Mittwoch, 20. April 2016

Interview with Fantasy Author Peter V. Brett

Peter V, Brett

Anm.: Dies ist das Interview im Original. Eine Übersetzung werde ich in den nächsten Tagen veröffentlichen.

Peter V. Brett, *1973 in New York State, USA, is  the bestselling author of the Demon Cyclus. In March 2016 he had readings in Austria and Germany. Beforehand his reading in Lüneburg I had the opportunity to take this interview with him.

H.H.: I just started with your Demon Cyclus.

Peter V. Brett: How far have you gotten?

H.H.: I'm with the first one. I think it's "The Painted Man" in English. I read somewhere that this all started with a short story?
Peter V. Brett: Yeah, it did. I had been taking a science fiction writing class at New York University just because it was a hobby, and I enjoyed it. And I was working on a different book at the time, but we had an assignment to write the beginning of a new, entirely new book. And so I wrote this little story about a boy who could never go more than half a day from his home because he had to be home by nightfall because that's when the demons came out.

     And it was a little short story that I thought was really sort of beautiful at the time. But my mind was on another project. And I wasn't really focused on doing anything more with it. But as the years went by, I just found myself thinking about it more and more and eventually decided to go back to it and find out what was more than half a day's travel from that boy's home that turned into quite a big adventure.
H.H.: Finally, four books now.
Peter V. Brett: Yep, four now. I have one more coming out this year - or well, it'll probably be next year that it'll come out, and I'll finish it this year. And that will end the series. We also have a series of shorter novellas that are companions to it.

H.H.: And what will be the title of number five?

Peter V. Brett: Well, in English, it'll be "The Core". But I'm not sure what the German title will be. The German titles have been very different from my U.S. titles. So I don't really know what they're going to name it here.

H.H.: When you started expanding your short story to a novel and more novels, did you have a picture before your eyes, or did it grow when you were writing?

Peter V. Brett: A little of both. At first, I sort of made it up as I went along. The first draft of the novel was something that I just sort of wrote as it came to me. But then when I tried to settle that book, it became apparent that it was deeply flawed. There were a lot of problems with it. And I think those problems came from not planning ahead.

     And so after that, I sort of adopted a policy of very strictly planning everything before I write. And so now I write very detailed outlines for everything that I do before I start writing a book. And when I took the book to market to sell, I had finished the first book, I had written about a third of the second book, and had a detailed plan for how that book would go. And then I had very detailed notes about the rest of the series.

     So right from the start when I sold the book, I knew where the series was going. I knew that it would end in five books. And I've been following that plan pretty closely since.

H.H.: Interesting. I shortly went over the reviews. For the fourth one, I read a couple which did not like the way number three it is ending. They say it's just like there was an end in book number three, and now it's trying to expand. What do you think about this?

Peter V. Brett: Book three did have a very suspenseful ending. This is something that, when you're writing a big series like I'm doing, like I really consider it to be one big story. And so I kind of knew that people were going to continue to read on. And I like the idea of ending things with a big of a question mark to leave people excited for the next book.

     Some people I think were a little upset about it. But I think more people were drawn in by that and were excited by it. And I didn't keep the secret for too long. About nine months after the book came out, I posted the first chapter of the following book on my website, and that sort of gave away the secret.

     So people didn't have to wait that long for it. But I think it's something that helps hold interest.

H.H.: Okay. So talking about you as a person, was writing books always your idea, or how did you come to writing books?

Peter V. Brett: I mean, I always wanted to be a writer my entire life. I think, from very early on, writing was something that I loved and something that I wanted to do professionally. I didn't really think that I was going to. I thought that it was something that was always just going to be a hobby for me.

     And so I read a lot, and I took English courses in college with the intension of being a writer. But when it came time to get a job, I went out and got a regular job. I went and got a publishing job because I figured that was at least something close to what I wanted to do.

     And I ended up having a pretty good career in medical publishing and production. And that could've gone on to be my job for life, but I kept writing at night and to and from work, and eventually got something good enough that I thought was worth submitting. And I submitted it, and it was rejected. And I submitted something else, and that was rejected.

