Interview with Unremembered author Peter Orullian

We’re counting down the days until April 12, when Tor is releasing Peter Orullian’s debut The Unremembered. There has been a lot of anticipation surrounding this epic fantasy novel, first of Orullian’s Vault of Heaven series, and we at The Ranting Dragon gladly join the anticipation.

Here is the blurb of The Unremembered:

Rumors have beset the eastlands of Aeshau Vaal. Some people flee toward the cities for refuge. One regent, to answer these unseen threats, is set to recall the Convocation of Seats—something that hasn’t been done for ages. But one man doesn’t believe, and would use the fear of nations to advance the power of his dangerous League of Civility.

For Braethen, an author’s son, it will mean the sudden chance to turn his lifelong desire of entering the Sodality into a reality. But being a Sodalist is not the romantic dream he’s read about in his long years of study. As a sworn protector to the feared Order of Sheason, he must be prepared to give more than his life, and to take up a mythical weapon before his hands are even accustomed to steel.

For Wendra, raped and now heavy with child, it will mean learning the reality of a trade that travels the highways across the nations of man, even a trade in human lives. She’ll take responsibility for a pageant-wagon boy, whose street-theater is considered seditious; and find through protecting him that her ability to make song with her voice carries a great power, but one that may flow darkly.

For Tahn, it will mean finding answers to a lost childhood. Words he feels compelled to speak every time he draws his bow may finally be understood, but the revelation it will bring he may wish to have left unremembered. And though it will also introduce him to a beautiful woman of the legendary Far, the nature of their separate and very different lives will force dreadful choices upon them.

These three, and others, attended by a hard man, an exile, whose sentence is to care for orphans and foundlings in the middle of a wasteland, and by a Sheason whose uncompromising, yet best intentions are destroying his own order, will fight the past even as they face a dark future.

Because the threats are more than rumor . .

Naturally, we want to know more about this epic series and the man behind it. Fortunately, Peter Orullian was happy to oblige and took his time to answer our questions in detail. If anything, asking him these questions and reading his answers has made me look forward to The Unremembered even more!

Go ahead and read on to find out more about Orullian and his debut novel. I hope you enjoy it! And if you want to read even more about him, we have a very special surprise planned for tomorrow, so be sure to check our website then.

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First of all, thank you so much for agreeing to the interview! The release date of your first book is approaching. How does it feel?
It’s nearly impossible to describe. You work so long toward a goal like this. It frankly feels a bit surreal. But I’m excited. See, that just doesn’t capture it. I’m ecstatic! But in black and white, that looks cheesy, doesn’t it?

Can you tell us what The Unremembered will be about?
Well, I’m not a big fan of spoilers, and it’s hard to say much without spoiling it. Plus, as you may know, I’m neither fond of or good at summarizing my book. I think too often it fails to capture the essence of the book. But I would say that it is in the epic fantasy tradition; that my characters are often faced with impossible choices that have real consequences; that hope underpins the whole thing, but subtly and delicately; and that things are not always what they seem. That last bit is a reference to the conventions of the genre. I make use of some of them, with the deliberate intention of violating your expectations—love doing that!

There is a lot of anticipation surrounding The Unremembered. Are you ever afraid the book won’t live up to it?
It’s a good question. The short answer is: sure. My publisher has been great about trying to get the word out about my book. What often happens when a publisher does that is that those efforts are construed as “hype.” I tend to think of hype as, “Hey, this is the best book in fifty years,” or “Not since Tolkien,” or things like that. My publisher isn’t doing that. But, as I say, they have certainly been trying to let folks know it’s coming. I think, too, since my book is bigger in terms of page count, it gets pulled into a category with other books by giants in the field. Then, the whole thing kind of snowballs. As a writer, you’re grateful that the word is getting out, but sometimes that whole thing takes on a life of its own. Now, I wouldn’t compare the anticipation of my book to, say, Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings, but something Brandon wrote in the run-up to the publication of that book, struck me. In a post, he makes the point: “The book is just a book.” I think this came as a response of the pre-publication marketing engine, and some of Brandon’s very thoughtful concerns surrounding all that. Now, again, in no way am I comparing myself to either Brandon or any of his work. Brandon is brilliant; I love his writing. But I do have some of the same feelings, since I think it can become very hard to live up to expectations. It’s like going to the movies, right? If there’s a movie coming, and you’ve seen a thousand ads, I find that you often come away less impressed, even if you really like the movie, because your expectations had really grown. On the other hand, I recall going to see “Men of Honor,” in what we call a “dollar theater.” I hadn’t heard anything about it. And I came out thinking: “Wow, that was awesome!” I had no expectations. So yeah, I’ve got my share of nerves around the whole affair. And in part, because I chose not to be afraid of using some of the tropes in my effort throughout the series of turning those tropes on their heads. I could give you examples, but then that would ruin the surprises I’ve worked to set up. So, hopefully, readers will want to come along for the ride, and see how I have worked to take these things into new territory.

