John Fultz and Seven Princes, his debut fantasy, were all over the Orbit Books blog a few weeks ago (articles, wallpapers, and the like). Naturally, this publicity push made me even more curious about the novel. So, as I am wont to do, I got in touch with the author and asked if he’d be interested in an interview. Luckily, he was, so here we go…
As a debut novelist, I thought I’d start off this interview with something easy: Who is John R Fultz?
Well, I’m a storyteller first and foremost. I’m also a teacher, writer, guitar player, music lover, and general all-around humanist. I was raised in Kentucky but have lived happily in California since 1998. I also spent a stint in Chicago, an amazing town that I still love.
Your debut novel, Seven Princes, was just recently published by Orbit, so I was wondering if you could tell us a bit about the novel and what we can expect from the trilogy as a whole?
Seven Princes is about blood. Both the literal and metaphorical kind. Human blood, Giant blood, it’s all the same in the end. The main characters are the descendants of royalty, seven princes and a single princess. It’s about how they deal with the immense pressures of living up to their family’s expectation, the demands of their royal lineage, and the threat of ancient horrors that arises out of the distant past. Seven Princes is an epic fantasy with a dark fantasy flavor; an excursion into sorcery. The trilogy, Books of the Shaper, will consist of two more books: Seven Kings and Seven Sorcerers. There is also a mysterious figure known as Iardu the Shaper, who has many guises in many different kingdoms, and who may be secretly “shaping” the world into a vision of his own design; or he may have given up on this vision after so many centuries. Seven Princes delivers its share of swashbuckling action, but it also explores the metaphysical nature of the universe and the immense power of creative consciousness (which most people call “magic” or “sorcery”). Sorcery itself is a huge part of the novel and the series. And like anything else, it can be used for noble purposes or nefarious schemes.
Where did the inspiration for the story come from? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
Well, literally everything inspires me. Everything I’ve ever done, seen, heard, or experienced. Writers train themselves to reflect EVERYTHING in their work in some way. But, to be more direct, my biggest influences in the fantasy genre are probably my favorite fantasy writers: Tanith Lee, Lord Dunsany, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, and more recently George R.R. Martin and R. Scott Bakker. And there are many, many other writers I could mention, but I’ll just say that anything I’ve ever read is an influence. Seven Princes began with the story of Vod the Giant-King, “the Man who was a Giant, and the Giant who was a Man.” Vod’s story serves as the backdrop for Seven Princes – three of the princes and their sister are Vod’s offspring. Vod’s story eventually comes out during the first book. However, someday I’d like to go back and tell Vod’s story in more detail as a graphic novel. I’m a huge comics fan and have written several of them already, so I think the Vod of the Storms is a legend that would be perfect for the comics page. Yet everything you need to know about Vod to enjoy Seven Princes is contained in that novel. Diving into a fantasy world is like jumping down the legendary rabbit-hole: There are always more twists, turns, and wrinkles to discover as you continue to examine the world you’ve built. It’s part of the fun of fantasy fiction – exploring a whole new world of possibilities.
How were you introduced to genre fiction?
Through comic books. I was born in 1969, so I grew up reading comics in the 70s – my favorite classic era of the medium. I used to read comics before I could actually read – I’d make up my own pictures. Later, when I actually learned to read for real, I enjoyed going back and reading all the comics I hadn’t been able to read earlier. Comics eventually led me to paperbacks – I was an insatiable reader of Conan, John Carter, Lord Of The Rings, Elric, and whatever other fantasy-adventure books I could get ahold of. I always loved going to the local used book store and finding some abandoned treasure – I still do! In college I discovered amazing writers like Darrell Schweitzer, Robert Silverberg, Harlan Ellison, William Gibson, Thomas Ligotti, and the granddaddy of fantasy, Lord Dunsany. My ongoing goal as a young writer was to get published in Weird Tales. It took me fifteen years but I finally did it. My first professional sale was “The Persecution of Artifice the Quill”, which appeared in Weird Tales #340, back in 2005. This set me on the path to many more short stories, and then to novels. Although I had written a novel (longhand!) in college, it was more to see if I could actually DO it than out of any hope of getting published. After you do short stories with some success, the next logical step in today’s world is moving to novels.
