Last week, Peter V. Brett, author of The Demon Cycle braved Toronto’s chilly winter to sign his newest novel, The Daylight War (my review for which can be found here). Before his signing, he was kind enough to sit down for a fairly lengthy chat about his novels, writing, and zombies. I don’t think there’s are any spoilers really … but we do discuss some things which touch on The Daylight War, so just a slight warning about that.
As usual, for convenience P = Peter V. Brett, and R = Rebecca (myself).
R: Hi Peter! Thank you for joining us. Would you mind saying a little bit about yourself for people who aren’t entirely familiar with your works?
P: Sure. Hi, I’m Peter V. Brett, author of The Demon Cycle series from Del Rey Books. The first book is The Warded Man, followed by The Desert Spear, and as of a couple of days ago, The Daylight War. Which is the third in a five book series. It’s rooted in epic fantasy, although I try to break some of the genre rules in that. I’m not a big believer in hard classifying things as one type of fantasy or another.
I’m currently doing my first book tour, this is my first stop, here in Toronto. The beginning of about 6 weeks of non-stop touring which has me both super excited and a little terrified.
R: Alright, thank you! What was your favourite part in The Daylight War to write?
P: To write? There are a couple of parts which I really enjoyed. There are several weddings in the book, but there’s one big wedding scene that I think anyone who has read the book will immediately recognize was surprisingly touching.
Normally as an author, I can separate myself emotionally from what’s going on with the characters. However, when I went back to that one scene and read it, I got a little bit choked up.
There was that, and there was also a big confrontation between two of the main protagonists, Arlen and Jardir, which has been building for some time now and I was very excited to write it.
I deliberately wrote the book in chronological order and did not write it until it was time, but I already choreographed the whole thing in my head by the time I did that. So that probably took as long to write as it did to read.
But this book took me three years to write, and there were parts of it which were a pleasure to write and there were parts of it that were absolutely miserable to work on. But when I look back at what I’ve done, I’m so incredibly proud of how it came out. It really is exactly how I wanted it to be.
R: Yeah, I think it may be my favourite of the series so far, I’m still debating whether I liked this one or The Warded Man better.
P: Well, they’re very different books. And they’re meant to be. There are a lot of writers – very successful ones – who use the same formula over and over again with each of their books, they do that because they found a formula that works, and that people love, but I very much did not want to do that. So each book is its own animal, and represents where I was in my life and in my writing at the time, and I love all of them equally. It’s hard for me to say which one is my favourite, but I put out the best book that I can put out and that’s all I can ask for.
R: They are all good reads. And as you mentioned before, there are going to be two more books in The Demon Cycle, but do you have anything planned for after those? Or will there be more spin-offs like Brayan’s Gold?
P: I’m contracted for three more books, and it’s kind of complicated, the way this worked out. I had originally planned out a five book series, and the fourth book in that series was going to be a sort of “Now for something completely different” book, meaning that at the end of The Daylight War I was going to shift focus entirely to Tibbet’s Brook, which is the small town where two of the main protagonists grew up. I was going to tell a story completely from there, and then get back to the main story – which excuse my language – was kind of a dick move, but it really amused me to do that at the time.
But then The Daylight War grew so big that I couldn’t fit everything into one book. So I ended up cutting it in half and moving that section into what would have been book 4, and taking that fourth book and making it a standalone sixth book.
So, I’m contracted for three more books. There will be two more in this main series, closing off this story line for all these characters, and then there will be that sixth standalone book set in Tibbet’s Brook.
I don’t want people to think that this means The Daylight War is half a book. It is not by any means. This isn’t George R.R. Martin’s Feast for Crows where you’re only getting half the story, I basically had multiple climaxes in one story and when I went to write it out, it was just too much to put into one book. But this means I’ve got a nice big head start on the next one which should make some people happy.
R: I think so, not having to wait a few years for the next one would make quite a few readers happy. So is there anything outside of The Demon Cycle that you’re working on, or have plans for?
P: I have some notes for other stories, that date back a while now. But I’ve been deliberately not giving much thought to them. I’m afraid that if I start thinking about it too much, I’ll get excited about another project, and not be focused on what I should be working on; which is finishing off this series. My head needs to stay here.
With each successive book, when you’re writing stories, especially big epic fantasies like this one, each book has to keep canon with everything that has gone before, and you have this ongoing soap-opera between all the characters which grows with each story. You have to remember who did what to who, who slept with who, and who killed who and every time characters interact with each other.
It’s gotten particularly difficult with these books because I have a whole other generation growing up. One of the protagonists – Jardir – has dozens upon dozens of children, many of whom are becoming characters in their own right. And all of them are interconnected through family or other things with a bunch of other characters, and keeping all of that straight is so much, that if I start focusing on another project, I’m going to lose something. So, I’m trying very hard to keep steady on this until it’s done.
