Author Interview – Chris Wraight

Monday, monday, monday. Another monday, another interview. Today it is Chris Wraight, long-time freelance writer for Black Library, who takes a stroll through these parts and talks about how he got started and his works: past, present and future.

As most of you know, and for those who don’t, Chris wrote the phenomenal Battle of The Fang novel for the Space Marine Battles series, and has also had great success in Warhammer Fantasy with his Warhammer Heroes novels and his Empire Army novels. Chris has also taken tentative steps into the Horus Heresy series with his short story Rebirth, featuring the Thousand Sons and by all accounts, 2012 looks like it is going to be a great year for him.

So here’s Chris himself!

Shadowhawk: How did you get started with writing for Black Library and what attracted you to the two Warhammer settings?

Chris: A long time ago, almost out of the blue, I submitted a short story for an open competition BL was running. I was invited to work it up for publication, with the result that it appeared in the Invasion! anthology. A couple of novels followed, about which it’s probably kindest to say that they, er, showed some potential. Thankfully the editors at Black Library persevered, and since Iron Company I’ve begun to feel quite a bit more at home in the Old World.

Shadowhawk: You are a veteran for Warhammer Fantasy with quite a few novels and short stories under your belt. Which format do you prefer over the other?

Chris: Novels are what it’s all about, really. Shorter fiction is less stressful to write and offers opportunities to do cool things, but in terms of author satisfaction there’s nothing quite like looking at the spine of a finished book sitting on your bookshelf. They’re tough to plot out and infuriatingly hard to finish, but absolutely worth it in the end.

Shadowhawk: Battle of the Fang, your Space Marine Battles novel featuring the Space Wolves and Thousand Sons is lauded as one of the best in the series. How did you approach the material and what inspired you to take on this particular event?

Chris: I was asked by Nick Kyme to draw up a proposal for Battle of the Fang. I believe the story was slated to be part of the Space Marine Battles series right from the start, but scheduling issues meant that it went without an author for quite a while. Since starting out with Black Library I’d always been keen to try writing 40K, and I’d previously been given a try-out with the short story Runes in one of the Space Marine anthologies, so when the chance came to work on the project I leapt at it.

In some ways, doing a Space Marine Battles book was an ideal first outing for a novel-length project, as the basic plot for it already existed. In most other respects, though, it was a hard story to write. The Space Wolves are about as popular a faction as any, and at the time of writing the book they hadn’t had a novel featuring them for a while. I knew that Prospero Burns would be out beforehand, which was bound to be a massive event. There were also elements of the story – such as the starting premise and Magnus turning up – that were very difficult to know how to handle. I spent a lot of time thinking about how to draw everything together (which made the book quite late), so it’s nice that many readers seem to have enjoyed the end result. You’re never going to satisfy everyone about every aspect of your take on something, particularly when some fans have a very clear idea about how certain events should pan out before even picking up the book, but the majority of the feedback has been encouraging.

Shadowhawk: How much inspiration did you draw from Dan’s Prospero Burns and Bill’s Ragnar novels? Did you communicate with either of them for this project?

Chris: I spoke to Dan a number of times while writing, and he was enormously helpful. Prospero Burns was finished off while I was about halfway through Battle of the Fang, and I made quite a few changes to the drafts to try to reflect his (incredible) reimagining of the Wolves. I also read, and re-read, the first four Space Wolf books, which were similarly useful in getting a feel for the Chapter. I’d like to think that while my Space Wolves incorporate concepts from both Bill’s and Dan’s treatment of them, they have a few features of their own too. One of the nice things about working in a shared universe, after all, is the chance you get to leave some ideas of your own out there.

Shadowhawk: Your next novel for Warhammer 40,000 is another Space Marine Battles novel, this time featuring the Iron Hands. You have previously written a short story for them in Hammer & Bolter. Why the Iron Hands?

Chris: No one else was doing them. J

Shadowhawk: Both the Iron Hands and the Space Wolves are non-traditional chapters who diverge quite a bit from the Codex Astartes and have some very strong ideologies of their own carried over from the days of the Great Crusade and the Horus Heresy. What has it been like to delve into their unique culture and their psyche?

