As most of you know by now, Scott Lynch's debut, The Lies of Locke Lamora, has been making a lot of noise for quite some time now. As a matter of fact, no fantasy debut has been this hyped since Terry Goodkind's Wizard's First Rule was released in 1994. The novel has been out for a few weeks in the UK, and thus far just about every review is quite positive. Indeed, if the buzz surrounding the release of this book has not piqued your curiosity, nothing on this earth will! For more info on The Lies of Locke Lamora: Canada, USA, Europe
I know I've been promising you guys this Q&A for quite some time now, but life -- as usual -- got in the way. Both Scott and I agreed that it would be better to do the interview following my reading of the novel. I forwarded my questions to him the day after I finished The Lies of Locke Lamora. The problem was that Scott then flew to London to embark on his UK promo tour. And then, while Scott was flying back home to the USA, I left on a week-long vacation to NYC. So as you can see, our timing pretty much sucked!
Without further ado, here it is! I'm certain most of you will enjoy it. I was pleasantly surprised by Scott's candor. If you read his livejournal, you know that Scott is not the most politically correct human being on the face of this earth. Which means that our interview is in the same vein as the ones I did with Steven Erikson and R. Scott Bakker. Enjoy!;-)
- For readers not yet familiar with you, without giving too much away, can you give us a taste of the story that is THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA?
The easiest way to blurb it is to say that it's a fantasy crime novel; the story of a pack of con artists in an age when con artistry as we understand it has yet to become generally known. It's also a fairly bloody revenge tale, set in a fantasy society that is much more Renaissance/Elizabethan than Ye Olde Middle Ages.
- What do you feel is your strength as a writer/storyteller?
Oooh, this could get hubristic. I like to think that I know how to plot, and how to craft a satisfying narrative structure. I like to think that I know how to learn from past mistakes, and listen to my editors when they're right. I also like to think that I'm doing my damnedest to avoid everything that annoys and frustrates me when reading works that I've otherwise enjoyed.
- I know that you are a big fan of the fantasy genre. Were there any perceived conventions you wanted to twist or break when you set out to write THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA and the upcoming volumes of THE GENTLEMEN BASTARDS?
I want to see if I can't beat the presumed Curse of the Big Fat Long Series, dammit. There's this sense of trepidation among quite a few readers -- in some cases outright loathing -- for the very idea of sequences of fantasy books. As though they've been bitten in the past and don't want to get bitten again, you know? Sure, there's some really aggravating crap out there on the shelves, but there's also a lot of great stuff, and I want to turn in a series that works from start to finish, without padding, without slowing down, without meandering. I think I have more than enough story for seven volumes, here... I'm in the position of having to keep stuff out rather than stretching it to cover long, empty pauses. Nobody in these books is going to wander around in the hills for a hundred pages to kill time. Nobody is going to waste half a novel slowly discussing the plot of the previous one. I fancy that I crack the whip on the plot much too hard for that sort of thing.
- Characters often take on a life of their own. Which of your characters did you find the most unpredictable to write about?
The Gray King, by all means. You can't just have the antagonist sitting around waiting for the protagonist to show up at his or her appointments... the rest of the cast has to be in motion at all times, too. And I'm a big believer in competent, effective antagonists, so in some ways that made writing the gray bastard highly unpredictable.
- Speaking of characters, Locke Lamora is quite something. In a recent interview, you mentioned Raymond E. Feist as an inspiration. Is Locke in any way an homage to the popular Jimmy the Hand?
Now that I think about it, very probably. One of the things I greatly enjoy about Feist's Midkemia work is the way that time keeps moving inexorably forward... generation after generation passes, characters age, some go on to glory and some die in misery or obscurity. Jimmy's rise from a capable street thief to a court super numerary to the ultra-devious de facto ruler of half a kingdom is a great story arc...Locke's going to move on in years as my series develops, and face that same sort of transition to a position of extreme responsibility for people other than himself and his close friends. So I wouldn't say homage per se, but Feist's work will always be a beloved cornerstone of my own fantasy reading, and its influence will no doubt creep in all over the place...
- As an avid reader of the genre, you know what's out there. What sets your novel apart from the rest of the pack? Why should jaded readers spend their hard-earned money on THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA instead of picking up, let's say, PHANTOM, Terry Goodkind's newest?
Hmmm. Must bite tongue. Must bite tongue. If you want a specific contrast in this instance, how about the fact that I don't view my novels primarily as a vehicle for beating my readers over their heads with my politics and philosophy? Just a thought.
