As promised, here is my latest Q&A with Joe Abercrombie! I teamed up with Ken (www.nethspace.blogspot.com) for this interview, and again it was a good collaboration, if I may say so myself!
If you haven't read, Abercrombie's latest, The Heroes (Canada, USA, Europe), what are you waiting for!?!
- Now that THE HEROES has been out for a while on both sides of the Atlantic, are you pleased with the way the book has been received thus far?
I’m never pleased. I always want more. Like Sauron.
- With THE HEROES making noise on the Sunday Times' bestseller list, do you think there will now be added pressure as far as your future novels are concerned? Readers will likely have higher expectations with each new work you publish. Do you ever think about that, or about the fact that publishers now expect you to move a certain amount of units every time something with your name on it hits the shelves?
There’s always pressure. To produce a new book in good time. To make it better than the last from your own point of view, from that of the readers, the critics, the publisher. To sell more copies. But obviously one would much rather have the pressure of, “your last book did great, with this one we need to do even better,” than, “your last book was a disaster, if the next one doesn’t do better we’re going to drop you and you’ll have to get a real job.” You’re always conscious that only a small minority of published writers are able to earn their living out of it, and even if you’ve earned a place among those lucky few it doesn’t have to be forever. A couple of bad books and you’re out of favour again. It can be a tough way to make a living, in that sense. Not road-crew tough, but there’s always pressure.
- Several maps in THE HEROES. What made you and Simon Spanton change your minds? The lack of maps had sort of become a running gag of sorts with you and your publisher.
I’m not sure that I have changed my mind in particular, I’ve always had mixed feelings about maps. I love a good map – one that’s useful, and appropriate, and with artistic quality that adds to the whole feel of the book. I hate a bad one – a careless scrawl adding nothing of style or content and thrown in there just because there’s a feeling a fantasy book should have one. With the First Law books we felt a map wasn’t totally necessary. The Heroes is the story of a single battle, tightly focused on one small area of ground and with the terrain and relative positions of the units being important and otherwise pretty hard to follow. I also felt there was the opportunity to use maps in a different way from just sitting mute on the fly leaf, with new ones showing the state of the battlefield at the start of each day. So they serve an important purpose in The Heroes, I think, and add to that feeling of it being an invented piece of military history, if you will...
- Given the grittiness and violence which characterize your novels, were you surprised by the fact that quite a few of your fans found the tale of revenge that was BEST SERVED COLD off-putting? Is there a fine line between going for the gritty approach and overdoing it?
I wouldn’t say I was surprised. The First Law was the thing I’d always wanted to write, and the ideas had been cooking slowly in my mind since childhood, in some cases. In a sense Best Served Cold was my difficult second novel – I had to come up with new ideas, new ways of writing on a schedule and that was pretty testing. There were two things I was particularly concerned about with that book. One was that it was much less self-consciously epic fantasy than the First Law had been, both in its plot and in the amount of fantastic elements. On the whole that didn’t really seem to bother people, though. The other was that I was pushing the “unsympatheticness” (if that’s a word) of the characters and the darkness and brutality of the action further even than I had with the First Law. Certainly I pushed it too far for some, and no doubt some readers found it hard to relate to the characters. Hard to find anyone to root for. And that’s not a good thing in a character-centred book, really, is it?
So yes, there are fine lines between gritty and too gritty, violent and too violent, interestingly dark and utterly repulsive, but those lines are in different places for every reader. There are people who haven’t found the characters appealing in Best Served Cold, but there are also plenty of people for whom it’s their favourite book of mine. That’s one thing I take a kind of pride in, actually - I haven’t really observed a clear consensus on which is my best book or my worst. Hopefully that shows that I’m trying out a slightly different variation on the recipe each time around.
- Your online presence (on your own website and on a number of SFF message boards) have contributed to your success and popularity. So much so that LAST ARGUMENT OF KINGS was an Amazon.co.uk Top 10 bestseller, while the book didn't do particularly well at brick-and-mortar bookstores. Has that changed at all? And if so, what was done by you and your publishers to give you more exposure in "non-online" venues?
Didn’t do well at brick-and-mortar bookstores, how very dare you, sir, it took the publishing world by storm. Certainly the books did better with online retailers to begin with, but I think that’s probably just part of the natural development of an author, really, unless you’re one of the rare few who comes out with a big fanfare and a lot of marketing and expectation (which can have its own downsides). People who read a great deal of fantasy are maybe more likely to be online looking for new things. It’s not necessarily easy to reach those people but it is possible with a website and a bit of online word of mouth. Bricks and mortar bookstores, and supermarkets even more so, generally need to see a good track record before they get behind things, and it can take a while to build up a wider readership.
