Chris Evans Interview


Hey guys,

It's now Chris Evans' turn to take a few minutes to introduce himself. His fantasy debut, A Darkness Forged in Fire (Canada, USA, Europe), has been discussed on various message boards of late, so here's your chance to learn more about the author and his work.

Enjoy!
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- Without giving anything away, can you give us a taste of the story that is A DARKNESS FORGED IN FIRE?

At its core it’s about one elf’s conflicted identity and the extremes he’s prepared to go to in order to find a resolution. As this elf also commands a regiment of soldiers and bears both gift and curse from a magical power the repercussions of his choices have increasingly dire consequences for those around him and the world at large. It’s also an epic fantasy with a quest, trees you won’t want to hug, a tinge of Kipling’s Tommy, Fraser’s Flashman and Cornwell’s Sharpe and an elf who sees the forest as just so much lumber. If your ears are up to it you can hear me describe it at http://www.simonsays.com/assets/isbn/1416570519/PC145_1416570519.mp3

- Tell us a little more about yourself. What's the 411 on Chris Evans?

Like most male fantasy writers I got into this profession to meet women. I mean, who wouldn’t be impressed with a line like “Sooo, I write about elves…” ? I don’t have the final answer yet, but so far, a lot.

My full-time job is that of editor of history, military history, current affairs and conflicts for Stackpole Books. I edit over forty titles a year including the Stackpole Military History Series which takes up a significant amount of my time and energy. I have degrees in English/History, Political Science, a Masters in History and somewhere in my armoire a re-stitched t-shirt that is my good luck charm because I didn’t die while wearing it though the police report suggests I came close (winter, highway outside Montreal, fast car, stupid kid at the wheel – me - and a whole lot of concrete overpass pillar).

I’m originally from Canada and have lived in the US for eight years so at this point I feel more North American than anything else. I’ve been the historian on battlefield tours of Europe and absolutely love the Normandy region of France. I broke my jaw and tailbone playing hockey and a tooth playing cricket (turns out I’m not nearly as fast or agile as I think I am).

- Can you tell us a little more about the road that saw this one go from manuscript form to finished novel?

Slow, winding, bumpy and delightfully surprising. Being an editor in New York I know the secret handshakes, but that just doesn’t amount to much without a story to back it up, perseverance and some luck. I did what any new writer does – banged my head against a few walls, emailed, called, revised, pestered friends to read and comment, drafted query letters, and spent a lot of time waiting and hoping. The offer was made last summer so it took a year from there to being in stores. The actual book took around a year and a half to write, although its genesis goes all the way back to the day I defended my MA thesis in the summer of 1998.

- Simon & Schuster are really pushing A DARKNESS FORGED IN FIRE as if it might be the fantasy debut of the year. Are you happy to have such a positive buzz surrounding the book, or are you afraid that this might raise readers' expectations too high?

Having just returned from Comic Con I’d say the push I’m getting is more like the gentle nudge of a summer breeze when compared to the way a lot projects are being sold! Actually, Pocket Books have been terrific. I can’t imagine any author not wanting this kind of support, especially in such a competitive market, so I am very appreciative of everything they’re doing for me. Case in point, I just found out while at Comic Con that the S&S subrights team sold translation rights to the novel in Russia and Japan. I’ve never been to either country, but now my story will. What writer wouldn’t that?

As for expectations, well, I happily put my trust in readers being able to decide for themselves. A publisher can’t force anyone to buy a book nor can a critic force them not to. Readers, especially those of SFF, are a proud and intelligent lot. Many of them are writers themselves and they can make up their own mind in these matters so whatever is said, positive or negative, is a bit like that summer breeze – you might notice, but I’d be surprised if that’s all it took to blow you off a course of your own choosing.

- What can readers expect from the upcoming sequels?

Definitely a little darker, though the humor will remain. Kipling’s influence will continue as I go deeper into his famous if troubling expression of an Empire’s duty - the white man’s burden – but expressed within a fantasy setting. The world will expand as the Iron Elves travel to ever distant lands which will allow me to add more details, cultures and sense of place and time. - What's the progress report on the next volume? Any tentative release date yet?

Book 2 of the Iron Elves, The Light of Burning Shadows, is due out in North America July 2009. I’ll be turning in the manuscript this fall. Book 3 will follow in the summer of 2010.

