Stephen Deas is the author of the smash-hit novel The Adamantine Palace (as well as many others). I held his little toes to ransom until he give us this exclusive interview. It’s full of insight and secrets on how to become an international fantasy author – or your money back. Enjoy!
Stephen, your books (The Adamantine Palace, Dragon Queen etc) are big on dragons. What is behind the human fascination with this fabulous beast, do you think?
I’ve written about this elsewhere before but I think it comes down to a dragon being the embodiment of physical threat. Consider life as a caveman for a moment, before the first real civilisation started to impose a human order on the world: the things that were clear sharp immediate dangers were things that might stomp on you, things like stampeding mammoths and bison and the like. They were things with fangs and claws that might fancy snacking on you – lions and tigers and bears, oh my. You might throw in the largest birds of prey for snatching babies and small children and of course you can’t chase after them because they can fly and you might throw in snakes too. And then there’s fire – every animal knows to be afraid of fire. A dragon wraps all those threats up into one neat package – it is the embodiment of immediate, obvious, physical danger.
I think, possibly, you could argue a case for tracking the rise of other monsters through the evolution of civilisation. The vampire is, perhaps, the embodiment of moral threat and more recently the zombie becomes the embodiment of existential or spiritual threat; but that’s a thesis for someone else with a lot more time on their hands!
Of all your books, do you have a favourite… or do you love all your children equally?
I always think the one I’m working on that I’ve nearly finished is the best thing I’ve done. I’m trying to look past that for you but even then I honestly think that Dragon Queen is the best so far, although it’s been likened to drinking undiluted orange juice. Although it leans a little on what has gone before in other dragon books, it’s really the beginning of a new story so it’s as good a place as any to start and it also has an entire act that’s basically Call of Duty: Dragon Warfare. After that, The Black Mausoleum is perhaps the tightest and most focussed of the dragon books. I have a soft spot for The Warlock’s Shadow too, the second of the thief-taker books, and I’m also really quite proud of Empires: Extraction, one of a pair of SF novels that Gavin Smith and I are releasing next year. It’s a really hard question – they’re like children: you have to love them all while you’re raising them.
Readers always ask authors where they get their ideas or inspiration. Do you have a muse? What’s your secret?
Be interested in everything. Be interested in the weird stories from bizarre parts of the world that no one has every heard of. Be interested in the mundane things around you. Be interested in what’s on the fringe and what’s commonplace. Be interested in everything and then let your mind wander without restraint for a bit. Long sessions on the cross-trainer tend to help with the last part.
Who’s your favourite fantasy author now deceased? Why them?
That’s hard but I’m going to go with Robert E Howard and also with Lovecraft even though I’ve read barely a fraction of his actual work. Both writers with whom many people have issues for their portrayal of race, gender and and such like but there’s a visceral immediacy to Howard that I rarely find elsewhere and Lovecraft’s brand of cosmic horror, doom and madness works for me like nothing else.
Who’s your favourite living fantasy author and why (apart from Stephen Deas or A J Dalton)?
KJ Parker. In part because I’m a big fan of the books, particularly the earlier ones; and in part because KJ agreed to read a draft of a novel I was about to self-publish (an investment of time which I now realise to be a hugely bigger deal than I thought at the time) and was instrumental in me getting my first agent.
What’s the best thing about being an author?
The freedom to work where and when I like. I get to see a lot more of my kids than I would with a regular job.
And the worst?
The total lack of any security.
What are you currently working on that you can tell us about without then having to kill us?
You want a list? OK…
Copy-edits for the penultimate dragon book, The Splintered Gods out in June 2014
The first draft of the last dragon book, The Silver Kings
Edits for Empires: Extraction, one half of a pair of Siamese twin SF novels written with fellow Gollancz author Gavin Smith (Aliens. Snarky spaceships. Sweary SAS men. They fight).
Copy-edits and proofing for an SF game tie-in novel that I can’t tell you any more about without having to kill you. Or more likely having my editor kill both of us.
Rewrites for a historical detective novel set in the English civil war.
All of these have deadlines. This is why it took me a while to get back with some answers to your questions 🙂
If people want to find out more about you, what sites do you maintain and what’s your handle on Twitter?
I have a website at www.stephendeas.com
with occasional news and slightly less occasional giveaways of books that usually aren’t mine. I ramble with angry incoherent humour on Twitter as @stephendeas
What question have I not asked you that I should have done? And what’s the answer?
A difficult one. But fortunately you didn’t 🙂
Perhaps ask why anyone should read my particular brand of fantasy rather than any else, particularly when there’s so much available now, not only relatively new authors being published by conventional publishers but huge back-lists from more established writers and a fresh horde who eschew the conventional route and are self-publishing. And that IS a difficult question but I’ll give a stab at an answer: I aim to give you a depth of world design that would shame any but the most dedicated Tolkien imitator and then not show you any more of it than the story absolutely demands. I aim to give you characters who are credible enough and complex enough that you can’t help but root for them even when they’ve done the most terrible things. I give you dragons like no dragons that have gone before, furious fire-filled top-of-the-food-chain monsters with both intelligence and design and a proper contempt for the creatures beneath them. And with all those ingredients, I aim to give you a story that flies like a dragon gone to war, that glides and soars in quieter moments between storms like a roller-coaster of fire, that never lets you go and yet leaves a thoughtful lingering. Judge for yourselves whether I succeed.
So there you have it folks, Mr Stephen Deas. Hurrah !