You guys have probably noticed my activity on the blog has dropped. It’s a combination of self doubt, CFS flaring up and being bogged down with my editing. I hope to return to a decent schedule soon.
Today I have an author interview with John Bierce, whose Mage Errant series is pretty damn cool. He had a lot to say!
First of all, tell me about yourself! What do you write?
My name is John Bierce (sadly, no relation to Ambrose “Bitter” Bierce, at least to the best of my knowledge), and I write epic fantasy. My stories tend to be heavy on the worldbuilding, but I do my best not to have the plot or characters suffer because of that- as much as I love worldbuilding, characters are what really carry a book.
I just released Into the Labyrinth, the first book in my Mage Errant series, as well as the first book I’ve published period. (I’ve written novels before, just nothing I felt good enough to publish.)
How do you develop your plots and characters?
I chew on them! My writing process usually involves me coming up with the original idea and doing much of the worldbuilding, then just sitting on it for a few weeks, chewing away at the idea. It comes together in bits and pieces- an action set piece here, more worldbuilding there, character development this way, the ending that way, etc, etc. Eventually, I’ll have enough of it floating in my head that I can just start writing and stitch everything together. After that it turns into a madcap dash for the finish line- my daily writing goal is at least 3,000 words, and going over isn’t uncommon. My record was 9,000 words, but that took all day and I was in a perfect flow state. (I’m no Rachel Aaron- she can apparently do 10,000 words on a normal day. Terrifying.)
Tell us about your current project.
I’m currently chewing on the second Mage Errant book! The Mage Errant series is a coming of age story following Hugh of Emblin, who when we meet him believes himself (with decent reason) to be the worst mage in the Academy at Skyhold. He also has no friends and is the favored punching bag of the most promising mage of his year. That all starts to change for the better when an eccentric mage chooses him as an apprentice. Unfortunately for Hugh, he’s still way behind everyone else, but that’s not going to get him out of his final for the year- being sent into the terrifying labyrinth below Skyhold.
The second book is going to take Hugh and company to a wealthy desert city ruled by an ancient dragoness, where they get caught up in a conspiracy to overthrow the city. Chaos, sandship battles, and intrigue ensue!
Who would you say is the main character of your novels? And tell me a little bit about them!
Hugh of Emblin is the classic orphan protagonist, but rather than the strong willed, emotionally resilient, and unstoppably driven orphans we’re used to (Harry Potter, especially), Hugh is painfully shy, has crippling social anxiety and self doubt, and in general just hasn’t handled the traumas in his past as well as some of these other characters. He’s forced to lean on his friends (once he finds some, at least) to a much greater degree than all those other orphans out there, and his journey is about learning to stand on his own and balancing that with finding a healthy amount to lean on his friends.
Also, he gets some really, really cool magical abilities as the series goes on. I definitely feel like his ability set (which is going to be developed over the course of the series) is a really unique one.
What advice would you give new writers on how to delve into creative fiction?
You know that one idea sitting in the back of your head? Your best idea? The one that you’re convinced that you’re nowhere near good enough to write yet? The one that you’re working your skill level up to write?
Write that one. Or at least the second place idea. Don’t write ideas you’re sure you can handle- write ideas that scare you to attempt, that seem beyond you. You grow by pushing yourself.
What real-life inspirations did you draw from for the worldbuilding within your book?
I draw very, very heavily on my earth science background in my writing. I want to make my worlds not only internally consistent, but ecologically and geologically plausible. The Mage Errant series is hard epic fantasy, meaning that I’ve got the entire internal functionality of the magic system worked out and it follows very strict rules. I developed my magic system to work under a series of internal principles heavily modeled off of certain hydrological, geological, and ecological principles. (Not that the characters necessarily understand those principles themselves- for many people in the world of Anastis, magic just works… well, like magic.)
I’m also a huge history buff, and so I build a ton of historical background into my worlds. I’m especially interested in the way that ancient civilizations interacted with one another- we spend too much time in school learning about the History of the Roman Empire or the History of India, and we hardly learn about how they interacted and traded with one another. For instance, how the biggest Roman expenditure after the legions and infrastructure was on Indian spices and other goods, and if Rome had ever stopped expanding, they would have gone broke buying stuff from India. Globalization is NOT a new phenomena by any means, and it’s a theme I heavily intend to explore in my worldbuilding.
What inspires you to write?
At first, writing was just something cool I wanted to be able to say I did. The more I did it, however, the more I started needing to do it- these days, going without writing for a couple days feels like an itch that I can’t scratch.
Also, wow does it feel good to finish a project.
What was the hardest part of writing this book?
The hardest part of Into the Labyrinth was… hmm. Godrick’s accent, no question. I had to go over every one of his lines several times to keep the spelling consistent.
In a more significant sense, the scenes dealing with Hugh’s anxieties and doubts. Showing how awful Hugh felt without overselling it was really tricky.
What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?
I honestly loved writing the scenes where Hugh and the other apprentices were learning more about their magic. That, and the actual labyrinth scenes- balancing the claustrophobic environments, the tension, and the action scenes was an absolute blast. (I had pretty bad claustrophobia as a kid that I mostly managed to beat, so writing scenes set underground or in cramped spaces feel like watching a really good horror film, I love it!)
Did you learn anything from writing this book and what was it?
Hire an editor if you can humanly afford it. Seriously.
Also, I really found that I was capable of a lot more than I thought I was going into this project. I never thought I’d get it done on the sort of strict schedule I managed to keep, and I never expected that anyone would, you know, actually like it. So that was a shock.
It’s sometimes difficult to get into understanding the characters we write. How do you go about it?
Both by understanding my character’s pasts, and through simple exploration. It’s not something I’ve mastered- I still mess up with my characters plenty, and other times they seriously surprise me.
What are your future project(s)?
I’ve got a lot more Mage Errant books I want to write! I’ve also got plans for a fantasy series in the vein of C.S. Forester and Patrick O’Brien’s Napoleonic nautical novels (sorry, couldn’t resist the alliteration there), an epic science fantasy series set on a world modeled after the weirdest stuff hard science fiction has to offer, a military fantasy series based heavily in environmental history and Chinese history, and several standalone book ideas.
I’m pretty sure that’s a reasonable amount of stuff to put on my plate. Definitely not overdoing it at all, right?
If you couldn’t be an author, what ideal job would you like to do?
Geologist or ecologist, no question. While I’ve done a good bit of science related work (science education and popularization writing, mostly) over the past year, it’s not research science, which is where my passion lies. And while I’m currently paused on that career track (for reasons) it’s one I can hop back on at basically any time, which is really nice. I do want to give this whole writing thing a try, though- as much as I love science, I love writing even more.
That being said, before I went on my hiatus I was part of a research team (the lowest ranking member, admittedly) investigating ureilites, a rare type of meteor, and it was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done in my life. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ureilite)
What is your preferred method to have readers get in touch with or follow you (i.e., website, personal blog, Facebook page, here on Goodreads, etc.) and link(s)?
The best ways to get in touch with me are via email (email@example.com), via my blog (www.johnbierce.com), or on Reddit (r/johnbierce). Otherwise I tend to keep a pretty low-to-the-ground social media profile. (I can only really handle so much social media at a time, it’s so easy to let it take over your time.)
And if Into the Labyrinth sounds like your cup of tea, it’s on sale on Amazon right now! (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07J675X2C)