Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Interview with Sebastien de Castell, author of Traitor's Blade - July 15, 2014

Please welcome Sebastien de Castell to The Qwillery as part of the 2014 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Traitor's Blade is published today in the US by Jo Fletcher Books. Please join The Qwillery in wishing Sebastien a Happy US Publication Day!

TQ:  Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Sebastien:  Thanks for having me. I wrote my first novel in 1997 in part to see if I had it in me and in part because when I was reading other books I’d find myself distracted by thoughts of my own stories. In 2006, despite there being many great fantasy novels out, I was never able to find one that really spoke to me, so I decided to try and write it myself. That book became Traitor’s Blade. I was rather shocked to later discover that when you just focus on writing the book you yourself most want to read, other people want to read it, too.

TQ:  Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Sebastien:  I tend to develop various elements of a novel into sample scenes or short stories and then grow those into full-fledged outlines. So really, I’m not a plotter or a pantser. I’m a plantser.

TQ:  Your publisher bio includes a long list of professions ("a musician, ombudsman, interaction designer, fight choreographer, teacher, project manager, actor, and product strategist."), which of these have influenced your writing? What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Sebastien:  I think that, as with most writers, every experience becomes a tool you can use in your storytelling. My degree is in archaeology and that inspired me to want to show Falcio’s own buried history inside Traitor’s Blade - so that events in the present are informed by the little pieces of evidence from the past. The fight scenes are inspired in part by my experience as a sword choreographer for the theatre. Those gigs taught me that every fight has to be a story in and of itself, and every moment within the fight needs to be as specific to the character as their lines of dialogue.

Sometimes it’s the little experiences inside a profession that influence you. The idea for the coats that Falcio, Kest, and Brasti wear came from an actual greatcoat that my brother bought me one year. When I was working as an actor I found I’d always bring this coat because no matter how cold it got or how long I had to wait before filming a scene, I could pretty much carry everything I needed in it and stay warm and ready to go. Alas, mine doesn’t have secret bone plates to protect me from being hit by swords nor does it have the various tricks, traps, and potions that the characters in Traitor’s Blade rely on.

The most challenging thing about writing is that every book changes you as an author. Your brain seems to change in some ineffable way that makes it impossible to reproduce the same process you used in the previous book and so you have to uncover your internal creative process all over again.

TQ:  Who are some of your literary influences? Favorite authors?

Sebastien:  I draw from a lot of different places - authors, screenwriters, and sometimes comic book writers all have different approaches that can help in building a novel. When it comes to fantasy writers, Roger Zelazny’s Nine Princes in Amber, which is written with almost no fluff or embellishment, really grabbed me. I’m also a fan of Steven Brust - especially the Vlad Taltos novels - which taught me that you could write fantasy without having all your characters speak in fake old-timey dialects.

Reviewers of Traitor’s Blade have tended to bring up Dumas and The Three Musketeers as influences on me but I’m equally enthralled by C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower stories. I loved the way Hornblower looked at every battle as if it were a puzzle that needed to be solved rather than simply a contest of might or manliness.

When writing description and setting I tend to look to noir authors like Raymond Chandler or, more recently, Dennis Lehane, who have a style and an economy in their prose that really draws me in as a reader. Aaron Sorkin, who writes largely for television and film, is unmatched for my taste when it comes to dialogue and making even small moments between characters feel dramatic. Finally, because I write fantasy and adventure, I have to think about balancing the more bombastic nature of heroic characters with a more grounded approach to personal relationships. Brian Michael Bendis does this brilliantly with super-heroic figures, as do a number of new comic book writers out there.

TQ:  Describe Traitor's Blade (Greatcoats 1) in 140 characters or less.

Sebastien:  A disgraced swordsman struggles to redeem himself by saving a young girl caught in the web of a royal conspiracy. Swashbuckling ensues.

TQ:  Tell us something about Traitor's Blade that is not in the book description.

Sebastien:  Most people are surprised by the humour - something that generally isn’t conveyed in the book descriptions. It’s not a comedy by any means (it’s rather dark as fantasy goes, in fact) but I love to write the banter between Falcio, Kest, and Brasti. They’ve known each other so long and been through so much that they really can stare death in the face and make a joke about it. In fact, they generally prefer it that way.

TQ:  What inspired you to write Traitor's Blade? Why did you choose to write Fantasy? Do you want to write in any other genres?

SebastienTraitor’s Blade is really a story about idealism in the face of overwhelming cynical pragmatism. In that sense, it’s a story I wanted to write because, while it’s set in a fantasy milieu, it deals with the kinds of questions many of us ask ourselves in our own world.

