A Moment with Bestselling Author Brent Weeks
Alright folks glad to be back and going, this is my interview with New York Times bestselling author Brent Weeks (the Night Angel Trilogy, The Lightbringer series). I am very happy he has interviewed with me again, and that I was able to talk to him about his newest book the Blinding Knife on sale September 11th 2012. So sit back, enjoy, and comment!
Also if you don’t want spoilers be wary of what you read on here!
First off beyond everything else I’d like to say thank you for not only taking the time to answer these questions, but for reaching out to me on Twitter after I had tweeted you about your books. It’s rare for people one admires to actually reach back out when a comment is made to them any where really. I know how busy things can get, and for you to take your time and do all of this for me, as well as my site is a huge privilege.
Hi Michael — Well, thanks for your interest! It’s always a pleasure to talk to you. And thank you for giving me this opportunity to virtually chat with your site’s visitors.
First off can you give us the synopsis of where things were left off at the end of the Black Prism and where the Blinding Knife takes off?
Ah, starting me off gently, are you? Well, everyone who hasn’t read The Black Prism consider this your spoiler tag. (No really, this will be a spoiler. I know you read really fast and you’ve already gone three lines past where I said this is your spoiler tag, but you need to stop. Don’t worry, I’ll have a little end tag in there too, so you know when it’s safe to come back.)
The Black Prism is a story of the Prism, Gavin Guile. The Prism is the religious head of religious power in the world and the figurehead of political power. (Analogous to the Japanese Emperors circa 1600.) The current Prism is still trying to mend his empire after a war 16 years ago that started between him and his brother. Early in The Black Prism, Gavin Guile finds out that he has a bastard named Kip in a backwater village. Kip is 15, chunky, and mouthy, the son of a single mom with a drug problem. In other words, he’s pretty much the opposite of the charming, educated, and always cool Gavin Guile. Some rebels determined to secede from the empire rise up against Gavin Guile — and, not coincidentally, this uprising begins in the same area where Kip lives. (You do realize that you’ve just asked an epic fantasy author to give a synopsis, right? We’re good at lots of things; brevity is not one of them.) Suffice it to say bad stuff happens and then gets worse. And not everybody’s who you think they are. (I did that for all the people who read past the spoiler tags, even though I told them not to.)
At the end of The Black Prism the rebel army has captured Garriston despite Gavin’s heroic defense of it. Gavin’s former fiancée has probably figured out his big secret and may well use it to destroy him. Kip has nearly gone crazy and managed to kill a king in a spectacularly gory fashion — the words “his head burst like a popping pimple” may or may not have been used there — and it seems that the heretics who use magic to transform themselves into monsters may actually have a point after all. (END SPOILER)
The Blinding Knife picks up about four days after the end of The Black Prism. This is actually technically a little bit more difficult than if I’d skipped forward, say, six months. Because when you skip forward you have good excuses to remind readers of all that happened in the first book while you’re telling them what’s happened in the last six months. However, I took on the expositional challenge because I like to give the reader the sense that they’re getting to experience every part of the story.
In the Black Prism you introduced us to Kip, who is one of the main characters in the story. In all honesty he was whiny, he angered me more often than I wanted him to, and yet near the end he was a little more mature and genuinely a brave yet heart breaking case. How does he grow in The Blinding Knife? What can we expect from him in book 3?
I found the reactions to Kip really interesting. In some ways I’ve come to the conclusion that Kip is a victim of my accuracy. I’ve had people tell me “Brent, it’s uncanny how well you’ve captured a 15-year-old.” And I’ve had people tell me, “Kip is so whiny, he pissed me off every time I read about him.” I don’t find any conflict between these two statements. I think how you view Kip depends a lot on how you view your own 15-year-old self. If you can look at that whiny, awkward with the opposite gender, hormonally-charged, sometimes smart and sometimes stupid person that you used to be with a healthy dose of grace, I think you can find a lot to love in Kip. However, if your 15-year-old self still mortifies you, then you don’t want to be reminded of that. Not even in your fiction.
