Monthly Archives: May 2007

Alright everyone!

As promised in several posts, my interview with David Anthony Durham is finally live! I’m thrilled to have David Anthony Durham as the first ever interviewee on A Dribble of Ink! I’m currently reading his latest novel, ACACIA: The War with the Mein, and it is every bit as good as the buzz is indicating. Be sure to check back soon for my official review!


The Interview:

Q: David, I would first like to thank you for taking part in this interview! It’s a great way for me and my readers to kick off the launch of A Dribble of Ink!
     A: No problem. Thanks for wanting to talk with me.

Q: First, why don’t you introduce yourself and tell us a little about your latest novel Acacia: The War With the Mein?
     A: Ah. Well, let me start with the latter and work backwards. Acacia: The War With the Mein is an epic fantasy. It’s the story of a long-ruling empire that’s attacked by a devious foe. The young children of the royal family are thrown out into hiding in the wide world and have to mature with an eye toward reuniting and fighting to gain their empire back. One of the main problems in this, though, is that the benevolent empire the children thought they were part of never existed. Acacian power was won with magical treachery and held in place illicit trades that both exploits the populace and keeps them sedated. So these royal exiles are faced with fighting to create a new empire, one based with the ideals they had as children instead of the hidden realities. It’s no easy task for many reasons.

Q: The past few years have seen a deluge of great new fantasy authors, from Scott Lynch to Joe Abercrombie to Patrick Rothfuss, how do you feel that Acacia helps you set yourself apart from all the other new fantasy authors out there?
     A: Good question. I just gave the basic plot beginning, but I think Acacia is a bit different than most epic fantasy in how I’ve written it and how things play out on the page. My three previous books were historical novels with a “literary” flavor. I’m one of those MFA-educated writer types that spent most of my college years reading literary fiction. (Don’t hold that against me, though. I’m on your side now.) This does affect my writing style. I know that might not necessarily seem like a good thing to some people, but I’d like to think it means mainly that readers will find my story complex on many levels, with carefully crafted language and complex characters that don’t act in simple ways. To me this is a literary novel, but it’s a literary novel in which tons of stuff happens, where there’s throne room treachery and ancient curses, banished sorcerers and fantastic beasts and warrior princesses. It bugs me that literary-types have forgotten that literature was once about such things, but anyway…

I think the authors you mention are great. I’ll be very happy if I can shoulder into their company because they’re doing wonderful work too. I have a different way of working within the genre, though. I’m partially writing out of respect for it, and partially writing with an eye toward adding things to it that I think have been missing. I’m also an African-American, and there aren’t many of us in the fantasy genre. I’ve spent my life balanced between a lot of different perspectives: black and white, American and European and Caribbean. So I’ve grown up seeing more than one side of any issue. That affects Acacia in that it’s not a story of obvious good and obvious evil. Both sides have valid points. Both sides commit unforgivable crimes. Both sides have characters to love and hate.

And I’d like to think that my academic education is a good thing for the book. I’ve studied writing carefully and taught at the graduate level quite a bit and written reviews, etc. All of this has meant that I’ve spent my adult life thinking about what makes writing really good and trying to write to the highest standard I could. My earlier novels, Gabriel’s Story and Walk Through Darkness, won literary awards and were New York Times Notable Books, etc. My third, Pride of Carthage, still got awards, but it also branched out into lots of foreign markets.
I’m only mentioning this because a lot of writers with similar successes would have stayed put, writing historical fiction. But my feeling about writing novels is that it’s such an amazing privilege that I have to do the most interesting, most challenging books I can each time out. The idea for Acacia got a hold of me. It felt exciting and important to add what I could to fantasy, and to encourage some “literary” readers to check out the genre too.

Q: Being an African-American fantasy writer is an unusual situation. How do you feel this has affected your first foray in the fantasy genre?
     A: I’d like to think that I bring an unforced cultural diversity to the novel. I’m of mixed Caribbean ancestry to start with, but I’m also married to a Scot and I’ve lived in Europe quite a bit. My children are mixed-race kids with a handful of passports to their name. When I crafted Acacia it was very natural to me to populate the world with diverse groups of humans. That was so interesting that I didn’t have look to hobbits or trolls for cultural diversity. The Known World of Acacia is a multicultural stew just like our actual world. I think that creates tons of potential story lines and themes, and I hope that readers from any background will like that they can open this book and spot characters and races that look like them. That’s not something I had when I was reading fantasy as a youth – with the exception of Ursula K. LeGuin. I still loved Tolkein and Alexander and Lewis, but I was reading of worlds that clearly didn’t include people that looked like me. They included people that looked like many of their readers, but not like me or other people of color. This may seem a small thing, but it’s not.

Q: How did your experience with Historical Fiction benefit your transition into writing a fantasy trilogy?
     A: The most direct comparison comes from writing Pride of Carthage. It’s a novel about the war between Carthage (Hannibal, really) and Rome. It’s set around 200BC. There was a lot of historical information to work with in terms of the machinations of the war, the switching allegiances and surprise turns of fate. There was also tons of large-scale visual stuff to imagine: elephants crossing the Alps in winter, massive battles between polyglot, multi-ethnic armies, amazing Mediterranean landscapes drenched in blood… That was great to work through. It gave me a lot to examine with as a model for how complicated large scale political and military upheavals are.

