Wednesday, June 1, 2011

An Interview with Fantasy Author David Forbes

Welcome to Up Around the Corner, David. Please, tell us a little about yourself and your writing.

I’m the author of the epic fantasy series THE OSSERIAN SAGA, published by HarperCollins, which began with THE AMBER WIZARD in 2006, followed by sequels THE WORDS OF MAKING and THE COMMANDING STONE.

The goal was to write a fantasy series chronicling the rise of monotheism in a polytheistic world and how religious belief can both unite different social and ethnic groups, as well as be used as a weapon to conquer others. As with most early writing goals, this one didn’t survive much beyond the first draft, and the tattered remnants that remained were drastically changed from the original concepts. Which is maybe a little too much info about this particular sausage making, but I’m nothing if not scrupulously honest and direct about my writing, except of course where such scrupulousness might affect me adversely, and then all bets are off. However, the original goals did begin to peek back in to varied degrees in the second and third volumes, so all was not lost.

The Saga also includes a large and varied cast of characters, some unique world building, and, of course, lots of fighting, magic, and an assortment of gargantuan action set pieces where lots of things are destroyed in spectacular ways in order to satisfy my lifelong fascination with explosions, mayhem, and destruction.

I live outside of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, with my wife and two sons, who drive me only moderately insane a handful of times each week.

David, could you tell us little bit the “sausage making”? What inspired or motivated you to drastically alter your original writing goals? What would you say your writing goals are today?

Well, the changes came about primarily from “theory” crashing headlong into “reality.” I had these lofty plans for an overarching theme of the novels, but when I got down to the nitty gritty of actually plotting everything out, some of the necessary plot details wouldn’t work out.

The rise of the Prophet of the One God was supposed to take place fairly early in the first book, which would give more time for Gerin to became involved with him and his teachings. But when I wrote THE AMBER WIZARD, there simply wasn’t room for that enormous subplot, so it had to go into book two. The original plan for that book then had to be pushed back since Gerin was now just learning about the religion rather than having been a member for several years. So while some of the thematic ideas are still present, they’re pretty different from what I first envisioned.

This is all just part of the writing process, especially with large epic fantasies that have story arcs that span several volumes. Original plans often get jettisoned or drastically altered. I’m not bothered or disappointed by the changes, but it does change my ideas of what the books were ultimately about.

My writing goals change book to book. My goal right now is just to get a few more under contract!

I’ve finished two young adult novels that were much easier to write because there wasn’t as much to create (i.e., I didn’t have to fashion an entire fantasy world from scratch). One of them is a stand-alone novel, which also makes the writing easier.

EVERWHEN is about a war between factions of angels arguing over God’s plan for the world and the fifteen-year-old boy caught in the crossfire because he has something both sides want. Thematically, it’s about our relationship with religious concepts and how zealotry in any form, from any side, is a really bad idea.

THE SAPPHIRE EYE concerns a teenage girl, Abbey Howard, who gets caught in the scheming of an immortal empress who lives in the original Garden of Eden, who is out to enslave mankind. Abbey has to fend off attacks from demons, undead soldiers, and a nasty spiritualist while keeping up her grades in high school and coming to terms with the discovery that the guy of her dreams is actually a witch.

The most recent novel I finished is an urban fantasy called THE RUTHLESS DEAD, about a half-angel security consultant who sometimes works with a secret government agency that guards against incursions from so-called Celestial dimensions. John has unique abilities that make him the target of a vampire who’s trying to free a Fallen Angel from a prison called the Abyss as part of a plot to take over Hell. John is forced to deal with rogue wizards, golems, a kidnapping, and a demonic possession, all while trying to keep his hot girlfriend from dumping him because his life is just too weird for her.

The novels you’re working to get under contract definitely sound interesting.

During your tenure as an author, how has the landscape changed for authors seeking to get works published? Has it become easier or more difficult to get a manuscript accepted, not only for established authors, but writers working to find a publisher for their first novel?

The biggest change is the world of ebooks. Publishers are both terrified of it (because of downward pressure on price) and thrilled by the thought of extending their “product” into the future on a new frontier of ereaders, like the Kindle, Nook, iPad, etc. No one is sure how this is going to shake out, or who will benefit (or lose) the most.

The collapsed economy hasn’t helped things either. The publishers are under even more pressure to hit home runs with every book, which means midlist authors like myself get squeezed for time, attention, money, publicity, and contracts. The whole landscape is rather dismal right now.

