A few weeks back, I emailed Brent Weeks, author of The Night Angel Trilogy and the current Lightbringer Series, in hopes that he would allow me the honor of interviewing him for The Sci-Fi Christian. I was more than pleased (dropped jaw, eyes wide) when he enthusiastically responded to my email stating that he would, indeed, be up for it.
I was first introduced to Mr. Weeks through an interview by Paeter Frandsen over at Spiritblade.net. I was thoroughly impressed by his sincerity and humor, and ultimately intrigued by the concepts behind his first trilogy. I immediately purchased The Night Angel Trilogy and within a short amount of time, I had become engulfed in the land of Midcyru and the life of an orphan turned Wetboy (way cooler than your average assassin).
I feel that it is my duty to introduce others to the works of Brent Weeks, so that they, too, may enjoy what has easily become my favorite fantasy series. I am now pleased to present to you my interview with Brent Weeks!
Interviewee: Brent Weeks
M: Hi Brent, I really appreciate you taking the time to answer these questions. I know that the Sci-fi Christian audience will be thrilled!
BW: Well, thanks for having me, Max. I’m excited to get a chance to virtually chat with your readers.
M: So, before we get into your work, could you tell us a little about yourself? When did you first realize that you would like to be a writer, and how did that passion grow over time?
BW: I started writing my first novel when I was 13 years old, and actually got a couple hundred pages in before I realized just how incredibly bad it was and gave up. Ira Glass talks about the gap all artists have between having good taste and being able to produce good work. And when I was in college, I decided to try to close that gap by writing a novel or two and seeing if I was any good. I figured that if it turned out I had no talent, I could then still get a real job and do something productive for society.
M: When you first started seriously writing, was there another particular genre that you were interested in, or dabbled with before delving into the realm of fantasy?
BW: Fantasy was always my first love. And then as I went through my education, I got infected with that idea that you have to “write what you know,” and I realized I didn’t know anything; so I might as well just make stuff up! (A truer and less demotivating maxim would be to know what you write, because you can always learn new things.) I do read other genres. I like mysteries and police procedurals, and thrillers, and especially love nonfiction these days because of the amount of crazy but true, things that have happened in real human history. However, learning to write in a new genre is much more difficult. You might come up with an idea that you think is the most brilliant thing ever that actually is old hat within a genre’s conventions. Orson Scott Card talks about doing this with one of his science fiction books, where he envisioned a planet where people with ESP powers had inbred and become much, much more powerful. He thought this was a totally new idea, and only found out later that it was very, very old. It would be very easy to do the same thing when writing in another genre with which I don’t have deep, lifelong familiarity.
M: Do you have any favorite authors or favorite books that helped draw you into the fantasy genre?
BW: I read all of Tolkien five times growing up, and always seemed to go back there after trying others who were vastly inferior. But I also enjoyed some lighter fare, like Edgar Rice Burroughs, and even Piers Anthony, and Louis L’Amour. One early favorite, whom I have not credited enough in other interviews that have asked this, was Stephen Lawhead. He now writes more historical novels with just a pinch of magic in them. They’re meticulously researched, and very good, but they’re just not my style as much as some of his early work that I loved, like In the Hall of the Dragon King, and even Taliesin and Merlin.
M: What’s a typical working day like for you? When and where do you write? Do you set a daily writing goal?
BW: A dirty secret hidden among ashamed writers everywhere is that it’s hard to do creative work for more than 4-6 hours a day. (Though some outliers can certainly do more.) I sit down at my desk every morning like I have a normal job, and try to wrestle 500-2,000 words out of the muse before I give up. Early on in a project, I set a goal of 500 words, because beginnings are more challenging for me. And then I up my goal as I go along. Usually I just write in my office, but every once in a while, I’ll get sick of it for whatever reason and write in the kitchen or go to a coffee shop. Truthfully, though, I have preternaturally keen powers of distraction, so I don’t usually get very much done when I try to write in public.
