You may or may not have noticed that I get pretty excited pretty easily and when I get excited I like to share my excitement with the whole world. Waiting is hard.
I was going to wait to post this interview next week but I just can’t do it. I’m too excited. Bradley Beaulieu made a wonderful splash into epic fantasy with the Winds of Khalakovo and has just released his second book, The Straights of Galahesh. I asked to do an interview with him because epic fantasy, and the ability to actually write it, fascinates me. Brad was kind enough to accomodate me, despite the fact that he’s incredibly busy with a book launch and being interviewed all over the place. I feel truly honored to have him grace my blog.
So, I decided not to wait until next week. I’ll give him the limelight today – and fill the rest of the week with book reviews. Please give him a warm welcome.
Bradley P. Beaulieu is the author of The Winds of Khalakovo, the first of three planned books in The Lays of Anuskaya series. In addition to being an L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Award winner, Brad’s stories have appeared in various other publications, including Realms of Fantasy Magazine, Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, Writers of the Future 20, and several anthologies from DAW Books. His story, “In the Eyes of the Empress’s Cat,” was voted a Notable Story of 2006 in the Million Writers Award.
You can read more at his webpage
First and foremost, this is a rather ridiculous question but it’s driving me insane. How on earth do you pronounce your last name? My husband and I think we have it figured out, but it always helps to have a little insight from the man himself.
It’s pronounced BOWL-yer. It’s been Americanized (obviously). There is no “r” on the end, which is what everyone asks me after they hear me say it. The trick is to not look at the name when you say it…
In recent days I’ve seen reviews for both of your books popping up all over, as well as news and cover art blurbs and plenty of discussions from fans and potential readers on Twitter. This must be quite gratifying as a newly published author. What has been the biggest surprise for you as a published author?
Oh, gosh. Biggest surprise. It’s a tough question, because I’m no spring chicken. I’d been working my way up through the ranks of short story author and now finally I’ve broken into novels. That is to say, I’ve been around the block a few times.
But I would say the biggest surprise is how gratifying all of it is. You don’t get a lot of attention in the short story world. Sure, there’s a dedicated group that still reads short fiction, but let’s face it, that audience is largely other authors trying to do the same thing you’re doing. If you want to reach the non-author crowd, you have to write novels. So I’m only now reaching out to a wide audience.
It’s wonderful to be able to interact with people that have read the books, hear their thoughts on it, and sometimes talk about the books. That’s a lot of fun, and it’s one of the first things you think about when you imagine “the life” of a published author (other than the visiting the set after you make your first movie deal, of course).
I always find myself really interested in how authors, especially authors who create such layered and detailed worlds as yours, keep everything straight and organized through all of their books. How do you keep the details orderly and the complex world building believable without any holes in development? It seems like an incredible task.
Well, one key is simple organization. I used to use just Word docs to keep a story journal. Then I moved on to multiple docs. Then multiple docs with folders for images and other references. I added link folders in my browser as well. It was a lot of things in a lot of places, and somehow it all worked, but it was less than ideal.
Now I use Scrivener, which I L-O-V-E, love. It contains a wealth of great tools for the writer, not the least of which are a handful of great organizational tools that allow me to replace nearly all of what I used to do with various docs, folders, and URLs with a single interface. I’m occasionally asked about how good Scrivener is and whether one should switch to it, and what I say is this: there is no one compelling reason to switch to Scrivener, but there are a hundred small ones.
A few days ago, Blake Charlton wrote this quote on his Facebook wall: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” -Ernest Hemingway. I take that to mean that writing a book is a labor of love that costs the author blood, sweat and tears. I also think that it’s impossible for an author to write a book without writing bits of him(or her)self into it. Would you agree? What are some aspects of The Winds of Khalakovo that you feel are reflections of your own personality, or events from your life?
If you’ll allow me a small diversion, I’d like to re-interpret that saying now that I’ve been writing for a bit. Early on in my career, I might have thought that Hemingway was talking about the angst the writers go through for their own sake. That is, I might have thought he was talking about how difficult the act of writing is for the author. Now I interpret that completely differently. I view it as a statement of how deeply a writer must embed themselves into the story. They must bleed for their characters, true, but they must also love and laugh and cry.
Ahem. Diversion aside, I agree with your take on authors writing bits of themselves into their stories. Everyone writes from their own point of view with their own personal tastes, their biases, their blindspots, their prejudices. All that stuff comes out whether you want it to or not unless you’re trying really hard to stop it, but even then, there are some things we’re simply not conscious of, and it will show in the writing.
