Meet The Author: Peter V Brett
Santa has been good to us here at Reality By Pass and we have more Author Interviews than we do remaining Fridays! To this end there will be at least two author interviews a week for the rest of December. Remember that there will be a drawing for books at the end of the month. Ask a question, comment on the state of the weather…just let us know you’re out there to win!
Nooow…onto today’s interview with Petter V Brett.
From the mouth of the author:
What is the fantasy cliché that most bothers you, or what is your book pet-peeve?
Oh, there are so many. I guess the standard fantasy story arc/climax gets to me the most. Basically, this is where the main character discovers they are the heir to a magic they did nothing to earn, don’t understand, and are afraid/unable to use. They muddle through the book with no control over this special power until the last possible minute when all seems lost, at which point, for no real reason other than plot resolution, they manage to bend the magic to their will just long enough to defeat the villain, who is usually a life-long master of the same magic, because “good” magic, as everybody knows, is stronger than “bad” magic, and the hero always has the strongest magic of all. Of course, when the sequel rolls around, they are back to not understanding their power. Lather, rinse, repeat.
A lot of amazing fantasy authors, including many bestsellers, have used this story skeleton through the years, some to great effect, but it’s begun to stick in my craw because I think that with a very few exceptions, it makes for an unsatisfying climax. The author builds enormous tension getting the protagonist into an inescapable fix, and then kind of cheats to get them out. Victories in real life don’t happen that way, and I am a big believer that even fantasy fiction should mirror reality as much as possible, so that readers can relate to it.
What is your favorite fantasy critter or fairy tale character and why? No, it doesn’t have to be one you write about.
Okay, I’m lying. Screw unicorns. Actually, my favorite fantasy critters are the ones I write about. Demons.
I always loved demons, even back when I was a little kid playing Dungeons and Dragons. I memorized all the demon types in the Monster Manual and Fiend Folio, and looked for any excuse to use them in a game. Did you know the Balrog in The Fellowship of the Ring was a Type VI demon called a Balor? Those things are no joke. Makes you really respect Gandalf. The real D&D demon you didn’t want to fuck with, though, was the Demogorgon. That thing was a two-headed psionic supra-genius with a -8 armor class and 200 hit points. D&D also made a point of distinguishing demons from devils, which I think is important.
There were also these evil demons called the N’gari that fought the X-men in the early 80’s. There was a special Christmas issue of the X-men (Uncanny #143, I think) where a demon chases Kitty Pryde all over the X-mansion. That comic scared the crap out of me when I was a kid; I must have read it a thousand times. From there I went on to read lots of demon-centric fantasy novels like Terry Brooks’ Elfstones of Shannara, Lyndon Hardy’s Master of the Five Magics, and… heck, just about any of the many works of RA Salvatore or CS Friedman.
You get my point. I was always hunting demon stories, and it was great to finally take a crack at writing them myself.
We all know it’s easy to get distracted when a project is taking its own sweet time to bubble. What is your Achilles heel when it comes to getting distracted from writing?
Same as everyone these days, I reckon. The internet. It’s probably why I usually get more writing done on my smartphone riding the subway for an hour than I can all day on my home computer with its seductive high-speed web connection. That said, it’s just as easy for me to get distracted by sorting my socks.
Distraction is a real problem for me, and I think for anyone who wants to be a writer. Stephen Pressfield calls it “Resistance” in his book The War of Art. The fact is, unless you have the muse sitting right on your shoulder (which is a rare and undependable thing), writing, at least, writing well, is a lot harder than it looks. It can be such a trial sometimes that to a struggling author, the thought of climbing an icy ladder to clear leaves from the roof rain gutter starts to sound more enticing that sitting by the computer with a hot cuppa. I truly believe that training yourself to focus and produce work consistently when you’re blocked or tired or not in the mood is what separates pro writers, even hackish ones, from talented amateurs.
I wish I was better at it, myself.
With the holidays coming up what is your favorite winter activity?