R: Fair enough, and this question is a bit more specific about an aspect in the books, but the Corelings are attracted to large masses of people, so how is it that they’re always able to find lone messengers, and travellers, when it’s a single person and not a group?
P: Well, they’re not exactly attracted to large groups of people, they are attracted to places where there are signs that people have been there. So, if there’s a city that has been destroyed, Corelings will see the remnants of a human city and they’ll think that people might come back. So, there’ll be some demons that just haunt that place. Whereas others will move around and hunt for whatever they can.
Demons thrive on killing, and will happily kill animals and other things if they don’t have humans around. So, during their few hours on the surface each night, they’ll hunt and rove as far as they can. And if they encounter signs of life somewhere else, they’ll move on in stages.
Messengers travel along very specific roads because most of the land has become completely overgrown now, and so the demons can see the well-travelled areas and know that those are places which are likely to have the kind of prey they’re after. And so they’ll tend to roam those areas a little bit more frequently.
R: Alright, thanks. That’s just something I was wondering while doing my reread. Another question regarding the Corelings, and this is something you’ve done a bit more in this last book, but how do you bring back the sense of fear in a story when characters like Jardir and Arlen are becoming so invulnerable and omnipotent?
P: That’s the escalation problem, and every writer has to deal with that when they have a story where the story has characters that start out weak, and starts with a low-magic setting, and they get more powerful over time. You need to have things that continue to challenge them. It’s the same in video games, movies, and anything else. I very carefully — before I even finished writing the first book, planned out how these five books were going to play out, and how I was going to layer in more magic, more super powers, items, and such throughout the series in a way that was believable and kept challenging the characters.
To a normal person, Arlen and Jardin have become like messiahs, they can see into the heart’s of people, they can do all sorts of magical things, like leap 30 feet in a single bound, and whatever. Though when the new moon comes and they face the Demon Princes, they realize that they’re up against creatures that have had these same powers and more for thousands of years, while they’re just beginning to scratch the surface of what they can do with those powers. Whereas the real demons – the powerful demon lords, know that stuff so well, so Arlen and Jardir are still pretty well out-matched.
And they also have to protect huge groups of people who don’t have these powers, whereas the demons don’t have such compunctions. This is something that becomes a real threat because when you need to protect a populace, you don’t just need to protect the people, you need to protect their food. And so, protecting farmland, water supplies and things like that… Suddenly those great powers which are so amazing on a one-on-one basis, you realize they can’t do everything and that they need help just as much as anyone. That’s a lot of what this story is about; them admitting that they can’t do everything and that they need the people around them to rise up beside them, and help to save themselves.
R: Okay, and I know you were asked a couple of days ago on Twitter to confirm that you’ve read a Game of Thrones by @Master_Pastry… He and I were discussing this, and we’ve noticed many similarities between Abban and Varys; how they weave webs around them, and while they have a low rank on a societal scale, they’re amongst the most powerful. We were wondering if there was any inspiration for Abban from Varys, or if this was entirely coincidental.
P: That is entirely coincidental. I never even thought about that until you mentioned it. I don’t know if I would go so far as to say that it’s a stereotype, but there are certainly a lot of characters throughout literature, and fantasy in particular who are physically weak, or maimed, or are unable to compete with warriors on a physical level or whoever but are just as powerful in their own way.
I think this is why Abban is such a fascinating character, because he comes from a culture that completely reveres physical strength and fighting prowess, and he has none of that, and yet he manages to not only survive in that culture, but to thrive and make himself so essential that people can’t just discount him. He’s really one of my favourite characters, I love writing him.
R: And he’s fun to read. That’s just something we were talking about a couple of days ago. Now, my next question is not so much about the series itself, but on writing in general. But how do you find the time to write? You’re quite active on social media – Twitter, Facebook, and the like, and with your daughter and family. So how do you balance all of that with your writing?
P: It’s been particularly hard, with this last book because for the majority of it, my daughter wasn’t in school full-time. Now, she’s in school during the day and I find those hours go by really fast. For the most part, you just have to make time when you can. And I’ve somehow managed to find a way to be creative on command.
And so, when my daughter is in bed, I’ll do a bit of writing, when she’s at school, I’ll do a bit of writing; if I’m on the train, I’ll do a bit of writing. I try to do a certain amount each day, but my schedule is so chaotic and hectic that where I steal the time each day changes. I’m hoping now — she’s starting kindergarten this year — I’m hoping for the next book I’ll have much more consistent schedule and I’ll be able to focus a bit better on my writing time.
At the same time, my writing career is growing in ways that I hadn’t anticipated. That brings a lot of clerical work and other things that nobody tells you when you’re looking to be a writer, that writing suddenly becomes a very small portion of your overall job.
