Peter V. Brett Interview

Here's an interesting interview with Peter V. Brett, author of The Painted Man (Canada, USA, Europe), which will be titled The Warded Man in North America. We've been hearing more and more about Brett on various message boards, so I thought it was time to let the man introduce himself!

He comes across as a very nice guy, and The Painted Man, which was already on my "Books to read" pile, may have moved up a spot or two.;-)

- Without giving anything away, can you give us a taste of the story that is THE PAINTED MAN?

THE PAINTED MAN is kind of a hybrid of the action/adventure and horror novels I used to read as a kid. On one hand, it is a fast-paced fantasy adventure, but it’s also a story about fear and what living in constant terror does to society as a whole and the individuals who grow up in it. The story is set in a world where powerful demons known as corelings rise up from the Core each night after the sun sets, ravaging the land until banished back below at sunrise. Humanity has lost the magic to combat the creatures, and thus spends its nights cowering behind protective symbols called wards that hold the demons at bay.

In the story, people have been living this way for over three centuries, and what remains is a broken shell of what mankind once was. People are afraid to travel more than a few hours from home, because they know being caught outside at nightfall means certain doom. The book is a study of the lives of three people, Arlen, Leesha, and Rojer, who are profoundly affected by demon attacks when they are very young. The story is about the sacrifices they must make and the adults they must become in order to attempt to force change on a stagnant and dying world.

And it has kickass demons.

- Tell us a little more about yourself. What's the 411 on Peter V. Brett?

I’ll spare you the boring bio information that usually goes in this question slot, since all that is on my website anyway, and just talk about what a geek I am.

I put in a lot of years as a fanboy before going pro, and even now still feel more like a fanboy with a dream job than a professional writer. I still visit my local comic shop every week on new release day, as I have without fail since about 1986. Meeting friends there at lunchtime and then discussing our relative comic harvests over burgers is one of the great joys in my life.

I’ve read literally hundreds of fantasy novels, and love to geek out and discuss them in detail with people, following some authors quite adoringly. One time, at San Diego ComicCon, I asked Robert Jordan, who I was a big fan of, his opinion on how to keep the balance between writing what your patrons want you to write and what you yourself want to write. Mr. Jordan then scolded me, in front of a room filled with 500+ fans, about how I should never give any thought to what others expect of me, and only write what I want to. He meant it well, but at the moment, I wanted the Earth to open up and swallow me. Another time, I almost shat my pants when George RR Martin turned and asked me to pass him the potato chips at a World Fantasy party. George is the nicest guy you’ll ever meet, but he intimidated the heck out of me at first.

Uh, what else? Action figures. You do not want to know how much money I waste on those. I think every available bit of surface area in my office has an action figure fight diorama on it. Having King Leonidas from 300 dueling Westley from The Princess Bride on your desk is a sublime joy.

I’m also a new dad, and am hoping my daughter won’t realize that daddy never really grew up himself.

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

I was an amateur author for most of my life. I would write long books, mainly just for my own pleasure and that of a few close friends. Many of those friends encouraged me to try and sell my work, but I take writing very seriously, and didn’t think I was operating on a professional enough level. I kept striving to improve, and figured I would worry about getting published when or if I ever reached a level that satisfied me.

When I wrote THE PAINTED MAN, I thought I had finally hit that plateau, and I sent that out to an agent, Joshua Bilmes at JABberwocky Literary Agency. Joshua, however, ripped the book a new one. It was harsh and emotionally devastating, but then an amazing thing (in this industry) happened. He took me out for coffee and told me I had a lot of potential, but it was obvious my writing was self taught, and that I was making some basic mistakes. He said that if I could learn to avoid those, it would vastly raise my game. He gave me a book, WRITING TO SELL, by Scott Meredith, and told me to read it, think about it, and then rewrite THE PAINTED MAN.

I read the book, and while I didn’t agree with all of it, some things about writing clicked in my head like I had flicked a switch and suddenly filled a darkened room with light. I saw story structure and pacing in a new way, and immediately knew what was wrong with THE PAINTED MAN. I threw out 60% of the first draft, and spent the next year working on the rewrite, usually thumb-writing it on my iPaq smartphone during my morning commute to Times Square. The second draft was accepted immediately, and inside a year, Joshua had sold it in 11 countries and 10 languages. It’s mind boggling, and I am still reeling at the sudden success, and I totally geek out just seeing it on the bookstore shelves.

- What can readers expect from the upcoming sequels? Any tentative titles or release dates?

The sequel to THE PAINTED MAN will be titled THE DESERT SPEAR, and it is about 70% written. I’m hoping to turn it in to the publishers by year’s end, and Voyager has it tentatively slated for August ’09 hardback release. THE DESERT SPEAR will focus mostly on the life of Ahmann Jardir, the Krasian Deliverer, but will also include the continuing adventures of the three main characters from THE PAINTED MAN, as well as another bit character from the first book, Renna Tanner. I am making every effort to ensure that it will be chock-full of nonstop awesome.

