I am delighted to bring you yet another cracking interview with an author I consider to be one of my new found favourites. Bradley P. Beaulieu has quietly spent the last decade writing and learning his craft, whilst also publishing books such as the widely loved and acclaimed Winds of Khalakovo. With the upcoming and highly anticipated release of Bradley's newest book Twelve Kings (Twelve Kings Sharakhai for US readers) in September we decided to sit down and chat to Brad about writing, life in general, and how Twelve Kings is set to rock our worlds!
Bradley P. Beaulieu, welcome to Smash Dragons!
First up, tell me a bit about yourself, and your upcoming book Twelve Kings.
Who am I? I’m a computer science major who loves epic fantasy and has been writing it since I decided it was time to take my hobby seriously.
Twelve Kings is my fourth published novel and marks the first in a new series, a “Game of Thrones meets Arabian Nights” sort of tale. The twist is that it follows one young woman closely through the story, and shows how she stands up to the twelve immortal kings who rule the city state of Sharakhai with an iron fist.
What was your motivation behind writing this story? Where did you draw your inspiration from?
I’d long wanted to scratch the itch to write a desert story. I can attribute this partly to liking the tales of the Arabian Nights (or One Thousand and One Nights), particularly the milieu. In fact, as my last series, The Lays of Anuskaya, progresses, you can see more and more of the Persian-influenced Aramahn coming into the picture, culminating in long stretches of desert scenes in the final book, The Flames of Shadam Khoreh.
So the desert was something I really wanted to explore, and I knew I wanted to steep the history of the city in a nomadic, Bedouin-like culture, but I’d probably (letting my geek flag fly here a bit) give the most credit to the Thieves’ World anthologies for the inspiration for the setting. I loved the city of Sanctuary when I first starting reading the anthologies in high school. I loved that it was the “armpit of the empire,” that it was a meeting point of old and new as the Rankan Empire drove into Ilsigi territory, that there were pantheons of gods vying for power, and in fact commingling even as they fought. Above all, I loved the vastness of Sanctuary and the hidden wonders it contained.
The feel of that is what I wanted to explore with Sharakhai. Sharakhai is in some ways a mere city state. But in effect it controls trade throughout a massive desert bordered by four powerful kingdoms, and because it controls trade, it has amassed incredible wealth and power. It hasn’t done so without making enemies along the way, however. The twelve immortal kings of Sharakhai are hated by many. And the roots of the story are buried deeply in that hatred.
Did you face any particular challenges in getting this book off the ground?
I’m going to say no to this one, with the exception of timing. I like to let book ideas marinate for a year or two before diving into them. Which works well for me, as I typically start brainstorming new books while I’m writing other ones. In this case, I was finishing up The Lays of Anuskaya while getting the ideas together for The Song of the Shattered Sands. I also wanted to get a partial to my agent well ahead of finishing the Anuskaya series so that we (hopefully) have a contract in hand by the time I was done and could simply shift straight to the next set of books.
So that was the plan, but it did take quite a bit of time to develop the plot, to write the first partial, to come up with the full series outline, etc. In the end, though, it all worked out, and I feel very fortunate to have landed with such great publishers.
Twelve Kings is filled with a cast of compelling and amazing characters. Who was your favourite to write? Why?
Well, I identify and sympathize with main character, Çeda, the most, but that wasn’t really what you asked. If you hear actors talk about their favorite roles, it’s often the villains they cite as their favorites. Why? Because they’re nasty. They’re more unpredictable. They get the best lines. And I think this is true for writers as well.
In this case, I felt like I had to have at least one POV dedicated to the kings, and in this case I chose King Ihsan, a man known as the Honey-tongued King. He was really fun to write because he has power, he has a biting tongue, and he has hidden agendas. If that isn’t a formula for a fun character to write, I don’t know what is.
If you were a Pit Fighter in Sharakhai what would be your weapon of choice?
There’s a fair bit of east-Asian weaponry and culture in the books. I wrote a scene recently with Çeda wielding a three-sectioned staff. That was a ton of fun to write. So I’ll choose that, mostly because it looks really flashy.
Why did you start writing? Was it something you saw yourself doing when you were younger?
I came to writing pretty late. I didn’t really get serious about it until my thirties. I never really saw myself as a writer when I was younger. I loved computers and software, and that’s what I went to college for and eventually got my degree in. But I was always reading, and I’d dabbled here and there with getting more serious about writing.
After finally finishing my first trunk novel, I wrote a few more (alas, also trunk novels). I started attending writing conventions and learning the ropes of publishing. And then I started to go to writing conferences and attending workshops. It’s been a fun ride when I look back on it. I really do love the world of publishing, warts and all, and it’s been intensely interesting to see the contract side of things, how agents and editors and publicists work. Maybe I’m strange, but I like seeing how the sausage is made.
How do you feel you have grown as a writer when looking back over your career so far?
