Ian Cameron Esslemont Interview

I knew I needed to have a chat with Cameron to promote Return of the Crimson Guard (Canada, USA, Europe), and talk about what's next for him. As this was my third or fourth interview with Esslemont, to make things more interesting I invited Adam (http://www.thewertzone.blogspot.com/), Ken (http://www.nethspace.blogspot.com/), and Graeme (http://www.graemesfantasybookreview.blogspot.com/), all of them big Malazan fans, to join the dance! So thanks to all three for accepting the invitation.:-)


- Without giving anything away, can you give us a taste of the tale that is RETURN OF THE CRIMSON GUARD?

If I was to sum it up as tightly as possible I guess I would say it’s about the misguided urge to hold onto the past when the world has moved on (as it inevitably does) - the inability to let go when wisdom would dictate that one must - and the consequences of such failure. That would be one particular driving theme.

- Are you satisfied with the fans' response to your second Malazan offering thus far?

Very much so! I am grateful for the welcome and support of the gang on the Malazan web site. The contributors there (active fans all!) need not have been so fair-minded. It has been Steve and my hope that our combined contributions to Malaz would simply add up to more enjoyment and depth for everyone.

- Tell us a little bit about yourself. What is the 411 of Ian Cameron Esslemont?

Hmm, you asking for my phone number? You mean what’s the deal with me and fantasy writing? Discovery, I suppose. Like an archaeological dig, it’s all about finding out what’s there. Whenever I’m writing the stuff I can’t help but get a big grin when I set out to find out what’s next, or waiting below what has just happened.

- You probably won't be touring to promote this one, but are there any upcoming appearances that you would like Malazan fans to know about?

Well, I was all set to go to Calgary for this year’s World Fantasy Convention, but as a Canadian living in the US, immigration matters have interfered and I don’t think I’m gonna make it. Which is really too bad because Steve and I have a great time at that Con and I was looking forward to meeting up with everyone I usually see there.

- The majority of readers seem to agree that RETURN OF THE CRIMSON GUARD is a definite improvement on NIGHT OF KNIVES in terms of writing style. Still, what would be your weaknesses, or aspects of you craft you feel you need to work on?

I am very gratified to hear that. Improvement does not necessarily come with practice and repetition (it is after all possible to crank out the same stuff over and over …). If I were to self-diagnose, I guess I’d have say my weakness remains flow and elegance in prose. I suspect that that will never go away and that I’ll continually have to struggle against it. But I’m not too disheartened by that - it remains a craft concern, one that can be worked on the way a carpenter can work on his or her finer cabinetry work. It’s not like I’m short on material.

- Sharing writing duties for the world of Malazan with Steven Erikson leads to the inevitable comparison between the two of you. How do you feel about it, especially considering Steve is a good friend of yours?

Yeah, it’s unavoidable. I’m not irked by it since, in my view, Steve’s among the finest practitioners out there in the genre. I think that my own work, particularly in Return, while not in Steve’s class, does not fare badly at all when compared to the rest of the epic fantasy stuff out there. And I’ll always have the high bar of Steve’s work to urge me on and inspire.

- How challenging is it for you to find your own voice as not only a new writer but also as a writer jumping into an already established world?

For me “Finding my own voice” was not an issue at all. In Malaz I haven’t had to struggle with it since I’m not really ‘new’ to this established world. As co-creator my voice has been present all along; as I think the smooth alignment of Return demonstrates. In the larger sense, since stylistics is not my focus, I naturally emphasize content over form. My hope is that the material will be strong enough to warrant a place on the stage and in that hope I’m more confident.

- What is the progress report on STONEWIELDER? Any tentative release date at this point?

No release date. Bantam and I are still in negotiation over future Malaz novels. I’m very hopeful, but the current economic troubles worry me … not the best time to be entering the market (though in hard times the demand for entertainment and so-called ‘escapism’ becomes even stronger).

