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Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Interview with Jonathan French (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

(Photo credit: Dyrk Ashton)

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Order The True Bastards HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Grey Bastards
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The True Bastards
Read First Fantasy Book Critic Interview with Jonathan French

We are hugely excited to have Jonathan French back with us on the release day for The True Bastards. I very much enjoyed the return to the Lot Lands and so today chatted with Jonathan about the differences in the sequel, the future of the saga and more...

Q] Welcome back to Fantasy Book Critic Jonathan, thank you for your time. How was the experience with writing this sequel to such a beloved book?

JF: It's my pleasure to be back. Thanks for having me! Writing True Bastards was...long. I started it on January 1, 2017 and it’s just now meeting the public, so about 25 months of writing and several more of editing/revisions. I also started this one before I knew THE GREY BASTARDS was going to be picked up by a major publisher, so this sequel was in process during my transition from self-pubbed author to traditional. It’s my first 100% new work in 4 years, so I’m excited to see what it’s going to do.

Q] This book came with a lot of anticipation and how much of the “fan anticipation” factored into the writing process? Did it cause any additional anxiety besides one for writing the sophomore effort?

JF: That term “sophomore effort” is an interesting one in this case because this is my fourth book! But it still applies as far as being a second book in a series, though it was my first written while with a publisher. Confused yet? there was certainly some stress along the way. Only a small part of that stress came from worry over “fan anticipation” but that gremlin did whisper at me throughout the two years I was writing. I definitely worried it wouldn’t be as well-received because of the different tone and POV.

Q] As I was reading THE TRUE BASTARDS, one thing which struck me was how this book could be read as a standalone while being a proper sequel. I know that certain events would make much more sense (such as Fetching being the chief, the title of TRUE BASTARDS, etc.) but overall someone could easily read this book and still enjoy the story told within. Was this intentional?

JF: I can’t say it was intentional. It’s actually surprising to hear it could work as a standalone. I don’t disagree, but I’m so close to it now that my perspective is hopelessly biased. It’s funny because THE GREY BASTARDS was written as “a stand-alone with potential.” The story wraps up, but there are tendrils still hanging, right? Perhaps this one is “a stand-alone with an optional prequel.” I dunno. I hesitate to endorse that because I haven't yet heard from someone who just jumped straight into THE TRUE BASTARDS.

I’m a big comic book fan so it’s nearly impossible for me not to think in terms of long, connected stories. And in that medium sometimes you do have to jump into “issue # 87” without the benefit of the previous issues. Maybe it was subconscious on my part. Personally, though, with prose novels I wouldn’t want to jump into any “Book 2” without having read the first, but I’ve heard of folks doing that quite often (though it never fails to shock me.) There are just so many little details that come back around in this case.

Q] You wrote & self-published the first book, and then it was traditionally published with minimal changes. With this book, how much of it did change from your original plan (if any)? Were there any things that your editors asked you to flesh out or reduce the scope which made this book stronger?

JF: This was the first book I've written that went through multiple drafts. I write linearly, so my process up to this point was start at Chapter 1, page 1 and just go until the book was done (usually about 18 months later). I would edit and revise as I went, plus a hard look at the whole thing when the manuscript was done. With THE TRUE BASTARDS, that...didn’t happen. I had about 70,000 words of it done (about 60% of the book) when I got “the call” from Crown Publishing. So I had to backburner the sequel and go back to THE GREY BASTARDS to get it ready for the re-release.

During that process I began to rethink some pretty broad sections of the sequel, most notably the inclusion of female slopheads. They weren’t in the original draft because I was worried they would distract from Fetch's uniqueness. It didn’t take me long to see that I hadn’t worried about any side characters diminishing Jackal in Book 1, so why was I doing it with Fetch? So, I went back and included Incus, Ahlamra, and Dacia. But this was the first time I’d ever done such a huge addition/revision prior to a manuscript being complete, so it upended things a bit for me. I pushed through and finished the first draft, but after getting editorial feedback I went a little crazy and ditched more than a third of the book.

I turned in a second draft with a cliffhanger ending which baffled my editor because he wasn't expecting such a huge change. We had a deep discussion about it and ultimately I saw I needed to try again. There was some great stuff in those first two drafts, but they weren’t satisfying sequels at the end of the day. Without a doubt, the female slops make the book stronger and they wouldn’t have been there if not for my editor and his assistant. And I’m glad the cliffhanger didn’t happen because it didn’t give Fetch the kind of ending she deserved. It would have been less her book and more of a “bridge book” which would have been a disservice, I think.

