Wednesday, March 23, 2011

An Interview with Bradley Beaulieu, Author of “The Winds of Khalakovo”


Last month, Kevin J Anderson mentioned debut author Bradley Beaulieu in an interview with CR. This was the second reference to this new author I’d heard in a short while (the other one was on LEC Book Reviews), so I thought I’d see if I could learn some more about his work. With The Winds of Khalakovo published in April, it seemed like a perfect time. Luckily, Bradley had some time to answer a few questions about his novels, work, and genre fiction.

The Winds of Khalakovo, will be published in April through Night Shade Books. How would you describe the novel to a new reader, and where did the inspiration for the novel come from?

As for the premise, I’m going to use a quote from my favorite blurb, written by Gregory A. Wilson:

“If Anton Chekhov had thought to stage The Three Sisters onboard a windship, with a mix of Arabian Nights and Minority Report thrown in for good measure, the result would have been Bradley Beaulieu's The Winds of Khalakovo.”

The world of Winds is a very cold and inhospitable place. The story is centered on a group of archipelagos that form the Grand Duchy of Anuskaya, a monarchy modelled loosely after Muscovite Russia. As the story opens, Prince Nikandr is trying to find a way to save the islands from a serious blight and a deadly wasting disease that has crippled his homeland for years. He stumbles across a boy named Nasim who has the power to break worlds, but also finds that the sworn enemy of his people, the Maharraht, hope to use the boy to unleash a wave of destruction the likes of which the islands have never seen. It then falls to Prince Nikandr to unlock Nasim’s secrets before he can be used against Khalakovo.

The inspiration came largely from a set of portraits I saw when I visited the United Kingdom in 2004. While I was visiting the National Galleries in Edinburgh, I saw quite a few paintings that really struck me, and I decided that I would pick up some of them and use them in the creation of a story. That story turned out to be The Winds of Khalakovo. If you’re interested to learn more, I wrote fairly extensively about it on my blog.


The novel is book one in The Lays of Anuskaya series – how do you see the series developing in the future?

Well, I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but I think it’s safe to talk about how the story widens over the next two novels. The islands of the Grand Duchy, where the events portrayed in Winds take place, are situated near a larger continent, the motherland of Yrstanla. The empire there has been at peace with Anuskaya for generations. However, trouble begins brewing as the Empire sets its sights once again on the islands they once ruled.

The next book still takes place largely throughout the islands of the Grand Duchy, but we begin to explore the Empire and its peoples and customs. We also learn more about Nasim’s mysterious past. In the third book, this trend continues. The story moves onto the mainland itself as the characters, once and for all, try to deal with the source of the blight and the terrible wasting disease.

Who did you grow up reading, and what first drew you to speculative fiction?

Tolkein-TheHobbitMy first exposure to speculative fiction was The Hobbit, which a friend turned me onto in third grade. I quickly moved on to The Lord of the Rings, and from that point I was hooked. I read lots of things, mostly in the high fantasy or epic fantasy genres after that. I liked David Eddings, Stephen Donaldson, Glen Cook and C.S. Friedman. Later, I was exposed to Tim Powers and Guy Gavriel Kay, both of whom I adore. I went through a tongue-in-cheek phase with Robert Asprin, Douglas Adams and Piers Anthony, but really, my heart was in the grand, serious, dark sorts of secondary worlds. The ones that were so deep you felt like they could really exist.

What’s your opinion about the fantasy genre and community today? In particular, how do you see the rise in internet media (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc.) helping authors?

Boy, we’re sure on the cusp of some changes. The ability to connect not only with fans, but with other writers, has allowed us to more easily trade information and share the sorts of things we never would have dreamed of sharing even seven or eight years ago. My agent, Russell Galen, wrote a guest blog on the Clarion Foundation Blog recently on the concept of the “meta series”, the notion being that readers now have such unfettered access to most authors that their interests rise well above knowing a little more about the books they read and like, and even beyond knowing a little more about the author.

There’s a whole conglomerate of information that we now publish to the world fans want to know about, from who you are, what you like, who else you read, what music you listen to, what videos you post about, and on and on. I don’t know exactly what this says yet about what, specifically, we release to the world, because one implication is that you can rub some people the wrong way and alienate them from you and your books. And when seen in that light, you have to make some very basic decisions about whether you want to simply be yourself and not worry about such things, or if you want to hold back in certain areas and create an online persona. There’s not one, right answer for this, of course. It’s certainly an individual decision, but social media has taken us to the point that it’s a decision that every author is going to have to make.