- Will you be touring to promote the book this summer? If so, are there any specific dates that have been confirmed as of yet?

Not touring exactly, but I did just get back from Comic Con and will be heading up to Canada next month for a few days. Being a first time author means I am virtually anonymous. Despite the best efforts of publicity and marketing it typically takes several books over several years to build any kind of significant name recognition in the public at large, especially if you want to do signings.

- What was the spark that generated the idea which drove you to write A DARKNESS FORGED IN FIRE and the rest of the series in the first place?

There were several sparks. The works of Rudyard Kipling, George MacDonald Fraser, and Bernard Cornwell were major ones. I was also intrigued with the notion of having a protagonist at odds with himself and his environment and how he’d cope with ever mounting stresses. I also became fascinated with a villain that acted not out of pure evil, but from a twisted sense of love and devotion. And at a very base level I just wanted to write a big epic fantasy and create my own world.

- What do you feel is your strength as a writer/storyteller?

I strive to craft a story that will be a fun and enjoyable read. From feedback I’ve received so far it appears my sense of humor and knowledge of the military are appreciated as well. I’m the first to admit I have room to improve and that’s actually one of the most exciting aspects about all of this. The challenge to do better, try more, take risks and push yourself.

- Were there any perceived conventions of the fantasy genre which you wanted to twist or break when you set out to write A DARKNESS FORGED IN FIRE and its sequels?

Yes and no. I enjoy traditional fantasy for what it is, am not embarrassed by it, tired of it, or see a need to denigrate it. At the same time I did want to try something a bit different when writing mine so I chose a setting inspired by the works of Kipling and his views of imperialism, colonialism and the life of the regular British soldier.

I edit over 40 nonfiction titles a year in military history, current affairs and conflicts so writing a fantasy was a wonderful change of pace. At the same time my background provides a rich source of historical and personal references from which to borrow and weave into my narrative. Creating an elf character like Konowa Swift Dragon, the antithesis of the Legolas/Galadriel brand of elf, was definitely high on my list. And I wanted to get down in the weeds a bit more to explore the perspective of the average soldier who typically makes up the backdrop in all the battles that rage throughout epic fantasy.

- In light of the current market, are you tempted to write one of those enormous fantasy epics which continue to be the most successful series at the moment?

I have ideas for several different books and series, including nonfiction. What tempts me is what interests me. If it transpires that the Iron Elves continues to grow in popularity from book to book I will certainly take that into consideration, but there’s a lot more I want to write above and beyond that. At the moment, the series is planned as a trilogy with some thought to an additional two or three books and the outside possibility of a spin off with one of the characters.

- The fact that there is a website dedicated to your work is an indication that interaction with your readers is important to you as an author. How special is it to have the chance to interact directly with your fans?

Being an editor for eight years I’ve come to wear the cynical armor you acquire to survive in this business. Being a published author for all of a few weeks has shattered that armor in interesting ways. Meeting fans in person at Comic Con genuinely touched me. It was a surprise, which in itself was a surprise because I figured I’d seen it all. Normally when I get approached at a show it’s by someone wanting me to buy their book. This time, people just wanted to say hello and talk about what I’d written. So yes, the interaction is important, more so than I envisioned.

- Given the choice, would you take a New York Times bestseller, or a World Fantasy Award/Hugo Award? Why, exactly?

Bestseller, because by its very nature you’re engaging with a large audience of readers, and as a story teller, that’s my purpose/desire. Having the respect and admiration of your peers is fine, but it’s not why I write and I’d hazard a guess to say it’s not why most writers write. I’m not seeking affirmation from the doyens of the genre. Quite simply, I want to write a story that entertains. Don’t get me wrong though, I have a crushed blue velvet tux in the closet just waiting to get aired out at an awards banquet should I ever be asked, but in the meantime I’m content to toil away writing my stories with the knowledge that there are readers out there eagerly awaiting the next book. That’s the kind of accolade that puts a bounce in my step.

- What authors make you shake your head in admiration? Many fantasy authors don't read much inside the genre. Is it the case with you?

