has a great presence, commanding authority, but can give the impression of being able to crush you with his eloquence or slit your throat just as easily!
ADRIAN SELBY studied creative writing at university before embarking on a career in video game production. He is a Tolkien fanatic and an online gaming addict, and lives with his wife and family on the south coast of England. His debut novel Snakewood is an epic and inventive fantasy about a company of mercenaries and the assassin trying to destroy them. You can find Adrian on Twitter, tweeting as @adrianlselby.
- - October 20th, 2015
After two UK tours*, appearances at Comic Con, an online scavenger hunt and more sinister pronouncements about the dog park than you can ever imagine, WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE: A NOVEL is released into the wild today. The City Council advises that you run, do not walk, to your nearest bookshop immediately.
If you’re quick you can still get a copy of the Waterstones exclusive edition, and Amazon has also chosen Night Vale as their Deal of the Week. Bookshops across the UK and Australia will be hanging these ritual adornments in their windows and making the traditional stone circle sacrifices, so our oracles predict that Night Vale will be welcoming lots of new visitors today.
Our oracles offer no information on whether said new visitors will ever be allowed to leave.
Here you can listen to a sample of the audiobook (out now!) which is read by no less than Night Vale’s own signature voice actor Cecil Baldwin, plus a host of guest stars and co-conspirators:
The authors were interviewed by the New York Times yesterday and also talked about the book on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert last week. Although it’s not aired in the UK or Australia, you can watch the clip here:
You can buy WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE: A NOVEL in ebook, audiobook and print today.
*ANZ fans will be pleased to hear that an Australia/New Zealand tour is planned for February 2016.
- - October 19th, 2015
We interviewed Julia Knight, author of the Duellists trilogy. The first book, SWORDS AND SCOUNDRELS (UK|US|ANZ) is out this month. It’s a fast and furious fantasy adventure about two siblings, Kacha and Vocho, who are known for the finest swordplay in their kingdom – until they are dishonoured and forced to become reluctant highwaymen. The sequels LEGENDS AND LIARS (UK|US|ANZ) and WARLORDS AND WASTRELS (UK|US|ANZ) will follow in November and December 2015.
What was the inspiration behind SWORDS AND SCOUNDRELS?
Lots of things! I was reading a lot about post-Moorish Spain – which was inspiration for the fallen empire in the book – and Renaissance Italy, which inspired all the city states that are at each other’s throats. Then add to this a re-reading of the Musketeers, and my happening across a video for an architect’s design for a clockwork city and….hey presto!
Which was your favourite character to write?
That is a really hard question, as I love them all in different ways. Vocho was a blast to write, because he’s just so vain and unintentionally funny but he does have a heart too (when he remembers). I like Kacha because she takes no crap from anyone, especially Vocho. Petri was supposed to be the bad guy . . . but I found I rather felt for his predicament . . .
Who really is the better duellist – Kacha or Vocho?!
Depends on who you ask . . . As Vocho says, she’s better at technique, but he has an advantage in strength and reach. Both are devious as required. I’d say they both have their strengths but that balances out so they are actually fairly evenly matched.
Where’s your favourite bookshop?
I’m going to cheat and say it’s a toss up between Forbidden Planet in London and my local Waterstones in Horsham, West Sussex. Forbidden Planet because I cannot leave without buying *something* and it is just so very cool. And my local Waterstones because it’s got everything – a café, squishy sofas, staff that really know their books (and are more than happy to chat about them, or help me find something). It also has a decent SFF section which brings me on to the next question…
When you walk into a bookshop which section do you gravitate to first?
I always gravitate to the SFF section first in any bookshop. However I do have a soft spot for other genres – historical (both fiction and non-fiction) and crime in particular, so once I’ve mined the SFF I tend to browse there too. Frankly I’ll read almost anything!
What we can expect from the next Duellists novel LEGENDS AND LIARS?
Dastardly magicians, dashing duellists and warring cities. It gets deeper into the characters, and darker too, though it’s still got plenty of light-hearted moments . . .
- - September 25th, 2015
We interviewed Angus Watson, author of the Iron Age trilogy. Angus debuted last year with the action-packed historical fantasy adventure AGE OF IRON. The final book in the trilogy, REIGN OF IRON, comes out this month.
What would be your quick pitch for the Iron Age trilogy?
Buy this book or I’ll drown these baby raccoons. Not really! AGE OF IRON is the best adventure story set in the Iron Age that you will ever read. Although younger readers might be better off with the Asterix books.