Chris: The Space Wolves are a very popular and a very likeable Chapter: they’re dynamic, individual, and occupy a unique space in the 40K mythos. The Iron Hands are the opposite: they’re grim, agonised and gloomy. That makes the Wolves far easier to write about, since you have some of the material for creating characters to identify with. The Iron Hands are more difficult. In some ways, that’s a more satisfying challenge – making the unlikeable interesting. In Wrath of Iron, the Iron Hands don’t pull any punches – they’re not nice, they’re not nuanced and they’re not misunderstood. Just as some Traitor Legions embody a lot of admirable features, some Loyalists really are pretty screwed up, and the Iron Hands are about as badly damaged as they come. There are, however, stories to be told about how and why they came to be the way they are, and how they relate to the rest of the Imperium.

Shadowhawk: Ludwig Schwarzhelm and Kurt Helborg are getting their second outing in the upcoming novel Swords of the Emperor. These two are also among the first heroes of the Old World to be featured in the Warhammer Heroes novels. How did you get started with both of them?

Chris: Writing for Schwarzhelm and Helborg was great, as neither character had a huge amount of worked-out background already in print. I took the text in the Empire Army Book as the starting point, together with the fantastic artwork, and tried to give each of them proper personalities. They’re very different men: Schwarzhelm’s dour, reserved and only really good at a certain kind of fighting, whereas Helborg’s accomplished, brash and a more natural leader of men. Of all the projects I’ve written for Black Library, I probably enjoyed the two Swords books the most, mostly due to the freedom I felt I had with the story and characters.

Shadowhawk: What can you tell us about Swords of the Emperor itself?

Chris: Swords of the Emperor is an anthology containing the novels Sword of Justice and Sword of Vengeance. It will also contain the short stories ‘Feast of Horrors’ (featuring Schwarzhelm) and ‘Duty and Honour’ (starring Helborg). The second of those is new for the anthology, and sees Kurt in action in Bretonnia.

Shadowhawk: You have written extensively for the Empire before so how was the experience writing for the High Elves in your novella Dragonmage? Will there be any possible sequels to the story contained therein?

Chris: Writing Dragonmage was actually quite hard, as it turned out, and the novella ended up going through a couple of drafts. Nick Kyme, my editor for that one, had a lot of input into the finished result and improved it hugely. I guess the issue was largely down to switching between the Empire, which is a low fantasy setting, and the world of the High Elves, which is a bit more epic and mythical. It’s been good to read the feedback to the final product, though, which squeezed quite a lot of story into a relatively short package and seems to have gone down well. I don’t expect we’ll see a sequel, although I’ll be writing High Elves again as part of the War of Vengeance series. The first book in that sequence will be Nick’s The Great Betrayal. My follow-up has the provisional title Master of Dragons, and, as you’d expect, has a whole lot of fire-breathing, stuntie-crushing action planned for it.

Shadowhawk: Any plans to tackle the Horus Heresy? And what faction, event, character would you like to explore next?

Chris: Nothing that’s ready to talk about, I’m afraid. In terms of future projects in general, I’ve got High Elves, Space Wolves and White Scars all on the horizon.

Shadowhawk: With the Games Day 2011 Anthology, we got the first peak into Luthor Huss in your short story The March of Doom. The novel itself is coming out next month. Warrior Priests are not like the other soldiers of the Empire, so what was it like to get into the psyche of one?

Chris: I took the view that if Fantasy had Space Marines in it, then Huss would be one. Warrior Priests share the same asceticism, devotion and martial prowess – they even look a bit the same. Huss isn’t quite your average Warrior Priest, though; he’s a bit more extreme than most, and more interesting too. The tone set in The March of Doom is very much the same as that in Luthor Huss, so anyone who enjoyed the anthology story will hopefully like the novel too. Huss is a bit like Schwarzhelm, but with an added dose of religious fervour. He’s another one of those uncompromising, brutal characters that Warhammer seems to generate. As ever, the interest in such a character come from why someone would end up like that, and there’s a good deal too on the nature and limitations of faith.

Shadowhawk: Who and/or what has been the biggest influence on your writing?

Chris: Some of the influences you end up with aren’t that helpful. I think I’ve inherited a strong dose of Tolkienese from being obsessed with The Lord of the Rings as a child. I love Tolkien, but I don’t really want to write like him. I still do from time to time, unfortunately, but it’s something I’m working on. Otherwise, I admire a lot of different writers, most of whom have little in common with one another. Right now I’m reading a very good book by Margaret Atwood on science fiction, which is already giving me ideas.

