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Monday, May 25, 2015

Interview with Rob J. Hayes (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of It Takes A Thief To Catch A Sunrise
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Heresy Within
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Colour Of Vengeance
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Price Of Faith
Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with Rob J. Hayes
Read A Game of ̶T̶h̶r̶o̶n̶e̶s̶ Death by Rob J. Hayes (guest post)

Since I first read Rob J. Hayes' debut book The Heresy Within, he has quickly become one of my favorite authors and also one of the most featured authors on Fantasy Book Critic. Recently with the release of The Price Of Faith, I thought to pick his mind and try to glean some secrets about the world of First Earth, the characters within and what the future holds for those who survived.  Be warned that the below interview has some major and minor spoilers for the Ties That Bind trilogy so avoid it if you haven't read the trilogy. For those who have read and loved the trilogy, read and enjoy Rob's thoughts......

Q] Welcome back to Fantasy Book Critic, how does it feel to have your series completed (again) and with such fantastic cover art? 

RJB: It still feels a little bit like a dream to be honest. When I started writing this series back in 2010 the dream was to have them published and I occasionally look at the book shelf and realize I'm living the dream.

Q] Once you started plotting this trilogy, how much of the entire journey was planned and how much of it evolved organically? Was the ending planned from the very beginning? 

RJB: The Heresy Within was actually written as a stand alone story. I was one book into a different series (set in the same world), and I had the idea for these three characters who just didn't fit into that story. I set that first series aside and started on Heresy. I think I was pretty close to the end of Heresy when I realized it was going to turn into a trilogy and I was about a chapter in The Colour of Vengeance when I knew how The Price of Faith would end.

I tend to be a very organic writer, knowing the beginning and the end and a bunch of stuff in between, but a lot of what happens just kind of spews out of my fingers as I write it. It can make editing a bit of a hassle when you realize how much you contradict yourself sometimes.

For an example of just how much of the plot evolves organically I'll use Constance from The Heresy Within. Constance (Dead Eye) plays a major role in Jezzet's arc throughout Heresy, she is in fact the driving force in that arc. Constance however did not exist until I started writing the chapter in which she appeared. The relationship between her and Jezzet just kind of expanded (both forwards and back) from that point.

Q] Now talking about your POV characters, all of them are severely flawed. In most fantasy books they would be the villains/antagonists. Why did you focus the story around & on them? 

RJB: Heroes are boring. Well 'good guy' heroes are boring. I find stories so much more interesting when they focus on characters who maybe won't always do the right thing (or the good thing). Infact it gets even more interesting when they do the wrong thing but for the right reasons.

Q] I want to ask you about your characters and not just the main POV ones but even the ones that only make fleeting appearances. What goes through your mind when you create them? How do you make them so complex and tragic? 

RJB: I start with a single concept (it may even be cliched). Black Thorn was paranoia, Thanquil was an outcast, Henry was anger. From there I start layering the characters, giving them reasons to be the way they are, reasons that fit in with the world (and the region) in which they live. I try to make them seem as real as possible with each character having a different voice, and a different way of processing things.

Anders is always looking for his next drink, Jezzet is always looking for potential threats. I don't really set out with the intention of making my characters tragic, they're pretty much a product of the world they live in, which is pretty tragic and brutal!

Q] You did quite a different thing with your second book, only one POV character returned from the first book and the entire story was rather focused on Black Thorn and his quest for vengeance. As a reader I was surprised by this but this book was my favorite of the entire trilogy. How did this come to be? 

RJB: I like to challenge convention. I mean what sort of fool removes (arguably) his two main characters for the middle book in a trilogy and focuses instead on the least likeable of the three.

Then there was also the new characters I wanted to add. Henry was a big one there. Everybody hated Henry after The Heresy Within, so I decided to make people like her instead. It also just fit with the timeline. Thanquil and Jezzet were off doing their own thing in the Dragon Empire, while the Black Thorn was busy being locked up and brought back from the brink. Thanquil and Jezzet just didn't really fit in Vengeance, but Black Thorn definitely did.

The trilogy sort of came together as a love letter to spaghetti westerns in many ways. The Heresy Within is very much The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. The Colour of Vengeance is True Grit, and The Price of Faith is The Magnificent Seven. 

