Richard Nell concerned family and friends by quitting his real job in 2014 to ‘write full-time’. He is a Canadian author of fantasy, living in one of the flattest, coldest places on earth with his begrudging wife, who makes sure he eats.
His debut novel Kings of Paradise is an epic, coming-of-age, low-fantasy novel, and the first of a three-part series. Book two, Kings of Ash, is set to release on January 17th, 2019. You can preorder it here, and read the first two chapters here.
So, Richard, tell us a little about how the Ash and Sand series came together. Have Ruka, Kale and Dala been banging around in your head for a while, or were they inspired by something in recent years?
Whew. Couldn’t have started with ‘what’s your favorite color’, or something, eh? Ash and Sand really started as the idea of two clashing cultures and people, one rich and geographically blessed, the other…not so much. I wanted to explore lots of themes about civilization, nature and culture and was really prepared to go anywhere the story took me. But pretty quickly I became obsessed with the characters. Ruka in particular haunts me still. I hear him when I jog, when I listen to music, when I read the news. He reminds me his story isn’t finished, and is kind of a pain in the ass.
There are quite a few cultures that this series explores, and a reoccurring theme is showing how these different cultures treat their criminals and prisoners. What real-life societies have inspired the creation of these cultures and the treatment of their citizens?
I love world history, so you can be sure almost everything is inspired by something real. The ‘Ascomi’ are a mix and mash of ancient Danes, Horse-tribes like the Scythians or Mongols, and a matriarchal people called the Miningkabau. The Pyu are a more straight-forward blend of polynesians and South-East Asians. As far as criminals and prisoners… I’m very interested in how different cultures handle the dispossessed, outcasts, rejects and rebels, which are almost inevitably single men. Even forgetting any discussion of morality, these men can be extremely dangerous to a society’s health, particularly if they grow too numerous, for all kinds of reasons. I think it’s a theme that remains very relevant.
Tell us a little bit about your writing process. Do you plan all the major plot points in advance, or let them grow organically? Has this process evolved over your writing career?
Basically a bit of both, but I prefer to plan. I have a theme or two, a question or two I want to explore, then I do a lot of world-building until I get a very good sense of the setting and can start dropping characters in my sandbox. I always have long-term objectives/plot points, but how I get there is really up to the characters, and how they develop is very open to change. If I get stuck, the answer is almost always ‘do some more world-building until this situation has a better framework’. But I’m quite careful about not ‘writing myself into a corner’.
Kings of Paradise has been growing in popularity since its launch, through word-of-mouth and lots of positive reviews. What takeaways have you learned since its release? Has it changed the way you’ve approaching writing or marketing, now that book two is set to drop?
If I knew just how much work this indie madness was before I started, I may never have tried. Building that word-of-mouth and the reviews is truly a sisyphean task, particularly in the beginning. Success builds on success, however, so once you’ve got good reviews or won an award or anything to help you stick out from the rabble, things get easier. Not easy, but easier. I have a lot more leverage these days and that takes a little pressure off, though I am still a very small fish. At least for book 2 there’s more than 0 people waiting for it. That helps a lot, too.
A lot of people were surprised that Kings of Paradise was eliminated in the first round of the SPFBO tournament. I had you picked for a finalist, if not the outright winner. Even so, have you gained any positive insights from being a part of the contest?
My favorite poem is ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling, and amongst the many lines of good advice is a true gem: ‘meet with triumph and disaster, and treat those two imposters just the same’. What he means is don’t rely on or worry very much about luck, good or bad. In an art contest with 300 participants and 10 judges, we are not talking about a 100 meter sprint with a clear winner. There’s lots of subjectivity, lots of personal taste. You win some, you lose some. Keep working, keep improving. I actually wrote a blog post about it. On Failure.
You’ve released a couple of flintlock novellas that take place in a separate universe than the Ash and Sand series. Do you have plans to write any more stories in this universe? Can you talk about any other projects you’re working on?
Yes! There’s a complex world of demons and gunpowder percolating, centered on a possessed immortal (but dying) god-king. This will likely result in 2-3 books, as well as leaving room for other novellas. But first, of course, I need to finish the Ash and Sand trilogy, with the final book (tentatively titled Kings of Heaven) likely arriving 2020. After that, all bets are off.
Why are you still answering these questions instead of working on book three?
You promised if I did I wouldn’t get the hose again?
PUT THE LOTION IN THE BASK – uhh, that’s all the time we have for today. Thank you for your time, Richard.