My family used to have a ski house at Hunter Mountain in New York, and we would go skiing a few times every winter. Sometimes my dad would even pull us out of school on a Friday to take advantage of a day without weekend crowds. Those were the days!
Now that I live in Brooklyn and am married to a non-skier, I don’t get to go as often as I used to, but my father and sister and I still try to go once every winter if we can.
I’ve heard of inspirational eating, so when you’re settled in to get things done is there a particular food that you just have to have on hand?
Ugh. Prepare to be sickened. I like to eat Nerds Rope, which is this Willy Wonka candy where they essentially take a long Gummi Worm and stick Nerds candies to it. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, be thankful. It is somehow several times as sugary as pure sugar.
I also mix iced coffee with Diet Coke when I am working late and want a caffeine boost. Don’t knock it until you’ve let it keep you up till 4am. Red Bull is for sissies.
What does it take to write a really good villain? Do you ever find yourself in a mental space that scares you or makes you wonder if that really came out of YOUR head?
I don’t really write about villains, because I’m not convinced they exist in the classical sense. No one sees themselves as a villain, that is just a label from the person on the other side of the conflict. In real life, people find all sorts of ways to justify the evil things they do. I try to be impartial as an author, and just describe conflict and motive and let the reader decide who’s right and who’s wrong.
That said, there are several characters I’ve written that scare the crap out of me, especially Jardir’s wife, Inevera, who makes her first appearance in my nearly-completed sequel to The Warded Man, titled The Desert Spear. I have nightmares about her.
Which of your characters gave you the most trouble and was the hardest to write for?
Probably the Warded Man. My main protagonists, Arlen, Leesha, and Rojer, all have clear voices in my head, but the Warded Man is an entity unto himself, and a being of constant internal conflict. It’s a difficult head to get into sometimes.
We all have darling lines or paragraphs in our stories. Stephen King even says we should kill them. What is your most favorite murdered darling from any of your books?
I have many murdered darlings. The version of The Warded Man I originally sold to Del Rey books was 182,000 words. The final draft I released to print was a sleek 158,000. I had reasons for everything I cut, usually pacing or redundancy, and the end-product was better for it, but some really great (in my opinion, anyway) material was lost in the process. So much, in fact, that I am planning to add a “deleted scenes” blog to my website to reveal some of those delicious tibbits to anyone interested in the writing process, or who just wants a little fix before the sequel comes out.
What is your worst writing habit, the thing which you keep telling yourself you’re going to change and you do it anyway?
Overwriting. I always write more than I need to. Like this answer. I could have just said “Overwriting” and been done with it, but was that good enough for me? Noooooo.
If you were going to interview another author, whose brain would you want to pick?
CS Friedman or George RR Martin. Both have an amazing ability to keep an incredibly complex set of POV characters and story arcs straight and still tell a cohesive story.
From the mouth of the Warded Man:
What is the best piece of advice you’d give to other characters on how to survive troubles and tribulations?
Stop being afraid to stand up for yourself. You can’t count on someone else coming along to do it for you.
How do you feel about magic powers? Indispensable? Only for the Lazy Hero/Heroine? You wish your author gave you more?
No one gave me my magic. I earned it, paid for in blood and scars, and now I walk free in the night when others cower behind their wards. But magic’s nothing compared to the will to stand up and defend what’s yours when the demons come to take it.
What’s the best way to vanquish mad witches, evil dragons… orcs, ogres?
Ent no such thing.
Is there a happily ever after on your horizon, or is true love only for those sappy romance books?
Gave up my chances for happiness long ago. I spend more time amongst demons than I do men now. I’ve eaten their flesh and stolen their magic. No woman in her right mind would want me, or the spawn of my tainted blood.
Magic artifacts? (You know what I mean, enchanted swords, books of spells…) Useful, indispensable, more trouble than they’re worth…
Weapons can be lost. They can be broken. They can be stolen. Make your own body a weapon, though, and nothing can take it from you, or catch you unarmed.