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Monday, October 29, 2012

Interview with Joe Abercrombie (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

 Official Author Website
 Read FBC's Review of The Blade Itself
 Read FBC's Review of Before They Are Hanged
 Read FBC's Review of Best Served Cold
 Read FBC's Review of The Heroes
 Read FBC's Review of Red Country
 Read previous FBC interview with Joe Abercrombie
 (Author Picture Credit: Patrick of Stomping On Yeti)

Joe Abercrombie is no stranger to fans of the fantasy genre, since he first debuted with The Blade Itself.  In the last seven years he has finished his debut trilogy and also written three standalone sequels whilst gaining multitude of  fans for his dark humor and action packed storylines. With the release of Red Country, he turned his hand towards a fantastic version of the Western story trope. Also adding to the awesomeness of the story was the return of an iconic character from his debut trilogy. My thanks to Jon Weir for his help in setting up this interview and for his smooth conduit efforts. In this interview we see Joe face some whimsical & a few different questions in regards to his work and thoughts. Read ahead to find out what motivates Joe besides basking in his own success...

Q] You have curiously set yourself apart from your contemporaries by completing your debut series and since then have put out six books in seven years after your debut. What’s your secret on maintaining such a pace besides rubbing other writers’ faces in your success? 

JA: Surely no reason is needed beyond rubbing people’s faces in my success? But actually I've been lucky in a number of ways. I was half way through my second book when I found a publisher, and starting on the third by the time the first was published, so I had a big head start, and that meant we could publish the first three 10-12 months apart and keep up what looks like a brisk pace with the publications thereafter. In fact my third book was the fastest to write, about 14 months, but although it’s also my longest, I was finishing off a story with settings and characters and all the plotting well established. 

Best Served Cold was way harder to write, and the three standalone books have all taken me about 20 months each, which doesn't look quite so impressive. That head start has well and truly run out now, sadly, and I think it’ll be a while before another book in the First Law world surfaces, especially since it’ll be the first in a trilogy and I want to get the whole thing drafted before releasing the first book. But in the end, every writer works differently and every project has its own challenges. Things take as long as they take… 

Q] You have effectively created a sort of sub-genre with your books & writing style. With the criteria for being labeled as such being dark humor, grey characters and bleak/gritty situations. Any thoughts on this “Abercrombie-esque fantasy” label and the further darker fantasy it has spawned? 

JA: Wow, I don’t know that I see things that way. I’m not sure who would be described as writing Ambercrombie-esque fantasy. Other than me, I guess. I don’t particularly see myself as the standard-bearer for anything – that’s way too dangerous and exposed a position. I've always just tried to write the kind of books I want to read, and that does tend to mean dark humor, grey characters, and gritty situations, as you describe. I think there’s always been a strong tradition for that type of work, for all it was very much eclipsed commercially in the eighties and nineties by more romantic, Tolkien-esque stuff. I’d point to guys like Fritz Leiber, Jack Vance, and of course GRRM as doing similar things long before I picked up a pen. Or indeed was born. 

Q] When you announced your book deal for four more books with Gollancz, you mentioned that it either could be “twice two” or “one plus three” now with the release of Red Country, it is almost certain that you have gone with the latter pattern. Your thoughts on choosing to go with this pattern? 

JA: I wrote a trilogy, then three linked standalone books, so another trilogy feels like the right step to take next. With the First Law I had the luxury of writing a good part of the third book before the first was released, though, and I want to make sure that this trilogy is also coherent and cohesive, which for me probably means drafting the whole thing, then working on each book individually to get it ready for publication. I really don’t want to be writing the conclusion, have a great idea and feel - if only I could have done things differently early on, but be stuck with something already published. That means probably a pretty significant delay for the first book, but that the three books can hopefully be released pretty quickly thereafter. 

Q] What are the next three books going to be about? Any thing you can reveal in regards to plot details or timelines? 

JA: They’ll probably take place chiefly in the Union about 20-30 years on from the First Law, centering on a civil war, with some of the characters from the First Law moved into the background and their children being some of the central characters. Creeping industrialization will also be on the horizon… 

Q] You have written two short stories so far both related to characters from “The Heroes”. Any chance you plan to write any more featuring others? 

JA: Yeah, I've actually written five stories in all. Two are for forthcoming anthologies, though I’m not sure when they’ll appear, and a special edition of Red Country for Waterstones in the UK has a little extra in it. They’ll all appear in an anthology sooner or later, though I wouldn't hold your breath. 

Q] As much as I love Nine Fingers, for me Glotka was the standout character of the First Law trilogy. He reminded me a lot of Tyrion from ASOIAF as both of them don’t think of themselves as heroes and their actions are grey and their wit sharper. Who do you think amid both of them is the more morally conflicted character? 

