Interview with Author Anthony Gillis
I really enjoyed reading the Storm’s Own Son, as I said in my recent 5 star review. In fact, I liked it so much that I tracked down the author, Anthony Gillis! He kindly agreed to an interview, so I’d like in introduce Anthony Gillis and say thanks so much for giving in to my persistent request to know more about your book!
Introduce yourself and tell us a little about your writing
I took a long winding path to becoming a full-time writer. I had the spark when I was a kid, and a very bohemian family that would have been supportive of feeding that spark. Instead, in my teens I rebelled by becoming respectable. I served a tour in the US Air Force, became an accountant in the investment industry back in the 90s boom days, and after getting my MBA, was for a while a corporate overlord.
However, through it all I remained a gamer with a lot of nerdy eclectic interests, and in general a person of alt tendencies. It all finally caught up with me in 2012, in the form of my first novel, Alien Empire. The image of an alien fleet, slowly approaching from the outer edges of the solar system, led to a mad month-long dash of writing and a 120k word sci-fi adventure.
Since then I’ve written five more, all but one fantasy. I’ve never been one of those methodical 500 word a day writers. My pattern is invariably huge bursts of raw writing followed by slow stretches of editing, revision, or general life.
I just finished reading the Storm’s own Son book 1. What inspire the story and especially the main character of Talaos?
The story began with my conception of Talaos, and the rest grew around him. He sprang to life in my imagination as this sort of primal force, a character with potent magic in his blood, aligned with storms and lightning, yet absolutely no guidance on how it worked or what to do with it. From the very beginning I knew he would have no real mentor and no overt destiny leading him on, yet over time he’d discover how powerful he truly was. It makes him a kind of wild card, and fun to work with.
I think nearly all writers draw to some degree on their own experiences and their natures. These tend to turn up in various ways in their work. I’m no exception. Talaos is the closest to me in temperament, though not actions, of all of my protagonists. His intensity, his extensive, turbulent history with women, his lack of angst and his aversion to outside control are all traits of mine. Ironically, some critical readers thought them unrealistic, or a sort of wish fulfillment.
Talaos is also drawn from very old, pre-Christian protagonists of the Norse and Greco-Roman mythic traditions, who tended to be more aggressive, bloody-handed, proud, and openly ambitious than modern heroes. In fact I knew that those traits, to the degree he has them, would make him more closely resemble a modern villain. Even so, he is also fiercely protective of those he sees as friends, allies, or in his care in some way. I think that, and his sense of honor, keep him from being a true villain protagonist as in, say, Prince of Thorns.
What really struck me, besides how unique of a main character Talaos is, is how well developed and varied the world feels. There is a deep history that is very present from the first chapter as well as different cultures. How did you develop the world? Did it take you a long time?’
I enjoy world building, and have since childhood. It is endlessly fascinating, and almost a compulsion. Between stories, roleplaying games, and idle musings, I’ve created probably 40-50 fictional worlds in various stages of completion. It doesn’t take me a tremendous amount of time because it flows so readily, but I do use a consistent system to help keep things organized. For every world, I make a map, a timeline, and a set of notes. The notes usually include a top-level description regarding scope, scale, and theme, and various entries for geographical regions, nations, cultures, events, individuals etc. I add the latter as ideas come to me, and revise as needed, so naturally not all aspects of a world will be equally developed.
Talaos’s world is built on the idea of layers of history built and then largely forgotten. In each era, people had their own concerns, not necessarily related to the goals of those who came before. Early in the novel, he, Sorya, and Katara watch an annual celebration of a victory so significant it is still celebrated four thousand years later, yet almost everything has been lost about why. Fantasy stories often throw around spans of years like that casually, but four thousand years in the real world takes us back to the Sumerian city-states and the Middle Kingdom of Egypt. Very little recorded history survives from those times, and even less was known prior to the advent of modern archeology.
This legacy of significant, yet wholly forgotten things directly underpins the plot, and affects both Talaos and other key actors of his time like the Living Prophet.
Your email hinted that this story line defies several conventions of both heroic fantasy and romantic fiction. That is really intriguing. I love fresh ideas! Can you elaborate on that without giving anything away? 🙂
I don’t know how fresh they are, but they’re certainly defiant!
My comment derived from my restlessness with what I see, in my opinion, as those conventions. I mentioned both heroic fantasy and romantic fiction because, though The Storm’s Own Son is absolutely a fantasy novel, Talaos’s romantic life is important to the character and the story. In particular, it has, as I knew it would, been a source of reader and reviewer controversy.