[For more, check out Bradley’s website, which has a lot of great content.]

When did you realise you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?

Hah. I can remember my first true fiction story. It was for a class assignment in fourth grade. We were supposed to write about the organs of the body, and I did it in such a way that the brain, the stomach and the lungs were all characters in a story, and they talked about each other, at times with respect, but sometimes poking fun of one another. It was great fun, and I remember it because it was the one story our teacher, Mrs. Werner, read to the whole class. Man was I proud of myself. If I saw it now I’m sure I’d laugh hysterically at it.

My first serious attempt didn’t come until college. I started poking around with a story called Grishlok. I know, scary, right? It was about a group of characters that were descended from the five legendary heroes that centuries ago dispatched the demon, Grishlok, back to the planes of hell. Grishlok has returned and needs proper banishing once more, and who should be called to take up the cause? Why, the descendants of the heroes, of course. It’s not much better than my fourth-grade assignment, frankly, but I look back on it fondly, because it was a beginning. We all have to start somewhere, right?


Bradley Beaulieu

Do you have any specific authorial habits or rituals? How are these affected for collaborative projects?

My primary ritual, if you want to call it that, is to carve out one hour per day for writing. If I can get that, I can pretty easily write one book per year. So that’s my goal each and every day. While I’m in writing mode, that translates to about 1,000 words. At other times, when I’m brainstorming or editing, I just use the hour as effectively as I can. This works pretty well for me, though I’m being put to the test this year because I’m now on deadline for Book 2 of the series, called The Straits of Galahesh.

I also like to play music, though not always. It varies widely, too. Sometimes I can only listen to instrumentals. Other times, hard rock songs with wailing guitars and screaming lead singers is just fine. I guess it depends on how tightly focused I am on the story.

I’ve only done one collaborative story, but I found that I didn’t veer from my normal routine except when it came to brainstorming. We would send documents back and forth or use Google docs to trade ideas. And we’d use Skype to talk now and again about ideas and problems we were having. It was great fun, but I think I have to find someone that writes quite similar to me to want to collaborate. Finding those sorts of people (people who write like you) is not an easy task, so I don’t know how many collaborations I’ll do in the future.

What other projects do you have in the pipeline?

I have two possibilities that I’m mulling over right now. (I like to let things germinate for quite a while, so it’s important for me to get my hindbrain working on these as early as possible.) The first is a science-fantasy called The Days of Dust and Ash. Think Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind meets The Coldfire Trilogy. I’m excited about this story, because it’s a departure from what I’ve written in the past, though it will still be fantastic and wide in scope. The story focuses on a young girl who is summoned from the dust, a global consciousness that was created as the last great age of technology fell under a nanite plague.

The other is called From the Spices of Sanandira. I sold a novella with the same title to Beneath Ceaseless Skies last year, and it will be appearing sometime this spring. It’s a story that springs from Sanandira, a large desert oasis known for its caravan trade and spice bazaars. It’s got a strong Thousand and One Nights feel to it. The novel is not so much an expansion of the novella as it is a re-imagining of it. It will probably focus on a pair of twin sisters, one of whom is sold to one of Sanandira’s famed assassin rings at a young age. The other girl (the protagonist) finds her sister by happenstance years later, and because of this chance meeting is drawn into the world of intrigue her sister walks every day.

How do you keep busy when not writing?

Green_Bay_Packers_HelmetI have a family, a wife and two kids. My son is a bit too small to take a lot of interest in going places, but I like taking my daughter out to a museum or to Monkey Joe’s, one of those places where you pay money and your kids get to jump around inside of inflatable bouncy houses for a few hours. I’m a big American Football fan. I like the Green Bay Packers, and we’ve had a wonderful year. It’s been a while since they threatened to go deep into the playoffs, so it was especially rewarding to see them make it (and then win!) the Superbowl.

What are you reading at the moment (fiction/non-fiction)?

I’m re-reading The Lord of the Rings. The characters have just left Galadriel and Celeborn in Lorien and are rowing down the Anduin. I’m also finishing up Paolo Bacigalupi’s Windup Girl, and I’ve just started Mark Hodder’s The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack, which I’m really looking forward to diving into.


What are you most looking forward to in 2011?

Finishing The Straits of Galahesh! This is the first time I’ve been under contract for a book, and it’s stressful. Not a bad stressful, mind you, but stressful all the same, and it’ll be nice to have it done and out to my editor and beta readers. I hope to have the first draft done by May and the final draft turned in by September.

Thanks so much for having me. This was a lot of fun.


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