The final book in the series comes out this month, how does it feel to have completed the series?
I loved school and was sad to leave, but also looking forward to the next adventures. Finishing AGE OF IRON after around five years’ work feels like that. I used to think it was pretentious and a lie when authors said that characters had become their friends, but, annoyingly, it is rather like that when you spend days, weeks then months and even years sitting at your desk with only these made up people for company (and, in my case, two cats).
So, wanky as it sounds, I’m genuinely sad to leave old friends when we’ve been through so much together. However, I’m looking forward to meeting new people in the next trilogy and I daresay that some of my old friends, or at least parts of them, will be reincarnated.
And how does it feel to see the amazing reactions the book is getting?
It feels brilliant. Like spending ages on a project and then walking into a big room full of people telling you how much they like it and how well you’ve done. The odd bad review I’ve received is the opposite of that – like someone walking up to you and telling you that you’re an idiot. Luckily there aren’t enough of those yet to fill a big room, or even a small one.
Which character did you most enjoy writing?
Probably Dug, because he could say or think whatever the badger’s balls he wanted to.
Who are your biggest influences?
Douglas Adams, Joe Abercrombie, Patrick O’Brian, Scott Lynch, Carl Hiaasen, Iain Banks, Thomas Hardy and my Mum.
When you walk into a bookshop which section do you gravitate to first?
I buy pretty much all books online, so I’m most likely to be in a bookshop to meet a friend (note to everyone, especially internet daters – bookshops are great places to meet before pub, dinner or whatever). I used to go straight to the comic / graphic novel section so that I’d have a chance to read a substantial part of something before whoever turned up. Now I go to the fantasy section to make sure that my books are displayed prominently enough.
Where’s your favorite bookshop?
The Waterstones in Westfield, Shepherd’s Bush, London. Westfield is a vast shopping center full of the dreariest, see-them-everywhere, uninspiring, unchallenging clothes shops you can imagine. Waterstones may be a chain, but, since it sells books, it stands out from the other shops like a towering volcano island of quality and knowledge from a slurry sea of vacuous crap.
What are you working on next, can you give us a hint?
I’ve researched for a few months, and now just started writing a new epic fantasy trilogy in which a mismatched group of refugees will battle animals and monsters, determined assassins, depraved tribes, an unforgiving landscape and each other as they cross a continent to fulfil a prophesy . . . how’s that for a hint?
- - August 19th, 2015
Giving a whole new meaning to the phrase “laugh in the face of danger,” K.S. Merbeth’s upcoming debut, BITE, will make you chuckle, it will make you cry — but most importantly, it is going to make you fear our very possible and not so distant future.
To find out a little bit more about the brains behind this epic debut, we’ve asked Merbeth to stop by and answer a few of our burning questions:
Where did the idea for BITE come from?
In post-apocalyptic stories, there are always groups of gun-toting psychos looting and killing their way through life. They’re usually presented as mindless villains, by-products of the craziness of the world, without backstories or motivations or anything that makes them seem human. And yet, they are human. So I started to wonder – who are these people? How’d they end up this way? What are their lives like behind the scenes? And those questions spawned the idea of a story with typical “bad guys,” a crew of raiders, as the protagonists.
How did you create such an unusual cast of characters?
Well, to be honest, I’ve never really been a fan of “normal” characters and standard heroes. Instead, I tend to fall in love with fascinating villains and weird side-characters – so those are the types of characters I end up creating, but in my case they’re the main cast. I started with some basic concepts and traits, but discovered a lot about the characters through writing the first draft. Many of them – especially Kid, my main character – really seemed to develop on their own.
Which character was your favorite to write?
That’s a tough one! Kid, of course, was super fun because of her tendency to magnificently screw things up, and the crew’s leader, Wolf, is full of one-liners that I thoroughly enjoyed writing. However, I think my favorite overall was Dolly. She’s a blue-haired markswoman who kicks some serious ass, and her odd personality creates a lot of awkward, interesting interactions with the other characters.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
Margaret Atwood, Philip K. Dick, Kurt Vonnegut, Haruki Murakami, Neil Gaiman, Brandon Sanderson… there are plenty more, but those are some of my favorites!
What do you like to do in your free time?
Aside from reading, my main hobby is playing video games, which I probably spend way too much time doing. I also enjoy board games, binge-watching a variety of TV shows, cooking (badly), and laughing at horror movies. As for things that actually force me to get out of my pajamas and leave the house, I love to travel! I really like experiencing new places, new food, and new beer.
