An interview with James Downe
Q – You have a finished novel that is currently in search of a publisher. Could you tell us a bit about it?
James – Almost finished. ‘The Hounds of Tyrant’ is so close to being done, but as an artist it is hard for me to consider anything ever being complete. The novel is set shortly after the events of my short story ‘Soldier, Kraken, Bard’ in the city of Tyrant. A city built on the shores of a large sea, Tyrant is a rising power within the larger empire of Mirias Deil. There is a rebellion, a kraken, a power hungry prince, a fair amount of social commentary, and a whole lot of action. I finished the first draft nearly two years ago, but the revisions have slowly begun to consume me. Once I had the completed draft in hand, I realized I had details I could work out in some short stories, helping me refine the manuscript.
Q – Without delving into the specific history or cultures, how would you describe the world of Calus Rukan and the Legacy of Ash cycle? What is its “flavor”?
James – Chris and I have worked out a broad and detailed history for the world. An event called the Sundering shattered the face of the world about three thousand years before our stories take place, so the landscape is twisted and mountainous, with deep valleys and caverns. I’d love to call the flavor ‘broken’, though that answer is pretty vague. It’s probably pretty vague on purpose. I love ground level fantasy, the grunt’s eye view instead of that of a lofty king and generally developing the story from high above.
Q – What have been your inspirations in co-creating the world of Calus Rukan?
James – That’s a big question. Travel. Other writers, and books, both good and bad. Travel. A healthy dose of video games and rpg’s for my entire life. And, finally, travel. While Chris and I started the initial ideas for this project years ago, I’ve gotten to do a bit of travel since then which has greatly influenced me. It doesn’t even have to be a long period of time for basic inspiration. I spent two weeks in the southern tip of South Africa, mostly in Cape Town and some of the Garden Route. The landscape, the people, the divides of culture, the ostrich…all of it helps me realize that there is more than typical European medieval fantasy would have us believe. Much of Mirias Deil, and the Heramear, was inspired by that trip, and my research since then.
The Intur Republic, by comparison, is inspired by a trip to Portugal and the Azores, though I haven’t shown off much of that part of Alrend’ris yet. To flesh it all out, of course, comes from travels in Canada, Iceland, and Scotland.
…oh, and Final Fantasy VI. Definitely FFVI.
Q – What is your favorite aspect of your setting, and why?
James – The life and times of a legionary soldier. It’s something I’m still trying to work out, to get right, and something Chris has been helpful with developing. In the story of ‘Hounds’ I’ve got an imperial legion on the march to Tyrant, to rescue it from a kraken, and that has been a challenge.
Q – How would you describe your writing style?
James – Haphazard? Ground level, bloody, and grim.
Q – Which character do you enjoy writing for the most?
James – Out of the stories I’ve published so far? Taren Chem. The gruff old soldier, once a hero but now outdated, has probably been done far too often, but it was fun to get inside his head. Unpublished? Well, I don’t want to give too much away, but there is an imperial sorceress in ‘The Hounds of Tyrant’ who has ended up stealing much of my attention.
Q – How do you develop your ideas for your novel, novellas, stories, etc?
James – I sketch. A lot. I draw, and I work out plot lines and characters arcs in a really rough and sporadic way. It’s how I draw, how I design, and how I take notes. I think visually, so that’s how I start. After that, once I start writing, I generally start at the beginning and move through in a very linear fashion to the end. I know some writers who bounce around, write an ending, then the beginning, bits of the middle and then back to the end…that sounds tiring, and I worry it takes away from the flow.
Q – Walk us through an average day or week with you as a writer…
James – Well, I still work a full time job which isn’t writing, so I try to get up early and get in an hour of writing every day before heading off to work. After work, hopefully I can get in another hour or two every evening, though life often gets in the way. On weekends things are easier, though I know I do my best writing either first thing in the morning or late at night.
Q – What made you want to become a writer?
James – Is it bad if I say Terry Brooks? No? Good. Terry Brooks.
As a kid, after reading Tolkien, Ursula K Le Guin, and a bunch of other older fantasy, I read ‘The Wishsong of Shannara’. My 7th grade teacher was a big Brooks fan, and kept a bunch of them in the class. I ate that up in a weekend. I had no idea it was the third in the series, but I loved it all the same. Tolkien was lofty and mythical and, to a young kid, had always been a writer. While I loved ‘Lord of the Rings’ I never once thought I could do something like that. But Brooks, Brooks was a regular guy, still alive, still writing. He had done other things before writing. A lawyer who wrote on the side? Blew my mind. My tastes have grown a lot since then, but that doesn’t change the beginning. He opened my world to accessible fantasy, stories I could become.
Q – What books, movies or games have influenced your writing?
James – It would be a lie to say the Malazan Books of the Fallen haven’t been a constant influence for me. I can’t help it. They’re great. I rewrote ‘Redfall’ almost immediately after reading Joe Abercrombie’s ‘Red Country’, and I know it shows. We can throw Glen Cook in there as well, that guy’s a genius. Movies? Yes, but in a different, hopefully more subtle way. I watch and re-watch movies as I write. Total silence drives me nuts, so there is usually something running in the background, whether that be Lost, Aliens, Fight Club, Harry Potter, Doctor Who, or one or two of those pesky Marvel movies.
Q – Which authors do you follow?
James – Joe Abercrombie, Pat Rothfuss, Scott Lynch, J. K. Rowling, Neil Gaiman. They’re all up to date with social media and the like, so ‘following’ them is easy. If Ian Cameron Esslemont did the same, I’d be right there. I know my list is awfully big names, so lately I’ve been trying to find smaller authors to support, new voices to experience.
Q – Is there a character, place or time period that you’ve already written about in the Legacy of Ash that you would like to explore further?
James – This one is easy. Yes. The city of Tyrant will feature prominently in ‘Hounds’, as well as a few other shorts I have kicking around.
Q – What can we expect to see from you in the future?
James – Well, aside from continually working on ‘The Hounds of Tyrant’, I’ve got a few shorts which will be published in a fantasy western anthology early next year. Chris and I have a great project we’re working on now, and for those of you who read ‘Soldier, Kraken, Bard’ rest assured I will be going back to Versas and Ember. One day…