New Release Interview: THE UNREMEMBERED by Peter Orullian


orullian-unrememberedppDebut novels are the most fun to watch for.

Sure, the big heavyweights of the genre are fun to wait for and eventually read. George R. R. Martin. Patrick Rothfuss. Brandon Sanderson. Jacqueline Carey. Robin Hobb. Terry Brooks. Steven Erikson. Christopher Paolini. Kim Harrison. It’s fun waiting for these authors to publish a book because we already know what we are going to get—greatness. We get comfortable, open their books, and simply enjoy the ride.

But finding that diamond in the proverbial rough known as the debut novel—now that is truly fun!

Peter Orullian has been a joy to discover. He and I first met after his debut novel, The Unremembered, was purchased by Tor Books. I saw him go through the steps required to get the book ready for publication, the editing, the page proofing, the ARC creation, the blurbing process, and its eventual release day. I saw his immediate reviews—some people loving the epic aspect of the book, others worried it wasn’t different enough in a genre that has had three decades worth of writers. But having the inside view of things from being his friend, I know some of the things he does in Book II flip the genre on its head. There is a reason why Tom Doherty at Tor Books enthusiastically purchased The Unremembered and it had nothing to do with rehashing what has come before.

Don’t now about The Unremembered by Peter Orullian? Here is a bit more about it:

In The Unremembered, from Peter Orullian, rumors of threatened strife from ancient enemies reach the eastlands of Aeshau Vaalthe. They auger an onslaught of raids and destruction more severe than any since the legendary Convocation of Seats, a gathering unknown in the land for generations without number.

For an author’s son, a true threat would mean taking up a legendary weapon with hands that have never touched steel;

For an expectant mother, it would mean learning the harsh toll the world exacts from its children, and the latent power of her song to ease their suffering;

For a simple huntsman, it would mean discovering his lost childhood, and facing the truth behind the words he is impelled to speak each time he draws his bow.

These three, aided by an exile who fosters orphans in a desolate waste, a rogue member of a powerful ancient brotherhood, and a woman warrior of a legendary race, will fight the past even as they face a dark future.

Because the threats are more than rumor . . .

One of Library Journal’s Best SF/Fantasy Books of 2011

Since the paperback edition of the Unrememberd is now in bookstores, I thought I would interview Peter about the book, becoming a published author, how his life has changed, and what’s in store for Book II. Here you go!


Shawn Speakman: Hi Peter! Your debut novel, THE UNREMEMBERED, is now published in mass market paperback. Tell Unbound Worlds readers about it and why they might want to pick up a copy?

Peter Orullian: Well, it’s firmly in the epic fantasy camp—the conflict of nations, ancient threats, several interconnected plots, scale. And against that I play out the hard lives of my characters to give resonance to the macrocosm. I don’t want to do any real spoilers, but I’m taking traditions of the genre, getting my readers all comfortable, then evolving storylines to violate expectations.

THE UNREMEMBERED is the first movement, if you will; which is apropos since one of the real through-lines for the series is music—I have a music magic system. There’s a good dose of this in book one, and it will continue to amp as the series progresses. In book two, it shifts into another gear. This all makes sense, of course, since I’m a musician.

There’s also a brutal nature to the world I’ve created, particularly as it relates to children. There’s a whole blog post I probably need to do as to why. I think with hindsight, I have some ideas about how this percolated up into my story. For instance, I have a character who lives at the heart of a waste and cares for orphans and foundlings, even finding some of them homes—his story fascinates me. I have a warrior woman struggling with not wanting to bear a child she will never get to know—this has to do with her race’s short life span. I have an early scene where there’s a stillbirth. There’s more. Much more. And it all seems to accrue to the same idea.

I’ve also seen as I’ve looked back that there’s some stuff about choice and consequence. My characters wind up having to make some heart-breaking decisions. Those scenes have been hard to write. But I guess that’s as it should be.

SS. THE UNREMEMBERED is definitely epic fantasy — many points of view, lots of conflict, and lots of words. As the writer, why do you think it is epic fantasy? And why write epic fantasy to begin with?

PO: I suppose I answered a bit of this in response to your first question. But I’ll say that, unfortunately, a lot of publishers slap the term “epic fantasy” on books they publish because it sounds big and important and is, perhaps, a subgenre that performs well commercially. I say “unfortunately” because for readers who pay attention to such terms (and who also gravitate to epic fantasy novels) they’re often disappointed, since many of the books marketed as such just aren’t epic fantasy.

Here’s the thing, though: A great fantasy doesn’t need to be an epic fantasy to be great. That said, my book is, as you say, definitely epic fantasy. Which, to me, means that the story problem has far-reaching implications. It has to do with scale—things like war, the clash of ideologies, movement across a world to meet a protagonist’s challenge or goal. You can get into all kinds of semantic debates about “epic.” But for me, these are a few things that remain core to a more classic definition of epic fantasy.

Why write epic fantasy? Well, because: war, clash of ideologies, movement across a world. Okay, that sounds glib. But really, building out a huge canvas and populating it with kingdoms and religions and philosophies and cultures, and then setting flawed characters loose against big odds in the midst of such ravages . . . c’mon, who wouldn’t want to write that.

SS: Several of your characters represent aspects seen in our world and our political climate. Do you think it is important as the writer to try and illuminate problems seen in our own world? Or are you in this to purely entertain readers?