With The Heroes it felt like a lot of things fell into place simultaneously – it got a lot of marketing and publicity support from my publisher, a lot of support from Amazon and Waterstones, who are the main brick and mortar store in the UK, and even a big push in Asda, a UK supermarket chain, which is nice to see because supermarkets don’t stock much fantasy and you can potentially sell a lot of books there to people you might otherwise never reach. Partly that was because of the time of year. Not a lot of big releases in January, so there are more resources to go around.
- You did a damn good job with your short story "The Fool Jobs" for the SWORDS & DARK MAGIC anthology. Are there any other short fiction plans for you in the near future?
It was damn good, wasn’t it? That’s very true. I wrote another short story linked to The Heroes which appeared in a Waterstones special edition in the UK, and I believe that’s going to be made more generally available in one format or another at some point. I’ve also written a short story involving one of the characters from my forthcoming book, which I hope will find its way into an anthology featuring a few other well-known (and better known) fantasy authors, but I won’t let the cat out of the bag.
- How do you see heroism in epic fantasy?
In my youth I saw an awful lot of it. Which is probably why I try to take a more cynical view these days...
- I know that you have already responded to Leo Grin's "The Bankrupt Nihilism of Our Fallen Fantasists," so I don't want to re-open that can or worms. But considering what he, as well as other people who share his opinion, do you believe that there are some people out there who simply "don't get it?"
Since The Blade Itself was published I’ve seen pretty much every imaginable response to my books, many of them entirely contradictory, and that tends to steadily undermine your notions about there being some absolute truth “to get”. There’ll always be a range of opinion (if you’re lucky enough to have any opinion expressed at all) and as a writer you have to find a way to accept that and weigh the value of the diverse reactions you see. The aim shouldn’t necessarily be to please everyone with everything you do. That isn’t really possible, or even desirable.
The argument that western society is being dragged into the toilet through insidious attacks on the legacy of Tolkien by college-educated liberals with cynical fantasy as the weapon of choice? Honestly, that doesn’t seem to correspond to any of the observable facts of reality as I see them.
The less hyperbolic and politically charged argument that there’s too much cynicism in fantasy and where’s the heroism and the wonder gone? That’s totally valid, obviously, and equally obviously a matter of opinion. For me, there are still a lot of long-established writers, and honestly a fair few newer writers, still shifting an awful lot of units of relatively traditional fantasy. I don’t mean that as any kind of criticism, incidentally. People should read (and write) what they enjoy. But for a long time optimistic, heroic, relatively predictable visions were in the great commercial ascendant in epic fantasy. I see what’s happening now as being a healthy correction, drawing in new readers to a genre that was perhaps a little stale. If nothing else, it encourages those who’d rather see more optimistic, heroic visions to up their game and find new and more exciting ways of expressing those ideas. I look forward to seeing that happen. Maybe I’ll even take part. I wouldn’t want to become predictable for withering cynicism any more than for cloying optimism. I think what’s important is to have strong, fresh, exciting voices in the genre, not that they be voices of one particular kind or another.
- I have to admit that I’m really looking forward to your next novel. Please tell us everything you can about it at this time. I can’t help but imagine it as a Tarantino-inspired re-telling of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.
It’s a Tarantino Good, Bad, Ugly, it’s a Guillermo del Toro Lonesome Dove, it’s an Ingmar Bergman The Searchers. It’s a fantasy western, basically, in the same way that Best Served Cold was a fantasy gangster revenge story and The Heroes is a fantasy war story. Again set in the world of the First Law, again a sort of standalone featuring some familiar characters alongside some new faces, hopefully combining the edgy yet humorous approach to fantasy for which I am known and widely despised with some outside influences. No sixguns, alas, but a lot of other western motifs. And maybe a mechanical dragon.
- Any tentative title and release date?
It has a working title, but I’ll keep that to myself for now. Sometimes if you make these things public they tend to take on a momentum of their own, and I’m still working out exactly what this book’s going to be. Release wise, it’s looking like summer/autumn 2012 and I’d very much hope to hit a date around then but, as usual, I reserve the right to miss it utterly. Especially with a new baby due in a few weeks...
- When you see generic blogger X apply the term gritty or subversive to your work, what is your reaction?
Generic Blogger X is actually a really good name for a genre blog, I’ll have to check their stuff out. My reaction whenever my books get talked about in pretty much any way is usually woot. The Grin article rather seems to prove the maxim that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, since I’ve never seen my books discussed so widely on the internet as they were in the wake of being pasted in that article, and for everyone decrying them as evil filth there were ten or twenty saying they were intrigued and would have to pick them up now. Subversive? I don’t honestly know how subversive I am, I see myself as working within a form, and there are a lot of aspects of my stuff that are very traditional, if a little twisted, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Gritty? Guilty as charged, probably, for all it’s getting to be a bit of an overused expression. There are worse things to be called than subversive and gritty...
- When Joe Abercrombie goes to the costume shop to get something to ‘look the part’, what does he get?
Sidetracked and ends up in the pub. Or possibly the video game shop.