In the long wait before I finally held his debut novel, The Winds of Khalakovo, I had already come into contact with Bradley P. Beaulieu. He quickly came across as a very interesting man to talk to, and when I suggested we run an interview with for the blog he eagerly accepted. The exchange of emails that ensued eventually developed to be what I consider to be the best interview I've run to date on LBR. Bradley's answers were both thoughtful and enlightening. If you weren't planning on reading his novel (official release April) then I recommend you scroll down to the 'Buy The Winds of Khalakovo' down below and purchase it now - my review should explain why. I greatly enjoyed creating this so I hope you likewise enjoy reading the results!



LEC Book Reviews: It’s all nice and well to ask you about your book, how you wrote it, your inspiration, but those are all rather boring questions and with The Winds of Khalakavo less than a month off, I’d like to ask you how it feels to finally be there, within grasping distance of seeing your own book on bookshelves?


Bradley P. Beaulieu: There's certainly no one answer to this. It takes such a long time to become a writer, and you have to put in so much effort along the way, that when you finally get there (or close to there, in my particular case, at this particular juncture of my budding career) a jumble of things are bubbling to the surface. There's a good amount of excitement, of course, but like a good soup, there are a lot of subtle ingredients that go into it.

There's an arm-shaking giddiness that the book is nearly out. It's like taking those high intensity moments—like a three-pointer as it arcs through the air on the way to the basket in the waning seconds with the game on the line—and stretching it out over the course of months. I'm ready to jump up and shout—I'm dying to—but the ball hasn't reached the rim yet. And so I wait, still on the edge of my seat.


There is relief as well. I've sold the book. It's been printed with a wonderful cover and is waiting to be shipped. It's going to be on bookstore shelves in a matter of weeks. If I died the day the book comes out (knocks on wood), I would have accomplished a lot.

And there is a sense of satisfaction that the book is being read. It's only a hint of what's to come, though. Only a few outside of my close circle of friends have read it, so I know that this satisfaction will expand and mature as more and more read it.

But I'll be honest. This is a scary time as well. I, like so many others writers, hope to make this a career. But I'm not naive. I know that it happens to few, and when it does, it doesn't happen overnight. That said, a lot rides on the first book, especially the first in a series. If it's not well received, chances are Book 2 won't sell quite as well. Ditto for Book 3. And so I'm anxious for the book to do well.

Countering the anxiety, though, is a sense that the book is slowly slipping from my grasp. I haven't quite let go yet, but I know I will. Sure, I'll continue to market. I'll continue to go to conventions and signings and spread the word, but at some point not too far from now I'll have to set the book adrift to let it be what it will be.

Suffice it to say that it's a roil of emotions. It changes daily, even by the hour, but it's a wonderful ride.


You’ve explained in numerous places that your original inspiration for the main characters of The Winds of Khalakovo came from portraits you saw at the National Gallery of Scotland, but how did you make the characters you took from those paintings and fit into the world of Khalakovo? Or did you make the world fit the characters?

There was a bit of both, actually. I really tried to let the world and the story come to me while I was brainstorming. I'd been to Orson Scott Card's "One Thousand Ideas in an Hour" talk at a convention, and I got to hear it again when I went to his Literary Bootcamp. The primary thing he teaches in this talk is that coming up with ideas for stories is not difficult. All it takes is a series of questions and allowing yourself to follow those questions to some satisfying conclusions.

While looking at those portraits, I already knew that the world was harsh. The Grand Duchy of Anuskaya was set among nine cold, dreary archipelagos in a sea that would as soon eat them as provide for them. Knowing this, and knowing the tone I was shooting for, I asked questions about the characters to see what they would tell me. I try very hard to fall into the world of the characters at times like this. Similar to the trance state that one achieves while reading, I try to do the same while brainstorming, the only difference being that my world is rather white when I begin, and it fills in as I go. I let visions come—cool things I'd like to add, or emotional scenes. I let snippets of conversation play out. And I continue to ask questions, which really boil down to the five W's: Who, What, Where, When, and Why. Who is this young boy, Nasim? Why is he playing with a brand of fire? Why is he not looking at the viewer? What's in the darkness behind him? Over and over I ask these questions, going well beyond what I think will actually show up on the page.