M: Can you tell us about your first trilogy, The Night Angel series? What is the over-arching theme or concept? How did you come up with the idea for the story? Were there personal elements that translated to the page? I read through the series within a couple of months, beginning about a year ago, and I was blown away.
BW: The Night Angel Trilogy is centered on a question: can a good man do bad things? Can a good man be a killer, or even an assassin? I kind of wanted to look at the iconic good guy assassin character that doesn’t make very much sense for me when I see it in literature or when I see it in movies, and see if I could do a better, more psychologically real job of it while writing a really fun story. One of the overarching themes is redemption. I think that any book that’s written passionately has a lot of its author in it. And for all of its flaws, of which there are more than a few, The Night Angel Trilogy is very much passionately written.
That said, trying to find one-to-one representations from my life is tricky. The clearest might be that my wife was working with sexually abused children at the time that I was writing Way of Shadows. Seeing just how profound of an effect that even isolated incidents of evil could have on a person’s life was pretty hard to work through, even second- or third-hand. My wife was very careful not to violate confidentiality and so forth, but she’d tell me things here and there that were just heart-wrenching. Not solely because of that, but partly because of that, I wanted to show evil and its consequences in a more realistic way than I felt I had seen portrayed in the fantasy I’d read.
M: What kind of research did you do for the trilogy?
BW: I did research as I needed to. But part of the great thing about The Night Angel Trilogy being my first work is that I just brought to it everything I was already passionate about. Medieval weapons are cool! I’d already studied them. Martial arts are fun! I’d already taken martial arts training. Figuring out the potentiation effect when applied to poisons… ok, that took a little bit of research. But that was fun too! So forl Night Angel I was much more able to take stuff I already knew, versus with The Lightbringer, I’ve had to do a lot more work to get a firm grip on color theory and the physics of light (and the historical understandings of light from which I could draw).
M: I was enticed by the contrast between, what I would call very dark and adult themed elements in the novels along with the intertwining of Christian themes. How did your personal faith affect the darkness, and many times, tragedy of the story?
BW: I’ve always been interested in the cracks in things, and the uncomfortable questions. Take the 400 years between Malachi and Jesus. If you believe in a God who wants to talk to his people, and have communion with them, what was he doing during that time? Why so long? Or I think about the nephilim in the Old Testament: what happened to them? Could they come again? Or I think about the Christians in the Coliseum being devoured by lions. God could have saved them, but he didn’t. Their stories ended horrifically, even though they were doing everything right. That sense that if you’re a good person, or a good Christian, that everything in your life is going to be rosy, seems woefully historically ignorant to me. If Jesus came to save us, the truth is, without darkness and evil, there is nothing that we need to be saved from. And I think that’s something that the Christian fiction that I read growing up completely ignored. It was too safe, too happy, too fake. Maybe it’s changed since I gave up reading it 20 some years ago now, but it seemed like no matter how bad a guy was, once he became a Christian in the story, he would be perfectly good from then on out. And that, to me, just seems like a lie. A comforting lie, but maybe the worse therefore. So I wanted to write a world where the darkness was very, very dark so that the light could be very, very bright. I also spent some of my formative years in college as an atheist, and so I have a really good sense of how two people can look at a coincidence and one see a miracle, and the other see a happy accident with neither being dishonest. And I feel like the Christian fiction I’ve read isn’t fair to nonbelievers and the secular fiction I’ve read isn’t fair to believers. That irritated me. So I wrote my own book, and knew quite well that it might please neither camp! Let me be clear, though: I think that our own beliefs inescapably infiltrate our work. Our beliefs affect even how we set up problems—even what we consider to actually be problems—and of course, what we consider to be a satisfactory answer to those problems, or to a story. But. I don’t want my fiction to be propaganda. I want the coincidences to be interpretable as coincidences. I don’t want to stack the deck. After all, if God gave us free will in our personal stories, why should I not give readers the same courtesy in mine?