What aspect of storytelling do you find to be the most challenging? And, in your effort to become a published writer, were there any ‘rules of writing’ that you stretched or even broke along the way?

Characterization is always a struggle for me. I tend to create characters that don’t have a lot of problems or issues, which makes them seem more real to me as people but also rather bland. My characters seem real and unique to me, but I need to work more at making that realness and uniqueness evident to readers. It’s easy to give characters broad quirks and mannerisms and call that characterization — it’s a lot harder to give them real, subtle, and interesting traits that accumulate over the course of a novel by what they do, say, and how they react to things.

As for your second question, no, not really. I can’t think of any rules I stretched or broke. Sorry!

Absolutely nothing wrong with having never stretched or broken any ‘rules of writing’ in your path to publication.

David, can you identify a book or two that you number among your favorites, and explain why they hold that place with you?

That’s harder to do than you think! Here are a few (a lot more than two, but hey, it’s the Internet and I don’t think I’ll use up too many bits with this list!):

1. The Lord of the Rings — let’s get the obvious one out of the way. This is the granddaddy and an influence on all fantasy writers, regardless of what they might say. Either they’re writing something like it or deliberately trying to write something not like it.

2. Dune — A science fiction epic of the imagination (and yes, I even liked all of the sequels, at least the ones Frank Herbert wrote).

3. American Tabloid — one of the best novels about the sixties ever. Told in Ellroy’s blistering prose style, just before he turned said style into a cartoonish caricature of itself.

4. Anything by Michael Connelly. My favorite writer of the past several years, no one does plotting better, and he creates wonderful characters with a great economy of style.

5. Salem’s Lot — The first Stephen King book I ever read, when I was twelve or thirteen. It scared the living sh*t out of me and I couldn’t put it down. Still one of the best vampire novels ever written.

6. Valis — The ultimate head trip from Philip K. Dick, one of the most awe inspiring novels I’ve ever read.

I could go on for pages, but I’ll leave it with these, which were the first to come to mind, and so probably had the most affect on me.

I agree, narrowing it to two is a pretty difficult request. You’ve got a solid list if you ask me.

When you write, who do you see as your readers or audience, and does this have any influence on the novels you produce?

I honestly don’t think at all about who might be reading the book when I’m first writing it. I think, like most writers, I write to entertain myself. Sure, I want to have an audience, but my goal is to write a book I’d like to read that no one else has written yet. I like creating fun and weird and interesting characters, and dreaming up “that is so cool!” moments, whether they’re action scenes or examples of really cool magic.

Of course, before I start writing a book, I think about marketability. I’m writing for me, but ultimately I want to write a book that I can also sell. So in that respect I try to come up with ideas that I think will be popular.

For instance, my editor asked me to write an urban fantasy. I hadn’t given any thought to an urban fantasy, and wasn’t sure I wanted to write one. I looked through my story ideas folder and found some notes for a vampire novel tentatively titled Breathless that I’d written years before. I never found a solid story hook, so I just filed it away.

I got it out and started thinking about what I might be able salvage from it for a UF novel. I brainstormed and made lots of notes about (a) what I would like to see in an urban fantasy that I hadn’t, and (b) what would be marketable. Which isn’t the same as writing to a specific audience, but rather trying to figure out what will sell to a publisher.

After months of working on notes and then an outline, I ended up with the novel The Ruthless Dead, which my agent just read and really liked. Of course I need to make some revisions to it before it’s “editor friendly,” but that goes with the territory. The good thing is that the prose, characters, and overall story really work (according to him).

Thanks for the interview!

You're welcome, David. And thank you for taking the time to share your experience and a bit about your works!

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You can learn more about David Forbes and his writings at his website/blog: The Magic Echo Chamber

His works are available online ( and Barnes & Noble) and in bookstores. You won’t regret giving them a try.


  1. Wonderful Interview. David, good luck with your writing goals.

  2. Thanks for popping in and reading. David's works are pretty neat.

  3. Very entertaining interview. The books sound really interesting! Good luck with getting all of them published. I'll have to check out your fantasy series. Sounds great.

  4. Thanks for reading the interview, Angie. Yes, David's writing is pretty darn good.

  5. That interview got me interested in reading his books.

  6. His books are pretty thick, Sandy, but you burn through tombs in no time.