- Can you give us a bit of a synopsis regarding STONEWIELDER?
(SPOILER ALERT: Do not read on if you haven't read RETURN OF THE CRIMSON GUARD)

Stonewielder unfolds on the subcontinent variously known as ‘Korel’ or ‘Fist’. Again, like Deadhouse Gates, or Return, the novel will serve to flesh out the region of its setting over the course of which answering or furthering certain larger themes and questions. For example, I understand from the threads on the Malaz site that many readers were troubled by the appearance of the ‘Riders, or Stormriders, in Knives (and elsewhere). The readers will have the chance to decide whether Stonewielder puts all those concerns and reservations to rest.
Events follow closely on Return and center on a new Malazan offensive in that theater launched by the new Emperor, Mallick Rel.

- In a previous interview you mentioned how much fun writing RETURN OF THE CIMSON GUARD turned out to be . Is STONEWIELDER as much fun to write, or is a more difficult endeavor?

I have to confess that I’m finding Stonewielder a harder row to hoe. I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s because I’m resolved to try to push my writing even further along, as I attempted in Return. What this has developed into is a slower pace, a more character-centered project. Some readers may prove to be turned off by this, but, at the same time, other readers will be pleased. Every work will find it’s own audience. And by slower, I mean less of a mad dash than Return.

- Where in the timeline is STONEWIELDER taking place?

Just less than two years after Return.

- 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 covers that grace both NIGHT OF KNIVES and RETURN OF THE CRIMSON GUARD?

I believe that I have been extraordinarily lucky to date in cover art. I’m very pleased by all the work that has been put forward. I shiver when I look around and think about what might have been placed on the project. Accuracy or identifying certain characters should not be the issue here. I think the artwork should catch one’s interest by the mood and atmosphere it conveys - presumably reflecting the contents therein.

- 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 have to confess that I do not hang around the Malaz site (no disrespect intended). It’s my view that an author really shouldn’t try to shepherd the interpretation of the work, or try to ‘explain’ what they meant. That’s not even allowed in a properly run writing workshop. However, this does not mean that I do not think the sites and boards are important or legitimate. On the contrary. I see it as a fantastic opportunity for a community to come together. As the internet gathers to itself an even greater percentage of the population, greater ‘reach’, it will, I think, become the major source for feedback and certainly for community building. The old days of the mimeographed fan newsletters seem to be gone now.

- Steven Erikson recently revealed plans to write more Malazan books once he has finished his main sequence. Do you have any plans for further Malazan books once your sequence comes to an end?

No plans for further Malaz novels at this time. I’ll remain open to it though so long as I remain excited and entertained by the stories and characters in the world.

- For my money, fantasy series don't come much more complex than the Malazan books. As a co-creator, do you still feel in control of your creation or has it gained a life of it's own and you're left reporting on events as they happen?

I think that any artistic creation must ‘have a life of it’s own,’ otherwise it’s dead. The Malazan world still offers that to a satisfying artistic degree - at least from my point of view. And so long as it does I’ll be glad to work with it.

- When the series was originally conceived, what led you and Steven to present it against a fantasy backdrop? I could also see the Malazan series working as sci-fi (although maybe not on just one planet!)

Funny that. I never ever saw it other than as it is set. Steve may have, I don’t know. Because of our shared archaeological and historical interests I don’t see how the world could have come out otherwise. It’s strange, but when I do attempt SF with spaceships and lasers, it just seems silly and fake - made up - while historically based fantasy with ‘magic’ feels utterly real and legitimate because, after all, that has been the vast majority of the human experience.

- Do you have any plans to write fiction (long or short) outside of the Malazan world?

Great question to follow the above. Yes, I am writing outside the genre. I more or less write whatever the heck I want - whatever each particular project demands. I’m working with an adolescent-reader novel for example. And an SF project, but one that remains rooted in truths of the human experience.

- As a resident of Alaska, I can only assume you must be an expert in Russian foreign policy - how does this influence your writing!?!

Ha! Yes. Well. As a non-American I think perhaps I should take a pass on that one; except to point out that another country, other than Russia, happens to border even more directly on Alaska.