I recently wrote at my Big Idea post for John Scalzi’s Whatever blog that if there’s any one big idea in The Winds of Khalakovo, it’s exploring our inability to back down from an argument. And I don’t mean simple arguments. I mean arguments that strike to the core of our belief system. Though I wasn’t terribly conscious that I was writing about this subject, it’s something that’s a part of me. I’m often a centrist in arguments, trying to find common ground, so I find things like the conflict in the Middle East or the polarization of politics here in the U.S. both fascinating and incredibly frustrating. And that can’t help but leak into my fiction, especially when I’m writing a book that at its core is about war and politics.
You are about to have your second book, The Straits of Galahesh released. This is a huge accomplishment and something I’m sure you are very proud of. However, I can imagine that having a book released can also be nerve wracking. What goes through your mind on release day? Are you excited? Nervous? Or a bit of both? Does it get easier after you’ve already had a book released?
Book releases are nerve-wracking, certainly. You wonder how your baby will do. You’ve already passed the point where you’ve given up control of the book to the publisher, but now the publisher is about to give up control to the buying public. In this respect I’m twice removed from the book as people start buying and talking about it. That’s not to say that I’ve lost any of my zeal over the book. I haven’t. The point is that this actually drives the nerves even higher because I do have so little control by that point.
That said, the second book does feel a bit easier than the first on the nerves front. I feel in a way like the first book could have been a fluke. It’s the second book and third and the fourth that prove you’re a writer who can go the distance, keep getting better, find a wider audience, and so on. So Book 2, in a way, is the first step on that new journey. I’m very excited to continue down that path, and I’m bursting at the seams to finish up the whole trilogy (any day now) so that I have a single, completed story out on the shelves.
Speaking of life, how do you strike a balance between your every day life, and writing an epic fantasy series?
It used to be that I would carve out one hour of writing per day. That would get me about a thousand words, which is plenty for me at this point in my life. That is, a guy with a day job and a family and, you know, my own self-interests.
Since the first book came out, however, I’ve had to spend maybe 6 hours per week more on marketing type stuff. Doing interviews, stepping up my blogging, starting a podcasting site, more conventions, signings, and on and on. It’s all time consuming stuff, and I think this is why so many writers stumble after their first book. It’s hard enough getting a publishable book written. It’s doubly hard to do it again while taking care of the promotion angle.
So how do I balance life and writing? Poorly. But somehow it all works out.
There seems to be quite a bit of Russian/Eastern European influence in the world of your Lays of Anuskaya series in language, names and cultural aspects, specifically. Why did you choose Russia/Eastern Europe to influence your world?
Well, first and foremost, I wanted to step away from the typical Western European setting. I’d long grown bored of that kind of setting. That isn’t to say that I didn’t still read those sorts of books—I did and still do—but I didn’t find much gratifying in it from a writer’s perspective, and that’s a “must have” when I’m writing a book. I have to be excited about the material.
Early on in the brainstorming for the novels, I didn’t know what sort of culture I was going to be dealing with. I had a pretty blank slate. I had already generated the world itself. The islands that made up the Grand Duchy were there. I knew that the islands were going to be cold and inhospitable. And then I just started brainstorming. There was no one thing that made me leap to borrowing from Muscovite Russia, but certainly the cold, windswept islands were a big part of it. And the Russian setting, once I tried it on for size, felt good. It felt different enough that it would keep my creative juices flowing, and familiar enough that it would (hopefully) be an easy transition for the epic fantasy reader. And once I started writing about it, I fell in love with it.
How long were you working on The Winds of Khalakovo before it was ready to be published?
As I recall, it was two years total. However, that was elapsed calendar time. I took a break after the first draft to finish up an older novel I was sending around, and that took several months. And there were some short stories and other small projects as well. So really, it was more like 18 months from start to end.
Your windships are really freaking cool and a wonderful, unique idea to have play a large role in your book. Where a lot of authors would have gone the steampunk route, you decided to keep it strictly fantasy. Was there a reason you didn’t use the steampunk style airships and instead kept yours very fantasy in feel?
I’ve actually written a Steampunk novel. It’s one of my early trunk novels that will never be published. I really enjoy the genre, but I didn’t want to stray too far from the epic fantasy feel that I’ve grown to love. I had already put gunpowder technology into the world, and that was as far as I wanted to take it. This makes it sound like I debated for a time which way to go. I didn’t. When I set out to write these books, I was definitely shooting for a George Martin meets Guy Gavriel Kay sort of feel.
The ships were a fortuitous extension of brainstorming the world and how commerce and trade was conducted. I’d decided that since the islands were so difficult to live on, travel over open sea would actually be quite dangerous, perhaps even impossible at certain times of the year. And that’s when I stumbled on the windships, reasoning that air travel might actually be more reliable. Many, many story and character ideas came from that realization, so I’m glad I kept working that thread.
