Joe Abercrombie can weave a tale and people are starting to take notice. His first novel, The Blade Itself, just recently released in the United States, is the best selling novel in Pyr, his publisher’s, catalog and, as Joe himself would be the first to admit, it damn well deserves it.
I’ve brought Joe back for round two (the first interview can be found HERE) and he proved no less witty, no less charming, and no less arrogant than the first time around. So, in other words, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed! I’m currently reading the third (and final) volume of The First Law Trilogy, so be on the lookout for a review soon, but in the meantime grab a bowl of popcorn and listen to what Joe has to say.
Q. Welcome back, Joe! It seems like just yesterday we had our first interview!
That wasnâ€™t yesterday? Iâ€™m sure I havenâ€™t had more than one nightâ€™s sleep since thenâ€¦
Q. Why should we give a damn about Last Argument of Kings?
Because you want to look cool, and this is what all the cool kids will be reading in Spring.
Q. What are some of the challenges of writing a third (and final) novel in a trilogy and what did you learn the first two times around that made Last Argument of Kings a better book?
I actually found it the easiest of the three to write. With a first book youâ€™re still working out your world, and your characters, as well as experimenting with your whole approach, of course. With a second youâ€™re tightening up the way you write, maybe expanding on the world and the characters, locking down the plot for the whole series. With a third book the characters are already well-defined and you know what to do with them. The mysteries have been set up and you (hopefully) know how theyâ€™ll resolve. Youâ€™ve painstakingly built a whole load of little towers of bricks and itâ€™s time to enjoy kicking them over. The challenge is doing that with sufficient oomph, if you will, and thatâ€™s a nice kind of challenge to face.
Q. You’re a pretty cocky, er… I mean,Â confident guy. Were you ever worried that the public wouldnâ€™t love The Blade Itself, Before They Are Hanged and Last Argument of Kings quite as much as they do?
Well, yeah, absolutely. Itâ€™s quite a shock in a way that anyone enjoys what is basically stuff I dreamed up in the middle of the night purely for my own amusement. Obviously you have confidence that you like your own stuff, or youâ€™d never get past the first page, but thatâ€™s a long way from anyone else liking it, let alone a lot of people. I wrote the first book with no audience in mind other than me, really, and no tastes other than my own. When I finished it I was worried that it was very uncommercial â€“ too dark, too violent, too off-beat â€“ especially since it was then rejected by pretty much every serious sf&f agent in the UK, and a few not-so-serious ones. Youâ€™re never completely confident that anyone will like anything until they tell you they like it.
Q. Do you feel you succeeded in telling the story you set out to tell when you first began writing The Blade Itself?
Yes. Yes, I do. Obviously the story flexes around a bit as you go, but basically Iâ€™ve stuck to the plan, and Iâ€™m very happy with the results. Very happy.
Q. Which character in the trilogy surprised you the most?
Well, generally they do what I tell them. I think theyâ€™ll all have a few surprises for readers, though.
Q. Well, if none surprised you, then I’m sure you at least had a favourite. Willing to name names?
Oh I couldnâ€™t possibly â€“ that would be like picking your favourite child. They all have their own charm in my eyes. I love them all equally.
Q. One of the criticisms faced by your first two novels, from myself included, was slow pacing. How do you feel Last Argument of Kings handled this?
Itâ€™s a funny thing â€“ some people find the first book slow paced and say nothing happens, others find it a page-turner. I think in a way itâ€™s more an issue of structure than pace. It really isnâ€™t clear at all in the first book whatâ€™s going on in the wider sense, and it can seem – without having read the other books – to have no plot and no resolution. Some readers are dragged straight through by the characters and the events, others, not unreasonably, drum their fingers wondering when the â€˜plotâ€™ is going to start. Iâ€™m not entirely surprised by this. The trilogy isnâ€™t three linked books, itâ€™s one book in three parts. The pace builds steadily over the course of the series, and the shape of the plot doesnâ€™t resolve until the last volume. I knew I was playing the long game by taking this approach, but Iâ€™m confident that it pays off in the long run. In the last book, you have the satisfaction of seeing these scattered points draw together in ways you never expected. I hope that, on turning the last page, people will realise that there are good reasons the series is the shape it is.
