An interview with Peter Orullian
Peter Orullian is both fantasy author and musician. His debut fantasy series Vault of Heaven began with the publication of The Unremembered in 2011 and will continue in July 2015 with book two, Trial of Intentions.
We caught up with Peter to talk to him about his Vault of Heaven series and also about the books that have influenced and inspired him.
Hi Peter, we’ll start off with a difficult question that your knowledge of both music and fantasy should allow you to answer well. In my opinion Led Zeppelin’s Ramble On and Battle of Evermore are the finest examples of song and epic fantasy in perfect harmony. Can you offer any other fine examples?
Hi, Lee. Well, you’ve picked some good examples of where a band—Led Zeppelin, in this case—has written about an actual fantasy story—these being about Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Blind Guardian wrote an entire album based on The Silmarillion called Nightfall of Middle Earth. The band Battlelore writes a ton about Middle Earth. Check out: https://youtu.be/pRcl-NcIaE0.
There are others convergences of music and fantasy, of course. Iron Maiden’s “To Tame a Land,” based on the Dune novels. Blue Oyster Cult’s “Black Blade” based on Michael Moorcock’s Elric novels—Moorcock himself wrote the lyrics. Moorcock has also contributed to Hawkwind’s work—another band that does a lot of scifi/fantasy themed music. There’s also White Zombie’s “I am Legend,” based on Matheson’s novel I Am Legend. And Within Temptation’s “Hand of Sorrow,” inspired by Fitzchivalry Farseer from Robin Hobb’s Elderlings novels - https://youtu.be/N05iUg-0LIU
We could go on. Metallica did “The Thing That Should Not Be” on Master of Puppets—a clear reference to Lovecraft.
But, it also works the other way. Meaning, many music artists are telling fantasy stories of their own in their songs. Rush’s 2112. Nighwish’s Imaginaerum. Dream Theater’s Scenes From a Memory. In these three examples, we get concept albums, where most (if not all) of the record is telling a single story. In fact, anyone who hasn’t heard these three albums is missing epic music and storytelling.
I don’t have space to enumerate the examples of bands that are telling fantasy stories in their music. It’s fertile soil, this fantasy (and science fiction) stuff. And musicians ply it well.
Fantasy Book Review is all about recommending books. We’re not saying they are the best books in the genre, just the books that we have loved reading and think other would do to. On your site, under Peter’s Picks, can be found these titles:
- The Footprints of God by Greg Isles
- The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
- Blockade Billy by Stephen King
- The Passage by Justin Cronin
- Boy's Life by Robert McCammon
- Devices and Desires by K. J. Parker
- The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
Could you please give some more fantasy recommendations based on books you’ve read and loved throughout your life?
Sure. First, some context. I think of fantasy as the uber genre umbrella. In other words, it encompasses not just epic fantasy and sword and sorcery, but also science fiction, horror, and so on. Some folks call this “spec fiction” or “genre.” But I tend to think that fantasy is a good moniker for it all.
That said, I’d point people at Dan Simmons—Summer of Night, the Hyperion books, Carrion Comfort. I love a lot of what Stephen King does, particularly his Dark Tower series, and his short and medium-long fiction—Different Seasons is fantastic.
The Unremembered is a work of epic fantasy and, for me, the story and characters are always the most important elements. I’ve often found that world building - while important - can sometimes come at the expense of these two aforementioned elements, leaving the reader lost in a sea of new names and locations. How difficult is it to balance these three elements, especially in the first volume of a new epic fantasy series?
Some of the answer has to do with the reader, actually. Some readers of epic fantasy want the knitty gritty details of the world, while others prefer to get on with the action. I find the writer balances these things the best he can to his own sensibilities, and that will wind up working for some and not for others.
That said, I agree with you that story and character are primary concerns in writing. While it’s true that second-world fantasy, in particular, pivots hard on new world creation. And the setting itself can become a character in fantasy. Readers mostly attach to the “people” in the book.
One of my favourite fantasy authors is Guy Gavriel Kay whose love for poetry, music and art is woven into his beautifully created work. His approach to writing is similar to that of an artist, whereby he goes back over his work continually adding layers and textures to further bring his story to life. I was wondering if your love of music influences the way you write in a similar way and if you hear your story as well as see it?
There’s no doubt that music influences my writing. One of the more gratifying things I hear from readers is that they can hear it in my work.
On one level, I do have a music magic system. And I’m glad to hear from readers that it’s unlike anything they’ve read before. But I also built that magic system on what I call: governing dynamics. In other words, for my series, I posited that the source or principles of magic would be akin to mechanical law, e.g. magnetism or gravity. So then, in the world I’ve created all my magic systems—of which there are five so far—would operate off the same set of governing dynamics. At the centre of this is what I call: Resonance. Resonance began as a music and acoustic principle. But I uplevel that to something that has effect at a foundational level in the world.
Then, in the world I’ve created—quite separate even from the magic—some cultures pivot on music. It’s essential to who they are. Everything from communication, to religion, to performances taverns to entertain the poor.
Beyond all that, though, there’s also lyricism in the words and sentences themselves. I don’t think about it consciously, but as a musician and lyricist, I tend to work in rhythms and constructions that have a musical quality. It’s not about rhyme, or even meter. It’s flow. The pairing of words. Incremental repetition. Etc.
