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Tuesday, March 24, 2020

The War Eternal Trilogy Release Interview with Rob J. Hayes (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Pre-order Along The Razor's Edge over HERE (USA) and HERE (UK)
Read the prologue of Along The Razor's Edge over HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Along The Razor's Edge
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Never Die
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of City Of Kings 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Where Loyalties Lie
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Fifth Empire Of Man
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's review of It Takes A Thief To Catch A Sunrise
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of It Takes A Thief To Start A Fire
Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with Rob J. Hayes
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Mini Q&A with Rob J. Hayes
Read Fantasy Book Critic trilogy completion interview with Rob J. Hayes
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Best Laid Plans Series Interview with Rob J. Hayes
Read Fantasy Book Critic's SPFBO Aftermath Q&A with Rob J. Hayes
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Post COK interview with Rob J. Hayes
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Never Die Release Interview with Rob J. Hayes
Read A Game of ̶T̶h̶r̶o̶n̶e̶s̶ Death by Rob J. Hayes (guest post)

Q] Welcome back to Fantasy Book Critic Rob, it’s a new year and a new decade. What does 2020 hold for you?

RJH: Thanks for having me back. Hard to believe, but the turning of the decade marks 10 years since I decided to give this whole writing thing a crack. Things have sure changed a lot, both for myself and for the industry, in that time.

2020 is a busy year for me. I’d already set myself the task of releasing a new trilogy, and then randomly decided I was going to release a 4th book at the end of the year as well. 2019 Rob thought it was a good idea, but I don’t think he considered the amount of effort it would take.

There’s a couple of other things in the works as well… but I can’t talk about them, so I’ll just be all vague and mysterious.

Q] We are quickly approaching the release of Along The Razor’s Edge. This is an entirely new trilogy set in an entirely new world. Can you tell us what drove the inception of this new story?

RJH: I actually cannot remember how this one initially started. I have this weird thing where an idea will just pop into my head, and sometimes it’s so strong an idea, such a cool concept, that I just have to write it down. Along the Razor’s Edge was like that. Something sparked off my imagination and I hammered out the first two or three chapters with no real idea where the world or the character would eventually take me. When it happens, I send those chapters off to my Alpha readers just to make sure I’m not a lunatic and the idea is solid. Then I sit down and start getting to grips with the rest of the story and the world behind it. In my defense, I started writing this book in late 2016 and a lot has happened since then. But sometimes that initial spark comes from another book I’m reading, or something I’ve watched, a cool piece of art, or sometimes a line from a song. The mind works in mysterious ways and mine has a habit of leading me down the rabbit hole.

Q] Let’s talk about the quick release schedule you are planning for this trilogy. Why the quick release for this story?

RJH: Because fellow author and villainous vagabond, Ben Galley, tricked me into it!

I’ve been sitting on this completed trilogy for a while now. I think I finished writing From Cold Ashes Risen (book 3) in October of 2018. So, I had an entire trilogy finished but for the editing, just sitting around collecting proverbial dust. Then I spoke to Ben at WorldCon last year and he mentioned he’d done a rapid release of his Chasing Graves trilogy. He said it was an awful lot of work, but really helped drive the success of the trilogy. For a start, we live in the age of binge culture and fans love to be able to move from one book to the next. But there may also be some Amazon algorithm black magic in play. As an author who’s always up for trying new things and doing things differently, I thought I’d give the whole rapid release thing a go. Turns out Ben wasn’t lying when he said it was a lot of work… but he was understating.

Q] If I recall correctly, you started writing this series of books in 2017. What made you wait for a while before getting them ready for the release?

RJH: Fear. I have been, and still am, terrified of releasing this trilogy. It is so different from anything else I’ve written in many ways. On the surface level, it’s written in 1st person perspective, which is new to me. It’s all told from the perspective of an older character looking back on their life, which is again new. It utilises flash backs which is another thing I’ve not done before. So much of the bones of the story are me trying out new things and seeing if I can do it. I think I’ve managed it, but really the truth will be if the readers think I have.

But honestly, the fear goes deeper than that. This series deals with a lot of serious and intense issues. Eska is a character who, on a very real level, hates herself. She entertains thoughts of suicide. She is defiant to the point of self destruction. She’s a child soldier who was ripped away from her family, trained to be a weapon, and then finds herself without a war to fight, and realises she’s doesn’t know how to not fight. And it’s all focused through the lens of a much older Eska who can look back on her decisions and say “What a fucking idiot I was!” And this is all just about book 1. So, I deal with a lot of serious themes throughout the series and I hope I’ve done them justice.

