Interview with Peter V. Brett, Author of The Demon Cycle

Peter V. Brett is one of my favorite authors. I absolutely loved the first two novels in his Demon Cycle, The Warded Man and The Desert Spear, as well as the novella Brayan’s Gold. Therefore, I was absolutely thrilled when he agreed to this interview. I sat down, notepad in front of me, pen in my hands… And couldn’t think of any questions to ask him. A great author deserves great questions, after all. Finally, with help from Ranting Dragon colleague Michelle, we managed to put over twenty questions to paper, and quickly typed them up and emailed them to Brett.

Brett, however, was super busy finishing his third novel, The Daylight War, and to answer so many questions is a lot of work. Good news, though. The Daylight War is finished and will be released in the US and UK on February 4, 2013. Nine months after sending in the interview, here are his answers. It was well worth the wait—and nine months well spent!

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Writing and comics

Thanks for dropping by in our little corner of the blogosphere, Peter! How are you?
Fantastic, and happy to be here. Thanks for inviting me!

You recently wrote a one-shot comic called Red Sonja: Blue. As a comic fan, how much did it mean for you to release this comic?
A lot. I wanted to be a comic book writer since before I wanted to be a novelist, and I wanted to be a novelist since I was very, very young. We all have childhood dreams we never fulfill. It’s an incredible feeling to actually get to. It was like getting to be an astronaut or old west sheriff for a day.

There’s a comic shop in Manhattan that I patronized for over ten years, going every Wednesday without fail for new comic book day, scanning the new release shelves like a kid in a candy store. Getting to see my own name there last summer was amazing. Like tattoos, I think it’s addictive. Can’t wait to do it again.

Red Sonja Blue

Red Sonja Blue

How different was it to write a comic compared to writing novels and novellas? What was the process and working together with the artist like?
Surprisingly different. I mean, I knew it would be different, but to be honest, I expected it to be easier. I was wrong.

Sometimes writers can be a bit arrogant, thinking that because we are skilled in one kind of storytelling, we must therefore be skilled in them all. This isn’t to say there isn’t a considerable crossover, but different mediums have their own demands. I know excellent short story writers who suck at novel-length work, and excellent novelists that write crappy shorts. A playwright has different beats to hit than a sitcom writer, or movie screenplay writer.

I try not to be like this. When The Warded Man was first optioned, the director asked me if I would be interested in writing the script.

I said no.

This may shock people (and may come back to bite me some day), but the honest truth is that I did not want the job. I didn’t spend ten thousand hours practicing my novel writing because I wanted a springboard into movies. I became a novelist because I love writing novels, and having complete control over every aspect of my story.

I won’t lie—the prospect of writing a screenplay for a big budget action movie certainly excited me, and it wasn’t even that I thought the screenplay skill-set was beyond me. But I tend to be an obsessive perfectionist with my writing, and knew that I would need to devote more time to the project (and away from novels) than I was willing to give.

Then I got offered a chance to write Red Sonja, and my humility about writing went out the window. “Pshaw!” I thought. “I’ve read a million comics! I can bang out a script in no time!”

Arrogance.

Writing a comic script required that I learn a surprising number of the formatting and storytelling skills required for screenplay, considering not only the action in the story, but angle and shot, how to tell the story in exactly 32 1-4 panel pages, each with its own beat.

Then comes matching your story to the artist. In this, I was incredibly fortunate to know in advance I would be working with the amazing Walter Geovani. I was already familiar with Geovani’s work, having watched him grow over the course of his career from a fairly derivative cheesecake artist to one with a distinct artistic style and incredible narrative clarity. His style gave me a tone to set the work to from the start.

Even so, that first Red Sonja: Blue script took me a month of hard work to write, and this was after Dynamite and the Sonja rights holder had already approved the story treatment.

I think I’ve got the hang of it now, but we’ll see how it goes.

You tweeted about having written the story for a Red Sonja sequel. Are there any concrete plans for a sequel?
I had originally contracted to write a four issue story arc in the flagship Red Sonja series, but when my idea spun off the beaten path, we consolidated into a one-shot. As a result, I still have three books left on my contract with Dynamite, and after the success of RS:B, I think everyone is on board for a few more. I am planning to pick up the story right where the one-shot wore off and go from there.

Current Sonja writer Eric Trautmann has told me I will have to fight him over Walter (who now draws the flagship book), but I am not too concerned. I have a big sword collection, and they’re not just for show.

