Were you thinking “superhero” when you came up with the character of the Warded Man? If so, how did that trope shape your writing?
I grew up reading superhero comics, so I guess that sort of thing was always at the back of my head, but I wanted one key difference. In comics, the superheroes almost always come by their special abilities by accident, inheritance or some mutation at birth. Spider-man was bitten by a radioactive spider; Flash was struck by lightning and random chemicals; Superman is an alien; Green Lantern was given a ring; Cyclops is a mutant. You see this a lot in fantasy novels, too, where the main character is special not due to anything they have done, but because of some accident of birth that makes them a wizard and not a muggle or a squib, or puts the magic sword of whozit in their hands.
This is a tried and true method, I think because we all like to harbor the secret fantasy that suddenly, tomorrow, we could become something amazing and leave our mundane lives behind. But real life seldom works that way, and success more frequently comes to people with focus and determination who are willing to work hard, take risks, and make sacrifices to achieve their goals. So in my story, I wanted to create a hero that really had to earn his powers, forced to pay a heavy price in exchange. The Warded Man grew out of that idea.
How would you describe the theology(ies) at play in the world you’ve created, given that the corelings are called demons?
Religion pervades every human society, and has the power to let two people look at the same situation and see completely different things. That was something I wanted to touch on in my story.
In The Warded Man, the coreling demons rise every night at sunset to terrorize the populace. No one living in the time the story takes place knows for sure why, and so their understanding of this phenomenon is influenced by their religious beliefs and oral traditions. Some, like the people of Thesa, see them as a punishment by the Creator for the sins of man, and others, like those of Krasia, see them as a test to prove oneself worthy for the afterlife. Both belief systems center around a Deliverer who will come to lead humanity against them, and many see the Warded Man as this would-be messiah.
But the Warded Man is an atheist, and just sees the corelings as murdering animals to be put down. He has no interest in carrying all humanity’s hopes on his own shoulders, because he truly believes that for salvation to mean anything, it has to come from everyone, and not just one man. This question, of whether or not humanity needs and/or deserves a messiah, is one that interests me a great deal, and will be explored over the course of the series.
The religions in the story bear a close resemblance to real world ones in some ways, but only as a jumping off point. Obviously the circumstances on this world are very different, and have shaped the belief systems accordingly. This is another thing that will be explored in detail as the series progresses.
How did you learn to craft such visual and precise battle scenes?
I was a big RA Salvatore fan when I was a kid. He was the master of that sort of thing. I also watch a lot of martial arts movies and love learning about the variations between different cultural fighting styles. I love Fight Quest on the Discovery Channel for that reason. Another great help has been all the Dungeons & Dragons I played in High School when I should have been talking to girls. D&D breaks every combat round into parts, like the pieces of a watch. When you understand how the pieces work together, it’s a lot easier to put them together, wind them up, and let them run.
For whatever reason, I approach combat scenes with much more confidence than other things. It’s the only part of writing I never stress about.
Do you do a lot of reading about history? If so, what time periods fascinate you and why?
Meh. I have always been more interested in mythology than history, although of course the two are closely linked and there is considerable overlap, since mythology usually stems from the politics of its time and culture. It’s impossible to learn about one without picking up a fair bit of the other.
As for favorite time periods, I was always drawn to the classic “adventure” periods; the American Old West, Shogun-era Japan, Medieval England and France, Ancient Greece & Rome, etc.
Who are three of your favorite authors and what did you learn from them?
Hmm. I always answer this question talking about Tolkien, Brooks, Martin, and Friedman. Lets try some different ones.
I already mentioned RA Salvatore, who taught me to write fight choreography, but also showed in his later works the dangers of making the fighting more important than the story itself.
Robert Jordan taught me that it’s okay to give your entire cast their own point of view sections, but also illustrated the dangers inherent in that, as forming a cohesive story out of a dozen or more POV’s can cause the story to grow uncontrollably and advance at a crawl.
David Eddings taught me that your characters’ personal problems and how they interact with one another to solve them can be just as interesting to the reader as the overall story itself, but also showed in later works the dangers of focusing on those things so much that your reader forgets what the overall story is and loses interest.
What surprised you the most as you wrote The Warded Man?
The character of Leesha the Herb Gatherer. In the first draft of the book she was only a supporting role and never had her own POV. That version never sparked any interest with publishers. When I rewrote the book to give her and Rojer the Jongleur their own voices, that was when the story really came in focus. Leesha in particular took on a life of her own, and her personal story ended up taking a much more sizable portion of the book than originally intended.
Was there any point where you felt like the book would never come together, and how did you break through?
Ugh. All the time. I think every writer goes through that. I feel that way about the sequel a lot, too. I think it comes from being a perfectionist and never thinking my own work is good enough, which is an apt description of most writers. What’s important is to never give up, and never settle for something you know in your isn’t your best work, even if that means scrapping a whole novel and starting fresh. Art is a journey.