Bradley P. Beaulieu is a mild-mannered programmer by day, but goes out at night to prove the pen mightier than the sword. His stories have appeared in Intergalactic Medicine Show, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Daw anthologies and he’s a Writer’s Of The Future winner. His debut novel, The Winds Of Khalakovo released last year from Night Shade Books. The follow up, Straights of Galahesh, released this fall. A fantasy trilogy set on Islands with flying ships, sword fighting, magic, demons, psimagic, lots of unique elements. He’s also a podcaster and regularly interviews fellow creatives as part of SpeculateSF Podcast with fellow author Greg Wilson. He lives up near Racine, Wisconsin, with his wife and two kids. He can be found online via Facebook, his website http://quillings.com/ and @bbeaulieu on Twitter.
SFFWRTCHT: First things first, where’d your interest in science fiction and fantasy come from?
Bradley P. Beaulieu: I have to admit it goes back to reading The Hobbit in 3rd grade and soon after, The Lord of the Rings. I was completely entranced by those books, and when I started toying with writing in college, those books became my touchstone. Science fiction came later, in junior high and high school and I enjoyed it, but my true love is fantasy, epic fantasy especially.
BPB: Yes, he did. And in some ways it’s been lovely to see the works he’s inspired. Guy Gavriel Kay is an author I greatly admire. Many of Guy Gavriel Kay’s books. C.S. Friedman’s Coldfire Trilogy. Glen Cook’s Black Company. I adore Tim Powers’ writing, and Kelly Link and Kij Johnson in the shorter works, though I don’t at all write like them. Probably the one I’d like to write like the most in today’s market is George R.R. Martin. He’s a brilliant writer on the macro and micro scale.
SFFWRTCHT: You use Russian names and terms throughout. Are your books inspired by any specific Russian myths/legends?
BPB: No, no specific Russian myths/legends. It came more from the (imperfect) Russian gestalt that I’ve been exposed to.
SFFWRTCHT: When did you decide to try writing? Did you learn as you went? Classes? School studies?
BPB: My first serious attempt was a horrible, clichéd novel in college. Very D&D. I never finished it. But my next project, I did finish. Only it took me about 6 years to complete. I figured I’d better get serious or just drop it. That’s when I started attending cons and going to writing workshops, reading books on writing and critiquing via critters and OWW.
SFFWRTCHT: Are you still involved with OWW and Critters?
BPB: No recent involvement. I do want to try to stay more involved, to give back a bit, but the hours go so quickly. It’s been a slow and sometimes unsteady climb toward getting short fic published and eventually (on my 4th try) pubbing a novel. I subbed all four novels. One was drek, one was middling, the third was *close*. And the fourth sold.
BPB: Crucial elements: scope, depth and breadth (not just one or the other), wide implications, and for me, political play.
SFFWRTCHT: Absolutely political play. I think it’s part of epic/world threatening at least as humans conceive it. Takes many forms With the trilogy and in general, Which came first-plot or characters? Theme? World?
BPB: The world came first. Then society and culture. Then general (macro) conflict. Then character and plot evolved together.
SFFWRTCHT: Did you know starting out this novel was going to be a series, or did that come later?
BPB: I generally think in trilogies, thanks to LotR, so Lays of Anuskaya was planned as a trilogy from the get-go. I occasionally thought about writing more books, extending the series of prequels, etc. But it feels good at three.
SFFWRTCHT: The irony of that, of course, is that Tolkien wrote it as one long book. Publishers divided it. What do you think is your biggest writing weakness?
BPB: I’d have to say characterization. I’m still fairly plot-driven, but I work hard to shore up the other side of that formula.
SFFWRTCHT: Did you create Nikandr, Atiana, Rehada, Ashan and Nasim for this story or have they previously appeared in shorts?
BPB: One of my favorite things to read and write is how individuals effect the larger canvas and vice versa. A loop, in effect. All the characters were new to this tale, but they some influences from character in other stories.
SFFWRTCHT: How much of the world do you map/plan out before you write? Did you do a world bible or just enough to write?
BPB: I’m a firm believer that creating the world first lays the bedrock on which the rest of the story depends. So I spend *a lot* of time on the world before I dig too far into the story. But at a certain point I start developing both.
BPB: I’m an outliner to a point. I like GRRM’s “lights in the fog” analogy. I try to outline the end, a few high points. I don’t plan terribly far ahead. I “inchworm” my way through the plot. And then I work forward toward those high points (the lights in the fog) as I slowly and carefully traverse the swamp.
SFFWRTCHT: I was grateful for the map. Did you draw a map as you wrote or extract one from the text later?
BPB: Love maps! I generated them using a program called Fractal Terrains. I then gave the maps to Night Shade to have professionally rendered.
SFFWRTCHT: Did you intentionally want a different setting than the usual feudal Europe?
BRB: Yes, I did. Nothing against those tales, but I’m a bit bored with them. They’ve become cliché. So wanted something new.
SFFWRTCHT: I understand the appeal of Silk Road Fantasy [Heartland Fantasy], but why firearms and magic together?
BPB: Magic was a given. But it seemed to me that the tech available in the ships implied that gunpowder would be available too. I countered magic with iron (somewhat) and guns were another way to “even the odds.”