M: Can you tell us about your newest series, The Lightbringer? How does this series differ from The Night Angel Trilogy? What new elements are you bringing to the table this time around? How long do you expect the series to run for?
BW: I believe that I’ve wrestled The Lightbringer series down to a trilogy. I’ve been fighting with it from the very beginning, trying to make it be shorter, and although so far it looks like I’m winning, each of the books has been longer and longer than any of my other works, so it might be a bit of a Pyrrhic victory, at least from my publisher’s standpoint. (Who would, of course, like more books and shorter ones!) Where The Night Angel Trilogy starts with and tells the story of killers, thieves, and prostitutes, and thus necessitates a darker tone and cruder language, The Lightbringer Trilogy is, perhaps not surprisingly, all about light. Gavin Guile is the Prism, the most powerful man in the Seven Satrapies. He’s something between a pope and a shogun. What Gavin doesn’t know is that he has an illegitimate son, now 15 years old, whose rural village is about to be wiped out. On top of a story of civil war and familial betrayal are layers of questions of what a good man will do when confronted with a secret shame. The Lightbringer is probably an easier book to read than the Night Angel books in some ways, and harder in others. Easier in that there’s not nearly the dark content of sexual abuse and people doing everything they can to survive in a corrupt underworld, but harder in that the magic is more fundamental to this world. Everything depends on the magic and how it works, and there’s a complexity to that that makes for a bit of a steep learning curve early on.
M: I know that you briefly revisited the Night Angel world in your novella, “Perfect Shadow.” Do you have any plans to return to the world of Kylar Stern again, say, once you are finished with The Lightbringer series?
BW: That has always been my plan! I didn’t feel like I was quite ready immediately after finishing Beyond the Shadows to tell the story that I had in mind for that world. So I decided to take a break and write something different, then come back, hopefully as a more mature writer with more tools in my toolbox. When I finish up book three of The Lightbringer Trilogy, which I’ve already started, I’m ready and eager to head back to Midcyru.
M: What is the hardest part of writing for you?
BW: The blank page. It’s an odd thing, but sometimes even when I know what I need to write, and the scene I have in my head is really cool, sometimes just getting started is so hard.
M: What’s the best thing about being an author?
BW: I’m not gonna lie: I work really hard, but I love tons of stuff about my job. I knew when I set out that there was no guarantee that even if I wrote the best books in the world that they would ever get published, much less that I would be able to make a living doing what I love. So I see blessings all over the place. It’s all a gift. Getting letters from fans: amazing. Getting letters from fans in Venezuela, who are using my books to teach themselves English: amazing. Seeing fan art of my characters: amazing. Getting incredibly snarky criticism from anonymous people on the internet: not so amazing! But hey. I think one of the best things is when I’ve done something really subtle in my book that I don’t think anybody will notice, but that I’m proud of, and then someone gets it. That’s just awesome.
M: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
BW: As you might imagine, I get asked this a lot. And in a spirit of trying to help out others as I certainly needed help, I post a continuing column on my website of writing advice, answering the most popular questions. It’s probably over 50 pages long by this point. (www.brentweeks.com/extras-writing-advice) One of the most important things, though, can be summed up in one word: finish. Writing a story is harder and takes longer than you think. But you are in complete control of it. If it’s boring, you can make it more interesting. But you can’t polish what isn’t there. There are some things you only learn by finishing.
M: Finally, what question have you always wanted to be asked in an interview? How would you answer that question?
BW: Mr. Weeks, would you like us to mail this check for $1,000,000 or deposit it directly into your account?
Me: Direct deposit, and it’s been unusually pleasant working with you, Miss IRS Agent!
M: Thanks again, Brent, for your time and willingness.
BW: Thank you, Max! Appreciate the opportunity!
If you enjoyed the interview, check out Brent’s website and see what he’s all about!