New Peter V. Brett Interview

With The Core (Canada, USA, Europe), final volume in the bestselling The Demon War Cycle, coming out in a few short weeks, I invited Peter V. Brett to do an interview to discuss the book and many other things. Despite being extremely busy, he accepted my invitation and provided some in-depth answers to most of the questions. This should give fans something to sink their teeth into as they wait for The Core to be published!

Here's the blurb for:

New York Times bestselling author Peter V. Brett brings one of the most imaginative fantasy sagas of the twenty-first century to an epic close.

For time out of mind, bloodthirsty demons have stalked the night, culling the human race to scattered remnants dependent on half-forgotten magics to protect them. Then two heroes arose—men as close as brothers, yet divided by bitter betrayal. Arlen Bales became known as the Warded Man, tattooed head to toe with powerful magic symbols that enable him to fight demons in hand-to-hand combat—and emerge victorious. Jardir, armed with magically warded weapons, called himself the Deliverer, a figure prophesied to unite humanity and lead them to triumph in Sharak Ka—the final war against demonkind.

But in their efforts to bring the war to the demons, Arlen and Jardir have set something in motion that may prove the end of everything they hold dear—a Swarm. Now the war is at hand, and humanity cannot hope to win it unless Arlen and Jardir, with the help of Arlen’s wife, Renna, can bend a captured demon prince to their will and force the devious creature to lead them to the Core, where the Mother of Demons breeds an inexhaustible army.

Trusting their closest confidantes, Leesha, Inevera, Ragen, and Elissa, to rally the fractious people of the Free Cities and lead them against the Swarm, Arlen, Renna, and Jardir set out on a desperate quest into the darkest depths of evil—from which none of them expects to return alive.


- You finished the manuscript for THE CORE the same day your partner gave birth to your second daughter. How did you work out that kind of perfect timing?

Frantically. I planned to finish The Core by the end of 2016. I had this whole spiel about how I would submit it at 11:59:59pm on December 31. The baby was due Jan. 25, leaving me approximately a month to write Barren, the Demon Cycle novella I hoped to publish right before The Core.

Alas, I ended up losing most of December to doctor’s visits, hernia surgery and recovery. I was pulling all-nighters in January as the biological clock ticked, and turned in the first draft of the book around 4am on January 25th. Sirena graced us with her presence on the 26th and I allowed myself two months of paternity leave before getting to work on the second draft.

- THE CORE is the final volume in the Demon Cycle series. How daunting was it to write a novel that would close the show in a way that lived up to everyone's expectations?

Man, I’d been fretting over that for ten years. But every time I had doubts, I reminded myself I had a very strong outline, and held course. When I was confident, I worked. When I had doubts, I worked. Chipped a bit off the stone every day, solved each story problem in chronological order as I made a steady march to the end. Looking back, I don’t believe there is a significant difference in writing quality between the times I was confident and when I had doubts.

Now, with the final copyedited manuscript delivered to the publisher, I am as confident as I can be that I stuck the landing.

- At this point, only your agent, editors, and beta readers have read the manuscript. But how has the book been received thus far?

Everyone loved it, and at least one confessed to tears at the end. But there were some frank discussions about how the first draft could be improved that helped a lot. I definitely rushed the last few chapters in the days before the baby came, and that was immediately apparent on reread.

But after my own editing pass and two months of rewrites, I’ve addressed every concern, revising several chapters from the ground up. The current draft is an order of magnitude better IMO. My editor’s response after reading it was “Bravo, sir”.

Of course, reader reaction remains to be seen. No doubt there will be readers who don’t like all my choices, but there would be, regardless of how things ended. Regardless, I expect the vast majority of my readers to be more than just satisfied by the series climax.

- A while back on your Facebook page, you wrote a post saying that you had just finished writing a scene that had been foreshadowed in the very first volume. Was it hard/easy to tie up all the loose ends and bring everything together for a grand finale?

Yes and no. Some of the storylines in the series follow a smooth progression laid out in my original outline from almost a decade ago. Arlen and Jardir in particular face challenges, betrayals, ethical trials and character growth that had been laid out from the beginning.