Shadowhawk: Have any of your characters ever challenged you straight up or otherwise while writing them?

Chris: Lots do. I found writing Space Wolves very hard. Space Marines in general are hard. Elves are quite hard, too. Actually it’s all quite difficult, now I come to think about it.

Shadowhawk: What helps you get into the writing mindset?

Chris: Ah, that depends. Some days it all seems to work well, and I get up from the desk having typed several thousand words of stuff I’m quite pleased with; others, it’s a challenge getting anything on the page. I listen to a lot of film scores when I’m writing, partly to try to get into the right frame of mind. A good Black Library book should be a bit filmic, I think. For Wrath of Iron, that ended up being the OST from Christopher Nolan’s two Batman films. Suitably dour.

Shadowhawk: What are you looking forward to the most in terms of your own work for 2012?

Chris: Getting back to writing about dragons, and writing an encounter between two gentlemen, one of whom may or may not be Horus, the other of whom may or may not be the Khan.

Shadowhawk: Anything else happening this year you are absolutely stoked for?

Chris: Um. The Olympics?

Shadowhawk: If all your leading characters got into a cross-universe deathmatch, who would you root for and why?

Chris: A secondary character called Pieter Verstohlen, who first popped up in Sword of Justice. He wouldn’t last five minutes of course, but I’d hope he’d find a way to hang in there a bit longer than anyone expected. One day, if the stars align, he’ll get another novel. In fact, I’d love him to have a whole series (though don’t hold your breath for that).

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I hope you all enjoyed that interview folks. Coming later this week is the January (Black Library) Artwork Round-up and a blogpost on ePublishing, so stay tuned through the week!

Author Interview – Josh Reynolds

Mondays, mondays, mondays. Always the same, yet so exciting, at least over here on the Bloghole. Just like all the mondays before, we have a new author interview for you folks, this week’s guest of honour being Josh Reynolds. Josh is one of Black Library’s most recent authors, having joined just last year and already moving on to some truly great things as you will find out in the interview below.

Josh is quite the prolific writer and works on both fiction and non-fiction, within any genre or style that he fancies. He started off for Black Library through the monthly Hammer & Bolter eZine and has a full-length novel set in the Warhammer Fantasy setting coming out in March, with another just-as-exciting-if-not-more novel coming out next year in January. In the meantime, I’m sure he will be delighting us with more great fantasy tales in the Old World.

Shadowhawk: You are one of the recent additions to the line-up of authors writing for Black Library. How did it come about?

Josh: Luck and happenstance. I was scrounging around for submission opportunities and ran across BL’s guidelines. I figured it was worth a shot, so I knocked out a novel pitch that day and submitted it. The editors liked it and the rest you know.

I sound like I’m making light of it, but to me at the time it was just one more pitch in a weekly volley.  I was surprised as anything when they got back to me.

Shadowhawk: What is the Warhammer Fantasy setting like compared to some of the other settings you have worked in? What would you say is the charm of the Old World?

Josh: That it has none? Charm, I mean. It’s a nasty, brutish place where the doomsday clock is always five seconds to midnight and the wolf is at the door of the world. That’s a pretty far cry from most other modern fantasy settings out there, which is why I like it, I suppose. Too, I’m a big fan of Karl Edward Wagner, Fritz Leiber and Michael Moorcock and their respective settings, which are all similar sort of places.

Also, it was an easier setting to set a book in for someone who has a limited and out of date knowledge of the established lore. The meta-story of Warhammer Fantasy hasn’t changed much when you compare it to how the 40k universe has evolved in the past few years. There’s less to catch up on, and frankly, I’m lazy.

Shadowhawk: You have had three short stories published through the Hammer & Bolter eZine, one of which is also in the Age of Legend anthology. What can you tell us about them?

Josh: Well, lessee…The First Duty (from H&B issue 6) is a prequel to Knight of the Blazing Sun. It features the protagonist, Hector Goetz, in his first outing as fully-fledged knight of the Order of the Blazing Sun – the repercussions of which reverberate through the novel. I was asked to write it as a lead-in to the book, and a section of it appears in the book, albeit altered a bit. Really, I was just trying to hit the beats and tropes of a good Warhammer story with it. I was testing my muscles, so to speak.

