Interview with Lynn Flewelling!!

May 30, 2012

Casket of Souls, by Lynn FlewellingLynn Flewelling has been publishing novels since 1996, to worldwide acclaim.  She is the author of the Tamir Trilogy — which happens to be one of my favorite works of fantasy by anyone, anywhere in the galaxy, ever.  She is also the author of the critically acclaimed Nightrunner series, the newest installment of which, Casket of Souls, has just been released by Ballantine Spectra.  Finally, she is one of my favorite people and a good friend. Recently, Lynn graciously agreed to sit down with me and answer a few questions.
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DBC:  Thanks for joining us Lynn.  Why don’t you begin by telling us a bit about the new book?  Maybe give a brief description of the Nightrunner concept for those who have yet to start the series, and then tell us where this newest novel fits in.

LBF: Thanks for having me, David. We don’t have nearly enough chances to chat!

I’m terrible at describing my own work, but I’ll give it a go. The Nightrunner Series is a collection of interrelated stories revolving around two main characters. Seregil is a brilliant, roguish (and sexy, I’m told) spy and know-it-all with a dark past. a wounded heart, and plenty of flaws. I created him as a mix of Sherlock Holmes, Odysseus, the Scarlet Pimpernel, and Coyote.  Alec, the young man he literally picks up in a dungeon, was meant to be his Watson. Seregil quickly discovers Alec has a lot more potential than that. Alec is first his apprentice, then much more, including lover. He’s is a country boy with a quick mind, dangerous talent with a bow, and a reckless taste for danger that matches Seregil’s. Between the two of them, and with the occasional help of friends, they save the world, various smaller pieces of it, and the lives of friends and crowned heads — when not getting into trouble at taverns and brothels. Both of them have hidden pasts that gradually are revealed from book to book, and it is the characters that lie at the heart of all the stories. I write character-driven fiction, and there is a large cast who people the books.

Structurally, the series is episodic, rather than one long arc. I was inspired by the Sherlock Holmes canon (in more ways that one) which includes both short stories and novels. Nightrunner is a collection of two- and one-book arcs. There is a history that develops through the books, so jumping in in the middle of the series has some disadvantages, but it can be done.

Casket of Souls is the sixth in the series, and a free standing story. The main characters begin by investigating what appears to be rival factions trying to control the throne, but stumble across an entirely different threat. In the poor quarters people are being found in a catatonic state, eyes open and breathing, but otherwise lifeless. After a week or so, they die. As the “sleeping death” plague spreads, they delve into that, with very serious consequences.

DBC:  This is your sixth Nightrunner book.  Did you envision a series of this length from the beginning, or has the story grown in complexity as you’ve gone along?

LBF: I started out to write one book, years ago. That manuscript turned into the first duology, Luck in the Shadows and Stalking Darkness. Then I had an idea for a third, free standing book, Traitor’s Moon. I took a break after than and wrote the Tamír Trilogy, then went back with a new duology, Shadows Return and White Road. Casket of Souls is a stand alone, and the seventh and last Nightrunner book I’m working on, is another stand alone.

The fun thing about a long series with different story lines is how they develop and carry along their own history. I’ve had to flesh out whole countries, keep track of who has scars where, the impact of losing friends, the birth of children, political changes. The list goes on. It’s been tremendous fun doing it that way. It’s always new, always fresh. When I start a new book, I think “Well, what awful things can I do to the boys this time?”

DBC:  Can you tell us a little more about that seventh Nightrunner book?

LBF: The next, and last, book, tentatively titled Shards of Time, takes our heroes to the sacred island of Korous, which has been mentioned here and there over the years. Historically, it is where the first white settlers, the Hierophantic migration, established themselves a thousand years ago. Later they spread around the Inner Sea and founded three of the principal countries I work with: Skala, Plenimar, and Mycena. Skala and Plenimar are frequently at war, with Mycena caught in the middle like Belgium. Control of the sacred island is always an issue and it’s changed hands many times over the centuries. At the end of Casket of Souls, Skala regains control, and Shards of Time picks up with the grisly and mysterious murder of the new Skala governor of Korous. Seregil and Alec are sent to investigate and get into all sorts of wonderful trouble. And there are ghosts.