Terry Pratchett, although in his case it’s more shake my ribs in laughter. The man is genius. The Night Watch, Mort, Moist Von Lipwig, and now Tiffany Aching and the Nac Mac Feegles keep me up late into the night. J.K. Rowling is another. Her style is so deceptively simple, but hides an incredible layered complexity that has made her the juggernaut she is, and deservedly so. From time to time I dip into the worlds of Jordan, Salvatore, Tad Williams, Novik, Riordan, Colfer, and more, but as a full-time nonfiction editor the vast majority of my reading by necessity is in the fields of history and current affairs. It’s also necessary from a research perspective, so should you bump into me at the library you’re likely to find me reading something by Barbara Tuchman, John Keegan, Christopher Browning, Terry Copp, Richard Holmes, Rick Atkinson, a personal memoir from a soldier in Napoleon’s army or a news magazine. I’m unabashedly proud to call myself a fantasy writer, but I suspect I’d flunk the Fantasy Comparative Lit 101 test. I do great in gym, though…well, except for the broken jaw, tailbone and tooth incidents.

- Cover art has become a very hot topic of late. What are your thoughts pertaining to that facet of a novel, and what do you think of the cover that graces A DARKNESS FORGED IN FIRE?

I’m thrilled to bits with the cover they created for the novel. It’s strong and straightforward and looks sharp. Cover art’s purpose is to grab eyeballs. If it’s able to do more than that then bravo, but the minimum threshold is to make the book stand out enough that the browsing reader takes a second look and is then compelled to pick it up. I guess you could say I fall in the utilitarian camp. Cover art needs to earn its keep.

Aesthetically, if everyone is doing literal interpretations then it might make sense to go abstract. If everyone is going edgy and dark, try light and fluffy. A cover is designed for a commercial purpose. Artists know this and plan accordingly, crafting a design that will allow the title to appear without cropping an important detail. From years in publishing I can tell you that at every cover conference I’ve attended the central point has been “will this cover work?” And by that they mean will it help sell the book.

- More and more, authors/editors/publicists/agents are discovering the potential of all the SFF blogs/websites/message boards on the internet. Do you keep an eye on what's being discussed out there, especially if it concerns you? Or is it too much of a distraction?

Being human, well, as human as an editor can be, I have succumbed to temptation on a few occasions and Googled myself and my book. Apparently, in addition to being a damn handsome movie actor in the Fantastic Four franchise (in retrospect, I should have asked them to not put my author photo in the book and thereby fuel the speculation) it turns out I’ve written a novel that some people like, and others don’t. Alas, be they encouraging or disparaging, there just isn’t much blood to be wrung from those stones. Of course it’s wonderful to be praised and frustrating to be panned, but the danger is that you get hung up on what’s being said instead of doing what you should be doing and writing the next book. That said, the internet is an exceptionally valuable tool and I do peruse SFF sites looking for the latest information on conventions, movies, and a general sense of what’s going on in the world of SFF. I found Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog that way. There is an incredibly vibrant and engaged community of SFFers out there and that’s a very positive sign for the future.

- Honestly, do you believe that the speculative fiction 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.

I believe speculative fiction has achieved more respect and standing in modern history than any other genre. I just read that something like 42 films are being made about super heroes. The biggest movies ever from Star Wars to LOTR to Dark Knight to everything from Pixar all hail from speculative fiction. Fantasy series appear to be thriving – Jordan, even after his death, George R.R. Martin and the saga eagerly watched by legions wondering when the next book will drop, the never ending popularity of Harry Potter etc. - so it seems the public at large have voted with their wallets and deemed speculative fiction more than worthy.

I think the more prickly question is, whose respect is one seeking? How does one get this respect? Does everything that came before have to be torn down in order to stand up something new, and dare I say it, respectable? And again, respectable to whom? There seems to be a predilection toward internecine rivalry in SFF that pits epic versus new weird, graphic versus sensitive etc. Richard Morgan commented on this and though I’m brand new on the scene I find much of what he says to be true.

I’ve written what is categorized as a traditional epic fantasy with a few twists and tweaks, but nothing so much that it’s unrecognizable from the long line of fantasies that have come before. My inspiration has more to do with Kipling’s view of the British Empire than it does with Tolkien’s, but I’ve used fantasy conventions like elves and magic to explore that view and so that’s what people focus on. Fair enough. It certainly helps the bookstores figure out where to shelve it. My view of genres in general, however, is that it’s so much tribalism. A lot of time and energy goes into trying to define where a book belongs along the speculative-mainstream continuum. It’s a bit like trying to compare a horse to a car to a plane. Each are modes of transportation, but each serves a different need and want with its own particular utility, attraction and limitation. I view books the same way.

