Brent Weeks dreamed of being a full time author since he was thirteen years old and now he´s living the dream. His debut epic fantasy trilogy, The Night Angel Trilogy, released from Orbit in 2008 as bestsellers. Black Prism followed in 2010 and is also a bestseller. So he´s doing quite well. He lives in the Pacific Northwest with his wife and college sweetheart, Kristi, with no ponytail and no cats. He can be found online at http://www.brentweeks.com on Facebook and on Twitter as @brentweeks.
SFFWRTCHT: Let´s start with the basics: How do you define epic fantasy? And what are its key elements in your mind?
Brent Weeks: Epic fantasy is an abused term. ‘Epic’ has come to mean anything good. But, for me, epic fantasy is fantasy with an inspired premise, larger-than-life characters, a high stakes story, a deeply felt theme, and a vivid setting. (Most of these stolen from Donald Maass’s definition of a great book, btw.)
SFFWRTCHT: Where did your interest in Science Fiction and Fantasy come from?
BW: My interest probably originally came from the thrill of power! Magic! Swords! Adolescents unite! But has changed, I hope. Now I love fantasy because of the freedom is gives. I drag readers along on my what-if story. They’re mind experiments–and fun!
BW: Authors who inspired me. Tough one, because a few sound so pretentious! Poe is who made me want to write. Shakespeare showed me what could be done. Tolkien ignited the love. Jordan modernized it. George RR Martin made it real and terrifying. Had some Piers Anthony (oddly!) and some Burroughs thrown in there too.
SFFWRTCHT: Where does a new idea for a fantasy story or novel come from for you?
BW: New ideas come from everywhere! It’s a matter of figuring what ideas I am the right one to try to write a novel about. I mean, I already have novel ideas that will take me until past I’m dead to write about. But, I can’t write all of those well. It’s not coming up with ideas that is the problem for novelists. It’s the RIGHT ideas. You have to spend 1-2 years with this.
SFFWRTCHT: When did you start writing seriously and how long until your first sale?
BW: Seriously? I started my first novel when I was thirteen. Probably started seriously when I was twenty. Took five years on the first novel. Then had to decide to ditch it. Heart-wrenching. Spent from twenty-five to-twenty-eight-ish on The Way of Shadows. Took until thirty-one to sell it. The reward was slow in coming though. Got book deal. One year to pub. Another six months to hit bestseller list. Weird life. The writing life is the perfect environment for paranoia and neuroses to grow. This is a slow business. Everything takes so long.
SFFWRTCHT: How do you decide which novel ideas to pursue? Did you consider writing other genres besides fantasy?
BW: Yes, I have a couple of other novel ideas. I’m a few years from having the skills to write the best of them. But writing in other genres is like opening a clothing store and also offering cheese. People come to Brent Weeks for kickass fantasy. So commercially, it’s weird. But I may do it someday, just for my own artistic whim.
SFFWRTCHT: If you could steal an ability from another author, what would that be?
BW: Wow, if I could steal an ability from another writer…um, there’s lots! Tom Wolfe & his dialects? You know, every writer goes at his own speed. I compare myself to others, but it’s madness. You shouldn’t do it. I compare myself to Sanderson or Butcher, and it makes me crazy. It’s not helpful. Work as hard as you can, and quit worrying.
SFFWRTCHT: Did you study creative writing at all in school? How´d you learn your craft?
BW: The beauty of writing is that you learn so much of it subconsciously. You learn by reading and loving what is good. Some resonates. Pay attention when you read as a writer. What do you love? What clunks when you read it. Take note. The art can be taken apart. When I read George RR Martin, I analyze how he ends scenes. How he folds in tons of exposition. He’s a master. Learn from him. I keep learning all the time. I remember going to a con and seeing Stephen J. Cannell sit in the back of a talk where a pompous jerk was talking. And Cannell was trying to learn from this guy, after forty years in the biz. We should all be like that. Always trying to learn. Always learning even from idiots. Fiction is bigger than us. Be humble.
SFFWRTCHT: The Night Angel trilogy is an epic fantasy about a boy turned assassin seeking to assassinate a goddess and save a king. Tell us how that idea came about? D&D?
BW: A kick-ass assassin who wasn’t a sociopath. That was the central idea of Night Angel. How does a good man get there?
SFFWRTCHT: Do you start with characters sketches or outlines or just let it unfold as it comes?
BW: I do lots of outlining and note taking and musing as I build a novel. “Wouldn’t it be cool if” scenarios. I keep the best.
SFFWRTCHT: Did you plan to make Night Angel a trilogy from the start or did it just get too big for its britches?
BW: I always planned for Night Angel to be a trilogy, but I sketch out the high points (lots of them) and write toward those. There are always lots of detours along the way, and if I’m lucky, a few Eureka! moments. Spoiler. I figured out that Momma K and Durzo had loved each other for twenty years only after I finished the first draft. Things happen like that sometimes. The subconscious is at work. Give it space. But don’t trust it to sort out all your messes!