I do have a great assistant, Meg, who helps me tremendously, and between that and my daughter going to school, I think I’m going to try and have a much more balanced writing schedule for this next book, which I have plotted out already. So, it’s just a matter of focusing, and layering prose, chapter by chapter.
If I can make a schedule, I’m hoping to do this one faster than the one before.
R: Alright, thank you. And I know some authors — and you’ve mentioned this recently as well — have issues with Amazon’s book reviewing policies. How people can write a fake reviews, or negative ones just based on the pricing. If you were able to make changes to their policy for things like that, what would you do?
P: Well, this is a difficult situation, and I don’t entirely blame Amazon for it. They’re kind of damned if they do, and damned if they don’t. They want people to review books, because that’s an enormous sales-driver and validator for themselves as a company, and shows their power and is a great tool to help people decide what to read. In a world where book stores are becoming more and more rare, the showroom of being able to walk into a book store and flip through books is disappearing and people need to find a way to find new things.
So having reading reviews on Amazon is a huge help for that. So Amazon wants to keep their hands out of it as much as possible. However, there are a lot of authors who have some shady practises to try to promote themselves, some of them have managed to do this quite successfully. By straight-up lying, or hiring people to write fake reviews for them… Using programs to auto-generate reviews, or trashing their competition.
I understand Amazon’s desire to limit that, but I think that they don’t have the capacity to do it on a case-by-case basis, and so they took a broad hammer sweep of just saying “Well, if you’re an author, you are therefore bias by nature and can’t review at all.” I think that was a really bad decision. Personally, I’ve read hundreds and hundreds of books in my life, and I have all sorts of opinions about them, and I continue to do so. And I consider myself to be a very honest reviewer.
It frustrates me to have my integrity called into question just because I’m a professional in the industry. At the same time, and I’m sure this is part of the question because it came up yesterday, my new book came out yesterday and the first few reviews were all one-star reviews that basically said “I didn’t read this book, but I’m mad about the ebook price… and because of that I’m going to give it a one-star rating.” And when you’re an author whose new book has just come out, and it’s received a bunch of ratings and they’re all that low…. That was three years of my life, three years where I poured so much into this book making it the best I possibly could, and to have people come out and blatantly admit that they didn’t even read it, but they’re going to trash it any ways is infuriating.
Amazon has not been as diligent as I would like in dealing with that. They’re quick to say “Well, if you’re an author, you’re bias and we’re not going to accept your review.” But not as quick to say when someone says in a review “I did not read this book.” to allow them to review it anyway seems kind of ridiculous. You’d think they could write a program to search out those reviews and get rid of them. I mentioned this on Twitter yesterday, and was very fortunate that a lot of my readers — the ones who tend to take a book and read it all in one sitting overnight — came out and wrote reviews or complained about those one-star reviews. Or even commented on them point out that they’re not hurting the publisher, or Amazon, but instead the author they claim to love. And the author does not set the price.
Another frustrating thing was a comparison some of them were making, the cost of the paperback edition vs the ebook. The paperback edition doesn’t even come back for another year, so they’re saying the ebook cost is higher than an edition of the book which doesn’t exist yet.
It’s an aggravating situation on multiple levels. As I said, I don’t entirely know how to fix it as there are millions of reviews that go up on Amazon, and if they try to get down into the trenches and read each review and decide which are real and which aren’t, that’s just a money pit that’s not going to get them anywhere. It’s a tough situation and it’s one of many that as we adapt to the digital age and ebooks, and online retailing being a dominate force, we’re going to have to come up with ways to solve those problems. But there are no simple answers, people keep trying to make it simple, but it’s not.
R: Yeah, one of the things that really annoys me about things like that, is those are the same people who will spend just as much on a a couple hours of entertaining at a movie theatre whereas the book gives you days.
P: I completely agree. I can’t think of anything that gives you as many hours of entertainment per dollar as a good novel, and that’s something people seem to forget. There are so many authors, and publishers, who are so desperate to get their names out that they’re dropping prices to these ridiculously low prices just to get attention. But what they’re doing is devaluing a product to the point where people don’t realize it’s actually worth something, or that someone worked really hard on that, and needs to recoup that.
I spent three years working on The Daylight War, I wouldn’t have done that if I wouldn’t be able to pay my rent or support my family on it. So to have someone who hasn’t read the book tell me that it’s not worth $9.99 or whatever it is they’re charging, is frustrating.
R: Yeah, it’s not a position most people get rich on unless they get picked up by HBO or made into a movie. It frustrates me when people complain about books being too expensive, or when there are books that are 99c, and they comment saying it should just be free.