You mentioned that your books contain a “magic system built on what I call governing dynamics, akin to quantum entanglement”. Could you please put that into layman’s terms for people like me?
Sure. The core principle upon which my magic systems are built is what I call: Resonance. It operates on a couple of levels. On one level, the transference of energy can take place across physical mediums. In my universe, some of the scientists postulate an element called erymol, which is akin to aether, which might account for any number of transferences of magical energy.
However, something I call the Song of Suffering, is a song sung over a thousand miles from the object of its intent. The thing being sung about—a veil that holds at bay some of mankind’s enemies—will never “hear” the song. And yet, the song keeps the veil strong. This idea of affecting something at a distance, stirring or moving or changing something simultaneously with no other connection or means of transference of energy between the two end points is a higher function of Resonance in my world. And while quantum entanglement is more than this, fundamentally, it’s the same idea.
I believe the second volume in the series deals with sensitive subject of suicide. This is not something I can recall having been done in any fantasy I’ve personally read before. Heroic deaths, yes, but the taking of one’s own life, no. Could you please tell me how you approach this subject in your forthcoming book, Trials of Intentions?
I posit a world with some rather dire circumstances. One example is a relative waste where children abandoned by their parents are raised by an exile. Their lives aren’t just hard, they’re sad. That sadness gets to many of them. To the point of self-slaughter.
Then, one of my main characters is from this place—I call it The Scar. He’s seen many of his friends choose to end their lives, rather than go on in a hopeless state. Couple that with another of his friends—from a relatively happy place—whose lost a loved one to suicide. The two struggle with the aftermath of losing people they care about. It becomes a motivation for much of what they do.
And then there’ll be the struggle with thoughts of the same. But I don’t want to get too much into that just yet.
In any case, yeah, it’s a challenging subject to write about. It would be, in any circumstance, I think. But I also had a friend make this choice recently. I realized as I went back through the book, that it had gotten under the words.
I’d always had suicide as part of the world. But if my sense of it is correct, the feeling of it became more resonant having had a friend do it.
Trial of Intentions isn’t about suicide. But it’s clear that a few of my characters lives are shaken by it, and it becomes, in some instances, a deep motivation for them—to stop the circumstances that might drive others to these hopeless ends.
Recently I have become an anthology addict as they are brilliant for reading and discovering new authors, also for exploring so many different takes on a central theme. You have contributed to a number of anthologies and I’d be interested in knowing how this differs from writing full novels and the challenges it brings. I would also like to know if it is good step for an up-and-coming author struggling to get their full novels read and reviewed.
Well, I like short fiction as a form. And it does differ, as the arc is shorter. More compact. You still want character growth, so you need to be efficient in showing that in much fewer words and scenes.
Also, if you’re writing inside an established world, as I am, you work hard to be sure the short story works on its own, without the need of special knowledge from your longer works. That can be trickier, but is certainly doable.
And I do think it’s a good way for writers to gain exposure. Having your name show up on a table of contents with more established writers can give readers a chance to sample your writing and your universe. There’s no guarantee, of course, that they’ll like it. But I know, for instance, that my story in the Unfettered anthology had a lot of readers decide to try my longer fiction. So, that’s good.
And finally, what epic fantasy book hits you with the largest sense of nostalgia, remembering both the wonderful journey contained within and the time in life when you first read it?
Probably The Sword of Shannara. I read it as a boy. I’d never read a fantasy book before. And it was so new and thrilling. It was like discovering treasure. I’ll always hold a fondness for that book for the feelings it evoked in me.
The Unremembered by Peter Orullian
Rumours have beset the eastlands of Aeshau Vaal. Some people flee toward the cities for refuge. One regent, to answer these unseen threats, is set to recall the Convocation of Seats—something that hasn't been done for ages. But one man doesn't believe, and would use the fear of nations to advance the power of his dangerous League of Civility.
For Braethen, an author's son, it will mean the sudden chance to turn his lifelong desire of entering the Sodality into a reality. But being a Sodalist is not the romantic dream he's read about in his long years of study. As a sworn protector to the feared Order of Sheason, he must be prepared to give more than his life, and to take up a mythical weapon before his hands are even accustomed to steel.
For Wendra, raped and now heavy with child, it will mean learning the reality of a trade that travels the highways across the nations of man, even a trade in human lives. She'll take responsibility for a pageant-wagon boy, whose street-theatre is considered seditious; and find through protecting him that her ability to make song with her voice carries a great power, but one that may flow darkly.
For Tahn, it will mean finding answers to a lost childhood. Words he feels compelled to speak every time he draws his bow may finally be understood, but the revelation it will bring he may wish to have left unremembered. And though it will also introduce him to a beautiful woman of the legendary Far, the nature of their separate and very different lives will force dreadful choices upon them.
These three, and others, attended by a hard man, an exile, whose sentence is to care for orphans and foundlings in the middle of a wasteland, and by a Sheason, whose uncompromising, yet best intentions are destroying his own order, will fight the past even as they face a dark future.
Because the threats are more than rumour...