How much did being a comic geek influence your own writing? Are there any elements in the Demon Cycle that you think bear similarities to comic books?
I think comics are still one of the most effective mediums for telling story, combining minimalist prose and dialog with images that impart their thousand words of information. Even so, comics, particularly the monthly floppies, don’t give the writer a lot of space. Every page needs to be compelling and pull you along to a climax in 20-36 pages, but still leave open a larger story arc to be told in 4-12 issues (which the publisher can then publish as a trade paperback collection).

I think of my chapters the same way. Each needs to be a little self-contained story with build-up and climax, leading into the next. I also think the heavy visual influence in my formative reading has helped me create memorable images even in my prose.

There are other more subtle influences, as well. I was recently rereading some old Conan comics I read 25 years ago, and found a scene that obviously stuck with me. You can read about it on my blog.

What are some of your favorite comics and graphic novels and why? Can you recommend some titles to us?
I follow writers more than titles in comics, so rather than name books, let me just recommend authors to look into. You pretty much can’t go wrong with anything written by Mark Waid, Warren Ellis, Robert Kirkman, Frank Miller (not counting Holy Terror), Alan Moore, Kurt Busiek, Bill Willingham, Mark Millar, Ed Brubaker, Garth Ennis, the Luna Brothers, Brian K. Vaughn…

Seriously, I could go on all day.

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The Daylight War and beyond

The Warded Man can be classified as a coming-of-age tale. The Desert Spear returned to this theme with the coming-of-age of Jardir. How important was it for you to build a character from his childhood to the point in life where he is now?
This theme continues in the third book, The Daylight War, as well. I go back and take a look at another character, Jardir’s wife Inevera, and show her coming of age as well. I try to show this for all of my protagonists. As they say, you don’t really know a person until you have walked a mile in their shoes, and generally, I find origin stories more compelling than ongoing adventures. Perhaps this is due to my love of superhero comics, but I think it’s more universal than that.

By starting with a character in a time of innocence, you can let the reader see the formative events that shaped their lives and world view, see when they make mistakes and when they succeed. Then, when the time comes for them to stand in the middle of the Big Events of their time, you feel you know them and understand why they make the choices they do.

Because of this coming-of-age aspect of both books, they felt to me like they were both laying down a foundation for future volumes, each building up the character of a Deliverer. Will this be a returning theme throughout the series, or will The Daylight War build upon this foundation and move onward from there?
As I said in the previous question, it will be a returning theme in The Daylight War, and likely in the fourth book as well. The fifth and final book of the main series, The Core, will likely just build upon the foundation of what’s gone before. Book six, which will be a standalone novel outside the main series, will go back to the theme, telling the interwoven stories of Selia Barren of Tibbet’s Brook, in the series’ “present” and sixty years in the past during her formative years.

As for who, if anyone, is the Deliverer, that’s for the readers to decide.

Can you give us any other hint as to what to expect from the Demon Cycle series or other works in the future?
There are six novels planned in the Demon Cycle, as well as some standalone novellas. The main series will have five novels, culminating with The Core, which will close out the storylines of Arlen, Leesha, Rojer, Jardir, Inevera, Renna, etc. The sixth will be a standalone book set in the same world, and there may be more of that sort down the road, though there are no plans at the moment. The novellas are usually 15,000-20,000 word stories set in the same world and often sharing characters from the main series. I have been releasing one novella between each novel.

Novels:

  • The Warded Man (AKA The Painted Man)
  • The Desert Spear
  • The Daylight War (to be published Feb. 4, 2013)
  • The Skull Throne (tentative title)
  • The Core
  • Tibbet’s Brook (tentative title)

Novellas:

  • The Great Bazaar
  • Brayan’s Gold
  • Mudboy (to be published, 2012)

More to come!

If you could make sure your readers get one message from your novels, what would that message be and why?
Things—and more importantly, people—are never as simple as they seem.

The Demon Cycle takes place in a world that is quite different from the quasi-European settings used by many more traditional fantasy epics. What inspired you to set your novel in a broad variety of landscapes? How do you think this affects your story overall?
I love the traditional fantasy setting as much as the next fan, but I also have read quite a bit of it, and wanted something a little more challenging. I kept mostly to the traditional comfort zone in the first book, though I think of the small town settings of most of The Warded Man as more Little House on the Prairie than the Shire. As the series continues, I have delved more deeply into other cultures, and in many ways think of the Krasian sections of The Desert Spear and The Daylight War as some of my strongest work. I really enjoyed taking a people painted as antagonists and villains in the first book and showing that despite their flaws, they have a rich and beautiful culture, love their children, and really believe they are trying to save the world. It’s something I think we easily forget in today’s world of partisan politics and demonizing people we have never met and don’t really understand.

