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Friday, March 21, 2008

Interview w/ Paul Genesse

Thanks to Paul for the interview. You can find out more about him on his personal website and be sure to check out his novel The Golden Cord, which will be out on April 16th! This is a whopper of an interview, by the way. So hold on to your seats and here goes!

Thanks for doing this interview with me. First, could you tell us a little about yourself? When did you first gain an interest in writing fantasy?

I think it was the toy castle that sent me over the edge. Soon after that gift I told my parents that I wanted to be a writer. I was four years old. Even then dragons and castles were my thing. I remember being terrified of The Hobbit movie (cartoon) on TV when I was five or six and hiding under the couch cushion when the goblins were chasing the dwarves. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but I pursued my other passion and became a Registered Nurse. I’ve been a nurse since 1996 and work in a cardiac unit in Salt Lake City. I’m never going to quit being a nurse and will always be a writer and a nurse. Luckily, I’ve found two things that I love to do and both of them feed my soul.

The Golden Cord is the first novel in a series. Could you tell us a little about this first book and then a bit about the other books you're working on, are done with, etc.? Do you have other projects in mind for the future?

All five books in The Iron Dragon Series are written. The Golden Cord is the first book and the others are just waiting to be edited. I wrote all of the novels before the first one was accepted for publication. I just had to get them all done and wrote the first drafts over a period of about three years. I was so focused on getting the books finished that I slavishly worked on them, sometimes staying up all night. Back then I could easily get 20-35 pages written in one night. My pace has slowed a bit as I agonize over each sentence, but I still love to write.

The Golden Cord (tGC) is the opening of an epic adventure fantasy that will take the characters all over the harsh world of Ae’leron (A-luh-ron), which means winged in the ancient language of my world. The one line description of the book is: The dragon king arises, and a hunter must leave behind the woman he loves, give up all hope of survival, and guide his most hated enemies to the lair of the beast that threatens to enslave their world.

The other books keep the story going and explore the world and the mystery surrounding the overall plot, which involves the diabolical dragon king and his goal of taking over the world; but behind the scenes, like a puppet master. Draglune is a dragon that doesn’t have to show up and burn the city down, though he does enjoy that. He would rather have his cultish spies and minions take over from the shadows, manipulating the people into doing whatever he wants, putting him in full control, but secretly. The main characters of the novel are very outmatched and are always on the edge of being burned to a crisp and having their ashes scattered into the wind. They struggle with what has gone before and those friends and family who they have lost. Most of the characters in The Golden Cord are literally haunted heroes.

About my other projects, I’ve sold nine short stories as of March 2008, and I’m often getting asked to write more for various editors. There’s usually a short story on the back burner. However, my current novel project, aside from The Iron Dragon Series, is Medusa’s Daughter, a love story set in ancient Greece involving the mythological Medusa and the daughter she could have had. Read chapter one on my website. As of this writing, I’ve finished the rough draft of the manuscript.

What is it about fantasy that you find most interesting? What are some of your favorite authors from the past and from today? What are you currently reading or plan to read?

My favorite authors are: George. R.R. Martin (A Game of Thrones in the Song of Ice and Fire Series), J.R.R. Tolkien (Lord of the Rings), Michael Stackpole (The Dragon Crown War Cycle), Dennis L. McKiernan (Dragondoom), Joshua Palmatier (The Cracked Throne), Dan Simmons (Illium), Terry Brooks (The Elfstones of Shannara), and Bradley P. Beaulieu (Tears of Tendali—not out yet).

I’m about to dive into several books right now. I’ve got about 40 on my shelf that need to be read, such as: In The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, Dead To Me by Anton Strout, and Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson.

I love fantasy and science fiction above all other genres. When I read it my imagination soars and I become part of the world and see things through the character’s eyes as if I was there. Experiencing a new world that I had never known before is my favorite thing, though the characters have to be great. It’s all about the characters for me now. I’m a character writer and want to read about well-developed characters. Cardboard cutouts of characters do not interest me anymore. I want to be in their heads and know how they think. If the writer does a good job, I identify with the character and live my life through theirs. I think that’s why reading is so great; you can live many different lives and experience things you could never experience unless you read the book. Movies are great too, but with books you can get inside someone’s mind and know what’s it like to crawl up the slopes of Mount Doom.