     And then I rewrote the first thing and submitted it again. And finally, that got through and ended up selling. And after a few months, it became clear that I had sold it in enough different countries that I could try doing if full time for a little while. So I decided to take two years and see if I could make it as a full-time writer. And if I didn't do it in two years, I would go back to my other career.

     And thankfully, that was eight, nine years ago now. And I'm still doing it. So it turns out to be a good choice.

H.H.: Sounds like that. I read from another author, who said, "The first 200,000 words are scrap. So you have to get past them quickly." Would you agree to that?

Peter V. Brett: At least 200,000 words, probably more than that. Yeah, every writer has to go through a period of practice, just like anything else. You don't enter the Olympics the first day you do gymnastics. Just knowing how to write is not enough. You have to practice. You have to hone your craft like anyone else. And there's a lot of competition in writing. And so it's not something that's very easily done.

     And I don't know. So I feel like it's very easy to get discouraged when you work for a really long time on something, and then people aren't interested in it. But that just means that you have to try again and try harder until you get to the level you need to be at.
Peter V. Brett (l) and Simon Weinert during the reading

H.H.: So if you would give tips to other authors, what would your advice be?

Peter V. Brett: I think pretty much just what I said. You have to not get discouraged. I think that getting discouraged is the biggest problem. There are so many writers out there that want to do it professionally. And you have to do more than just write a book. You have to really understand what you're doing. You have to really pull a lot of yourself into it. And you have to be prepared to have people not be interested anyway and to get past that and to not let that make you quit.

     So the only really advice that I can give is read a lot, write a lot, keep at it, and don't be discouraged when people aren't interested right away. It can take a long time. I know some very successful writers who were very late in life before they managed to get published and other people who sort of seemed to get lucky and hit it big. But then you talk to them, and you find out that that success that seemed to come out of nowhere actually came from years and years of hard work and practice.

H.H.: Do you have any kind of idols?
Peter V. Brett: Yeah, there were a lot of writers that were big influences for me. When I was younger, I really loved R.A. Salvatore. And I read a lot of Dungeons & Dragons books. I liked Terry Brooks and Tolkien. As I got older, I started reading Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time books. Those were really influential to me. But I think the real change was when I read George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones. I think that that book sort of expanded my idea of what you could do in a fantasy book.

     When I was younger, all of the fantasy books were very safe and very, we call it PG, like rated for all audiences. There bad things didn't happen to good people. The hero would always survive. The hero would always win. And things would sort of follow a very predictable plot. And I loved those books. I read them all the time.

     But at the same time, I didn't like being able to predict how they were going to end. And, after I read Game of Thrones, I realized you don't have to end the books that way. You can do whatever you want. And that opened so many possibilities to me that I think now one of the things I pride myself on is having my books not go the way people expect them to go.

H.H.: You mentioned that, when you started writing and you submitted the book, it was rejected. How is this feeling? I think it must be quite depressing at the beginning?

Peter V. Brett: It was, and it wasn't. I mean, the thing is that I say with all honesty I never really expected anything other than rejection. I thought that I was writing as a hobby. I didn't really think that my books were good enough to be published. And when I spoke to an agent at a party that a friend of mine had really pressured me into speaking to, I told him that I was a writer and that I've written several books, but I hadn't submitted them yet because I didn't think they were good enough.

     And he told me: "You don't reject your own books. I reject your books." And so he told me to send them to him. And I did. And he rejected them. But in that process, he told me that I had the potential to do it. I was just making some sort of basic mistakes that a lot of writers make.

     So he gave me some advice. He gave me a book on writing. And he told me to go back and fix one of those books that I'd submitted. And that ended up being "The Painted Man", which has gone on to be very successful.

     I guess he saw something in the work then, that gave me that encouragement. And I think that little bit of encouragement, even with a rejection, helped make me a better writer and helped me sort of level up.

H.H.: What's the number of books you sold worldwide?

Peter V. Brett: It's hard to tell. The last time I checked, it was about 2 million books worldwide, but that number was from last year. So it's probably a little bit more than that by now.