How do you enjoy being a writer and working within the publishing industry? Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
I love being a writer, and I love being a published author even more. For years I sold a short story here, a short story there, did some comics, even drew my own graphic novel (took me two years). But when I decided to make the “leap” to prose novels, I decided to write MY version of everything I wanted to see in a fantasy. I called it my “Big Fantasy Novel”. My first effort was a misfire – but I ended up with the great story of Vod the Giant-King. It just wasn’t a proper novel. Instead of rewriting the whole manuscript, I decided to start over and, this time, tell the story of Vod’s descendants (among others). It worked; I found a great agent who believed in the novel, and the rest is history. Being a writer is something I’ve wanted to do my whole life... and the things we really want, well, we never give up on them. As for my writing practices, well I often like to create playlists that set a “mood” while I write. I do loose outlines for the books, but I don’t plan everything in too much detail. Basically, I have “tentpoles” that I want to reach as I go along, but I listen to my characters and follow where they lead me. Everything, for me, comes from character.
When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?
It must have been 6th grade when I first tried to be an author. There was a contest for elementary school writers – we created our own books and they were judged. I didn’t win, but looking back I realize it was probably because I copied all my drawings from the John Buscema/Ernie Chan Conan The Barbarian comic. I created a new story called “Garth the Wanderer”, but it was thinly disguised Conan. Then in 7th grade I wrote an original short story about a knight who goes out to fight a dragon against advice and gets annihilated. I’ll never forget my 7th grade teacher, Mrs. Kimberlaine, who not only gave me an “A”, she also read my story aloud to the whole class. That was an important day in my life. It definitely gave me the confidence to keep writing, and it also got me into a Gifted and Talented Class for a few years. I already mentioned the sci-fi novel I wrote during college – it filled about five spiralbound notebooks. It wasn’t very good, but I have this theory that everything you write makes you a better writer, so it was a necessary part of the journey.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
I think the fantasy genre today is in great shape. There are so many different sub-genres and so many great writers, it’s amazing to me. I have no idea where my work fits into the scene; others will have to make that determination. Some people call Seven Princes “sword-and-sorcery”, but nobody can define exactly what that is. John Joseph Adams is doing some great fantasy anthologies, like Way Of The Wizard and Under The Moons Of Mars, as well as his great Lightspeed online magazine (which recently merged with Fantasy to combine genres). Marvin Kaye is getting ready to relaunch Weird Tales in yet another new incarnation. Fantasy films are invading the mainstream consciousness, and the crown jewel in the fantasy genre right now is Martin’s A Song Of Ice And Fire, which gave birth to the amazing HBO series A Game Of Thrones. You can’t get a better advocate for the power and worth of fantasy fiction than Martin’s achievement (both on the page and on the screen). Fantasy is definitely a major force in both literary and cinematic culture. That makes me smile.
What projects are you working on, and what do you have currently in the pipeline?
I’ve finished the Second Book of the Shaper, Seven Kings, and I’m currently working on the third, Seven Sorcerers. I’ve got short stories popping up here and there – most notably, in an issue of Space And Time coming sometime soon, I’ve got a great story about gnomes. There should also be a piece from me in Weird Tales sometime this year, and I’ve heard that Archaia is finally releasing the long-awaited hardcover collection of PRIMORDIA. It’s a 96-page tale of a savage world where the Sun Lord and Moon Lord battle one another in a cycle of primal conflict; it’s also a love story. Absolutely gorgeous artwork by the great Roel Weilinga (PRIMORDIA’s co-creator) makes it a fantastic creation. The hardcover includes tons of extras, such as a new short story from me and a gallery of guest artists.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction and/or non-fiction)?
Between teaching and writing, I never have enough time to read as much as I’d like. But thanks to the holiday break I’ve been able to dive into George Martin’s A Dance With Dragons. Sitting beside that massive tome is a pile of other Can’t-Wait-To-Reads including Tanith Lee’s The Birthgrave recent hardcover re-issue, the last two Thunder Moon novels from Max Brand, Patricia McKillip’s classic The Harpist In The Wind (third book of her Riddle Master trilogy), and several short-story collections by Laird Barron, Robert Silverberg, Manly Wade Wellman, and a bunch more. I’m also re-reading one of my all-time favorite series, Tanith Lee’s Tales From The Flat Earth novels, as they are re-released one at a time in superb hardcover versions from Norilana Books’ TaLeKa imprint.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
I have a tremendous love of the crime/noir genre. Sometimes writers get pigeon-holed as “fantasy”, or “horror”, or “sci-fi” writers, but I think most writers want to explore new ground and try new challenges. As much as I love the fantasy genre, I will eventually find an outlet for my crime/noir ideas as well. Comics would be ideal for this type of thing, since the play of light and shadow in noir is so very visual. Yet I also enjoy the tightly-woven crime/noir novel. I enjoy a lot of the Hard Case Crime novels, as well as Ed Brubaker’s Criminal and Jason Aaron’s Scalped comics.
What are you most looking forward to in 2012?
Finishing the Third Book of the Shaper. Seeing people enjoy Seven Princes. The next World Fantasy Con. Finding my one true love and making her mine. All the usual boring stuff.