Our latest SPFBO 2020 interview is with Derek Prior, author of the Nameless Dwarf series, and rocking his badass covers!
STARTING OFF WITH A BANG
Introduce yourself! An easy question to start off with. Who are you, what do you write?
I’m Derek Prior, originally from England, but now living in North Carolina, USA.
I write mostly fantasy. My Nameless Dwarf books have sold more than 600,000 copies across all formats. Most of my books could be described as “classic” fantasy, but there are notable exceptions, such as The Codex of Her Scars, which is allegedly a little too dark, even for Grimdark.
Is this your first time in SPFBO?
This is my fourth time in SPFBO. Previous entries were: Ravine of Blood & Shadow, The Codex of Her Scars, and Husk.
What book did you enter into this year’s event?
My entry this year is Last of the Exalted.
Here’s the blurb:
He was a curse upon the dwarves.
Then their savior.
But after the tragic loss of his wife, the Nameless Dwarf stood down from the throne of Arnoch and went into the mountains to die.
Two hundred years later, the dwarves are a dwindling race on the brink of civil war.
When the hordes of Arnoch storm through the Malfen Pass, refugees flee for their lives, among them the half-Slathian storyteller, Nyra Sahtis, and Sister Caelin, a priestess who was once a trainer of armies.
But with the capital, Jeridium, under siege from a second dwarven faction, there is nowhere for them to run. And so Caelin must seek the aid of the lord she once betrayed, while Nyra is forced to confront everything she left behind when she fled her childhood home in the City of Sorcerers.
As rival dwarven armies converge on Jeridium, the Senate send the assassin Shadrak the Unseen to the Southern Crags to find an old friend in a desperate bid to avert the coming catastrophe.
For ancient evil manipulates from the shadows, and the dwarves are not themselves. And if there is any hope of bringing them to their senses, it comes in the shape of a grief-stricken warrior and his mythical axe:
The Nameless Dwarf.
The hero of legends.
The last of the Exalted.
Does one of the main characters hold a special place in your heart? If so, why?
Nils Fargin is probably the character that most resonates with me in this book. He’s an incredibly old man who once traveled with the greatest hero of the day. Having started out in life as the illiterate son of a crime lord, Nils was taught to read by a conflicted sorcerer and later went on to pass the entrance exam at Jeridium’s Academy, the premier training school for sorcerers. He is now the Principal of the Academy, having been through some pretty dark times, but he still retains the big heart and loyalty of his youth. Although Nil sis largely a supporting character, his interactions and relationships with some of the main characters are integral to the story. Nils is also the narrator.
What was the inspiration for the story? What are your future project(s)?
There were so many inspirations for this book: my own Nameless Dwarf books, David Gemmell’s Legend; Rosemary’s Baby; Salem’s Lot, Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Tales.
Future projects: I have three or four Nameless Dwarf novellas to finish, which will bring the Annals of the Nameless Dwarf series to a close. Then there’s Sorcerers’ Isle book 2, a half-written new novel written in first-person, present tense, a new Shader novella, and several commissioned novels that I am ghost writing.
What are the key themes and/or messages in the book?
Last of the Exalted is ultimately a book about friendship during a time of war and complete social upheaval. There are physical and spiritual conflicts woven throughout the story, some of which have their parallels in current affairs. There are hidden hands pulling the strings, tribalistic allegiances, abandonment of old ways, old morality, competing religious views, refugees and racism. But at its most basic, the story is about the disasters that unfold when a grief-stricken king abdicates and others move to fill the power vacuum.
What were the key challenges you faced when writing this book?
Last of the Exalted has been through several iterations, largely due to feedback from editors and suggestions from my agent. Some of this meant abandoning the established world of Aosia in favor of a new world, and leaving out all mention of characters from previous novels (especially dwarves!)
After two years of reworking the novel and getting feedback from test readers, I decided to go with my initial instincts and reverted to the original story, albeit in a much more polished form. The first draft was over 200,000 words long, so one major challenge was to cut off all the fat with a big, sharp axe. I actually enjoy cutting, in a perverse sort of way, and ended up reducing the word count by about 60,000 words.
What is the future for the characters? Will there be a sequel?
There is certainly scope for a sequel, but at this stage I am thinking more along the lines of spin-off books, especially for a character who is introduced in the final scene.
MORE RAMBLES ABOUT WRITING
What is your favorite book you’ve written?
To date, Last of the Exalted is probably my favorite book of all those I have written, although it’s a close-run thing, with The Codex of Her Scars and Land of Nightmare.
Who are your favorite authors?
Bernard Cornwell, David Gemmell, Stephen R. Donaldson, Michael Moorcock, L. Sprague De Camp, Lin Carter, Robert E. Howard, Mary Doria Russell, G.K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, Edgar Rice Burroughs.
What makes a good villain?
Believability, by which I mean elements of psychological realism. It should be possible to rationlize her/his behavior, even if the reasoning is faulty. I also like my villains to have a degree of humor. Purely “evil” villains do not work for me. I like to see the potential for what they could have been/could still be, with the right choices and cirumstances.
Do you have any writing blogs you recommend?
Do you have any writer friends you’d like to give a shout out to?
Mitchell Hogan, who is having an incredibly productive phase right now, and who keeps putting out quality work. Also, Valmore Daniels, who still hasn’t put out the second Moon War book (the first was excellent).