You wrote your first book on your phone on public transportation. You have since started to write for a living, but I read youve recently returned to writing on public transportation. How has the progress of your career influenced your writing?
It has made it infinitely harder to find time to write. In a recent commencement speech, Neil Gaiman talks about how his career shifted from writing to being a person who responds to email for a living. I started to feel this way, particularly in my office. Where once it had been a sanctum where I could ignore all the world’s distractions and focus on writing, it more and more became a reminder of the endless amounts of admin work I needed to do. “I’ll just answer a few emails and check twitter before I write,” would quickly become, “The day is almost over and I haven’t written a damn thing.”

It’s very easy to find reasons to avoid writing, because writing is hard. If it’s not hard, you’re probably doing it wrong. What I found so invigorating about writing on the train is that most of those distractions fell away. There is little or no internet signal on NY subways, making it one of the last refuges where you can turn off the distractions of the modern world.

For the record, I wrote this answer on the F train to Brooklyn!

I’ve heard that The Warded Man may be made into a film by the creators of the Resident Evil franchise in the near future. Any idea how involved you might be in the process of this adaptation?
Hard to say. The option is set to expire soon, and I am not certain we will renew. Having a great director and production team excited about the property is wonderful, but until a studio comes along and says, “Sure, here’s $50+ million, go make CGI demons!” an option is just that. I don’t think my name carries enough weight to draw major investors, most of whom don’t actually read fantasy and can’t distinguish one book about monsters from another. Hopefully that will change as time goes on. There are other offers for video game and media projects in the meantime.

As for input, generally, unless you are a powerhouse author, your input once the option gets a green light is minimal beyond the book itself. Hollywood investors and directors don’t want the author constantly tasting the soup, and I get that to a degree. This is why you need to trust the people you sell your rights to. I had long meetings with Paul W. S. Anderson and his producer, Jeremy Bolt, that really convinced me they were excited about the project and liked the work for the right reasons. If they do end up making something, I am confident it will be amazing. If not, I will be equally careful who I work with in the future.

Often in the process of adapting a book to film, the story must be streamlined and certain parts must be changed or left out. Which aspects of the film would you want to stay true to the books? Any particular scenes you couldn’t bear to see altered or excluded?
Movies and books are paced differently, and with good reason. There are things you can do in a 800 page doorstop epic fantasy tome that you just can’t squeeze into a two or even three hour movie. Movies need to get to the point more quickly and lose a lot of the slow build.

That said, I do think that each of my main characters are shaped by some of the early events of their childhoods, and I would hate to see too much of that cut out for the sake of expediency. In a movie, we can skip some of the small-town soap opera and get to sunset a bit faster without losing much.

In a TV series, though, I would love to keep some of that stuff in.

Do you have a favorite character in your series or one that was the most fun to write? Any that were particularly hard?
It varies. I was in love with all of my POV characters at some point—I wouldn’t be telling their stories if I wasn’t. But that doesn’t mean each character doesn’t give me huge headaches as well, refusing to go along with my plots, or having a hard time finding their path. Rojer was a tremendous struggle for a while, but he finds his way again in The Daylight War, delivering some really powerful scenes.

There are some lesser characters who are amazingly easy to write, however. Elona Paper can just stroll in with no preparation and own every scene she’s in, as could Hag Bruna or Rusco Hog. Others are harder.

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Cons, fans, tattoos, and fights

You have attended quite a few science fiction and fantasy conventions as an author now, the most recent being WorldCon. How do you find these conventions and what role do you feel they play in the world of SFF?
Every convention has its own personality, and draws a slightly different crowd. Some are better for me from a career/networking stance, and others as a way to reach out to my readers and (hopefully) generate some new ones. But there are also a number of cons I’ve been to once and realized they were not my people. A lot of cons going on since the 1960’s provide a great way for fans from the Heinlein/Asimov era to interact. Perfectly lovely and welcoming people, but mostly not active readers of new fiction, and their relationship with the genre is different than mine. We speak different nerd dialects.

My favorite convention is probably World Fantasy, which is almost exclusively industry pros, and allows authors, editors, artists, and agents to interact, talk shop, and enjoy water cooler gossip that those of use living a freelance life don’t often get to have. For interacting with readers, I prefer WorldCon and NY ComicCon, but I also like Balticon and Boskone, and try to attend at least one international con a year. This year I am Guest of Honor at PolCon in Poland. Poland is one of my biggest markets, and I am really excited to meet some of the very enthusiastic readers I have there.