On the subject of movies, do you find movie adaptations of books to be relatively well made or relatively poorly made (SF and F in particular)? Would you like to see your work turned into a movie?

About movies: I love movies and I’ve had so many discussions with people about movies that were turned into books. First, I don’t think I’ll ever see my work turned into a live-action movie. An animated cartoon, maybe, but I don’t think so either. I’m way back in the line when it comes to this and don’t have any unreal expectations about the chances of The Iron Dragon Series getting turned into a movie.

Translating books to movies is a very difficult thing. Try turning a painting into a song. How do you do that? The challenge of going from the page to the screen is incredibly difficult and some books do not translate well at all, even if you have a great director and screenwriter. Many books take place in the mind of the characters and you can’t do voiceovers during the whole damn movie. They tried that in the first Dune movie, and it worked okay, but still there was something lacking. I do like that movie, though. The newer mini-series on the Sci-Fi channel was pretty good too, though the Children of Dune sequel was better than their first attempt.

The best adaptation I’ve seen with fantasy is Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies. I think they were phenomenal and brilliant. They are without a doubt the best three fantasy movies ever made.

Now, some people take issue with the Lord of the Rings movies and quibble about what was left out and what was different. They think movies from books should follow the book to the letter and make no changes at all. This is ridiculous, and shows that the person may be well intentioned, but they lack an understanding of the process of making movies or writing screen plays. The movie, Fellowship of the Ring was very long, and still people wanted all these “important scenes” added to the movie, but they weren’t there. Sorry, but putting in Tom Bombadil and the Barrow Downs might have been interesting, but it would have slowed down the movie and just wouldn’t have worked. Take a good look at it and you’ll understand why.

Creating and sustaining momentum in movies is critical. Adding in “slow” scenes is not a good idea. The tension MUST be kept up. Not to impugn Professor Tolkien, but there are moments in the Lord of the Rings books, mostly in Fellowship of the Ring, when Tolkien fails to keep the tension going (the Tom Bombadil chapter and The Council of Elrond come to mind, but some of the early chapters with Frodo in Hobbiton are pretty slow as well). This is a cardinal sin in modern writing and modern movie making. If the movie or book is action oriented you must keep up the momentum and tension. When you lose the audience’s attention, you’ve failed and your audience closes the book or stops watching the movie.

The hardcore fans of the books would have been fine seeing some of the slow chapters on screen, but most of the casual viewers would not have enjoyed them and they would have seemed so odd. Did you really want to see Tom Bombadil singing songs to the hobbits for page after page? I admit, the Barrow Downs would have been cool, but it had to go as Tom was a big part of that sequence. Once you start thinking about the decisions that were made with your writing cap on, it all makes sense.

I am of the opinion that the script that Peter Jackson shot would make an amazing series of books that were more exciting than what Tolkien wrote. Though I’m not advocating that. You can’t rewrite scripture after all, well at least not right now . . . Okay, I love Tolkien, but when you compare what we saw on the screen to what’s in the books, the movies are much more exciting and are put together in an extremely dramatic way.

There’s the rub. In movies, you have to be more exciting. You have to squeeze every bit of drama onto the screen, pump up the volume, and make things very tense. In a book, you can sometimes get away with backing off on your language or tension, as the reader’s mind creates the action, which can be much more exciting than the movie. Some hardcore fans of the books will say that in their minds the books put the movies to shame. That’s wonderful if they feel that way and tells me that the fans imaginations are highly developed. And isn’t that the beauty of a book, the reader is part of the creation process. You see it in your mind and make it as fantastic as you can imagine. Books will always be superior to movies for me.

What is some advice you would give to someone wanting to write fantasy? What have you learned since being published?