Q] In The Colour Of Vengeance, you also introduced Templar Jacob and Pern Suzku. They are both terrific warriors but Suzku is bound by his clan's rules and Jacob is broken by his Templar upbringing. What lead to the genesis for both characters? 

RJB: Pern came about from needing a character on Swift's side of the conflict. I wanted the character to have mixed feelings about the moral code (or lack of) that Swift lives by, and also be quite naive in the ways of the world. Pern was that character. One of the best bodyguards the world has to offer but with next to no idea how the world works, or any of the temptations he would be presented with. He's a very interesting character really because he has to ask himself if he can justify his life's purpose, when that purpose is protecting a man he considers to be evil.

Jacob Lee is a combination of a few things. In season 5 of Angel (the TV show by Joss Whedon) there is a character who has tattoos all over his body as a way of hiding himself from surveillance. Ever since seeing that I had the idea of a character with powerful blessings tattooed on their body to give them powers beyond that of a normal person. Until Colour of Vengeance I never had a chance to put that idea on paper.

Remember a film called Priest released in 2011? Probably not. It was awful. However, the trailer had a scene where Karl Urban's character, Black Hat, was walking through a street with chaos and destruction happening all around, and he was waving his hands in the air like he was conducting an orchestra that no one else could hear. I loved that scene (nothing else in the movie, but that scene!). So when I came to create Jacob, I knew I wanted a broken man who swung from child-like reverence in the wonders around him, to cold-blooded killer with no conscience, and I knew I wanted the trigger to be music, but music only he could hear.

Lastly there's Darth Vader. Across the original Star Wars trilogy, Vader is this menacing, mysterious force chasing the heroes throughout the galaxy, even when they don't realised they're being chased. He's relentless. I wanted to emulate that in Jacob. Betrim may not know he's being chased, but the audience know, and as Jacob closes in the tension mounts.

Oh the other funny thing about Jacob, by the way, is that in early edits of Vengeance, his tattoos glowed when he got into combat to show he was accessing their power. Shortly after finishing writing Vengeance, I started reading Peter V. Brett's Demon Cycle books where the main character ends up with runes tattooed all over his body that glow when he gets into combat with demons. I wasn't about to remove Jacob entirely, but I did edit the book to take out the glowing tattoos.

Q] Most fantasy trilogies often focus on the fantastic, you however chose to ignore that aspect. You have an emperor who’s the human aspect of the god Volmar yet he’s barely focused upon in the trilogy. What gives? 

RJB: The God Emperor was very much subverting a popular trope. Here's that quintessential farm boy with a bright destiny. He is actually a God given human form (an Avatar so to speak). Only that quest to find himself a magical sword, that was actually done by this thieving, outcast witch hunter (Thanquil). So let's focus on the outcast instead.

The Gods in First Earth are a lot like the Greek gods you see in films like 'Clash of the Titans' (the original!). They don't really get directly involved, but instead move pieces about the chess board. Only Thanquil isn't really a chess piece so much as a board flip.

Q] Thanquil, Jezzet & Betrim all have some good qualities however it’s their dark sides, which are more alluring. Thanquil has his kleptomania; Jezzet has her fear, Betrim his paranoia. What do you think made them that way? 

RJB: With Thanquil it was his upbringing. He was always the outcast, even before being taken by the Inquisition. His fellow witch hunters despised him for the sins of his parents and most treated him very unfairly (some of his past in revealed in The Price Of Faith). Stealing things became a subversive way of giving him a measure of control over those who despised him. It also gives him a rush, a thrill, which is something Thanquil needs to help him fight his magical addiction.

Jezzet's fear is all about being laid bare, her weaknesses for all to see. She went through hell in her training to be a Blademaster. Her scars are a physical representation of that. She hates people seeing them because she hates the idea that people might know what she went through and what was done to her, all of which she considers a weakness.

Betrim's paranoia all comes from his worry that his past will catch up with him. He murdered his own parents, possibly because of an altercation involving a chicken, you'll never know (but I do). He murdered the Arbiter sent to investigate his parent's murder because he believed the Arbiter was after him. He's murdered more Arbiters since because he believes they're after him for that first Arbiter. It's really all about him running away and becoming a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy in the process.

