Interview with Peter Orullian

A few weeks ago, I sort of introduced Peter Orullian's The Unremembered to most of you. Tor Books are pushing this one pretty hard, and I was wondering if it would become the SFF debut of the year. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

The gods, makers of worlds, seek to create balance—between matter and energy; and between mortals who strive toward the transcendent, and the natural perils they must tame or overcome. But one of the gods fashions a world filled with hellish creatures far too powerful to allow balance; he is condemned to live for eternity with his most hateful creations in that world’s distant Bourne, restrained by a magical veil kept vital by the power of song.

Millennia pass, awareness of the hidden danger fades to legend, and both song and veil weaken. And the most remote cities are laid waste by fell, nightmarish troops escaped from the Bourne. Some people dismiss the attacks as mere rumor. Instead of standing against the real threat, they persecute those with the knowledge, magic and power to fight these abominations, denying the inevitability of war and annihilation. And the evil from the Bourne swells….

The troubles of the world seem far from the Hollows where Tahn Junell struggles to remember his lost childhood and to understand words he feels compelled to utter each time he draws his bow. Trouble arrives when two strangers—an enigmatic man wearing the sigil of the feared Order of Sheason and a beautiful woman of the legendary Far—come, to take Tahn, his sister and his two best friends on a dangerous, secret journey.

Tahn knows neither why nor where they will go. He knows only that terrible forces have been unleashed upon mankind and he has been called to stand up and face that which most daunts him—his own forgotten secrets and the darkness that would destroy him and his world

Given the number of rave reviews The Unremembered has garnered so far, I thought it would be interesting to learn a bit more about the author and his work. Orullian was happy to oblige and was very forthcoming with his answers. Indeed, this Q&A has made me even more keen to read his debut.


- What's the 411 on Peter Orullian? Can you tell us a bit about your background?

Well, like many fantasy writers, I did my share of Dungeons and Dragons, and I earned an English degree in college. I always did have the goal of publication, and along the way spent plenty of time courting my other passion, which is music. But since both are highly speculative pursuits, I’ve taken a variety of jobs in my adult life in order to afford groceries. Things like: operations manager, accountant, editor, public relations, and currently I work in marketing. For the last ten years or so I’ve been at Microsoft in the Xbox division. I work with thousand of type A folks as we try to innovate in the area of interactive entertainment. I love the outdoors, and will happily get up at any hour in order to watch the sunrise. I love sports—baseball is a favorite, but over the last several years I’m watching more and more MMA. Love film. I love reading, and not just genre. And again, music—almost any kind of music; but I care about musicianship, so that may clue you in to the types of artists that don’t really thrill me.

- Without giving too much away, can you give us a taste of the tale that is THE UNREMEMBERED?

That’s a tough one. Let’s see. A few of the things that are central to the telling of the tale are: tough choices—it matters to me that my characters have to struggle in this regard; consequence—whether the use of magic, or something a character says, I try to make it matter or come at a cost (and I’ve worked to make it subtle); hope—sounds maudlin, perhaps, but in the dark moments of the book is where I believe the hope is most clear. I know that’s not really a plot-centric view of the book, but hopefully it gives you a sense of what you’ll find without disclosing too much.

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

Sure. I wrote the book ten years ago. My then agent (who was known only for fantasy and science fiction writers) was trying to expand his client-list to include writers of thriller, suspense, mystery, mainstream, etc. I write in some of those categories, and so he asked me to put the fantasy aside and work on some of my thriller novels, where, he said, there was more money anyway. So, I did just that. Later, he and I parted ways; and when I approached a new agent who doesn’t represent much fantasy, I wound up telling him I had a fantasy book. He asked to see it. Liked it. Sent it to Tor. And there you go.

- How would you describe your work to someone who hadn’t tried your books before?

Well this is the first novel I’ll have published, but I’d go back to some of what I mentioned a few questions ago. Then I’d layer on that with The Unremembered I elected to make use of some of the tropes that I wanted to slowly twist and turn. So, readers of the genre will recognize some conventions, and see that I’m working to evolve them. Having said all that, I think it’s really about the characters. Yes, I’ve spent time building a second-world with lots of history, and a few magic systems, etc, but I feel like that stuff winds up as little more than scenery if the characters are flat.