And lastly, I couldn’t answer this question without talking about The Lessons Never Learned (book 2). I had to write book 2 twice because my first attempt at it was utter trash. I hated writing it. I knew it was terrible. I sent it to my Alpha readers and they came back and confirmed it was awful. I honestly thought I’d lost my ability to write (It was a fairly dark time of my life) and I considered giving up. So I threw the series to the side and wrote a little book called Never Die because I needed to write something just fun and, I guess go back to what I knew I could do for a while. But I couldn’t just leave Eska hanging, so I went back to book 2 and decided to bloody well fix it. That first draft was 100,000 words and I deleted about 85,000 words and just started again. It turned into a very different book and one I am extremely proud of. But I am also incredibly scared of letting other people read it.

Q] Lets talk about Eskara Helsene, the main narrator of the trilogy. When we meet her first, she’s a teenager who’s trapped in a subterranean prison. Over the course of the trilogy, we get a first hand account of what she eventually becomes. What made you focus such an epic story entirely through her?

RJH: I really wanted to try a 1st person narrative. Some of my favourite series like The Farseer trilogy and the Broken Empire are told through that perspective, and I wanted to give it a go myself. I think it lends itself to really letting the personality of the main character shine through (for better or worse), and allows you to deliver the world through tinted glasses. It also allows me to drop hints of what she’s is going to do and become. The reader knows from the first few pages that Eska eventually becomes knows as the Corpse Queen, but they have no idea how or why. There’s also the fact that the series is a very emotional ride for Eska as she grows up and discovers who she is, and struggles with who she was, and 1st person really lends itself to that emotional turmoil of being inside the character’s head.

Q] Talking about Eskara, she’s quite an unlikeable protagonist much in the vein of Jorg (Mark Lawrence) & Nyx (Kameron Hurley). It’s quite tricky to set your story from such a person’s perspective. Previously you have written stories from the viewpoints of charismatic villains and sociopaths. However Eskara is neither and so I’m curious as to her origins.

RJH: OK, so do you ever look back at the things you’ve done in the past and think “Urgh, I was such an arsehole.” Or “Why did I do that?” It’s actually really common especially in folk who suffer from anxiety. Sometimes you’ll just be happily going about your life and your brain will randomly remind you of something stupid/nasty you did when you were a kid and it sends you into this shame spiral because of something you did 30 years ago and nobody but you even remembers. This is a large part of where Eska comes from. She is recounting her life, looking back at it, and she does not look back on it all fondly or through rose tinted glasses.

I guess, in many ways, she was written as a bit of a foil to characters like Kvothe. Kvothe is another character who is telling the story of his life, but he aggrandizes the things he went through, embellishes them and looks back fondly more often than not. Eska does not. She looks back hates herself for the decisions she has made, is embarrassed by what she has done, and doesn’t try to sugar coat anything. And in book 1 especially, she is looking back at a time when she was a teenager and she was bratty and hormonal and prickly and selfish, and she doesn’t try to hide that, even though it makes her seem like a horrible person. So it’s fair to say that Eska comes from a place of anxiety. As a character, she clearly suffers from anxiety and even has a sort of physical representation of it.

Did I mention I tried something very different with this series and deal with a lot of serious issues? :D

Q] The first book is mainly subterranean, the second set in the skies above. Any particular thematic reasons for these plot locations or was it just a coincidence?

RJH: Back in 2016, I thought “Wouldn’t it be cool if an entire book was set underground?” So I wrote it. Then in 2017 fellow author and notorious hat thief, Graham Austin King, gave me an ARC of a book he wrote called Faithless. And it turns out it’s a book set entirely underground. It’s also a bloody good book which I highly recommend checking out. And it dawns on me now that I can only name one other book I’ve read set entirely underground (The Fade by Chris Wooding), so I feel it’s an underused setting, especially in fantasy where it can be used to such great effect. It’s cool to have a story set in the darkness surrounded by rock, and gives a claustrophobic feel to everything that happens. Also, I love writing scenes where the point of view character cannot see and must rely entirely on their other senses. It’s a real challenge, but gives a sense of fear and urgency to it.

As for the skies. I love the idea of flying cities. Of civilisations that live amongst the clouds, especially nomadic cities that travel the world. There’s something so awe-inspiring about the idea of looking up and seeing a vast city drifting across the horizon. So I decided to put flying cities into this world I was building. And it just made a nice juxtaposition that book 1 was set underground, and book 2 was set (mostly) in the skies. Also, book 2 really opens up the world and leaves behind the close, crushing claustrophobia, and it all just fit really nicely.

(Rare ARCs of The War Eternal trilogy)

Q] This trilogy has a truly epic world with several non-human races as well as a magic system that’s based on ingestion of gemstones (for lack of a better term) for the humans. Please talk to us about what inspired you to make it Source based and also about the Rand, Djinn and the several races?