And I'll admit that I don't do all of this at one time. I try very hard to work out the world, the politics, the magic, and such before I sit down to begin writing. I know the characters to a degree, but I've found that I simply can't answer all of their questions up front. I get far enough so that I feel comfortable writing the first page. I've plotted at the very least several chapters, and I know from a high level where I'm headed. So I go until I need to stop and ask more questions. And at that point I sit down, set the writing aside, and brainstorm again, often going back to those portraits for inspiration.

So, in the end, the world certainly affected my initial impressions of these characters. I had "spots to fill," so to speak. But as I learned more about them, they advised the world, and that in turn advised the characters. It was a feedback loop. The background of the characters forced me to create entirely new sub-cultures that weren't clear at all in the beginning. Rehada is a great example of this. She's crying in the portrait I used for her character, and from that one painting, from her look of profound regret and that single, effecting tear, came the Maharraht, a major player in Winds.



If the portraits as sources of inspiration were so instrumental to setting out the plot of Winds, how has your plotting process been different for the second book without such sources to draw from?

That's an interesting question. I hadn't really thought about it before, but I haven't used the technique nearly as much while plotting or writing The Straits of Galahesh. I've used it here and there, but not to the degree I did for Winds, where I was really working out the world and characters from scratch. In Book 2 I've got so much of that laid down, of course, so the need just isn't as pronounced as it used to be.

That said, I still use the technique from time to time. First, I use it to re-engage with the characters if I start to feel lost. It's good to go back to those pictures and see what drew me to them in the beginning. Just staring at one of those portraits brings up all sorts of memories of the writing of Winds, and it helps guide me in the new book.

The other place I've used it is with the major new element I've added, namely the Empire of Yrstanla. I don't want to give away spoilers, so I'm going to be a bit coy, but while Yrstanla is referenced only obliquely in Winds, it's a major influence in Book 2. Yrstanla is based on the Ottoman Turks, and I've dug up a number of pictures to help me with the garb of the time, the customs, etc. I don't have specific portraits for the main players, but I do look at the historical pictures from time to time to capture the feel of the place.


Evidently careful and coherent worldbuilding is something that is very important to you. From what you say you spent a lot of time working out exactly how this world works and how the characters fit in to it. Where you ever scared of 'losing control' of your world and having it overshadow the plot instead of support it?

Yes, I was concerned about it from time to time, mostly with respect to the magic and the customs of the various cultures. It's important that you don't allow your magic to become too all-encompassing, or a story can get really boring, really quickly. I found at times the magic was getting out of hand. It was too powerful. Here's one example: while I was writing the first few chapters of my first draft, the Aramahn and Maharraht were able to summon spirits directly into the material world, instead of merely communing with them and using the powers the spirits granted. That, frankly, was too much. The implications started to spin out of control, and I had to find a way to pull it back quickly before there were wind spirits hiding behind every tree in every forest.

And then, along with the power of the Landed and the Aramahn, I needed to make sure it was supported in some way by their beliefs. The Aramahn were peaceful, and yet there were the Maharraht, these ruthless people who would stop at nothing to retake the islands for not just themselves, but all of the Aramahn. It was difficult to reconcile these two things until I came to a turning point in the book—a real epiphany for me, and frankly, one of my favorite aspects of the entire novel. The Maharraht did not choose the path of violence for themselves. Far from it, actually. They believe they're doing it so that the rest of the Aramahn don't have to. They feel they are being selfless. They're setting themselves back on their path to enlightenment, but they're allowing their brothers and sisters to tread onward with no blood upon their hands. And that, for them, is worth it.


Yours is a brand of fantasy that will not, obviously, meet the desires of all fantasy readers. Did you ever find yourself writing the story you thought your potential readers would want or did you always stick to the story you truly wanted to tell?

I used to worry about that—I used to worry what was commercial and what wasn't—but I stopped years ago. To be clear, I know very well that writing is about entertainment, and I know I need to write an engaging story to have any success whatsoever, but I also know that you can't gauge the readership ahead of time and write a book to maximize some perceived potential. You have to be honest with yourself and find the kind of story you want to write, and then try to write that story the best way you can. Otherwise you end up creating the kind of dreck that Hollywood puts out.

