fireun: (wordslinger)
Benjamin Tate has taken a moment of his time to chat with me and answer some questions. While the web doesn't easily facilitate the intimate conversation over coffee and soft jazz sort of ambiance, take a minute to sit down and read what he has to say about his new book Well of Sorrows and writing.

[ profile] fireun - What draws you to epic fantasy as a genre?

[ profile] benjamintate - What draws me to epic fantasy is what drew me as a kid into READING epic fantasy, and that's a world in which magic makes it possible for anything to happen. As a kid, I'd revel in the idea that there was another place out there, a world in which magic truly worked. This idea set my mind afire with the possibilities . . . and it was always much more interesting then what was happening in school. As I grew older, and decided that I wanted to write my own stories using some of those fantastic ideas, I realized that the magic and the world they were set in didn't work that well unless there was a good dose of reality mixed in with the magic. But that came later. In the end, I chose epic fantasy because I needed that size and scope to accommodate all of the ideas I had.

[ profile] fireun - You have done some fascinating things with familiar fantasy ideas like elves and dwarves. How did you come up with all those little nuances that made the cultures in the book so unique and rich?

[ profile] benjamintate - What, and reveal all of my trade secrets!?!?! *grin* No, no. I'll spill. Basically, all fantasy writers steal from the real world to help create that realism I talked about in the first question. That's essentially what I do when I'm creating a new culture, such as the dwarren and the Alvritshai in WELL OF SORROWS. So, the dwarren lived on the plains. I took a look at Native American cultures that lived on the plains and tried to incorporate that same kind of flavor into the dwarren. You have to be careful when you do this, because you don't want to offend any particular real-world culture when you do this, so I don't model the entire culture after them, I pick a few interesting details. So my dwarren have beads woven into their beards, and their shamans use sceptres with feathers and rattlesnake tails tied to them. Then I look elsewhere and try to draw in other things that make the dwarren distinct, usually things involving their surroundings. They live on the plains, but I didn't want them to use teepees or anything like that. So I played with how they live on the plains, what their houses looked like, taking into account WHY they are on the plains in the first place (which has to do with their religion). In the end, once you start molding and shaping all of these little things into one solid whole, you come up with something that's familiar in one sense, and yet totally different.

[ profile] fireun - Colin goes through some rough times, and manages to stay a good guy. I know that was one of the reasons I liked him as a protagonist. What do you like best about him?

[ profile] benjamintate - HA! Well, I guess what I like best about him is that he doesn't seem to fit in anywhere in particular . . . and he's OK with that. He's human, but in WELL OF SORROWS we see that he doesn't fit in with even people his own age. It provides some conflict, and that conflict continues even as he gets older. So in some sense he's removed himself from human society. For a while, he finds a place with the Alvritshai society, although even then he doesn't quite fit in, and eventually he finds himself alone again. I think that is the strongest personality component that Colin shares with me, and so that's probably why I like him so much. I find that I am never really an integral part of any one place or one group, that I may be a part of the group for a while, but then things change and I move on.

[ profile] fireun - You gave us some particularly nasty antagonists in Well. What do you think makes the best sort of 'bad guy'?

[ profile] benjamintate - Ah, the best bad guy is the one who has real reason and motivations for what they're doing. They aren't just being "bad" for the sake of being bad. They're evil because they firmly believe that what they are doing is the only way they can get whatever it is that they want. They need to have their own motivations, and the hardest part of writing for me is making those motivations believable to the reader. I want you to understand exactly how and what they are thinking and why they're behaving the way they're behaving, even if you would never act or behave that way yourself. Often, I personally would never behave the way some of the antagonists behave, which is what makes it hard to make them believable in the first place.

I have a really, really hard time reading a book in which the evil characters are there and acting simply for the sake of being evil.

[ profile] fireun - There is some beautiful and dangerous magical elements in Well. How hard is it to sit down and not only develop but convincingly write a magical theory for a fantasy novel?

[ profile] benjamintate - I think the hardest part of creating a magical theory for a fantasy novel IS making it believable, and I've found the easiest way to make the magic feel "real" is to make it subtle and not overdo it. There shouldn't be massive whiz-bangs and whistles to magic. Readers tend to take that as "unreal" because it's too showy. So keep the magic simple, keep it subtle (even when it's very powerful), and above all make the magic limited in some way. In other words, magic shouldn't be easy for the characters to use; there needs to be consequences and those consequences need to echo the power of the magic itself. If you've just used magic to cause a major earthquake, you can't have the consequence be that the character sneezes.

As for how I develop the magic when I write . . . I tend to let the magic grow as I write. Most of my characters are introduced to magic and then must learn about it, typically on their own, without a Master or teacher. This allows me to explore the magic system as the characters explore it, and it gives the magic an additional sense of realism (while at the same time leaving plenty of room for expanding the magic later on if I need to). Then, as the book progresses, I begin imposing limits on the magic. The character may try to do something and finds out that it doesn't work that way (usually with some devastating consequences). So the development of the magic is slow and exploratory.

[ profile] fireun - Honestly now, did you ever play Oregon Trail? I know I want to go back and play it after reading Well.

[ profile] benjamintate - *grin* I can honestly say I've never played Oregon Trail, although now I want to go find the game and see why you'd want to play it after reading WELL OF SORROWS. I'm a heavy duty game player, mostly board games and such (like Ticket to Ride, Alhambra, Settlers of Catan, etc), so any new game or puzzle always intrigues me.

Well of Sorrows is Benjamin Tate's first book and is out tomorrow. Go forth and acquire a copy! Book Depository has it listed, on sale, and free shipping worldwide (and are excellent booksellers to work with!)

March 2015

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