DBC:  You are known for creating memorable characters and spinning wonderful tales. But you are also known for populating your stories with characters who challenge traditional notions of gender and sexuality.  Can you tell us why you have followed this path?  What is it about challenging these social and cultural “norms” that you find compelling?

LBF: In my own life I’ve always been deeply concerned with and fascinated by real world issues of gender identity, sexuality, and equality. I guess I work that out in my writing. There are things I want to say about the way things could or should be. It’s not the central theme of the Nightrunner series, though the relationship between Seregil and Alec is certainly an important aspect, but it’s not what the story’s about. When I conceived of these characters back in the 80s, most of the gay characters I saw in fiction were either victims or villains. But author Mary Renault made some of her fictional heroes gay, or drew on historical fact, as with her Alexander books. I really admire those books, and she inspired me to try my hand at creating gay heroes that a mainstream audience could appreciate, as well as gay readers.

On the other hand gender identity plays a very central role in the Tamír Trilogy as poor Tobin/Tamír is yanked unwillingly between genders. Where does personhood end, and gender begin? That, to me, is a very important question.

DBC:  Not too long ago, you published Glimpses, a collection of short stories set in the Nightrunner universe.  Not all novelists feel comfortable shifting back and forth between short fiction and novels.  Personally, I have been writing a lot more short fiction recently and finding that it has helped me hone my craft for all forms of fiction.  What do you enjoy about writing short form, and how do you feel it has influenced your writing?

LBF: I’m not much of a short story writer. I usually like a larger canvas. But there were bits and pieces of history about various characters that I wanted to explore, and short stories were the best way to do that. I used to write for newspapers and the byword there was “Write right. Write tight.” The same goes for short fiction. You can carry that over into long form fiction, by tightening the writing, making careful choices, and only using elements that advance the plot. It’s a good exercise in disciplined writing.

DBC:  With all you do, you probably don’t have a ton of time for recreational reading, but what is on your to-read pile right now?  Do you tend to read more in the fantasy/SF genre or outside of it?

LBF: As you say, my recreational reading time is at a premium. But I do read inside and outside the genre. As far as sf/f, I usually read books of friends and writers I know. Most recently: Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear, The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, and Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon. And of course, your wonderful Thieftaker [written under the name D.B. Jackson]! I also read a lot of non fiction, much of which is grist for the writing mill. What’s on my reading pile right now? Thich Nhat Hanh’s Old Paths, White Clouds, his biography of the Buddha; a Josh Lanyon mystery; Christopher Isherwood’s book on writing; a soon to be published sf novel by a friend, which I’m blurbing; and my worn and much loved collection of Sherlock Holmes stories. Those are my number one comfort read, and I’m going back to old favorites to sustain me between episodes of the second season of the BBC’s Sherlock series.

DBC:  You have guest posted several times at the Magical Words blogsite  writing about the craft and business of writing.  What simple advice would you give to aspiring writers looking to break into the fantasy market right now?

LBF: Be aware of what’s out there, but write your own story, the one that moves and excites you. If you try to “write for market” you’ll probably fail and not have as much fun doing it. If you love urban fantasy, or steampunk, or post apocalyptic giant centipede stories, then try your hand at that. But do what you love, not what you think you should do.

DBC:  Last question:  If you could spend a single day as any character you’ve ever read, who would it be and why?

LBF: Hmm. There are a lot. But off the top of my head, Will Halloway from Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. That’s one of my all time favorite books, one of the most beautiful I’ve ever read. I love it in part because it captures a great deal of my own small town childhood. Will and his friend Jim are not far off from me and mine. The story is like my childhood intermingled with my own fantasies come to light. I remember those yearly carnivals that would roll into town with their stock of babies in jars and tired hoochie coochie dancers trying to entice the local men into a tent to see something they couldn’t see at home. They were dark and seedy and exotic, those carnivals, and a little wicked around the edges. There is a delicious taste for darkness in that book, one that I share. And Will is a hero. He saves his friend and his town.

DBC:  Thanks so much for taking the time with us today.

LBF: Thanks for having me and asking such great questions!

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