JA: Tyrion is a fantastic character, very nuanced and also very unusual in fantasy at the time that I read A Game of Thrones, made a big impact on me and he’s probably a good part of the inspiration for Glokta, whether that was conscious or not. I guess they’re both outsiders, survivors, forced to live on their wits, willing to do some pretty unpleasant things to not be beaten. Who’s greyer? Does it matter? 

Q] Any chance you will ever write a solo Glotka story or short story/novella as with Red Country, Logan Ninefingers does get his own book so as to speak.

JA: It has been suggested… 

Q] A funny thing I noticed that you have been generous with blurbs to UK authors (S. Deas, MD Lachlan & C. Wooding). Why no blurb-love for your fellow wordsmiths across the pond? 

JA: I’m still sore about the whole Boston Tea Party thing. What a waste of good tea. Put simply, I’m British, live in Britain and my primary publisher is British, so the people I see a lot, know well, owe in one way or another, and who are therefore likely to prevail on me to read something are British too. 

Q] With Red Country, we get to finally see the return of Logan Ninefingers. Considering how you ended the First Law trilogy; many fans were left wondering what his final fate was. So with this book does he get the ending he wishes or the ending he deserves? 

JA: Hah. Well, I would never want to spoil an ending for anyone, so let’s just say that I hope the ending is fitting… 

Q] Back in 2008 you had written about A Game Of Thrones, you lavished fulsome praise on it but said as the series progressed, it lost its “apparent sense of focus”. The latter books couldn't match the narrative moment of their predecessor. Now that’s a very astute observation which goes against popular opinion, what do you think makes the latter books especially A Storm Of Swords to be of a lesser pedigree? 

JA: A Game of Thrones was a very important book for me – it came at a time when I’d largely stopped reading fantasy and felt that it tended to repeat the same patterns over and over, was hugely predictable. So it really made my jaw drop in all kinds of ways, and demonstrated that you could be dark, unpredictable, realistic, and adult in every sense of the word while still writing what was very recognizably commercial epic fantasy. It was a big inspiration in trying to write myself, so I think it was inevitable that later books   wouldn't   be able to sustain that impact, if only because the first had gone off like a flashbulb in the darkness for me.

But, with the disclaimer that I still write some pretty hefty books by most standards, I like things to be tightly focused, to have patterns and balance and a sense of tight structure, so I was always slightly disappointed that the number of viewpoint characters increased so sharply, and the story became wider and more diffuse. I’d have preferred more central thrust. But what do I know? I get the sense that GRRM is doing alright… 

Q] Your latter Gollancz book covers have stuck to a pattern especially with maps, considering you had once posted that you weren't too fond of them in fantasy books. What lead to the change in direction with the covers and what are your thoughts as you see them all together? 

JA: I absolutely love the look that Gollancz have given the books. I think the books look striking, different, establish a recognizable brand, and aren't off-putting to either fantasy fans or more mainstream readers, which is an extremely difficult balancing act. On maps, well, I’m a big fan of them, and spent a lot of my childhood drawing them, but I think they need to be used in the right way. I’d hate to have a childish daub on my fly-leaf just because you’re supposed to. The Heroes, say, has five maps inside, as well as the one round the outside, but I think they’re used in a slightly different way and add to the experience. Each case as it comes. 

Q] What would you say to readers who have complained that your work has become bleaker with each book and what was novel in its approach earlier, is now becoming a tad predictable with the latter books? 

JA: I would say, ‘pfft!’ 

Q] Lastly in all your books, you have thanked four Abercrombie brethren. Could you expound on their role in shaping your books and tell us a bit about them as well. 

JA: Those would be my parents, brother, and wife. They've been hugely helpful and influential throughout, especially in the early years before getting published. My mother was an English teacher and editor, my father was a sociologist, so they’re both widely read, erudite and, most importantly, ruthless in their criticism. After first gathering the courage to show my family what I was doing, about a quarter of the way through The Blade Itself, I really wrote mostly because I enjoyed discussing it with them so much. They've read everything I've done and commented ever since, although these days their comments tend to be more general, a lot of the detailed stuff I discuss first with my editor, with whom I also have an excellent working relationship. Very lucky in the people around me. 

Q] Thank you for taking the time to answer all the questions, any last words for your multitude of fans worldwide especially about what we can expect from you next? 

JA: Over the next few weeks you can expect me to be playing Dishonored and Borderlands 2. It’s rigorous brain work, don’t you know…

NOTE: First Law trilogy cover montage courtesy of Fantasy Faction and Joe Abercrombie standalone cover montage courtesy of Orbit Books.


Ryan said...

I really enjoyed reading this interview. I'm very excited for Red Country.

The Reader said...

Thanks Ryan, I hope you enjoy the read. Red Country offers a fascinating look into Abercrombie's world via a western motif.


Anonymous said...

Appreciate your tip of the hat to Jack Vance, who wrote some of the best sci fi and fantasy ever.

chronicles said...

Good interview - and good to hear about a trilogy coming. Sounds like we should see something of Glotka again, which would be nice. :)


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