One of the things that I love about The Winds of Khalakovo was that there really isn’t extreme blacks and whites in your plot. While the readers will inevitably side with certain people throughout the book, you don’t have the impressively wonderful good guy and the conniving, sinister evil guy. Instead, your writing highlights multiple sides of multiple conflicts and issues so the reader gets a great insight into lots of different perspectives and feelings, thus allowing them to empathize with numerous people, and opinions. Was there a reason you chose to not have the extreme blacks and whites? Was it harder for you to write a book with various shades of moral gray zones?
First, let me say that I’m very gratified you asked this question. I don’t necessarily dislike stories with stark black and white battles, but I certainly don’t gravitate toward them. I find gray characters and, more importantly, gray conflicts much more interesting. Why? Because it makes the decisions so much harder. There’s no one answer. The characters not only have to make tough decisions, they have to live with the consequences of them knowing they might be wrong. That’s what gets me going in the writing of these stories.
It would be much harder for me to write a story with extreme blacks and whites, and the main reason is I would find it difficult to believe in it, and I know that would come through in the writing. I may one day write such a story, because there are aspects of it that I think are easy to grab onto for readers, but it would need to be something I felt very compelled to write because of the characters, the story idea, or what have you.
For now, place me firmly in the gray writing camp.
In my opinion, at the root of the book, the antagonist isn’t a person but a disease: the wasting/blight. This is a disease your protagonist, Nikandr, would move heaven and earth to find a cure to as he and his sister suffer from it. As a cancer patient myself, I can completely relate to that, but choosing a disease play such a pivotal role in a book is really intriguing. Probably because of my own struggle with a disease I’d move heaven and earth to find a cure to, I focused on the wasting in your book acutely. It really struck a cord with me. While the wasting opens doors to other complex issues, I love how you use it almost as a gateway to something more. I’d love to hear a little about what influenced you to use a disease to play such a huge role in the plot of The Winds of Khalakovo.
My family on my father’s side has a long history of colon cancer. They even have a name for it. It’s called Lynch syndrome. It means you have a genetic predisposition to colo-rectal cancer, and for women, uteran and ovarian cancers. My grandmother died from colon cancer. Many family members have had polyps removed (including me), and my sister (one of identical twins) had colon cancer at the age of 28.
So disease in a general sense has been something that’s been on my mind most of my life, but even more so since visiting the hospital with my sister at the age of 27 to hear her diagnosis. But again, going back to the idea of conscious vs. unconscious writing, it wasn’t something I set out to speak about, per se—Winds isn’t a book about disease and the family struggles that come of it—but once that element showed itself, I certainly wanted to portray it in a way that gave it the gravity it deserved.
Speaking of the “gateway” that the wasting represents. That was another element of the book (seemingly small at first) that opened door after door in terms of what was happening to the world and why. I didn’t at first know the nature of the disease, but the more I worked at it, the more I realized that it was another facet of the problems facing Nikandr and Atiana and the Grand Duchy as a whole. Once those things fell into place, the story really started filling out. It lent a certain depth to the story that felt right to me.
I’m sure you have other hobbies besides writing. What else do you love to do?
I love to cook. My first entry was to European cooking, mostly French, but I became a Bobby Flay disciple when I was living in California. I’d watch the shows and then pick a dish or two and make them. I really grew to love southwestern and Mexican cooking, especially Oaxacan. I also like Rick Bayless and plenty of the Food Network gang: Giada DeLaurentis, Alton Brown, Ina Garten, Tyler Florence, and, for some good pound-packing action, Paula Deen.
I have two kids, so a lot of my spare time is spent with the kiddies. I like just horsing around after work to forget about the stress of the day. We have a nature reserve close to the house. It’s walkable, so we go there now and again to take a walk and discover cool stuff like bugs and butterflies and tadpoles. Oh, and the kids love going to Monkey Joe’s, this cool bouncy house place where they get to run around and expend energy. Which for this fellow is a Good Thing.
Is there anything else you want people to know?
Two quick things.
First, friend and fellow author, Greg Wilson, and I run a podcasting site called Speculate! The Podcast for Writers, Readers and Fans, and we invite everyone to stop by to check us out or subscribe to us through iTunes.
And second, I recently released Strata, a dystopian sci-fi thriller I’m very proud of. This is another joint venture, this time with science fiction author Stephen Gaskell. On the surface Strata is a story about racing over the surface of the sun, but deep down it’s a story about the tipping point of corporate power.
And beyond that, a quick thank you so much for having me by for a chat!
Thanks so much for being part of this!