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Monday, January 14, 2019

Interview with Richard Nell (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Order Kings Of Paradise over HERE

Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic. For starters, could you please introduce yourself, tell us what inspired you to write in the first place, and describe your journey in becoming a self-published author.

RN: Well, that could be quite a long answer! Let's try reasonable brevity: my name is Richard Nell, and I'm a Canadian prairie kid who left the farm, went around the world and did a lot of (questionable) things, and finally came home. I always knew I wanted to write, but knew too I needed the discipline, experience, and let's say...enough wisdom, for my work to be worth a damn. So, I tried with varying degrees of success to obtain those things. At some point I knew it was now or never, and took the plunge. I've never liked waiting for approval so I never asked for it and went straight to self-publishing. Haven't sent a query letter in my life.

Q] Please elaborate how the genesis of the Ash and Sand trilogy occurred. How long have you been working on it? Has it evolved from its original idea (if any)?

RN: The series itself really didn't crystallize until I sat down to write it. I had plenty of themes I wanted to explore, questions I'd like to ask, but the story-details were vague. It evolved a great deal from the original plan of 'two very different cultures, one rich and one poor, coming together'. In fact it probably became less about that and far more personal to individual characters in a complex world, but I'm pretty happy where it ended up.

Q] Your debut novel is the first volume in a trilogy. Could you give us a progress report on the third book, and offer any details about the sequel “Kings Of Ash”? 

RN: The third book (Kings Of Heaven) is being drafted now. I have a very good sense of how the main plot will finish, so I don't anticipate any major roadblocks. But these are big books, so, I expect it will be out 2020.

In Kings Of Ash you can be assured of a couple things:
 1) to catch up on the lost time of Ruka in Pyu; and
 2) to see the coming together of Kale and Ruka, and all the fall-out that entails...

Q] For some authors it’s easier writing their second novel, while for others it’s more difficult. How was your experience with Kings Of Ash and did you learn anything when writing “Kings Of Paradise” that helped prepare you for the new book? Also the books of Ash and Sand are a trilogy so how did you prevent Kings Of Ash from suffering from any ‘middle volume’ tendencies?

RN: I certainly learned a lot, but the short answer is that it was mostly easier. I'd actually been almost finished drafting book 2 before I released book 1, and in many ways they are a 'single' story in my mind, very much dependent on each other. I actually expect (hope?) lots of readers will think book 2 is a 'stronger' book, or at least more satisfying, in that it expands and 'finishes' lots of the things set up in book 1. But I guess we'll see.

Q] For someone who hasn't read any of your novels, how would you describe the type of stories that you write? What would be your elevator pitch for the Ash and Sand trilogy?

RN: This is a big, dark, engrossing book with a lot of detail in the writing, but very personal in the telling. It's not a light read. It's for people who like to think, who like to be challenged, who don't need trigger warnings or hand-holding and want to look at the world in different ways. If you're a fan of books like Dune, Game of Thrones, or even historical fiction like Shogun, this book is written for you, and I'm most pleased to make your acquaintance.

Q] Your book has a multifocal POV approach. However only one of the POV characters is a female, and she has a supporting role until the last one-fifths of the story. I’m curious as to why you chose Dala to have a minor role. Will the sequels enhance her standing in the story?

RN: As to why - I'm not sure there's an answer, except Kale and Ruka were always the main characters of this trilogy. But that damn Dala, her story just kept getting bigger. As to how/if her role enhances, well, most signs point to yes. And that's all I have to say about that.

Q] Like many readers I was deeply fascinated by Ruka. His eidetic memory, his brilliance and his cannibalism. They reminded me of another brilliant character called Hannibal Lecter. What would you think of this comparison as both of them have faced horrible childhoods and have very deep connections with a female family member (mother for Ruka, sister for Hannibal).

RN: You might be only the second person to mention this (the first called Ruka 'Hannibal meets Conan')! I'm without a doubt a Thomas Harris fan, and Ruka is unquestionably influenced by Hannibal Lecter. No doubt you could even compare his 'Grove' to a 'Memory Palace'. You'll be getting a great deal of Ruka in Kings Of Ash.

Q] Also Ruka’s facial deformities aren’t never quite properly detailed besides his eyes and that those deformities are thought to be evil. What exactly was he born with and why did the Ascomanni tribesman think them to be evil?

RN: It's fair to say I keep it a little intentionally vague for imagination's sake. I'm not generally a fan of endless physical details in fiction, partially because it's often tedious, and partially because I enjoy letting my mind wander and come up with that detail on my own. I trust my readers to do the same, and no doubt these things are better in images than in words.

Q] Tell us a little bit about the research you undertook (SE Asian societies and names, cannibalism, psychopathy) before attempting to write this series. What were the things you focused upon? Were there any fascinating things that you found amidst your research?

RN: I love history and science and this stuff can suck me in for days and weeks while almost nothing gets written. Most things don't make it to the book because while I find the materials used in ship-making fascinating, most people...don't want to read about it. I can say almost all of the cultures in the book are based on something, mixed and mashed from real cultures in history. For book two I deep dived into metallurgy, astronomy, which are particularly relevant, and a few other technological things. The great part about writing fantasy is at the end of the day you can say 'ah to hell with it, close enough'.

Q] There have been reddit rumours of you also being a romance writer and having written something in that lucrative genre. Please tell us more about these lurid rumors?

