Today it is my pleasure to welcome author Stephen Aryan to the The BiblioSanctum to chat about his new fantasy novel Battlemage, on sale now from Orbit Books. Stephen is a lifelong reader of sci-fi and fantasy fiction as well as a big fan of comics, having co-hosted a comics and geek culture podcast since 2007 and speaking on panels at comic conventions about the topic. He was kind enough to stop by to answer questions about all that and more, so I hope you enjoy the interview! And if you haven’t yet, be sure to check out my review of Battlemage, a novel full of action, magic, and adventurous fun.
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Hello Stephen, and welcome to the BiblioSanctum! First of all, congratulations on your new fantasy novel, Battlemage. How would you describe the book to your new and prospective readers?
Hello, thank you for having me. I’d describe it as epic fantasy with lots of swords and sorcery. I wanted to write a book that featured a lot of the fantasy elements that I enjoyed in books when I was growing up. These elements are still used, but I think they were more common in fantasy novels years ago written by the likes of David Eddings, Terry Brooks, Ursula Le Guin, Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, and David Gemmell. So something that felt like a classic mixed with modern elements. I also wanted to see fantastical non-human races, overt magic and big, bold characters.
The story is centered around a major conflict, what is in essence a world war, and it follows the action from several very different perspectives, front line warriors, the battlemages and those in charge, the generals and spymasters.
Fascinating! So what led you to write this story? Did it grow out of any specific idea or scene in your mind, and did the finished book turn out the way you expected?
Many years ago, I think it was shortly after the death of David Gemmell, who is probably my biggest fantasy influence, I wrote a short story about a wizard at the end of his career. He went on one final quest with his oldest friend and it was a sort of a homage to Druss from Legend. I then began to wonder, so what happened to this wizard, Balfruss, when he was a young man? What led him to that final quest? That short story was the seed of Battlemage. As I started to develop the world, races and the countries, bits and pieces of the larger plot started to drift in and I gradually pulled the story together, but Balfruss was definitely the catalyst.
The story changed over time from when I wrote the first draft to how it turned out in the end, but it only improved with all of the edits. It pretty much turned out the way I had expected.
Your characters are all very different people – sometimes, even different species – who come from richly varied backgrounds. Who gave you the greatest pleasure to write, or the biggest challenge? Do you have a favorite? Mine was definitely Talandra!
It’s like being asked to name your favourite child. I love all of them! The biggest challenge for me was making sure the non-human races felt unique. I didn’t want to make them like some of the races you saw in Star Trek TNG and DS9. As much as I love all of the Star Trek incarnations, some of the races were just humans with a bit of plastic stuck to their nose, or their forehead. So even though it’s not on the page, I know all about Vorga culture, their society and how it is structured, and the same goes for the Morrin and so on.
To my delight, there were plenty of action-filled fight scenes in Battlemage, owing to the war at the center of the book’s plot. Of course, the battles fought with magic and the mind are also very different from those fought with sword and brawn. What’s your approach to writing interesting fight scenes?
I try to make them realistic, particularly the magic battles. That might sound strange, given that magic is involved, but it has to have its limits. Otherwise any time there is any obstacle in the story someone can just wave their hands and instantly solve everything. So there has to be an internal logic and magic has to have a cost for the person wielding it. To make the scenes exciting is more challenging, but given that magic is being used on a large scale on a battlefield, I tried to make it big and dangerous and exciting, which is hopefully interesting to read.
As we see from your story, battlemages have a ton of spells and talents at their disposal, and there are even more than are lost to the ages. In your opinion, what would be the coolest battlemage ability to have?
For me personally, I’d love to be able to fly. Being able to summon fire whenever you wanted would be a handy ability, as you’d never be cold. On the other hand having your own ice powers would be amazing, especially on hot days when you need a nice cold drink!
Haha, yes! Or the opposite, when you need to warm water up quick, like that scene with Balfruss and the insta-hot bath.
Anyway, now that I’ve picked your brain about your book, I’d love to know more about you, the author! Tell us a fun fact about yourself, or something that might surprise readers?
Hmm, I’ve studied several martial arts and I used to be into fencing (with swords not wooden planks and nails) and last year I took up archery. I’m still not very good, but it’s a lot of fun and I’m sure I will get better over time. So I stand a good chance of surviving when the zombie apocalypse happens.
