You've got more than a thousand posts on this site. 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!
Ahhh! There are a zillion unfamiliar names and dates and places in the text... is there a reference?
No worries! For Fifth Millennium (Chevenga et al.) there's 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.)
If you find something obscure in I, Alexander on the other hand, Google it. I have written on the assumption that readers can and will do that. This is one of the delightful pros of writing a historical piece.
Are there versions of the books available in e-book, print or printable download or other formats?
Coming, I am not sure when. I am trying for a commercial contract for IA.
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?
No to both. 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.
About I, Alexander: why Alexander the Great?
In short, his is the most fascinating real life I’ve ever come across.
Someone once said if he hadn’t existed, someone would have had to make him up, but my feeling is that if he hadn’t existed and a writer had made him up... no one would believe it.
“Built that huge an empire with so many different people in it... yeah, right. Won every battle over that long... sheeeyure. Stupid author, what are you trying to put over on us?” (I have Chevenga win a lot, but not nearly as much... his war-career is really two two-year stints, while Alexander went solid for eleven years, not counting what he did in his youth.) It’s why Alexander-detractors keep coming up with reasons it all wasn’t that impressive (“His dad built up the army, his enemies were incompetent, his historians exaggerated his victories,” etc. etc.)...it seems implausible. But it really happened—a great example of truth being more amazing than fiction, which I am relishing. I love writing about amazingness.
To historians, Alexander’s personality is a mystery, so much so that they can’t make up their minds whether he was a great hero or unmitigated evil. He was incredibly aggressive but at the same time oddly vulnerable, on one day savage, on another merciful and civilized; even his legacy was bipartite, enduring as stone in one way, utterly ephemeral in another. No one argues that he had enormous visions, incredible charisma and an outside-the-box mind, which are all things I love to portray in characters. I’ve had a lifelong fascination with ancient Greece and the ancient world in general as well, so of course, being a writer of the world-building kind, I am making that figure prominently as well.
What was it like to live that life, feel all those things, from the inside? How was Alexander a product of his culture, and what did he make of it himself? Who around him influenced him, what drove him? Who was he, really? It’s all too fascinating not to write about.
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.
How does I, Alexander compare to the Chevenga works?
Hard to answer as there isn’t a lot of IA yet, but the two obvious differences are a) it’s historical, so there’s no magic (unless you count things like omens and oracles as magic… people used them routinely back then) …and b) Alexander’s home culture is very very different from Chevenga’s. So they are different characters, though obviously there are a lot of similarities.
My writing process is very different, because for IA I have to draw from historical sources, not just make everything up. In some ways it’s easier. For instance, I don’t have to explain every single reference, as some of them persist into our own culture. So, say, if I have someone say to Alexander, after he sneaks into an enemy camp to steal a firebrand, “Who do you think you are—Prometheus? And how did that turn out for him?” I know that readers will either get the joke from their knowledge, or by Googling “Prometheus.” So I can inject a depth into the text by connecting with readers’ existing knowledge in a way you just can’t do in fantasy.
The downside, of course, is that I can be called on mistakes, which you can’t when you make it all up. That makes for a certain perfectionism, with the resultant extra work, stress of worry, and slower writing. I know that if it reaches a wide enough audience, I will have Alexander scholars (pro or amateur) who, due to their expertise, feel they own his story, saying I have it all wrong. Occupational hazard.
If you’re asking how IA racks up to the Chevenga books in terms of being a good read, I don’t have an answer. I’m the author, ergo too close to both. As of this writing (July 2014), I’m still developing the Alexander voice, so don’t have it down as well as Chevenga’s, or have as much comfort and confidence with it, which could make Chevenga a better read… for now.
If you like the variety of viewpoints you get with Chevenga, you might prefer it over IA, which so far has but the one. It is a source of anguish for me, for instance, that IA will have no Intharas Terren or Kaninjer of Berit. (How do you get a crusty newspaper editor or a healer from a totally pacifistic island into ancient Greece/Egypt/Persia/India?)
But, driven as I am by the writer’s overriding imperative, Make Things Interesting, I know I’ll find other ways I haven’t thought of yet. And IA will just get better with practice.
Besides, so much depends on taste and what you’re into. By switching genres I have lost a lot of readers, which I assume is because they’re science fiction-fantasy heads… but I plan to tap into an audience I never have before—the historical heads. That seems to be starting to happen.
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 was right at the edge of what I was capable of writing, because it was right at the edge of what I was capable of understanding. I'm not sure I actually do entirely understand it still, 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 marketing 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: Anardika, 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 Google Drive, so that each scene's dialogue is all in effect written beforehand.
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.
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.
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?