Book three is tentatively titled THE DAYLIGHT WAR, and should be out more or less a year after that.

- Will you be touring to promote THE PAINTED MAN this fall? If so, are there any appearances you would like your fans and potential readers to know about?

As a new author, there isn’t really a lot of demand for a tour, but I was really psyched for the UK book launch on Sept. 1, so I flew to London to be on hand and celebrate. I did a couple of public signings, interviews, and visited stores to sign shelf stock. I also stopped by Paris to meet with my French publisher, Stephane Marsan at Bragelonne. That whole trip was a blast.

There is still some time before the US launch on March 10, but I am keeping busy in the meantime. I’ll be at Albacon in Albany, New York this weekend (Oct. 10-12), and the World Fantasy Convention in Calgary (Oct. 30-Nov. 2). I’m also doing a big signing at the Del Rey booth of the New York ComicCon (Feb. 6-8), where they’ll be handing out hundreds of free advance copies of The Warded Man.

- What prompted the change of title to THE WARDED MAN for the North American edition soon to be published by Del Rey?

For reasons I have never really understood, the folks at Del Rey didn’t feel the title THE PAINTED MAN would play well with American audiences. It’s a little disappointing, because I prefer the original title (and name for the title character), but the books are otherwise identical, so it makes no significant difference from a story perspective, which is what’s really important. Del Rey has been an incredible and enthusiastic supporter of the work in every other way, so I can’t really complain.

The change does present an added challenge, however, in trying to connect all the positive buzz and momentum happening overseas with readers in the US when the book drops here, but I’m not too worried. If JK Rowling and Philip Pullman can weather a US title change, I think I’m up to the task as well. SF fans are used to this sort of thing, and it’s not always a decision without merit.

- What was the spark that generated the idea which drove you to write THE PAINTED MAN in the first place?

Ever since I read THE ELFSTONES OF SHANNARA by Terry Brooks, I wanted to write a book about demons, and ever since September 11, I wanted to write a story about fear and how it affects society. I decided to combine the ideas and make one a metaphor for the other. I also wanted to write a book that really got the readers into the protagonist’s head, showing all the life milestones that made him into the kind of bitter and introverted hero he becomes.

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

I think I do a good job of creating complex characters with real, believable motivations. A lot of times I get frustrated when I’m reading a book and I can’t understand the motivations of either the protagonist or the antagonist, apart from the desire of the author to put them in conflict. This is why books like A Game of Thrones stand out from your basic fantasy fare, and that is what I aspire to, as well.

I also think I have a good handle on pacing now, which was part of that writing epiphany I mentioned earlier. I’ve learned to spot the boring parts of the story and excise them, keeping excitement and tension high throughout.

- By the same token, what would be your weaknesses, or aspects of your craft you feel you need to work on?

I am kind of an obsessive perfectionist when it comes to writing, and sometimes I think I take it too far, making myself crazy over some minute detail no one is likely to notice. I also tend to overwrite my first drafts, and then cut heavily on the second pass. There will be a lot of deleted scenes posted on my website.

- Were there any perceived conventions of the fantasy/horror genres which you wanted to twist or break when you set out to write THE PAINTED MAN and its sequels?

Sure. I wanted to walk a very fine line, though. I wanted to write a book that was comfortable to me and other people who grew up loving Dungeons & Dragons, the Lord of the Rings, and fantasy novels in that vein, but I also wanted to avoid just rehashing the same stories you see again and again. So I purposely kept the… vibe of traditional fantasies, but threw out whatever else I could. There are no swords, wizards, dark overlords, demi-humans, or orphan characters whose parentage is cloaked in mystery. Just people struggling with demons, both internal and external.

- 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?

I still have a hard time with the concept of having “fans”. It feels like I woke up on Bizarro-world.

That said, I’ve have a blog for years, from way before there was ever a glimmer of hope that I would one day be a published author. I love that interaction with people and the opportunity to share my thoughts on craft or the things I love with the world. When THE PAINTED MAN first sold, I really wanted to have a central place for readers to go and get an idea of what I was all about and maybe see some cool stuff while they were at it. I imported all my pertinent blog entries to the new site (, and readers can actually go back and see what I was thinking and going through at every stage of the path to publication.

Now that the book is out, readers are starting to get in touch with me, and I am loving it. Writing is such a private undertaking, and it’s wonderful to finally be able talk about my work with people and hear what it meant to them.

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

Well, they’re very different things. The Times is objective: the market decides. The WFA is subjective: it’s what a small number of (highly qualified) individuals think is groundbreaking or great art. The WFA is also a little political, as are all judged awards. I’d love either one for different reasons. If I had to choose, though, I would say Times, because it would mean my ideas had touched more people in sheer numbers, and that’s what it’s all about.