H.H.: Is it more difficult to write fantasy where you have a complete different rule set, to put it that way? You have another world. You have a world of magic. And so on. Isn’t it easier to write using common settings like a thriller, where you have people like you and me going about a murder?

Peter V. Brett: I mean, the thing is what's important to remember about fantasy is that it's still about people. It's always about people. The only interesting story is a story about people. So the magic and the fantasy elements in my stories and in other stories like that are just window dressing. They're just decoration for a story about people.

     For instance, the demons in my stories, the book is not about demons. The book is not about magic. The book is about what people do when you put pressure on them. It's about how people treat each other when you put pressure on them. It's about how they treat themselves when you put pressure on them.

     So the demons are this external force that causes that pressure that forces people to act. But the story of the people themselves is what's interesting. And that's what drives the books. And so I think it's the same in a thriller. It's the same in a mystery. It's the same in any other thing, where instead of having demons that put pressure on a group of people, there was a murder in the house, and they don't know who did it, and that's putting pressure on those people.

     Or someone kidnapped your family or whatever. Like, these plot elements are just designed to force people who would otherwise be normal people into situations where they have to act and have to learn something about themselves in the process. And so I think that's the same no matter what genre you're writing in.

Peter V. Brett (l) and Simon Weinert during the reading
H.H.: In an earlier interview, I read you wanted to make or get yourself a tattoo with wards.

Peter V. Brett: Yeah. I have one tattoo that I got a long time ago. And it was a sword that I had drawn myself as it was the sword of the character in another book that I had written. And I got that tattoo as a reminder to myself to keep practicing my writing.

     It was really important to me to remember to practice my writing and to keep getting better and not get discouraged. And so that tattoo meant a lot to me. And after the books got published, I had promised myself that I was going to get a ward tattoo. A lot of people all over the world have already gotten tattoos. I've just been busy, and I haven't really gotten around to it.

     I keep trying to change the design of what I want to get. So one of these days, I will. But I don't know. Every time someone sends me a tattoo that they've gotten of wards, I get really excited about it. It's still this huge flattering thing to have someone do that.

H.H.: I saw you are also on social media. Don't know where I found you. It was on Facebook or Twitter.

Peter V. Brett: Everywhere.

H.H.: Everywhere. So it's important for you to be in contact with your readers, with your fans?

Peter V. Brett: Yeah, social media for me has been a huge boon. I think that it's something that I was in the right place at the right time. I became a writer right around the time that Twitter and Facebook were really taking off. And so it's been a good tool for me to be in touch with my readers, to be responsive, to help me run contests and let people know where I am and what I'm doing, and also, for a way for me to socialize and have some outside contact.

     I mean, one of the things about being a full-time writer is that I'm alone most of the time. I work from home in an office. And so I'll get up in the morning, and my girlfriend will go to work, and I'll be home alone all day. And social media, while also a way for me to be in touch with my fans and answer their questions and whatever, it's also for me a way to have somebody to talk to during the day.

     And so sometimes, I will put up posts about my job or my work. Sometimes, I'll put a post about my daughter or something like that. But other times, I just talk about whatever I want to talk about because I know people are listening, and people will write back to me. And that makes me feel a little more comfortable being home alone all day.

H.H.: A lot of your books were sold in Germany?

Peter V. Brett: Yeah, Germany is probably my most popular market, which is sort of surprising since I write in English. But the books are very successful in the U.S. They're extremely successful in the U.K. But I think Germany is probably the place where they're the most successful, which is fantastic, and that's why I'm here. My German fans have been incredibly good to me, and I really, really appreciate it so much.

H.H.: And you're traveling through Germany and Austria?

Peter V. Brett: Yeah, we started in Austria. I flew into Vienna earlier this week, did an event there last night, and then we flew here. And so I'll be going up to Berlin tomorrow and then down to Leipzig for the book festival. And then I'll head back home after that.

H.H.: Okay... Think that you will be done.

Peter V. Brett: Yeah. It's been a long week, but a good week.

H.H.: Thank you very much.

Peter V. Brett: Thank you.

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