Brent Weeks is the bestselling author of the fantasy Night Angel trilogy. Currently at work on his next series, Brent talked with Kelly Melcher about his writing, his career, and what he’s a fan of.
For those who haven’t heard of you before, how would you describe your books and the genre in which you write?
The Night Angel trilogy is fast-paced epic fantasy about a boy who grows up to be a legendary assassin and more. There’s a lot of ass kicking and surprisingly deep characters in a world full of impossible choices and ever-increasing stakes.
Would you ever consider writing outside of this genre?
I would and have, but fantasy is my first love. I love that in fantasy, you can do absolutely anything as long as people still react the way real people would react. There’s freedom and terror in that. I find it exhilarating.
What aspect of the fantasy genre most caught your imagination when you first started reading it?
Swords! Okay, I was young, but our world seems kind of sterile and unfair. Anyone can shoot off a pissy email or, for that matter, point a gun. A 90 pound weakling could kill a black-belted ninja master special forces Shaquille O’Neal in our world. That just doesn’t seem right. Two guys having to face each other and face the consequences of their actions just seems more elemental, more real.
Now that you’re a seasoned fantasy veteran, do the same aspects of fantasy intrigue you or have your tastes changed?
I don’t know that I’m exactly a veteran. It hasn’t even been a year since I got published. But, given that I have been working in fantasy for a while before anyone paid me for it, my tastes have changed some. It’s hard to turn off my analytic brain and just enjoy a story. On the other hand, when someone writes really well, I get a doubled joy from seeing a master work.
Can you give us your best sales pitch for The Way of Shadows? Why should our readers go out right now and get it (and they should!)?
This is why I’m an author, and not a sales guy. Honestly, it’s not a book for everyone. First, it’s a story about assassins. Ergo, people who kill people for money. Beyond the killing, there’s some brutal stuff in these books, so it’s not for children. I don’t always put the camera (as it were) right on the gore, but I do always try to show that there are real consequences for the brutal things that happen. If someone gets shot, they’re just as likely to have it get infected and die as they are to have it heal. Not everyone you like is going to make it to the end.
Given all that: The Way of Shadows is the story of a street kid, Azoth, who needs to get out. In order to save his best friend, he apprentices to the legendary assassin Durzo Blint. Ten years later, when she sees Blint assassinate the prince, Azoth is faced with a choice: will he betray the man who’s raised him as his own son, or the woman he loves? A kingdom and more rest on his choice.
Throughout the series there’s an undercurrent of a very wry sense of humor. Is that your “voice” as an author or just part of the tone you wanted to set for this series?
First, thanks. I think I have a wry sense of humor and as I got more confident throughout the writing of the trilogy, I think that came out more and more. I think some of the black humor in the books was more situational: these are tough people in tough situations, so their humor is going to be dark. So a little of both, I think.
What, if any, research did you do before writing the Night Angel trilogy? I’m going to assume you didn’t train as an assassin before hand, but maybe I’m wrong.
I got to do some awesome research on poisons. I kept thinking, boy, if my wife ever turns up dead, the FBI is going to have a field day going through my Google searches and library checkout list. Then of course, there’s research on weaponry, medieval crops we don’t grow anymore, some fun stuff I never got to use on what peasants used to call “crazy bread.” In the late summer, peasants would often be starving while they waited for the crops to mature. They’d make a bread of any grains left over, but a mold with ergot would grow on some of the stuff–it was basically LSD. So they were starving and high–talk about getting the munchies! Then you do mental research, if you want to call it that, of figuring out how the magic works, and what the possible applications of that would be, what its limits are, and how people’s understanding of it might have changed over their history.
Would you like to see the Night Angel series told through the eyes of a different form of media (television, big screen, graphic novel, etc)? If so is there one you would prefer over the other and why?
It would take a talented team to do this well–and if a movie, a big budget. If it were told as a movie, some judicious cuts would be necessary, both because some content just isn’t appropriate to see on the big screen, and because it’s SO big. I think there could be a great graphic novel or five made, though. But again, you’d need people who could figure out which cuts to make–people who really understood the soul of the story. I wouldn’t envy them the job.
How does it feel now that The Way of Shadows has made it onto the New York Times Best Seller List?
It’s still surreal, to be quite honest. Aside from doing interviews like this and working a lot on my webpage, my life hasn’t really changed. I do the same things every day, I just get paid for it now. I certainly didn’t expect to make the NYT best seller list. I had hopes that I might make it at some time during my career, but I expected a long build up, each book doing a little better, and maybe in ten or fifteen years… So to have it happen six months after being published was a big surprise. Of course it’s gratifying, too. People don’t hit the list six months after being published because their publisher gave them a huge marketing campaign–because the marketing is pretty much wrapped up within a few months. You hit it because people told their friends about this book they enjoyed and tell them to buy it. So that feels great.
What’s next on the horizon? And when can your new fans expect to see it on bookshelves?
I’m hard at work on a new trilogy set in a new world. I took some bigger risks in this series, and I think they’re paying off. The scheduled pub date is late 2010. Eep, I’ve got to get flying!
The face of book publishing is starting to shift somewhat. How do you feel about ebooks?
I love the idea of ebooks, although I’m holding out for one more generation before I make the jump to buy an ereader myself. Personally, I think they’ll make a great supplement to the current market but never really replace physical books. An ebook reader would be great if you’re traveling and you want to carry more than one book. It could be amazing for college students with huge textbooks. But are you going to bring your $400 ebook reader to the beach where it could get sand or water in it, or get stolen? And you can’t really put a Kindle on your shelves and admire the cover art, or browse to see what your friends are reading on their book shelves when you go visit them. A Sony ebook reader is never going to smell like paper. It’s like now we have Blu-Ray players, but people are still going to the movies. So I look forward to the best reading experience that technology can offer us, but I think I’ll still always have bulging bookshelves.
Fandomania is a blog “by the fans for the fans,” so we always like to know, what are you a fan of?
Nutella. German chocolate cake. Sushi. Microbrews–oh, you mean books! Right. My tastes range. Always loved Robert Jordan, with the usual caveat about the later books. Roger Zelazny from way back is great with the Chronicles of Amber. Really enjoyed Peter Brett’s new Warded Man (Painted Man in the UK). George R. R. Martin is an absolute master, though he doesn’t seem in a big hurry to finish his Song of Ice and Fire. And right now I’m reading Chris Evans’s A Darkness Forged in Fire. Oh, and I love Harry Potter.
Thank you very much for your time, I really appreciate it.
Thanks for interviewing me, it’s been a pleasure!
Kelly Melcher is an avid reader and reviewer. You can keep up with her on her books blog at kellymelchersbookblog.blogspot.com.