There's ultimately nothing devastatingly original about my work, but if you're in the mood for an adventurous, bloody, twisty sort of read minus most of the prime cliches in the current fantasy environment -- it might just be your thing. There is no prophecy, no Chosen One, no magic sword(s), no mysterious wizard advisor who pops in and out to move the plot, no Dark Lord on his Dark Throne. No absolutist vision of good and evil as tangible black and white qualities. Just human beings making decisions, unguided by plot-convenient magic or deities or what have you.
And tormented by a very, very cruel author.
- You mentioned that it was important for you to write "fun" novels. I found THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA to be quite refreshing in that regard. Are you trying to set yourself and your work apart from those dark and gritty fantasy epics that are now the norm?
Oh, I don't mind dark and gritty one little bit. I just like to vary the reader's emotional experience. I like my books to be beautiful and cruel, exhilarating and harrowing by turns. I find that makes it all the more effective when you do start, say, dropping axes on characters, or making their situations grimmer. Dark and gritty *can*be fun; just look at Matt Stover, Michael Moorcock, George R.R. Martin, Mary Gentle, Joe Ambercrombie, Alan Campbell...
- The advance praise and the critics have created a very positive buzz surrounding the release of THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA. How happy are you about that? Are you afraid that this might raise readers' expectations too high?
Well, of course that's always a danger... but would I prefer a lukewarm early response instead? Oh, god no... there's really nothing I can do about it if someone fixates on this book as a messianic event and then gets upset that it doesn't cure cancer, you know? I can only hope for each reader to be fair to the book, but each reader also needs something different from a book, and will react differently to it. If hype helps get the book into as many hands as possible, at least there's that, isn't there? In that respect, yay hype!
- Given the choice, would you take a New York Times bestseller, or a World Fantasy Award? Why, exactly?
Ouch. I can't have both, said the author, grinning madly? I love the WFA statuettes, those little busts of H.P. Lovecraft... I think they're just about the coolest award out there. And the list of WFA-winning novels (I'm trying to read them all as we speak) is such a lovely, subject- and genre-spanning collection of great work, it'd be heavenly to have a book of mine join that company. But I also want to make a career of this, to have a steady readership for many decades, to have happy editors and publishers on both sides of the Atlantic. So if I had to choose just one, I'd say put me on that NYT list. Pretty please.
- Honestly, do you believe that the fantasy genre will ever come to be recognized as veritable literature? Truth be told, in my opinion there has never been this many good books/series as we have right now, and yet there is still very little respect (not to say none) associated with the genre.
Well, you can't really escape the condescension. Sturgeon's Law,"Ninety percent of everything is crap," applies to everything. But as several people have observed, "literary fiction" tends to be judged by its glowing ten percent while genre fiction tends to be judged by its crappy ninety. There are an awful lot of gilded turds taking up shelfspace in the "Fiction and Literature" shelves of the big book chains, and as anyone with half a functioning brain knows, quite a few sparkling gems tucked away next to the gaming tie-in boxed sets.
I generally shun worry about this, because ultimately it isn't thecontemporary critical establishment that gets to choose which bodies of work will have a posterity and which will fade into the mists of time. Anyone who thinks otherwise is deluding themselves. Great literature chooses itself, and survives across the decades and centuries, regardless of what was said or done at the time of its writing. Do you honestly think, if given the chance, that the greatest critics and academics of the 19th century would have chosen to exalt Dickens, Austen, Conan Doyle, Twain, Poe, etc. above everything else they had on their shelves at the time? Those of us alive today don'tget to choose what will be remembered and cherished in the early twenty-second century. We pays our money and we takes our chances, you know?
Besides, as my editor said to me on my recent trip over to the UK, you know, so many "literary" writers and promoters would kill to have access to the support network that genre fiction enjoys-- the specialty stores, the eager readers and fans, the websites, theconventions, and so forth. Each time the "pity us, some know-nothing jerks in the literary world don't like genre" subject comes up, it might help to remember what a vibrant, involved, and invitingcommunity we have by comparison.
- THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA is the living proof that the internet can provide a lot of exposure for a book. Do you feel that most publishers don't yet understand the full potential of this tool, in terms of exploiting the wealth of fantasy-related websites, message boards, and blogs?