On the other hand, there’s not much information about the social history of a lot of players in the war. Like the North African tribes, for example, that had a role in this. I knew their names and the names of a few of their leaders, but not much else. So I did the best I could to create what felt like a credible version of their cultures.

Many of those cultures are incredibly far removed from us in terms of their world views, religions, and societal norms. They’re as different from us as we are from the people of an imagined world. So trying to balance what we knew about them with what I imagined with making them understandable for contemporary readers was really important.

When I began to write Acacia I had all that experience to work with. It helped me to have ideas on just what a world at war might look like, and served as a model for what sort of things I need to include to make the Known World seem real. It was great to be able to make it ALL up in Acacia, but the historian in me felt obligated to deal with all of things in my fantasy that I’d learned to deal with in my historical material. Acacia wouldn’t have been the same if I hadn’t written Pride of Carthage first.

Q: Why did you decide to change genres?
     A: Well, I’m not necessarily done with historical or literary fiction just yet. I’m about to start a job as an associate professor of creative writing in the Cal State University system. So in some ways I’m still the guy I’d been building toward being for years now. BUT, I didn’t want to forget that writing is important in lots of different ways for lots of different people. If I only wrote for the editors of the NY Times Book Review I’d be ignoring a whole lot of people, many of whom are just like people who are important to me – family and friends that don’t just read literary fiction.

Simply put, I shifted to fantasy because the idea for Acacia sunk its claws into me and wouldn’t let go until I dealt with it. So it was the story – and my desire to write it – that decided things.

Q: Can you explain how the ideas behind Acacia came together in your head?
     A: It began about ten years ago. In a very early form I modeled the Akaran children around my wife and her siblings. They are each distinct personalities, connected to each other but also flung all around the world. Something about that got me thinking of a fictional family in turmoil in an imagined world. The basic plot genesis began with that. Next, of course, came thinking about the kind of world they were going to live in, and then came building the political, social and cultural pressures that were going to drive the plot. I wanted all of these things to feel natural and true to the novel’s world, but they were influenced by my study of history. To some degree, current events and recent history shaped it too. Not in cut and dry ways, but in reminding me how difficult it can be to build alliances, to act with idealism in a cruel world, etc.

Q: The world you have created in Acacia is very culturally diverse, and moves beyond those of most stock fantasy world. Where did your inspiration for “The Known World” come from?
     A: Earth, the only real model of a world there is.

Q: One of the dangers of the Fantasy Genre is that it is full of clichés and stereotypes. What did you do to ensure that you did not fall into the same pitfalls that catch so many other authors?
     A: I just tried to right my own story in my own way. I do see writers (both published and aspiring) that really just want to write stories like somebody else’s. That’s never interested me. I’m inspired by other writers, sure, but what gets my interest is when I see cracks and gaps in what’s out there, storylines and themes that I can sink my teeth into in a manner that nobody I’ve read has before.

All four of my novels are set in genres with a lot of clichés. Gabriel’s Story is a Western, but in my case it’s a black Western with a lot of the standard roles reversed. Walk Through Darkness is a fictional runaway slave narrative, but I turn the relationship between hunted and hunter on its head. Pride of Carthage is an ancient war novel full of massive battles, but it’s more about the damage of war than it is about heroism. Acacia is a fantasy, but there’s not an elf, dwarf or dragon to be seen. I think my approach – and a focus on letting characters create their own identities and actions – means that cliché is easy to avoid.

By the way, all of these genres are enduring for reasons. They connect with something we feel – or want to feel – about ourselves and our world. My attraction to them has to do with getting at that, breaking some the clichés away and getting at new stories told within old traditions.

Q: Without spoilers (of course!), what can we expect in the future from you?
     A: My next book will be a continuation of Acacia. For one thing, know that the story expands from the Known World into the Other Lands. (The Other Lands might be the title, actually, but it’s too early to know for sure.) It deals with the Lothan Aklun and with the race of people beyond them, the Auldek, who are only mentioned briefly in the first novel. Expect to see a ratcheting up of the fantastic elements – more magic, more mythology, more bizarre creatures!

Q: David, I would like to thank you for your time, hopefully it will help satiate those who have already read your works or inspire those who haven’t to go pick up Acacia: The War with the Mein!
     A: It was a pleasure, Aidan. Thanks for your interest. And I hope that a few of your readers pick up Acacia also – if for no other reason than that I want to keep writing books like this. I need readers to be able to do so, though. So here’s to readers!

