Some of you might remember Brad from last month’s gushing review for his novel The Winds of Khalokovo in my column over at Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show.
While I had his attention, I thought it would be a great idea to bug Brad with some questions. It’s been a while since I’ve had a Genre Chick Interview…so here you go!
(Upon reading back over this, I realize I had a bit of an obsession that day with things that “spark.” Kudos to Brad for not making fun of me. I mean, seriously. Three times in one interview? Really? Sheesh.)
Like most authors, Brad can be found on Facebook and the Twitter, and his very cool (read: cooler than mine) website: http://quillings.com/
Princess Alethea: What’s a “quilling”?
Brad Beaulieu: Funnily enough, no one’s ever asked me this before. There once was a literary discussion group associated with Oxford University. J.R.R. Tolkien, along with C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams, Christopher Tolkien, and many more, were members of this group. It was called the Inklings. They met at The Eagle and Child pub in Oxford, an establishment I visited when I went on a whirlwind tour of the U.K. and Ireland on 2004. When I learned about the Inklings on a tour of Oxford, I thought it would be neat to call my website (when I eventually made one) quillings, in honor of Tolkien. That, and I didn’t really want a website called bradleypbeaulieu.com.
Incidentally, that was the very same trip where I stopped into the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh and picked up the various artwork pieces that I later used as the primary characters in The Winds of Khalakovo.
AK: What sparked your interest in a Russia-based fantasy setting?
BB: I think it was the setting itself that led me to the Czarist Russia. It’s hard to remember when the actual spark occurred, but I had already created the world, and I knew it was a very cold an inhospitable place, and I’d been wanting to find something that wouldn’t settle into the typical western European (especially Britain-based) fantasy. I wanted something different, and Muscovite Russia seemed to fit the bill. When I’m brainstorming, I try not to set any “answers” I come up with in stone. I like to try them on for a while, see what the implications are, and try a few alternatives before really allowing the idea to set. So I did a bit of research. I read up on Russian history, especially with respect to the Czars and Russian customs and styles of dress, and the more I thought about it, the more I liked it. It ended up working well with the Persian influenced Aramahn in the book as well.
AK: You were a “late bloomer” as a writer. Was there an event that sparked this transformation?
No, not really. I’d always been interested in writing, but never really thought that it would be something I could make a go of. I didn’t focus on English or writing classes in high school or college, but I did dabble in writing a book in my last few years of college. It was something I set aside after a while, not because it didn’t hold my interest, but because life was creeping in. I wasn’t making it a priority.
When I moved out to California in my early thirties, I had a bit more time on my hands, so I picked up writing again and became more serious about it. I bought some books on writing and read those. Then I bought some more. I started to see what a big commitment it was. I began writing a novel, and it took me about four years to write because I was still just dabbling, and I figured if I really wanted to do this, I’d better dive in or just drop it, because I didn’t really want to do it halfway.
That’s when I started to hit the convention circuit. I started making contacts and becoming even more serious, because I could see how dedicated others were, and I was also rubbing elbows with some of my idols while growing up. That was a really cool feeling, and it made me want it even more, not just to “have the life” of a writer, whatever that means, but also to share my stories.
AK: You’ve been to various acclaimed writers workshops. What are the pros and cons of attending?
BB: Well, I think workshops can be an incredibly rewarding experience. I wholeheartedly recommend them, though I do think you need to be ready for them. It’s one thing to have friends and family read your stuff and give some light comments on what they think is wrong. It’s another thing entirely to take work and place it before experts for dissection. I would recommend becoming involved in local writing groups or online workshops before taking the step of a multi-day, pay-lots-of-money-for-it workshop. Get some feedback on your writing in those venues, which will, I think, both make you a better writer, and prepare you for criticism. Not only that, it’ll make you a better critiquer, which will help the others in the workshop, since most of them are peer-to-peer as well as instructor-led.
Getting back to your question, there are tons of pros to attending workshops, especially for people like me who didn’t have as strong of a background in writing as others might have from formal education or self-teaching. My writing surged forward with every workshop I took. So by all means, if you’re of the mind, do consider going to one that matches your goals as well as the time and money you have available, but by the same token, make sure you’re ready for it, because otherwise you might just set yourself back (perhaps permanently) on your path to becoming a writer (whatever this means to you).
AK: Are you still an avid reader? What books have sparked your interest lately?
Instead of avid, I’ll say eager. I wish I had more time to read, but I just don’t. The day job and family take priority. And then I set aside roughly one hour for writing (sometimes forgoing if life intrudes). And that generally leaves me only a few minutes at the end of the day to read, usually just before I go to bed.
