MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: I am pleased to be interviewing Steven Brust today. Steven is best known for his novels about the assassin Vlad Taltos, and has written many short stories in shared universes (including Emma Bull’s and Will Shetterly’s “Liavek,” Robert Asprin’s “Thieves’ World,” Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” and Terri Windling’s “Borderland” series.
I read JHEREG back when it was released, and enjoyed it tremendously. Did you ever have in mind writing a series, or did that happen on its own?
STEVEN BRUST: Yeah, here’s what happened. I wrote that one as a stand-alone, peppering it with foreshadowing and flashbacks because I like that stuff. Then I wrote TO REIGN IN HELL, which was a very hard book for me to write. When it was finally done, I was thinking that I just wanted to relax and write something fun and easy, and it seemed obvious that I could just go back to Vlad, because I knew so much of his backstory from having played him in a table-top role-playing game. So I did, and just sort of dashed off a book called “Duel.” But when the marketing department at Ace got it, they said, roughly, “But his first book did really well, and it had a funny one-word title. Can’t he find another funny one-world title?” Well, YENDI was pretty obvious, so I renamed it.
Then, after writing BROKEDOWN PALACE, various things hit me about fantasy tropes, and I wanted to examine them. It seemed like Vlad’s world would be the perfect place to do that, and TECKLA was the perfect title for the book. By then I was writing a series, and I knew the major events of Vlad’s life, but I don’t remember if I admitted to myself that it was a series until I did TALTOS. I’m pretty good at lying to myself.
VENTRELLA: You plan on ending the series with a 19th book. Was this the original plan, or have you decided that the time is right?
BRUST: That was the plan from at least the time I finished TALTOS, and maybe earlier; I don’t remember for sure.
VENTRELLA: Were the books based on a role-playing game? It has that feel with resurrections, especially, which is something you normally don’t see in most fantasy novels.
BRUST: Yes, a game created by Robert Sloan. Such things as the relationship between Kiera and Sethra, and between Aliera and Morrolan, and between Vlad and Kragar (to pick just a few examples) go back to the game.
VENTRELLA: You have specifically tried to vary your writing styles and points of view in the novels, which give them different feels – why did you decide to do this?
BRUST: Discovering the relationship between the story and how the story is told is one of the joys of writing. I just flat out love playing with that stuff; I get excited as hell when I realize that the best way to tell a given story would be something I haven’t tried yet.
VENTRELLA: THE PHOENIX GUARDS especially reads like a lost Musketeer novel. I assume that was by specific design? Did you go back and change things to make it read more like Dumas?
BRUST: Go back and change things? Oh, no; that was there from the beginning, from the first page of the first draft. That was the whole reason I wrote it. It was so much fun!
VENTRELLA: You certainly have not shied away from politics, both in your books and on Facbook and other social media. Do you believe this has affected your sales (in either direction)?
BRUST: No idea.
VENTRELLA: What’s your opinion on the current state of the political situation in America? Optimistic or not?
BRUST: Very optimistic–in the world, you can see signs of people fighting back everywhere you look. In this country, it is taking longer, but even here you can see it. The initial success of Occupy Wall Street is as much of an indication of people’s outrage as it’s ultimate failure is of it’s lack of program; and the overwhelming public support of Snowden is a very healthy sign.
VENTRELLA: Do you think there is a place for a third party in America?
BRUST: I don’t know. I’d like to start with a second party and see what happens after that.
VENTRELLA: Back to books: Amazon is reporting that e-books are now outselling traditional publications. What effect will this have on the publishing industry? For beginning authors is this a good thing or a bad thing?
BRUST: No clue. I know nothing about the industry, and I work very hard to keep it that way; it just interferes with my work.
VENTRELLA: Your “Cool stuff” theory of literature explains a lot, actually, and boils down what many “how to write” articles fail to address. Or is the advice basically “Write what you like”?
BRUST: Write what you like to read. Write something you wish someone else had written because you want to read it. The Cool Stuff Theory of Literature was an offshoot of something Gene Wolfe originally said.
VENTRELLA: Is writing a skill that can be learned or are the best writers born, not made?
VENTRELLA: Who do you like to read?
BRUST: These days, I’m mostly reading non-fiction, especially history.
VENTRELLA: New authors can make huge mistakes. What big mistake bugs you the most, and how can writers avoid making it?
BRUST: Mostly they over-explain. Write for people as smart as you are. If you’d figure it out, and if you’d enjoy the process of figuring it out, chances are the reader will too.
VENTRELLA: Do you attend science fiction conventions? If so, do you find these useful?
BRUST: Yes, I do. I don’t know if they’re useful, but they sure are fun.
VENTRELLA: What are you working on now?
BRUST: A sequel to THE INCREMENTALISTS with Skyler White.