What are some of your favorite dystopian films or video games?
First of all, the latest Mad Max may be new, but it’s already secured a special place in my heart. Some of my other favorites are The Road, Zombieland, and The Matrix. Games-wise, I’m a big fan of the Left 4 Dead and Fallout series!
BITE will hitting bookshelves next summer. To find out more about the novel, check out the acquisition announcement.
- - July 23rd, 2015
Last month we introduced you to HOPE & RED—an upcoming adventure fantasy series we’re incredibly excited about! We’d like you to meet the author, Jon Skovron, and hear a little more about the novel.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m originally from Ohio, although I’ve since lived in Brooklyn, Seattle, and Pittsburgh. Now I live just outside DC, with my two sons and two cats. Rather than going to a regular college, I studied in the theater conservatory at Carnegie Mellon. But after a brief stint as a professional actor, I decided on the much more practical career of author. I started writing short SF&F stories in 2000, several of which were published in now defunct zines and online venues such as Baen’s Universe, where I had the honor of appearing in the same issue as Gene Wolfe. In 2006, my agent suggested I try my hand at this new craze called Young Adult, and my first YA novel was published in 2009. I’ve had two more YA novels published since, and my fourth comes out this August. HOPE & RED will be my first novel for grown-ups.
What is HOPE & RED about?
HOPE & RED takes place in an archipelago of islands called The Empire of Storms, with warrior monks, pirates, gang lords, science mages called biomancers, and a fair amount of monsters, violence, and mayhem. But as the title implies, this is ultimately a story about Hope and Red. They both lose their parents at a young age. Both are taken in by unconventional mentors who encourage them to transgress society, but in very different ways. Red is taught to become a thief and con artist in the urban slums, where he is fiercely loyal to his adopted neighborhood of Paradise Circle. Hope is secretly trained on a remote island as a warrior in an elite order that has specifically banned women. She seeks vengeance against the biomancer who murdered not only her parents, but her entire village.
When the biomancers team up with the gang lord of Paradise Circle to consolidate power, Hope and Red’s worlds come crashing together, resulting in a quest for justice that leads them all the way to the imperial palace.
Why did you decided to write HOPE & RED as an adult novel, rather than YA?
Don’t get me wrong. I adore writing YA, and will continue to do so. YA and adult Fantasy have a lot of similarities. But they also have some key differences. By nature, YA is all about teens. I wanted to write story that took these two characters from age eight all the way into adulthood. Also, YA is intensely story-focused. I love the lean efficiency of it. But this time I wanted to write a book where the world was rich and immersive, with a long, compelling history. Something you couldn’t see the edges of. I wanted characters that were complex and nuanced and broken. And frankly, I just wanted to write something R Rated, and not have to worry about gatekeepers.
There’s an lot of swashbuckling, sea-faring adventure in this book. Do you have any personal experience with sailing?
Quite a lot, actually. My grandfather was passionate about ships and sailing. When I was a boy, he often took me sailing for days on end. He taught me how to sail, of course, as well as all the parts of the ship, and odd little sailor adages that linger in my mind to this day. He was also a musician, so he’d often bring along his accordion, and we’d sing sea chanties once the sun went down.
HOPE & RED will be published next summer. For more news and updates, follow the author on Twitter.
- - July 1st, 2015
Hi Louisa, and welcome to the Orbit team! Can you tell us a bit about SPEAK?
Sure! SPEAK is the story of five characters who are involved in creating an artificially intelligent doll. After these “babybots” are banned, gathered up, and shipped off to the desert, the children who loved them start to stutter and freeze. SPEAK tells the story of the babybots and their creators, from Alan Turing to a traumatized girl in the near future who gives her bot new language. These and other characters are all racing toward a world populated by lifelike machines, in which it’s difficult to decide who’s actually living, and who has real intelligence.
SPEAK has already been featured in Oprah magazine, raved about by Emily St. John Mandel, chosen by Wired and Huffington Post as one of their big books this summer, and is an IndieNext pick too. How does it feel for the book to be getting this much attention?
It seems to be an auspicious time for creative depictions of artificial intelligence. Just recently, all kinds of interesting books and films involving the topic have come out: Ex Machina, Chappie, Channel Four’s Humans, and Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice. Technology has radically challenged the ways we understand ourselves as humans: we reveal our secret traumas to artificially intelligent therapists; we relinquish our most personal information to data-mining software; we’re developing robotic soldiers to fight wars in place of humans. Fiction that questions the differences between humans and machines seems particularly important in this historical moment.
