Please welcome Will Panzo to The Qwillery as part of the 2016 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Burning Isle was published on November 1st by Ace.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?
Will: I started writing as a teenager. Before then, I often made up stories and characters and worlds, but I didn't put them to paper. I just, sort of, walked around with these people and these strange ideas in my head, sometimes for months. In my early teens I started writing, mostly as a way of getting those thoughts out of my head. I quickly realized I didn't know how to write, but it seemed the only way to learn was to do it. So I did a good amount of writing and an equal amount of throwing away.
TQ: Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?
Will: I'm more of a pantser. I need to know the ending of a story before I can start. I have to be writing towards something. But the writing itself is a discovery. Sometimes whole chunks of story come to me, and I'll plot those sections out. But then during the act of writing, I'll inevitably stray from the path I set myself.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Will: Feeling like I'm getting at something honest and raw. I don't like to feel as though I'm treading water in a story, or walking a reader through the beats they've come to expect. It's a challenge to stay present and open while writing. You've got to trust that the thing which excites you, but which you're worried might be too much for an audience, is the only thing worth pursuing.
TQ: What has influenced / influences your writing? How does being a former editor at Marvel affect (or not) your novel writing?
Will: I'm a huge fantasy fan, but also a fan of literary fiction, poetry, comics. Pulling from influences outside your genre is a great way to explore new ground. The mantra I learned at Marvel was a good editor helps a writer or artist tell the best version of their story. I try to put myself in that mindset when I write. I ask myself what story am I trying to tell, and what is the best version of that story.
TQ: Describe The Burning Isle in 140 characters or less.
Will: A dark, violent story set in a fantasy ancient Rome with lots of magic and revenge.
TQ: Tell us something about The Burning Isle that is not found in the book description.
Will: Our protagonist, Cassius, is a young man who is very powerful and very naive. Obsessed with myths and legends, he fancies himself an avenging hero come to clean up a lawless town. But when confronted with the harsh reality of his work, he realizes that the cost of vengeance is innocence, and the cost of power is your humanity
TQ: What inspired you to write The Burning Isle? What appeals to you about writing Grimdark Fantasy?
Will: I've always liked stories where a mysterious hero plays two sides of a corrupt town against each other. We've seen this story told in feudal Japan (Kurosawa's Yojimbo), in the Old West (Leone's A Fistful of Dollars), and in Depression-era America (Hammet's Red Harvest). I thought it would be interesting to set this kind of story in a fantasy world. I also wanted to write a revenge story. Lastly, I wanted to show a protagonist really struggle, psychologically and morally, with the violence and upheaval he causes.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for The Burning Isle?
Will: A lot of Roman names. Hundreds of them. Military equipment and civilian tools from roughly the first century AD. Accounts of people driven mad by jungles. I'm very eager to sacrifice authenticity for a more satisfying story though, so I make no claims to authenticity.
TQ: In The Burning Isle who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Will: Sulla was by far the easiest. She had her own agenda, and no qualms about pursuing it. Cassius was more difficult. I had a handle on what he wanted. But his quest troubled him. He's a very conflicted character.
TQ: Which question about The Burning Isle do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Will: Do you think Cassius is a hero? That's the central question of the story itself. I honestly don't have an answer though. I don't think there is a clear answer. It's this uncertainty that plagues Cassius.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Burning Isle.
Will: "That thing gnawing inside you, I know it well. It has a tremendous appetite, and it can only be sated with blood and fire. A man of your skills is liable to leave a great trail of ruin trying to feed it."
TQ: What's next?
Will: I'm working on another novel set in the same world as The Burning Isle, with some returning characters. I'm very happy with how it's shaping up so far.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Will: Thanks for having me!
The Burning Isle
Ace, November 1, 2016
Trade Paperback and eBook, 432 pages
A powerful and gripping debut grimdark fantasy novel, set in a world of criminals, pirates, assassins, and magic…
“A man has only three reasons for being anywhere: to right a wrong, to earn a coin, or because he is lost.”
Cassius is not lost…
The mage Cassius has just arrived on the island of Scipio. Five miles of slum on the edge of fifty miles of jungle, Scipio is a lawless haven for criminals, pirates, and exiles. The city is split in two, each half ruled by a corrupt feudal lord. Both of them answer to a mysterious general who lives deep in the jungle with his army, but they still constantly battle for power. If a man knows how to turn their discord to his advantage, he might also turn a profit…
But trained on the Isle of Twelve, Cassius is no ordinary spellcaster, and his goal is not simply money. This is a treacherous island where the native gods are restless and anything can happen…
After working in publishing and as an editor for Marvel Comics, Will Panzo found his true calling as a physician assistant for an emergency department. The Burning Isle is his first novel. He lives and works in New York City.