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SFFWRTCHT: A Chat With Author/Musician Peter Orullian

Peter Orullian works at Microsoft in the Interactive Entertainment Business (Xbox), loves the outdoors, especially the Rocky Mountains, and taking his Jeep deep into the back-country, but more than anything enjoys spending time with his family. His first novel, The Unremembered, Book 1 in The Vault Of Heaven epic fantasy series, released from Tor this past Spring. His short stories have appeared in Orson Scott Card’s Intergalatic Medicine Show and the accompanying anthology, Hags, Sirens and Other Bad Girls of Fantasy, Cosmic Cocktails, Front Lines, and Swordplay, among others. He currently resides in the Seattle area but can be found online at www.orullian.com/, on Facebook and as @peterorullian on Twitter.


SFFWRTCHT: Let’s start with the basics: where did your interest in Science Fiction and Fantasy come from?

Peter Orullian: Hmmm. not sure where my interest in spec fiction came from. Probably it’s expansive boundaries to dream. That sounds glib, but I don’t mean it that way. I’ve got, shall we say, a fertile imagination.   

SFFWRTCHT: What’s your opinion on the state of epic fantasy? Here you are with a multi-book epic fantasy series. What’s epic fantasy and what’s going on with its evolution these days?

PO: One of the things missing in epic fantasy, for the most part, is the monomyth. Campbell’s hero with a thousand faces.  Which doesn’t mean you can’t have some shades in both sides of a moral equation. But in the absence of someone to cheer for, much of the point is lost, in my view.

SFFWRTCHT: I don’t mind flawed characters but when it’s hard to find one to root for because there’s no real good guy, I find myself disengaging.

PO: Flawed yes. And it can be interesting to read why someone “evil” is evil, how they arrived there. But almost by definition they cannot be the protagonist. Yes, there is the argument that told from the villains POV, they cease to be the villain.  But then, what you’d be seeing is their motivation. And there are, in fact, “evil” motivations, right? Putting a character in a nearly possible situation, where there is no clearly right choice. Love that. Tough decisions. But a character who deliberately chooses selfishly. I won’t root for that guy. I mean, even if it’s not “the devil,” who’s gonna like some guy who never sticks his neck out for a friend?  Selfishness, by the way, is sort of at the heart of devilry.

SFFWRTCHT: Totally agree. What are the core elements of a good epic fantasy story for you?

PO: Well, epic for me means several things, perhaps chief among them is high stakes.  That doesn’t have to mean war, though often it will. But it will usually have the conflict of nations or peoples, personal stories that underscore what’s going on in the macrocosm. Family for sure. Hard for me to think of an epic that didn’t have family somewhere near the heart of it. Some sort of journey or movement can certainly help. Hard to feel epic if you’re in the kitchen for the whole book.

SFFWRTCHT: How hard is it to stay original when writing in a genre with such massively famous and known works?

PO: I think you don’t worry about trying to be original. You have to write a story you love. The rest will take care of itself.

SFFWRTCHT: So you didn’t feel any pressure to avoid tropes?

PO: As I’ve said before: “Trope avoidance is the new trope.” Writers trying that hard write fiction that usually feels forced. I think you have to sit down and write a story you love. Stephen King says that he writes with the intention of pleasing himself first, and that if he can do that, there’s likely to be others who will like it, too. I’m with Stephen.

SFFWRTCHT: Let’s talk about the Vault Of Heaven series. Where’d that idea come from?

PO: Well, the series started with my desire to tell a big story. I like the genre, because I like its parts: conflict of nations personal sacrifice, families at odds, etc  And then after I’d written the first book, I realized I was writing, to a degree, about choice and consequence.

SFFWRTCHT: You also have the quest adventure element, coming of age, self-discovery in there as well.

PO: Yes, there’s definitely coming of age; that’s a part of the choice/consequence thing for me. I think it’s natural, if you’re writing about characters in their teens at all, to explore some of their journey to maturation. If you avoided it, for whatever reason, I think it would be a miss. That rite-of-passage is pretty central to the life of anyone in those formative years. As a writer, that’s good stuff to plumb.

SFFWRTCHT: Where’d you come up with the idea for a music based magic system?

PO: The music magic system is natural for me, because I’m a musician But it ladder s up to a larger pr inciple around matter and energy, which in turn will fuel several other magic systems. You’ll encounter those in later books. But the few you’ve already seen in The Unremembered all have design pr inciples that are consistent.But at the heart of it, music as a magic system made a ton of sense to me because I find music to be so powerful and moving. And the work I’ve done in book two to take you inside that has been some of the funnest stuff for me to write, thus far.

SFFWRTCHT: The book has been compared to, and that seems valid in reading it, Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time. Was that an inspiration?

PO: I can’t say I mind the comparisons. I think Jordan is awesome! And while no one book or ser ies was an inspiration, I do like The Wheel Of Time. But honestly, that’s immensely humbling. Jordan’s series is a modern day classic.

SFFWRTCHT: Do you start with characters sketches or outlines or just let it unfold as it comes?

PO: I do a lot of worldbuilding, and I certainly know my characters before hand. But at least as much (maybe more) comes in writing.

