Hi Michael, I really appreciate you sharing your readers here at Fantasy Book Addict for our little chat.
First in the Night Angel series, and now in the Lightbringer series, you’ve presented readers with worlds that have a sense of long history before the story even begins. Is world building a conscious activity, or is it something that comes out during the process of writing?
Something that I’ve learned in my (admittedly limited) travels around the globe is that a sense of a place’s history is integral to the sense of the place itself. Walking around a bad neighborhood in even a nice town like Oxford, England, simply feels different than walking around a bad neighborhood in the nice town of Whitefish, Montana. I remember talking to a Scottish guy about some battle 300 years ago, and he was still pissed off about it. Whereas where I grew up in Northwestern Montana, the deepest-rooted families we knew had been in the area for only three generations. That sense of history is important to how the people understand themselves and who they count as their own people. Knowing the importance of that, I do try to build that in from the very beginning when I’m writing a story. That said, much of the art of what we do is creating along the way. And with epic fantasy, one of the challenges is to make sure that the fun cool stuff you’re making up as you go fits in with the big and the small stuff that you’ve already said about the history and politics and everything else of your world. This is part of why it starts to take a writer as great as George R. R. Martin six years to put out a book. As he goes, he has to be consistent with more and more and more details. Whereas when he was writing Book 2, he had vast blank areas in between whatever he’d already decided had happened, later he’s much more constricted. I know there’s a desire for us to think that writers make it all up beforehand and that doing so is somehow morally superior or shows a greater mastery of the craft–it’s simply not true, and it doesn’t. If any writer tells you she is simply writing down what she’d already created years ago, and she writes long, multi-volume, convoluted books, take that statement with a grain of salt. She’s speaking that language known as “marketing”. It looks a lot like English, but there are some important differences.
Your next book, The Blinding Knife (due to come out in a few weeks) is the second book in the Lightbringer series. Can you tell us a little bit more about the world it takes place in, where feeling a little blue can make you an auramancer?
The Lightbringer Series takes place in a roughly 16th century alternate Mediterranean Sea basin world. I say roughly because the world of the Seven Satrapies is very high magic. Magic is common, fairly well-understood, and vitally interconnected with the politics and religion and science of the world. Because the magic is based on spectra of light, the cultures in my world have a more advanced understanding of things like lens crafting than our own world did at 1600 A.D. Without getting too in depth, the magic in this world has both physical qualities (weight, smell, flammability) and metaphysical qualities (blue is the color of logic and hierarchy and drafting it is generally calming, etc.).
The magic system did some really fun things because it’s simple on the surface, but like a lot of real-world science, gets delightfully complex as you look at it more. I felt that that complexity was good and necessary, but it slowed down some sections of The Black Prism more than I would have liked. In The Blinding Knife, I felt like I was able to throw in a few reminders for readers of how it works, and then just fly. The system does get more developed and we discover some cool new things about it, but I felt like in The Blinding Knife, that never slows the pace.
The original Night Angel books came out as a trilogy, and I understand from other interviews that you anticipate Lightbringer will probably wrap up as a trilogy. When you’re planning the stories, do you envision them from the onset to be trilogies, or is that something that’s just developed in both cases?
Well, let me give you a world-exclusive breaking news alert here: Lightbringer is going to be four books! The truth is, I always had envisioned Night Angel as three books, and it had three very clear stopping points. Lightbringer has always been more problematic. From the very beginning I thought it had enough conflict for four books, but I was going to try to wrestle it down to three. In some ways, I think you can see that wrestling–and losing!–taking place even in the length of the books. Where the Night Angel books were 150,000 to 170,000 words, Black Prism was 215,000 and The Blinding Knife is 235,000. I realized that if I were to try to finish this series in one more book, it was going to be over 400,000 words. Maybe well over that. So as I was laying out scenes for that last book, the question for me varied between “What can I cut?” and “Is there a good enough stopping point in the middle to have this be two satisfying books?” In working through it, there was too much good stuff that I didn’t want to cut, and I did find a satisfactory stopping place, so I pulled the trigger and said, “This will be four.” I’m lucky enough that Orbit was totally cool with that. Both they and I are also looking forward very much to returning to The Night Angel universe, which I’ll be doing after I finish Lightbringer.
