Author-approved description by me:
Ebreyon Marin is a war hero turned ruler of a kingdom, and he wears the peacetime crown on an uneasy brow. Unsure about how to venture forward into a future with a united country after chasing the Imperials from his beloved Yenmas, Ebreyon yearns for the bitter simplicity of war to distract him from his broken betrothal. But a King must rule, and his friends and family believe he will ease into his reign more successfully if he marries, even if it isn't for love. Unfortunately, his united country still bites at its own throat across ethnic lines; his people both Xadeian and Jubain still mistrust each other, and Ebreyon's choice of a wife from either faction may cause his kingdom to suspect him of favoring one. And the two leading ladies, Arsaya Amalor and Chanyn Arbreth, each have their own complicated reasons for desiring a royal marriage--and neither pursues the King entirely of her own volition. But Arsaya and Chanyn aren't the only ones with designs on the Queenschair, and to make matters worse, various members of Ebreyon's family--including the King himself--are being targeted, manipulated, and mortally endangered by unknown enemies. As Ebreyon closes in on choosing a wife, the enemies of the crown may be closing in on him.
And now, without further ado, why don't we dive right into the interview . . . with all my dastardly, in-depth questions!
J.C. Fann, thanks for letting me interview you about your book The Queenschair!
A huge thanks to you, Julie, for interviewing me! As my friend and critique partner, you’ve played a huge part in the development of The Queenschair from a rough draft in 2011 to the final product in 2014. I can’t thank you enough, but I’ll try to the point of annoying you :)
Awesome. Now for the first question.
1. Let’s say you’re about to pitch The Queenschair to a movie producer. You have two sentences to describe the book. Go!
“First off, I’m a HUGE fan of your work, Mr. Nolan, and your brother’s, and I know you’ve never done epic fantasy but my Queenschair books aren’t strictly epic fantasy per se! Think a softer, brighter Game of Thrones crossed with a less stodgy Downton Abbey with the multiculturalism of Marco Polo and the classical appeal of Arthurian legends, and I think you’ve got a story that will appeal to all ages and genders, even people who wouldn’t normally go for fantasy—BEEEEEP”
These voicemail limits are too short…
And they don't even give you an option to re-record? Shame on them! Talk faster!
2. Who do you think is the target audience for this book? Any particular group? Any fans of any other particular works? If so, can you elaborate on why?
As I was just telling Christopher, I think The Queenschair can appeal to lots of people, and not just fantasy fans. If I had to name a primary target audience, I’d say it’s fans of sprawling sagas like A Song of Ice and Fire and the Game of Thrones TV adaptation who quietly wish there would be less of the naked women, sexual violence, beheadings, mutilations, and hopelessness. Although I’m a huge fan of Martin’s work and would be the first to tell you how much he’s influenced my storytelling, I do long for a more positive and less “hardcore” story. And so I’ve written exactly what I would want to read (which is a highly recommended goal for all authors), and I hope it will appeal to others with similar tastes and sensibilities. I have to believe there’s a fantasy audience out there that wants its political intrigue and intricate saga without the part where they’re beaten over the head with the horrors of medieval European life.
I think the Queenschair series will be different things to different people. Those looking for political fantasy will find that; readers more interested in romantic and familial relationships will definitely find that, too. And I strongly believe fans of one aspect but not the others can still enjoy my books, as long as they feel drawn to the characters…and I think they will!
One of the first readers of Volume I was my co-worker’s son, who’s only 11 – I was beyond thrilled to hear that he’d torn through the book over a weekend. I think The Queenschair is appropriate for young teens and up. There is violence, though none of it is overly graphic and I’m not one to celebrate or stylize violence at all. There are some sensual moments but nothing beyond PG-13 happens on stage.
So hopefully readers looking for something between George R.R. Martin and Disney (leaning slightly toward Martin) will give my series a chance, and it could be just what they’re looking for.
UGH thank you for saying that about the need for similarly nuanced/complex plots with less sexual violence and violence in general! I am fully on board that train.
3. One of the reasons I love your book is its many diverse female characters. It’s so refreshing to see a fantasy book focusing so much on women as multifaceted, layered people with complicated motivations and very few stereotypes. Can you share some of your thoughts on writing complex, realistic female characters and why you think so few authors in your genre attempt it/succeed at it?
