I recently contacted Adamantine Palace and King of the Crags author Stephen Deas asking if he would be interested in answering a few questions for the blog. This post is a testimony of Mr. Deas’s gracious response.
For those of you that are not familiar with him or his work, he is a relatively new British fantasy author who, obviously, is the author of the two novels I stated above (find my reviews of them here and here respectively) as well as the author of an upcoming summer release. Find out more about him and his work on his website, here.
Bellow you’ll find the full interview, complete with some ridiculously honest, laugh-provoking, self-publicizing answers. Enjoy…
LEC Book Reviews: The book industry is far from being an easy market to break into. Now with two books under your belt and two more planned, how does it feel to be a confirmed member of the fantasy authors’ club?
Stephen Deas: Well, life goes on. There's the family and the day-job to think about and . . .
No. Sod the it's-no-big-deal spiel. It feels like I stowed away aboard a really cool ship filled with candy and rockets and so far no one has noticed that I don't actually belong there. A lot of the time is spent sitting quietly in a corner, getting on with pretending to be one of the crew in the hope that no one asks for my ID, ogling the rockets and eating the candy. Some of the time is spent in abject fear of discovery. And then there are weeks when I just run around in circles in a daze of useless hyperactivity like a kid who's been taken to Legoland and been told that they can have whatever they want.
And yes, life does go on, and some of it is still damn hard work, if only a different sort of damn hard work, but now it goes on with a wonderful undercurrent of mystery and excitement and possibility with regular sprinkles of squealing delight and gleeful surprise.
Or put it another way: It feels like having your dessert upgraded from rice pudding to an enormous knickerbocker glory all the time.
LBR: I understand that you wrote at least one novel before getting The Adamantine Palace published. How different is this book and any others written before The Adamantine Palace, both story-wise and the writing itself, to what you finally got published? What changes as a writer did you have to make?
SD: One? One? Excuse me while I go and count . . . ten. I have ten finished novels sitting here. Eesh. I was going to offer up one of the opening paragraphs, but I can't bring myself to share anything so execrable. So yes, an awful lot of practice, that's something I can recommend. The one you're probably referring to, Bloodline, is actually rather good in many ways, apart from the glaring plot-hole somewhere in the middle, but what it gets wrong is that it took itself far too seriously. Well written it might have been (this was after all the practicing), but it was all very earnest and doom-laden. It also very deliberately didn't have any dragons in it. Two mistakes there.
K J Parker's early novels showed that it was perfectly possible to write with a strong vein of (usually black) humour without falling into comedy or farce or having to make any compromise whatsoever to either the characters or the story. So the Adamantine Palace and indeed one or two others I've got sitting on the shelf were done in a different style, one that's got a streak of parody to it. Whereas I would once have written a scene like this:
“My Lord, we must ride forth at once to rescue the princess from the evil wizard.Now it's more like this:
”Prince Helm set his jaw firm. “Yes. We shall leave at dawn.”
“My Lord, we must ride forth at once to rescue the princess from the evil wizard.”In fact, it was quite hard to write the first scene without calling the prince Prince Dork or something similar.
Prince Helm rolled his eyes. “What? Again?”
The other change I made was to embrace, up to a point, the cliché. Dragons are fantasy clichés, no two ways about it, and for that reason I kept well away from them. Apparently that was a mistake.
LBR: The dragons you write about in The Adamantine Palace and The King of the Crags are quite a bit different from what most readers have come to expect but you obviously wanted to share your view on the mythical beasts. Where did that intention come from?
SD: It was my editor-to-be that wanted dragons to begin with. I was happily writing dragon-free fantasy, a good example of which would be The Thief-Taker's Apprentice (coming out this summer – see how I snuck in that subtle plug there) with a more middle-of-the-fantasy-road approach to world-building, character, story structure and so on. But I sort of found myself with a choice of writing some epic fantasy with dragons in and getting published or not and not. That's like take a break from cleaning the road with a toothbrush and staring up at that ship filled with candy and rockets only to have some fine fellow wave down and call come aboard lad, take a quick look around . . . I mean, what's a writer to do? Filthy toothbrush? Or rockets and candy?
The way the dragons came out was something of a reaction to that – if I was going to write dragons, they were going to be uniquely my dragons. There are so many dragon novels about that I probably haven't succeeded, but I wanted them to be recognizably the fantasy cliché, and yet different. In the end, they sort of took control of the books. They're monsters, fifty-ton flying fire-breathing terminators, with a relentless and remorseless energy, and that infected the whole structure of the story. The Adamantine Palace has the pace it does (and with some sacrifices made to achieve that pace too, I'll quite accept) because that's what being around dragons should feel like. They deserved no less.
LBR: Your books strike a balance between fire-breathing, dragon-fighting action and more reserved, but no less dangerous, plotting and scheming from the Kings and Queens of the Dragon Realms. Was it ever hard to keep that balance and not get tempted to concentrate more on one than the other?
SD: Oh yes, but the humans had to live for long enough for three books. The temptation to unleash the dragons was/is ever-present, but once that happens, let's face it, either everyone is going to die or someone will pull a magic rabbit out of a hat and somehow stuff the genie back into the bottle. Either of which is something that can only happen once. I would have liked to spend more time with the dragons, but we'll all just have to wait until book three. Then we can gorge ourselves stupid :-)
LBR: Ruthlessness seems to be the norm for a lot of your characters. Almost every character, at some point, does something which most people would not condone. From a personal stand point how hard is it to create such harshness in the characters you write since, I assume, you don’t order people killed very often?