The Gods Demand (H&B issue 11 and Age of Legend) was a funny one, because it was actually completely different initially. The basic plot was the same, but the story was much less bleak. Unfortunately, about a week after I’d written it and sent it in, I ran across the Beastman army book and saw that there was a three or four page bit of text that described the fall of Hergig in detail. Not having read this previously, I, of course, wrote something completely different. So, I had to re-write The Gods Demand and in a hurry.  Other than that, I will say that I’d love to write Gorthor again…I picture him as a sort of beastman equivalent to Robert E. Howard’s Bran Mak Morn – the last true king of a degenerate and devolving people.

And finally, Dead Calm, which has a vampire pirate (vam-pirate) in it, as well as a cod-Italian necromancer and a variety of sea-beasties. Because I didn’t realize that anyone remembered Fell Cargo. Anyway, this story is tangentially tied in to Knight of the Blazing Sun. The protagonist, Erkhart Dubnitz, Knight of Manann, boisterous bruiser and Brian Blessed impersonator, is a secondary character in the book, and editor Christian Dunn liked him so much, he suggested that I write a story or two about him. So I did.

Shadowhawk: Knight of the Blazing Sun comes out in next month and is your first full novel for Black Library. What attracted you to the Knightly Orders?

Josh: Honestly, it was the fact that they hadn’t really been written about, barring the Reiksguard and the Knights of the White Wolf. I figured going for a group that (a) hadn’t been touched and (b) had miniatures available was a good bet as far as attracting an editor’s interest. Also, (c) is (or was) a playable class in the Warhammer MMORPG meaning there might be a good many folks who’d impulse buy the book, should it be published. That sounds a bit mercenary, but I like to play the strong odds when I submit a pitch.

As far as what attracted me to the Order of the Blazing Sun itself, well, mainly that they weren’t Sigmar-worshippers, oddly enough. I wanted to explore how a group acting under a more-Moderate? Pragmatic?-doctrine might approach the Long War with Chaos. Too, there’s been almost nothing written about them save the basic ‘went to the Crusades, found a goddess, brought her home’ bit, so I figured I’d be free to get creative with the Order’s quirks and ethos.

Also, I’m a fan of big ol’ crazy-ass helmets.

Shadowhawk: It was announced recently that you are working on a Time of Legends trilogy featuring Neferata, queen of the Lahmian Vampires and also the progenitor of the lords of the other bloodlines as well. How did that come about?

Josh: I was offered the gig and I took it. Beyond that, I have no idea why they decided I was the dude to tackle it. But I’m glad they did…I got student loans to pay off.

Shadowhawk: Any more Warhammer short stories planned for Hammer & Bolter this year?

Josh: One at the moment…Stromfels’ Teeth is a follow-up to “Dead Calm”, featuring Erkhart Dubnitz fighting shark-monsters and shark-cultists during a shark-holiday. Also, there are sharks.

Shadowhawk: Given the chance, which faction, character or event would you like to write about for Warhammer 40,000?

Josh: Offhand, I’d love to write something with the Celestial Lions space marine chapter…heroic, if naive, idealists who cross the wrong Inquisitor and pay for it with the very legacy of their chapter. That’s pathos that is. Box office gold.

Shadowhawk: Your body of work outside of Black Library is immense: nearly a hundred short stories, six novels and a score of non-fiction titles. How do you manage it all?

Josh: I’m a workaholic and I have excellent time-management skills. Also, I’m a relatively quick writer, which comes in handy, what with deadlines and such.

Shadowhawk: How would you introduce readers of Black Library fiction to your other work?

Josh: Well, I write a lot of different stuff so there’s bound to be something the hypothetical reader would enjoy…if you like steampunk and/or Robocop, there’s the Mr. Brass stories. If you like steampunk, but NOT Robocop, but you do like Aztecs and/or alternate histories and detectives, there’s the “Strange Affairs…” stories. If you’re a fan of occult detectives, I’ve got a slew of stories featuring Charles St. Cyprian, Royal Occultist and his snarky sidekick Ebe Gallowglass. Like Sherlock Holmes pastiches? I’ve written a few of those. Public domain pulp characters? I got you covered. Lovecraftian fiction? Done a fair bit of that too. Really, if you like genre fiction of any stripe, I’ve got something you’ll like.

In fact, if anyone reading this has their interest perked by any of the things mentioned above, they can send me a request via the Bolthole and I’ll shoot them a PDF sampler of some of those stories, free of charge.

How’s that for an introduction?

Shadowhawk: What is the writing process like for you?

