Heroic Fantasy: Abercrombie, Miller, Ruckley, Sanderson

There’s a new generation of heroic fantasy writers, more or less coming into their own right now. In recognition of this, I’ve got a roundtable interview with four of them on Amazon, in two parts, with the second part being posted on Friday. Joe Abercrombie, Karen Miller, Brian Ruckley, and Brandon Sanderson. Check out Part 1 now. UPDATE: Part II now posted.

Meanwhile, here’s some interesting interview material I wasn’t able to fit into the Amazon feature.

Joe Abercrombie: I try very hard, in the long run, to give readers something different from what they expect in epic fantasy, while still giving them what they want. Obviously, whether I’m successful or not isn’t for me to say. I strongly advise you all to buy the book and find out…[I like] writing heroic fantasy that’s as unheroic as possible. Trying to apply my black-hearted view of the world to the classic fantasy scenarios. Trying to use the clichés to blindside readers with the unexpected. That and the big-ass fight scenes, of course. You can’t knock a good swording.

Karen Miller: Reviewers have observed that my work is far more drama-filled than action-filled, and I’d have to say they’re right. It makes my take on the heroic/epic fantasy genre more intimate, I think. Even when I’ve got a big action scene going on (and I do have some!) it tends to be focused in close up, through a character, rather than via a wide-angle lens…The other thing I love about it is being able to play with big emotions and hugely heroic actions which aren’t available to the modern lifestyle. There’s a romance to heroic fantasy I find enormously appealing.

Brian Ruckley: A lot of the characters become slightly different people as a result of the things that happen and around them in the course of the book, but a lot of them also face the very real risk of death or injury. I think when you’re writing about a major conflict enveloping thousands and thousands of people, you’ve got to allow for the possibility that not everyone is going to make it through unscathed. And I’d be lying if I denied that I like the whole thing of imagining a world. It’s satisfying to feel you’ve come up with a world that makes some kind of sense, whether that’s in terms of simple things like its geography and climate or more speculative stuff like thinking about what it would mean to have half-human magic-wielders living alongside ordinary humans.

Brandon Sanderson: My books take place in different worlds with new rules of physics, but I like those rules to be consistent. Whenever possible, I make them play nicely with the real laws of physics in our world.

During the 80s and 90s, quest epic was the big seller. A lot of the new writers like myself grew up reading Eddings and Jordan and Brooks. Some of us, when we sit down to write, then try to emulate their formula. A lot of us, though, react against those stories we love. Not because they were bad, but because they’ve been done–and done well. We want to see what else there is to add to this genre. So, you see authors like myself and Daniel Abraham and Patrick Rothfuss who try to push the genre in other directions while still maintaining the epic feel we loved when we were younger. Now, I wouldn’t really say that I am a boundary breaker like China Mieville. I write mainstream fantasy epics–my primary goal is to produce books that people will enjoy. I’m a big believer in the sheer power of a well told story, and don’t focus on intricate prose or ponderous messages. Story first, everything else second. However, I think that puts me in a harder position than if I were trying to write something completely revolutionary. I want to write books that all of the people who loved the old epics will love–books that have the same feel. However, I also want to write books which innovate and expand the genre.

That’s a tough role to fill. I don’t have quests in my books, and stay away from basic genre conventions. (Elves, dwarves.) In other areas, I try to play off of the conventions. (Mistborn is about a world where the hero from prophesy came to defeat the evil, but failed.) I try to use plots and character types I haven’t seen in fantasy as often, as well as–as I’ve mentioned–come up with magic unlike anything ever published before.

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