At its heart, SPEAK is about the very human need to be listened to, about having a voice, with characters from different times, different places, united by a very singular narrator. How difficult was it to bring this variety of voices to the page?
I actually find it easier to write in many voices than to settle into a single character. I discover so much of my characters in what they don’t see, what they’re unaware of, what they miss about the world around them. Writing in different voices allows me to set up those misunderstandings, and to see characters from new perspectives other than their own.
Some of Alan Turing’s chapters are the most touching and interesting in the book – what sort of research did you do to bring Turing and the other characters to life?
I read five or six biographies of Alan Turing, including Andrew Hodges’ excellent The Enigma, which contains long excerpts from Turing’s letters. That was helpful to me in getting Turing’s voice—his grammar, his diction, etc. The most challenging part of wrapping my head around his character was understanding his theories of computing and mathematics, which were essential to understanding his approach to the world. He couldn’t fully believe in an abstract idea such as the soul unless he’d found a mathematical way to prove its existence, or at least the possibility that it might exist.
Your first novel, the Waterstones Book Club title THE CARRIAGE HOUSE, is a contemporary family drama inspired by your time as a professional squash player. What first got you thinking about artificial intelligence as a subject for your second book?
In THE CARRIAGE HOUSE, I wanted to create a world small enough to control. I limited the novel to a single neighbourhood that was claustrophobic in its self-containment. For my second novel, I wanted to go to the furthest frontiers I could imagine, from religious dissidents in the seventeenth-century to AI inventors in the near future. I wanted to find what was human in foreign situations: robot dolls dying in hangars, a scientist undergoing hormonal manipulation. In the end, most of the book isn’t that far-fetched. Many of the characters are based on real people, and most of the science is closely related to science that already exists. But the book sprang up on the edges of what I understand and what I’ve actually experienced. Sometimes I think that if THE CARRIAGE HOUSE was centripetal, SPEAK is centrifugal. It always seemed to spin a little out of my control.
Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking both recently discussed their anxiety about AI and superintelligent machines. What is turning such giants of the science and technology world against AI, and do you share their concerns?
I tend to be more optimistic about the future of AI, though I realize that Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking are more qualified to make predictions about computers than I am. But their concerns about the future of AI are equally valid when applied to the future of the human race. In reference to autonomous killing machines, for instance, this article asks the following questions: “how will they tell friend from foe? Combatant from civilian? Who will be held accountable?” But the same questions can be asked about human soldiers. Ideally, robots would be able to perform certain tasks better than we can because they won’t be programmed for fear, anger, or vengeance. And because we have those emotions, we’ll be able to perform other tasks better than robots. Of course it’s always possible that some evil empire could program a fleet of maniacal robots, but the same evil empire could also get its hands on nuclear weapons. Our primary anxiety, in my mind, should be less about preventing the development of robots and more about preventing the ascent of unchecked evil empires. That said, I do think it’s worth being hyper-vigilant about the effects AI will have on our economy and the uneven distribution of wealth.
Are there any stories about artificial intelligence that really stand out to you, or inspired you in creating SPEAK?
There are so many recent stories about AI that inspire me. My friend just sent me a story about Aibos, robot dogs that people have adopted as pets. At one point, these robot pets could be repaired if they were damaged, but now they’ve been discontinued. Soon, their replacement parts will be nonexistent. Suddenly the owners of these robot dogs are facing the idea of robot dog mortality. I also recently heard a story about a computer scientist in Wyoming who’s teaching robots how to adjust to injuries by giving them ‘simulated childhoods,’ a period devoted to play in which they learn creative ways of using their bodies. We keep robots as pets; we give our robots childhoods. Stories such as these ones beg so many interesting questions about what it actually means to be living.
SPEAK is released in digital and ANZ export edition this July, with a UK paperback to follow in Feb 2016 – preorder your copy today.
- - April 14th, 2015
A CROWN FOR COLD SILVER (US | UK |AUS) is a particularly special new epic fantasy, and we’re thrilled to be releasing it today in hardcover, e-book and audio formats. NPR Books published a glowing review this morning, saying “It’s a vibrant book, and a generously lush one…A Crown for Cold Silver drags epic fantasy through the mud — but it does so with wit, wonder, and wisdom.”
