Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Interview with Brian Staveley, author of The Emperor's Blades - January 14, 2014

Please welcome Brian Staveley to The Qwillery as part of the 2014 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Emperor's Blades (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne 1) was published today. A very Happy Publication Day to Brian!

TQ:  Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Brian:  Well, if you don’t count Anty’s Avinchir, the dashing three-page illustrated tale of a young ant who sets out on a (very brief) series of escapades before returning home to his parents, I started writing seriously in college. In those days, though, I worked almost exclusively with poetry (I know, I know, horrible career move), both writing and translating. After grad school (more poetry), I took a really great job teaching history, religion, and English, and, while at that job, I started writing fantasy.

TQ:  Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Brian:  Neither, really. I know where each book (and character) is headed, but I don’t have an outline that says, “By page 42 Character A should be dead and Character B should be having a beer.” There are writers who can work that way, but I’d miss out on most of my good ideas, which seem to come up in the process of writing. I’ll be working through a chunk of dialogue, for instance, thinking I’m headed one direction, and suddenly the characters will be arguing about some other issue entirely. I want them to be plotting to take the castle gate and instead some asshole has a hankering to get in an argument about the beer. I guess if I were a true pantser I’d scrap the original direction and follow the beer angle. Instead, I try to see how this new thread fits into the larger tapestry.

TQ:  What is the most challenging thing for you about writing? Where do you write?

Brian:  The most challenging thing about writing is doing the damn writing. You read about authors all the time who say, “Oh, I couldn’t not write. If I go a day without writing I start to lose it.”

I happen to be excellent at not writing. There are all sorts of competing attractions: sledding with my son, drinking wine with my wife, making bonfires with friends, skiing, reading, splitting wood, playing board games and drinking beer… Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy writing, but I have to be ever-vigilant about carving out a chunk of time for it each day. Otherwise, it’ll never get done.

TQ:  Who are some of your literary influences? Favorite authors?

Brian:  Influences are tricky things to nail down. The people I wish had influenced me probably haven’t, and I’m certain that there are hundreds of influences at work every day that I don’t begin to suspect. I shudder to think of all the hours I’ve spent reading the back of cereal boxes.

As for favorite authors? There are too many to count. Ursula K. Le Guin is second to none in my personal fantasy pantheon. Outside the genre, I’ve been just floored by Hilary Mantel recently. And then there’s J.M. Coetzee, although he seems to be hitting the same note a lot these last few books. Or Kay Ryan, if we’re talking poetry; I don’t think there’s anyone writing better poems these days. One of the disappointing things about writing so much is that I read less than I used to, and I really feel the loss.

TQ:  Describe The Emperor's Blades (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne 1) in 140 characters or less.

Brian:  Three adult children of a murdered emperor -- a politician, monk, and soldier -- struggle to reveal the conspiracy without dying themselves.

TQ:  Tell us something about The Emperor's Blades that is not in the book description.

Brian:  Magic users are known as leaches, and they’re about as popular in Annur (the empire at the heart of the novel) as witches were in 17th century Salem. When discovered, they are almost always executed as abominations and perversions of the natural order.

TQ:  What inspired you to write The Emperor's Blades? Why did you choose to write Epic Fantasy? Do you want to write in any other genres?

Brian:  I read whole shelves of fantasy as a kid and never really left the genre. Even when I was all wrapped up with poetry and teaching, I’d have two or three fantasy novels waiting for me each vacation.

It’s really the scope of Epic Fantasy that appeals to me. Every story begins and ends with character, and you can have many in a large book, different women and men from different walks of life struggling with forces as old as history or as intimate as their own minds. Want a five thousand year old historian? Sure. Want a Goddess disguised as a cook? Done. There’s nothing you can’t do in Epic Fantasy. Of course, there’s nothing to guarantee that you’ll do it well

TQ:  What sort of research did you do for The Emperor's Blades?

Brian:  No specific research, but two choices proved indispensable. First, I moved to Asia to write the book because the cost of living is far cheaper over there (a few dollars a day). I didn’t anticipate, however, the way in which all those temples, stupas, wats, gardens, palaces, and fortresses would creep into the novel. The Broken Bay outside Annur, for instance, is modeled pretty closely on Vietnam’s Halong Bay.

