Special Feature: Interview with Brian McClellan
Brian is a flintlock fantasy author living in Cleveland, Ohio with his wife, two dogs, and a cat. He plays computer games, reads, gardens, and generally keeps to himself. His first books, Promise of Blood and The Crimson Campaign, are out now from Orbit Books. You can find him at www.brianmcclellan.com or on twitter @briantmcclellan
Welcome to Electric Spec! Flintlock fantasy is a fun variation on the typical medieval fantasy setting while retaining some of the liege/lord culture, epic war and drama, magic, and militaristic qualities fantasy readers love. What inspired your world in The Crimson Campaign and Promise of Blood and how do you think your setting works with other story elements to set your books apart from the genre?
It was inspired by Sharpe's Rifles, the British TV show, and the books they were based on. I first watched an episode of the TV show and knew immediately I wanted to create a fantasy world with the same setting and, to my knowledge, no one else had ever done it.
The Powder Mage Trilogy features a lot of things you don't normally see. Beyond the technology level and the setting of an industrial revolution, the main protagonist is a sixty year old man, past his prime. He's old, tired, angry, fueled by his rage and a search for justice. He's also the field marshal of his country, a man in a position where no one will tell him no. Not the typical farm boy magic underdog story.
I really like how the brokenness of the families reflect the brokenness of the world, especially the relationship between son, Taniel, and his father, Tamas. They bear a grudging respect for one another, but there's a heap of resentment on the side-just like much of the populace, including Adamat, seems to have for Tamas and his army. Was this an intentional or an organic development?
It was a little bit of both. I had the idea that all these different items would provide great contrast and conflict with each other, but I really had no idea how much. That's often my writing style: I grab an idea and run with it, using what works and discarding what doesn't. For instance, the conflict between Vlora and Taniel was originally supposed to be a huge part of the plot, but it just didn't work for the direction I was taking the book.
A good book is often made up of many of these little conflicts, even if they aren't stated or embellished upon. Faye's annoyance with Adamat's investigative jobs. Ricard's difficulty with fidelity. The uneasy relationship between the people and the army. Lots of things.
Tamas is portrayed as a brilliant general and strategist, and his battles are especially well laid out in the story, though one bad mistake early on sets him off on a perilous journey in The Crimson Campaign. Is military strategy something you studied? How do you plot and write your battles?
Not something I've studied in great depth. I've read biographies of Napoleon, Wellesley, and Caesar. I've read Xenophon's Anabasis. All very casual readings. I often take little bits of those campaigns and reassemble them to try to create something believable but unique.
I usually plot out a battle like I'm playing an RTS, to be honest. What is the terrain? What are the resources of the opponents? How will one behave and the other react? Lots of asking myself questions and then answering them.
Was The Powder Mage Trilogy envisioned as a trilogy? How has the story changed as it's grown and been published?
I started Promise of Blood with the idea it could be either stand alone or a trilogy, but it quickly became apparent that it would be the first book in a series. The summaries of books two and three that I turned in to Orbit with the original pitch were very, very different than how they ended up. There was to be this great war that spread all the way to another continent, new magic systems, immense, book-spanning chases. It was way too ambitious too soon for what I was working with. Some of that stuff will wind up in the next trilogy.
What other projects are you working on?
Well, there is the next trilogy, which I'll be starting this fall. It's already under contract with Orbit, and will take place in the Powder Mage Universe ten years after The Autumn Republic and focus on the conflict between Fatrasta and the reclusive Dynize Empire.
I'm also working on more Powder Mage short fiction. So far I have self-published two short stories and a novella that all help flesh out the world a bit. I just finished the first draft of a second novella, which I think people will like. It covers Tamas' first meeting with his wife, and how he became the favorite of the old king.
Thanks for your time!
Thanks for having me around!