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

They should expect increased movement into new territory. Things they think they know and understand will begin to take new shape and (hopefully) delight and surprise them. I’m a fan of what I like to call “violating your expectations.” Thus my use of a few of the tropes. Not as a way of mocking those conventions. But really as a way of trying to take them someplace new. For instance, I’m just finishing writing book two, and a few of the big revelations I set up at the very beginning of The Unremembered are about to come due. There’ll be some big “aha” moments for readers here, that will make clear why I made certain choices early on. I didn’t rush these things, as I wanted them to occur naturally, and I’m hoping readers will like the payoff. Readers will see more of the music magic system, how it works, new uses, etc. And there’ll be some new POV characters that will provide insight into some of the mysteries of book one, and start to show readers how things are not precisely as they might have thought them to be. The construct is not black and white, nor nearly as obvious as the synopsis would lead you to believe. No titles or release dates yet, but as I mention, I’m very close to finishing book two—another three weeks or so, by my reckoning.

- What was the spark that generated the idea which drove you to write The Vault of Heaven in the first place?

Well, I don’t recall any moment of pure inspiration. I wanted to write something with scope set in a new world of my own fashioning. I love the genre. So, there were several impetuses to write, and one day I started to sketch it all out.

- You have sold a number of short stories before signing a book deal with Tor Books. Do you have a different approach when it comes to writing short fiction?

I guess mostly I’m cognizant that I have to really focus the story, and chose a finite number of scenes to communicate the arc. But beyond that, a lot of the things a writer does are the same for each: characterization, etc.

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

You know, my observation after a few years of really working on my craft is that writers are the worst judge of their own work. Which is to say, anything I tell you is colored by an inescapable subjectivity. But I can tell you what I’ve been told by others, if that’ll do. Other writers and readers have given me props for my characterization and plot and pacing.

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

In all honesty, I’m of the mind that writers need forever to be students. The day I wake up and think I’ve got it figured out, I’m in trouble. I’m voracious in wanting to learn and grow. So, I’m constantly reading, going to workshops, attending writing panels, etc, where I love to listen to other writers talk about the craft.

- Were there any perceived conventions of the fantasy genre which you wanted to twist or break when you set out to write THE UNREMEMBERED and its sequels?

Well, there’s this term “kitchen boy fantasy”—a kind of chosen one scenario revolving around someone of little consequence who must rise up. And there’s also the wizard-type character who calls up on this kitchen boy to do just that. Now, before I go on, I’ll relate a conversation I had recently with Pat Rothfuss, in which we were talking about how it would be easy to simply avoid the tropes and write a series of startling surprises so that readers could never cry “trope, trope.” I mean, once you understand the conventions, you could simply write around them. And I suppose it’s fashionable to do that sometimes. But back to my book, what I did was choose to embrace some of the conventions as a means of doing a few things: I didn’t want to write something that felt stilted or false or like it was working too hard simply because I thought I should avoid using a convention—in some ways, trope-avoidance is the new trope; but more than that, when I started thinking through my story and could see where I could use a trope but then organically take it somewhere new, that excited me. So, with things like “kitchen boy” and wise wizards, I’ve worked to build a story where they are part of a mythos that will take readers beyond the convention they’ve come to expect. At least, that’s my goal. So, yeah, I wanted to twist or break the conventions. Sometimes by fabricating something entirely from whole cloth that it’s unlikely a reader has seen before; but other times by taking a convention and finding a way to evolve it in a way that will hopefully surprise and delight the reader.

- The cover for THE UNREMEMBERED is absolutely gorgeous. It's no secret that 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 your novel?

Well, usually cover art is a crap shoot. Authors get little if any say. For my part, I’m a huge art fan. Art of all kinds. Imagery is something I take time to appreciate every day. So, I was nervous, to say the least. But I wound up lucky in this regard with my cover. My own opinion is that the cover is one of the best ads for the book there is. Eventually, though, the reader will open it and read. So, what’s beneath the cover is the thing.