Other people commented that they found Kip vacillated wildly between being a child and being a grownup. That, too, was by design. I like to tell a story of one of my friends in high school. He was one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever met to this day. I mean, we’re talking IQ in the 160+ range. He was incredibly intelligent, and because he was intelligent, even from a young age, he tried to parse things logically. And it gave him this kind of lopsided development as a human being. I remember him talking about his parents’ divorce in a perfectly level voice, emotionless and descriptive, while tears were rolling down his face. And he said quite frankly, “I have no idea why I’m crying.” Like it was a puzzle to him that he could figure out. I think most of us are like that, though to a much lesser extent. Especially in adolescence, we develop certain skills to a level of adult proficiency. And in other areas we’re complete newbs.
Without giving spoilers, I think it’s fair to say that when placed in a healthier environment with some people that care about him, Kip is going to do a lot of growing. However, as he does that, he’s also finding himself stepping onto an international stage and being asked to play games against the very best opponents in the world.
Book 3 is tentatively titled The Blood Mirror. However, I recently gave in to my inner editor and decided that the Lightbringer series is going to be four books, rather than three — as I had always feared. Thematically, The Blood Mirror is a better title for the last book, but I haven’t yet come up with a fourth title so Book 3 will be The Blood Mirror for now.
I like to write books that have 2 1/2 twists with a Volshenko turn at the end. If they enter the water with little splash, so much the better.
No, of course I can’t tell you how many twists are left! By which I mean, actually, this is the last twist you will see in Brent Weeks’s writing. He’s grown tired of them and decided he does not want to be a one-trick pony, and additionally will now speak of himself in the third person.
Ok, honestly, I like to surprise readers. I’m told I do it well, but I also don’t want every book to be reducible to one big twist. I hope give people lots of reasons to read. And deep characters doing surprising things (that still make sense when you think about what the character knows) will probably always be part of my writing.
You invented a game in the Blinding Knife called Nine Kings that made even want a non-Magic the Gathering player such as I want to grab a deck and give it a go. Any possibility this becomes a real game?
Yeah, a funny thing happened to me when I finished writing The Black Prism. A math professor friend of mine came to me and asked if I’d played Magic the Gathering before, because he thought the magic seemed similar. I actually never had played the game before, but he taught it to me, and I found it really cool. Nine Kings has elements of Magic the Gathering, Shadow Era, and other trading card games as well as some strategy games like Catan and Carcassonne that I’ve loved for a long time.
At first I made up the game simply because I needed an excuse to put Kip and Andross Guile in a room for a long time — and to give Andross ways to torture Kip. I thought of chess first, and then poker, but they both seemed so boring and overdone. When I came up with Nine Kings and having the people depicted on the cards be real, and the history they’re in be knowable, I knew I’d stumbled upon plot device gold. With my friend, who handily enough has a Ph.D. in mathematics, I have begun developing a game based on Nine Kings. However, making a game and writing a novel require two almost completely disparate skill sets. I do hope to make it into a game someday, but I expect it will take years to develop. Novels are really my main thing, and I’m not going to stop writing for a year or two to make a game.
I don’t intend to introduce very many more characters. There are a few side characters that will have more of their stories told in Books 3 & 4, but at this point in the narrative, an author needs to be really careful about introducing new points of view or the whole series can just explode and become a 15 volume epic.
Is there any shot of seeing a Kylar from the Night Angel trilogy Kip from Lightbringer series crossover at any point? Purely a fan question.
At the point you see this book come out, you will know I have sold my soul. Please ask me at that time how much I was paid for it. If it’s more than six figures, you can make fun of me and I will cry on my way to the bank.
You’ve developed a magic system that really I haven’t seen any where else, as well as a meaning for all of the colors and how the effect the attitudes of those who wield them. How did this come about, how difficult is it to keep track of their abilities?
I think it came about from my fascination with science and with complicated systems that look simple on the surface. When you look at a color, you think you know what it is, but the more you delve into wavelengths of light and the science of perception, the more you realize it’s a lot harder than blue just being blue. I wanted my magic system to reflect that. It starts with something easy: different colors make for different magic. Each color’s magic has physical properties. Red is sticky and flammable, blue is smooth and breakable, green is rough and springy, etc. And then I layered onto that further physical properties like smell and weight and strength. I layered on that some break down after a certain amount of time. Yellow has a liquid and a solid state like water and ice that act differently. Then I tried to imagine a culture that uses these properties as if these physical substances were just another kind of stone or wood or glue or oil. The science and engineering of the world itself would be altered to take these new materials into account and use them in architecture and art and every form of human endeavor possible because humans are endlessly creative.
