Monday, July 27, 2009

Interview with David Coe

I did this interview with David B. Coe several years ago. Since then he has written several Fantasy novels over the years. His first books consist of the Lon Tobyn Chronicle trilogy that mixes magic with technology. These books are: The Children of Amarid, The Outlanders and Eagle-Sage. Next he did an Epic Fantasy series called “The Winds of the Forelands” of which Rules of Ascension is the first. followed by Seeds of Betrayal, Bonds of Vengeance, Shapers of Darkness and Weavers of War. The new series he is working on now consists of The Sorcerers’ Plague, The Horseman’s Gambit and the forthcoming The Dark-Eyes’ War, which makes up the “Blood of the Southlands” series. He blogs about writing at .

Debbie Ledesma: How did you become a writer?

David B. Coe: I actually knew that I wanted to be a writer from a very early age -- really as long as I can remember. In fact, several years ago, after my father died, I spent some time going through his old papers and found among them a "book" I had written in first grade, about eagles no less. I pursued this interest in writing through high school and went to college thinking that I would be a creative writing major. During these years I even began work on the skeleton of a fantasy novel that would later become Children of Amarid, my first published book.

Somewhere along the way, however, my parents convinced me that a career in writing was too uncertain and that I needed to pursue a more stable career. I switched majors and ended up going to graduate school in history, getting my Ph.D. Still, what drew me to academics was not so much the research and the teaching as the prospect of spending my life writing history.

As it turns out, writing history doesn't have nearly the allure for me that writing fiction does. After completing my degree, as I began to send out job applications, I also began to write fantasy again. So for a while I was pursuing these two career paths, wondering which one would bear fruit first. I received my first academic job offer and my first indications from Jim Frenkel at Tor that he was interested in Children of Amarid, within twenty-four hours of each other. Faced the choice between a career that didn't really thrill me, and a chance to follow my childhood dream of writing novels, I chose the latter. I've never looked back.

DL: What authors influence your writing?

DC: In a sense, I've been influenced to one extent or another by just about every author I've read. I don't think a person can read something that moves them, either emotionally or intellectually, and not be influenced by it. Certainly many of the fine historians I read during my years in academics have influenced me in many ways, most notably in my world-building.

That said, it's only natural that my main influences would be in the fields of fantasy and science fiction. I've learned a good deal from the wonderful storytellers I've encountered as a reader, not only the authors I mentioned earlier -- Tolkien, Kurtz, McCaffrey, LeGuin, Donaldson -- but also others, like Frank Herbert, Orson Scott Card, Katharine Kerr, Nicola Griffith, to name just a few. Part of becoming a writer is finding your own voice, your own style, and so in that sense I think I'm less influenced by writers now than I used to be. But the two authors whose work I most admire, are George R. R. Martin and Guy Gavriel Kay. They are among the finest fantasy writers in the world today, creating worlds that are incredibly rich and textured, and characters who are interesting and memorable. When I pick up one of their books, I feel that I'm being transported to a different time and place, one that becomes as real and immediate as the world in which we live. As a fantasy reader, I can't ask for any more than that, and as a fantasy writer, I strive constantly to do the same for my readers.

DL: Why did you choose the Fantasy genre?

I came to fantasy the way most writers in the field do, through Tolkien. I read The Hobbit when I was thirteen or fourteen and loved it. A few years later, I read Lord of the Rings and was utterly enthralled. Fantasy became the only thing I wanted to read. I ripped through (among other things) Katherine Kurtz's Deryni books, the first Pern series (Anne McCaffrey), the Earthsea Trilogy (Ursula K. LeGuin), and both Thomas
Covenant trilogies (Stephen Donaldson). It was during the second of Donaldson's trilogies that I realized that I wanted to write this stuff as well as read it. Covenant is a terribly dark character and I know that some people found these books difficult to read. But I found the use of a dark hero so compelling, so new, so different from anything else I'd ever read, and I found the world he had created so fascinating, that I knew I wanted to spend my life creating characters and worlds of my own.

DL: Are you planning to branch out into other genres?

DC: For the moment, I'm very happy writing fantasy. I enjoy the act of building worlds and cultures, imagining histories, coming up with magic systems. So I would guess that for the foreseeable future, I'll stick with this genre. Down the road, however, I'd like to try my hand at some other things -- mystery perhaps, or thrillers. And I have a number of ideas for mainstream fiction stories and novels that I do hope to get to at some point.

