You're way into this story, over 700 posts. Why haven't I heard about it until now?
Because while my insecurities don't stop me from writing, they stop me from seriously promoting the story online. Glad you found me nonetheless, and welcome!
So you've got a prequel that's incomplete (The Philosopher in Arms) and a sequel that's complete (asa kraiya: beyond the sword). What's up with that?
Well, two things. First, I wanted to offer something new for people who've read my dead-tree books before, right off the bat... that's asa kraiya. Second... I needed to finish asa kraiya for emotional and spiritual reasons. So I wrote and posted it, and it just took a shorter time than PA is taking.
My readership is divided between those who are holding off reading ak so as to get it all in order and those who went ahead and read it anyway. If you're a spoiler-hater, don't read ak yet.
Ahhh! There are a zillion unfamiliar names and dates and places in the text... is there a reference?
No worries! Yes! The Millennipedia aka M'Pedia. I should mention here that I put it together at the behest and with the help of my dear friend Melissa Gold. It has dictionaries for the story languages, characters (including pics of a few), place names, date and time systems, etc.
The M’pedia is a work perpetually under construction. If you feel there's something that isn't there but should be, please say so in comments or via email.)
Are there versions of the books available in e-book, print or printable download or other formats?
COMING!! PDF downloads first. I probably won't do e-book or print until I'm done writing PA, unless people twist my arm.
How about interacting with readers, are you into that?
I am totally into that.
When I started out, I emailed Alexandra Erin to pick her brain, and she warned me that going from trad publishing to weblit might be an adjustment, because I'd get immediate comments. To me that sounded like nirvana.
I was right, it is. I love interacting with readers. I have done character chats, I've done role-plays, I have characters in the books created by readers in RPs, I have thrown them problems with deadlines of a few hours and used their solutions, I've made dear friends with some. If you offer an idea and I like it, I will use it, guaranteed. At this point I would never go back to strictly trad publishing for that one reason: I love reader interaction so much.
Are you ever going to quit or go on hiatus without warning?
I am planning never to quit. You'll have to pry this keyboard from my cold, dead hands. I won't go on hiatus without any warning unless there's an emergency of some sort, and I'll explain it, plus tell you when I'll start posting again. If I know I'm not going to post when I usually do for some reason, I will let you know beforehand. If an extended power or Internet outage keeps me offline, I'll explain when I'm back.
I've read your published books and look... I really don't see how you can be writing a third one about Chevenga. I mean,
you killed him pretty dead at the end of Lion's Soul. Are you resurrecting him, a la Jesus, or is it reincarnation, or what?
Revised and expanded means just that: revised... and... expanded.
First revision is: delete the epilogue of Lion's Soul. The book now ends with this line: "This paragraph, it seems, is farewell." Now start reading asa kraiya.
How is the new version, The Philosopher in Arms, different from the old two-book series?
It is much longer, much more in-depth, much more detailed. There is more plot, more sub-plot, more violence, more strategy and tactics, more sex, more philosophy, more characters, more characterization of existing characters, more dialogue, more spirituality, more humour, more intensity--more everything. Oh, and a infinitely-larger amount of audience participation (because there was no audience participation in the paper version.) People who have read both say they like the new version better.
You bill asa kraiya as "a novel of transformation." Why?
The obvious answer is that it's about Chevenga's transformation. But sometime in early 2008, while doing preliminary work, I realized that Chevenga is not the only one who's going through a transformation. In some cases it's part of the plot (as with Esora-e) or in a flashback (as with Surya). In fact there's a whole culture that's going through a transformation... and further cultural transformations impend. Transformation, as those who have undergone it know, is contagious; one person transforming will transform those who are close almost automatically, or at the very least, the relationship. The upshot is that possibly every major character in the book might experience some sort of major change.
What do you feel about asa kraiya?
asa kraiya is the book that I cried when I finished, because that meant I had to quit writing it. It was kind of like, "Phew, it's over. Wait... it's over? Waaaaaaahhh..."
I usually plan my books, but this one I didn't except very generally, because twists kept coming to me. It kept surprising me. I really often didn't know what would happen next.
asa kraiya is right at the edge of what I am capable of writing, because it's right at the edge of what I am capable of understanding. I'm not sure I actually do entirely understand it, and wonder if I ever will, and that's part of why it's so fascinating to me.
Now that it's finished, I've begun to hear from readers how reading it has touched them personally and even caused transformations in their lives. This -- as well as telling an entertaining story -- is what I was hoping for, so it's deeply satisfying.
What inspired you to create Chevenga and his setting?
