An Interview with John R Fultz—Author of “Seven Princes”
As regular blog readers will know, I am not only an epic fantasy author myself, but also a genre reader of longstanding—and also occasionally post on epic fantasy topics, both here and on other sites such as SF-Signal. I first met John R Fultz through his comments on those posts and noticed immediately that he both shared my enthusiasm for epic fantasy and was clearly a widely read and knowledgable commentator. I was delighted to learn that he was a fellow Orbit author as well, with his own epic fantasy series, Books of the Shaper scheduled for release this January. I immediately asked if I could do an interview and was delighted when John said yes—and am equally delighted to be bringing you the interview today.
HL: Seven Princes is the first in a new series, titled “Books of the Shaper“—can you give readers an idea of what it’s about?
JRF: Seven Princes is about blood–both literally and metaphorically. It’s about the sons (and daughter) of a mad Giant-King, but it’s also about several other princes such as D’zan, whose throne was stolen by an undying sorcerer. It’s about war and the terrible cost of vengeance. It’s equal parts dark, heroic, and epic fantasy. Most of all, it’s about sorcery.
HL: Seven Princes is also your first book published—how’s that feeling so far?
JRF: It feels amazing. Quite surreal at times. It’s really cool that this story I labored over for so many years has finally gotten out there. I used to walk into bookstores of all sizes and think: “Man, it would be so nice to have a book on these shelves where anybody could discover it.” The publication of Seven Princes represents—quite literally—a dream come true. And it’s a dream I get to share with all my readers, which is totally cool.
HL: I think it would be fair to describe Seven Princes as a big book in every sense of the word—a number of the central characters are giants, it traverses realms, big magic and bigger battles, over a satisfyingly epic number of pages. So why did you choose to write a ‘big’ epic? And not just one such book, but the first of a series? What do you feel that the big epic read offers readers that a more Twiggy-esque standalone might not?
JRF: Why a “big epic”? I suppose because the epic tale is so very seminal to the fantasy genre. For years I talked about writing my “Big Fantasy Novel”—so I finally did it. I find it far more rewarding than writing a short story here and there. As for the trilogy, I set out to write a book that would stand on its own (which Seven Princes does), but one that would also leave me room to return to its invented world. When agents become involved in a fantasy writer’s quest for a publisher, they usually will ask for a series proposal because the fantasy series has become a staple of the genre. Fantasy readers have a special relationship with the series (whether it be a trilogy or what-have-you) because when they love an invented world and/or set of characters, they want to return to that wonderful place again and again. The market demands it, so that’s what publishers want to see: series. Which gave me the perfect opportunity to pitch a trilogy—I had the Seven Princes manuscript completed and rough outlines for the second and third “Books of the Shaper“. The other great thing about doing a trilogy is that you have three “big releases” and it gives the reading public three separate chances to access your work. The idea, obviously, is to build a core following that grows with each book. The epic itself is one of the oldest and most mythic of storytelling forms—making it perfect for these “big fantasy” tales. People used to write them as poems—today we write novels instead.
HL: Building on the previous question, what do you look for when you pick up an epic fantasy? And how have you brought those ideas and passions into your own work?
JRF: The first thing I look for when I pick up ANY book is an engaging opening. When it comes to fantasy I look for a style that is timeless, lyrical, somewhat poetic, yet smooth and engaging. I suppose the next thing would be interesting characters…if they don’t grab you in the first three chapters or so, they’re probably not going to grab you at all. Something else a great epic fantasy has to have—for me anyway—is an original take on the whole fantasy genre. There’s no way to define what this might be: it could be a unique take on character, world-building, narration, imagery, or any number of other mixed elements. I do think a very key element of my favourite fantasy is strong fantastic imagery—a sense of wonder that is created by the unveiling of the author’s invented reality. Imagery is key to good fantasy…and that’s why I keep coming back to the whole lyrical/poetic thing, because the heart of much poetry is imagery. I think the second part of your question—how I bring these elements to my own work—is by following my muse. I write the fantasy tale that I most want to read. I’m a harsh critic, so when I please myself I know I’ve done it right. I try to incorporate all those elements I mention above, but in a way that is perfectly natural. I never want it to feel forced (“Oh, he’s trying to be poetic here…”). As to whether I succeed or not, that’s up to each individual reader to decide.
HL: I was interested to see that you drew on Japanese folk tradition in Seven Princes, with the sorceress, Alua, shapechanging between fox and human form. What do you see as the major mythological and/or legendary influences on the story—and what drew you to them?
JRF: Well, I didn’t consciously draw on Japanese folklore—but I am familiar with the “fox-woman” myth to which you’re referring. That came not from me picking and choosing consciously from real-world myths and legends, but from my own sense of wonder and the connection to the mystery of nature that I wanted to instill in the Vireon character (who chases after the fox-woman). I take this same approach to all my fantasy world-building: I don’t consciously mix cultures, but I put everything I know about ancient culture (which is quite a lot) into the fertile soil of my mind-garden, and I let it grow organically to serve the story. The story and its world grow together—feeding off one another and often filling in the gaps for one another as well. I don’t like to analyze my process in too great a detail, but I can tell you that any knowledge I have from real history, real cultures, existing myths, and documented legends is all grist for my imagination’s mill. In other words, I use everything and anything I can to create a world that is as beautiful and exotic as it is primal and dangerous. So I couldn’t really cite any specific mythological/legendary influences on the story—but I’m sure they are there, filtered through the weird lens of my subconscious mind (and sometimes my conscious mind). I don’t want my fantasy worlds feeling too much like any ONE period of history or any single earthly culture. I want there to be parallels, echoes, and whispers of these things—but I want my invented world to be its own creature with its own secrets, mysteries, and wonders. I suppose you might make a comparison between the kingdoms of Seven Princes and the classic Greek city-states…but only insofar as they are walled cities. There are definitely Roman, Norse, Arabian, Asian, and other flavors, but they are all just ingredients in the funky stew I’m cooking. The whole is always greater than the sum of its parts.