- Anything you wish to add?

Only that I appreciate the opportunity to speak with your readers and the chance to introduce myself and my work. Becoming an author has given me new insights into everything my authors go through when their books are published including speaking in public such as on a blog like this. As an editor I used to guard my privacy, but as an author I’m learning to open up a bit more, though I suspect my reticence still shows through. Turns out the learning process never stops, and that’s a gratifying realization.

Cheers,

Chris

1 commentaires:

Swan said...

At Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist: http://fantasyhotlist.blogspot.com/2008_08_01_archive.html
“At its core it’s about one elf’s conflicted identity and the extremes he’s prepared to go to in order to find a resolution. As this elf also commands a regiment of soldiers and bears both gift and curse from a magical power the repercussions of his choices have increasingly dire consequences for those around him and the world at large. It’s also an epic fantasy with a quest, trees you won’t want to hug, a tinge of Kipling’s Tommy, Fraser’s Flashman and Cornwell’s Sharpe and an elf who sees the forest as just so much lumber. If your ears are up to it you can hear me describe it at http://www.simonsays.com/assets/isbn/1416570519/PC145_1416570519.mp3 “
OH MY GOD!!! I have never wanted to read a book less, than I want this one…” [interlude – puking…] This is probably the worst publicity I have ever witnessed for a novel
“Fantasy was just a wonderful change of pace… where I got to… create something that was entirely mine…”
All the wonder is why you didn’t keep it entirely yours…
“Kipling’s influence will continue as I go deeper into his famous if troubling expression of an Empire’s duty - the white man’s burden – but expressed within a fantasy setting.”
OH MY GOD – A FANTSY WORK WITH THE TOUCH OF THE WHITE MANS BURDEN! ANOTHER FASCIST FANTASY! JUST WHAT WE NEEDED!!! http://fantasyhotlist.blogspot.com/2008_08_01_archive.html
“I’m originally from Canada and have lived in the US for eight years so at this point I feel more North American than anything else. I’ve been the historian on battlefield tours of Europe and absolutely love the Normandy region of France. I broke my jaw and tailbone playing hockey and a tooth playing cricket (turns out I’m not nearly as fast or agile as I think I am).”
Well...Hello? No wonder you are not as good an author as you think you are...!!! Me thinks you broke more that that jaw and tailbone...... Just try try to feel a little less North American will you?
“My background as a historian has meant that I probably did a lot of extra reading…”
Hey we all did, when you did, changing the rules, don’t mean come backing your inspiration with ordinary rules!!!
“I wanted an elf that was unlike an elf I ever read about before.”
Well hello!!! A main character that is estranged the setting…. Uh!!! I have never seen anything like this before!!!!!!
“I realized, one way to do it would be to write it myself.” Well yea, hooray, but please in the future don’t let us others be in such a dilemma. DON’T”!!!!
A better way to do it would be a better author to do it, and let us try to keep a fresh memoir of good fantasy writers!

Given the choice, would you take a New York Times bestseller, or a World Fantasy Award/Hugo Award? Why, exactly?

Bestseller, because by its very nature you’re engaging with a large audience of readers, and as a story teller, that’s my purpose/desire. Having the respect and admiration of your peers is fine, but it’s not why I write and I’d hazard a guess to say it’s not why most writers write. I’m not seeking affirmation from the doyens of the genre. Quite simply, I want to write a story that entertains. Don’t get me wrong though, I have a crushed blue velvet tux in the closet just waiting to get aired out at an awards banquet should I ever be asked, but in the meantime I’m content to toil away writing my stories with the knowledge that there are readers out there eagerly awaiting the next book. That’s the kind of accolade that puts a bounce in my step.
- COME ON!!! PLEASE!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sir, you ask Mr Evans:
Honestly, do you believe that the speculative fiction genre will ever come to be recognized as veritable literature?
He himself answer wisely, although not able to see himself that he is talking ‘bout himself: “I think the more prickly question is, whose respect is one seeking? How does one get this respect? Does everything that came before have to be torn down in order to stand up something new, and dare I say it, respectable? And again, respectable to whom?
I beg to answer you: Respect? Recognition? Not as long as Banjolo Jerks as Mr Evans are spearheaded as the leaders of fantasy fiction!!!