Brent Weeks Interview


With Orbit publishing all three volumes of The Night Angel trilogy in the span of a few short weeks, and since I believe that this series could become a commercial success, I knew I needed to invite the author for a chat!

- The Way of Shadows (Canada, USA, Europe)
- Shadows' Edge (Canada, USA, Europe)
- Beyond the Shadows (Canada, USA, Europe)

If this Q&A intrigues you and you wish to learn more about Brent Weeks and his books, check out http://www.brentweeks.com/.

Enjoy!
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- Without giving anything away, can you give us a taste of the story that is THE WAY OF SHADOWS?

The Way of Shadows is the story of Azoth, a boy who becomes an assassin in order to save his best friend, Doll Girl. Years later, she witnesses his master kill a prince, and suddenly with one choice, Azoth must decide if he will kill the master who raised him as his son, or kill the girl he loves. The fate of a kingdom rests on his decision.

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

I’m the guy without a Plan B. I’ve always wanted to write fantasy, and I’m really bad at going to work all day and then writing all night. Some people can do it, and I foster a deep jealousy of them. I taught high school English for a year, and kids told me I was a great teacher, but I didn’t write a word all year. So I quit. The starving artist thing seems really romantic until you get hungry and your friends are graduating from Harvard Law. After four years, I was a moron who needed to get realistic, but my wife wasn’t ready for us to quit. After five years, I was a visionary with a book deal.

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

I wrote the book in a year, spent six months adapting it into a screenplay, rewrote for several months with what I’d learned from that cross-training exercise, went to a conference to pitch my ‘finished’ novel and met Don Maass. He asked one magical question that made me realize I needed to go back and change everything. I did, submitted it, and then started on the next book. Getting signed with Don took another nine months. I finished the next book and started on the last. We collected rejection letters for a while, then at the end, there was interest from all over—and Orbit threw down a preemptive bid for the trilogy with the plan for a rapid release.
I’m not going to lie: writing almost the entire trilogy without a contract was excruciating, but finishing the third book before the first was published allowed me to go back and tweak things in a way most authors aren’t lucky enough to do.

- What can readers expect from the upcoming sequels, SHADOW’S EDGE and BEYOND THE SHADOWS?

Generally? Characters who actually grow through all three books. A much wider view of the world. And another fast read. More magic, more deaths, and at least one damn fine twist, if I do say so myself. Specifically, more of the Godking and Khalidor, more of Vi, more of the trio of Solon, Dorian, and Feir, but still a strong focus on Kylar.

- Will you be touring to promote The Night Angel trilogy this fall? If so, are there any appearances you would like your fans and potential readers to know about?

I’ll be in Surrey, B.C. around October 22, but the publicity people are still working on that one. I’ll be doing a multi-author signing at the Beaverton, Oregon branch of Powells Books on November 20, and I hope to take a trip to San Francisco in January and do a few signings there. I may do others, but this is all new to me; I’m going to see how it goes—and see if anyone wants me in the first place!

- With all three volumes of The Night Angel trilogy being released at the interval of a month between each book, the whole series will be out before the Holidays. What are you working on at the moment, and what comes next for Brent Weeks?

I’m writing what I envision to be a stand-alone novel, and in this one, I actually do stand one fantasy trope on its head—which, as it turns out, causes some serious difficulties not only for the character, but for me, too! What comes next? Working every day to put words on the page, trying to become a better storyteller, and doing my best to give readers more than 8 bucks’ worth of story.

- What was the spark that generated the idea which drove you to write THE WAY OF SHADOWS and the rest of the series in the first place?

Two examples of the same thing: in Mel Gibson’s Hamlet, there’s a moment when Hamlet is confronting his mother Gertrude about her disloyalty to his father. She’s brushing his concerns aside, and she turns her back. He lets out this scream of frustration near madness that froze everyone. In the first X-Men movie, Hugh Jackman as Wolverine is in the Xavier School when he thinks someone’s breaking in and threatening the kids under his protection. All of the sudden, he’s ON. His huge muscles tense, and he whips out his claws. In that moment, he’s absolutely terrifying. In both scenes, there’s something conveyed that is primal, scary, utterly masculine, and awesome in both senses of the word. I wanted to write THAT.

- THE WAY OF SHADOWS deals with child and sexual abuse, two themes that are seldom tackled in the genre. Was it important to you explore such themes and their ramifications?

It’s important to me to be psychologically and sociologically real. If you take a gang and remove the protective elements of stable families and respected law-enforcement, you’re going to get sexual abuse. It’s ugly, and I didn’t want to go there, but I think it’s true. Think of the Stanford Prison Experiment, which happened inside a culture that has a tremendous respect for the law, and easy recourse to non-corrupt authorities (college administration, journalists, law enforcement, advocacy groups, families, etc.) Now imagine that experiment with men as the guards and women as the inmates. It gets ugly fast. The truth is, I thought long and hard about putting in the early and tough scenes (hard to read, harder to write) dealing with that. That my wife was working as a counselor with young children who’d been sexually abused made the ugliness and the evil very real to me. I only hope that I struck an appropriate balance between acknowledging the power of evil and dragging my readers through too much muck.