I’m really digging the Steampunk movement over the last several years. I enjoy the milieu, and I’m liking the variants that are now cropping up in both short and long form. I haven’t started it yet, but I’m really looking forward to reading Mark Hodder’s The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack. I’m also excited about the wave of dystopic environmental SF that The Windup Girl is going to unleash. This is purely conjecture at this point, but I think it’s a natural shift that’s going to occur as the environment and climate change, and the resulting predictions of catastrophe, begin to weigh more and more on our minds, not just the speculative fiction community, but the wider reading audience as well.
AK: How’s the sequel to Winds coming? What’s next on your writing plate?
BB: The sequel is going great. Of course, I’m on deadline now, so it feels like the due date is breathing down my neck, but I’m about four chapters away from finishing the “zeroeth” draft. Then it’s on to changes that I’ve built up during the draft and then a dive into the entire thing once more to create the true first draft. That’ll be done by May, at which point I turn it in to my editor, my agent, my beta readers, and the readers of Wellspring, a peer-to-peer writing workshop I started based on the Blue Heaven Workshop model.
I’ve started mulling my next project. I have a couple of possibilities, but I’m leaning toward one of them more than the other at this point. It’s based loosely on a story I sold to Beneath Ceaseless Skies called “From the Spices of Sanandira.” (That story, btw, will be out this spring some time.) It’s not so much an expansion of this story as it is a re-imagining. It’s a story that springs from the city-state of Sanandira, a large desert oasis known for its caravan trade and spice bazaars. It’s got a strong Thousand and One Nights feel to it. It will probably focus on a pair of twin sisters, one of whom is sold to one of Sanandira’s famed assassin rings at a young age. The other girl (the protagonist) finds her sister by happenstance years later, and because of this chance meeting is drawn into the world of intrigue her sister walks every day.
One thing I really want to explore in this story is the concepts of night and day. My thoughts are really raw at this point, but I’m thinking that the city has an alter ego. It changes at night, especially around the new moon, when the dead return from the desert wastes to cull the city of those who are sick and dying from a disease that if left unchecked would spread throughout Sanandira and destroy the house of cards that has been built painstakingly over the course of centuries. (Whew, take a breath, Brad…) Where this thread and the sisters meet, I have no idea. That’ll be the subject of future brainstorming sessions, but I like where it’s headed so far.
AK: Tell us about your foreign sale.
BB: Yes! Na zdrowie! (To your health, in Polish.)
This is kind of a funny story. Several weeks back, I came across a Google link… Wait, why are you looking at me like that? What, you don’t Google yourself? So sue me. I have a book coming out and I wanted to see if anyone noticed!
[Edited to add: I can't ever remember to Google myself. So I set up a Google Alert to do it for me.]
So anyway, I stumble across this link that says that Polish rights have been sold for The Winds of Khalakovo. I’m like, what? I knew my agent would eventually be trying to sell foreign rights, but I didn’t think they were actively doing so yet. And then the next morning I get an email from an editor at Proszynski Media, the publishing house that the announcement claimed had bought the rights. He wanted to get me in contact with the translator. By this point I was pretty sure rights had been sold, but I hadn’t heard from my agent yet. As it turns out, the press release was a bit premature, but I was informed that yes, indeed, Winds was going to be translated, and it was already moving pretty quickly. The translation should be done by roughly June for an August release. That’s pretty fast!
AK: If you were a qiram, which elemental creature would you be associated with?
BB: I would be a havaqiram, meaning I would be able to commune with wind spirits. It’s probably been that way ever since the windships came into the picture as the primary vessel for transportation of people and goods. I love tall ships. I’ve taken a voyage on a few, and though I will admit I got a little seasick the first time, I love the feeling of being pulled along by the wind. It would be really cool to be able to control the wind as the havaqiram do in the book, even to the point of summoning enough wind that you could fly for short periods. And it would be freeing to fly on the windships and call the wind to bring you to further shores.
Yes, being a havaqiram would be pretty cool.
AK: If you were a superhero, what would your power be and why?
BB: I used to play Villains & Vigilantes, as well as a boatload of Champions, back in the day. My favorite character was the Dart. He could leap really far and stick to walls like Spiderman, and he had a belt with different kinds of darts: some explosive, some gas darts, some poison. I even had an artist friend that drew up a really cool character picture of him. (I don’t know where it is anymore, though.) But that’s who I’d be. The Dart. Because who doesn’t like to jump around and throw darts?