First, write what you’re passionate about. Life’s too short to even consider writing something just because it’s hot right now. If you want to write vampire fiction for example, go for it, but don’t do it because you think that’s what people want. Write the kind of fantasy that you love and the kind that you would want to read. You’re going to put so much work in it that you better like what you’re doing. My website has a section called Writer’s Resources and has lots of practical advice on becoming a writer. Check it out at

I think the biggest thing that I’ve learned since becoming a writer is that writing the book is only the beginning. The process of editing, rewriting, and then trying to get something published is a momentous undertaking. Getting someone to read your manuscript is so difficult. Then once you get the book published the real work begins. I encourage beginning writers to work on their craft tirelessly. Learn as much as you can and there is no substitute for actually writing. I wrote 550,000 words (that’s like 1,800 pages), the whole Iron Dragon Series, before I started to feel really comfortable about writing. Even then, I still needed a lot more help and still do. Editors and alpha readers are crucial. I’ve learned so much from my writer friends and editors. They’ve taught me so much and the process continues.

Your novel--The Golden Cord--diverges from what might be considered 'typical' associations with dwarves. Your dwarves, the Drobin, have magic, religion, and a complex society on top of the 'cliché' elements--the usual "dwarves are miners" thing, which comes off remarkably natural anyway. Could you talk a little about this? Why did you go with dwarves in the first place? They're terribly short after all, and ill-tempered.

I’ve always loved dwarves. Of all of the races in fantasy, they are the most mysterious to me. Ever since I was in junior high and read a game book about Moria, Tolkien’s massive dwarven city I wanted to know more about them. Dwarves still fascinate me, more than elves for some reason. When I created the world of Ae’leron, I made a concentrated effort to make the Drobin real and atypical. A mentor of mine, Kij Johnson, encouraged me to make them different. I call them Drobin, and they are the dominant race in Ae’leron and are very prolific population wise. They have many children, which is quite different than most dwarves in fantasy. They rule over the humans and dominate religion, culture, trade and war. They are long lived and own everything. The humans are their vassals. The short-lived humans are easily dominated and the ones who want true freedom have to escape into inhospitable forests, mountains, and deserts to be free of them. The Drobin believe they are doing the right thing, keeping the peace, because if the humans are left alone, they will devolve into a state of war and strife. Or worse, the humans will join the Drobin’s arch enemy, the Giergun, who constantly attack the Drobin and their human vassals. When the book starts the twelfth Giergun war has been over for a few years and another war is brewing.

Out of pure curiosity, do your Drobin women look like Drobin men? This is somewhat of a humorous idea presented in various fantasy works, serious and otherwise, and I'm just curious.

The perennial question about what do Drobin (dwarven) women look like! (grin and a laugh). I don’t reveal that in the first book. However, I will reveal it now for the first time ever! Drobin women do not have beards in the world I created. They are short and somewhat broad like Drobin men, but beautiful and with the appearance of human women. Then you may wonder, can humans and Drobin cross-breed? I’m not willing to answer that now definitively, but I would say: probably not.

Since you brought it up: interbreeding. The way you talk about the Drobin is to say they are entirely different species that likely have a common ancestor somewhere along the line (if we look at it in evolutionary terms, which the people of your world probably wouldn't). As a registered nurse you have far more scientific/biological knowledge of anatomy, evolution, cell growth, etc. than I do. Would you say that your background in the biological sciences would play some part in how you look at the relationships between the Drobins and Humans of your world, whether you mean it to or not? Do you, as a person who has knowledge of biology, think that there may be some realism to the idea of interbreeding between fantasy races (humans to elves, dwarves/Drobin to humans, elves to dwarves/Drobin, or heck you could throw in goblins, orcs, hobgoblins, and the like)? If so, in idiot terms, could you possibly explain it? (Treat this as all speculation rather than something that may or may not show up in future works of yours)

Very intriguing question: is the interbreeding between fantasy species possible? Do I have the academic credibility to answer this question? I do have a Bachelor's of Science Degree in Nursing and graduated summa cum laude in 1996. I am a student of biology, but I am not an expert in this field. However, I have studied this issue over the years and do have some ideas grounded in science. First, if one is look at our world it is plain to see that similar species are able to crossbreed. Some of the offspring result in sterile animals that cannot breed themselves. Mules cannot breed, but can be bred. Other unions fail to produce offspring and the miscarriage rate is high. As is the infant mortality rate. In general, very similar species can produce offspring, though getting animals of different species to mate is very difficult.