I really think this all boils down to the author’s willingness and ability to treat his characters like they’re people: friends, acquaintances, bitter rivals, anything. I’m not sure why many fantasy authors have trouble with writing realistic female characters and I don’t want to draw the conclusion that it’s male authors who struggle most at it. I would be willing to bet those same authors have trouble writing realistic characters of any gender.
It’s about treating your characters like people rather than using cookie-cutter archetypes or defining them by the roles they serve in the story (or even worse, how they serve the hero/heroine). Can you imagine them living their lives outside of what’s shown in your story? Can you put yourself in their shoes and walk beyond the written pages? Can you close your eyes and imagine your character in his or her childhood? I also think it’s important to be able to imagine yourself sitting down with any one of your characters and having a great conversation, complete with surprising things you didn’t expect they would say.
All too often I feel like certain authors believe writing a good female character means giving her power, whether it’s skill with a sword or magic or the ability to use her feminine wiles to manipulate other people. I think this is really misguided. Simply making a man a “badass” doesn’t make him interesting or fully realized, so why should it work for a woman? In my opinion, female characters should be considered in the same way male characters are; women, like men, come in every shade and shape under the sun. You know that sniveling, greedy merchant character who’s about to sell out the heroes? There’s no reason it couldn’t be a female merchant with the same traits. There’s no reason that champion knight or wily senator or brilliant alchemist can’t be a woman. Anyone can be anything, and it’s so much more interesting when they are.
Couldn't agree more. Being female should be part of a woman's identity, but it shouldn't be something authors use to limit their options--especially in fantasy worlds where many authors (especially male authors) are content to invent dragons and magic but refuse to make their worlds less sexist because "realism"! As they say, why create new worlds and then just give them the limits of the old ones?
4. Another aspect of the book I found fascinating is the clash of the ethnic factions and the fact that the focal character—the King of Yenmas, Ebreyon Marin—is of mixed-race ancestry himself. Can you give us a brief big-picture recitation of the past and present racial strife in Yenmas?
Brief? But I think this is perfect for a ginormous infodump! (I love Question #5) Anyway, I’ll try to keep it short. Emphasis on try. (Sorry, Yoda) I’ve always had a strong interest in ethnic relations and how immigrant populations assimilate in communities; this was definitely born of my own experiences as a first-generation immigrant to the United States. So this fascination with the “clash of cultures” and “melting pots” inevitably permeates my writing.
When the world of The Queenschair came together in my mind, I imagined the Kingdom of Yenmas as a melting-pot kingdom bordering on the western edge of a sprawling empire, maybe something like a medieval eastern European nation during the heyday of the Mongol Empire (I’m not the biggest Dark Ages history expert but I played the Total War games a lot, which is practically the same thing).
For almost a thousand years Yenmas was the shining example of cooperation between different races, namely the Jubain, who somewhat resemble our world’s Scandinavians, and the Xadeians, who are loosely based on our world’s East Asian races. The Jubain migrated into Yenmas from the south, while the Xadeians arrived from the north and east; they came from that sprawling empire I mentioned earlier, the Empire of Xades. Yenmas became a successful melting pot for these two races and their various subsets and sub-tribes, give or take a few small-scale conflicts or incidents over the centuries.
And then the invaders came. The Empire of Xades, a sort of cross between the Roman Empire and Three Kingdoms-period China, had been slowly extending its reach from east to west across the Northland continent, and finally set its sights on Yenmas. Peace negotiations broke down and the invasion began. The Yenmarians fought valiantly but were vastly outnumbered by the Imperial legions, resulting in their total defeat and the near-extermination of the Marin Royal family. Thus began a brutal occupation under which the two primary ethnic groups were treated very differently.
The ethnic Xadeians of Yenmas were culturally similar to their conquerors, and under Imperial rule they were eligible for “re-education”, after which they could swear allegiance to the Empire and become Imperial citizens. Unsurprisingly, the affluent and influential Xadeian-Yenmarians were quickest to get in line for this.
The Jubain population of Yenmas had no such citizenship program and were instead brutalized and harshly taxed under the Imperial conquerors. Some were even enslaved. Unsurprisingly, the foundations of the Yenmarian independence movement were built by disenfranchised Jubain leaders. And when the Empire began crumbling after about 20 years of ruling Yenmas, the freedom fighters seized the momentum and overthrew the occupiers, led by the only surviving Marin Prince, Ebreyon.
