Thursday, April 11, 2013

Interview: Brian McClellan Talks Powder Mages, Cleveland, and Influences

Brian McClellan's debut novel is making waves as the publication date of April 16 looms.  Orbit is pushing the book in a big way, rightfully so, it is an impressive novel. Brian's been all over the place the last few weeks promoting the book, as evidenced by the recent guest post here on my blog, among other places.  He answered some questions I shot over to him.

Q: What about muskets fascinated you to the point of mixing them with magic?

A: The musket is alluring for a writer of epic fantasy. It shares the word "gun" with what we think of as modern day weapons, but the musket wasn't a point and kill method of warfare. Its noise and smoke made it a terrible thing to behold on the battlefield, for certain, but you could get off only a few shots per minute and the accuracy wasn't fantastic.

Basically, muskets allow me to keep the "epic" in "epic fantasy" while still dealing with gunpowder and a more modern world. The warfare is still very personal as compared to say, the World War I era with gas attacks and long range artillery. There are still bayonet charges and hand to hand combat. A hero can still make a discernable difference in the melee.

Q: Are you of the clan McClellan, and if so, have you seen the Kurgan or any of his cousins?

A: We can trace ourselves back to Clan MacLellan, but our little branch so diluted that we don't think of ourselves as a particularly Scottish family. We do share the clan motto of "Think On."

We try to avoid the Kurgan as much as possible. Let the immortals fight amongst themselves.

Q: According to the theme song to The Drew Carey Show, Cleveland Rocks. As a person who lives in Ohio, can you tell me if this is true?

A: People talk a lot of crap about Ohio, and Cleveland in particular. I love it here. I love the snow. I love how green it gets in the spring and summer and the myriad colors of fall. I like how people are generally nice to each other. As a very moderate person, I enjoy how average it is politically. It's a quiet and fantastic place to live.

Q: Fan Fiction…some within the genre (readers, writers, publishers, fans) think it a dirty term. Others encourage it. Your bio states you started writing Wheel of Time RPGs. How did this early form of fan fiction help you to develop as a writer?

A: I only wrote fan fiction for a few months and quickly grew past it with my desire to write original content. But I can't say too many bad things about fan fiction. It was my first real outlet as a writer. It gave me a framework within which I could write adventure and characters.

I used to read tons of Star Wars fan fiction. Some of it was absolutely incredible. I mean, far more engaging than even official Extended Universe books. I loved it. But for every good story there were fifty terrible ones.

I think that as long as fan fiction writers are respectful to the source material and don't try to make money off of property that doesn't belong to them, they can have at it. Of course, I might change my opinion the first time I read something that has made an abomination out of my work.

I'll try to keep an open mind about it.

Q: Your connection to The Wheel of Time is two-fold, the above-mentioned foray into the RPG and you were taught by Brandon Sanderson. How much of that connection to WOT affected your course with Brandon as your instructor?

A: Not a ton. I was certainly delighted to hear he had been chosen, but by that time I had moved on to reading George RR Martin and other authors and I never really got my excitement back for Wheel of Time. That shouldn't reflect on Brandon's work, but on my own changing tastes as a reader.

Q: I’ve seen comments about your work as a bit of a mirror to the French Revolution. For me I felt more of a parallel to Colonial America (and that could be because I’m in the midst of playing Assassin’s Creed 3). Regardless, the story takes place during a time of change. What are you trying to say in A Promise of Blood about the cost of change?

A: I don't think I was trying to say much of anything. I was just trying to tell a fun story. Consciously, anyways.

Subconsciously? Change has a cost. It takes steely determination. There will always be people who benefit, and people who suffer. Only the history books will tell us whether it was worth it (and they may very well be lying).

Q: As a follow-up to the above question, gunpowder, the use of it especially in the military, is a great game changer. How much of the world in this books is shaped around the use (and sometimes abuse) of gunpowder?

A: The entire world is shaped around industrialization. Gunpowder is only a part of that, but it is very important in the warfare and in the magic system.

Q: Some writers publish the first books they write, others wind up publishing the fourth book they submitted, which was actually an idea they had when they were 12. Where does Promise of Blood and The Powder Mage Trilogy fit into that model?

A: Promise of Blood is my second epic fantasy, and my third book written overall. I developed the idea over the course of the spring of 2010 and then wrote it that summer.

Q: Your bio indicates you live with two dogs and a cat, which is a better writing companion, cat or dog?

A: I tell people that the dogs are my wife's and the cat is mine.

Leto, my cat, if a big snowshoe Siamese. He doesn't bother me unless he's hungry, but he never runs away if I want some companionship. He'll curl up in my beanbag chair and sleep while I'm writing, which is perfect.

Q: Reading Promise of Blood, I saw some DNA of your genre predecessors. Clearly, questions I ask above call out some influences. Who in the genre aside from those mentioned above, inspired you to put the words down for these stories? Who or what books outside the genre?

A: Joe Abercrombie is a personal hero of mine. I read his First Law trilogy during that spring that I was formulating Promise of Blood and it quickly shot to the top of my "favorites" list. It became a goal of mine to write something that would appeal to both readers of Abercrombie and Sanderson—to create something right in the middle.

My two favorite books are Les Miserables and The Count of Monte Cristo. Looking back, it can't be coincidence that I wound up writing a world with the same geo-political basis as both of them.

Q: When you finish writing a book, do you have any “completion rituals?” In the film and book Misery by Stephen King, Paul Sheldon likes to have a cigarette. Is there anything you like to do to celebrate, other than breathing a sigh of relief?

A: Not yet. Like I said, I've only finished three books. The sigh of relief is definitely there.

When I finished Promise of Blood, my wife brought me home a giant Lego castle. I spent the weekend putting it together. I've always loved Legos, even as an adult, so it was a very enjoyable way to decompress. I might be doing that again when I turn in the final copy of The Crimson Campaign.


Paul Weimer said...

Are you of the clan McClellan, and if so, have you seen the Kurgan or any of his cousins?

Wait, wasn't that Clan McCloud??

Bastard said...

Nice interview, currently reading Promise of Blood... very good so far, the magic system looks like it'll be tons of fun.

RobB said...

Yes, but the McClellans were allies and neighbors of the McClouds. T

Paul Weimer said...

I had forgotten that detail. Well done!