Sunday 17 November 2013

Bradley P. Beaulieu talks about book trailers, twelve kings & how to pronounce his name

So I'm interviewing Brad Beaulieu because he donated money to a children's charity and got his book a place in my Million Dollar Bookshop.

Turns out he's an interesting fellow...

  • 1: Bradley P. Beaulieu ... Brad Lee Pee Bow-Lee-Oh ... that’s right isn’t it? So do you take revenge by giving your characters names people won’t know how to pronounce?
  • Book 1: The Winds of Khalakovo (Lays of Anuskaya, #1) in which Aramahn, and the fanatical Maharraht mix it up with Prince Nikandr... actually I’m still having more issues with your name than the ones in the book...

    Ha! You'd think so, wouldn't you? But I suppose I'd have to lay the blame for this at the feet of Professor Tolkien. I don't know about you, but I adored the difficult names in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and as difficult as The Silmarillion was to get through, it wasn't because I didn't love the names I found between the covers. Just take "Silmarillion" itself. Or Gondolin. Or Lothlorien. What wonderful names. They feel foreign, yet roll off the tongue. Not all of Tolkien's names were easy to grapple with, mind you (Ungoliant, Celebrimbor, Fanuidhol), but they certainly added to the richness of his world, the sense that it was a real place with a real history with organic language development.

    In the case of The Lays of Anuskaya, I suppose my subconscious did me no favors in trying to recreate a Russianesque setting in a new world. Russian is hard enough for the Western tongue, but I do enjoy the feelings of hard winters and warm hearths that it brings to mind. So, in my own way, I'm trying to create something that's accessible and still true to the culture I'm trying to evoke. Something rich and meaty, like a bowl of thick borscht.

    And hey, at least I stopped short of using Russian diminutives that have zero relation to the name they're nicking!

    2: So the three books of the Lays of Anuskaya are out and two reviewers I pay attention to (Justin Landon of Staffer’s Book Reviews and Pat of the eponymous Fantasy Hotlist) love the hell out of your work ... but it hasn’t been an easy road I’m guessing? Two books into the trilogy and your publisher, Nightshade Books rolled over and died, and the chances are they weren’t much help prior to the death scene as they were probably busy falling apart?

    Yes, that was quite the interesting ride. The reception to the books, critically, was great. But having your publisher fall apart at the seams just as the final book was coming out was not an ideal situation. As things started heading south, I ended up getting rights back to the trilogy. I decided to run a Kickstarter to get the books out (the third, plus rebranding the first two). It was a ton of work to do so, but it was gratifying in its own way. I learned a lot about the publishing business, because, essentially, I had become my own publisher. And thank goodness for things like Kickstarter. They give the writer a viable option for bringing things out on his own, where even ten years ago one would really have no choice but to put up with whatever the industry threw at you.

    In the end, I'll be honest. I'd much rather be writing books than stealing time from writing to produce and publish books. Self-publishing is still something I'll consider for things like story collections or even a book I really believe in but publishers can't find a way to market, but I'm also very pleased to now be part of the DAW Books and Gollancz families. I'm excited to see where the future takes us. Onward and upward, yes?                                                                             
    3: Much has been made of the Russian flavour to the books. Have you read and been inspired by the authors often brought into the discussion (Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Solzhenitsyn, etc)? What’s the connection there, or is it just in the nomenclature?

    Other than dabbling in their works, I have not read any of the Russian greats heavily. The connection was a rather tenuous one at first. I was expanding the world and trying to find the cultures I thought would make interesting models for the new ones I was creating. I had already decided I wanted the books to take place on an island chain, and I'd generated the world using a program called Fractal Terrains (which helps me to visualize the world and to start laying down the politics). I also knew that I wanted to avoid Western European cultures. I have nothing against them, and in fact I'll one day write a series set in such a world, but at the time, I was looking for something different to whet my appetite. When I decided the islands would in fact by very cold and inhospitable, it wasn't a far leap to try Tsarist Russia on for size. And the more I began to play with it, the more I liked it. Ancient Persia and Ottoman Turkey soon followed to round out the base cultures I would use to round out the world.

    The other connection I had with Russia was more to do with a rebellious streak than anything else. I don't know how it was in the UK, but when I was growing up, it was definitely post-Red Scare America, but the aftermath of that time could still be felt strongly in the culture of the time. We were shown shockumentaries in school like The Day After  Movies like Red Dawn and Octopussy were par for the course. Russia was the big menace. The Big Bad. But I never felt that, and I always wondered what it was like on "the other side." And I suppose that writing The Winds of Khalakovo and the other books in the trilogy was a way of satisfying that sense of curiosity that was (and still is) in me.

    4: 28 of my Goodreads friends have read Winds of Khalakovo and given it an average of 4.20 stars – which is a damn high score and significantly better than the general public’s average. Any reason you can think of why my readers should have an affinity for your work? Do we share any elements of our approach, or do we just have intelligent and discerning readers?

    Well, first off, without a doubt our readers are more intelligent and discerning than the average bear! But beyond this self-evident truth, I suspect that those who like your work would stand a decent chance of enjoying mine as well. Why? Well, there's a certain darkness to both sets of works, a seriousness, a broad scope, and a depth that makes the world feel lived in, populated, a sense that it exists well beyond the pages that fill the books. That's what I see in your work, anyway, and what I've tried to recreate in mine. Whether or not I've hit the mark, I'll leave up to the reader.