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

Deep, surprising characters, and writing a fast read. Both are often mentioned, but the latter is rarely remarked on. If a book is a fast read, it means you’re doing a lot of things right: tension on every page, escalating stakes, threatening characters with different types of danger, be willing to hurt all of your characters and kill even main ones so that threats feel real, etcetera.

- Were there any perceived conventions of the science fiction genre which you wanted to twist or break when you set out to write THE WAY OF SHADOWS and its sequels?

The funny thing is, no, not really. I have my own take and my own preferences, certainly, but that’s not the same. I hear my work frequently compared to Scott Lynch’s and Joe Abercrombie’s, and I really don’t know where that’s coming from. I haven’t read either of them yet—though both are now in the to-read pile. Apparently both are convention-slayers. Me? Here’s my thoughts: Conventions become conventions because they work. Why are there princesses in fantasy? Every girl wants to be a princess. It gets overdone, so someone makes Shrek. Is the convention thereby slain? Hardly. Someone makes the Princess Diaries (what if you never knew it, but YOU were actually a princess?). As a reader, I’ve seen all the same conventions all the die-hard readers have, so when I come to a story crossroads as a writer, I always look hard at the path less-traveled. But when you burn down a convention bridge, you better be sure you’ve got a way to get across the water. I’m learning that with my next book.

- You've mentioned that Tolkien, Card, and Jordan had been influences in the creation of this series. And yet, when I read THE WAY OF SHADOWS your style reminded me a lot of R. A. Salvatore in his prime. Were you ever a fan of his?

Honestly, no. I tried to read his work three times and never made it 50 pages. The characters just seemed too thin.

- 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?

Writing is solitary, and though I’m able to act like a hermit to do what I love, I’m not a hermit at heart. So it’s tremendously important to me. At the same time, fans are fans because of what you write, not for your winning personality, so it’s important that I not spend all my time blogging or reading blogs—because if I do, I won’t write.

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

Hands down, the bestseller list. Not to be glib, but I don’t personally know any of the people yet who vote on the WFA, and I can only imagine there’s a lot of politicking. From what I hear, the New York Times bestseller list isn’t immune to politics, either, but showing up on that list would tell me that my books are out in the world connecting with readers—and that’s why I do this.

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

When I read, I do so with an eye for what the author does well. Getting published is so hard that if you do, you’ve got to be doing any number of things right. They might not be things that _I_ value highly, but they’re present nonetheless. That said, George R. R. Martin is astounding. When I read the second book of A Song of Ice and Fire, everyone was amazed that the second book was better than the first—and that became the standard I decided to hold myself to. I’m awed by Orson Card’s clarity and gift for dialogue. Pat Rothfuss writes beautifully. As a writer, you do lose a lot of the joy of reading the genre when you write in it, but on the other hand, when you read people who write really well, I think your joy is tripled.

- 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 grace all three volumes of The Night Angel trilogy?

I talked with Tim Holman, the head of Orbit, about this in depth, and he was very kind to involve me in cover concepts for my trilogy—which he didn’t have to do. His philosophy, and now mine, is to design a cover that lets the reader know in one glance what kind of book they’re looking at. You don’t like assassins? This isn’t the book for you. Of course, many seasoned fantasy readers love their old narrative covers, and may want to puzzle out the whole scene painted on the front, spine, and back of the book, so you lose points with them. And of course, part of me thinks, “But this series is about so much more than just an assassin!” But the cover’s purpose is merely to point the right people TO the book. Same goes for the back cover copy. Mine is very brief and focuses purely on the characters—because characterization is my great strength. I like to think I have other strengths, too, but if you try to convey that this book is great in every respect, you end up conveying nothing at all.

Last, you want to pass the public transportation test: you want an adult to feel okay being seen reading your book. A lot of wonderful books fail that test. I think mine pass, and I’m delighted with the covers Calvin Chu and Peter Cotton put together for me.

- 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?

I’ll admit to a good, old-fashioned vanity Googling, especially now as my first-ever books are coming out. As Oscar Wilde said, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.” But if I spend my writing time trolling the web for what people are saying about me, I’m killing the reason people are talking about me at all. It’s a matter of balance.

- 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.

If you’ve never seen it, you should Google “geek hierarchy.” The truth is, everyone likes to look down on someone. If your favorites are all avant-garde writers who throw in Sanskrit and German, you can look down on everyone. If your favorites are all Oprah Book Club books, you can at least look down on mystery readers. Mystery readers have sci-fi readers. Sci-fi can look down on fantasy. And yes, fantasy readers have their own snobbishness. I’ll bet this, though: in a hundred years, people will be writing a lot more dissertations on Harry Potter than on John Updike. Look, Charles Dickens wrote popular fiction. Shakespeare wrote popular fiction—until he wrote his sonnets, desperate to show the literati of his day that he was real artist. Edgar Allan Poe tied himself in knots because no one realized he was a genius. The core of the problem is how we want to define “literature”. The Latin root simply means “letters”. Those letters are either delivered—they connect with an audience—or they don’t. For some, that audience is a few thousand college professors and some critics. For others, its twenty million women desperate for romance in their lives. Those connections happen because the books successfully communicate something real about the human experience. Sure, there are trashy books that do really well, but that’s because there are trashy facets of humanity. What people value in their books—and thus what they count as literature—really tells you more about them than it does about the book.