P: This is another thing that some of the sales techniques that people applied early on are going to hurt them in the long run. Because they’ve convinced people that that’s what their work is worth. It’s going to evolve into what it’s going to evolve into. There’s not too much that can be done about it at this point.
Though, I had a publisher who wanted to do a promotion to give away the first book really cheaply, and my agent and I talked about that and decided it wasn’t the right choice. We didn’t agree that that’s what people should think that that’s all we thought it was worth. We’re selling the books at a very reasonable price, and I also give away books all the time on my website, and try very hard to give something back to my readers. So, I don’t think there’s anything wrong, or to be ashamed of in asking for a fair price for your book.
R: That’s true, and entirely reasonable. On another note, if you could write a collaborative work with any author — living or dead — who would it be and what would you write about?
P: I don’t really know. I don’t think I play well with others when it comes to writing. I think that I’m doing that a little bit with comic books where I have to work with artists, but those are two completely different skill sets. I think that I became an author because I’m such a control freak that I want to have control over every aspect of the story to the point where I’ve gotten shy of having beta readers. With each successive book I’ve let less people read it as I’m working on it as I like having that control. There are a lot of other authors whose work I respect and love, but I don’t know that I would collaborate with another author.
Unless it was something where we created a world together, and then separately wrote stories based in that world, and the stories were sort of related to one another; I might consider doing something like that where the nuts and bolts of the world building I could do with someone else. Then we could each be free to tell our own stories, and there are any number of authors with whom I’d be willing to do stuff like that with.
R: Fair enough, and you mentioned comics… You had a Red Sonja comic released today as well, did you not?
P: Yeah. Red Sonja: Unchained came out today. This is a follow-up to a one shot I did about two years ago called Red Sonja: Blue. Red Sonja was a book I read when I was younger and was a big fan of. Everyone knows Red Sonja as the stereotypical woman in a chainmail bikini fantasy character, but when I was young and reading the books, it was written by a woman named Louise Simonson, and drawn by Mary Wilshire. They had taken Sonja out of the bikini she had worn in the seventies and put her into a blue fur tunic, to make her more reminiscent of Conan who used to strut around in a fur loin cloth.
That was the Sonja I knew, growing up. I had read all the other books, and when Dynamite books re-licensed and relaunched it, they put her back in the chainmail bikini. From an iconic and a marketing standpoint, that was a good decision and worked very well for them.
When I met them though, and mentioned I read Red Sonja they asked me to write the book. I agreed only if I could put her back into the outfit I knew her in. Also, with the intention of trying to draw in some readers who might not normally read that sort of book. The chainmail bikini – for as many people it attracts – turns some people off. So, I’ve tried to maintain the character as bawdy, and keeping that barbarian aspect; keeping it a fun and sexy book but in a way that’s not as blatantly “cheesecake” as the flagship book is.
R: Cool! Good luck with that and I hope it goes well for you. Switching topics again, do you have any advice for people who want to start writing fantasy?
P: Well, it’s not an exciting answer, but: practise. Practise and accept that your writing needs to get better, and that it takes a long time, and takes a lot of work. I wrote four novels, prior to The Warded Man, that have never seen print, will never see print and that I don’t want to see print. They were just not good enough. But I don’t regret writing them one bit because I would not have developed the skills I needed to write a saleable manuscript if I hadn’t done that.
So when people lament that their writing isn’t good, there’s no solution other than to keep practising. People talk a lot about talent, and say things like “You have a talent for writing.” but I’m not convinced talent exists. When you love doing something, you’re willing to put in the practise to get better at it. So if talent is anything, it’s enjoying something enough to put in that hard work,
Everyone I know who works on a professional level, and has something they’re proud of has worked hard and diligently, writing a lot of stuff that no one will ever see to get up to that level. So, there’s nothing for it but to practise and practise, continuing to challenge yourself and not accepting that something is good enough. Keep trying to make it better.
R: Sounds good, thank you. For the last question, something a bit sillier. Do you have a zombie survival plan?
P: Yes, I do, actually. I have a warded spear that was given to me as a gift when I published my first book by my friend, and author Myke Cole. He has a history in armour making. He used to work for the royal armouries in London. He hired an armourer to make a battle-ready steel spear — sharp. I have it hanging in my office. As well, in my younger days I amassed a bit of a sword collection, so both at my office and at home I have things that won’t run out of bullets, ready for the day the zombies arrive.
R: Alright! I think that’s it. Thank you very much for taking the time to do this. It was a pleasure to finally meet you.
P: Thank you so much Rebecca!
Be sure to check out Peter’s Demon Cycle! He will also have a short story in the Unfettered anthology.
And as promised, a giveaway! Rafflecopter unfortunately doesn’t work with wordpress websites, however, click the link below to be taken to it for a chance to win one of six signed bookplates. Contest is open internationally.