PO: Well, firstly, these things (for me anyway) are incidental. I don’t set out to comment on things by way of my fiction. I’m not saying that such isn’t a perfectly viable approach. I think some writers do it well. But it’s not my MO. If readers see my characters representing aspects of our world, I suspect one of two things has happened: 1) the reader is projecting his/her own thoughts/beliefs (which is why reading is so awesomely individual), or 2) my subconscious has informed my tale in an organic way that I was unaware of in the creation process.

I don’t necessarily think writers have an obligation to point readers at the world’s problems. Some readers might contend that they read to escape the problems of the world. But then we have this old idea of verisimilitude, don’t we. In other words, stories often cohere because they imitate life. That all sounds rather high-minded, I know. Which is why I mostly set out to tell a story, as you say, to purely entertain.

But that said, what I do want—at the end of the day—is to have my readers finish the book and feel the least bit better about life, the world, and their place in it. It’s not that I’m trying to change the world. But by way of the struggle of my characters, I’d like to think that readers will feel even a tad more hopeful. It’s one of the reasons I love The Shawshank Redemption so much. That line when Andy Dufresne says, “ . . . that’s the beauty of music. They can’t get that from you . . . you need it so you don’t forget . . . that there’s something inside that they can’t get to, they can’t touch, that’s yours.” To which Red replies, “What are you talking about?” And Andy says, “Hope.”

Aw man, I could go on and on ALL DAY about that film and its underpinning of hope! But I think you take my point.

SS: I know you have finished writing the sequel. What has been the most difficult part of writing it?

PO: Oh, that’s easy: The day job. I work at Microsoft for Xbox. Over the last two years, the day job has gotten more demanding. All in a good way. But it’s meant I’ve had to use writing time to be sure I’m doing right by my employer. I’m not in the boat yet with writer-colleagues of mine who are fortunate enough to write full time. I work 10-12 hour days. I commute another two hours a day. Plus I’ve got a couple of kids I love to spend time with. With some big strategic bets Microsoft is making, I’ve had the opportunity to work on some amazing products, which has meant that there’ve been stretches where I haven’t been able to write. I feel my priorities are straight. But it doesn’t mean that sometimes I don’t get bummed out that the book isn’t about to release, liked I’d hoped.

SS: Does the sequel to THE UNREMEMBERED have a title you can share? Release date?

PO: No title yet. I have some ideas, but my editor and I will have to have a meeting of the minds. With book one, the title I showed up with was lame. We did a few rounds to land on something everyone could get behind. This time, I want to show up with something everyone loves out of the gate. And as to release date, while my publisher wanted to get it out at the end of 2012, I think that’s unlikely. I’m guessing early 2013.

SS: The books you write are massive. Yet you have a full time job. How do you manage to balance work with more work? What does your work day consist of?

PO: Ahaha! I keep answering your questions before you ask them. I’m in the process of writing a blog post on this, since I’ve had a lot of people ask me about it lately. But here’s the short story: I get up at 3:30 a.m. to write. The slightly longer story is that I’m in a constant, active state of time-management. I write for about three hours in the morning. Commute a ways to work. Do a long day at Microsoft. Commute a long ways home. Eat. Spend some time with the family. Read. Then crash. Repeat.

I don’t want to keep this schedule forever, mind you. But it’s the state of things for now.

SS: Now that you have been a published writer for almost a year, how does that feel? Has anything changed for you?

PO: It’s a thrill to see my book on the shelf at the bookstore. It’s a bigger thrill to get email from readers, or better yet to meet a reader somewhere and experience my story through their eyes. I’ve accomplished part one of a life-long goal, so that feels awesome. But I’d say I’ve reached the first stage, and there’s a great deal more mountain to ascend, and I’ve further goals in loftier climbs. But to tell you the truth, I mostly just focus on each day’s scene, with the idea that if I pay attention there, I’ll reach the summit eventually. And I love me a tall, challenging mountain. Did I tax the hell out of that metaphor, or what?! I’m not complacent, is I guess what I’m saying. In a strange way, I’m both more relaxed about writing the next book, and more committed to continual improvement of my craft. I’ve always been active in trying to grow and learn, which is why I do things like the author interviews I do—I learn a lot from talking to my literary heroes.

As to what’s changed, I think I’ve gotten even more disciplined. I’ve always been pretty good in this regard, I think. But with a book contract, and increasing responsibilities at work, I’ve had to make decisions about what things to stop doing, so that I have time for things I must do.

SS: What are you currently reading? Or got a favorite book you think people should read?

PO: On my night table right now: A Prayer for the Dying—Stuart O’nan; The Drawings of Gustave Dore—George Davidson; 11/22/63—Stephen King; The Lifecycle of Software Objects—Ted Chiang; Nobody’s Fool—Richard Russo; and Flashback—Dan Simmons. I think everyone should read Dan Simmons. He’s a national treasure. I’ve heard this last book has created something of a stir, which makes me wonder what’s going on—we’ll see once I get ‘round to reading it. Dan is a writer I buy “sight unseen,” as they say. So, I’ll be interested to see what the fuss is about.

Hmmmm a book people should read. That’s a long list. A Simmons book I loved: Summer of Night. A McCammon book I loved: Boy’s Life. Of course, I love all the same fantasy genre books most folks do, but y’all don’t need me to point those out.

SS: Thanks for your time, Peter! Can’t wait for the sequel!

PO: Thanks, Shawn. You’re a gentleman. And I appreciate your anticipation. Shouldn’t be long now.

Published in mass market paperback, The Unremembered by Peter Orullian is in fine bookstores now!

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