Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Interview with F. Wesley Schneider, author of Bloodbound

Please welcome F. Wesley Schneider to The Qwillery as part of the 2015 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Bloodbound was published on December 1st by Tor Books.

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Wes:  I’ve been writing for a long time. My Mom says, as a kid, I used to tell her stories and insist that she write them down. So, I guess I’ve always enjoyed telling stories.

Professionally, though, I started writing in 2000, about the time the third edition of Dungeons & Dragons released. I’d been a D&D fan for years and had already targeted working on Dragon magazine (the monthly, D&D rules and news magazine) as my dream job. But the new edition of D&D debuted with a license that allowed other publishers to release their own game content, leading to a boom in small presses looking for D&D compatible content. Already used to creating detailed scripts for my personal games, I tried my hand at a few open calls. There were some projects for charity or exposure and a lot of rejections—all proving educational in their own ways—but eventually I started getting my work accepted and getting paid for it. When the first paycheck hit my mailbox, I realized I might actually be able to make my hobby into a career. I kept submitting, kept working, got better assignments with more established publishers—including Dragon magazine—and in 2003 landed an assistant editor position at Paizo Inc., then publishers of Dragon and Dungeon magazines.

TQAre you a plotter or a pantser?

Wes:  Absolutely a plotter. The outlines for anything I write typically end up being pretty meaty and I certainly don’t leave them alone once I start writing. No battle plan survives engagement with the enemy, and as I get into the nuances of a story I often go back to the outline and add notes for things to pick up later or that I can kick back to past chapters.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Wes:  Overwriting. That sounds like the “I’m too honest” answer to an interview question, but it’s actually something I need to get better at. You sure can go on for a thousand words about the variety of statuary covering a cathedral’s facade, but if it doesn’t matter to the story, who cares? Sometimes I get what I think is a cool idea, indulge it a bit too far, and then in editing think: Why’d I waste my time with this? What does this actually do to further the plot? Does the lily need this much gilding? Bloodbound might have released a year earlier if I was a bit more economical in my writing. (This probably applies to interview question answering too!)

Fortunately, I take a pretty sharp hacksaw to my writing. Even better, I have amazing editors in James Sutter and Chris Carey—both fantastically talented authors themselves. They’re certainly not shy about trimming the fat. So in the final equation it works out.

TQWho are some of your literary influences? Favorite authors?

Wes:  Nobody writes a fight scene like Robert E. Howard. At the same time, “Pigeons from Hell” remains one of the creepiest stories I’ve ever read. I love how he shifts from slow-build tension to fast-paced action, the stark contrast making both more effective. You also only need to look at Bloodbound’s cover to see the influence of Howard’s monster hunter, Solomon Kane.

I’m also a big fan of gothic horror in general, not just Howard’s southern gothic tales, but classics like Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black, and Le Fanu’s “Carmilla”—all three of which influenced bits of Bloodbound. Growing up in Baltimore, Poe’s also an inescapable force and I think he manipulates that whole city’s perception of what a writer is—he certainly did mine. And no one writes a vampire story without constantly comparing their fanged characters to Dracula, so Stoker’s work was certainly at hand during most of Bloodbound’s writing.

TQDescribe Bloodbound in 140 characters or less.

Wes:  If Van Helsing stopped pursing Dracula, how would a snubbed Dracula respond? And who would step in to stop him?

TQTell us something about Bloodbound that is not found in the book description.

Wes:  The majority of Bloodbound’s characters—and certainly all the true ass-kickers—are women and the only romantic relationship involves a queer vampire.

TQWhat appeals to you about writing Fantasy?

Wes:  Fantasy writing’s a genie with infinite wishes—you want it, you got it. In Bloodbound, I wanted to play with a slew of gothic tropes, be they familiar menaces—vampires, ghosts, horrors from below, mind-controlled minions—or classic creepy settings—like insane asylums, ominous cathedrals, dilapidated manors, and opera houses. I got to use every single one of those, as well as many more. In other genres, you might be restricted to just a few for believability’s sake—and certainly, even here, you need to keep things plausible—but in fantasy, no one’s going to tell you no. If you can come up with a reason, anything goes.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for Bloodbound?

Wes:  Bloodbound is set in a nation called Ustalav, which is part of the larger Pathfinder world. That world wasn’t created to tell just one story, but to host pretty much any fantasy tale you might want to tell in fiction, roleplaying games, whatever. As editor-in-chief at Paizo, I was one of the creators of that world, but Ustalav, our land of gothic terror, is easily my favorite part. I even wrote a game accessory called Rule of Fear entirely about the country. But all of this work on Ustalav and the Pathfinder world has happened over nearly a decade. So I still had to go back and read a ton of world lore to make sure Bloodbound meshed with existing work. It can be daunting working in such a thoroughly detailed setting, but that’s also how you find stray gems just waiting to be picked up and turned into stories of their own.

Beyond that, my sister-in-law, Aimie Schneider, is a nurse who was good enough to talk me through some of how a vampire’s body might respond to drug injections. I wanted to know if having, essentially, an undead heroin addict could be a thing. Her advice was fantastically helpful in leading me away from ideas that it just didn’t seem like the real biology or medicine supported.

So I’d add that as a caveat to what I said before. In fantasy, anything goes—but real things still have to work like real things. Even in fantasy, you still have to check your science.