You’ve mentioned using traditional fantasy tropes and turning them on their heads. The last decade, it seems to be popular to take these key elements of traditional fantasy and create a darker, more realistic and less black-and-white version of it. Authors like George R.R. Martin come to mind. How do the themes of The Unremembered compare to these works of modern fantasy?
Wow, now that’s a loaded question. I’ll answer by using a music anecdote. A reporter once asked Geoff Tate, singer for Queensryche, who his band sounded like. His reply was, “We sound like Queensryche.” At least some of what Geoff was saying was that comparisons fail when you’re talking about art and entertainment. Guys like George R.R. Martin and his ASoIaF series are at the pinnacle of the field right now. I understand that comparisons are often made between authors and their books, but to be honest, I read broadly in the fantasy genre and enjoy most of what I read on its own merit. That said, I hope that my work will find its place in the libraries of readers alongside the many writers I admire. What is true, though, is that things in my world aren’t always what they appear, they’re not simple or easily painted in broad strokes of black and white. I’m fairly confident in saying that readers who read my series will have the onion experience, peeling back layer after layer.

A lot of the anticipation can be contributed to the extensive marketing campaign. There have been short stories and webisodes, and you’ve been interviewing a lot of popular fantasy authors. I know you’ve been pretty proactive in this as well. How much of it was your own idea, and how much can be credited to Tor’s publicity team?
A lot of the marketing is really Tor’s awesome team. Things like the short stories and webisodes were my idea, but they weren’t conceived as (and I still don’t think of them as) marketing. What they were, for me, is a way to tell related stories to the novel that would give the readers/viewers, who see the stuff online, a richer context for parts of the novel. They’re not necessary, by any means. But there are references in the book where I could have taken long tangents and filled in backstory or historical episodes. I chose in most cases not to do that, but instead decided that I’d write out those tales or tell them in another way. I made that choice since I didn’t want to interrupt the flow of the novel with a big data dump, but I still wanted to tell those stories. And I feel like, for those folks who are interested, having read the short stories or seen the webisodes, etc, there’s some added depth to bits of the novel. By turn, for readers of the book, if they have interest in knowing more about certain elements of The Unremembered, they may find the short stories and webisodes later, and hopefully think they’re kind of cool. As for the interviews, that has more to do with my interest in certain topics and how writers approach them. I’m a big believer in continuing to learn my craft, and I find I constantly learn from these amazingly gifted folks.

Can you tell us more about the webisodes? They feature amazing artwork from different artists; did you commission those yourself? How did you come by the idea of telling your story this way?
In the world of Aeshau Vaal, where I’ve set my Vault of Heaven series, there’s a place called the Scarred Lands. It’s a vast desolate place that has been unnaturally created through the ravages of wars long past. I wanted to write more about the Scar. At the same time, I’d seen a few webisode series online and liked the art form. Then, I coupled these two things with the notion of telling about a single event from several different points of view, much like the film Vantage Point. The confluence of all that led to The Cradle of the Scar—a six-part webisode series set in my world. Because the six stories are from differing points of view, I thought it would help differentiate the voice by having unique art for each webisode. I was fortunate to find so many great artists who saw my vision for this series and did amazing work to help me tell these tales.