Q. How do you manage to stick to that dastardly book-a-year schedule that seems to elude so many other authors?
I cheat, which I try to do whenever possible. I didnâ€™t start looking for a publisher until the first book was finished (which took me two years, off and on), and it took me a year to find one, then another year between signing the deal and the first book being published â€“ the wheels of the business move relatively slow and thereâ€™s a lot to do if things are going to be done right, especially with a new author â€“ editing, copy editing, proof-reading, getting the cover right, marketing and sales, getting booksellers interested and so on. When the deal was signed I was half way through the second book, when the first book was published I was already starting the third, and the third was relatively quick to write and edit because everything was set up and running smoothly by that point. Without that head start Iâ€™d certainly have struggled to make a book a year. But that time in hand is steadily eroding, and although Iâ€™m pretty sure weâ€™ll have the next book ready on time for April next year, I certainly wouldnâ€™t want to promise to hit a book a year for the rest of my days.
Q. That elusive 10/10 seems just always out of your grasp; Is it safe to assume that all your future novels will shake off the mediocrity of 9.5s and 9.75s and finally earn you that 10/10 you so ardently believe you deserve?
If thereâ€™s any justice.
Q. Who’s an author, other than yourself, that we should be watching out for in 2008?
In terms of debuts it looks like Robert Redick and Alex Bell will be talented authors Iâ€™ll need to anonymously undermine wherever possible. Naturally I will continue to try and sabotage the careers of my contemporaries â€“ authors like Tom Lloyd, Brian Ruckley, and my evil nemesis Scott Lynch look as if theyâ€™ll all have new books out this year. Iâ€™ll be reading those and probing for weaknesses. And then it looks as if George RR Martin will have the next in his Song of Ice and Fire out in time for Christmas. Unfortunately, I doubt thereâ€™s much a minnow like me can do to stop that juggernaut.
Q. The Blade Itself was just released in the United States. How has the reception there differed from the UK release?
On the whole itâ€™s been good. The States is a huge, varied, distributed market, so I think it can take a long time for things to bed down over there. Plus itâ€™s been a slow, steady burn in the UK and Germany where the books have been out for a while. But theyâ€™re being released at six-monthly intervals in the States, so I guess weâ€™ll see in due course. Ask me in a year.
Q. Will you finally spill the beans on Best Served Cold?
Itâ€™s dark, itâ€™s gritty, and itâ€™s very, very bloody. I wouldnâ€™t dare spill anything on it.
Q. How about a progress report, then?
About half way through the first draft, but itâ€™s been quite tough going compared to Last Argument of Kings, and I suspect thereâ€™ll be quite a bit of work to do in the editing. Thereâ€™s a whole new set of central characters (well, not all of them are entirely new, but they werenâ€™t central before) which means a whole new set of approaches to work out, and tones to get right. Series books are actually a fair bit easier to write than stand-alone ones, from that point of view.
Q. It seems a lot of popular authors (Brandon Sanderson, Neil Gaiman, Patrick Rothfuss) all dabble in writing youth fiction. Any plans like this for Joe Abercrombie?
Not at the moment. Never say never, of course, but I tend to be drawn to the grittier end of the spectrum.
Q. Joe, thanks for taking the time to once against drop by A Dribble of Ink! Best of luck with Last Argument of Kings and beyond!
Thank you, Aidan. Always a pleasure.
For more Joe-Abercrombie-fueled fun, check out his terrific blog HERE. You can also find my first interview with Joe HERE and reviews of his first two novels HERE and HERE. Keep an eye out for his latest novel (Before They Are Hanged in the USA and Last Argument of Kings in the UK and Canada) in the coming weeks… Joe could use the money.