You seem quite dedicated to your fans and frequently interact with them via your blog and twitter. Your fans seem to respond to this in a spectacular fashion, if the level of entrants in your recent cosplay competition is anything to go by. How important do you think it is for an author to interact with their readers?
I try to avoid using the word ‘fans’, because I think it creates a sense that there is inequality in the relationship. I’ve met a lot of people through my work who are far more amazing than I am. Having grown up a kind of introverted kid who didn’t have a lot of friends, it’s still amazing every day that I get to interact with so many people from different walks of life because they enjoyed (or really didn’t enjoy) reading my books.

I really feel fortunate and appreciative of my readers and try to show it as much as I can. I used to try to answer all my reader e-mail, but it reached a point where it just became impossible to keep up with. I still read everything—usually within minutes of the person sending it—but the messages tend to come in faster than I can answer them. The blog is a great way to mass communicate to people, and social media like Facebook and Twitter make it really easy to send people quick, appreciative responses without waking up that part of me that needs to relentlessly edit and fret over any writing more than 200 characters long.

Hence my taking so long with this interview. *ahem* Sorry!

Just one of the many tattoos. Amazing, right?

Just one of the many tattoos. Amazing, right?

In your time as an author you have probably gotten some strange requests from fans. What are some of the weirder or more epic things  fans have ever done for you?
I am always stunned when people get ward tattoos. There are at least a dozen people who have done it and sent me pictures, and probably a few more who haven’t, and it never fails to blow my mind. But in addition to that, people have written stories, composed songs and poems, created amazing art, and more. If you go to my website, you can look at galleries of some of the incredible things people have done.

Does it ever feel strange when someone comes up to you and shows you their Demon Cycle tattoo? Assuming, of course, that it has happened.
I haven’t really seen any of them in real life. Most of the time I get emails or tweets with attached pictures. The closest I’ve come was a young woman who was having the French cover of The Warded Man tattooed on her calf. It was half-finished when I saw it, and still looked amazing. The photos she sent of the finished work are fantastic.

Whenever someone gets a tattoo, I think to myself, “I sure hope they like the rest of the series!” It would suck if I kill their favorite character or something.

If you had to pick one of your characters to be on your side in a bar fight, who would it be and why?
Gared Cutter. He’s six foot eleven and made of solid muscle. If someone were fool enough to start up some shit with him around, it’s their funeral.

Fantasy fans generally love getting recommendations by their favorite authors. Have you read any particularly good books lately that you’d like to tell us about?
Prince of Thorns
by Mark Lawrence is excellent, as is the Magister trilogy by C. S. Friedman and anything by Joe Abercrombie. I love the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik. I also highly recommend Control Point by my good friend Myke Cole. I am his beta reader on his Shadow Ops series, and the books are amazing.

If Spider-Man fought Red Sonja, who would win? Why?
I’d probably go with Spider-Man. Not only does he have super-powers, but he has shown a remarkable resistance to being distracted by feminine wiles. Black Cat, anyone? He also knows how to handle redheads after close to 40-something years with Mary Jane Watson.

But you never know. They are very different kinds of fighters. Spider-Man doesn’t fight any more than he needs to, and goes out of his way not to cripple or kill anyone, whereas Sonja will just end you. Spidey gets in range just once, and there will be radioactive blood everywhere.

How should we, in modern society, prepare for an imminent demon attack?
Brush up on your fantasy reading. When magic returns, you’ll already know how it works.

Thanks so much for your time!
You’re welcome! It was great fun!

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After this, I’m even more psyched for The Daylight War—which comes out on February 4, 2013! If you haven’t checked out any of Peter V. Brett’s work yet, I highly recommend reading The Warded Man, reviewed here. You have plenty time to get caught up before February.

About Stephan van Velzen

Stephan van Velzen
A 29 year-old Communications student, Stephan loves publicity and design, particularly web design. When he’s not designing websites, he’s busy being a total geek for fantasy. In The Ranting Dragon, he has found a way to combine these passions and discover a new love for writing too. Most of all, though, Stephan is just a crazy Dutch guy who enjoys doing things that people don’t expect.

View all articles written by Stephan van Velzen.

One comment

  1. Thanks, Peat!

    And yeah, Spiderman ALWAYS punches out of his weight class. Red Sonja would have no chance…

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