To put it another way, the only way for me to write a good story is to be engaged, and the only way for me to be engaged is to truly believe in the story, and to become lost within it while I write.


You mention that The Straits of Galahesh will see the world of the Grand Duchy explored further. How much of this change of scope is due to you deliberately wanting to explore new places and how much of it is due to the 'natural' growth of the story?

While the ideas that drove the plot for Book 2 came to me about halfway through writing Winds, I will fully admit that I was and am excited to look beyond the islands. I want to see what's there, to learn more about it and to share it with my readers. Yet one more thing instilled in me from Tolkien is the desire to create and share a complex world, one filled with wonders that we'll never see on ours. I think it's one of the strengths of The Winds of Khalakovo, and it's no accident. I actively tried to encourage the plot in certain directions so that the story didn't end up sitting in one place. As the plot weaves through the world, I try to take advantage of the interesting features of the land that brought me there in the first place.

Don't get me wrong. Story still comes first, but I think the landscape or landmarks like the eyrie of Khalakovo can add flavor and customs and scenery that will complicate and deepen the reading experience, not detract from it. That is, as long as you make sure that the story is growing organically, or seems to grow organically. After all, there's not a writer alive that will say that a story just sprouts from the mind fully formed. Some things flow naturally from the characters or the backstory or the world, and other things are forced. They take elbow grease. And it's my job to rework those parts until everything is a natural and internally-consistent story.

And this is part of the wonder of writing for me. There were some great things that came out of such ... let's call them thought experiments for now. The island of Ghayavand, to which Nikandr eventually travels, was not "on the map," so to speak, in the beginning. Out of that island came the genesis of the rifts, the three arqesh, and the akhoz, all great elements in the final story that might not have cropped up—or not cropped up in the same way—had I not decided to explore the islands of the Great Sea a bit further.


You bring up the ideology of the Maharraht - this to me is very interesting because of how this racial, somewhat nihilistic ideology drives much of the conflict in Winds. Race, as we all know, is a touchy subject and I admire the tactful manner in which you handled the racial tensions, especially in how made characters stick up for their own beliefs independently of the ideals of their race or nation. Why do you think Winds was an appropriate place to address these matters in the way that you did?

Well, let's be clear. I had no intention, nor did I try in any way during the writing or editing process, to make Winds any sort of political statement. That being said, I follow politics closely, and it naturally bled into the story. I knew this was happening, and I let it. I was glad for it, in a way, because it's something that is deeply important to me: the decisions we make as a people toward ourselves and toward others.

For me, fiction is a perfectly acceptable place to explore these sorts of issues. I don't tend to like, nor do I want to write, didactic fiction. I would rather extrapolate from our world and explore situations and attitudes and consequences as a natural course of that world, the characters in it, and their needs and desires. I think by and large it's impossible to avoid such things completely. We are, after all, children of our time and of our world.

So do I think it's an appropriate place to address issues of race and racial tension? Yes, though I hope to have done it only obliquely.


In much the same way, your book features some very strong, independent female characters (Rhehada in particular) who in many ways stand as equals to their male counterparts. In fact the Matri, the female head of houses, are almost in complete control of the magic used in the Grand Duchy. The fantasy genre still being very male-centric despite great improvements, did you feel it was especially important to go against this trend by including strong female leads like those you did?

I do feel this is important, yes. I will admit to actively arranging this world so that women have more of an equal footing with men. I grew up in a household with my father, my mother, and twin sisters one year older than me. My dad was often at work, leaving me to fend for myself against the women. Whatever insignificant struggles I may have had as a boy growing up in a female-dominated household, I treasure this upbringing. I think it gave me a sense of equality that was not reflected in the real world. I was insulated from reality, in a way, and I'm glad that it shaped me into the person I am now.