The greater challenge was the large supporting cast that built of over the course of the series. The original plot provided an outline for many of them as well, but it was looser, as some characters grew in prominence and others were taken off the board as the story grew in telling. Getting everyone’s timeline to sync up for the final chapters, even as groups of characters operate in various settings, far removed from each other, was extremely difficult.

That said, no matter who your favorite character is, you can be assured they have their own hero moments, and a satisfying conclusion to their arc. Even minor characters from the earlier books make cameos and have moments to shine.

- Without giving anything away, can you give readers a taste of the tale that is THE CORE?

Without the demon king Alagai Ka, the demon hive order begins to break down. Lesser mind demons attempt to start new hives all over Thesa. Their hatchling demon queens will need enormous amounts of food in their early stages of egg production, but conveniently, the humans are walled into their cities like larders. The demons swarm, threatening extinction for all humanity unless Arlen and Jardir can overcome their differences and stop it at the source.

- You have unveiled both the US and UK cover art for THE CORE. How happy are you with these and all other covers that grace your books? Any favorites?

The new covers are amazing, but that’s no surprise. I owe a good deal of my success to Larry Rostant’s cover art.

I would argue the Desert Spear Jardir cover remains one of the most powerful and eye-catching covers in fantasy, but my personal favorite will always be the US Daylight War cover, the red Inevera. That was the first cover where I pitched an idea to Del Rey and they had Larry bring it to life exactly as I imagined. The Skull Throne and Core covers have been much the same, so I have real personal affection for them.

From the very beginning, I wanted to put a mind demon on the cover of The Core, and I am so thrilled that it is not only happening, but exceeds my imagination. The awesome people at Millennium FX built a demon model for Larry to shoot, and it is just terrifying. But it was also high time Leesha Paper got a cover treatment, so we made that, as well. If you’re interested in a world of detail about the process, I wrote a piece about it on

- Is the release of a new book always stressful, or does the feeling fades to a lesser extent now that you have gained a wider worldwide readership?

It’s still stressful, but now that I’ve been through the cycle a few times, I can see the curves coming and navigate them with greater ease. I’ll read all the reviews for a couple months, then drop off when they all start to sound the same. I’ve come to see criticism is mostly a matter of personal preference, and don’t take it as personally as I once did. I still want to be proud of my work and make my readers happy, and I bend over backward to produce the best work I can, but once it’s done I don’t second guess much.

- Now that you've made it to the New York Times Bestseller list, is there added pressure when the time comes to release something new? Readers likely have higher expectations with each new work you publish. Do you ever think about that, or about the fact that publishers now expect you to move a certain amount of units every time something with your name on it hits the shelves?

There is certainly pressure for whatever I do next to do well, but I don’t want to spend too much of my life tracking sales data, making charts, and fretting over publisher expectations. Some authors glory in that sort of thing, but for me that way lies madness. All I can really do is write the best books I can, and give it my all when it comes time to promote. I think some writers can become either convinced of their own greatness, or start to view their work as just a product on an assembly line, and that’s when quality can drop off. Thankfully I have never had those problems. Others get so tied up in knots over their spreadsheets and worry over reader/publisher expectations that it becomes crippling and leaves them unable to work. I feel that undertow every day, but have yet to be pulled in by it.

- With THE CORE being the final installment in the Demon Cycle series, what's next for Peter V. Brett? Do you already have new projects in mind?

The Core concludes the Demon Cycle with a great deal of closure. Every POV has a firm resolution, as does the overall story. I have plans for a sequel series that takes place 15(ish) years later. I already have main characters and rough plots worked out, but I am not in a hurry to get to it. For the first time in over a decade, I am creatively (and contractually) unfettered. I plan to take some time to bask in that, and will likely try something new before getting back to demon books. I have some ideas I am playing with, but it’s too early to talk about them in detail.

- What comes first for you when it comes time to consider your next novel: themes you wish to explore, a setting you're interested in, or characters you want to write about?

This question is very common, and I think misleading, because it implies that you need to choose. The reality is that all three work together. The characters shape the setting which shapes the plot which in turn shapes the characters. These are the water, soil and sunlight a story needs to grow.

