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[SFFWRTCHT] A Chat With Author Kevin James Breaux

Kevin James Breaux is an award-winning artist and author who grew up in Pennsylvania, but moved to Oregon in 2009. In his final year at Temple University, he turned to writing and in 2007 his first short story sold. He joined the Horror Writer’s Association right after. His short stories have appeared in venues like Suspense Magazine, Dark Moon Digest and the anthologies Slices of Flesh and Dead History, amongst others. His first novel, Soul Born, an epic fantasy, was published in 2010 and won 1st place in the P&E Reader´s Poll for Science Fiction and Fantasy. The sequel, Blood Divided, came out in 2011. He hangs out online at on Twitter and on Facebook.

SFFWRTCHT: Let’s start at the beginning, where´d your interest in SFF come from?

Kevin James Breaux: You know, it´s hard to nail down. When I was super young like first grade my friend a few years older than me bought me a bunch of D&D books for my b-day. I was attracted to the fantasy art in the books. Next thing I knew my parents got me the old Lego Castle. It was yellow and glorious. From that point on a lot of my gifts and toys were Science Fiction and Fantasy based.

SFFWRTCHT: Who were some of your favorite authors/books growing up?

KJB: I spent much of my youth reading all the Dragonlance books. So I was a big fan of Hickman and Weis. The Dragonlance Chronicles and Legends are my favorites. I honestly would like to re-read them someday.

SFFWRTCHT: Were you involved with cons and fandom? Cosplay?

KJB: In my early college years I wanted to be a comic artist. So I spent a lot of time in cons. I actually worked at a few as a guest artist. It was a ton of fun. I did convention sketches! And yes…I might have wore a Star Fleet uniform once or twice at Valley Forge, PA Star Trek cons. Back in the day. Back in the early 90s there were so many conventions in PA and I went to them all.

SFFWRTCHT: How did you get your start as a writer?

KJB: In art school I was always frustrated that my art was not as I imagined it in my head. I started writing and right away realized that it was the perfect outlet for my creativity. By 1998, I was starting to send queries of the original drafts of Soul Born. It was much different and had a different name. It was a lot of years querying and rewriting before I met Jonathan Maberry who helped me and put me on my path. My first published work, in 2007 was a zombie short story. I made $50! That´s huge! I get invited to write for anthologies now. About two a year. It’s a huge honor.

SFFWRTCHT: Very cool to have a mentor like that. Did you study writing at all in college? How did you learn your craft?

KJB: I took several creative writing classes in college. But I was an art major. My mind was and still is constantly full of imagery.

SFFWRTCHT: How do you define epic fantasy and what makes a good fantasy story or novel?

KJB: Epic Fantasy is good old Sword and Sorcery, baby. Blood and Guts! Action and Adventure! Personally, I think the characters and plot are what make a great fantasy novel. Flawed characters are what interest me the most. Superman? Too good. To easy and perfect. I prefer someone with a fatal flaw.

SFFWRTCHT: Where´d the idea for the Soul Born saga come from?

KJB: I wanted to tell a story from as close to the beginning of a fantasy world as I could get. Starting at a place like medieval Europe and adding elements of fantasy—Magic and Elves first. Magic is the most important element of the Soul Born Saga and what makes it stands out most as fantasy. I also wanted to tell a story with characters that were not good or evil, they were real. In the Soul Born Saga, you will see a lot of my characters doing whatever is needed to survive.

SFFWRTCHT: Real people are flawed, yes, but they can also be heroic and mostly good. I’ll admit I struggled with that in your book, particularly Opal and Karn.

KJB: I like to write characters who are not clearly defined as Good or Bad. They are somewhere in-between. But sometimes good people do bad things just to reach their goals. Very true Opal and Karn are a strange paring.

SFFWRTCHT: In part, they work because of Opal but Karn certainly has complicated feelings for her that come into play. What makes them work?

KJB: Opal makes them work. Opal is manipulating Karn in many ways and with many different ways. Why and how… see inside.

SFFWRTCHT: Have those two characters remained the same through various drafts?

KJB: They have remained. Different names and somewhat different roles. Many re-writes ago.

SFFWRTCHT: How much world building do you do in advance? You used real world cultures as a basis?

KJB:  My books are character driven. All you learn about the world is through them experiencing it. I try and do as much as needed.

SFFWRTCHT: In Soul Born, Opal, a mage, and her paramour, Karn, a fighter, fight an evil warlord named Mastaffa. How long did the first book take to write and sell?

