Friday, April 17, 2015

Guest Blog by Peter Orullian - April 17, 2015

Please welcome Peter Orullian to The Qwillery. The Unremembered: Author's Definitive Edition was published by Tor Books on April 7th. Trial of Intentions will be published on May 26, 2015.

I love your question, Sally: Should fantasy deal with ‘big issues,’ or simply be entertaining? It’s provocative. And I don’t think it’s an easy one to answer—probably why I love it.

On the one hand, I know a lot of writers who’d already be rolling their eyes at the notion that fiction should do anything but entertain. Taken a step further, fiction that asserts itself in tackling “issues” might be decried as doctrinaire, right?

That might be fair, too, but only when the execution is bad. I’ll come back to this idea.

I suppose you could even separate “big issues” into a couple of different camps. For instance, I know writers who pull themes from newspapers and real-world problems. Topics that anger or frustrate them. And anger can be beautiful motivation for good fiction.

These stories, though, often fail when the author’s viewpoint becomes transparent to the reader. It’s like a big fat finger stabbing up from the page and poking you in the eye.

But one might also classify “big issues” as problems of scale—“epic,” in other words—and such is natural for many types of fantasy, e.g. the clash of ideologies, war, slavery, racism, etc. To be honest, good world-building sets up these conflicts quite nicely. If a writer is thoughtful about cultures and economics and religion and politics (the list goes on), I’d suggest it’s impossible not to have some “big issues” become central to the story. In my own Vault of Heaven series, I spent a lot of time on world development, which led naturally into several “big issues” that really help to drive the plot. And when your narrative hums because of “big issues” in conflict . . . well, writers do a happy dance.

But I’ve ducked your question, thus far, haven’t I? You asked me should fantasy deal with big issues. And unless I miss your point, I suspect you’re asking if it should, in fact, be intentional on the writer’s part, as opposed to a natural consequence of good worldbuilding. Said another way, the writer might, for example, deliberately create a world of pseudo-republicans and pseudo-democrats and then proceed to demonize the one he hates and laud the other. Probably lots of terrible deaths to the one he anoints as the bad guys, too, right?

I’m not a fan of fiction as a bully-pulpit. Often the problem of it is that a writer given to using his fiction this way does short shrift to opposing views. And that’s just flat limiting. Oh, I love big bad scary evil monsters whose only objective in life is to try and eat you. But then I think we’ve seen that villains can also be hella interesting when they’re complicated. Don’t get me wrong here, either. I still like having someone to cheer for. But one-dimensional bad guys are like one-note Johnnies. That note may be sublime, but you tire of hearing it repeated too often.

I’ll probably piss some folks off, but I find Aaron Sorkin to be guilty of this sometimes. Great writer. But I often feel like he spends a disproportionate amount of time on the speeches and characters he really cares about. My humble assertion is that if you’re going to put a character on the page—particularly if they’re going to be a POV character—you owe it to them and to the reader to tell us not just what the character cares about, but why. And to make it meaningful.

The writer who does that will raise complex emotions in the reader. So, then, to your question, if a writer is intentionally infusing his fiction with a “cause,” it’ll wind up one-sided and stilted and flavorless if all we get is how blessedly true that “cause” is.

On the other hand, if the writer is willing to put it all out there—the best of both sides of the issue—then good. But even then, there’s a huge risk of coming off a bit preachy. Which is why I mentioned “execution” above. Some writers do this well. And for those who can, sweet. But I’d argue it’s an advanced writer skill.

All that said, here’s the thing: “big issue” or not, the story has to entertain. For the most part, the only readers who are going to read a thinly-veiled tract are the ones who already agree with you. And maybe not even all of them.

On the other hand, if your story rocks, readers will come. All kinds of readers.

And I suppose we could even lapse into sophistry and start talking about the degree to which some subgenres of fantasy are more given to “big issues” vs. sheer entertainment. Like, does epic fantasy lend itself to this more than sword and sorcery? Does urban fantasy have an angle, since it’s often set in the real world vs. a second world? And on and on.

I think where I land in all this is what I call the “and” strategy. Meaning, I don’t think “big issues” and entertainment are mutually exclusive, just as I don’t think they’re mutually-dependent.

Let me ‘splain.

I think a novel can do both. It can reach a level of rip-roaring entertainment while also tackling “big issues.” And sometimes I want to fall into a world fraught with its own set of epic challenges that result from a clash of ideologies, political intrigue, and “big issues” that touch on what it is to be human. These kinds of stories are the ones where I often pause in the reading to think about something I’ve just read. I love books that make me do this. But I find it happens best when it results from exceptional worldbuilding vs. pasted-on writer-opinions. As I said, it’s an advanced writer skill to carry it off without becoming obvious to the reader. And for those who don’t know, a cardinal writing sin occurs when the writer becomes evident to the reader during the story.

But, I’m also happy to read a book whose only aim is escapism. Often, that’s precisely what suits my mood. I may not be looking to be challenged, or for nuances, or for monstrously epic plots, etc. Sometimes—just like with movies (I’m a huge film nut)—I just want a thrill ride. Popcorn. Heroes and monsters.

Lastly—for me, anyway—are those books that don’t entertain at all, and seem desperate for me to agree with a particular stance on this issue or that. I don’t get far in those books. And they’re easy to spot.

There’s a thing in all this about reader preference, too. And I find that many readers seek different kinds of books, for different reasons, at different moments in their own lives.

Makes perfect sense to me.

So, yeah. Not an easy one to answer. Or maybe it’s that there’s more than one answer here.