RJH: I’m a big fan of magic systems with rules. Magic without limits bores me. It needs to be grounded in laws that function within the world it’s set in, and it needs to have boundaries. Extra bonus points if the magic system has a negative side to it. All power should come at a cost. I’ve also been playing D&D and various roleplaying games for pretty much my entire life. So I wanted to create a magic system where the power comes from somewhere else, but it’s the magic user who has the ability to wield it and the skill to shape it. The magic has a source outside of the user. It’s not an entirely new concept, though I do hope I’ve done something new and unique with it… actually I’m fairly certain I have, but I can’t give anything away without spoilers. But from the idea of having Sources, it seemed an obvious jump to renaming my Sorcerers to Sourcerers.

As for the other races. Well the Rand and the Djinn are the gods of this world. They have been at war for as long as anyone can remember (even them). Some might call it… an eternal war. And the world and its people bear the scars of that war. Let me share a little quote from Eska herself.

"If there’s one thing you remember from my story, one lesson you take from it, let it be this: Gods are fucking arseholes. All of them."

There’s also a bunch of other sentient races ranging from eyeless teddy bears (the tahren), to giant warring slugs (the garn), to barbaric cannibals (the Damned). Oh, and there’s also an entire Other World filled with monsters and horrors.

Q] Cover art being such an important factor, you have gone with your usual dream team of Felix OrtizShawn T. King. Pray tell us about the cover art decision and how you got these gorgeous covers?

RJH: I love Felix and Shawn. Those two make my books look so pretty. So the design around these covers would probably warrant an interview with Felix because he knows his shit! I originally had this idea of a series of covers similar to The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang. I love the lightweight design of those covers. Felix came up with something I really liked, but he also realised that I what I really wanted was something a bit more traditional in nature. And then knocked up the cover to Along The Razor’s Edge over night and blew me away. And then he leveled up with the cover to The Lessons Never Learned. AND THEN he reached his final form with the cover of From Cold Ashes Risen. I joke. That’s not even his final form. But this is why I love working with Felix. He takes my ideas on board and then comes up with something much better that I didn’t even realise I wanted.

Then Shawn takes the fantastic artwork Felix produces, works some sort of visual wizardry I can’t claim to understand, and produces a finishes cover. I just sit back in awe and say “Yup, that’s what I wanted. Thank you for somehow interpreting my mad ramblings.”

Q] We might also be getting a standalone sequel set in the same world as Never Die as well as possibly another title. What lead to this decision and why did you title the series Mortal Techniques?

RJH: Oh there’s no might be. It’s coming!

I honestly did not expect Never Die to be as popular as it is. I have had so many readers tell me that they loved it and they want more. So I decided to give people what they want. The world I created in Never Die is one that I can use as a sandbox. I’m gonna play around in it and create a series of standalone books that take heavy inspiration from martial art films, Asian epics, manga and anime. These are all things that I love and have inspired me SO much over the years, and I want to create more stories that are love letters to them.

And when I decided to turn it into something larger than a single stand alone, I decided I needed to collect them under a new name. As much as I would love to keep calling them Never Die Harder or Never Die Another Day… I’m not. So as the magic system is all about qi and techniques, and the world features gods and spirits as well as people… I figured I’d call the series The Mortal Techniques novels. Currently I have the 2nd novel written, and I’m working on the 3rd one. Each one will be different, with different inspirations, but they will all be a lot of fun!

Q] Can you reveal anything about the second Mortal Techniques book? Its potential title? A blurb? anything else?

RJH: I can. The 2nd Mortal Techniques novel will be called Pawn’s Gambit. I don’t have a blurb for it yet, but it revolves around a secondary character from Never Die; the strategist known as The Art of War. And you’ll just have to wait for more information.

Q] You also became agented last year when it was announced that you had joined John Jarrold’s client roster. What can you tell us about Herald (book 1) and the Age Of The God Eater trilogy?

RJH: I did. I was lucky enough to be picked up by the dastardly John Jarrold who represents a whole list of amazingly talented writers, and now me. I can’t tell you much about Herald yet except that God is dead. The Godless Kings killed him and then ate him.

Q] Lastly Never Die is also a SPFBO 2019 finalist. What are your expectations now that you are the first repeat SPFBO finalist ever? How do you think Never Die will do in these finals among so many exciting titles?

RJH: I hope Never Die will do well, but I hope all the books in SPFBO will do well. It is an amazing line up in the finals this year and every one of the ten books deserves to be there. So if you want to help out indie fantasy, pick up a book from this year’s SPFBO and you will not be disappointed!

Q] Thank you as always for your time Rob. I wish you all the very best for the release of the new trilogy, SPFBO finals & Age Of The God Eater’s pathway to publication. Any parting thoughts for your fans?

RJH: Thank you for reading! You all rock and I could not do what I do without you.


Jed Herne said...

Great interview!


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