SFFWRTCHT: What kind of techniques do you use to know your characters?

PO: Well, I think about their past, the choices they’ve made, and more about the tough decisions and painful parts. I think we grow more in times of challenge. My characters certainly do.

SFFWRTCHT: Did you plot out the entire series before you started writing?

PO: I have a solid grasp of the story arc. I’m not going to amble through ten books. But I leave plenty of room for invention, too. It’s like creating a coloring page. I know the picture, but as a guy with a set of crayons, I color outside the lines a bunch.

SFFWRTCHT: The setting/world has a lot of familiar animals and trees and such. Is this world on Earth?

PO: No, it’s not earth. I’ve not done any kind of pre- or post-history of our world. It’s a second world for sure.

SFFWRTCHT: There’s a big character identity reveal at the end of book one. Do you have more surprises for us in the next books?

PO: Indeed. I’m right at the end of book two, and I’m about to unload the biggest reveal yet.  I considered doing it in Book 1 but chose to wait. Makes more sense where I’m at now. Part of a major finale I’m writing.  The big stuff is coming. There’s an even larger climax at the end of book three that I can’t wait to write. But I will say this, book two is going in new directions. They were part of the plan from my story’s inception. Readers shouldn’t get too comfortable. I grounded you in the familiar to lead you carefully to new places.

SFFWRTCHT: How many books will there be in the series?

PO: I think the series will be roughly six. If I can do it faster, I will. If the story demands more, I’ll do that, too. But I kind of doubt it will go past six.

SFFWRTCHT: How long did you spend writing the first book before you sold it?

PO: I wrote the first book in about a year, but finished it in 2001. Then I wrote some other novels. Later on, I got a new agent and he sold my fantasy, which I wrote some time back.  I’ve written little things all my life. Got serious in about  2006. By then, I’d written two novels, and after that, I started to hunker down. By that I mean starting to write daily.

SFFWRTCHT: When does book two arrive?

PO: I’ll finish book two mid-autumn. After that, it’s all up to Tor as to how fast it hits shelves.

SFFWRTCHT: You also write thrillers, right?

PO: Yeah, I’ve got two thrillers I’ll look to sell after the fantasy ser ies, most likely. My other finished novel is horror in the vein of a King book.

SFFWRTCHT: What can you tell us about your thrillers? Or can you?

PO: One of my thrillers posits a cure for cancer. I did intense research on that one. Was grueling, but it really helped the book feel authentic. The other I’m holding closer to the vest.

SFFWRTCHT: Are there elements you borrow from writing epic fantasy to use in thrillers and vice versa?

PO: I think I borrowed a little from the thriller form in The Unremembered. In terms of some of the chapter technique and intrigue stuff.   

SFFWRTCHT: What do you read for fun?

PO: I like Sanderson for sure. Still read Terry Brooks. I dig Patrick Rothfuss and Brent Weeks. The last book I read was a nonfiction memoir of Dick Van Dyke. I really liked the memoir. Van Dyke is all class. And I think we haven’t had a better sitcom since The Dick Van Dyke Show

SFFWRTCHT: Have you written published short stories as well?

PO: Yes, I’ve published ten or twelve. There are links on my site to them. Some science fiction. Some urban fantasy. Some horror.  And I’ve also written four free short stories set in the world of my series. I’m kinda proud of those.  You can get those on my site, too.  They won’t spoil. In fact, if you read them first, you’ll have some cool aha moments when you read the book.

SFFWRTCHT: Any plans to write a science fiction novel?

PO: Yes, eventually I’ll write one of the science fiction novels I have on the back burner. No idea when that day will come.

SFFWRTCHT: Tell us a little about the role that music plays in your life. Do you compose music? What instruments do you use/play?

PO: Ah music. I’ll tell you guys the truth. If I could be a touring musician and make a living, it’d be tough to say no.  I do write music. I’m a classically trained vocalist. There’s a concept album I’m writing to accompany The Unremembered.  CD should be out by the end of the summer. It’s additive story, not a rehashing of my novel.  It will tell more about Bellamae, the Maesteri, his early life, and a lot more about The Song of Suffering. I will do all the singing. But I have a friend helping compose on guitar, etc.

SFFWRTCHT: Readers who want to hear your amazing trained voice can go to www.orullian.com and click THE MUSIC. Will we get to hear Wendra’s song or would that blow out our stereos?

PO: Wendra’s Song …Yeah, that’s powerful stuff. She has several, actually. You won’t hear them on the album. But I can give you samples of what it sounds like.  I’ve worked out some of the tunes from the books. There’s a section in a Sevendust song which inspired part of the Mor Nation Refrains.

SFFWRTCHT: Do you write your music first, then lyrics, or lyrics first, then music, or both at the same time?

PO: I write the music melodies first, but often am writing to a composition when I do that.

SFFWRTCHT: What other stuff do you have we can look forward to in the near future?

PO: Well, besides the concept album, I’ll be releasing several more short stories set in the world of my series. Folks might dig. I’ve been invited into a cool anthology, and might publish one there.


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the forthcoming space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host ofScience Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.