RN: Hahaha. Well, once upon a time, rumors had a way of often being true. In 2018 I'm not so sure that's accurate. There are a couple of pretty detailed sex scenes in Kings Of Paradise, however. I leave it to the readers to decide if they could belong in a proper romance, and if so, well, nevermind fantasy I think I'll go make some real money.

Q] After publishing your debut doorstopper, you have also published two flintlock fantasy novellas that are part of the God-King Chronicles saga. Please tell us more about these and the world that they are set in?

RN: These started as almost therapy writing. I needed a break from giant, epic fantasy, and I thought 'this will just be some fun adventure story without any context or giant plot to worry about!' Oh, Richard of the Past, so naive, so full of hope. Now there is a rather complex world built, and at least another trilogy envisioned with an' immortal' (but dying), demon-infused God-King who is looking desperately for someone to hold the ancient creature inside him before he expires and looses it on the world.

The novellas are sort of 'intros' or snapshots into that world, and the characters will all certainly feature later in the novels. I hope to put out another one in 2019, this one a female protagonist involving pirates, amnesia, and, of course, another demon...

Q] Can you tell us more about the world that the Ash and Sand trilogy is set in and some of the series’ major characters? What are curiosities (geographical, mystical, etc.) of this world?

RN: So the Ash and Sand world is really quite similar to our own. I really won't say anything about the magic except it exists, and will be discovered, but is not understood or really believed by normal people. There's a yellow sun about as far away as you'd expect, one moon, the land and sea filled by flora and fauna everyone would recognize, human beings acting as you'd expect them to.

One of the major plot details is that people haven't really explored this world. Most of the cultures live on one continent and think all around them is endless sea. Except, so do the people on another continent the first people don't know exist. You might think of the 'main 'continent in the book as Asiatic, and the other as a sort of Antarctica that's bigger, slightly further North, and therefore vaguely inhabitable.

The two main characters are from these two different lands, and neither knows anything about the other. Kale is an island prince from just South of the main continent who lives a rather meaningless life of luxury. Ruka is a disfigured outcast from the Antarctic continent, fighting just to survive in a harsh, brutal place.

Q] Themes of identity, ethnic diversity, tribalism & cultural disparities seem to play an important role throughout Kings Of Paradise. How much of this did you draw from your own readings and experiences? And how much of it was gleaned from history?

RN: It would be hard to say! I am fascinated by the interaction of culture and evolution, but also by the individual experience. I think with human beings as social as they are, one can hardly exist without the other. But what is useful? What is vestigial? Will what guided us in the past help us in the future? What are the consequences and benefits of history? I find these sorts of questions absolutely enthralling, and the different ways we unite or separate ourselves and all the pros and cons of that. I'm not sure I have any answers.

Q] In today’s fantasy genre, there seems to be a number of authors out there who are writing grittier, darker, more realistic fantasy books or are attempting to defy traditional tropes in both the self-published and traditionally published worlds. What are your thoughts on this movement, the audience’s response to such books, and fantasy tropes in general?

RN: I'm not sure who coined it (I think Picasso), but there's really no improving on the old line that artists tell lies to tell the truth. What those lies are, of course, depend on the culture. I'm not sure I can speak to the trend, but I can speak for myself: I suppose I'm trying to remind myself where humanity comes from. We're so rich and safe compared to any other time in history it's easy to forget, and take it for granted. We are, after all, only the stewards of a civilization built by our ancestors, and it required a great deal of mistakes, blood and sacrifice to get us here. We are only ever a single generation from disaster.

Ultimately, I think the darkness of many modern stories is a reminder to be thankful for what we have, and how hard-won it has been. There is however also a more nihilistic trend, which I don't write, endorse, or enjoy, but is perhaps another marker of an unfortunate modern cultural truth.

Q] You have previously mentioned about a serious eye injury due to pellets. Does that in any way hamper your writing or day to day activities? Do you have a favorite eye-patch?

RN: I took a shot to the face when I was seven. Alas, I can't recommend it. On the positive side I've been leaving a fake eye in the soup of friends and relatives for decades with consistently predictable results. It can also be fun at parties. Fortunately it doesn't hold back my writing, though I'm almost positive I would have been a pro baseball player without it. My wife, brother, father, mother, and all applicable childhood friends don't agree. But, we'll never know for sure.

Q] Please tell us about the books and authors who have captured your imagination and inspired you to become a wordsmith in your own right. Similarly, are there any current authors you would like to give a shout out to?

RN: The dreaded question. The authors are legion. My very first love was Samuel Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and I still hate poetry that doesn't rhyme. I was a voracious reader pretty early, from Dixon's Hardy Boys straight to fantasy like the Dragonlance books or RA Salvatore, or David Gemmell. I'm sure I read some more YA stuff but I don't remember it very well, and certainly less existed when I was a kid. I moved to historical fiction, Forester's Horatio Hornblower, James Clavell's Asian Saga, Steven Pressfield's Greek stories, Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe series. I suppose in the end it was only natural for me to combine a more historical feel with fantasy, and I'd say George R. R. Martin led the way. We would all be mute without the greats of the past.

Q] In closing, thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions. Do you have any parting thoughts or comments you’d like to share with our readers?

RN: My pleasure - fantastic questions, I must say. In parting with any fantasy fan I'm very pleased to say precisely how I feel, and in solidarity: what a privilege to be part of this sacred group we've all chosen - this great tribe of the mind. May it last forever. And until next time, my friends.


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