HL: So do you have a favourite character in Seven Princes? And can you tell me why?
JRF: When it comes to Seven Princes, I suppose Vireon is a favourite—although it could easily be his sister Sharadza. However, in Seven Kings (the “Second Book of the Shaper”) I’ve found that Lyrilan of Uurz has grown to be my favourite—he has a terrific character arc in that book (no spoilers!). It’s quite like trying to pick your favourite kid—you can do it, but not comfortably. I’m attracted to Vireon because he is my version of the archetypal hero: my Gilgamesh, my Beowulf, my Siegfried, my Hercules. He has the blood of Giants flowing in his veins, and the strength of Giants in his limbs…he’s at one with nature, which makes him a “pure” kind of hero. He’s honest and forthright, if a bit temperamental, and often brooding; he may be a lot like me in these respects. However, Sharadza is also a great character to me because she enters the mysteries of sorcery head-on, and the reader gets to accompany her on a transcendental journey into the secrets of reality itself. She represents the raised consciousness of expanded awareness, the seeker in search of immortal wisdom. She’s also the “conscience” of the cast—the only one who sees the absolute horror of war and who will do anything to try and stop it. She is the pacifist, the humanist, the progressive, in a world of primordial violence. She is endlessly fascinating to me for these reasons, and many more. Definitely not your typical princess.
HL: Action, world building, characters: do you have a favourite part of the storytelling process?
JRF: This might sound strange, but my favourite part of the storytelling process is the process of discovery. When I write, I’m constantly discovering the story as it unfolds. It’s a bit like walking through fog, seeing a series of streetlamps up ahead, but not being able to see the street in between them. I know I’m going to walk to each light and pass it, but I can’t see too far ahead of me—just a few feet at a time—so I keep going. I discover what’s going on in the story as I move from streetlight to streetlight (or tentpole to tentpole, if you will). I know where I’m going, but not how I will get there. I do big, rough outlines, but I keep it loose so I can let the story grow organically from the characters. As Fitzgerald said, “Plot is character, character is plot.” I set up my fictional universe and then turn my characters loose in it—like dropping mice into a maze. Then I sit back and watch them run…and I write it all down. Don’t get me wrong: I do a LOT of mental work before I sit down to actually write—I call it “gestating.” So I guess you could say a lot of the story is already forming in my subconscious—perhaps the WHOLE story—and all I’m doing when I write is “harvesting” it, bringing it to the page. Reporting the convoluted expressions of my imagination; inscribing the movements of my creative tempests; letting my creation live and breathe and speak to me. When I listen closely, it always tells me what I need to know…
HL: Seven Princes is also part of a series—and as a reader I definitely got a sense of continuance at the end of the book. But will each book still be relatively complete, or is it more a case of one ongoing story told in several instalments?
JRF: “Book One of the Shaper“, Seven Princes, is definitely a stand-alone read. So is Book Two (Seven Kings). However, with Seven Kings there will a more urgent drive to see what happens next. It’s not exactly a “cliffhanger” ending, but it’s an ending that closes one movement of the overall story only to open up a brand-new movement. It is the “Act II” of the trilogy, so to speak.
JRF: Yes! Seven Kings will hit bookstores one year after Seven Princes did—January 2013. And in the meantime, as well as working on Book 3: Seven Sorcerers, I’ve also got the Primordia graphic novel coming out from Archaia–look for it in comic shops in March. Amazing high-fantasy artwork by the great Roel Wielinga. Finally, I have a really cool short story called “The Gnomes of Carrick County” appearing in SPACE & TIME #116, which goes on sale this month (Feb). It’s the first “historical weird fantasy” that I’ve written, and I’m pretty excited about the results. (There’s even a cameo from ol’ Kentucky hero Daniel Boone.)
HL: I am sure that everyone who has loved Seven Princes will be marking January 2013 in their diaries right now–and in the meantime those interested in “The Gnomes of Carrick County” only have to keep their eye on the Space and Time website, here.
John, its been a great pleasure having you here on the blog today. It’s always fun to introduce new authors and I have especially enjoyed hearing you “speak” to your book in such an enthusiastic and expansive way. I’m looking forward to staying in touch, to checking out “The Gnomes of Carrick County”, and to seeing Seven Kings in the book shops next January. (I’ve already seen Seven Princes “out there” right now! )
About the Author:
John R. Fultz lives in the Bay Area, California, but is originally from Kentucky. His fiction has appeared in Black Gate, Weird Tales, Space & Time, Lightspeed, Way of the Wizard, and Cthulhu’s Reign. His comic book work includes Primordia, Zombie Tales, and Cthulhu Tales. John’s literary heroes include Tanith Lee, Thomas Ligotti, Clark Ashton Smith, Lord Dunsany, William Gibson, Robert Silverberg, and Darrell Schweitzer, not to mention Howard, Poe, and Shakespeare. When not writing novels, stories, or comics, John teaches English Literature at the high school level and plays a mean guitar.
About the Interviewer:
Helen Lowe is a New Zealand-based novelist, poet, and interviewer. Her latest novel, The Heir of Night, the first of The Wall of Night quartet, is published in the USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand, and The Netherlands; forthcoming in France and Germany in 2012. Helen has twice won the Sir Julius Vogel Award for Excellence in SciFi-Fantasy, for Thornspell (Knopf) in 2009 and The Heir of Night in 2011. Helen posts every day on her Helen Lowe on Anything, Really blog, on the first of every month on the Supernatural Underground, and appears occasionally on SF-Signal.
Other Recent Interviews:
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