- The advance praise has created a very positive buzz surrounding the release of THE UNREMEMBERED. How happy are you about that? Are you afraid that this might raise readers' expectations too high?

The short answer is yes. Awareness marketing, as we call it in the biz, is a double-edged sword. You want people to know about the book, but invariably what happens is that this effort to get the word out gets translated as “hype.” Now, for my money, hype is something else; it’s saying, “such and such is the best novel of the century,” or something similar. No one’s making those claims here. But it doesn’t change the fact that any concerted effort to, like I say, get the word out will create a perception. So, while I’m pleased that there is, it would seem, a goodly number of folks who know my book is coming, I get that it raises expectations. And as a writer, and a debut novelist to boot, that certainly plays on my nerves a bit. I’m proud of the book, but it brings to mind something Brandon Sanderson wrote in the run-up to The Way of Kings. That book had an amazing pre-publication awareness campaign. And what the world began calling “hype,” I think got Brandon thinking; so much so that he wrote a blog post about it. Now, let’s be clear (and please don’t quote me out of context here), in no way am I comparing myself or my book to Brandon and his amazing body of work. I think Brandon is brilliant. But that particular blog post struck me, since he could see where expectations were growing, and proud of his book as he was, he knew he was writing a long saga, and wanted to have the right expectations. So, yeah, I feel like that a bit. I’d love people to set aside this talk of “hype” and just read the book for what it is. A salient anecdote from my own life is the day I went to see Men of Honor starring Cuba Gooding Junior and Robert De Niro. I had seen little advertising about it. Really knew practically nothing about it. And loved it. I had no real expectations. By turn, I often come out of films for which I’ve seen a bevy of pre-release advertising and don’t always feel like I did when I saw Men of Honor. The truth is, more folks saw Avatar than Men of Honor. For me and my novel, I’d love lots of people to read it, but I also really want them to feel like I did when I came out of Men of Honor. So, double-edged sword.

- 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 potential readers and soon-to-be fans?

I love that part. I’m a fan of the genre and its community. I’ll tell you the truth—no B.S.—it was mega-cool just having the brief exchange with you as we started getting this interview set up. I’ve been a reader of your blog forever. Not to suggest you’re a fan, but merely that connecting with folks who care about this field is something I enjoy more than you could know. The work I do on my website I do because it’s the kind of thing I always like to find on the sites of other writers and journalists in and around fantasy.

- 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?

I read both in and out of the genre. One guy I think is woefully under-appreciated is Dan Simmons. He hasn’t written an out-and-out fantasy, but he’s written just about everything else. And then there’s Stephen King. It’s easy to knock King, because he’s been at or near the top for so long. But when you break down his craft, you start to see that his toolbox overfloweth. Inside genre, Martin for sure. Sanderson for sure. Oh, this list could get long . . .

- You are working on a concept album based on THE UNREMEMBERED. Can you tell us a bit more about this project?

Love to. Concept albums as companions to novels have been done before. Not often. But they’ve been done. But almost without exception they’re retellings of the book. That bores me. What I’m doing is what I call additive storytelling. I have a magic system based on music in my world. One of the manifestations of this is an order of people called Maesteri, and a song known as the Song of Suffering. So to avoid just doing a big data-dump in the novel about it, I don’t spend 50 pages on how it works; rather I’ve tried to provide enough, then keep the narrative moving. But, with the concept album, I’ll be telling the story of the early life of one of these Maesteri (stewards of the Song of Suffering), and providing insight into the Song itself. The result is that, while it’s not necessary to hear the album to enjoy the novel, those who do listen to it will have a deeper appreciation for parts of the book. And vice versa. I’ll be posting the lyrics, so that folks who aren’t music aficionados like myself can simply read the lyrics if they’d like. But I’m a music fiend, and those of similar ilk, I think, will dig the album. It’s in the vein of Dream Theater, Queensryche, Disturbed, etc, so if that’s not your thing, fair enough. But there you go. The whole affair has been a lot of fun, since it’s allowing me to combine two of my passions.