To preorder ACACIA: The War with the Mein:

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ShadowplayTad Williams

Pages: 672 pages
Publisher: DAW Hardcover
Release Date: March 6, 2007
ISBN-10: 0756403588
ISBN-13: 978-0756403584

The works of Tad Williams and I go a long way back… but it’s only been about 2.5 years since I’ve actually discovered that I enjoy them. You see, I read The Dragonbone Chair, the first book in his tremendous High Fantasy trilogy called Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, two and a half times through, each time putting it down less than impressed, but wanting to love it.

Refusing to give up on Tad Williams, I picked up Shadowmarch, the first book in a trilogy of the same name. That’s when something funny happened, I really, really enjoyed it. I found it to be a bit denser of plot than The Dragonbone Chair and it moved along more quickly. Suffice to say, once I finished Shadowmarch I went out and gave The Dragonbone Chair a fourth shot and for some reason ending up loving it and finishing the rest of the series.

So I feel like I have Shadowmarch to thank for finally showing me how to love Tad Williams. So it was with a lot of excitement that I cracked open my early copy of Shadowplay, the sequel to Shadowmarch and middle book of the trilogy.

I should preface what I’m about to say with a little warning. Even the weakest of Tad Williams’ books is still something I would consider near the top of the genre. That being said, I could not help but feel let down by Shadowplay. I mentioned in my review of Terry Brooks’ The Elves of Cintra that what made that book so strong was that it avoided the trap that most middle books fall into… it’s with a big grimace that I have to say that Shadowplay isn’t so lucky.

After the strong, dense showing that Shadowmarch put on, Shadowplay just feels a little empty, like not much goes on. I’m sure that once the third book (Shadowfall) is published, we’ll understand that most of Shadowplay is setup, but I also can’t help but feel that this novel is one of Tad’s weaker efforts.

There are definitely cool moments during Shadowplay and Williams’ characterization is as strong as ever, but it just seemed like the plot advanced slower than it should have. In any case, though, Williams has set up a heck of a ride for Shadowfall as he ties off all the loose strings left hanging by Shadowmarch and Shadowplay.

So, in my previous post I mentioned that some upcoming content would include some mini-reviews. You may or may not have been wondering why I specifically differentiated these from just plain old regular reviews.

Well, when I first envisioned this blog I intended only to bring reviews of the most current and hottest books, ones that were just hitting the scene or getting a lot of buzz in the industry, such as Terry Brooks’ The Elves of Cintra and Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind. Well, this all well and good, but I soon realized that I have a lot more to say about a lot of other books!

So, this is where the mini-reviews come in. The purpose of them is to allow me to bring reviews and share my thoughts on books that are maybe a little old and lead into a major review (such as a mini-review of Robin Hobb’s Forest Mage leading up to an official review of the sequel Renedage’s Magic), reviews of books that I really enjoy (Such as Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora), or books that may not be on the leading edge of things right now, but still deserve to be reviewed (such as my upcoming mini-review of Tad William’s Shadowplay).

These mini-reviews are also something I hope to do at least a couple of times a week, to help provide a constant stream of great content for my readers.

Look for the first of these mini-review to go up as soon as this evening!

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Alright everyone!

So, you’ve found my blog, read my reviews… and now what? Right?

I thought I’d let you all in on a little bit of what’s coming in the near future to A Dribble of Ink, just as a little thank you for checking me out in the first place and to give you reason to add me to your favourite RSS Feeder!

Beyond my reviews of Terry Brooks’ The Elves of Cintra and Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind I have a whole slew of cool things lined up.

Here’s a nice little preview.

David Anthony Durham‘s Acacia
Joe Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself and Before they are Hanged
Robin Hobb‘s Renegade’s Magic
Scott Lynch‘s Red Seas Under Red Skies

Robin Hobb‘s Forest Mage
Tad William‘s Shadowmarch
Scott Lynch‘s The Lies of Locke Lamora
Drew Bowling‘s The Tower of Shadows

David Anthony Durham
Patrick Rothfuss
Robin Hobb

As you can see, A Dribble of Ink has some really cool stuff in the pipeline… and we’re only about a week old! Be sure to check back for new content as I plan to keep it coming as quickly as I can get it! I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!

The Name of the WindPatrick Rothfuss

Pages: 662 pages
Publisher: DAW
Release Date: Mar 27 2007
ISBN-10: 075640407X
ISBN-13: 978-0756404079

Early on in the year, while 2007 was still a fresh, new idea, I started hearing buzz about a new novel by a newcomer to the fantasy field. In a lot of ways it felt like Deja Vu: a young, new author with a book coming out of left field, considered by many to be the fantasy-debut of the year, if not the fantasy book of the year.

In 2006 this book was Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora, a charming, swashbuckling adventure with one of the most charming protagonists to grace the fantasy field. I picked up Lies with a whole lot of skepticism, not really believing it could be as good as it was lauded to be. It was and turned out to be my favorite book of 2006.

So, when I heard the same types of things said about Patrick Rothfuss and his novel, The Name of the Wind, I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps it helped that a lot of the praise was coming from some of my favourite authors, but in any case I eagerly picked it up from the bookstore and eagerly dove into the world created by Mr. Rothfuss.

I’m happy to say I wasn’t let down.
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