Josh: It’s a bit like building a piece of machinery, honestly. It’s not a very creative process…I tend to write out an outline and then I write chunks of that outline (usually whatever bit interests me the day in question), occasionally stopping to see how it all fits together and whether I need to trim or extend anything. I work eight hours a day at the computer and then another three to four with a notepad. I also tend to work on two or three things at once, so on any given day I’ll work on a book for four hours or two thousand words, whichever comes first, and then I’ll switch over to a short story or a book review or even another book for the next four hours.

In the evenings, I’ll sit with a notepad and scratch out notes on edits I need to make or draft out scenes to write the next day or I’ll plot out the next few chapters, just to double-check that the outline is still holding its shape.

After I’m finished with a given bit of work, I’ll let it sit for a day or three, and then I’ll go back and tear it apart over the course of a day, making any changes that I think need to be made at the time. And then off it goes to wherever it’s going and I move on to the next thing.

It’s all a bit mechanical and boring, really.

Shadowhawk: Any particular music you listen to while you write or is it a case of no distractions at all?

Josh: I mostly just hit ‘play all’ and ‘shuffle’. My musical tastes are eclectic, so I get a nice random selection. I often listen to podcasts as well, or pop in a DVD. I like noise when I work. Occasionally I’ll make up a soundtrack of sorts that I listen to regularly while I’m working on a particular project…Neferata, for instance, is being written mainly to Brownbird’s new album, Salt for Salt and Murder-by-Death’s Red of Tooth and Claw.

Shadowhawk: You write both Fantasy and Science-Fiction alike. Any particular preference for either?

Josh: Nope! I writes what I wants, when I wants. I will say that, more often than not, I tend to blend the two, usually inadvertently. I use whatever tropes, clichés or genre signifiers I need to tell the particular story I’ve got in mind.

Shadowhawk: What are you looking forwards to the most for 2012 in terms of your own work?

Josh: Well, there’s the usual flock of short stories – around seven or eight at the moment – that are due to appear in print sometime this year. Then there’s the Mack Bolan novel I wrote for Gold Eagle that should be appearing later this year. What I really look forward to, I suppose, is getting more work! I’ve got a number of submissions-in-progress that I’m quite excited about, short stories and novels both.

Did I mention I’m a workaholic?

Shadowhawk: Anything else happening this year you are absolutely stoked for?

Josh: Stoked? No. Enthused? Possibly.

Shadowhawk: Any plans to attend either Black Library Live 2012 or the Black Library Weekender in November?

Josh: I plan to attend both of them, actually. I mean, I wasn’t invited or anything, but I’ll be there.

In the back.

Watching you.

Seriously though, yeah, I’ll be at both of them.

Shadowhawk: Anything else you would like to tell our readers?

Josh: Did you know that crows are great mimics? You can teach them to cuss. Just…all inadvertent, like.

Also, don’t cuss near an open window.

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Hope you enjoyed that interview. You can find more on Joshua Reynolds through his blog, Hunting Monsters, where you can also find a complete list of all his work. It is a rather long list so beware!

His short story Stromfel’s Teeth, in Hammer & Bolter #17 will be out next month in January, with Knight of the Blazing Sun coming out the month after in March. The latter is also currently available for preorders through the Black Library site here.

Next we will have another new entrant to the ranks of Black Library authors, Paul S. Kemp. You may recognise his name from his numerous Forgotten Realms and Star Wars novels among other things.

Author Interview – Clint Lee Werner

Apologies for the late posting but things have been quite hectic in Shadowhawk-land. Suffice to say that I redeem myself by bringing a long-time fan-favourite author to the blog. If you all thought that all the previous interviews have been amazing then you are about to get a one-up on them. C L Werner, or rather Carandini as he is known on the Bolthole, has provided some rather meaty answers and his enthusiasm definitely shows through.

His name is synonymous with that of Grey Seer Thanquol, one of the most treacherous and fun-to-read skaven character ever, as well as his early Chaos Wastes novels which helped to define this realm in even more detail than before. Other may remember the Brunner and the Matthias Thulmann novels as well. He is also a regular in the Warhammer Heroes brand for Warhammer Fantasy and has also appeared a few times in the monthly Black Library e-zine, Hammer & Bolter.

With several short stories and novels under his belt, many of them part of series and trilogies, we are going to see just what makes him tick and where he gets his inspiration from.

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