I honestly don't know what to say about "most publishers..." Baen Books has been going great guns for several years now with a variety of forward-thinking technological promotions. Quite a few major publishers have hungry, adventurous editors willing to buy good work right off the web, including mine. Their publicity departments supply advance reader copies and press information to dozens, if not hundreds, of web-based reviewers, along with books for contests and so forth. My honest impression is that most of them are doing the very best they can to use any tools available to get out the word about their books.
- Was a Venice-like locale always meant to be the environment in which the story would take place, or did a pseudo Venetian mercantile empire backdrop just turned out to be what you needed to carry the story along?
Originally, briefly, my conception of Locke's world was so much more boring... just another pseudo-medieval sort of place. But once I moved his society forward a few centuries, and decided that I wanted a more Italian/Mediterranean sort of fantasy setting, Venice seemed an obvious inspiration. There's so much lovely, goofy stuff in its history that people would cry, "Oh, bullshit!" on if I tried to put it into a fantasy novel, heh. It was the atmosphere I needed, and the environment I needed for all the elements (economic, social,costuming, etc.) that I envisioned.
- Your debut's tale takes place in the city of Camorr. Will you be exploring the other corners of your universe in the upcoming instalments of THE GENTLEMEN BASTARDS?
Yes. Each of the first four books in the sequence is sort of devoted to the exploration of a new major city in Locke's world. Camorr inBook I, Tal Verrar in Book II, Karthain in Book III, and Emberlain in Book IV. After that, pretty much everywhere on the continent is caughtup in what's going on and some old haunts will be revisited.
- Although I relish the thought of seeing one of your novels hit the shelves every 8 months, is it possible to maintain such a pace and retain the same quality with each additional volume without going insane? I know there is a lot of pressure on you, but I'm wondering if it's humanly possible for you to maintain such a schedule.
You and me both, Pat. But in all honesty... this is my job. It's what I have to do, not just to keep a roof over my head, but to keep from going mad, you know? I have a fairly demanding, directorial sort of stance toward my work. I don't stare into space for five years per book, twiddling my thumbs and waiting for some kindly muse to deliver a finished manuscript. And, for the next book at least, the gap will be a full year, as the powers that be have decided to give TLOLL some breathing room in which to be the "only child" of the family, and hopefully build up some momentum. ;)
- Many people believe that you're one of the voices which will shape the future of the fantasy genre in the next few years. How daunting can such claims be to a new author on the verge of releasing his first novel?
Ahhh, yessssss. Excellent! Phase one is the acquisition of minions. Phase two is the construction of my secret underwater base. Phase three is the conquest of the eastern seaboard!
Nah, seriously, people will say what they say. Someone's always conjuring portents and trends and movements, some real and some totally imaginary. It's my work that will do the deciding... either it'll do well for itself, and people will buy it and read it and it'll become generally known, or it'll sink, and I'll be an embarrassing footnote in, say, future biographies of John Scalzi. I can't refute or guarantee any "influence" I might have by babbling about it, I can only write. I can't let it daunt me at all. Sure is flattering, though. I'll take kind words any day over indifference or scorn; I'm not daunted, I'm extremely grateful.
- What can readers expect from the forthcoming sequel, RED SEAS UNDER RED SKIES?
More evil sea creatures. I'm afraid that there just isn't much happy, cuddly, friendly wildlife in Locke's world. It's all out to kill us.
Other than that, well... it's got a couple major new plot elements, those being high-stakes gambling and piracy. Locke and Jean are staging one of their usual extremely complicated con games, and are once again interrupted in mid-scheme and forced to undertake an even more desperate and suicidal venture, masquerading as hardened pirates. As Jean puts it at one point, "All we know about ships is getting on, getting seasick, and getting off." Wacky hijinks ensue, especially once we get to the real pirates. I love them dearly; they were originally meant to be more of a background cast but they just sort of completely took the place over once they were onstage. Like, um, pirates.
- In the long run, what will differentiate THE GENTLEMEN BASTARDS from the other popular fantasy series on the market?
Well, as I said, I hope that this will be a series that clips along at a good pace for its entire length... a series that feels of a piece, right and proper, neither too long nor too short. I should also say, by way of warning, that this story is not necessarily a happy one. The heart of the story is Locke's attempt to break free from his criminal origins and lifestyle, and his ultimate failure to do so. Not exactly light, fluffy, feel-good stuff. But with that said, hopefully it'll be exhilarating, moving, and satisfying. Ask me again in seven or eight years when all the goods are on the shelves.
-Thanks again for accepting to do the interview. I wish you continued success with your writing career, and best of luck for the release of THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA.
Thanks to you as well, Patrick.