Hey guys! I have an exciting interview today with Ryk E. Spor, author of many, including the book I’d like to bring your attention to today, Phoenix Rising. While reading through his website I absolutely fell in love with his writing style and I hope you will too. Can’t wait to start on his book!
Welcome to Once Upon A Time!
Thanks very much! I’m glad to be here! 🙂
To start with, what made you decide to write an epic fantasy novel?
I knew I was going to write one from the time I discovered “epic fantasy” as a genre in high school, in the form of The Lord of the Rings, The Sword of Shannara, and The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. That was in 1976-1977, and at the same time I discovered Dungeons and Dragons and I started designing the world of Zarathan – the same world that Phoenix Rising takes place in.
The first story I set there was written in 1978, and in some ways parts of that story continue to echo down into Phoenix Rising; already I had some characters that crossed from Earth to Zarathan, a complex world-girdling plot, a character who was on the bad guys’ side but might not be as bad as the others, and so on.
The actual story that became the Balanced Sword trilogy (of which Phoenix Rising is the first) was derived from several game sources – my own campaign, from which Tobimar came, a game run by Jeff Getzin (author of Prince of Bryanae, Shara and the Haunted Village, and Lesson for the Cyclops, all of which are awesome) in which I first created the character that became Kyri Vantage, and another one in which I invented the character Poplock Duckweed – plus, of course, the many, many years of world-building that preceded that.
This is one of the most important stories to me personally; I’ve wanted to present Zarathan itself to the world for decades, and Kyri’s story since I first really conceived it in about 1991.
I see you tried to write Phoenix Rising as a standalone but it’s ended up a trilogy. Not so easy to keep these characters under control, is it?
Heh. That’s actually getting it sort of reversed. I knew all along this would be a trilogy, but Baen Books quite reasonably didn’t feel comfortable committing to a three-book trilogy out of the gate, so they asked me to make Phoenix Rising as standalone as possible, so that readers wouldn’t feel too cheated if they got to the end and the other books weren’t forthcoming. I did as best I could with that; the original draft ended on a HUGE cliffhanger for the obvious sequels, but I backed up a bit (made somewhat easier by them also requesting I expand some things, like Xavier’s part in the book) and now the chapter that ended the original draft of Phoenix Rising (originally called Fall of Saints, by the way) is about chapter 5 of the second book.
I do have another story I tried to write as one book, and turned into a trilogy – called Demons of the Past – but that was more a matter of realizing I was trying to cram too much into one book and that I needed a couple more points of view to really make the whole story work properly. Hopefully someone will pick that one up sometime – it’s a space opera set in the same universe as Digital Knight and Phoenix Rising.
The cover art is really eye-catching! How pleased are you with it?
Absolutely ecstatic. Todd Lockwood did an awesome job on that one. It’s a scene straight out of the book and shows all three of the main characters – including the one that everyone misses, both in-universe and out, at first, Poplock Duckweed. I especially LOVE Kyri and her armor, with her sword Flamewing blazing away.
Overall I’ve had really good luck with covers; the one for Digital Knight didn’t really have anything from the book in it but it had the spirit of the supernatural crossed with the modern world in it; the cover of Boundary by Kurt Miller was very eyecatching and apropos (though had it been left to me there were a couple other preliminary sketches I would have chosen). Threshold and Portal both got totally awesome covers by none other than Bob Eggleton. Grand Central Arena’s cover also derives from an actual scene in the book, as does the cover for its forthcoming sequel Spheres of Influence.
But overall I think Phoenix Rising is my current favorite; it’s a perfect re-creation of the scene and it WORKS so wonderfully. Plus of course it’s purely my story, while the Boundary series is not quite so personally important as it’s the dual creation of Eric Flint and myself.
You have one of the most interesting ‘how I became an author’ stories I have ever come across! Any chance of an abridged version?
The short-short version: I insulted an editor of Baen over his butchery of one of my favorite authors’ work, and through this argument cleverly convinced him to get Jim Baen to publish my first book.
Back in the misty days of roughly the year 2000, Baen Books was doing a reissue of one of my favorite SF author, James Schmitz, starting with his Telzey Amberdon series. And someone took some out-of-context snippets to the SF group on Usenet that I frequented, of the editor of the reissue, some guy I’d never heard of named “Eric Flint”, which made Flint sound basically like he felt Schmitz didn’t know how to write his own stories, and that they also needed to be modernized.
Well, I posted my opinion of someone who would change a dead man’s words under the guise of a “re-issue”.