In any case, thanks for the chance to share some thoughts on the topic. Really good one. If we find ourselves at a con sometime, lets pick it up and see where else it takes us.


The Unremembered: Author's Definitive Edition
Vault of Heaven 1
Tor Books, April 7, 2015
Trade Paperback and eBook, 480 pages

Peter Orullian's epic fantasy debut The Unremembered has been critically acclaimed, earning starred reviews and glowing praise. But now it gets even better. In anticipation of the second volume in Orullian's epic series, and for one of the few times in our publishing history, we at Tor are choosing to relaunch a title with an author's definitive edition.

In addition to stunning updates to the original text, we're also including an exclusive short story set in the world of Vault of Heaven as well as a sneak preview of the sequel, Trial of Intentions, and a glossary to the universe.

The gods who created this world have abandoned it. In their mercy however, they sealed the rogue god-and the monstrous creatures he created to plague mortal kind-in the vast and inhospitable wasteland of the Bourne. The magical Veil that protected humankind for millennia has become weak and creatures of nightmare have now come through. Those who stand against evil know that only drastic measures will prevent a devastating invasion.

Tahn Junell is a hunter who's unaware of the dark forces that imperil his world, in much the same way his youth is lost to memory. But an imperious man who wears the sigil of the feared Order of Sheason and a beautiful woman of the legendary Far have shared with Tahn the danger. They've asked him, his sister, and his friends to embark with them on a journey that will change their lives . . . and the world . . . forever. And in the process, he'll remember . . .

Trial of Intentions
Vault of Heaven 2
Tor Books, May 26, 2015
Hardcover and eBook,  672 pages

The gods who created this world have abandoned it. In their mercy, however, they chained the rogue god--and the monstrous creatures he created to plague mortalkind--in the vast and inhospitable wasteland of the Bourne. The magical Veil that contains them has protected humankind for millennia and the monsters are little more than tales told to frighten children. But the Veil has become weak and creatures of Nightmare have come through. To fight them, the races of men must form a great alliance to try and stop the creatures.

But there is dissent. One king won't answer the call, his pride blinding him even to the poison in his own court. Another would see Convocation fail for his own political advantage. And still others believe Convocation is not enough. Some turn to the talents of the Sheason, who can shape the very essence of the world to their will. But their order is divided, on the brink of collapse.

Tahn Junell remembers friends who despaired in a place left barren by war. One of the few who have actually faced the unspeakable horde in battle, Tahn sees something else at work and wonders about the nature of the creatures on the other side of the Veil. He chooses to go to a place of his youth, a place of science, daring to think he can find a way to prevent slaughter, prevent war.
And his choices may reshape a world . . . .

The second title in the Vault of Heaven series, Peter Orullian's Trial of Intentions is a mesmerizing fantasy epic that turns the conventions of the genre on its head

About Peter

Peter Orullian works in marketing at Xbox, including leading the Music and Entertainment marketing strategy for Xbox LIVE, and has toured as a featured vocalist internationally at major music festivals. He has published several short stories. He is the author of The Unremembered and Trial of Intentions. He lives in Seattle.

Website  ~  Google +  ~  Facebook  ~ Twitter @PeterOrullian

The Giveaway

What:  One entrant will win a copy of The Unremembered: Author's Definitive Edition by Peter Orullian from Tor Books. US/CANADA ONLY

How:  Log into and follow the directions in the Rafflecopter below.

Who and When:  The contest is open to all humans on the planet earth with a US or Canadian mailing address. Contest ends at 11:59 PM US Eastern Time on April 26, 2015. Void where prohibited by law. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 years old or older to enter.

*Giveaway rules and duration are subject to change without any notice.*

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Short Stories and Collection

Sacrifice of the First Sheason
Tor Books, February 1, 2011
eBook, 32 pages

Palamon was part of the collective that formed the world, made its mountains, its people, its rules. When the fledgling world is threatened, only he will do whatever it takes to save it.

The Great Defense of Layosah
Tor Books, February 2, 2011
32 pages

Layosah has lost five sons and her husband to her kingdom's endless wars; all she has left is an infant daughter and a dangerous idea.

The Battle of the Round
Tor Books, April 12, 2011

In wartime, what price honor, when the odds are against you, the enemy is remorseless, and it is the eleventh hour? A Sheason who lives to help his people faces a terrible choice on the battlefield when all defenses have failed and the only choice seems to be to do the one thing that separates him from his most hated adversary.

A Beautiful Accident
Tor Books, January 13, 2015
eBook, 32 pages

“In a culture where ritualized torture is used to teach its people strength through long-suffering, a foreign sufferer unintentionally teaches them something stronger . . . something gentler.”

The Hell of It
Tor Books, February x, 2015
eBook, 32 pages

Some heroes don't carry blades or go to war. Some heroes are fathers desperately trying not to fail their sons.

The Vault of Heaven, Story Volume One
Descant Publishing,  February 3, 2015
Trade Paperback and eBook, 252 pages

A mother considers the unthinkable to stop a war. A husband may lose everything to watch over a world. A scrivener learns the terrible risk in the words she’s translating. The power of many sacrificing as one. These and more are the stories collected in this volume. Stories of people. Stories of war and sacrifice and friendship. They help weave the rich fabric of Orullian’s epic fantasy series, The Vault of Heaven, deepening the resonance of the world he’s created.


  1. Thanks for this fascinating and captivating feature which would be greatly enjoyed. saubleb(at)

  2. what a great post! COngrats to Peter on the new release and thanks for sharing!

  3. Been meaning to read this for a while. Good to see all the short stories as well.