Q] This book is truly all about Fetching and her past as well as the present circumstances of the lot lands. The epicness of the plot is quite scaled down with this book as you keep a narrow focus on the True Bastards and their hoof. Why such a tight focus rather than an expansive multi-POV story?

JF: This series is very heavily inspired by Spaghetti Westerns. Typically, the style of those films is for the landscapes to be these huge, operatic set pieces, but the visual language for the characters is stark, claustrophobic close-ups. That’s what I tried to emulate. The Lot Lands are vast, but they’re a harsh, rustic backwater. There’s no major cities or courts or any of that, so one POV helps retain a feeling of intimacy and isolation. The Bastards as characters are pretty underexposed and ignorant of the broader world. Having one character be our window into their lives limits the amount of perspective and insight we, as readers, gain. We can’t help but see things their way, for better or worse.

Q] If the first book was about obtaining power, the second book would be about maintaining it. But you twisted that scenario by shifting the focus onto Fetching (Isabet) in this sequel. This switcheroo was a definite surprise, your thoughts?

JF: I was surprised that folks were surprised, honestly. With Jackal gone I had to shift to Fetch if I still wanted it to be a Bastards book, because she’s the one still with them. Jackal’s journey became, for me, like a Hitchcock film: what we didn’t see was more interesting. So, yeah:
- Book 1 is all about the pursuit of leadership.
- But 2 is all about the burdens of that leadership and the one bearing them kinda gets left holding the bag.

That was more interesting to me than sticking with the same dude through multiple books. Sometimes the hero’s journey is more like a relay race. It’s all about where the baton is. My goal when the series is done is to show that these books really were about the Bastards, not just the POV characters.

Q] After finishing THE TRUE BASTARDS, I felt the story has come to a logical stopping point but there are more events in play. What can you say about the potential third book and will there be a new POV character within?

JF: There will be another POV shift, yes. And another tonal shift. I can't say much without spoiling things, but I will say book 3 is gonna hurt. A Lot ;)

Q] You dwelt a lot in to the makings of a half-orc (human + orc) in the first book and in this one, we get to know more about the other potential combination. Will you be exploring more of the magic system as well as the nature and origins of the orcs themselves in the third book?

JF: Yup! The nature and origins of the orcs is coming. We have more details than we realize right now, but the big answers are on the horizon. As for a “magic system” I lean more toward the Sword & Sorcery flavor with this series: magic exists, it’s weird and dangerous and inexplicable to those that don’t practice it. That said we will definitely be seeing more types of arcane weirdness moving forward. Maybe even some divine weirdness, too!

Q] So far Hispartha has been a constant thorn for the folks living in the Lot lands but we never get to see events from their perspective. Will the land be explored in the future books?

JF: Sure will! We meet some characters in True Bastards that have some past life experience in Hispartha, so there’s some foreshadowing already happening that points north. The Bastards’ world is getting bigger all the time. One way or another, we’ll see the Kingdom before it’s all over.

Q] What, according to you, is one part of this book that would be a surprise for the readers?

JF: There’s a small moment in THE GREY BASTARDS where Jackal realizes that Warbler has been to Dhar’gest (homeland of the orcs). He asks why he went and Warbler’s reply is “Because some things just have to be faced.” I didn't know the real reason until Warbler told me in Book 2. I think the readers will be as surprised as I was!

Q] A lot of authors have difficulties in making the sequels not be exactly like their famous predecessors? How did you differentiate this book from its illustrious predecessor?

JF: Other than going with a different POV character, you mean? Ha! I mean, I slowed it down in terms of pace. Some might find issue with that. The first book received no small amount of praise for its relentless action and plot twists. I could have replicated that, but I didn’t want this book to feel like a carbon copy of the first just with Fetch instead of Jackal. The very first draft certainly leaned a bit in that direction. And (dovetailing to your previous question) I was afraid that readers were expecting a similar ride. I guess the vote is still out on how that will go.

But this is a different story with a different lead. Fetch is not Jackal. She thinks and acts differently, not only from him, but from how she might have in Book 1 because her responsibilities have grown enormously. I wanted to try to make the reader feel the pressure of being chief. That constant worry. The shell game of keeping people alive and content. It’s not always the most exciting thing and that’s a major theme of the book. Fetch can’t just go swashbuckling her way forward like Jackal did, much as she might want to.

Q] Thank you very much for your time and for the amazing read. I can’t wait to read what you come up with next. Any parting hints you might like to offer your fans for the future ahead?

JF: Thank you! Always fun! Let’s see, a parting hint? I’ll say that book 3 will be thrice the ride...


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