You are working on an Unremembered soundtrack. Can you tell us more about it?
Sure. My other abiding passion in life is music—both as a listener and creator. In The Unremembered, I’ve created a magic system based on music, and there’s this thing called The Song of Suffering. And I have a character who’s kind of the steward of this Song, which has a unique and important purpose. The companion CD will tell some of the story of this character’s early life and relate much of what the Song of Suffering actually is. It’s another additive piece of story to the novel. Again, it’s not necessary to the enjoyment or understanding of the book. But it gave me an outlet to express myself musically, and to do it in a germane way to the novel. It’s not simply a retelling of the storyline of The Unremembered; it delves into areas that would likely have been read as a data dump in the book, but through the CD it can become its own thing. The music is in the vein of Dream Theater, a favorite band of mine. So, it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s sure been fun to work on.

Wow, we’ve seen a lot of magic through words, but I’m unfamiliar with magic through music. I’d love to hear more about that magic system. Is it possible to delve deeper into this without spoiling too much?
Well, to be fair, music magic systems aren’t without precedent. Scott Card, Alan Dean Foster, Terry Brooks, and others have used the idea. And if we’re all honest, the notion is as old as Pythagorean philosophy, which suggests the universe was created and bound together by a music known as the “harmony of the spheres.” Which, in turn, was related to the Greek notion of Logos—the Word—which is the basis of yet another magic system in The Vault of Heaven. I’d say the idea of language or names or words as the foundation for a magic system is far less unique simply because it’s been done so much. But in either case, it’s all about the nuances the author brings to the system, and the story that these magic systems are wrapped in.

As to delving deeper . . . I’m going to have to ask you to be patient. I’ve had a lot of folks who’ve read the ARC email me about the music in the novel and wanting more of it. This is gratifying, since I’m also a musician. So, I will say this: In book two, which (I may have mentioned) I’m almost finished writing, there’s much more music—that was always the plan. Two of the storylines have it as a central component. And we learn a lot more about how the magic system works. I could have forced that into book one, but it would have been just that: forced. I didn’t want to do that. For me, it had to appear when it felt natural to the story. I’ve taken that same principle on everything in the series. Meaning, I could have cut to the chase quickly with a lot of the surprises and ways in which I’m reshaping tropes to suit my story—so that readers could see I was exploring new terrain—but it would not have served the story. I’m betting on the idea that epic fantasy readers want the saga, that they’re willing to invest in character development and learning the intricacies of a second world. I may be wrong, but I feel like these are some of the reasons epic fantasy readers like this genre. If that’s true, then having things unfold with the appropriate timing seems to me to be the way to go.

What are your plans for The Vault of Heaven series?
Well, I’m almost done with the first draft of book two. I have book three sketched out. And I know the ending. Beyond that, I know the major movements, if you will. My instinct is that it’s around six books; but my intention is to end it as I can see it winding down. Which is to say, I have no desire to protract the series. I have several other projects waiting to be written, so when VOH is done, I’ll move on to the next writing project.

Does that mean your fans won’t have to wait years for every book to be published?
Well, it’s definitely true that from the moment a manuscript gets turned in to an editor or publisher, there is still a long road before it shows up on shelves. But in general, yes, the time between books should be fairly predictable and not overlong. Because I still work a day job, I don’t think it will be quite every 12 months. But I’m shooting for it not to be too much longer than that.

How did the process of The Unremembered take place? For example, where did you get the idea for the series, and how long have you worked on the book?
Well, I’d long wanted to write a fantasy series. And after reading some of the great epics that were underway from guys like Martin and Jordan, I began to feel more motivated to begin my own. But you don’t just sit down to write an epic series, or at least, I don’t imagine most do. There are organic writers—or gardeners as George R.R. Martin calls them—but I felt like I wanted to do some architecting of my series. And so I began to sketch out a few things, weaving threads until I felt I had a decent tapestry. There, was, I will say, a fairly sublime moment when the whole thing came together in my head. I knew the ending all of the sudden, and it all made sense to me, seeming to build naturally from the groundwork I’d begun to put in place. After that, a whole host of ideas poured in, filling spaces. Soon thereafter I had a solid outline, a vast amount of stuff in my head, and I began to write. What was cool is that even with all the advance work I’d done, so much discovery took place (and still does as I’m working on later books in the series) as I wrote. It’s hard to say where the ideas came from. I think a fair amount grew out of beginning by exploring who my characters were (and are); but to be honest, a lot of who they are comes in the writing, since almost every day new layers of these folks reveal themselves to me. I can’t recall how long it took to write The Unremembered. I think part of the answer to that would have to be knowing if you count all that pre-typing work; and then whether or not you count revision that took place after Tor bought the book. I can tell you this, though, I don’t want to calculate my hourly rate based on my time invested <grin>.

