Servant of a Dark God
Today's interview brings us to the world of Talen, in which human beings are ranched like cattle so that powerful beings called Mothers can harvest the days of their lives. WOTF winner John Brown takes us on a tour of the novel, and his own fantasy.
Thanks for joining us, John!
What's the hardest thing about writing a trilogy?
The main thing I’ve had a hard time with is that I sometimes try to stuff too much into my books. It’s a mild case of Robert Jordanitis. And this is exacerbated by the fact that I think I have three books, a whole lot of space, and so, geez, it would be so cool to explore this neat idea or character? The reality is that the book size explodes very quickly when I do this. This becomes problematic.
First, big books take a lot longer to write. This is not insignificant. You want time to let the book sit. You want time to revise. And big books push you right up or beyond your due dates. Not a good thing.
Second, big books are complex. It makes them harder to write. Oh, how I long for a short 90k word novel. Ah, the simplicity. The grace! The SPEED! Of course, difficulty is not all bad because it requires I take more writer walks, which this body desperately needs. But, still, I don’t want to write difficult books. Meaty, yes. Fun, yes. Big and fulfilling, yes. But complex, no. And there’s a risk of falling into complexity when you stuff your books.
Finally, big books present special challenges in the marketplace, which I blogged about here.
In Talen's world, the days of people's lives can be harvested and sold. What sparked that idea, and is it a metaphor for anything here in real life?
Cows sparked that idea.
I was walking up in the hills by my place, looking for a new idea for a novel. Another one of those writer walks. The ranchers here push the cattle up into the hills to feed so they can grow the winter feed in their fields. There were a bunch milling around a creek bed. One of them was talking strange cow talk.
Now, when I was a wee lad, I had mooed at a herd of cattle that lived out west of the city where I lived. I think it was one of maybe three experiences I’d had with cattle growing up. Total city boy. Anyway, I mooed and the cows mooed and all came over to the fence. I felt like freaking Dr. Doolittle. So with that in my bag of vast cow experience, I thought, “I’m going to talk to that cow.”
The cow in question was not mooing. It was making some other awful noise, but I was able to reproduce it. We went back and forth a few times, me delighting in my Doolittlian prowess. And then the cow began to kick up dust.
I quickly realized this was not a cow. It was a BULL! And we had been having a conversation in which I had probably told him I was going to take one of his women, he was telling me he was going to kill me, and I was telling him to bring it. And bring it he did, rumbling through the willows toward me. With my great intelligence I realized it was expedient at that moment to vacate my location. I did. Luckily, the bull did not pursue.
But I began thinking about ranching and cattle. And what if humans were being ranched? Not for their flesh, but for their souls? See, I already had some idea of the magic of the world. And I had thoughts about soul stemming from my religion. And the cows just gave it all the spark of life.
As for metaphor, I’m sure you could extrapolate one. But I didn’t go into it with that. I will say that the thralls, another part of the magic in the book, did present a metaphor or a relationship to things in this world to me. So after I’d created that magic, I saw the link, and while I didn’t write allegory (I so very much dislike allegory in fiction), I have tried to build on that theme.
So what's next after the Dark God Trilogy? Do you have the next project planned out?
I’ve got a few projects cooking and am not sure which one will be next. There’s another epic fantasy that will be more of a franchise series about a bunch of teens who hook up with a guy who smuggles black market magic. Lots of shady characters. Lots of danger. Lots of small Lords and others wanting his services. They prove themselves a capable crew, and as the series progresses, they become something of a mercenary group. It’s inspired a bit by John Wayne’s THE COWBOYS and Horatio Hornblower. The magic is based on the manufacturing world, which is the industry I’ve been serving with my current ERP software job. And I think it’s the best system I’ve come up with so far. Then there’s a thriller I want to write about a boy whose parents send him to live with his burley, tattooed, ex-con, part-time Christian minister uncle. Of course, being an ex-con, well, let’s just say trouble finds him. It will probably be a YA. The fantasy could be YA as well. Then there are other projects I’ve been stewing. I hope to have 5-6 to choose from when I finish this series.
If you could start your writing career over from scratch, what would you do differently?
First, get my head straight. I blogged about that here: http://johndbrown.com/writers/wandering-a
Second, figure out what stories were about. For so long the core essence of stories eluded me. Of course, not learning that wasn’t a choice. I just didn’t know and didn’t figure it out on my own, even though it was lying there in plain sight. And I didn’t run into someone who did know (thank you Dave Wolverton) until I was a number of years into it. But, oh, how I wish I’d picked that up the first year of writing. It would have saved me soooooo much time because it would have focused my creativity.
Third, focus on novels. For many years I took creative writing courses and all we did was write short stories. That was good in a way. I was able to submit a short and win a Writers of the Future award. But I wish right now that I’d been writing novels all along. There are things you can only learn by writing a number of novels. And I should have been learning those things right up front.
Thank you, John. Interested readers can find Servant of a Dark God online and in bookstores. Praise for the novel by Booklist, Publisher's Weekly, and Brandon Sanderson can be found here.
Tomorrow: Writer, teacher, and Mom Kelly Barnhill presents The Mostly True Story of Jack.