So while I guided the plot in terms of the world and where the plot took the characters, I most definitely tried to find societies where women were treated with more respect, even reverence. This was one of the building blocks of the book, frankly. The Aramahn, for example, are a nomadic people. The parents raise their children together for a time, but it's very common for one or the other to leave before the child has come of age and to being traveling the world once more, and it can be the mother or the father that leaves. The Matri and the way they hold positions of power and reverence within the Grand Duchy is another example. I think, rather than calling themselves out, these aspects make for a richer and more interesting world. At least I hope that they do...


It certainly is a richer for it. Now that we’ve talked about Winds quite a bit and mentioned some about Straits, I’d like to ask you about any future projects you may have. I imagine once you’re done with the second Lays of Anuskaya you will be moving on to write the third, but what about beyond that?

I have two possibilities that I'm mulling over right now. (I like to let things germinate for quite a while, so it's important for me to get my hindbrain working on these as early as possible) The first is a science-fantasy called The Days of Dust and Ash. Think NausicaƤ of the Valley of the Wind meets The Coldfire Trilogy. I'm excited about this story, because it's a departure from what I've written in the past, though it will still be fantastic and wide in scope. The story focuses on a young girl who is summoned from the dust, a global consciousness that was created as the last great age of technology fell under a nanite plague.

The other is called From the Spices of Sanandira. I sold a novella with the same title to Beneath Ceaseless Skies last year, and it will be appearing sometime this spring. It's a story that springs from Sanandira, a large desert oasis known for its caravan trade and spice bazaars. It's got a strong Thousand and One Nights feel to it. The novel is not so much an expansion of the novella as it is a re-imagining of it. It will probably focus on a pair of twin sisters, one of whom is sold to one of Sanandira's famed assassin rings at a young age. The other girl (the protagonist) finds her sister by happenstance years later, and because of this chance meeting is drawn into the world of intrigue her sister walks every day. And no, I'm sure this story has nothing to do with growing up with twin sisters...


You’re entering the genre scene, both online and in the real world, for the first time as an author. What’s been your experience interacting with other fans of fantasy, blogs, cons, etc.?

Actually, it's been a bit of a long haul for me. I've been plugging away at writing seriously for almost ten years now. I started going to cons in 2002, and I've been to quite a few since. So much of the scene is actually quite familiar to me. The only things that's new is getting a readership. I've only had short stories published so far. The short story market being what it is, I haven't had much of a chance to reach a wider audience. So although it's still early, that's been a very gratifying part of the experience so far, and I'm really looking forward to connecting with more people and having them share the experience of Winds with me and others.

All that being said, the writing community is one I really love. It's filled with not only like-minded people, but very interesting people. Everyone's an expert in something, and many are experts in quite a few things. It's always interesting hearing the conversations that crop up at conventions, or even online. This can be a frustrating business, but the personal relationships are definitely one aspect that makes it worthwhile. Ken Scholes calls this his family of choice, and I think that's a pretty apt term.


Since you have been a part of the genre community, do you feel like there has been a change in how people approach you now that you are a fully-fledged novelist on top of being a short fiction writer?

You know, it feels different, but I wonder if it has as much to do with my own perceptions as it does the altered attitudes of others. Probably it's a little of both. I'm more confident now, certainly. Now that I have a novel published, I feel like I've passed a barrier. I recognize that that barrier is largely self-defined and self-imposed, but then again, this has been a goal of mine since I started writing, so I do feel like it's a valid milestone in my particular case, with my particular goals.

I don't want to dig too deeply into the psyches of others, but I do think that a novel sale is looked upon as a badge of honor in the writing community, just as award wins and "best-of" reprints are. I suspect it's not so much that people have changed their view of me; it's probably more that they know more about me. Novel sales tend to perk up ears, so I think the biggest change has just been having people congratulate me, ask about the novel, and so on. It's a good feeling, the sharing of that news with my peers.

Thanks a lot for your fabulous answers and the time you took to write them. Any parting words?

Only that this was great fun. Thank you for your thoughtful and probing questions. With the best questions, the interviewee learns a bit about themselves, and that was certainly the case here. Thanks for having me.

Links:
Bradley P. Beaulieu's Website: http://quillings.com/

Buy The Winds of Khalakovo:
Amazon.com
Amazon.co.uk
Bookdepository.co.uk