- You have also written a number of thrillers and more mainstream works that you are trying to get published. What can you tell us about them?

Yeah, my very first novel was a horror novel, which I’m still really quite proud of. I’ve got two completed thrillers that I’m sitting on for now, since I’m focusing on The Vault of Heaven. I have a half-written mainstream work. And I’ve no end of ideas for future stuff. I’ve three big projects that will follow VoH—two of which are in the fantasy genre. The horror novel keys off of T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men.” One thriller works from the premise of gene-therapy; and the other thriller is super-secret, since I think it may be one of the next things I sell. So, that’s a glimpse. All of it, though, is on hold. Vault of Heaven is my sole focus right now.

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

Man, good question. To the degree that a Times list inclusion means a lot of sales, I’d probably take that, since my goal is to have people read the book. If, on the other hand, being acknowledged with one of the awards you mention got me to the same goal, that’d serve. Because here’s the thing, I’m still working a day job, and so I’m not rationing my funds to buy peanut butter. Which is to say, I’m not in it for the money. What I _am_ interested in is having folks read and enjoy the tales I tell.

- More and more, authors/editors/publicists/agents are discovering the potential of all the SFF blogs/websites/message boards on the internet. Even though THE UNREMEMBERED has not yet been released, 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?

You’re psychic with this question. I’ve been reading/following/watching for ages. And when my own stuff started showing up it was a thrill, and then as things started getting closer, I realized that I needed to remain focused on the writing, so I’ve had to start exercising some discretion, since I have a deadline on book two.

- Anything you wish to add?

Not really, other than to say thanks to you, Pat, for taking the time. And thanks, too, to anyone whose spent time reading this and (potentially) my novel. I genuinely appreciate the demands on people’s time these days. It always seems there so much to do and so little time to do it. And where me and my stories are concerned, rest assured that I’m taking great care to weave the plot carefully, to evolve it past your assumptions, and to lead you someplace I think is awesome . . . and worth your time.

10 commentaires:

Martin S said...

Went to check out his site. He looks like a cross between Peter Steele from Type O Negative and the singer from Whitesnake, and he sings metal!

I'll still have to check out that book.

Kyle said...

Excellent interview! Seriously Pat, you have to start doing more interviews again! Forget what the wankers bitch about on twitter. I discovered Sanderson, Rothfuss, Lynch, Abercrombie, Ruckley, and so many more sff writers through your reviews and interviews. It's a shame that you've really slowed down with the interviews in the last two years or so.

Anonymous said...

@ Kyle


Lagomorph Rex said...

I'm interested enough in this from the early hype to check out a few reviews once it's been released anyway.

The writer obviously has good taste in film as well, Men of Honour is a great movie.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting Q & A!

I agree with Kyle and Anonymous: More interviews, please!


Unknown said...

I've been lucky enough to get and advance reader of Peter's book, and have about 50 pages left. Simply put it's been a great read. The beginning reminded my of the Sword of Shanara by Terry Brooks, who he acknowledges as an influence upon him. It's written very well (I did have to look up a few words here and there to get the full meaning out of context, but not too many) with great descriptions. The pace of the book moves well. I never felt like there was too little or too much action versus story. There's depth to the world as well, that you get introduced to as you go along, but lots more is there for certain. I'll be doing a more inclusive review in a couple days once I finish it.

All said it's a very good book, I would recommend people pick it up and read it! :)

amysrevenge said...

One of the best blog posts in weeks. Thanks!

Ted Cross said...

His replies make me feel that we have a lot in common -- the trope twisting especially -- only he is being published. I will certainly give him a try.

Dream Girlzzz said...

I agree with the others Pat! I've come to love what I call your "411"interviews" and it's a pity there's not more of them these days. Apart from the writers already mentioned, they helped me discover authors like Abraham, Brett, Tchaikovsky, Duncan, McDonald, Watt, and many more!

So keep 'em coming!!

Todd said...

Excellent interview. Really cool guy, Can't wait to read the book!