Q] Let’s talk about Drake Morass, he’s a secondary character who slowly starts gaining importance as the series progresses. He often acts like the Joker from TDK, chaotic and entirely unpredictable? What should the readers make of him and is he an important player for the future? 

RJB: Drake has a very important part to play in the future of First Earth. Whether or not he is the mastermind he claims to be, or if he's just very good at claiming the responsibility, is something each reader will have to decide on their own.

Q] You have signed on for a sequel duology with Ragnarok Publications. Can you tell us about it and who will be returning in it? 

RJB: I have indeed. It's called Best Laid Plans and Ragnarok are planning to publish it in 2016. Drake Morrass is back and he's bringing with him a host of new characters. Many of the others from The Ties that Bind will make appearances also though none of them will have starring roles. It's set in the pirate isles and the story starts with Drake trying to unite his fellow pirates and forge an Empire for himself.

And here's the blurb for book one, Where Loyalties Lie:

Everybody knows Drake Morrass is only out for himself. 

As the fires of a dying city burn on a distant shore, Drake sees an opportunity to unite the other pirate Captains under his flag and claim a crown for himself. If he is to succeed he will need allies and the Oracle named Keelin Stillwater, the best swordsman in the isles, as Drake's right hand. 

With enemy ships sailing his waters and setting fire to his cities, and the sinister Tanner Black threatening to steal the throne before Drake has even sat in it, Drake must somehow convince the other Captains that his best interests are also theirs.

Q] You have this knack of introducing characters with a line or two only to bring them back for prominent roles (Anders, Drake Morass, Rose, rtc). Are there any particular ones that we should pay more attention to with regards to future stories? 

Well Keelin Stillwater appeared in a couple of chapters in The Price of Faith and he has a fairly major role in Best Laid Plans. There's also a couple of major players introduced in my short story, Beck, which can be downloaded for free from my website. And the thief Thom has been mentioned in a number of my stories (both the longer form like The Price Of Faith and the shorts like The Merchant Of Truridge & To the End), expect to see more of him in the future.

Q] I believe you have an overall plan for this world (First Earth) and that you plan to write many more tales. How many series have you planned in total? Will there be a rotating set of characters interspersed throughout them? 

RJB: I have another two series planned after Best Laid Plans. Most of the characters (those who survive) will be back for the final series. There is a plan and, while each series will stand alone, there is a larger story being told throughout. There will also be more short stories which will help to expand the world, and the characters in it.

Q] The books start out pretty low key with regards to magic however with each book, the magic quotient is slowly raised. The final book gives us some huge revelations about the nature of Volmar, the nature of magic and the premise of the world. Was this a planned move or do you believe in the Joe Abercrombie approach of keeping magic to minimalistic levels in your books? 

RJB: Magic has a major part to play in the world (as it does in most fantasy worlds) but I didn't want any of the stories to be about the magic. Joe does a fantastic job of keeping magic as a major power subtly shifting the course of the world (G.R.R.M does a very similar thing). I love that, but I wanted magic to be a bit more obviously present in First Earth.

By the end of The Ties that Bind, the reader has a pretty good idea of how magic in First Earth functions and what it is capable of. In Best Laid Plans I explore a bit more about the Gods including those native to First Earth, and those alien.

Q] What are you writing currently and what can your fans expect to read next from you? 

RJB: I'm currently finishing up book 2 of Best Laid Plans, The Fifth Empire of Man. After that I'm writing a sequel to my self-published novel, It Takes a Thief to Catch a Sunrise.

Q] Nowadays it’s pretty common to see novels adapted into different formats such as movies, comics, videogames, animation and TV. How would you like to see one of your books adapted? 

RJB: Movies make lots of money, so lets go with movies :D

Actually I'd love to see The Ties that Bind adapted into a card game. I play a lot of card games like Magic the Gathering, A Game of Thrones, Netrunner so I would love to see my work make that sort of leap.

Q] Lastly, do you have any words of wisdom for your readers or anything else you’d like to say about your upcoming works? 

RJB: I don't really do wisdom but here's a Chinese proverb: Not only can water float a boat, it can sink it also.

NOTE: Nautical fantasy art courtesy of J. P. Targete.


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