KJB: Ten years of writing, rewriting and querying. This version of Soul Born, was started back in 2003 and did not find a publisher until 2008. It went through probably twelve drafts from its birth to the publishing day. There was an old version back in 2003 called Breaking the Circle. Totally different story. Some of the same characters.  The Soul Born books are fast and furious. I don´t pretend to be G. R.R. Martin. I mean I wish I was… but I am someone else.

SFFWRTCHT: Still, like Martin, there’s definitely a lot going on in them—characters and plot constantly moving. Do you outline or pants it? How much planning do you do before you write i.e. did you plan the whole series first?

KJB: I do not outline. The whole book has already played out like a movie in my head. Several times.  I do make notes from time to time. And when done I write a synopsis and chapter to chapter summary.

SFFWRTCHT: How long did Blood Divided take you to write? And does Blood Divided pick up right after Soul Born? Does a certain period pass?

KJB: Blood Divided was written from 2005-2007 and then updated from 2009-2010. Originally called, The Three Shades of Grey. Neat tidbit there. One of the great things about Blood Divided is it takes place 20 years later and follows the next generation—Opal´s children and Tala´s children. My favorite line ad – Four children, two mothers, one father; thousands dead. Blood Divided.

SFFWRTCHT: I know you’ve written a lot of short stories. How does your writing process differ from short stories to the novel/series?

KJB: It does not differ…. But I might make some notes or do a light outline before a short story. There are short stories that support the novel series. One is out now for free called “Soul Born Origins: Opal” on my site.

SFFWRTCHT: Is your visual arts training better for short stories or novel? Different?

KJB: My visual arts training makes my work very detail and colorful I think. Works the same for novels and shorts.

SFFWRTCHT: What role has your editor played, if any, in shaping the stories?

KJB: To be honest. In Soul Born, the editing was a disaster. The editor was in the hospital and the book got delayed. And the copyediting wasn’t done right. I had scheduled lots of time but, in the end, had to do it over two weeks. It was rushed. There are mistakes that made it to print. Blood Divided had a better editor. One I work with all the time. She rocks!

SFFWRTCHT: When can we expect to see book three?

KJB: I´m finishing writing book three at the moment. End of 2012 or beginning of 2013. I expect Jan/Feb 2013. It will be longer than the other books which were around 110K. Flesh Ended will be around 130-140K.

SFFWRTCHT: Does it also take place later or does it flow from Blood Divided?

KJB: About three years after Blood Divided.

SFFWRTCHT: Tell us a little about your magic system please? How´d you come up with it?

KJB: In my story, magic comes from nature. So the mages need to learn a spell or imagine it, creatively, to cast it. In Soul Born, Opal is just finding out that there are negative effects to magic use on nature. It leeches the life out of things. In Blood Divided the characters have learned more and more hints are exposed as to what magic is doing to the lands. In the third book all the secrets will be revealed. You will learn how and why magic is dangerous.

SFFWRTCHT: What´s your writing time look like? Planned time? Grab it when you can?

KJB: At the moment writing is my full time job. I´m a victim of the economy. Out of work IT. I work on my writing career for about 8-12 hours a day. That includes lots of social media. I have word count goals each day and try to exceed them all the time.

SFFWRTCHT: Do you use any special software or music playlist?

KJB: I listen to music when I write. Lots of different things: 80´s music, Dragon Age origins soundtrack. When editing I will use my PC and my laptop. So I don´t have to switch screens.

SFFWRTCHT: How do you deal with writer´s block?

KJB: Honestly that does not happen to me much. It’s rare that I get stuck. Unless it’s trying to find a Viking Age appropriate replacement for the “F” word. Seriously, I was writing a new Viking Age book and the “foul language” had me stumped and kept me awake at night!

SFFWRTCHT: What´s the best writing advice you have to offer new writers who ask?

KJB: I see so many new writers giving up after one or two rounds of agent queries. I suggest you query 1-2 times a year, and, while waiting, start a new book. Then the next year you have two books to query. I also suggest writing every day. And by writing I mean fiction in your genre, not blog updates.

SFFWRTCHT: How many agents do you query in one round?

KJB: How many are there in the USA? I tease! I tease! Maybe 150.

SFFWRTCHT: What future projects are you working on that we can look forward to?

KJB: I´m shopping around a Viking Age dark fantasy and an Urban Fantasy action adventure. Two books to start two new long series. I want to write a 5-7 book series with the Urban Fantasy. I want to evolve my characters through that many books. Sounds like an awesome challenge.  By the Great Literary gods, I need an agent for these new books! And I would love them at Tor or DAW. I also have a short story in a new anthology that will be release at the World Horror Con in March too.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories featured in anthologies and magazines. He edited the new anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. His children’s book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing. As a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.