Without getting spoilerly, can you tell us about the scene that was the most fun to write in The Blinding Knife? (if you would prefer to say something from the Night Angel series, since spoiler rules are expired, I’d understand)
To share the most fun scene to write in this book would be a huge spoiler, because I pull a classic Brent Weeks maneuver in that one.
However, just as I was sitting here thinking back on the process of writing this book, I’m realizing how much fun the whole thing has been. And that was actually one of the first things my editor commented on: that she could tell I was writing joyfully in this book. I have some great little scenes with this quirky character called Gunner that I really enjoyed. He’s insane and profane and you never really know what he’s going to do next, but he’s not random. His actions all kind of make sense in retrospect.
Then I had this fun series of scenes with Andross Guile and his bastard grandson, Kip. I needed an excuse to lock them in a room together for long periods of time, and my first thought was of chess. And then that just seemed boring and over done. So I made up my own game for them to play. Because I’m a fantasy writer of course, the game took on a life of its own. (Though you’ll definitely see a strong flavor of Magic the Gathering and hints of several other trading card games in there, which I hadn’t ever played before but did play so I’d get the feel right.) So both working with the rules of the game and the magic of the game, and watching Kip’s and Andross’s relationship grow and change was all just a ton of fun.
And then the magic was fun again! After laying the foundations of how the accepted magic works in The Black Prism, in The Blinding Knife I was able to move on to the weird stuff. Sort of like only after you really understand Euclidean geometry can somebody come along and tell you that sometimes non-parallel lines in a plane will not intersect. What?!
Despite looking perfectly sane in your press photos, I understand you are actually “living the dream” as a full time writer. Can you tell us more about life as a vagabond?
The “life as a writer” stuff always kind of cracks me up. It’s like any Hollywood movie about a writer — of which there are far too many — will somewhere, about 7 minutes in, show the writer scowling briefly at his keyboard. And then he’ll be up to the real business of writing, which is smoking cigars at posh parties and making snarky comments to all of his tuxedoed friends, or slowly going insane and murdering everyone he knows. Or both, if it’s a really good movie.
Life as a writer is really two jobs smushed together: in one job I sit and I do that scene that seven seconds of scowling for about six hours a day. Yep, a man and his keyboard. High drama there. The other life is the answering emails and writing webposts and doing way too much social media and getting lost on wikipedia doing research and traveling now and again. And for me, maybe seeing my publisher every other year. To me, the writing part of my life still seems like the real job, like real life. My friends have normal lives: they’re teachers and carpenters and insurance salesman and unemployed guys and they’ve known me since before my books ever sold, and I’m still just the same guy to them. So I live in an odd dichotomy where my life has completely and totally changed: I’m introduced as New York Times Bestselling Author Brent Weeks, as if that whole thing is my name, and yet from day to day, life is exactly the same. I don’t know, I guess I’m still coming to grips with the whole thing.
We are collecting writing advice, possibly to be used in a future battle royale among the authors we interview. I realize you maintain a writer’s advice column on your site (and if that tickles your interest, readers, you should definitely head over there – http://www.brentweeks.com/extras/writing-advice/), but if there was one piece of advice you wanted to give an aspiring writer, what would it be?
Any parting comments for our readers?
Well, I guess I should give you the marketing shtick, huh? The Blinding Knife will be available September 11 everywhere fine books are sold–except in the UK, which appreciates suspense more, and thus will release the book on September 13th. I hope you’ll give Lightbringer a chance. It’s fun and quick-paced and has some mind-bending magic and some sweet surprises. In addition, if you’re interested in seeing me during my book tour, I’ll be traveling around the U.S. and the U.K., and my tour schedule is on brentweeks.com.
Oh, and sorry about the paraffin comment.
Post-interview question: I have to admit, when I discovered the Night Angel trilogy, I lost two weeks of my life. Gone. I think we had a kid or something, maybe bought a house, I’m not really sure. As you can imagine, I’m a little concerned with the release date of The Blinding Knife being so close to my wife’s birthday that I might be in trouble. Any advice on what to tell her?
The save points are closer than in a video game!
And thanks for having me. Appreciate it.
Brent Weeks is the author of the New York Times bestelling trilogy, The Night Angel Trilogy: The Way of Shadows, Shadow’s Edge, Beyond the Shadows, as well as the Lightbringer series, which began with the Black Prism in 2010 and will be joined by the Blinding Knife this September. We’re really grateful that Brent was able to take the time to sit down and talk with us here at the FBA.