SD: Not that hard at all. Most of the characters, I think (and yes, there is at least one exception) are rational, sane, and act with careful thought. They don't see themselves as vicious or wicked, they see themselves as practical. Now we may have rules in our society that we have learned to embrace as we grow from children into adults, but that hasn't always been the case. For most of history, the elite who hold power have behaved pretty appallingly, so there's plenty of precedent there. Secondly, I have small children. What's that got to do with it? Small children are selfish pragmatists who will be really quite horrible to each other if they think they can get away with it; also, when they're caught out, it's usually abundantly clear that what's going through their minds isn't remorse but how they can make it look like it was all someone else's fault. So I never had to look very far for small-scale inspiration. It's just that instead of pulling the legs off beetles, my characters think on a slightly larger scale.
I also think that almost every single character in The Adamantine Palace, at their core, lives in fear. I think they have to. I think the mere presence of monsters like these dragons gives them no choice. A lot of them learn to mask that fear with bravado. They almost have to think they're invincible.
LBR: I mentioned earlier that you had two more books in the works, one of which, The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice, is due out this summer while the final installment in the dragon trilogy is set to be published in spring 2011. What can you tell us about them and any other future releases?
SD: The last of the Memory of Flames trilogy picks up where King of the Crags left off. Crudely, if you think of The Adamantine Palace as largely being about people fighting people, and King of the Crags as largely (tame) dragons fighting other (tame) dragons, then the (provisionally titled) Order of the Scales is largely people fighting dragons. I like to think that each book shows a deeper layer of both the world and the characters, too. That was sort of the idea. There will probably be a large battle of some sort. And there will be an end. Hopefully a proper end, although that probably depends on your definition of “proper” and even “end”. It's all but ready to submit to Gollancz.
The Thief-Taker's Apprentice is structurally quite different. Instead of the plethora of characters and places, it really revolves around the rather fraught relationship between a thief-taker (essentially a legal urban bounty-hunter) and the apprentice he takes on, apparently on a whim. It's the first part of a series of three, but in this case, the first part has its own plot-line that will come neatly to an end. The thief-taker may have a murky past and might have had more reason than it seems to have taken the apprentice he did, of course . . .
What happens after that remains to be seen. In a perfect world, I'd like a deal for another seventeen books over about seven years for which the entire Memory of Flames would be a prologue. Sadly, publishers don't do deals like that unless you sell an awful lot of copies, and so I'll just have to take it as it comes. I'll admit I've got no shortage of material, and let's leave it at that.
LBR: What you’ve written up to now is epic fantasy. Has writing in another genre ever tempted you?
The Psychoentropic Stabilisation Programme, or the Mind Gun, as the staff called it, was unique in many ways. One of the more overt, though, was that anyone who worked there actually had to drive, in their own vehicle, to get there. One of the perks of the job, Victor always told himself, as he eased out of the urban controlled zone, and the automatics in the car slowly relinquished their authority. You could get a public bus to the foot of the Mesa, but that was as far as it went. Getting to the top, you needed wheels of your own.Or, in fewer words, yes.
Ten minutes out from the little town of Hurricane, where most of the project staff lived, Victor pulled off the main road and onto a gravel track. There were no sighposts, no barriers, no entry and exit controls at all. In theory, there was nothing to stop anyone with their own transport from driving right up to the top of the mesa, along the rather precarious track that wound its way up the side. Victor rather liked the track. It was unsurfaced, narrow, had no crash barriers and was filled with blind hairpin turns. On one side, the sheer walls of the mesa rose up. On the other side, they swept down. In winter, the road got icy, too, which made it even more fun. Every few years, people went over the edge – usually visitors – and really died. In a world where even sharp corners on restaurant tables were illegal, the road was a pleasant anachronism. Victor took his time – not that the road gave a safe driver much choice – parked in his usual place and headed for the collection of prefab huts that passed for an entrance. On this morning, he’d half expected to feel something different in the desert air. A tension, an apprehension, an excitement, something…
He swiped a card through a lock and opened a door into one of the pre-fabs. Most of the inside was filled with an array of metal cylinders. Victor pressed his eyes into a retinal scanner, and a part of one of the cylinders slid open to reveal an elevator just large enough for one. He squeezed inside. For a large man like Victor, who suffered from a touch of claustrophobia at the best of times, the elevators were a daily ordeal. They did, however, guarantee that no one could ever break in to the lower levels by holding a gun to his head. He reminded himself of this as the door slid shut again, and the first beads of cold sweat pricked his skin.
“Victor Kalens. Principal Technician. Glorious will be the dominion of Apophis.”
He froze. What did I just say?
“Voice and password accepted,” purred the elevator. “Good morning Victor.”
LBR: You still have a full-time day job. Have you ever considered turning entirely to being a writer?
SD: Daily. It's simply a matter of economics.
LBR: Thank you for your time, and for graciously answering my questions.
SD: Thank you for the invitation and two rather scrumptious reviews.