You often hear people say that fantasy is an escape but what I enjoy most about the genre is that you sometimes find a book that lets you bring that sense of wonder - of enchantment - back into your own life and the world around you. Fantasy can be enchanting in the best sense of the word, and that’s what I’m aiming to do with my own books. It’s also a genre that gives an author the flexibility to let themes drive the world of the story. You can explore an idea in depth without having to either make the situation feel completely contrived or force your characters to be subservient to our pre-defined understanding of our own day-to-day existence.

In addition to swashbuckling fantasy, I’ve occasionally written mystery novels. I’m working on one now, in fact.

TQ:  What sort of research did you do for Traitor's Blade?

Sebastien:  I studied history and archaeology in university and that, perhaps strangely, makes me not want to get stuck in historicism when writing fantasy novels. So many historical events, technologies, and social practices are inextricably connected and it always feels a bit weird to me to take one or two of them and then switch everything else up. So I prefer to be inspired by history rather than thinking of it as research material.

The idea for the Greatcoats - the sword fighting travelling magistrates who play a central role in the novel - came from reading about the itinerant judges of the English Middle-Ages. These poor devils had to go out on a circuit that could take an entire year, travelling from town to town, hearing cases and trying to mete out the King’s justice. It sounded like an awfully dangerous job, though it’s vastly more so in the world of Traitor’s Blade.

I often get asked about researching sword fighting for the book but I actually stayed very much away from historical fighting styles for Traitor’s Blade because I wanted to let the characters in this world have their own unique fighting techniques.

TQ:  Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why? Who is your favorite character?

Sebastien:  King Paelis, who we only see in flashbacks, was the easiest to write. We know of him only through Falcio’s memories - through the eyes of a young man who very much idealized this visionary King. This allowed me to make Paelis not so much larger than life but a better, more decent man than we expect to find in a ruler.

The most difficult character to write was, believe it or not, the horse. Making her work was definitely threading a very fine needle.

Falcio’s always been my favourite character simply because he’s always engaged in this struggle to do the right thing without being sure what the right thing is anymore. That being said, I’m growing more and more fond of Brasti with each book. One of my favourite arcs in book 2 is watching his ‘charming rogue’ act start to fall apart and seeing him grow into something else that’s more uniquely his own.

TQ:  Give us one of your favorite lines from Traitor's Blade .


"Ah, fool. Dying isn't sacrifice. Haven't you figured that out yet? All those years of trying to get yourself killed in battle? That ain't sacrifice. That's self-loathing. It's gleeful suicide. It's vanity."
I felt her hand release my jaw and saw her stand, she pushed Aline in front of me and took the sword in both her hands, pulling it back in line with the girl's neck. "Now this? This is sacrifice!”

TQ:  What's next?

Sebastien:  The second book in the Greatcoats series is with the publisher and I’m writing the third book over the next couple of months. My other fantasy series, Spellslinger, is with my agent right now. Finally, I’m writing a new mystery series that’s a bit of a 'Nancy Drew meets Chinatown’ thing (weird, I know, but I promise it’ll work!)

TQ:  Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Sebastien:  My pleasure. Thanks for having me!

Traitor's Blade
Greatcoats 1
Jo Fletcher Books, July 15, 2014
Hardcover and eBook, 384 pages
(US Debut)

With swashbuckling action that recall Dumas' Three Musketeers Sebastien de Castell has created a dynamic new fantasy series. In Traitor’s Blade a disgraced swordsman struggles to redeem himself by protecting a young girl caught in the web of a royal conspiracy.

The King is dead, the Greatcoats have been disbanded, and Falcio Val Mond and his fellow magistrates Kest and Brasti have been reduced to working as bodyguards for a nobleman who refuses to pay them. Things could be worse, of course. Their employer could be lying dead on the floor while they are forced to watch the killer plant evidence framing them for the murder. Oh wait, that’s exactly what’s happening.

Now a royal conspiracy is about to unfold in the most corrupt city in the world. A carefully orchestrated series of murders that began with the overthrow of an idealistic young king will end with the death of an orphaned girl and the ruin of everything that Falcio, Kest, and Brasti have fought for. But if the trio want to foil the conspiracy, save the girl, and reunite the Greatcoats, they’ll have to do it with nothing but the tattered coats on their backs and the swords in their hands, because these days every noble is a tyrant, every knight is a thug, and the only thing you can really trust is a traitor’s blade.

About Sebastien

Photo by Pink Monkey Studios
Sebastien de Castell had just finished a degree in Archaeology when he started work on his first dig. Four hours later he realised how much he hated archaeology and left to pursue a very focused career as a musician, ombudsman, interaction designer, fight choreographer, teacher, project manager, actor, and product strategist. He lives in Vancouver, Canada, with his wife.

Website  ~  Facebook  ~  Twitter @decastell


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