Living in Seattle, WA has its perks.
We have strong coffee. Great microbrews. The Seahawks. And less rain than you would think, especially given the drought we have had this winter.
But those all pale in comparison to the wonderful bookstores we have, the readers we have, and the book-loving community that we have. There is a reason why publishers send authors on tour to Seattle. We come out in droves. Nothing comes between us and reading. Nothing.
A lesser known fact about Seattle? We have a lot of wonderful writers here too.
Peter Orullian is one of them. He is the author of The Unremembered and, next week, its sequel Trial of Intentions publishes from Tor Books.
To celebrate, Peter decided to ask a few of his favorite writers some questions. To see what makes them tick.
And here is the first of the interviews, this one with Joe Abercrombie!
EXCLUSIVE: PETER ORULLIAN INTERVIEWS JOE ABERCROMBIE
Peter Orullian: Not long ago, Joe Abercrombie came through town. I saw this as an excuse to eat. So, I wrangled him and Terry Brooks to a dive bar in the U District for burgers. And jokes. Joe is one of the funniest writers I’ve ever met. It’s clearly how he counterbalances the grim. And he does a fine job of both.
Anyway, as we finished up the evening, I asked if I could shoot him some questions. I dig learning about writers—kind of a hobby. Below is the result of our exchange. Enjoy.
All right, Joe. Just remember, you agreed to this. I take no responsibility.
David Morrell has an interesting notion of “fiction as autobiography.” Not as a deliberate act. But more that who we are invariably comes out more obviously, and in retrospect, than we realize. What are your thoughts on the degree to which this is or is not true in your work?
Joe Abercrombie: That’s a tough question to answer because, in a way, an author should be the last person to really assess their work, or themselves. But I think it’s inevitable that a big part of ourselves comes through into our writing. Everything in a book comes from inside the writer, after all, or at least from all the things a writer has read, watched, experienced, filtered through their own taste. We write about what interests us, about what excites and stimulates us, in reaction to things we really like or things we really don’t. The best books, for me, are the ones in which the author really lays themselves bare in some way, leaves it all on the table. There are few ways you can really lay your inner self open to public scrutiny more than by writing a book.
Peter Orullian: I second that. And it leads me to wanting to know: What was the most challenging part of writing HALF A WORLD?
Joe Abercrombie: I don’t know that there was any one thing in particular. I had the same challenge with it that I do with all my books – I utterly hated it by the time I got to the middle, and thought it was a horrible, hopeless piece of shit that would destroy my career. Fortunately, I came to love it by the end. As always. Tis a wearying pattern, endlessly repeated.
Peter Orullian: Most writers I talk to go through this same thing. Though at different points in the writing process. I know a few who cry uncontrollably when they’re done. Sure their career is over. Speaking of other writers, is there any book you wish you’d written? And why?
Joe Abercrombie: I hear those Harry Potter ones did reasonably well.
Peter Orullian: So, money and fame and huge audience. Also, characters readers like. So, then, here’s my lame attempt at psychoanalyzing you: Which of your characters is most like you?
Joe Abercrombie: The strange (and perhaps slightly worrying) thing about being a writer is that, in a sense, all of your characters are you. Everything they say or think comes out of your own head. So they reflect different aspects of your own personality, often greatly exaggerated and intensified. I of course have the good looks of Jezal dan Luthar, the berserker strength of Logen Ninefingers, and the cunning and charisma of a young Bayaz.
Peter Orullian: It’s a bit disquieting to have you identifying with some of your characters, actually. Because, grim. I jest. I think you smile more than any writer I know. What are you hiding?
Anyway, what, if anything, do you think the fantasy genre does better than other genres?
Joe Abercrombie: I think there’s so much difference between different books within a genre, maybe fantasy in particular, that it’s really hard to generalise. I guess big epic fantasy tells huge, complex, epic stories well but then could one say War and Peace fails to do that? For myself I’m more interested in what fantasy has in common with everything else – characterisation, voice, action, plot – than those things it does differently – the magic systems, the alien worlds, the fantastical elements. The writing that really works best and grips me is that which brings a unique voice to familiar themes, an attitude and approach I’ve never quite seen before, that presents fascinating people and keeps me turning pages. I guess you can find that in any genre.
Peter Orullian: Fair enough. Many elements of craft are universal. I was kind of hoping you’d say bloody death or something provocative. Give me an anchor to understand your black heart. Again, I kid. Mostly.
Speaking of black hearts, even if you don’t begin with a theme in mind, do you feel your work has any evident themes, as you look back at your extant work? If so, what are they?
Joe Abercrombie: Oh, definitely. When I started writing the First Law I wasn’t thinking at all about theme, really, I was just setting out to write the kind of story I’d want to read, reacting to the fantasy I’d read as a kid and an adult. But without doubt your view on the world, your view on the genre you’re writing in, is inevitably expressed in the way you write. So I end up constantly coming back to the nature of heroism, and whether heroism is really possible, especially in a war, the line between hero and villain, the destructiveness of violence, the corrupting nature of power, the role that fantasy stories play for audiences. All that good stuff…
Peter Orullian: I’ve been thinking a lot about heroism in fantasy lately, myself. Going to post on it sometime soon. But your comments on violence have me thinking. Somewhat famously, Stephen King allowed his novel RAGE to fall out of print. The book was tied to a number of high school shootings. So, my question has to do with self-censorship. Are there certain things you don’t write about, simply to avoid even introducing those ideas into the world?