- What do you think of the use of maps in fantasy books? Yours so far seem light on them compared to Steven’s, and it was interesting we didn’t get any maps of Korel or Stratem in RETURN OF THE CRIMSON GUARD

All the maps of Malaz presented so far have come out of our shared development (with only one or two exceptions, Lether, for example, though even that Steve and I played through long ago). It’s true that as an artist Steve has drawn most of them (which we then took turns filling in). Return has a map of Quon Tali, as it should, most of the action taking place there. Stonewielder will have a map of the Korel subcontinent, and etc. Maps are vitally important in my view, but not so that the reader can then count mileage and such, but rather to convey the flavour of the age, as discrepancies, blind spots, and guesses are standard for pre-scientific mapmaking.

- You’ve said before that you and Steven collaborate on setting out the overall story arcs of the series, but does the same apply for themes? When you get down to it, what do you see the Malazan books as being about? Is it even possible to sum it up easily?

Yes, our collaboration applies even more importantly to the themes as these are really the raison d’ être for the whole project. Steve and I talk through these larger movements more than any particular details (which can vary and aren’t nearly as important as the overall message).
As to summing up what the series is about - yikes! If I were to take a stab at it from my point of view, I see the series as an attempt within the fantasy genre to do more than just the usual pseudo-European medieval, or Greek, or whatever, backdrop with magic and swords, but rather to attempt to enter into a markedly different cultural tradition that is at once interesting, but also disturbing and unsettling as well (as it should be).

- Any word on that elusive American book deal?

Tor has taken both Knives and Return for US release.

- There seems to be a lot of challenging, innovative fantasy about these days. Having been mildly critical of it in the past, what do you think about the genre today?

Hope remains. Hope always remains. Fascinating work is being done around the fringes of the genre. Haruki Murikami, for example, who was selected for the World Fantasy Award last year. He’s doing fantasy even though it might not conform to narrower traditional definitions. Michael Chabon seems unable to pull entirely away from the reach of the genre. Look to his alternative history The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. Or, more to the mainstream, look to Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian.

My apologies if I wandered far in this answer as such questions bring out the literary scholar in me.

- Anything else you wish to add?

No, that’s about it. Many thanks to everyone. Always a pleasure to talk about all things Malaz.

Yours, ICE.

11 commentaires:

Unknown said...

At the back of each of those novels there is a chronology for the Haldanes and the MacRories and the mysterious year of 948 was listed as the death year for so many major characters.
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Anonymous said...

Thanks for that interview Pat, great stuff.

Jebus said...

Well it looks like there was one major spoiler there for Return! A new Emperor eh? I just ordered RotCG so i guess I know of at least one major event :(

Anonymous said...

yep, the new emperor was a surprise for me as well. I have Reapers Gale & Toll of Hounds sitting on the book shelf, ready to read.

Anonymous said...

It says this was to come out in early October but CHAPTERS doesn't have any nor can you order it.

That sucks.

Pat, any info about that?

Thanks bro

Gabriele Campbell said...

Ok, Mr Adolfo Spam, what have the Deryni books to do with the Malazan world?

Adam Whitehead said...

@ Reanimated

The book is only available in the UK, Australia and Canada at this time. It hasn't officially come out in the USA yet, although some import stores have it and Amazon.com are supposed to be getting copies in. You can also buy it from The Book Depository with free international shipping.

Unknown said...

I got my copy through Amazon.ca but it was delayed a few times.

A spoiler alert would have been nice about Mallick there. That's a pretty major plot point..

Anonymous said...

Yeah, kind of made me double-take when I read about Mallick, so it's unfortunate that there wasn't some sort of spoiler warning. Great otherwise!!! I've also been having the same problem finding Return of the Crimson Guard here in Ottawa. No Chapters', Indigo, or Coles' seems to have it!

Graeme Flory said...

Thanks for letting me come in on this one Pat, I really appreciate it.



Jebus said...

Just finished the book and realy really liked it. Nait's story was the best part of the novel but there wasn't a single part I could find fault with (except for all the bloody typos, ergh whatever happened to proof reading?)

Knowing that major spoiler was a bit of a bitch since that was such a major event. Kinda annoyed about that, but such is life I guess.