    I will also admit (drawing out some contrast instead of comparison) that I greatly admire the biting humor in The Broken Empire. It's something I'd like to fold more of into my own work. And it also makes me want to read your upcoming novels that much more. (A fool with M. Lawrence's grim humor? Sign me up!)

    5: You got a book trailer! I didn’t get a book trailer! Did Nightshade books do that for you or did you make it happen? Are book trailers a thing now? What’re your thoughts on them?

    I ended up making the trailer myself. I'm pleased with it, but it's not nearly so cool as some of the amazing trailers you can find out there these days. Some of them are stupendous, akin to movie trailers. Have you seen the one for Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora? Or Myke Cole's Fortress Frontier? Or Chuck Wendig's Blackbirds? Great stuff, and very inventive.

    And there's the rub. In order to stand out you have to have not only a trailer of high quality, but it has to be inventive. Why? For the simple fact that there are so many. It used to be that just having a trailer at all set you out from the crowd. But they've become so commonplace that unless you can create one that's really strong in both production quality and approach, you're probably better off spending your time and money elsewhere.

    So am I proud of the trailer I created? Yes. But I recognize its weaknesses as well. It's what I could do with the resources I had at the time, and I think it gives a decent teaser for what the book is about. Would I do it again? Probably not (and in fact I didn't for the third book), not unless I could work with some other creative folks to produce something truly unique. And I hope to do that at some point. It's an art form that's very intriguing to me—not just the short video format, but the art of synopsizing a book in an immediately intriguing way. It's as difficult as synopsizing a movie for a poster, or a book for a publisher. It's not something everyone's good at, but when you can do it well, it can really pack a punch and get people interested in your book.

    6: Is writing a full-time thing for you? What’s your day job / last job?

    Sigh. It isn't full time, but I would love it to be. One day...

    For the time being, I work in software consulting for Big Blue (that's IBM for the uninitiated). I do enjoy working in the IT world. I've always loved technology, particularly software and software development. But I'll also admit that I love creating worlds more.

    7: Recommend me some good books. What’s floating the Beaulieu windship these days?

    Right now I'm burning my way through the audio versions (how's that for a mixed metaphor) of Scott Lynch's Gentlemen Bastards series. I also recently read Lauren Beukes's The Shining Girls and found it to be a powerful read. (The Shining Girls, by the way, is one of those books with a great tag line: A girl who wouldn't die, hunting a killer who shouldn't exist.) Tim Powers' Hide Me Among the Graves was a great return to his writing for me. I adore Tim's quirky style, and especially enjoyed his take on this horror story set in Victorian London.

    8: Your next book is Twelve Kings in Sharakhai. We’ve got Seven Kings from John Fultz, Nine Princes in Amber from Roger Zelazny ... now Twelve Kings ... is this some kind of arms race? What if I up the stakes and release Thirteen Kings next year? What then, eh? Anyhow ... tell us about these dozen monarchs of yours. Why are we going to want to read about them?

    Well, you've touched on the man I'm paying homage to via the title. Zelazny was one of my favorite writers growing up, and Nine Princes in Amber remains one of my favorite series of all time.

    Twelve Kings in Sharakhai is my attempt at writing epic fantasy from the point of view of a single character, in this case a young female pit fighter. It has the flavor of an Arabian Nights tale, but also brings overtones of Sanctuary from Thieves' World, or Leiber's Lankhmar, or Camorr from The Lies of Locke Lamora. Sharakhai is a melting pot, but its existence has been blackened by the ruthless reign of the Twelve Kings. It is their story—the tale that led to the Kings' rise to power four centuries ago—that still rules much of what happens in Sharakhai. These are the secrets the Kings are desperate to keep hidden, to keep buried in the desert where they belong.

    But that's the thing about secrets. They have a way of finding the light no matter how deeply one tries to bury them.


  1. I'd like to think along with Justin and Pat that I've been a promoter of Brad's work. I'm definitely looking forward to Twelve Kings. Epic fantasy from the POV of a single character seems to be an old thing that is new again, and I am curious how Brad will handle it.

  2. Awesome interview - thanks, guys!

    The Winds of Khalakovo is still languishing in my TBR pile, alongside the Gentlemen Bastards series, but I did manage to catch up with The Broken Empire and The Demon cycle this year with some back-to-back-to-back reading, so I suspect it won't be long. :)

  3. You certainly have, Paul. And strangely enough, I'm finding that I'm having to add a few scenes from other POVs just to fill out the story, but It'll remain mostly Çeda's story to tell.

  4. Thanks, Bob. I hope you enjoy when you get a chance to dive in!

  5. Thanks Mark and Brad for a fantastic interview. I love the way you guys fed off each other in that question about shared readers and finding common grounds :) I loved book one of the Lays series and with a growing TBR, have resolved to find time and go finish that series. But yeah, I am one of those "SHARED readers" for sure, having blown through book 1 and 2 of the Broken Empire. Thnx again Brad for sending across the e-copies for book 2 and 3 ! Promise, I will do justice to them.