TQWho was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Wes:  Considine, a vampire cast out from undead society, was by far the easiest. He’s a character who hates his situation, but he distracts himself with a parade of fine things and attractive company—not to mention, spying on his “sister” Larsa. Considine’s spoiled and likes it that way. He’s effete and self-interested, cynical and easily bored. He’s a vampire playboy, but knows he’s stranded on a cultural desert island, and that no matter how many dodos he dresses up as butlers, he’s not really lord of the house. I love writing Considine, not just because he’s got the best sarcastic banter, but because he’s got the most potential to turn from a spoiled brat into an antihero. There’s also more than a measure of self-indulgence in writing a self-indulgent character, because you can write the first thing that comes to mind—filters are for people who care about who’s listening. And if you can come back later and make a comment even snarkier, so much the better!

For hardest, that’s two main characters, Larsa and Jadain, have that honor. That might seem strange since they’re so prominent. Larsa’s a hard-bitten, straight to the point, half-vampire vampire hunter. Jadain’s a priestess sworn to the goddess of birth and death, who tries to see the good in people. They’re very different characters, but they’re both determined and willing to do anything for certain causes. The chapters switch back and forth between their perspectives, giving us Larsa’s point of view in one then Jadain’s in the next. So I’m particular about making sure that they both have distinct voices, especially when they’re both in more action-oriented chapters where they have to be direct. Jadain’s usually the one that gets trickiest. While Larsa’s usually sharp, even in tense situations I need to make sure that Jadain’s humanity and optimism comes through, or else she starts to sound like Larsa. It wasn’t a balancing act I expected going in, but it made an interesting challenge.

TQWhich question about Bloodbound do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Wes:  Pathfinder fiction and game material has a reputation for featuring characters of diverse genders, ethnicities, sexualities, etcetera. Does Bloodbound continue this trend?

Certainly! Bloodbound’s two main protagonists are both women, as are two of the story’s deadliest antagonists. A swordsman from the Egypt-inspired land of Osirian joins them, regularly offering a critical perspective on the Transylvania-esque lands of Ustalav. Aside from the immortal characters, there’s also a hero in her seventies who proves she’s not too old to head into a fray. Considine too is openly queer, though I’m not ready to pin him down as gay, bi, or otherwise quite yet. But writing Bloodbound was a long process and already I’m looking back at things with an eye toward what I might have done differently. I’m going to be keenly interested in hearing readers’ criticism about what I got right, what I got wrong, and how I can make the next story even better.

Also, being a guy who’s married to a guy, I know I started writing concerned about making the story somehow “too queer.” I’m not entirely sure why—probably something between personal insecurity and not wanting to scare off fantasy readers coming to my stuff for the first time. That’s not to say the queer elements are subtle in Bloodbound—there’s one particular relationship between two guys that is plainly there, but it’s a tertiary plot. I feel like I’m over my beginner’s anxiety now, though. If I get to play with these characters again, I’ve laid the seeds to make their relationship much more of a central feature.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery lines from Bloodbound.


I pressed his arm against the wall and drank fast, draining him like I was throwing down a shot. I didn’t like sharing from the same flask as my quarry, but if the evening was taking the turn I feared, I wouldn’t have another chance.

Anyway, he deserved it.

TQWhat's next?

Wes:  Well, next week I’m a guest of honor at GaymerX, where I’ll be talking a lot about the intersections between queerness and gaming of all types. It’s an amazing show and I couldn’t be more honored to be speaking. If you love gaming and you’re going to be in the San Jose area next week, we’d love to have you stop by. Everyone’s welcome!

Writing-wise, I swing between gaming and fiction pretty readily. I’ve got a massive adventure called “The Hellfire Compact” kicking off Pathfinder’s new Hell’s Vengeance Adventure Path in February. A few months later, I’ve got a story, “Stray Thoughts,” in the Eclipse Phase: After the Fall anthology. It’s a detective story involving a private eye mom, her sex worker son, and high-tech possession on an aerostat over Venus. It sounds bizarre—and I guess it is—but it turned out to be one of the more emotion rich stories I’ve ever written, so I’m interested in hearing what folks think.

Beyond that, I’m already starting to feel the fiction bug again, so who knows where that might lead!

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Pathfinder Tales 30
Tor Books, December 1, 2015
Trade Paperback and eBook, 480 pages

Larsa is a dhampir-half vampire, half human. In the gritty streets and haunted moors of gothic Ustalav, she's an agent for the royal spymaster, keeping peace between the capital's secret vampire population and its huddled human masses. Yet when a noblewoman's entire house is massacred by vampiric invaders, Larsa is drawn into a deadly game of cat-and-mouse that will reveal far more about her own heritage than she ever wanted to know.

From Pathfinder co-creator and noted game designer F. Wesley Schneider comes Bloodbound, a dark fantasy adventure of murder, intrigue, and secrets best left buried, set in the award-winning world of the Pathfinder Role Playing Game.

About Wes

Editor-in-chief at Paizo Inc. and co-creator of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, F. Wesley Schneider is the author of dozens of Pathfinder and Dungeons & Dragons adventures and accessories. Aside from having passionate opinions about horror, world-building, and storytelling, he’s spoken at length on inclusively and LGBTQ topics in gaming. His novel, Bloodbound, releases in December, while his next major roleplaying offerings, The Hellfire Compact and In Search of Sanity, debut in 2016.

Wes lives outside Seattle with his husband and a particularly unlucky black cat.

Website  ~  Facebook  ~ Twitter @FWesSchneider  ~ YouTube  ~  Instagram


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