I think all writers are trying to improve our craft as we write. When I was writing The Lays of Anuskaya, I was very concerned about lulls in the action. I felt the readers’ eyes over my shoulder, and whenever there was a pause, I felt like it couldn’t be allowed. I’ve since realized that while it’s important to stay focused on the plot, there is a need to show the characters outside of it as well, to let the reader sit down in the world a bit. You should do even that with purpose (with an eye toward where the story as a whole is going), but I think it gives the reader the sense that these characters are real, that this place is real. It gives a sense that the times of tension and strife mean something. It creates, in other words, more emotional contrast in the tale, which serves to enrich the world.
I’ve also shifted slightly away from the “everything is gray” mode of writing that permeates a lot of epic fantasy and grimdark fiction. That’s not to say that I’ve gone for absolute goods and evils, a la Tolkien, but I do think that the notions of good and evil are useful, even important, to a lot of readers. They’re a convenient sort of shorthand, a cue as to who the reader should love or hate (which is partly why the practice is maligned), but another aspect of good vs. evil is that it acts as a proxy for the inner desires of the readers to fight the evil they see in the world. So I’ve tried to relax my notions of what a villain and a hero should be to lean in to the concept of good and evil a bit more.
Take me through a day of writing with you. Are you a planner or pantser?
I work as an IT solution architect during the day (sounds a lot fancier than it is). At night, I hang out with the family, and then help get my kids to bed. Then it’s time to write. I generally take an hour and a half, and in that time, I get about 1,000 words done. That’s my daily goal. 1k words per day, 20k minimum per month. That nets me one large novel per year, plus more time for some shorter projects. I’d love to up my word count by going part-time at the day job, but I’m not yet ready to make that leap.
I used to be a very plot-driven writer, to the detriment of my writing. I’ve worked hard over the years to change that and to learn a lot more about the characters so that they can guide me and make the stories more character-driven. I’m not really able to figure a character out, though, until I start writing about them, so early on, it’s still true that plot plays a larger role, but as I learn more about the characters, plot and character play off of one another, slowly and imperfectly leading me toward the climax of the story.
Hypothetical question. You have been selected to join the first colonization mission to Mars. Due to payload restrictions you can only take three hardback books with you. What titles would you select, and why?
There’s got to be a single, bound volume of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, right? Is that cheating? I don’t care, that’s one, because those are my all-time favorite books.
Second, hmmm. I’m going to go with a few books that have really impressed me lately, rather than all-time favorites. One is The Ocean at the End of the Lane; the other is The City and The City. They’re both brilliant (brilliant!) books, but very different from one another.
I think those three books would give me a lot of variation to keep me busy for a while, at least until we start the first publishing company on Mars.
One of the things that I love about your work is that you incorporate incredibly unique and diverse settings for your stories. What is your design process when building these settings? I have noticed that you refer to photos and pictures a lot whilst writing.
One of my favorite resources these past few years has been Pinterest. I use that a lot to collect the rough ideas and inspirations for special places in the stories I’m writing, whether it’s a grand palace, a canyon in the desert, a place in the slums, or what have you. Beyond that, I simply try to show off the world. There are so many places scenes could be set, so why not vary them, create contrast through place as well as through character and the tone of the writing? It’s yet another tool in the writer’s toolbox, and I do enjoy the set designer’s role. So it’s one I take my time with and to try to make it something the reader will enjoy.
If you could spend the day with one other writer (dead or alive) to get their advice who would it be, and why?
Aboslutely it would be Tolkien. I would love to chat with him about his process, the things that came easy to him, the things that he had to work hard at. I’d love to learn more about the delay between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I’d love to hear him talk about his “ah ha!” moments, the things that opened up his writing for him. I’d like to hear about his influences.
And if we could do it while strolling around Oxford, so much the better!
Complete the following sentences –
If I were Overlord of the Earth I would… order the immediate and full adoption of renewable energy sources.
The next person who mispronounces my last name will… be forced to eat a pound of Stilton cheese.
Fantasy fiction needs more… humor. It goes such a long way of making other emotions feel more real.
What are you reading right now?
I’m finishing up The Golem and the Jinni, a brilliant, brilliant book by Helene Wecker. It’s the sort of book that makes me jealous of how good the writing is, but it does so in an inspiring way, pushing me to make my own writing better.
Will you be doing any events or conventions to promote the release of Twelve Kings?
Coming up, I have my local book launch and a few signings. I’ll be visiting New York Comic Con in October. Later that month I’ll be heading to the UK for a small tour, starting with Gollancz Fest, a few signings in and around London, and wrapping up with a visit to FantasyCon in Nottingham. (I can’t wait for that trip!) And the last con planned for this year is World Fantasy, my favorite convention. It’ll be a great way to wrap up this crazy year.
Finally, can we expect to see you visiting Australia anytime soon?
I truly hope so! I have no current plans, but you never know. If the Australian market demands me, my publisher will have no choice but to send me there. So come on, Australia! Brad wants to hug a real koala!
Bradley P. Beaulieu, thank you for taking the time to chat with us here at Smash Dragons!
Twelve Kings will be available from all good online retailers and bricks and mortar stores from September 1st. And a heads up... we here at Smash Dragons have read it... and holy hell it is awesome! Our review will go up on the day of release.
Also remember to check out Brad's blog and website at http://quillings.com for book related news, fantasy discussion, and general geeky coolness!
Until next time peeps... be nice to each other, and keep on reading!