DL: I like the use of the hawks and owls in your books. Where did you come up with the idea to use birds for your mages?

DC: My brothers, both of whom are a good deal older than I am, Ùgot me interested in birdwatching when I was just a kid -- six or seven years old. And I've been a birder ever since, some thirty-plus years now. Throughout that time, I've always been drawn to birds of prey -- owls, hawks, eagles. Mostly, I guess because they're just so cool. There's an elegance to them, and a native intelligence, that I've always found very attractive. When I started developing a magic system for my first series, it seemed natural to include these birds in it in some way.
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DL: You have a new series called Winds of the Forelands. Tell me a little about the new series and how d âoes is differ from the LonTobyn Chronicle?

DC: Winds of the Forelands is my new four-book fantasy project, and I'm very excited about it. It tells the story of a young noble who is falsely accused of a murder and thus denied his rightful place in the ascension of kings. In trying to prove his own innocence and reclaim his birthright, he discovers a plot to destroy not only his own kingdom, but the neighboring ones as well. The four books revolve around his effort to establish his innocence and his fight against the conspiracy.

I’m having a tremendous amount of fun with this series right now, for a number of reasons. It's straight fantasy, without any of the science fiction crossover elements found in my first series, but it's actually a far more complex story set, I feel, in a far more deeply realized world. Each of the kingdoms I deal with (and there are seven of them in all) has its ´ own unique political traditions and conflicts, so as the scene shifts from kingdom to kingdom throughout the books, the reader finds her/himself in a new place with different rules and different concerns. Also, the magic system is different. Rather than the magic coming from birds of prey as it did in the first series, this magic system is racially based. Either you're Qirsi (the sorcerer race) or you're Eandi (a race very much like us). And so magic becomes linked inextricably with the racial tensions and conflicts that lie at the root of the conspiracy. Finally, the characters in this series are more challenging, both for me as a writer and for my readers. In my first series, there were many characters who could be labeled either "good" or "evil" without too much trouble. The characters in Winds of the Forelands tend to be in that grey area. Good people are forced by circumstance or tragedy to do bad things, and "ba Kd" characters have admirable qualities. It makes for an interesting story.

The first book of the series, Rules of Ascension, came out in March from Tor. The second book, Seeds of Betrayal, is already in production and will be published in May 2003. I'm currently working on Bonds of Vengeance, book three.

DL: Do you use any mythology sources for your writing?

DC: Yes, I do. Part of creating a world that will serve as a setting for a book or series of books, is coming up with history for the world, a religion or set of religions, and a culture and sustainable society. It would be impossible to do these things without founding them on a series of myths and legends, just as the history, religious traditions, and cultures in our own world are based on mythologies and legends. So in creating these myths, I first have to be familiar with the ones in our own world. Prior to beginning the first book, I spent a good deal of time rereading the Greek myths, reading Celtic and Nordic mythology and even looking at some more esoteric sources, like Native American legends and Basque mythology. I learned a tremendous amount and had a good deal of fun in the process.

DL: What do you think is the important function of Fantasy?

I believe that fantasy -- and science fiction as well -- offers us an opportunity to look at important issues in our own world through a lens that grants us the freedom to look at things in a new light. For instance, as I mentioned before, my new series has a magic system that is racially based. Hence it deals with racial conflict. Well, writing about racial conflict (or cultural conflict or religious conflict, etc.) in mainstream literature is hard to do without offending one group or another. But by creating new worlds and thus changing the lexicon of the discussion, fantasy gives us
the freedom to look at these issues without all the baggage we carry. There are no Eandi or Qirsi in our world -- the issues might be similar to racial issues in our world, but I ‘m not going to anger anyone as I point out injustices.

That, I believe, is one of the great values of all speculative fiction. Remember the so-called "Gay Episode" that was on "Star Trek: The Next Generation" several years ago. It dealt with homophobia in a direct, compelling way, but did so with a new vocabulary that perhaps allowed people to see the issue in ways they never had before.
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DL: What themes do you find most compelling to include in your writing?

DC: Different books usually call to mind different themes, but there are certain themes that seem to come up in my writing a good deal. The narrative in The Outlanders, the second book of my first series, centered on the idea of sacrifice, of taking burdens unto oneself in the interest of the greater good. The three main characters in that book -- Orris, Melyor, and Gwilym, all made extreme sacrifices, in very different ways, toward one common aim. This is a theme that also comes up again and again in my new series.