SFFWRTCHT: Black Prism starts a new trilogy, the Lightbringer Trilogy. The tale of the bastard son of a drug addict and a ruler who finds himself fighting alongside his childhood mentor, the mentor´s daughter and his father against a corrupt self-declared king. Where did the seven satrapies idea come from?
BW: The Seven Satrapies, of course, came from Persia. A way to rule a huge empire when communication is difficult. The bigger question is how I came up with all of the ideas. To which the answer is simple. I have no idea. Writers have ideas. It’s what we do. I wanted to do something different than the standard medieval 1100 fantasy so I took a lot of turns that were opposite to Night Angel Trilogy. It took me two years to write The Black Prism. I thought it would take nine months. Hahaha…Suck.
BW: Tri-partite government, weak empire. Seven satraps (national governors) who each appoint a Color (ambassador) to the central city. An emperor who is largely symbolic. The Prism is modeled a bit on the Japanese emperors of 1600, who were sidelined by giving them lots of religious duties.
SFFWRTCHT: You have a system of magic called Luxin based on the color spectrum. Tell us a little about that please.
BW: Lots of tensions between satrap and color, between color and color, and between Color and emperor. Luxin is light made concrete. It’s the opposite of a candle burning: Mass becoming heat and light. In drafting, light becomes a physical substance. Each color has its own weight, density, strength, smell, etc. So if you want to throw a fireball the size of a house, you can. But it will squash you. Because a house is heavy.
SFFWRTCHT: Do you keep a bible of this stuff as you worldbuild?
BW: Only my own brain. Which gets taxed, especially as I make changes in mid-stream and have to change things!
SFFWRTCHT: Do you have a particular program you use to write? (Word, Scrivener, etc…)
BW: Programs. I’m going to be switching to Scrivener for my next book So far, have been a Word guy.
SFFWRTCHT: Do you come up with characters first? Or situation first?
BW: Both? I don’t really know. They shape each other.
SFFWRTCHT: The world is quite large, will see more places from the map in future books? And do you draw maps as you go or keep that in your head, too?
BW: Yeah, we’ll see more places, but I don’t imagine a Grand Tour of every place on the map. The world is big, but so is ours. We don’t need to see every nook and cranny to get the sense that The World Is Big.
SFFWRTCHT: Do you draw maps as you create worlds or do you also keep that in your head?
BW: I like to have the map on paper. Geography creates conflicts. It stirs my imagination to look at a fertile plain and guess history.
SFFWRTCHT: What´s your writing process like? Specific time set aside to write? Grab it when you can?
BW: I write every day. Find that mornings are most productive. Try to do writing biz each afternoon. There are problems to becoming successful. Cry you a river, right? But figuring how to write and do biz is a serious challenge.
BW: I’ve written a novella set in the Night Angel world. Occurs before Night Angel, but best read after. Otherwise, no short stories. That was supposed to take me three weeks. Took more than two months instead! But it turned out great, and I love it!
SFFWRTCHT: I know your Christian faith plays a role in your personal life. Does faith influence your writing? How?
BW: I think it would be impossible to write w/o your beliefs coming through, if only in how you frame questions. That said, I’ve been on both sides of this fence, and I believe in not stacking the deck in my fiction. I do like provoking questions about deeper issues though. You have a killer, it’s natural to ask, “What happens after death?”
SFFWRTCHT: And you do deal with redemption themes too I notice. And even people saving others.
BW: Redemption and sacrifice are of course themes that are important to Christians, but they’re important to humans. I’m a novelist, not a propagandist. Characters understand moral quandaries from their own viewpoints. That’s good fiction.
SFFWRTCHT: What role do beta readers play in your writing process?
BW: Beta readers. I think I’m weird here. I now have one beta reader. Night Angel had zero. I wish I’d had hundreds of great ones.
SFFWRTCHT: What projects are you working on for the future that we can look forward to?
BW: I’m working on edits for the next Lightbringer book, The Blinding Knife. Hope to be done by Jan 1st and published by Sept 1st. I do have other projects in the works, but I’m not allowed to talk about them, or choose not to because who knows if they’ll happen.
SFFWRTCHT: Are you allowed to tell us anything about The Blinding Knife? Does it pick up where Prism leaves off?
BW: Blinding Knife picks up within days after The Black Prism—and it has some awesome twists. I think you’ll love it.
BW: I have the high points of book three mapped out (tentatively, The Blood Mirror). But have some wiggle room. Specifically, I have satisfying endings with a few of the different main characters dying. Will see when I get there! The Blinding Knife will be out around September 1, 2012.
SFFWRTCHT: Have you ever gotten blocked by something you realize someone else has done and trying to figure out how to do it differently?
BW: Everything has been done. I just try to do it MY way, and with a lot of passion and belief.
SFFWRTCHT: Do you have plans to collaborate with other writers?
BW: I’m not a huge collaborator. What I’m doing works, and I don’t want to screw that up right now. Not against it, though.
SFFWRTCHT: Any final thoughts you’d like to share? Writing advice?
BW: Last advice…write what stirs yours passion. What’s cool to you, & what scares the hell out of you. Write for the heart. Be bold and courageous.
Interviewer Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.