He came from something very deep in me, and he has many meanings; that's all I can say. The setting draws from all sorts of sources, including more than one culture from utopian fiction, and many facets of real cultures, both ancient and modern, that I found interesting.
But the world was created collaboratively, wasn't it?
Sort of. In the late 80s, Shirley Meier, S.M. Stirling and I noticed that we were all writing in a post-apocalyptic world, and so decided to combine our settings. Thus all the cultures were created individually but then set to rub up against each other. We published a cluster of books (series is the wrong word, because they are not linear) under the overall title "Fifth Millennium" (as they take place somewhere between A.D. 4,000 and 5,000) with Baen Books.
The whole series is nicely described, complete with images of all the covers, on this website. (You're right, S. Day: nothing is impossible.) Though a line on the back-cover blurb of Lion's Heart made it appear that I was writing in a world created by Shirley and Steve (Stirling), it was put in for sales reasons and is not actually true. The nations of Yeola-e, Laka, Tor Ench, Haiu Menshir and Arko were all my creations, though the other two authors sometimes offered ideas, and Shirley has been particularly interested in Arko more recently and has contributed a great deal to the development of it. So while Chevenga visits parts of Shirley's portion of the world, he otherwise lives entirely in settings created by me. (At least so far. You never know where he's going to go.)
There is one culture that is a true collaboration between Shirley and me: Anarktika, possibly the most interesting nation we've come up with so far. Stay tuned for more.
So Shirley Meier is posting a new Fifth Millennium book online too. What does that mean, "interlaces" with yours?
Yes, she is, it's entitled Eclipse Court, it's the story of Minis, the son of Kurkas Aan (the tyrant mentioned above) and it's here.
"Interlaces" means that we are each writing from the points of view of characters in the same world who interact with each other. So by reading both, you'll sometimes get the same scenes from different points of view. We'll be sure to cross-link when that happens.
Shirley and I have created scenes by role-playing them together for many years, and now we do it by
IM Google Wave Google Docs, so that each scene's dialogue is all in effect written beforehand.
At the moment we have plans for three fully-collaborative Fifth Millennium works: The Fool on the Mountain, The Games and Anarktika. See my "other works" page for lots more info. Stay tuned (but be patient).
How long have you been writing about Chevenga?
Since 1974 or so, when I was 13, though there was a lengthy hiatus right after I published the books, then another between 1999 and 2007. In all that time, he and I both have gone through a lot of changes.
Why did you come back to Chevenga after leaving him for a while?
Apparently I wasn’t finished saying everything I had to say using him as a character, and returning to it with greater knowledge and maturity I found I really enjoyed.
Are you going to keep this up indefinitely?
That's the plan. But you never know where life is going to take you. I won't attempt to post daily on two weblit works at once again, unless I make enough money at it to quit doing other paid work, because it was burning me out. If I ever lose my inspiration, I won't keep going just to keep going, because that just doesn't work either for a writer or for readers. I have lots of ideas, however.
Who are your literary influences?
First and foremost, Mary Renault with her stunning novels of ancient Greece. She was my writing goddess when I was a teenager. I aped her style unashamedly, and learned a lot. But there were many others including James Joyce, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., and Gene Wolfe. I couldn't help but be influenced by J.R.R. Tolkien, but not as much as many fantasy authors. My journalism training has to be counted as a literary influence, too. There are more recent influences, but these were the formative ones.
If you like Mary Renault so much, why don't you write an ancient Greece novel?
Funny you should ask... I am writing an ancient Greece novel. It's about Alexander the Great. Stay tuned. By the way, if you think anything ancient Greek and especially Alexander-related is cool, you'll enjoy the travel blog of my two-week trip to Greece in June 2008.
Who did the artwork on the website?
Combination of me and Larry Elmore, the artist who painted the covers for the two Baen Chevenga novels. For myself, I use a piece of software called FaceGen, which generates 3D human faces, and can also sample them from photos, allowing you to manipulate them in any way after that. I read Chevenga's face into it from Larry's painting for the front cover of Lion's Heart, and now have a template that I can use, with the aid of Corel PhotoPaint, part of CorelDraw Graphics Suite, to make Chevenga portraits. Check out the Millennipedia every now and then for new character shots.
Do the pictures of Chevenga really look like him?
Yes, exactly, or I don't post them. When I learned that Larry would be doing my cover art, I sent him a pencil sketch I had done of my protagonist. He clipped it to his easel and rendered it into colour quite exactly for Lion's Heart. The images I've done after running the face through FaceGen also match what's in my mind pretty well, with the further advantage that they look more like photos. The Chevenga faces I use for avatars and the book "cover" art, the profile on the FaceBook fan link and a few more I have up my sleeve were done that way.
So you do computer artwork, too?