I also like to explore the balance between choice and responsibility, the idea that each time we choose a path in life we must accept that we are responsible for the consequences of that choice. I see this as being tied to the notion cof fate, and how we accept or struggle against the circumstances life throws at us. Writing in fantasy, I have the added fun of giving characters a glimpse of their fate (I do this in all my books really), which complicates the choices they must make and the responsibility they
bear for those choices.

Finally, a recurring theme in my books, one that I find fascinating as an author, is the interplay between loyalty and betrayal, specifically how one deals with divided loyalties. Many of my characters find themselves wedded to a cause (or a person) only to discover that their emotions and needs are at odds with those to whom they've pledged themselves. I think of myself as a very loyal person, and I'm really not certain where my fascination with treachery comes from, but it's real, and it's out there in my books for the whole world to see.

DL: Movies are a different medium. Do you think any of your books would make a good movie? Which ones?

DC: I'd be lying if I told you that I wasn't eager to see all of my books turned into movies -- I think that many authors feel the same way, not only because it can be a wonderful source of income, but also because it would be great fun to see these characters and worlds brought to life visually. This may be even more true now, particularly in the wake of Peter Jackson's magnificent interpretation of the Fellowship of the Ring.

Of the three books in my first series, I actually think The Outlanders would make the best movie. Though it's the middle book of the trilogy, it holds together pretty well on its own, and it could be visually stunning. I also like the idea of having a mage from a pastoral society forced to make his way through this industrial nightmare in order to save his land. I believe it would work well on the screen.

Rules of Ascension would also work well as a movie. It's got many of the elements Hollywood looks for -- romance, mystery, some good battle scenes, and a measure of redemption as it ends. I'd love to see it adapted to the screen.

Finally, I have a short story coming out later this summer -- "Night of Two
Moons" in the Summer 2002 issue of BLACK GATE -- that I think would be a fabulous movie. Quite often, short fiction lends itself to a movie better than a novel, simply because with shorter material a director has more time to bring out the complexities of character and relationships. Too often these elements of a story get glossed over in the rush to make a coherent movie out of a full-length novel. "Night of Two Moons" is about a traitor during a war and his attempts to rationalize his choice as he watches
the people around him being killed. Like my books, it has many of the elements Hollywood wants in a movie, but it's short enough to be translated to the screen without sacrificing too much in the interests of time.

DL: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

DC: Giving advice, particularly on an endeavor as personal and idiosyncratic as writing can be tricky. That said, I do have a few suggestions that are worth what you're paying for them. First off, all the writers I know began as readers, and so for younger writers out there I would say read as much as you can. That's how we begin to learn our trade. We read the work of other men and women and learn what works and what doesn't, what makes a compelling character as opposed to an uninteresting one, what makes a narrative flow and what makes it stall, what elements make a world believable and fun to visit. As we experience other people's stories, we begin to get a sense of how we might write our own, not by imitating, certainly not by stealing ideas, but rather by applying storytelling techn µiques that we see to our own ideas.

I would then say that a writer writes. That may seem laughably basic, but how many times do we see in media the stereotype of the frustrated writer awaiting inspiration. I find that image offensive. It implies that most of the time writers aren't working. They're just waiting for that one magical moment to strike and then--POOF-- out pops a bestseller. By my experience, that's not at all how it works. A writer writes, every day. Some days go better than others, and occasionally you have a day where nothing comes or what does come is worthless. But the important thing is to write. I don't believe in writers' block -- for me (and all writers are different, so I'm not casting aspersions on others) if I'm "blocked" it usually means that I've taken my narrative or one of my characters in the wrong direction. But if I make myself write every day, I never have to wait around for inspiration. Which is a good thing, because that kind of bolt-of-lightning-inspiration doesn't come often enough to pay many bills.

DL: What books or stories are in your future?

I have a feeling that even after I finish the Winds of the Forelands tetralogy,
I'll remain in the world I created for the series to write some more books -- either a few stand-alone books or a new series. It will follow a different story arc. It might even take place at a different time in the Forelands' history. But the world is rich enough to sustain many more books.

I have a few short story ideas as well, and, in fact, my first short story will be published this summer in the Summer 2002 issue of Blackgate. The story is called "Night of Two Moons" and I wrote it as I was developing the history of the Forelands. The events in this story take place nearly 900 years before the first book in the series, but they offer some insight into issues brought up in the books.

DL: Than you very much for the time you spent on this interview.

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