- 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?

Reading has definitely gotten harder lately, mainly because I don’t have the free time and patience for reading that I once did. I’ve been so focused on my own work that I am reluctant to offer up that mental processing space to other authors. There are a few I will drop everything for, however. George RR Martin is one, as are Naomi Novik and CS Friedman. I’m also a fan of Terry Brooks, RA Salvatore, Robert Jordan, David Farland, Raymond Feist, David Eddings, and a host of others.

- 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 THE PAINTED MAN?

I grew up on the kind of pulpy, action packed cover art that graced fantasy books up until the late 90’s. Oil and acrylic paintings, often with soaring landscapes and depicting active scenes from the story. I’ve always loved covers like that, and a part of me is a little sad that they stopped being in style by the time I had a book to publish. That said, I understand the marketing principles behind the more iconic covers that are popular these days, and said covers have their own charm.

Regarding my own work, I have the fortune of great variety in the covers of THE PAINTED MAN in different markets. The UK cover from Voyager is a fantastic painting of my title character, and I love it. It is a very striking image that will catch the attention of any fantasy fan. The US cover from Del Rey is kind of the opposite, a plainer design meant to make the book more accessible to people who don’t traditionally read fantasy, much as the recent George RR Martin covers have done. It’s a great honor to get that kind of upwards-and-outwards treatment, because it shows that the publisher has a lot of confidence in the work. My Japanese cover from Hayakawa is just straight-up awesome, with a giant rock demon towering over the protagonist. I feel like an excited kid just looking at it.

- 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 do, even though it is. I set google alerts to do searches every day, and I read every review and discussion I can find. I love seeing what people are thinking and saying about my work, though I try to stay out of the conversations as much as possible to avoid bias.

- 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.

Meh. “Veritable literature” is so subjective, I don’t really think it matters. I love fantasy and never much cared if snooty people considered it “literature” or not. I think most fantasy fans feel the same way, and there are legions of us worldwide. We don’t need anyone to validate what gives us pleasure. Besides, the advent of digital effects has really brought fantasy and comics into the mainstream of our society, movies, which I think has shown the world that SF is a force to be reckoned with. We’re here. We’re geeks. Get used to it.

- Anything you wish to add?

Actually, there’s one thing. A lot of reviews and forums have brought up the dreaded “YA” (Young Adult) moniker in regards to my work, and other people have argued strongly to the contrary, so I’d like to give my take on that.

I can totally see how my writing style, which is intentionally very clipped and active without a lot of flowery prose, along with the fact that the early parts of THE PAINTED MAN deal with the protagonists’ childhoods, could make the book appear to be meant for a younger audience, but my target readers were always adults. Sometimes I may seem to “sanitize” some scenes, but that is more an effort to avoid gratuity than it is one to make the book more palatable to young readers. I think I deal frankly with a lot of harsh adult themes and topics, and try to engage the reader directly with them. I show characters in their childhoods to let the reader share the pivotal moments of their lives that shape their characters and adult motivations, not as an attempt to market to young readers.

On the other hand, there are some people who feel the degree of sex and gore in my work makes it unsuitable for younger readers. I think that’s debatable, too. Young readers are a lot more savvy than adults give them credit for, and especially in today’s internet age, I don’t think there’s anything in my work that would corrupt the mind of any kid old enough to want to read a 500+ page book.

There’s nothing innately wrong with YA books anyway. I read and love Harry Potter and His Dark Materials just like everyone else, and think the genre is just as “legitimate” as any other.

7 commentaires:

Anonymous said...

Nice interview. I totally agree with the author on his views concerning the non YA-ness of this book. I felt that the novel dealt with some strongly adult themes, especially about the nature of the human condition.

If you're reading this Mr. Brett, drop in on our conversation over at westeros; we always appreciate it when an author jumps into the fray.

Pat, when are you gonna do another Bilsborough interview? The last one was the greatest moment this blog has ever seen.

Anonymous said...

Best of luck to Peter. Writing original fantasy can be challenging, and I admire those who balance fantasy with humanity. We geeks need to stick together. Pale is the new black.

Anonymous said...

Very cool interview, Pat, was wondering when you were going to get around to getting him for a chat. :-)

Tomáš Dudáš said...

Nice interview... I read the book last week, and I liked it very much. I can only recommentd it

Marian Perera said...

I enjoyed reading the interview, and I love the cover art for The Painted Man. I'll keep an eye out for this book.

sallreen said...

There’s some exciting news out of Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist, as it looks like Patrick St. Denis, (relative) veteran blogger and bigtime Steven Erikson fan, will have a hand in the upcoming Limited Edition publication of Erikson’s Gardens of the Moon.
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Liz said...

Awesome interview - I really enjoyed it. I was lucky enough to meet Peat and you can't ask to chat to a nicer guy.