When considering fantasy literature the similarity between the humanoid species (often called races) is plain to see. Humans are attracted to elves, which is no big surprise, and there are quite a number of other combinations between other groups.

Fantasy literature is filled with examples of half-breeds and I believe that this is a scientific principle that does have a foundation in fact. I do believe that most fantasy species (elves, dwarves, etc.) could breed with similar humanoid species and produce offspring. Fantasy authors and the writers of most of the role-playing games, such as Dungeons and Dragons have decided that many of these unions do produce offspring. However, they have constructed rules that say things like: a male dwarf will always father dwarven offspring, or a female elf will always give birth to an elf, but a human woman impregnated by an elf will haven an half-elf baby, etc. etc. Depending on the sourcebook you read, the rules are different. I once read in a D&D book that the secret salvation of the dwarven race's population problems was to use human women to produce dwarven children. Very interesting idea.

The rules are all very convoluted and not uniform, which is to be expected as this issue is discussed across all the gaming systems and in many of the different fantasy books. I do not advocate conformity, by the way.

My bottom line is to say that each individual author has scientific backing to go either way. She could say that dwarves could only breed with dwarves and be justified, or go the other way and say that the union would produce half-dwarves. Or the mother of the child could determine the outcome, or it could be variable.

I've really enjoyed the idea of half-breed characters. The first one I read about was Tanis, in the Dragonlance books by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. Tanis's mother was an elf raped during a war by a human. I thought Tanis was a great character, possibly my favorite in those books. I just read about a great half-breed character in Tim Waggoner's Thieves of Blood novel, Book One of the Blade of the Flame Series. His name is Ghaji and he's a half-orc, or half-human if he's in a half-orc bar. Anyway, I love that kind of character. Tortured from within and not accepted by either side of the family.

I respectfully decline to confirm or deny allegations that there are half-dwarves in the world of Ae'leron. Time will tell. What I would like to see though, is a love story between a dwarven princess and a human man. Or vice versa. There is a book called Dragondoom by Dennis L. McKiernan (my favorite McKiernan book of all time!) where a male dwarf and a human woman almost have a relationship. No more spoilers from me. Just read the book and find out for yourself.

Drobin have lots of children, but they're also practically immortal, or at least live for extremely long periods of time. Do the wars act as population control then? Or is there some other way that the Drobin prevent themselves from simply flooding over everything like ants?

Drobin have lots of children, yes, because the women are fertile for several decades, much longer than a human woman is fertile, but Drobin aren’t immortal. They might live to be 350 years old if they’re lucky, but many are killed in wars long before that. The wars do act as population control to a degree (read the book to learn more about that), but the Drobin are starting to flood over everything like ants. Really armored, technologically advanced, very organized, extremely intelligent soldier ants. However, there are places in the harsh world of Ae’leron that they don’t want to go. The humans who want to be away from their steel-fisted control live in those places where the Drobin prefer not to tread, such as deep in the Thornclaw Forest where the book begins. To give you a hint about the next book, the Drobin really don’t like the Khoram Desert and have given all of it to the humans. If the Drobin only knew the real truth about the desert.

I thought an interesting thing about The Golden Cord was that Drake, who initially fills that "farmer boy" role, turns out to be a rather atypical hero in the sense that he is completely the opposite of that cliché of the lowly farmer boy (or village boy) who discovers adventure and special abilities etc. Instead, Drake is actually rather accomplished--he's a good shot, well liked for the most part, he's planning to get married, etc. What about Drake do you think might be breaking some typical boundaries of fantasy (if anything), and what do you think people will like the most about Drake?