The Queenschair begins almost four years after the liberation of Yenmas, but all is not well. The resentment between the Jubain and Xadeians has continued to fester, not least because they were treated so differently by the Imperials.
The most militant Jubain have formed the “Purelander” movement, whose stated purpose is to expel all Xadeians from Yenmas. All of them, whether or not they were “re-educated” by the Imperials or whether they helped resist the occupiers. The rise of anti-Xadeian sentiment has understandably worried the Xadeian people, and militant groups have formed among them as well. All of this has created a toxic environment for the young King Ebreyon to navigate…and he’s struggling.
To complicate things further, Ebreyon’s father was half-Xadeian and while his mother is Jubain, she hails from the Prairiefolk sub-tribe who are looked down upon by nearly everyone else. Ebreyon cannot be easily placed into either of the main ethnic factions; he’s a bit of both…which, to some, is about as good as being neither.
And that’s where we are when the story begins. That was brief, wasn’t it…?
You and I have the same definition of brief, I'm afraid. I'm so sorry, but you're afflicted and there's no cure. . . .
5. Even though your book focuses on the characters, you’ve got a complex plot and what looks to be a rich, realistic-feeling history for your fantasy world. What would you say your worldbuilding and plotting process is like? How do you figure out the right balance for sharing the details and past of your world without resorting to infodumps?
This is one of many million-dollar questions you’ve thrown at me, and I love thinking about it—avoiding infodumps and unrealistically infodumpy dialogue is a huge aspect of The Holy Craft of Writing. At least I think so. I really dislike infodumps, as most readers do, and I especially hate it when a character spews it out in a giant paragraph (or more) of dialogue. Who talks like that? Does she take a water break in the middle? Why are the other people listening to this, and what are they doing—paying their bills online while they half listen? Oh and don’t get me started on “As you know, Bob” conversations where those bored listeners already know everything they’re being told!
I once read a fantasy book where an angry man delivered a full-page monologue (and if it wasn’t a full page, it was pretty darn close and felt like 50 pages) against 2 men he’d just met, explaining why he was so pissed off at the world and why he wanted them to [buzz] off. It took me right out of the story to (fail to) imagine this guy barking out his grievances for a good 10 minutes, with the 2 heroes standing there letting him do it. There are much more graceful techniques for explaining his anger and letting the reader in on it.
That said, there’s definitely not one magic technique for naturally blending background information and worldbuilding into a story, so I’m going to end up being pretty vague here. First of all, be really sensitive about characters saying things that don’t fit them, the situation, or their audience. A gravely serious workaholic blacksmith is unlikely to rattle off a treatise on the fun of smithing to his wife of ten years. Sure, the author might feel the reader should hear how cool it is to be a blacksmith, especially the fabulous details freshly dug up from Wikipedia. But why would the man-of-few-words blacksmith suddenly start talking about that…to his partner who’s watched him at his work for a decade? This kind of thing can yank a reader right out of the story, as he or she starts to smell the author’s presence in the story. And like skittish deer in the forest, they’ll probably run.
A second piece of advice I’d offer is to acknowledge that not every piece of worldbuilding and backstory you jotted down in your notes is going to make it into the story. Fantasy and sci-fi writers might have a particular penchant for creating elaborate world histories, drawing intricate maps, dreaming up new species and races, and constructing our own cultures and languages…but that doesn’t mean all of it belongs in your book. Contriving ways for characters to talk about it, or simply throwing it in there with a “you’ll read it and you’ll like it!” attitude can be disastrous.
As for my own writing style, I definitely fall on the softcore side of things when it comes to worldbuilding. I have pages of notes about things like history, currency systems, political background, languages, travel times, goods being traded between regions…but I’m pretty sure I focus a lot less on it than most fantasy writers do. So for readers who enjoy heavy doses of information about exotic cultures and amazing new races and creatures, and want a travelogue type of story, The Queenschair will probably fall short of your expectations.
I mostly keep the worldbuilding restricted to what I need, what my characters need to talk about and use and learn about in their lives. For example, the amount of time Ebreyon needs to get home to Trisala from the Sagovian frontier has to make some semblance of sense; I keep track of those details and do my best to maintain consistency. But I don’t spend my time going beyond that; the focus is on the people and their stories, not on the type of brick their houses are made of or the name of the famous weaver who spun their clothes. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that level of attention to detail; it’s just not for me, and I’m leery of books that go overboard with it.
I think the right balance comes from being aware of the story’s flow and sensing when you’re divulging too much or not enough; I believe this is learned through experience. Reading can help you a lot, too—you’ll find books that tell you too much or too little, and you can use those examples to do it better yourself.
It is definitely a balance many overzealous fantasy writers fail to master, but it sounds to me like you've got the right idea.
6. Do you have a favorite character to write?
Oddly enough, I think Arsaya Amalor is my favorite character to write (see Question #8). Don’t get me wrong, I love them all and in later books of the series there are others who really grow on me. But Arsaya has a certain edge that grabs my attention and doesn’t let go, even when she’s being bratty and unpleasant. I feel like a doting parent watching a teenager misbehave and monitoring her progress toward being a better human being…with the knowledge that I could be fooling myself and she’s not progressing at all.
And because a lot of the story hinges on character relationships and some of my favorite moments are the clashes between protagonists, I find Arsaya to be the most fascinating to write. She has the most conflicts with the other major characters; she dislikes nearly all of them and that feeling is very mutual. Putting Arsaya in a room with just about anyone else is an invitation to microwave some popcorn and enjoy the show. And writing that show is a boatload of fun.
This didn't surprise me honestly. Every once in a while the narration sort of hints that it loves her too. ;) That and you picked her image to feature on your blog header.
7. Do you feel that any character(s) represented aspects of or were based on anyone you know, including yourself?
Absolutely, and I think this is an important facet of writing people who are real to you and hopefully to the reader. I’ve always thought I was drawn to writing because I liked taking aspects of real life and reshaping them into my own stories, whether I was trying to come to terms with my own feelings or exploring observations about other people.
In The Queenschair, there are shades of me in every single character, and it varies widely. Ebreyon’s feelings of betrayal by his former betrothed are based on my own feelings of abandonment by people in my life; he’s working through those issues in the same way I am. Arsaya’s favorite pastime is drawing and writing in her journal; I go on mad drawing binges once in a while and I’ve even been known to write stuff sometimes :) Chanyn begins the story seeing the world in stark blacks and whites, rights and wrongs…and I was totally like that when I was a teenager. (Ok, maybe until I was like 30. And she’s 26 so she’s got a few more years to go.) Both Selana and Zeydric are older siblings who are keen on protecting their younger ones; I’m an older sibling myself and I know what that’s like (though maybe not when Little Bro is a king and Little Sis wants to be queen).
As far as Queenschair characters based on other people, the best example is Mayin Arbreth, Baroness of Chadarun, who is based on my mother. I would also say she’s a sort of idealized version of my mother, and her relationship with her daughter Chanyn is basically the relationship I wished my sister and mother could have had. So all in all, I’ve taken various things from my world and used them to bring color to the world of The Queenschair.
Ooh, I like that some of their character traits are drawn from yourself when you were younger or from idealized versions of relationships you wished were real! That's really cool.
8. I want to talk about Arsaya Amalor, who spends a great deal of this book as the front-runner for becoming the King’s wife. Can you describe Arsaya’s personality and role in the book, and then share some thoughts on how you managed to make such a resoundingly unlikable character still be interesting and sometimes even sympathetic?
As I mentioned regarding Question #6, it’s no secret I like writing Arsaya’s chapters…and as unlikable as she is to most people, I have to admit I have a soft spot for her. Again I’ll compare it to a parent-child relationship; I guess she’s got a personality only I could love.
And what a personality it is. Arsaya has spent her entire life surrounded by wealth and privilege, and she’s been molded by the other 3 members of her immediate family. Her father, the powerful Baron of Ishten-Hyrona, wasn’t around that often but made sure to spoil her when he was. Her mother, the Baroness, is an overbearing noblewoman who always finds something to criticize about her daughter, and they have an oftentimes contentious relationship. Arsaya resents the fact that nothing she does ever seems to please her mother, while the Baroness is always praising her son, Zeydric. Arsaya’s older brother teased her a lot and played awful pranks on her when she was a child, and she hasn’t forgotten it even though they’re now both in their 20s.
So Arsaya grew up spoiled, resentful, and without hope that she could ever please her mother or earn the respect of her parents or older brother. She feels condescended and overlooked by her family much of the time, and so she throws herself into her efforts to impress the King and persuade him to choose her as his wife. She feels that is her path to getting the recognition she deserves…even if she has to marry someone she doesn’t know and doesn’t love. As she establishes herself as the leading candidate for the Queenschair and gets to know the other major players, Arsaya often thinks nasty thoughts about everyone around her, all the while smiling sweetly and trying to curry favor with the people she needs.
None of that sounds very pleasant, of course, and it isn’t meant to be. But I do think if Arsaya comes across as interesting and occasionally sympathetic, it’s because she may be an extreme version of ourselves. Whereas we sometimes think unkindly of certain people in our lives (some of whom may very well deserve it), Arsaya takes it further and belittles them, often with thinly-veiled insults. Maybe we all wish we could get away with that, too. And if I’ve been able to successfully portray Arsaya the way I see her, then I think readers will also see that much of her character is only skin deep, whether it’s her fabulous hair and physical beauty…or her nasty streak. The person underneath is hidden away…and she’s neither as beautiful nor as horrid as she might appear. I’m hoping readers will find her sympathetic because they see she’s not completely irredeemable, that she’s a potentially better person just trying to dig herself out of a hole.
YES, I want to know more about her layers as I read. She's got like tons of crust and I'm ready for some apple pie.
9. And now let’s talk about Chanyn Arbreth, who’s sort of the underdog in the fight for the Queenschair for most of the book. I found her more appealing than Arsaya—and it’s no secret that I’m rooting for her—but she’s no saint either. Do you think you wrote her in such a way that most of your audience will be able to relate to her on more levels than they can to Arsaya? Did you make her more likable on purpose, or did it just turn out that way?
If Chanyn comes across as more likable and relatable, I think that makes a lot of sense even though I didn’t consciously strive for that. One reason she might garner more support among readers is something you mentioned: most of us like rooting for the underdog! After Chanyn travels to the capital and meets not only the King but also her chief rival, it’s clear she has an uphill battle ahead. As we learn more about her, we find that she, despite her noble lineage, wasn’t blessed with a privileged upbringing and was even bullied by other girls to the extent that she still bears both physical and emotional scars. She also says what she thinks, sometimes with disastrous results. This is a stark contrast to the wealthy and spoiled Arsaya, who has had everything served to her on a silver platter (apparently including the Queenschair, as she becomes the people’s favorite candidate right from the start) and is rarely sincere.
Another aspect of Chanyn’s character that might resonate with readers is her sense of justice; she hates liars and traitors with a passion and plans to deal harshly with those types of people when she’s Baroness someday. She can be incredibly self-righteous (aren’t we all?), and she will eventually gain the power to make something of it…something we probably all daydream about at some point. And in Chanyn’s favor, it does appear that she would like to use her power to do good, and so it’s easier to trust her motives and sympathize with her endeavors.
Although a major focus of The Queenschair is the rivalry between Chanyn and Arsaya, and the former is clearly the better person of the two and the underdog to boot, I’d like to think readers will relate to both of them (albeit in very different ways) and enjoy getting to know them as living, breathing, complicated human beings.
I think you're right. We've all been petty and had irreconcilable desires and been judgmental to our own detriment. Arsaya's kind of a turned-up version of those nasty thoughts, but there's a real girl in there somewhere. Chanyn feels more centered with her less extreme emotions, and very few of us are universally worshiped porcelain dolls like Arsaya. So yes, go underdog.
10. Ebreyon Marin, the new King of Yenmas, reads like a complicated guy, even though we don’t spend that much time in his head. He deals with a broken heart in his past, being pushed to woo women in his present, and a potential marriage in his future. He deals with war in his past, inability to get a handle on being a peacetime King in his present, and possible life-threatening danger in his future. Given all that . . . what do you think Ebreyon’s dreams are like? How about his nightmares?
Wow, that’s quite a doozy of a question and ties nicely to my answer to Question #3! How well do I know my male lead…and how accurately could I speculate about his dreams, even if they’re never shown in the books?
I’ll go out on a limb and say that Ebreyon doesn’t often have warm and fuzzy dreams. For about a decade beginning with his teenage years, he was often thrown into dangerous situations including 2 separate wars, and like many war veterans, he saw plenty of things he wishes he could forget. His dreams are likely plagued by the faces of people he killed in battle, enemies whose executions he approved, and companions whose deaths he witnessed.
And when he isn’t dreaming about that, he’s probably having angry nightmares about Ramidiah, his former betrothed—he probably dreams about hurting or even killing her, and killing the man she eventually did marry. Before you go about assuming Ebreyon is some kind of murderous lunatic, let me state that he would never do such things in real life. But I do believe that his anger over Ramidiah’s betrayal would manifest themselves in violent dreams; he’s haunted by the way she abandoned him and it’s highly questionable whether he should be considering marriage to anyone now…
Oh dang. I wonder if those dreams of killing Ramie horrify him when he wakes up.
11. You have a ton of different POV perspectives in this book. I think I counted at least eight, but I probably don’t remember them all. However, even though it’s written in third person, the voices felt pretty distinct. Did you have to do anything consciously to make sure each character’s perspective came out authentically? Are there some that are more difficult for you to capture than others?
Well, let’s see: in Volume I, there are 7 characters who narrate at least 1 full chapter, plus 2 more whose perspectives we see for part of a chapter. In Volume II, there are 9 different perspectives: 7 returning from the first book plus 2 new ones (characters already met previously but now “graduated to the Main Cast”.) The addition of new points-of-view slows to a trickle as the series goes on, so it doesn’t get too crazy. It definitely doesn’t approach the Song of Ice and Fire series, which is a much more expansive and ambitious saga with quadruple the POV characters (and I may be selling it short). And most of my POV characters are in the same place confronting each other and sharing storylines, as opposed to a chapter here, the next chapter on another continent, and so on with a multitude of storylines that only sometimes intersect.
Most of my variation in their voices didn’t come with any conscious effort; I didn’t have too much trouble sliding into each set of shoes, chapter by chapter. There were times, often in editing, when I adjusted dialogue after realizing a character would have spoken more/less formally or used different terminology. I even reconsidered things like whether they’d use “who” or “whom” correctly. But as long as I maintained my awareness of whose eyes I was occupying, those slip-ups were few and far between. I guess it also helps that while the characters of The Queenschair have a wide range of educational backgrounds and vocabulary, they’re all speaking one language and none are pirates or Cockney street urchins. No wildly different manners of speaking…until Volume II, anyway.
As far as some voices being more difficult, I’m fortunate I never encountered that yet. I would have predicted trouble in writing Tibby Dorelvin, who’s 9 years old, if only because I’d never written a child’s perspective before. But she’s received glowing reviews so I guess I did all right!
I still need to produce fanart of this purple-haired child.
I still need to produce fanart of this purple-haired child.
12. Your series is racially diverse and female-friendly—a refreshing departure from the male-dominated, whitewashed landscapes of more traditional fantasy. However, as far as I could tell, all the featured characters are straight and cisgender. Without spoiling anything, do you plan to explore any queer perspectives in later books?
I absolutely do plan to explore queer perspectives, although this most likely will not happen during the 5 books of The Queenschair series. It’s not that there are no characters of different sexual orientations or transgender people in their world; their perspectives just won’t be addressed in this particular series. I can say that at least one character is homosexual, though this is only vaguely hinted at and has no bearing on the plot. The world of The Queenschair may not be the harsh ye olde medieval Europe, but its societies are still conservative and intolerant in many ways.
Beyond this series, though, I have definite plans to write about characters with queer perspectives. One of the projects I’m looking forward to after my current series is about a young soldier who seeks to follow in her hero’s footsteps. While thinking about her story, I realized she was not heterosexual, and her pursuit of a military career and her relationships with peers, rivals, and superiors were much more complicated than I’d previously thought. In a different series I’ve been planning (which is more of a traditional adventure fantasy) since before The Queenschair, our traveling heroes will meet a pair of siblings forced into opposite genders by family politics.
I’m looking forward to those and other future projects which will expand on the diversity of The Queenschair series, though it’ll be 2016 at the earliest before I get to them.
Yeah, there's a big difference between "queer people just LOL don't exist in this world" and "it wasn't safe for them to come out or identify that way, and if they were queer, they might not even consciously accept it themselves."
13. I’ve read The Queenschair, which is the first volume of the series, but I know there are four more volumes coming. How did you go about planning such an ambitious series? What do your outlines look like and how do you translate that into a first draft? I’d love to see a little about your process.
For the first 2 years of its development process, The Queenschair was planned as a trilogy, since all fantasy series have to be trilogies (although this idea has become outdated, I think). But after I wrote the 2nd volume, I realized how uneven it was to have a 500-page 1st book and then an 850-page 2nd one. So I reorganized the series into Volume I, Volume II, and Volume III Part 1 and Volume III Part 2.
Just kidding, this isn’t the Harry Potter, Twilight, or Hunger Games movie series. The Queenschair series will span 5 volumes, and all were (or will be) written from extensive outlines. For example, the outline for Volumes II and III (originally written together) was a 66-page Word file, full of lines like “Niwa is escorted home by guards after Nesemay expresses concern about how she’d walked over by herself earlier in the day” and “Selana refuses to be goaded, and instead reveals that she has begun to remember the events of that terrible night”. As I mentioned regarding Question #5, not every note makes it into the story; I’d estimate roughly 60% of that outline was actually used. Large sections of it were scrapped or completely revamped during the writing process, and then new material was added when Volume II was reworked into Volumes II and III. So even though I tried to be specific and detailed in my outline, I left a lot of leeway for the story to deviate from it. And boy did it deviate…and that’s fine!
As Julie knows from working with me on The Queenschair, Volume I originally ended on a significantly different note for 2 of the protagonists. Now I can’t imagine it any other way, but there was another way—which survived the 2 earliest full drafts. I guess the point is not to be dogmatic and to approach everything with an open mindset. A novel is a living thing that wants to grow and evolve, and I think it’s important to leave room for it to do that. Don’t treat it like machine code…unless you only want machines to read it.
Now as for the question about how my outline turns into a first draft, my process may resemble most outliners/planners’. I start each chapter in a separate Word file, copy/paste in the relevant parts of the outline, and start writing. As each part of the outline gets covered in the actual story text, I cut it and paste it at the end of the file in a section I call “Remainder Notes” (just made it up, I’m sure there’s a better name for it). If any part of that outline material was unused, I highlight it in yellow, in case I someday want to come back and see what ideas I didn’t put in the story and maybe reconsider.
Meanwhile, back in the story text, I keep writing and writing until the outline is used up, adding plenty of things along the way that were never pre-planned. And voila, I end up with a complete rough draft of the chapter plus a couple of pages of “Remainder Notes”, some of it highlighted in yellow. I then copy/paste that chapter text into the main book file and feel mighty proud of myself that it’s now 14 pages longer.
Well, you confirmed my suspicion that I will never touch an outline with a ten-foot pole. As soon as I start writing something, it starts to actually turn into the thing rather than a plan for the thing, so I don't even bother. Pantser for lyfe.
14. What fantasy tropes do you think The Queenschair has in it? What fantasy tropes did it subvert? What fantasy tropes do you think need to die?
Oh boy, this list could probably go on and on but I’ll be brief about it, and narrow it down to a dozen or so.
Spunky Princess – I would say The Queenschair has this, if only because Selana Marin is pretty strong-willed and her importance grows rapidly throughout the series. There’s good reason for it—she’s protective of her younger brother and knows his weaknesses as a King, and she strives to make up for his failings. Also, she is a good reader and a capable administrator, and he’s neither of those things. Suffice to say I have no problem with this trope at all.
Untouchable Swordsman – There’s nothing like a badass warrior the audience knows, KNOWS will never be actually hit or wounded. As in, nothing like an invincible hero to lull me right to sleep. I appreciated that in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Legolas gets cut and seems stunned. Or it could have been Orlando Bloom realizing his character wasn’t even supposed to be in the movie. Anyway, I’m not a fan of this trope and I subvert it quite a bit. The two most celebrated warriors of Yenmas both take their lumps, and no one is “untouchable”.
Wizened Wizard – We get it. Gandalf and Dumbledore are very cool. And if it has to be an old-as-the-hills omniscient magic user, let’s have more of them be women. And not the incoherent cackling witch type. Magic/sorcery plays a very limited role in The Queenschair so I don’t do anything with this trope. There’s no enigmatic old warlock or whatever, that’s for sure.
Sexy Sorceress – No single character represents this trope quite as, uh, vividly as the Sorceress from the video game Dragon’s Crown. Buxom, occasionally portrayed as promiscuous, sometimes speaks in ridiculous or enigmatic fashion. I don’t have any sexy sorceresses in my series, sorry! (hiss that 3 times fast)
Stoic Soldier – You know the type – he appears in every fighting anime you’ve ever seen. Man of few words, gruff personality, his heart deadened by the horrors of all the wars he’s been through. But when duty calls, he’s always there without fail and his awesome fighting skills are at the hero’s disposal (sometimes he’s also an Untouchable Swordsman). I’d like to say I turn this trope on its head, at least in one instance.
Noble Rogue – I feel like this character archetype has become especially prevalent in the last few years – the thief/mercenary/whore with the heart of gold who’s very charismatic and often a skilled wisecracker, and possesses a surprising (well, no longer surprising) sense of justice. I don’t have this type of character in my series…and I don’t miss it for a second.
Born Bad – Not so much a character type as it is an idea that someone born into evil (or at least non-goodness) is destined to remain so. I’m thinking of Draco Malfoy when I mention this one; I would have liked to see redemption from him, rather than have him be a malicious character for years and then a cowardly one who refuses to take a stand. I think I try to subvert this trope, with at least two characters who resist their negative nurture and attempt to be better than their parents.
Evil, Snooty Noble – Usually an obese male with a high-pitched voice and foppish bowl-cut hair. May or may not be obsessed with perfumes and exotic pets. This is closely related to Born Bad, as it’s the idea that someone raised a certain way (in this case, with wealth) will just turn into a cartoony villainous caricature. A recent fantasy novel I read had multiple affluent characters who were all ridiculously awful people just because; they were there simply for the book (via the protagonist) to point at them and yell “Rich people bad! They kick puppies and eat babies, and vice versa on weekends!” In The Queenschair series, there are plenty of wealthy nobles who are unpleasant human beings, but I don’t think I ever turn them into cardboard cutouts. And they all have their reasons for doing what they do, and some seek redemption.
Named Weaponry – I happen to think named weapons are very cool, and I have some in my books! In fact, Julie, you called me out on the one named weapon in Volume I. There’s another that first appears in Volume III, and I can’t promise that’s the last. And as for that future traditional adventure fantasy mentioned in my answer to Question #12, there’s a whole boatload of named weapons! It may be corny, but I think it also delivers an epic feel…and for whatever reason I can identify with people who love their swords/axes/rifles or whatever as if they were pets.
Giant Weaponry – Fantasy anime seems to get called out most often for giant, physically preposterous weapons like a sword twice as a big as its wielder or an axe that would have to weigh 150 pounds. I waver on this one; sometimes I think it looks stupid and starts pulling me out of the story…and sometimes I think it’s awesome. The aforementioned Named Weapon in Volume I of The Queenschair is definitely oversized, and another major character in the series has a very long sword (and it’s a she, so stop snickering).
Dragons – Watching The Desolation of Smaug, I was shocked to find that the dragon in the title didn’t do anything for me. I felt nothing, even if he was voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch who’s just very, very cool. I thought about other recent fantasy dragons, from Daenerys Targaryen’s trio of pets to the ones in the How to Train movies…and I realized I’m dragoned out. And there are none in The Queenschair.
I think we should have a rule that for every sword that gets named, a character also has to name their buttcheeks.
And I'm gonna have to say . . . I was surprised not to see any tropes related to fantasy redheads. You gotta admit, Rahna is pretty . . . redhead fantasy babe, right? In my opinion, you can't avoid them ALL or you just look like you're using the tropes as a how-NOT-to guide just on principle. . . .
15. Okay, let’s have your link parade—where can we buy your book, follow you on social media, and learn more about the series?
To learn more about the epic fantasy series that includes half of your favorite tropes and eschews the other half, check out these links!
And I think that just about wraps it up. Thanks to Julie for the interview and to everybody who checked it out!
And to think I was wondering whether I should go to 20 questions instead of 15. . . . Yeah, I think we've got a decent amount of material!
I'd love to see some of my readers adding this to their to-read lists and diving in. J.C. Fann has been one of my favorite CPs over the years and I really think The Queenschair is incredible--not just because I know the author, who's also incredible. ;)
I'll be diving into the second book in the series after I get back from vacation, and I'm soooo looking forward to it! WOOHOOOOO!