SFFWRTCHT: Speaking of the magic, matras, birthstones, demons, tell us a bit about magic in your world please. Aren’t magicks integral to characters/storyline?
BPB: Agreed, magicks must become a seamless part of the world and the cultures and characters that inhabit it. The magic in WINDS started with the elements: fire, earth, air, water, and the stuff of life. From there, the spirits (hezhan) were born, and they were linked to people because they were two sides of the same coin. The magic wielders (qiram) bonded with those spirits to use their abilities in the material world. And finally, the ethereal/telepathy magic of the Matri gave a way for Landed to survive and thrive in a rather inhospitable world. In Winds, the magic is dreamlike. I enjoyed writing those sequences, but I worry they were too “disconnected.” On my next series, I’m concentrating heavily on removing such ephemeral magics, making it more visceral & gritty. I’m proud of the aether and dream sequences in the Anuskaya books, but I also recognize they’re distancing to the reader. So I’m looking forward to something much more gritty. Plus, the new series will be single-POV, but hopefully still epic…And 3rd person, not 1st. I don’t think epic is necessarily harder in 1st. I think 1st takes a very unique sort of character. And in this case the more straightforward approach feels better for the tale and the protagonist, a female pit fighter.
SFFWRTCHT: Where do you think you’ll sit on the “grittiness” scale that seems so important in epic fantasy today?
BPB: As for grit, somewhere around GRRM. I’m not Joe Abercrombie or Mark Lawrence, but I’m not afraid to shed some blood on the page. Largely it’s a tighter POV with less high language. A bit more to the point. Punchier.
SFFWRTCHT: Back to Winds again, where’d the idea for flying ships come from and how exactly does that work?
BRB: The windships were conceived on their own, but were linked to the qiram and hezhan shortly after, a way to link cultures, in a way. Largely they were the result of intensive brainstorming because I had to have them right to make the ship scenes work. Windships were a byproduct of the turbulent seas. I realized that another mode of transport would be *more* reliable. And so, working with that restriction and within the framework of the elemental magic, the windships were born. As for mechanics, the wood itself provides lift, and the wind masters “harness” the wind through magic to guide the ship. And the keels (3, 1 for each axis) capture the ley lines to orient the ship and guide it like a waterborne craft in 3D.
SFFWRTCHT: It’s really clever and the two ships interacting makes for some interesting action. Fun. What’s your writing time look like-specific block? Write `til you reach word count? Grab it when you can?
BPB: Writing time is 1 hour/day minimum of hard writing time. Marketing/publicity is separate and probably 1 more hr/day.
SFFWRTCHT: Yes, and you work full time also. So that’s on top of the 40 hr week. Do you use any computer programs to write, like Scrivener?
BPB: Love Scrivener. It’s been my best friend since I bought my Mac a few years back. It’s helped me immensely.
SFFWRTCHT: Does Straights Of Galahesh, book 2, pick up where Winds left off? Skip months or time? Same POV characters?
BRB: Straights begins 5 years after the events in Winds. As for POV characters, some the same. Others, well… No spoilers…
SFFWRTCHT: Have you written mostly or all fantasy so far or have you done both F and SF?
BPB: I’ve written only fantasy novels. Short stories is just about an even split. I like to explore scifi in shorts. I have lots of ideas for shorts set in the Winds universe, and I want to write a few to coincide with the release of Book 3, but none written yet.
SFFWRTCHT: Where did the idea of your SF novella Strata come from?
BPB: Strata was born from the skimmer racing pods. Thought it would be cool to have sport on the sun. I brought in Steve Gaskell shortly after and we both expanded from that one small kernel. I believe the first spark was from an image of a coronal mass ejection, but the details are getting fuzzy now.
SFFWRTCHT: What’s the best and worst writing advice you’ve ever gotten?
BPB: Best advice: by a long shot, perseverance is the most important trait for the professional writer. Worst advice: Show, don’t tell. This advice nearly ruined me. You must show *and* tell to write good fiction.
BRB: Greg had a bit of experience with podcasting, and he invited me to join him after some convos at cons. I had no prior experience. It was to network. Talk about writing. Spread the word about my books a bit and share what I love.
SFFWRTCHT: What future projects are you working on that we can look forward to?
BRB: One is a tale about a female pit fighter who finds secrets buried in a book left to her by her dead mother. She’s drawn into a plot against the Twelve Kings of her beloved desert city, Sharakhai. Think: Hunger Games meets Arab Spring. That one is epic fantasy. Seeing if I can pull it off with a single POV. And another is a YA series, a story about a misfit band of refugees in a Nordic tree village. Really looking forward to exploring pseudo-Nordic mythology and stretching my YA muscles. I have a real soft spot for Nordic mythology. Goes back to me poring over Deities & Demigods back in the day. Plus, who doesn’t love giant wolves and eight-legged horses and war hammers and a tree of worlds? The epic is a proposal (30k words plus synopsis) and it’s heading to my agent in the next few weeks. The other (Nordic YA) still lives only in my head… As for this trilogy, Book 3 is turned in and I’m working on the other projects while my editor and alphas read the manuscript.
Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exodus will appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Books For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Lost In A Land Of Legends (forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012). He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.