Interview with Joshua Palmatier

January 29, 2008

Joshua PalmatierFor today’s post, I’d like to introduce you to a cyber-friend of mine, fantasy author, mathematics professor, and all around cool guy, Joshua Palmatier.  Josh recently released the third and final volume of his first trilogy, and in between his teaching responsibilities and working on his next fiction project, he took some time out to answer a few questions about his work.  

DBC:  First off, Josh, why don’t you give us a brief introduction.  Who are you?  What do you write?  How did you come to be an author of fantasy? 

JP:  I’m a mathematics professor who also writes fantasy novels, which is an odd combination, I know.  I have three books out from DAW at the moment:  The Skewed Throne, The Cracked Throne, and The Vacant Throne.  Obviously they’re part of a series.  I’m also working on a new book called Well of Sorrows, the start of a new series set in the same world as the Throne of Amenkor books.  I’ve also dabbled with short stories, none published, which for some reason tend to be more science fiction related, unlike the full-length novels.  I don’t think it was a surprise to anyone that I became a writer, since I’ve been reading since as far back as I can remember, almost always fantasy, science fiction, and mystery.  But it was an eighth-grade English teacher who set me on the road to writing.  She’d assigned a one page short story for class that had to be “Twilight Zone-ish”.  I ended up writing a story called “Aquantico” about a man looking out the porthole of a spaceship as it blasts off from his homeland, watching as it’s being destroyed by an insurgent ocean.  Yes, yes, it was an Atlantis rip off.  *grin*  But the teacher wrote a note saying that it was well written and that I should write more.  I think I heard an audible *click* in my head at that point, and I’ve been writing ever since. 

DBC:  You recently released THE VACANT THRONE, the third book in what you call the Throne of Amenkor series.  Without giving too much away for readers who might be interested in going back to read the first two volumes, THE SKEWED THRONE and THE CRACKED THRONE, can you tell us something about the series and about how this third book fits into the story arc? 

JP:  I can’t give away anything, huh?  Hmm . . . Well, the series is centered around one main character, a young girl named Varis, a thief living in the slums of the city called Amenkor.  The books are about how she learns to survive in the slums, about how she manages to escape them by becoming an assassin, and about how she reacts when she’s hired to kill the Mistress of the city, who sits on the Skewed Throne.  The throne contains all of the personalities of everyone who has ever touched it, including all of the previous Mistresses . . . and at this point in time, there are so many personalities in the throne that it’s essentially insane.  The books are gritty and filled with a lot of morally ambiguously questions that don’t often have nice answers, if they have answers at all.  Most of the those questions deal with death, and whether it’s right to take another life, if ever.  But they also touch on social issues such as privilege and power, mainly dealing with the Throne of Amenkor itself.  By the time we reach the The Vacant Throne in the series, the focus of the series has shifted from Varis’s personal struggle to survive, to the survival of the entire coast, which is under attack by an invading force from the sea. 

DBC:  Each book in a trilogy presents its own challenges for a writer.  A first book has to draw the reader in, get them excited about the world, the characters, the various plot threads, while also setting up conflicts and issues for the next two volumes.  The second book has to maintain the momentum of the first, while also giving readers a sense that progress in being made toward a final resolution, but not so much progress that there’s nothing left for book three.  What challenges did you encounter while writing book three of your series?  How did you resolve those challenges, and were you pleased with the final product? 

JP:  Gah!  I’d have to say that book three was the hardest to write.  I personally enjoy writing the second parts of trilogies the best, because that’s where everything goes to hell, and that’s always fun.  In the third book, you have to take the mess you created in book two and fix it.  Somehow.  I’m an “organic” writer, which means that I have a very rough idea of what happens in each book, and even that tends to change as I write, so taking all of the threads–all of the characters and plot–and somehow making it all come together with a nice resolution . . . that’s the biggest challenge.  For The Vacant Throne, I really just let the characters resolve the challenges for me.  I have to admit that my idea of what the book would be about, and the characters’ ideas, were completely different.  By the time I reached the halfway point of the first draft, I realized that everything I thought would happen was garbage, so I just let go and the characters finished the book for me.  In the end, it was a much better book than I had originally imagined and I’m extremely happy with the results. 

DBC:  When you’re not writing books, you’re a math professor, of all things.  Most people would assume that a math professor would be more interested in science fiction than fantasy.  Two questions:  First, do you also write SF, and if so what kind of issues do you focus on?  Second, in what ways, if any, does your work in mathematics influence your approach to fantasy, worldbuilding, magic, and the other aspects of writing the kinds of books you write? 

JP:  I have not yet written a science fiction novel, but I have one brewing.  Up to now, I’ve mainly written science fiction shorts.  Most of those deal with how science might highlight the problems of a character’s life in the future, such as how a literal “window” into the past might reveal to a man why his marriage ended in divorce.  Since these are shorts, they tend to be focused more on how science affects the individual, rather than a society.  As for how math influences my approach to fantasy . . . I’d have to say they influence each other.  In fantasy, even though there’s magic involved, that magic has to satisfy basic rules and those rules have to make sense.  Math provides many different structures that can be used as the basis for a magical system.  It also helps with more basic things like logical plot lines, and keeping all of those plot threads organized.  There’s more structure required for fantasy novels than it appears at first glance.  On the other hand, fantasy has to be creative to be interesting, and in order to do anything new in mathematics, you have to be creative, you have to think outside the box.  So writing fantasy keeps my mind creative enough that I can come up with innovative new approaches to solving mathematical problems.  So I think the two go better together than most would think. 

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2 Responses to “Interview with Joshua Palmatier”

  1. Brian said

    His books sound interesting, I might check them out.

    When choosing a book to buy I pay a lot of attention to the cover art. I t may seem weird, but Ive found that when I like the cover art I like the story better too. Its been that way since I started reading fantasy. Do authors get to approve the cover art on their novels? Or is that something the publisher has control of?

  2. davidbcoe said

    Hi, Brian. Thanks for the question. Publishers do have control over jacket art and depending upon the publisher and a writer’s relationship with his editor, that can be a difficult thing, or no problem at all. I’m fortunate in that I have a fair amount of input on my covers. When I turn in a manuscript, I give my editor ideas of scenes that I think would make for a good cover. He is generally receptive to these suggestions and more often than not, one of those scenes ends up on the cover of my book. I also get to see sketches and offer some input on them. Overall though, the publisher selects the artist and has final approval on any jacket art.

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