Just make sure to stock up on arrows! I also hear you’re into comics. Who are your favorite superheroes, what are your favorite titles, and what would you recommend for this Marvel fangirl who’s also trying to branch out into more indies and creator-owned stuff?
Absolutely, I’ve been reading comics for more than twenty years now. I grew up reading both DC and Marvel comics, but tended to favour DC when I was younger. So for that reason I know the history of the DC universe a lot better than Marvel. These days I read all sorts of comics from many publishers, but my favourite superhero of all time is Batman. He’s just awesome. Other favourites are Daredevil, The Flash, Green Lantern, Wolverine, Jessica Jones, The Spectre, Captain America, I have hundreds.
Ok, my go to titles for people who want to try new stuff will definitely depend on what kind of story you like and the genres you prefer. But, here are five very different titles that are self-contained stories. As much as I love the ongoing monthly superhero books, I do love to read comics with a definitive start, middle and end.
Sweet Tooth – It’s a Vertigo book by Jeff Lemire. Beautiful, heart-wrenching, post apocalyptic story about a boy trying to survive in a weird world.
Y: The Last Man – Yorrick is the last human man on earth. Every other man died for some mysterious reason. It’s an amazing story with some brilliant characters like Agent 355. She is excellent.
Strangers in Paradise – I recommend this book a lot, and with good reason. It’s one of my favourite comic books of all time and the writer/artist Terry Moore is incredible. It’s a story about three people and their lives together. It’s a love story, but there’s also crime, betrayal, intrigue and mystery.
Pride of Baghdad – it’s a graphic novel about a pride of lions that escapes from Baghdad zoo during the war, told from their perspective, with their dialogue, and it’s an amazing tale that is based on a true story.
Chew – this just wrapped up, and I’m going to be very honest, it’s a pretty twisted and slightly sick comic. It’s real marmite book, and you will either hate it or love it, there’s nothing in between. It’s a very funny and dark story about a cop who gets psychic impressions of the history of whatever he eats. It just appeals to my dark sense of humour.
Other amazing ongoing books I’m reading from publishers outside the big 2 are Lazarus, Southern Bastards, Mind Management, Letter 44, Copperhead, Saga and The Fuse.
Oh sweet, definitely some great titles there I want to check out, and others that I’ve read and loved. Vertigo always puts out great stuff, and I’m also a huge Brian K. Vaughan fan so I absolutely second your recommendations of Y: The Last Man, Pride of Baghdad and Saga! I also really ought to pick up Chew, that kind of weirdness actually sounds right up my alley.
So besides comics, what are some of your other hobbies, or favorite pastimes for when you want to have fun or take a break from writing?
I live in the countryside and like to go walking and sometimes visiting the local pub for some lovely food and a pint of real ale or two. I read a lot, books and comics, watch a lot of geek TV and I’m gradually working on completing my Marvel and DC Lego minifigure collection. I used to spend a lot of time with online gaming, but not very much these days so it’s very sporadic and I’m purely a PC gamer. I just don’t have the time I used to spend playing MMORPGs, but I still dabble a little. The next one I’ve signed up for is the beta of Albion Online.
I understand, MMORPGs still take up a lot of my free time as well, or what little I have to devote to games when I’m not using it to read. Speaking of reading, I’m already looking forward to the sequel to Battlemage. Is there anything you can reveal about it at this point or what it might have in store for us?
The Age of Darkness is not a typical trilogy. By that I mean the main characters in the first book are not the main characters in the second. That isn’t to say there aren’t any familiar faces in the next book. Obviously the stories are connected and set in the same world, but while the first book was a war book, the second is more of a crime story. But there’s still magic, mayhem, and hopefully a few surprises.
Crime story? Different, but definitely sounds awesome! Are there any other projects you’re working on currently or in the near future that you’d like to share, either writing or non-writing related?
I’ve just wrapped up the first draft of book 3, which will be coming out next year. After that I’ll move into developing the next book, but it’s too early to give you any details about it. I’m also co-writing a couple of comic book projects and I hope to have some news about one of them early next year.
That’s fantastic, sounds like 2016 will be a big year for you, and I wish you the best of luck!
Once again, I’d like to thank you for dropping by. Readers, if you want to know more about Stephen and his work, please be sure to visit his website at http://stephen-aryan.com or follow him on Twitter @stevearyan!