And then on top of the physical system, I layered a metaphysical system. That is, drafting each color has emotional and psychological effects on the drafter. Blue is harmonious, logical, structured, but cold. Red is passionate, fiery, emotional. Again, I tried to do this in ways that sort of make sense with the connotations we already have with colors.
And then, quite simply, I lit the fuse. Each person can use a finite amount of magic in their life. And then those metaphysical and physical properties overtake them. An otherwise logical person who uses vast quantities of red eventually becomes more passionate, more angry, and less able to reign in their emotions.
It wasn’t terribly difficult to keep track of. I have charts and things that I can look at when I need a cheat sheet. But because the system did sort of exactly what I’d hoped — started simple and got delightfully complex — it was a big challenge for me in The Black Prism to know how much I needed to keep cluing readers in and reminding them of how things work. I was recently listening to the audiobook for the first time, and I felt like I really over-explained some things. But then I still read blogposts from people who were still confused even at the end of the book, so it’s a hard balance to strike. In The Blinding Knife, I threw in some reminders, but mostly hit the ground running and actually even introduced some cool new complexities with spectra of light that are beyond the visual spectrum in both directions. (If you want to talk about complicated, think about how complicated the particle-wave theory of light is, or stuff about Schrödinger’s cat. And that’s to us, in the 21st century. I’m dealing with a 1600s Mediterranean level of technology — although their science of optics is more advanced than that — and I’m trying to explain stuff about millimeter wave radiation in ways that (1) are accurate, (2) make sense to the characters who don’t have the concept of a millimeter of light traveling in waves, or of radiation, and (3) in ways that don’t sound hopelessly anachronistic as you’re reading this book set in an alternate 1600 Mediterranean world.) Whew!
You leave the Blinding Knife with a lot of open ends and a lot of excitement and storylines that look to add so much to the third book? What can we expect from book 3?
I’m actually already more than halfway done with the first draft of The Blood Mirror and I’m having a great time with it. Like The Blinding Knife, Book 3 picks up only days after the climactic events at the end of the previous book and then flies. The pacing of my books is unrelenting and the stuff I have in Book 3 is really exciting. I get to spend time with at least one villain who’s just awesomely twisted. He makes me squirm every time I write one of his scenes. And we get to see some of the other characters we’ve been with for a while really come into their own (even as, remarkably, the world just gets worse and worse.) That’s as much as I can give away right now.
As a comic fan when I read your books I can vividly picture every character because your writing is so explanatory and you give such a clear view of who we’re watching do what. Is there any shot you make either of your series into a comic? If not a comic is there anything on the line you can talk about TV or movie wise?
Well, I do have the Night Angel graphic novel which is being developed right now by Yen Press, and I’m sure over the upcoming year I’ll be doing a fair amount of work with the artist/adapter to make that come to life. Right now they’re just contracted to do The Way of Shadows, but if that’s successful, then they will obviously continue with the series.
I haven’t publicized the fact, because sometimes fans get too excited when they hear about options and movie stuff, but I’ve been working with the producer of all of the X-Men movies to try to bring Night Angel to the small screen. She is really a top-notch pro, and she knows everybody in Hollywood and she’s interested in quality, which has made her a delight to work with. After talking about it, we agreed that Night Angel would do better as a series than as a movie or even three movies. There’s just so much content there that would have to be cut that we thought a TV series would be a better direction. This time I’ve actually held on to the option rights myself, which puts less money in my pocket but allows me to have a say in the direction of the project. And I’ve actually used that. I’ve said “No” to several parties that were interested. (Which, believe me, was kind of hard to do.)
The truth of the matter is that I could line up everything with the most talented people in the world and then sign over my rights and the personnel might end up changing and a crappy movie or TV series come out of it no matter what I do, but right now I’m doing all that I can to make sure that if a TV show happens, it’s the best it can possibly be. And if a project doesn’t happen because I’m being too picky? I’m fine with that. I love writing books and don’t feel that they’re inferior in any way. I’m making a living, and I’d sooner write a Night Angel/Lightbringer crossover than I would willingly sign on to some crappy movie!
Alright folks again I’d like to thank Brent for being so amazing and answering all of my question, as much as I show him gratitude you can as well by picking up his book here and visiting him on his book signing tour starting in September when the book comes out. The list of the book tour dates is here.