- You have published a number of novellas linked to the Demon Cycle in the past. Are there any other pieces of short fiction on the way?

There is one more Demon Cycle novella, Barren, under contract. This story will tie directly into The Core, occurring simultaneously with events in that novel. But as with the other novellas, Barren can be read as a standalone book separate from the novels, and the novels can be enjoyed without reading the novellas, but they are designed to complement the novels in a way that deepens the story.

Barren is set in the town of Tibbet’s Brook, where the Demon Cycle began, and resolves the open plotlines and character arcs there. Fans of the Demon Cycle will see a familiar cast and setting. New readers will have a standalone story that also acts as an introduction to the Demon Cycle.

I have plot ideas for two other novellas, but like the sequel series, I am not in a rush to get to them.

- Looking back at THE DESERT SPEAR and how many readers took exception to what some considered your casual depiction of rape and its repercussions on people, were you taken aback by their reaction? If you could get a do-over, would you do anything differently?

While I appreciate and respect the concerns of those readers, I reject the assertion that the depictions of sexual assault and its repercussions in my books are casual. I did a great deal of research before addressing the topic—some of it based in personal experience helping friends who were victims of assault—and readers of the series as a whole will attest that characters continue to deal with the effects of trauma throughout their story arcs. I chose to include those situations and topics because I believe we serve no one by pretending such things don’t happen.

Out of the fourteen POV characters in my series, four—one of them male—are victims of sexual assault. That was deliberate, and not so far from real-world statistics. The assault does not define them, but in each character it absolutely played a role in the person they developed into, for better or worse. This was something that was important to me to address in this series. The inhumanity of humans was always more interesting to explore than the demons.

There is a running theme in the Demon Cycle books about survivors. People whose normal lives were turned upside down by trauma that pushed them onto a new path. Arlen Bales sees his mother torn apart by demons and is never the same again. Six-year-old Briar accidentally sets his house on fire and orphans himself. The idea that people shattered by tragedy can pull themselves together and go on to do amazing things is the essence of heroism in my books.

I certainly sympathize if sexual assault is not what some people want to read about when they pick up a fantasy book, or if they personally did not like the way it was handled. I stopped reading Lord Foul’s Bane when I was in college because I didn’t want to follow/root for a protagonist who was a rapist. But I did not immediately assume Stephen R. Donaldson was a bad person and start sending him hate mail.

There is a difference between not wanting to spend your personal time on a piece of art that presses the wrong emotional buttons for you, and personally attacking the artist without taking the time to understand who they are and what they were trying to say.

But for all the negative response, there have been overwhelmingly positive responses, as well. Readers, some of them victims themselves, who got in touch to thank me for not shying from the topic, and for showing how victims can go on to accomplish great things.

- Characters often take a life of their own. Which of your characters did you find the most unpredictable to write about?

I am something of a strict taskmaster, and plot my books meticulously. I keep my POV characters on a pretty short leash, but there are always exceptions, often in the form of supporting characters who cause unexpected disruption, like Elona Paper, or who grew unexpectedly like Gared and Wonda Cutter.

That said, I have a very clear idea in my head of my characters and their belief systems, and some of them are quite rigid. Sometimes the plot will call for them to behave in a way that is out of character, and they rebel. Usually about once a book, Leesha refuses to comply with a plot demand and I need to revise a few threads to accommodate.

- How has your interaction with fans and critics colored your choices in terms of characterization and plot? Has there ever been anything that you've changed due to such interaction in any of your novels?

No. Not ever. I love interacting with readers and hearing their thoughts and feelings on my work, but these books have been plotted for years, and I have never read a review or spoken to a reader that left me regretting a choice I made, or pushed me to alter my plans.

- Have the plotlines diverged much since you began writing the series, or did you have the entire plot more or less figured out from the very beginning? Were any characters added or further fleshed out beyond your original intention? Have you made any changes to your initial plans during the course of the writing of the series?

Yes and no. My original submission to Random House was a completed first book, The Warded Man, the first third of the second book, The Desert Spear, along with a VERY detailed outline for the remainder, and about five pages of bullet points for The Daylight War, The Skull Throne, and The Core.