Did you learn anything from writing your latest book? If so, what was it?
I learned that I don’t need to rush books to publication. The first draft of Last of the Exalted was pretty good. When I got it back from the editor, I completely revised it. I revised it again after feedback from my agent. I then left it alone for over a year, and then revised it fully again several times. In the past, I’ve succumbed the the perceived pressure to release a book as soon as the major revisions and edits have been done.
I also developed my sense of what needs to be in the book and what doesn’t. The more I revise, the easier this becomes. Generally, if a word or phrase sticks out, I scrutinize it and usually end up cutting it or replacing it. I’ve also grown much more sensitive to pacing in this book.
Are you a plotter or a pantser? A gardener or an architect?
Both. I have the A and the Z worked out, often with a few key incidents along the way, but I don’t like to overplan as I find it stifles my creativity and tends to produce talking-heads characters (at least for me). I also continue to plan/plot as I write. All inspirations get added to my notes on Scrivener at each and every stage of development.
If you had to give up both snacks and drinks during writing sessions, or music, which would you find more difficult to say goodbye to?
Which is your favourite season to write in, and why?
I don’t have a favorite season for writing. I write all year round, pretty much 6 days a week.
It’s sometimes difficult to get into understanding the characters we write. How do you go about it?
I don’t really go about understanding the characters. Rather, I draw my characters, by and large, from life experiences. I spent 25 years working in mental health, and before that I was in the theater, and I’ve spent a lot of time in academia, so I guess that covers a lot of character types. Much of my training in psychiatry concerned empathy and mental state assessment, so I’m attuned to a lot of the finer nuances of personality and character traits. Same with my acting experience, where I was a slavish practitioner of the Stanslavski method as far as character was concerned.
What is your writing process? Do you have one? What is your workspace like?
My work space: a big desk, a wine rack, a huge painting of the Nameless Dwarf, and my signed photograph of Patrick Troughton.
My process: I like to draft scenes quickly, usually during the morning, and then review them in the evening. Next day, I read and revise the scenes again before moving on to the next one. Once I have too many scenes to re-read every day, I tend to revise 2-3 scenes back, and then review everything once a week. By the time I have a completed first draft, I’ve generally revised every scene multiple times. I then set the book aside for a few weeks (or months sometimes) before starting to revise from the beginning. Next, I revise the scenes in reverse order (it’s amazing how much this helps with flow and continuity). I’ll often send it to an editor at this stage, and then commence the entire process again once I have the feedback.
I’ve been using Scrivener for the past five years or so, largely because it’s easy to move scenes around using the corkboard. It also helps to have an overview of the manuscript with a descriptive title of each scene, or the point of view character the scene is attributed to.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
I sometimes get ideas from reading biographies or history books. Real life events sometimes find their way into my stories—encounters with people that leave an impression on me. I rarely draw inspiration from fantasy books as I read so few of them these days. The last fiction book I drew from, apart from Cornwell’s Saxon Tales, was probably Brideshead Revisited (don’t ask!)
How many plot ideas are just waiting to be written? Can you tell us about one?
I have maybe six or seven novels in note form, including a magic realism story in which a priest confronts a world of demons masquerading as business owners, politicans, etc. He’s either mad or visionary—I’ve yet to decide which.
Do you have any new series planned?
No new series planned at this point, just the finishing of the Annals of the Nameless Dwarf and Shader series with a few novellas, and the continuation of Sorcerers’ Isle. Other than that, I’m focusing on standalone novels right now.
MORE ABOUT YOU
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I train a lot of martial arts (boxing, muay thai, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, MMA) and have a passion for dead lifting. I occasionally record music, and play guitar most days. Probably my favorite pastime is reading, but mostly non-fiction. Right now all my spare time is taken up overseeing the renovation of our new house. I am becoming an expert in mold remediation.
If you couldn’t be an author, what ideal job would you like to do?
Stage actor or beer-drinking folk musician. The perfect job would be playing Victor Begman in the remake of Space 1999 (Black Sun brandy drinking scene with Martin Landau).
Coffee or Tea? Or (exult deep breath) what other drink do you prefer, if you like neither?
Tea, hot, English (but not Earl Grey!) Having said that, I live in the US these days so drink mostly coffee.
You can travel to anywhere in the universe. Where would you go, and why?
Barsoom (when John Carter is away visiting Earth). Why? You’ll have to guess.
Pick any three fiction characters. These are now your roadtrip crew. Where do you go and what do you do?
The Spaceman, the Catman, and the Demon. We’d replace the Starchild with the Lich Lord and take down the Phantom of the Park.
What superpower would you most like?
Sugar and spice and everything nice.
What are two of your favorite covers of all time? (Not your own.)
Morlac: The Quest of the Green Magician by Gary Alan Ruse
Conan the Conqueor by Robert E. Howard and L. Spragu De Camp
If you could invite one person to dinner, who would it be and what would you cook?
Hiliare Belloc. I’d just offer him a stale baguette and a bottle of Chataeu neuf du Pape.
Share something your readers wouldn’t know about you.
I was once a Carmelite postulant in Australia.
It’s a very difficult time right now for the world. When quarantine and pandemic comes to an end, what is the first thing you would like to do?
Fly to England and see live music in an old pub whilst drinking a pint of Harvey’s bitter.
Finally, 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)?
It’s easiest to get hold of me on Facebook, but here are all the links: