TQ: What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
Bradley: I'd have to say it was the way in which I generated the ideas and some of the primary characters for The Winds of Khalakovo. I stumbled on the technique, and while I don't think it's anything others haven't done, it was new to me, and it worked quite well.
Just about every main character in the book was created from some artwork I saw in Edinburgh in 2004. My wife, Joanne, and I were on a whirlwind trip through the UK, and we stopped in Edinburgh for a few days. We visited the National Gallery of Scotland, and I was so struck by some of the portraits there that I decided I would take the ones that struck me the most and write a story from them. I still have the postcards near my computer desk. They aren’t exactly like I picture them anymore (now that the first book is written) but they’re still quite close.
I wrote about it more extensively on my website. You can view the blog entry here (along with pictures of the main characters). Most will not be familiar with the characters themselves, but I think it’s an interesting technique, and one I’ll use again, that of taking individual portraits and using them for inspiration. I’ve already repeated the technique for a new book I’ve started (but not yet finished) and once again it helped to crystallize my thoughts. The characters as I envision them in the book end up deviating from the art, but it’s nice to have something to go back to, to find the grounding and original inspiration you had when you started the work. It’s so easy to get off track; having something like these helped me to stay true to what I was shooting for when I launched into the novel.
TQ: Who are some of your favorite writers? Who do you feel has influenced your writing?
Bradley: There are many writers that I admire but that I wouldn't necessarily want to write like. J.R.R. Tolkien has affected me the most in terms of the depth and breadth of the worlds I create, but I wouldn't want to write like him. I adore Tim Powers, and I try to adopt some of his quirkiness, but I don't do it very well. We're just not the same kind of writer. I'm also terribly envious of those who can write humor, like Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams, but I can't do it myself. At all. Srsly.
I have a number of influences from my early reading days like Roger Zelazny, Glen Cook, and Fred Saberhagen. Putting my head to it, though, if I were to recreate myself as an amalgamation of my literary heros, I would take the grittiness and scope of George R.R. Martin, the dark, oppressive tone of C.S. Friedman, and the lush lyricism of Guy Gavriel Kay. Whether my stories hit those marks or not I'll leave to the reader, but that's what I'm shooting for when I'm writing.
TQ: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Bradley: Ha! I like that term, pantser. I'm a little bit of both, actually. When I stared writing, I thought I was going to be a plotter. I’m a software programmer by trade, I have a degree in Computer Science and Engineering, and I thought surely I’d be very structured in my plotting. The thing is, writing is not a terribly structured thing, at least for me. It’s too amorphous. I just can’t seem to get my arms around it until I’m in the middle of it, and even then it feels like all I have my hands around is the current scene.
And so, what I like to do is to figure out roughly what the book is about. For me this means I understand the characters to a degree. I understand the world pretty well, the customs, the magic, the religions. And I know the ending, at least as much as I can know it. And then I figure out a few of the high points, the emotional turning points in the novel. I like to think of these—the points of the story that I do know—as lights in the fog as I try to wend my way through a swamp. The lights guide me forward. I may not know the exact path I'll take through the fog and the darkness to reach it. I may find my way blocked from time to time. I may even have to backtrack occasionally. But I know where I'm going to end up, and I know I'll get there eventually.
TQ: Describe The Winds of Khalakovo (The Lays of Anuskaya 1) in 140 characters or less.
Bradley: Winds is a story about a Prince who finds an autistic savant, a boy who may have the power to heal or destroy. The only question is: which?
TQ: What inspired you to write The Winds of Khalakovo?
Bradley: Well, I talked a little about the genesis from the postcards I got in Edinburgh above. But I guess deep down, like most writers, I'm trying to recreate some of those feelings of awe and wonder, the sensawunda I got when reading my favorite fantasy novels for the first time. It's a touch cliché, I'm trying to make the book I'd like to read, and for me that's a lot about creating a world that's rich and deep and wide and real. I can think of a dozen or so stories that have struck me in this respect. It all starts with Middle Earth, but goes on with Stephen R. Donaldson's The Land, and Le Guin's Earthsea, Glen Cook's Black Company, George R.R. Martin's Westeros. Those are the types of worlds I'm trying to create, and it just so happens I stumbled across the Russian angle while brainstorming with those postcards, and in the end it seemed to make sense. It felt, I don't know, whole somehow. And I've been writing long enough to know that when it feels that way, you've stumbled across something good and you'd better just sit down and write it.
TQ: What sort of research did you do to create the world of The Winds of Khalakovo?
Bradley: I'm not one who reads tons of books on a subject before I dive into a novel, but I did research Muscovite Russia, Russian culture, customs, and so on, just to steep myself in the period. Winds is not a one-for-one with that place and time, so I wasn’t too worried about historical accuracy, but I wanted to get the right sense of it. I wanted to give the impression that the story was playing out in a fully realized world with fully realized cultures.
I also spent some time with Medieval Persia, and a bit on Ottoman Turkey, because these two cultures come into play quite a bit as well (especially in the second and third books in the series). Once I had a decent idea of what the world felt like, I dove into the story, coming back to the research now and again to stay true to the things that got me excited about them in the first place.
There are a couple of places where I pay very strict attention, however: in the names of places and people. I’m very particular about names. I want them to give a strong sense of the culture. I want them to be romantic. And I want them to flow. I’ll readily admit that some of the names I chose for Winds are a mouthful, especially the names of the hezhan, which were taken from Sanscrit base words. But I hope that once the reader “gets” them, they flow while also providing atmosphere to the story.
TQ: Without giving anything away, what is/are your favorite scene(s) in The Winds of Khalakovo?
Bradley: I'll give the fan favorite and my own personal favorite.
First, the fan favorite. In the early parts of the book, Prince Nikandr Khalakovo is to be married to Princess Atiana Vostroma. Traditionally, the couple performs a folk dance in front of both families at a massive wedding feast. By the time this particular night rolls around, there's a bit of, shall we say, rivalry between Nikandr and Atiana, and the results provide more than a bit of fireworks. Many people have told me it's their favorite scene in the entire book, and it's certainly one of mine, too.
But my favorite favorite is a very emotional one. It's one in which Rehada, a woman who's hiding many things even from those she loves, wants to enter a sacred place. Because of Rehada's shady past, and to prove that she's worthy of trust, the elder of the village Rehada wishes to enter asks her to perform a formal confession. Rehada does so, but doesn't count on having to confess to Princess Atiana, a woman she has a deep-seated hatred for. She hates her not only because she is a woman of the ruling class, but because Rehada was Nikandr's lover, and Atiana is the woman he's about to be married to. As the scene plays out, Rehada reflects on her past, particularly on her relationship with her daughter and her daughter's father. It's very touching and emotionally wrenching. It was difficult to write, but that's probably why I like it so much. It reveals so much about Rehada, not only what she's like, but what made her that way.
TQ: In The Winds of Khalakovo, who was the most difficult character to write and why? The easiest and why?
Bradley: Princess Atiana was probably the hardest to write because I wanted to show her as somewhat weak in the beginning and to have her grow as the story progressed. This is a very dangerous line for a writer to walk. Paint a character as too weak and they come across as unsympathetic. Make them too strong and their transformation isn't as satisfying for the reader. Hopefully I pulled it off.
Rehada was probably the easiest because she's so anguished. Her past is complex, and she's a very conflicted person. It's comparatively easy to find things to write about with a person like that. They're not easy to write emotionally, but it's not difficult to find conflict to write about, whether it's internal conflict or external. And so her chapters tended to flow easily for me.
TQ: How many books are planned for The Lays of Anuskaya series?
Bradley: Three books are planned in the series. The second book, The Straits of Galahesh, is finished and turned in to my editor for its final draft. I've just started the third book and hope to have that wrapped up in first draft form by next summer. In Winds, a large Empire to the west of the islands called Yrstanla is barely mentioned. In the second and third books, however, Yrstanla takes on a prominent role, threatening the islands it once ruled. The characters also begin to explore the origins of the wasting disease and the blight and what they might do to heal the world of it once and for all.
TQ: What's next?
Bradley: Beyond finishing the trilogy, I'm starting to play with a new epic fantasy that has a Thousand-and-One-Nights sort of feel. I'll also secretly reveal that this is sort of an homage to the city of Sanctuary in Thieves' World, a world I loved reading in my teen years and beyond. I've always wanted to re-create a place that is vast and has heavy influences from many different cultures. And then, of course, I want to put it into a pressure cooker and see what happens. I don't have much down on paper right now, but what I have, I like, and I think it's going to grow into a pretty interesting project as I continue to fill out the world and the characters.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Bradley: Thanks so much for having me. It was a pleasure to sit and talk for a while, even if it was virtual.
About The Winds of Khalakovo
The Winds of KhalakovoThe Lays of Anuskaya 1
Night Shade Books, March 15, 2011
Among inhospitable and unforgiving seas stands Khalakovo, a mountainous archipelago of seven islands, its prominent eyrie stretching a thousand feet into the sky. Serviced by windships bearing goods and dignitaries, Khalakovo's eyrie stands at the crossroads of world trade. But all is not well in Khalakovo. Conflict has erupted between the ruling Landed, the indigenous Aramahn, and the fanatical Maharraht, and a wasting disease has grown rampant over the past decade. Now, Khalakovo is to play host to the Nine Dukes, a meeting which will weigh heavily upon Khalakovo's future.
When an elemental spirit attacks an incoming windship, murdering the Grand Duke and his retinue, Prince Nikandr, heir to the scepter of Khalakovo, is tasked with finding the child prodigy believed to be behind the summoning. However, Nikandr discovers that the boy is an autistic savant who may hold the key to lifting the blight that has been sweeping the islands. Can the Dukes, thirsty for revenge, be held at bay? Can Khalakovo be saved? The elusive answer drifts upon the Winds of Khalakovo…
Fantasy and science fiction were about the only thing Brad ever read regularly growing up. The first thing he recalls reading was J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit in fourth grade. He remembers it specifically because it was such a wondrous experience, losing himself in that book. He went on to read the Lord of the Rings. He didn't really know it at the time, but those books set the stage for everything from then on. He was constantly on a search for other books that created a world as deep and immersive as Tolkien's.
Brad didn't come to writing early. He dabbled a bit in high school, and then again in college, but he really didn't start to become serious about the craft of writing until he was well into his career in software programming. It was a difficult transition, moving from something as structured as software to something as flowing as writing, but it was also freeing. It was like coming home. Those books he read when he was younger he could now create on his own, from scratch, to do with what he would.
Like any writer, Brad had a lot of influences along the way, but the ones that stand out the most are J.R.R. Tolkien, George R.R. Martin, C.S. Friedman, Guy Gavriel Kay, Tim Powers, and (last but not least) Glen Cook. Brad is a software engineer by day, wrangling code into something resembling usefulness. He is also an amateur cook. He loves to cook spicy dishes, particularly Mexican and southwestern. He lives in Racine, Wisconsin with his wife and two children.
As time goes on, however, Brad finds that his hobbies are slowly being whittled down to these two things: family and writing. In that order…
The Night Bazaar (group blog)
Speculate -- The Podcast for Writers, Readers, and Fans (co-host with Gregory A. Wilson)
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