I’ve kept to pretty much all of those bullet points, but of course they expanded over the years. I have outlines for each book that are hundreds of pages long. Characters and story arcs were added as I went to fill gaps and tell the story I wanted to tell, but it happened in an organic fashion, always moving the story toward the next of those original bullet points.

- Some authors mention that they're never fully satisfied with any of their books, that there is always the idea of the book one attempts to write versus the book that one actually managed to create. Looking back, give us an example of something that didn't quite work out the way you envisioned it. Given the chance, is there anything you would change in any of your novels?

I feel pretty satisfied that my books turned out the way I intended them to. I know that seems like a cop-out answer, but I don’t look at any of my books with regret. In first drafts there are always mistakes. Some of them are whoppers. But that’s what rewrites are for. I wouldn’t turn in a book I wasn’t 100% happy with.

- According to George R. R. Martin, most authors are either architects, who write novels based on detailed outlines, or gardeners, who have a general idea of where the storylines are going but prefer to watch things grow as they go along. Which type of writer are you and why do you prefer that approach?

There is a misconception that an author needs to be either a gardener or an architect, but it’s more a spectrum, with every author falling somewhere between the two. There are seeds George planted to see what fruit they would bear, and there were also secrets he was holding the door for since the beginning of ASOIAF.

Personally I skew pretty far to the architect side of the spectrum. Before starting a novel I write a stepsheet that can be upwards of two hundred pages long, outlining all the chapters and what happens in them before I start writing any prose. I don’t know any other author that takes a similar approach. It is just how my mind works, I guess.

But that said, while I was writing the climactic scenes in The Core, I was repeatedly amazed at how little things from the earliest books I had never meant as more than throwaway details bore unexpected fruit and sometimes resulted in moments so perfect I am tempted to lie and say they were intended all along.

- Have you ever written a scene, only to be stunned by your own reaction after reading it?

Not really, though I have occasionally surprised myself by getting choked up or laughing aloud when listening to my own audiobooks.

- There are a number of different perspectives as to the function secondary-world or epic fantasy carries out for readers. Le Guin once wrote that such fantasy deepened and intensified the mysteries of life, while R. Scott Bakker has put forward that humanity is neurologically ill-equipped for a modern, rationalist world and this leads some to seek access to a pre-modern worldview (or the fiction of one) where reality conforms to the mind's irrational, evolutionarily hardwired expectations. Others have denigrated it as mere escapism, an alternative opiate for the masses.

What is your view as to fantasy's function?

To suggest fantasy is mere escapism that cannot speak to higher truths is reductive, condescending and ignorant. However, to suggest fantasy is some unique art form that has exclusive access to revealing certain truths speaks of artistic delusions of grandeur.

My job is to tell entertaining stories and make a reader feel an emotional connection to a group of characters and their trials. It is my hope that such empathy and some of the concepts my books explore can be applied to readers’ own lives, but that is not their primary purpose.

- Some writers admit having a favorite book among those they've written previously, others say that their favorite is their current work in progress, and others still say it's always the next book that hasn't been written yet. How about you?

I love all my children equally.

- Neil Gaiman said of Lord Dunsany’s THE KING OF ELFLAND’S DAUGHTER, “...It’s a rich red wine, which may come as a shock if all one has had so far has been cola.” If THE CORE was a drink, which one would it be? Would you recommend downing it in one shot or sipping it slowly...?

Can I just answer with a GIF of an eyeroll?

- If your readers could only take one thing away from having read THE CORE (apart from enjoying the read) what would you want that thing to be?

That they should all buy my next book.

- If you could go back in time and offer some advice to Peter V. Brett at the start of his career, what would it be?

I’m not a big fan of messing with the timeline. Paradoxes and unintended consequences, you know. If anything, I would go back and slip him a flashdrive with all the completed books in the series. Ten year vacation!

2 commentaires:

Jon R. said...

I feel like the cover is too silly.

Anonymous said...

What a cheesy cover.. Looks like a bad self published thing.