After finishing the book, what was the road to landing a deal and ultimately seeing the book published at Tor like?
I finished the book in about 2001. Sent it to an agent I had at the time, who asked me to set it aside and write some thriller novels. He was looking to build his client-list into new categories of fiction, and knew my propensity to write in other genres. I did as he asked. Later, we parted company. And when I queried the agent I have now, I wound up telling him I had a completed fantasy. My agent doesn’t actually represent much spec fiction, but he invited me to send it to him. I did. In about two weeks he offered me representation. He immediately he sent it to Tor, and I had an offer within days. That was a very cool period in my fledgling career. It’s still a bit surreal for me to consider. In many ways my life hasn’t changed: I get up and write and go to work and come home and eat. I think it’s going to hit me hard when I see the book on the shelf!

You have an amazing map of the world of Aeshau Vaal on your website. I understand you commissioned it yourself. How did that map come into being?
Yeah, I wanted a map for my website, and I had an idea of what I wanted it to look like. I have a friend who is an illustrator, and he was willing to do it for me. My vision from the beginning was something that looked authentically like a map. And I always planned to make it interactive on my site. So, hopefully, folks dig it. I sure do.

What do you do when you’re not writing or working on marketing your book?
Well, again, I don’t see most of my efforts as marketing; really, I’m just interested in storytelling and trying to get better at it. The Unremembered has given me a chance to do more of that lately. But when I’m not working on story, I like to make and listen to music. I love film. And I likewise really enjoy looking at art of all stripes. I’m a sports fan, too: MLB, NFL, UFC, etc. More than any of that, though, I like spending time with my family. I know that sounds cliché, but it’s true, nonetheless.

What are your personal favorite fantasy books? In what way did they inspire your writing?
Wow, too many to name. I really like Martin’s ASoIaF and Jordan’s WoT. I’m a fan of Sanderson, and Brooks, and Rothfuss. Very high on my list are Stephen King and Dan Simmons. I know they don’t write epic fantasy, but these two guys have craft out the wazoo. These and a host of others inspire me in many ways. Each has different strengths, and I try to pay attention to what they’re doing and grow from it.

You’ve been quite active on Twitter and the blogosphere; not many authors are that tuned to their fans. Do you enjoy communicating with fans, blogs and other authors?
Well, I’m a fan myself. And I know what it means to me to connect in some way with writers I admire. So, to the degree I can, I enjoy connecting with folks who have interest in what I’m doing. I’m extremely grateful to those who take time to read my work. I get the value of one’s time, since I still work a day job and have to work hard to fit in all the rest of the things I want to do. So, absolutely, yes! I do enjoy communicating with people, writers and readers alike.

You’ve mentioned having a day job. What kind of work do you do?
Yeah, I work for Microsoft in what is called the Interactive Entertainment Business—essentially Xbox. Specifically, right now, I work on the Xbox LIVE business in marketing. These days, I’m focusing a lot on our mobile gaming efforts.

If you could visit any fantasy world, what world would you pick, and why?
I think I’d want to visit the world of Stephen King’s Dark Tower. This has almost everything to do with wanting to meet Roland Deschain of Gilead. In all of fiction, Roland is very nearly my favorite character. It doesn’t hurt that I happen to think Stephen King is brilliant, and that he’s often badmouthed by either “sour grapes” writers or folks who just have no idea of the level of his craft. But beyond all that, Roland has a unpretentious, unremitting wisdom. He’s the guy you want on your team at all costs. And Mid-World is a cool place—a mix of the West and a fantasy world with magic and amazing characters and invention. Yeah, Mid-World and Roland for sure!

Thanks a lot for your time, Peter Orullian. We look forward to reading The Unremembered when it comes out on April 12!

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.

4 comments

  1. Wow, that map is amazing! :O

    Thanks for this great interview!

  2. Wow, that map is amazing! :O

    Thanks for this great interview!

  3. I loved this interview. I checked out the band Peter mentioned and I quite liked it, so now I’m excited for the CD as well!

  4. I loved this interview. I checked out the band Peter mentioned and I quite liked it, so now I’m excited for the CD as well!

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