Joe Abercrombie: No, I don’t think so. At least I haven’t come upon any yet. The best piece of writing advice I’ve ever had was from my Mum, who told me you’ve got to be honest. Got to try and be truthful in everything you say, every thought, description, piece of dialogue ask – is this true. That means going to some quite dark places, potentially, especially if you’re covering warfare, violence, torture, the exercise of power. I don’t want to be extreme just for the sake of it, but at the same time I don’t want to shy away from wherever the story takes me.
Peter Orullian: Okay, let’s lighten it up a bit. I’ve seen your light and airy side, so let’s go there. Do you have any writing quirks? Like, you must be intoxicated? Or the laundry must be done? Or you write the ending first? Or you can only write if your lava lamp is warmed up?
Joe Abercrombie: Nothing particularly extravagant. A whisky or two is certainly no bad thing, otherwise what’d be the point of being a writer? I do most of my drafting standing up. I have a desk I can motor up and down and I find standing to type, so I can easily wander around thinking and come back to the keyboard, just a lot more stimulating somehow, not to mention good for the back. Then when I’m editing and revising I’ll usually sit. I also tend to write dialogue first, dart around within a chapter, then gradually fill in the blanks, ending up with the more in-depth descriptive sections, which I usually find the hardest to write. No lava lamps here.
Peter Orullian: I’m disappointed about the lava lamp thing. Don’t know why. But the whisky thing will serve. That’s very writerly of you. Patches on the elbows, and whatnot. So, about writers. Do you have a favorite non-genre writer?
Joe Abercrombie: I read, and have read, all kinds of things, and mostly outside of fantasy, so there are all kinds of writers I love for different reasons. To pluck a few from the air – Shelby Foote, James Ellroy, Elmore Leonard, Solzhenitsyn, I think this William Shakespeare guy may catch on at some point too…
Peter Orullian: I just knew you’d name drop Shakespeare. Or, the bard, as I call him. Because as a musician, I’m allowed. Also, as a musician, I must know: Who’s your favorite music artist?
Joe Abercrombie: Again, favourites are so hard to pick. I worked as a video editor on a lot of live music, concerts and events for ten years or so, and when you’re doing that job you have to be able to listen to (and watch) any band or artist over and over and find a way to like them, work out what it is about them that their fans connect with. So I’m pretty omnivorous in my taste these days. I don’t listen to music when I’m writing, though. Silence is golden. Though I’ve got three kids so I don’t get that much silence either.
Peter Orullian: I don’t listen to music when I writer either. Music isn’t a background thing for me. It needs my attention. Whether at home or live. Speaking of live music, what’s the best concert you ever attended?
Joe Abercrombie: Well, I saw Pink Floyd back in the 80s. That was quite something…
Peter Orullian: I hate you. Never seen Floyd live. This accounts for your magical awesome. Let’s shift gears again. How do you think your own writing has evolved since your first published book?
Joe Abercrombie: Oh, it’s evolved massively and in all kinds of small and subtle ways, I’m sure. I think I write sharper, tighter and more on point now, even if as you write more and more you have to reach further and further for ideas, and you make up in craft what you perhaps lose slightly in simple inspiration. I achieve a much better result much more quickly now, so I need to spend far less time going over and over and over every line, paragraph and chapter and mostly push on to a finished first draft, and then do several passes of more coherent and focused revision of the whole book at once. I think I’ve got a lot better at writing women over time, and I’m glad that I’ve been able to include a wider and more varied range of female characters, especially in my most recent books, because I think quite apart from any political argument it just makes for a more vivid, varied, and realistic cast.
Peter Orullian: I’d agree with that. How much, then, about your characters and your world do you have figured out before you write vs. having it unfold in the telling?
Joe Abercrombie: I used to be a very careful planner, with reams of notes and thoughts, but I’ve let myself get a bit more organic over time. It’s not until you start writing that you really start to get a feel for the characters and how they talk, think, behave, interact, and that will in turn have an effect on how you see their role within the story, how the plot will develop. So for best results I find character and plot have to develop together, interact, intertwine. Usually when I reach the end of a book and the plot is now set, I need to go back over the characters and tweak them into a slightly different shape, especially early on, to fit the plot better. They may need to be more ruthless, or more idealistic, or more angry to make a certain plot moment or a wider arc work better. But the great thing about a plan is you can always abandon it and go off piste if you get a better idea. If you start with no map at all, who knows what god-forsaken desert you’ll end up in…?
Peter Orullian: I’ve found most writers occupy this same middle ground. You’re in good company there. Now, to close out, give us one tidbit that your readers would be surprised to know about you?
Joe Abercrombie: I cry a lot when watching films. A lot. I cry at the opening credits of It’s a Wonderful Life.
Peter Orullian: Thanks, Joe. Keep crying. That film deserves it.
And there you are, folks. You now have the all of Mr. Abercrombie. You should have probably stopped reading this a while back and just gone and bought his damn books.
Author of: THE UNREMEMBERED, TRIAL OF INTENTIONS (in bookstores May 26th)
To learn more about Peter Orullian, visit www.orullian.com! To learn more about Joe Abercrombie, visit www.joeabercrombie.com!
Now go read The Unremembered and Half a King…
… you won’t regret it!
Shawn Speakman is the author of The Dark Thorn, an urban/epic fantasy hybrid novel bestselling author Terry Brooks calls, “a fine tale by a talented writer.” He also edited the bestselling anthology Unfettered.
When Shawn isn’t lying for a living, he runs The Signed Page and Grim Oak Press. Follow him on Facebook and @shawnspeakman!