A Crown for Cold Silver will grab you from its first bloody pages and surprise you many times over as unconventional hero and supreme badass Cold Zosia embarks on her quest to destroy those who have taken everything from her. To celebrate the release of this spectacular story, we’d like you to meet the author, Alex Marshall!
How did the idea for A CROWN FOR COLD SILVER form – was it a particular scene or character that occurred to you, or was there a particular moment when you knew that this was the book you were going to write?
I work in a very linear fashion, so the first things that came to me became the first scenes in the book: the classic fantasy set-up of a bloodthirsty horde descending on a tranquil hamlet, but with an older woman as the sole survivor of the assault, instead of a young hero.
Is that something that appeals to you, subverting the tropes of the genre?
I’d say my chief concern is always to create interesting characters and present them with interesting problems. I do my best to let the characters determine the plot, whether that means subverting the conventions of the genre or playing along with them. That said, I’m trying to tell new stories here instead of just retelling old ones, so Crom help any innocent tropes that might get in the way.
There are so many formidable and fantastic characters in this book – a barbarian addicted to intoxicating insects, a shaman who eats demons for breakfast, a retired warrior queen who faked her own death – do you have favourites?
My favourite may be Zosia, the former warrior queen with the devilish canine companion, Choplicker – she’s the lynchpin to the whole novel, a very conflicted character, and writing her scenes was always intense and illuminating.
Read the full interview here.
- - November 7th, 2014
We’re delighted to introduce Rob Boffard, author of the upcoming TRACER, a heart-stopping SF novel set in space which will be released next summer.
As a newbie to the Orbit list, we asked Rob a few questions about what we can expect from him in 2015 . . .
– Tell us a bit about yourself!
I come from Johannesburg, and can speak enough Zulu to prove it. I have glasses, terrible hair, and exceptionally long arms. I’m 29, obsessed with hip-hop, tattoos, plane tickets, snowboarding, and the Chicago Bulls. And good stories. Both telling them, and reading them.
For the majority of my adult life, I’ve worked as a journalist, being paid specifically to not make stuff up. The fact that I can now do the exact opposite at a place like Orbit is both weird and amazing.
– What can readers expect from your new book TRACER?
I wanted to make this the baddest, fastest, craziest, most intense scifi thriller you’re going to read next year, or any year after it. It’s set on a massive space station, Outer Earth, which holds the last humans in the universe. The station’s been there for a while – everything is broken, rusted, falling apart. Nothing works anymore. Read the rest of this entry »
- - October 9th, 2014
The much-anticipated graphic novel of THE WAY OF SHADOWS, the New York Times bestselling epic fantasy of thieves and assassins by Brent Weeks, comes out this week from Yen Press and Orbit UK.
We interviewed Brent about the process of turning his classic fantasy tale into a comic book, and asked him all about his favorite examples of the medium:
JH: Was there anything that surprised you about having your work adapted into comic book form?
BW: The first time I saw Andy’s depiction of the Gyre estate, I had to stop for a second. The rest of the process had been pretty gradual—when we did character sketches, we went through a lot of emails, and a couple iterations of drawings, so they didn’t have the same surprise factor for me—but when I saw the Gyre estate, it hit me all at once. I’d described all these details; this was what I’d written about, but I’d never seen it as a whole. When your artist is talented, there are things about seeing a place that are simply better than reading about it.
The other thing that surprised me was how much little things can matter. Andy does great work with characters’ expressions, hitting just the right tone. That little extra extension on that line turns that grin from amused to sarcastic, or what have you. Similarly, something like how tight an alleyway is, can suddenly be important, because a character in a tight alley feels trapped, and acts differently than in a wide open street.
JH: Which particular character do you think has been captured most perfectly by Andy Macdonald’s art?
BW: I’ll go for a less obvious one. Roth is just the right balance of handsome and creepy.
JH: Was it a strange experience, going back so closely over THE WAY OF SHADOWS, or do you often reread and re-examine your older books?
BW: As little as possible! I always want to edit my old books. Hmm, that sentence could be tightened, couldn’t it? It was very challenging. One of the pleasures of reading my books is that there’s a ton of foreshadowing that looks like throwaway world-building on a first read that ends up being important two thousand pages later. So I had to not only load three books into my brain, but I had to anticipate how each necessary change of adapting the first novel into graphic novel form would ripple through the second and third books. “Okay, this doesn’t happen any more, and that was going to pay off in book 2 when this happens, so now, in graphic novel 2, we’re going to have to do this other thing instead… But does that cause problems in book 3?” Oh, and I was finishing a not-so-simple little novel called THE BROKEN EYE. My assistant, Elisa, was invaluable in the process of keeping everything straight.