- Anything you wish to add?

Yeah, sure. I keep waiting for an interviewer to ask what I think my weak points are. I mean, come on, you get that question with every job interview, so it’s only fair, right? So here goes. I suck at names. I just read a review where a guy said, “Man, he does the apostrophe thing in his names. I hate that.” I was like, No kidding! I hate that, too. I think I was finishing my last round of editing book three—book one was already at the printers—when I realized that. So I was stuck with Sa’kagé for this round, and for any further books in Midcyru, but I promise not to do it again! Plus, I seem to like Z’s and K’s. I look at J.K. Rowling and her names are so good, it’s maddening. Of course, she’s writing fantasy set in our world, so she can do some Latinate-root things I can’t get away with, but still. Severus Snape? Ridiculously evocative. What else am I bad at? (The publicity people at Orbit are going to kill me for making this my own question.) Descriptive paragraphs bore me to tears. When I read, “The long-stemmed saw grasses whispered against each other in the blustery winds intermittently brushing the heath. The vermillion buds of the incipient canary-flowers scrunched beneath the hooves of the Dark Lord’s destrier…” my brain goes, “heath, Dark Lord, horse.” So I tend to write, “The Dark Lord rode onto the heath.”

In my own defense, I’m aware of my shortcomings—and this list isn’t exhaustive, sadly—so I do work hard to come up with better names, and I try to add description as it becomes important to the plot. So you’ll rarely get paragraphs about the stitching on someone’s dress, but I hope that I do give you a good mental picture of the Warrens.

9 commentaires:

Myshkin said...

Very good interview. Weeks handled himself very well, and came across as both informed and humble. I was on the fence about this book, but this interview has decided me in favor of buying it.

Anonymous said...

Great interview. The 'moments' that spark the origins of Brent's novel is interesting. Rarely have I read an author talk about his weaknesses ... such a generous interviewee - makes me want to read his work even more.

Aaron said...

Loved the apostrophe and the fantasy names comment. I too am sick of seeing them in every fantasy series that is published. Ar'kar'karath'akail. Bullshit. I like the way Jack Vance and Gene Wolfe name their characters. Their examples should be followed by more writers. Well, I suppose if any of the new wave of fantasy writers were anywhere near as good as Wolfe or Vance, I might not have anything to complain about. But the sad truth is that the quality of the writing seems to have fallen, and mainly in the fantasy end of the genre. Too much of the stuff gets bought and written by people who have never read anything but G.R.R. Martin, Jordan, Goodkind, etc. No one reads Poe, Melville, Proust, or Borges it seems. Sad.

Myshkin said...

I for one have read plenty of Poe, Melville, Proust, and Borges; along with Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Hugo, Dumas, Goethe, Mann, Hesse, Pasternak, Solzhenitsyn, Garcia Marquez, Saramago, Grass, Naipaul, Rushdie, Kundera, Cortazar, and many, many more. I also happen to like both GRRM and Jordan. Don't think that just because one likes epic fantasy he must never have read anything "good".

Jebus said...

Nice interview (or rather nice answers). I like the last point as well - I hate ' in names and I really hate overly descriptive authors - we know what a heath looks like Tolkien-wannabe, just get on with the damn plot. Reminds me of GRRM and his obsession with describing food.

cedunkley said...

Thanks for the interview. I've been eyeing the first book in this series. Now that I know the whole trilogy is being released so close together, this will definitely be added to my TBR pile.

Orbit seems to do this quite a bit. Karen Miller's books have been published in lumps as well here in the US.

As with her book covers Orbit seem to be establishing a sort of book cover brand with isolating a main character for the cover art.

Thanks again for the interview.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the very well done interview. Haven't seen that good of questions in a long time! Really enjoyed the reading it. Sounds like an interesting story... Thanks!!

Anonymous said...

Jebus, I really find your comment very insulting. I am a descriptive writer, not to the point of painting out every detail but to the point of at least painting enough to give the reader an ounce of a chance to imagine.

I have never read further than the fellowship of the ring with Tolkien and for you to call descriptive writers Tolkien-wannabee's and stereotypical and nonsense. Please don't put all of them in a single basket.

Just for the record i am the opposite, i prefer description enough to imagine. Not simply 'John went into an alley and hid in the shadows'

Other than that, a good interview

walker_powe said...

what happens next!!!!! i want more, there needs to be a sequel series about what happens to kylar, hell even a prequel about durzos adventures would be great.