So let’s see…
Origins: while far from universal, the young naïve character at the start of the classic hero’s journey is common enough to be a convention, and alternatives in modern fantasy tend to be bitter, weary antiheroes. Talaos at the start of the story, and this can’t be emphasized enough, is already established in his life as a gangster. He’s a well-known, rising figure, with years of blood on his hands. Even so, he’s anything but bitter and weary, though certainly restless.
Mentor: another classic element of the hero’s journey is the mentor, who often launches and guides the protagonist early on. Talaos simply has none, and that lack of a mentor, combined with his enormous potential power, is one of the central plot elements of the book.
Prophecies and ‘the chosen one’: a great many heroic fantasy protagonists have their path handed to them through some externally revealed special destiny. Talaos does discover he has preternatural gifts, but their origins and meaning are lost in immense depths of time, and they are in practice his to do with as he sees fit. There are prophets in the world, but that does not grant them omniscience, and each interprets their prophecies in the frame of their own limited knowledge and perspective. This has effects on all sides of events as they develop – and Talaos and his friends have to figure things out on their own.
Power: as I mentioned above, ancient mythic protagonists could be quite open about seeking power or what they saw as their rights. Modern protagonists more often try to avoid this, or at least have great doubts about it. Talaos has no such qualms. He accepts his gifts as they emerge, is actively curious about their use, and lacks guilt or doubt in wielding them, however destructively. This natural, amoral quality forms another central aspect of the story.
Action and Reaction: typically, antagonists act, throwing events into motion, while protagonists respond to and deal with those events. Consider a classic villainous evil overlord seeking whatever sort of power – the heroes have to stop him. Talaos faces transformational events early on, indeed driven by powerful antagonists, but after that the roles reverse. This is less apparent in book 1 than in 2 or 3, but he very much begins to aggressively pursue own goals, throwing the antagonists into reactive confusion.
Romance: With some exceptions, a classic male heroic fantasy protagonist is clueless about romance and relationships. I’ve seen it sarcastically presented as ‘oblivious goofball hero wanders around having adventures – reality warps – most beautiful woman in the world falls eternally in love with him without any effort on his part’. (Female protagonists are another matter, and are more likely to be written as savvy.) Talaos by contrast is forward, fearless and self-aware. He’s the kind of character who might be one of the love interests in a classic MFM love triangle centering on a female protagonist. Specifically, he’d be the bad boy or rogue who the protagonist might hope to reform. Instead, he is the protagonist. And, not only is he unlikely to reform, but he refuses even to choose, and instead maintains several relationships at once. Though it is not readily apparent in book 1, it does have a point, and leads directly to developments later in the story.
There are others but they’d be spoilers, so I’d best leave them out for now.
You have several different novels out and in different genres. Which has been your favorite to write and why?
Hmm… like a parent, I don’t like to play favorites. The first was Alien Empire, and so it has a special sentimental place. The most furious creative process was Blood on Bronze – I finished the 60k word draft in a week and a half of madness. There was one day where I wrote a bit over 14,000 words. Editing and rewrites of course took longer, but still, it was surreal. By contrast, Jamaica Rum had the most difficult creation process. Yet I think it ended up a fun romp of a tale. The story that has fired my imagination the most powerfully is The Storm’s Own Son.
How is the writing going on the remainder of the story? When do you hope to have it fully released?
The overall series is titled Storm and Fire. It will span nine books in total, slightly confusingly structured in three trilogies, each with its own name. The first trilogy, books 1-3, is The Storm’s Own Son. The second is Mercy of the Prophet, consisting of books 4-6, and the final will be Lord of Worlds, comprising books 7-9.
I have 80k words complete in the draft of Book 4, with another 10-15k to go. The main storyline is finished through the climax, and I’m working on the conclusion and transition to Book 5, a couple of new sequences mid-book, and other odds and ends. I hope to release Book 4 in late March, though it is too early for an announcement. When actively writing, I generally seem to manage three new books a year. So, I’d anticipate finishing Mercy of the Prophet in 2015 and the final trilogy in 2016. With the right combination of creative mania and caffeine, it could be sooner.
Anthony Gillis is the child of hippie adventurer parents, and lived on his father’s sailboat, an island off the coast of Costa Rica, a converted school bus, and a ramshackle house in Ft. Lauderdale with a leaky roof and a sand yard, before settling down to something resembling a normal childhood. Somehow, all that made him decide to enlist and serve in the United States Air Force, and then earn a bachelor’s degree in history and an MBA. He worked in accounting and finance for many years prior to becoming a full time writer.