JH: Comics and graphic novels are an essentially collaborative medium, requiring a lot of co-operation between the artist and writer. Have you ever worked on something that involved this much collaboration?
BW: Never to this degree. We made a book trailer for THE BLACK PRISM, and I wrote lots of emails and script ideas back and forth (far more than you would think necessary for a two minute trailer, I guarantee!), but that was over about a month. This was a different level entirely.
I should point out, too, that it isn’t just collaboration between artist and writer! The original script adaptation was by Ivan Brandon, and throughout my editor JuYoun Lee was invaluable in the process, not only in feedback and scripting, but also in allowing me to be the difficult artist from time to time. I mean, editors have to make the business work, so a few times I wrote to her, “Look I just added a page to this chapter. I know we’re already over, but we need a full page for this reveal, or it will lack punch. Here’s the new script.” I’m sure she knew exactly how much that was going to cost—art costs, printing costs, extra thickness to the book, possibly fewer books per box which can hurt ordering, and so forth if you do it more than a couple times—and she let me get away with it when we needed to.
That said, I try not to play the diva, especially when it’s a medium I’ve got little experience in. I was lucky to be joined in the journey by people who know a lot more than I do.
JH: Who are your favourite heroes from comics and graphic novels?
BW: Can I confess something? I’ve always enjoyed comic books, but for a long time I had a fundamental reservation about them as art. I thought they were bad art. Partly this is the fault of the whole Death of Superman debacle. Since then (if not before, I’m not an expert), but since then they’ve felt like the ultimate playground for Plot Armor. No character will ever die. No character will ever settle down with one girl, and that’s it for all time. There’s no final story, no closure, even though they pretend there is constantly. And the reason there can be no final story is because money. You can’t kill Wolverine for good, because no matter how many copies of that final plot arc you could sell, you’d be killing the goose who lays the golden eggs. Wolverine is your year-in, year-out steady earner, and he will be for fifty years. A hundred if Marvel has its way. So the story has to account for reboots, and refreshes, memory-losses and reunions. (In some cases, they do that far better than others.)
So, to purist, younger me, comics in the Marvel vein were the biggest examples of art prostituted to money I could imagine. And yet they got a pass somehow—because it’s fun and well-done, I guess.
But I had an idea recently of Wolverine (a favorite since I was young), as a mythic character, rather than as a disjointed franchise. When you read Homer’s Odysseus, he’s a complete man, perhaps the ideal man in the Greek understanding of virtue. When you read Virgil’s treatment of the same character (Latinized to Ulysses, but ostensibly the same character), you realize they have very little in common. Virgil is trotting out the Greek hero to make him look tawdry next to the real stud, Aeneas. (Who just so happened to play for the home team, Rome.) They aren’t the same character—when Virgil handles Odysseus, he handles him as a mythic type, there to be useful in setting up the story that Virgil really wants to tell.
So when you ask “Who is your favorite character?” I have to politely say I don’t believe Wolverine as Wolverine is really a character anymore. Mark Millar’s Wolverine isn’t my favorite, but the idea of Wolverine is.
That said, things are simpler where we have only one writer and artist: I really like Bode and Tyler Locke of Locke and Key by Joe Hill (amazing art by Gabriel Rodriguez).
JH: Can you recommend any comic books which are ideal for fantasy fans?
BW: If you’ve never read a graphic novel and are skeptical about the kind of stories they can tell, check out I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly, which features a fifth-grader named Barbara.
Marvel’s 1602 is a fun re-visiting of the Marvel characters if they’d appeared in Elizabethan times (and goes nicely with my thesis above!). Locke and Key is a little more on the horror side, and though I don’t enjoy horror, I thought it was amazing. Literally the best graphic novels I’ve ever read. Peter V. Brett (of The Warded Man fame) has done a 6 comic book arc for Red Sonja. As for others… well, I’m always looking!
JH: The ultimate comic book question: who would win in a fight, Batman or Superman?
BW: I think Batman would know better than get in a simple fistfight with a bulletproof flying alien, so I like to think he’d change the rules of the engagement—a fight over who makes a tux look the best, perhaps, or who can destroy a villain first. Then I’d give an edge to the subtle thinker of the two.