The second important factor in the book’s creation was my teaching experience. I spent about a decade teaching ancient world history and comparative religion, and again, although this wasn’t specific research, it’s impossible to imagine The Emperor’s Blades existing at all without those years in the classroom. Historical (and quasi-historical) figures about whom I’d previously known nothing – Bodhidharma, Empress Wu Zetian, Mahavira, and dozens of others – all helped to color my own characters, and, of course, I couldn’t keep some of the great events of world history out of my mind when writing.

TQ:  Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why? Who is your favorite good guy, bad guy or ethically ambiguous character?

Brian:  Kaden was the most difficult. He’s a monk, the heir to the Unhewn Throne, and one of the three POV characters. The trouble with Kaden (and the monks in general) is that he’s worked half his life to eliminate his own feelings and desires. Unfortunately, feelings and desires tend to be the very qualities that allow us, as readers, to invest in a character. Fortunately, Kaden has not completed his training, so though his feelings are more muted than those of his siblings, though his emotional palette is more subtle, there’s still a lot there to work with.

The easiest character was probably the Flea. He’s a veteran soldier in the elite fighting unit for which Valyn (Kaden’s brother) is training. Short, soft-spoken, unattractive, and utterly deadly, the Flea always seemed to write his own lines.

As for favorite characters, it’s hard to say. Maybe Pyrre. She’s a middle-aged merchant with a limp. Why would I like her? You’ll see.

TQ:  Give us one of your favorite lines from The Emperor's Blades.

Brian:  “The mind is a flame. Blow it out.”

TQ:  What's next?

Brian:  Well, the sequel (The Providence of Fire) is finished save for the last edits, and I’m under way with book three. People warned me that it would be tricky juggling promotion for book one, edits for book two, and writing for book three, and they weren’t wrong! I’m not complaining though – I’m just thrilled that The Emperor’s Blades is out there and that I’m getting the chance to pursue this goal I’ve had in the back of my mind for as long as I can remember, probably ever since I wrote Anty’s Avinchir.

Thanks so much to The Qwillery for doing this interview and to all of you for reading it. If you do pick up The Emperor’s Blades, let me know what you think!

TQ:  Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

The Emperor's Blade

The Emperor's Blades
Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne 1
Tor Books, January 14, 2013
Hardcover and eBook, 480 pages

In The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley, the emperor of Annur is dead, slain by enemies unknown. His daughter and two sons, scattered across the world, do what they must to stay alive and unmask the assassins. But each of them also has a life-path on which their father set them, destinies entangled with both ancient enemies and inscrutable gods.

Kaden, the heir to the Unhewn Throne, has spent eight years sequestered in a remote mountain monastery, learning the enigmatic discipline of monks devoted to the Blank God. Their rituals hold the key to an ancient power he must master before it's too late.

An ocean away, Valyn endures the brutal training of the Kettral, elite soldiers who fly into battle on gigantic black hawks. But before he can set out to save Kaden, Valyn must survive one horrific final test.

At the heart of the empire, Minister Adare, elevated to her station by one of the emperor's final acts, is determined to prove herself to her people. But Adare also believes she knows who murdered her father, and she will stop at nothing—and risk everything—to see that justice is meted out.

Chapters 1 - 7 are presently available as a free download from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and iTunes.

About Brian

I live on a steep dirt road in mountains of southern Vermont, where I divide my time between fathering, writing, husbanding, splitting wood, skiing, and adventuring, not necessarily in that order. After teaching high school (literature, philosophy, history, religion) for a decade, I finally committed to writing epic fantasy. My first book, The Emperor’s Blades, is the start of a series (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne), forthcoming from Tor in early 2014. Tor.com has been good enough to release the first seven chapters as a teaser that can be found here: http://www.tor.com/blogs/2013/11/read-the-emperors-blades-by-brian-staveley. I’m on Twitter at @BrianStaveley, Facebook as bstaveley, and Google+ as Brian Staveley.

Website  ~  Twitter @BrianStaveley  ~  Facebook  ~  Google+


  1. TQ: Give us one of your favorite lines from The Emperor's Blades.

    Brian: “The mind is a flame. Blow it out.”

    Ha! I know where that line is.

  2. I started reading it last night. It sucks you in immediately. I don't want to put it down!