I think readers will like the fact that Drake is a real person who works hard and does his best to do the right thing. He’s not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination, but he tries hard and has honed his skills as a guardian for many years. He is compelled to be good at what he does, because if he isn’t, the people he loves might die. He’s also haunted by his past, which has paralyzed him in a tremendous way. The big event that happened when he was fifteen has stayed with him, and the reader sees how much he’s changed from the prologue to chapter one.

Drake is also like the soldiers of today, who often volunteer to serve the greater good, and then are thrust into impossible situations that they may not have understood when they volunteered. Drake has everything if he stays home, but he can’t accept it or get over what has happened. The guilt and his own sense of having to serve has limited his growth as a person. Everyone around him can see the burden he bears, but no one can take away his pain. In the end, it’s Drake who must rise up and make peace with what has gone before.

Let's talk about magic and religion. You have two strong presences of magic/religion within The Golden Cord. First are the Drobin (dwarves), who worship Lorak and seem to have an astonishing affinity with the powers of the Earth around them. Then there are the villagers, who worship a similar idea and are able to produce similar powers, but are rather limited in that they have to touch the things they wish to draw energy from, whereas dwarves do not. What were influences for you in creating these magical systems? Did you put a lot of thought into how it all worked? Why do human magic users have such limitations and dwarves have a little more freedom in how they use magic?

I did a lot of thinking about the magic system in The Iron Dragon Series. The system I came up with went through a lot of versions and I’ve designed it with very careful attention to detail. The whole thing was predicated on the fact that the practitioners would have massive limitations. The magic can be quite powerful, but there is always a price. There are no easy solutions to complex problems. The Drobin have a monopoly on the magic and they do not want the humans to learn it or have access to it. The rebellious humans have come up with their own way to practice magic, and it’s not as powerful the Drobin’s way, but still has power. Few individuals of both races practice the magic, and those who do are of special importance. The humans have not been practicing the magic for as long as the Drobin, and haven’t mastered it like the long-lived Drobin have. The Drobin are an old race and the humans are like children, children that the Drobin are worried about. You don’t give your children dangerous toys to play with, especially when they have proven in the past that they can’t be trusted, (at least that’s what the Drobin would say).

What is the most important thing you hope readers of your work will take with them once they've finished?

I would love it if readers came away from the book understanding that friendship and the connection between people has enough power to change the world.

As a writer of fantasy, do you think that it will be a genre that will continue to explode and reach new heights as it has in recent years? Additionally, since science fiction is slowly weaseling its way into the academic world as a legit form of literature, do you see the same happening for fantasy (as in actually degrees with focuses in fantasy literature gaining some significance)?

I believe that fantasy will continue to be dominant in the form of books and movies for a long time to come. Fantasy is just so interesting that most people want to see it and experience it. Going to new worlds and seeing such amazing things is a lot of fun. We escape the mundane place where we live and go to new heights of the imagination.

The bad news is that there probably won’t be any degrees in fantasy writing. There are workshops and Jim Gunn runs courses in Lawrence, Kansas at the University there, but there isn’t much out there as far as getting degrees in fantasy or science fiction. As far as science fiction becoming a legitimate form of literature: I don’t see it encroaching into the academic settings very much. I’ve had a number of conversations with writers who don’t think fantasy or science fiction will invade modern academia and attain that much credibility as compared to the classics or modern literary fiction. The teachers of classic literature often raise their noses at science fiction and fantasy. That attitude is probably not going to change anytime soon, but the academics can have their horribly depressing books where nothing happens. I want books with characters who rise up and actually do something other than wallow in their own misery. I want heroes!

As usual in my interviews I have a completely random question that probably has nothing to do with whatever is asked or said above: What is your favorite color and if it symbolized a magic power of some sort, what kind of power would it symbolize?

The color of golden sunlight is my favorite color. It symbolizes friendship, love and hope.

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