This triggered a two-thousand post flamewar thread which drew in Flint himself. We exchanged many broadsides, but never actually insulted each other as people so we both got a not-entirely-negative opinion of our opposite number.
Some months into this, Flint pointed out that I could stop arguing theory and just go READ the book, as by then it was on the shelves, to which I responded that I wasn’t sure I wanted to BUY something he hadn’t convinced me I wanted!
At which point he said “Fair enough” and sent me the original files – with edit changes and rationale behind them. I felt obligated to then give this a fair read, and found that he HADN’t actually butchered Schmitz’ work. For a while I was then sort of his Usenet interface – he’d send me the work he was doing on re-issues and I’d post what I saw in them.
Eventually we met face to face (he had family in the area) and my wife brought up the fact that I wrote; he asked what I had ready, which was my urban fantasy “Jason Wood” stories. I sent him those, and a few months later he called me back and said “This is eminently publishable stuff!”… and then forwarded it to Jim Baen… who agreed, and said he’d take it. At which point I let out a whoop that could be heard from the basement to the attic.
Do you have a particular preference between Science Fiction and Fantasy, or do you just read whatever you can get your hands on?
I’ve read quite literally thousands of books in the genre. I don’t have a real preference in subgenre per se – epic fantasy, sword and sorcery, hard SF, space opera, cyberpunk, it’s all good.
I do have a preference for heroic tales; I don’t like things that get so dark that I can’t tell who’s the good guy and who’s the bad guy, and I don’t like having my favorite characters killed off as a regular exercise. (Yes, GRRM, we’re ALL looking at you…) That said, I obviously don’t think you should make things easy for the characters, and I doubt that either Kyri, Tobimar, or Poplock would think I was being very easy on them.
I also very much like stories with thinking, clever heroes and villains. Nothing will make me drop a book faster than seeing major characters on either side carrying the Idiot Ball.
How important is fandom to you? Both as a fan and as a writer yourself. We’re talking fan-fiction, fan-art, fan-forums, anything.
Fandom’s been tremendously important to me over the years. It’s no exaggeration to say that fandom may be responsible for my marriage; one of the major things that my wife Kathleen and I bonded over was anime fandom and writing an immense body of fanfiction, mostly set in a universe which eventually combined Saint Seiya, Yoroiden Samurai Troopers, and Dragonball Z. We were part of a small troupe of cosplayers who won Best In Show in three successive conventions; that group and its members were major factors in kickstarting cosplay on this coast.
I’ve been involved in one form or another of fandom, usually online, for decades. Fans of my own work have been wonderful, of course, and a group of them form my Beta Reading circle, who help me keep from getting sloppy in my writing.
Grand Central Arena itself is in many ways a work of fandom; it’s my salute to the Golden Age of space opera in general, and the work of E. E. “Doc” Smith in particular, including a main character named Marc C. DuQuesne, which was the name of the main villain in Smith’s Skylark series.
I still participate in fandom to the extent I can afford the time and effort; my wife and I are working on a LotR fanfic currently.
What’s next for you?
In November, Spheres of Influence will be released. I’m currently writing the first of two more books in the Boundary universe, working title of this one being Castaway Planet Lincoln, and a much expanded and revised version of my first book, Digital Knight, will be published in (I think) 2014 under the title Paradigms Lost. I’m hoping that soon I’ll be able to announce the other two books of the Balanced Sword trilogy.
In addition, my agent’s shopping around Polychrome: A Romantic Fantasy, which is a novel set in a version of L. Frank Baum’s Oz universe, and Stuff of Legend, which is my take on a superhero novel, set in the near future of the Digital Knight/Paradigms Lost and Phoenix Rising universe.
I’ve got a few other things I’m working on but they’re not yet out there for review.
Thanks again for this opportunity to talk your ear off! – It has been my pleasure!
You can visit Ryk E. Spor’s website here.
Kyri Vantage’s parents were murdered – by forces unknown but powerful. Her brother Rion was killed five years later, when he seemed on the verge of learning what had happened that night, even though he was an agent of Myrionar, God of Justice and Vengeance. And when Kyri herself discovered the truth, she became the only chance for her family to see justice done – and the last, fragile hope for a dying god.
But that was only one of the disasters facing Zarathan, as the world began to be enveloped in treachery and war, and two others took their own paths which would eventually collide with hers: Tobimar Silverun, Seventh Prince of Skysand, exiled on the turn of a card and a prophecy, seeking a homeland lost to evil and time; and Poplock Duckweed, an unlikely hero whose diminuitive size was as much weapon as it was weakness. As rulers are murdered and countries beseiged, three stories converge into a single confrontation which may determine the fate of Zarathan itself.