Under the Radar SFF Interview

This is a text transcript of the Under the Radar SFF Podcast interview hosted by Blaise Ancona and released on March 24, 2022.

Wars of Light and Shadow

Blaise: Hello and welcome to another episode of Under the Radar S.F.F. Books podcast. My name is Blaise. Thank you so much for joining me and listening wherever you may be around the world. If you like the content I create, please like, subscribe, leave a comment, and leave five stars. It really helps me grow not only as a person, but as a podcast creator. Today it's time for another author interview and I'm pleased to be joined by international best-selling author and artist, Janny Wurts, author of over 20 magnificent books and someone I consider to be truly a personal friend of mine. Janny, welcome to the program and thank you so much for joining me.

Janny: Thank you so much for having me, Blaise.

Blaise: Oh, it's a pleasure as always. I remember when we first started communicating, it must have been over a year ago when I first picked up Curse of the Mistwraith. I won it in a e-book giveaway. I remember tweeting you and a bunch of my followers on Twitter saying, "What do you think about this series?" Everyone says it's the best epic fantasy series you can read that pretty much not too many people know about and it's just a testament to the type of author you are always driving forward despite any obstacles you may have. And this series is coming to an ultimate pinnacle because of it. So I applaud your perseverance through all of this.

Curse of the Mistwraith

Janny: It's been a labor of love, but I hope it becomes more than the labor of love as time goes on. It's been quite a quite a journey, five decades.

Blaise: Wow, five decades in the making. And I'm sure the start of those thoughts coming into your mind of where this series started before that. Well, first off, before we begin, I'd like to say congratulations on finishing the draft for your finale. The Song of the Mysteries is currently with your editor and we're very much looking forward to getting our hands on that as soon as it becomes available

Janny: I can't wait too.

Blaise: It's been a testament of love and dedication that you've had for the series dating back to when you first started it. So with that in mind, why don't we just jump right into it? How did it all start with you as an author? What drove you to want to start writing stories of your own and what were your influences along the way?

Janny: I love to read. And that didn't start out that way, oddly enough. I almost being very close to being a non-reader because the school system was so terrible. What they gave you to read at school was so bad. I just tuned out and it wasn't until third grade when I snuck into the library and snuck into the teen division and took out Walter Farley's Black Stallion books and I said, "Oh, this is worth reading", because up until that time, all I wanted to do was play in the woods, mess around outside. So I discovered Walter Farley and that was worth learning to read. So that was the beginning of my lifelong love of reading stories. And when I came to college and I studied science and I studied all kinds of things that -- artwork, you name it -- I decided writing was going to give me the most freedom to experiment with everything that I wanted to in the world. And also everybody who reads knows there's that one book that you can't find in the library, you got that itch and that's the book you have to write. So I guess by the time I finished high school I had written three novels that are garbage before I ever came to writing a book that was worth paying attention to. So I sort of had the longest apprenticeship that nobody ever saw.

Blaise: Wow, that's quite a story. So obviously when any author starts out, there's going to be many bumps along the way and there's going to be works that just never make it to the light of day. Would you say your current project, The Wars of Light and Shadow, grew from that writing process and how much influence was those bumps along the road and made you the writer you are today?

Janny: Well, let me see. The very first idea I had for Wars of Light and Shadow was an anger that I was the brown-haired sister in a family of blondes. And I said I'm really tired of reading the pretty little blonde-haired princess and always the bad guy is the dark-haired person. And you know, so I said I'm going to turn this upside down and I'm going to have two half brothers and I'm going to have one guy that's the blond charismatic and everything you read about it makes you think "hero". But when you look at what's really going on, what's underneath of that hero image is not so heroic. So I took the dark-haired and also the short man, not the tall one -- the little guy. And so I built two sides of the conflict by turning that concept upside down. At that time I felt that I was building an entire world so I built thousands and thousands and thousands of years of back history to make it really powerfully rooted, so that it was a believable world and in the process I was mixing and matching periods because the time period that I was using on this world has restrictions technologically and so I had to mix and match periods. So I had to do a lot of research to fit everything together so it had a plausible premise.

Curse of the Mistwraith
Original cover art for Volume 1: Curse of the Mistwraith. ©1993 Janny Wurts.

So I probably read and studied warfare from the Romans all the way forward to when gunpowder started influencing the outcome and in the process of that research, I saw a documentary film on Culloden Field which ripped off all of the romance, all of the pretty poetry, all of the pretty novels, all of the bonnie Prince Charlie. It just shredded that myth and it showed what happened in that battle as it actually happened and how truly ugly it was, how bad leadership just destroyed what was happening and it ruined people's lives. Most of them were conscripted. So I walked out of that documentary absolutely furious because I realized that all of our newscasts, all of the books, all of our histories were written by the victor. War has been glorified over and over and over, newscast everything. And the worst offender of all was fantasy. The big battle and the "might makes right" always happens at the end, at that time. So I set out to do different. So the Wars of Light and Shadow became much more than just turning a simple trope on its head of who looks like the hero is not the hero. And if you believe that the myth is the truth, then you become the tool to upset the other side that might have a lot more nuance to it. So it also became a writing where the history is not written by the victor, where you do see both sides of the conflict, where you do see very clearly what's going on and that any conflict always has multiple facets to it. You can't oversimplify human nature.

Blaise: Exactly. I got that feeling when reading the Wars of Light and Shadow. I've read all 10 published books. Each one is better than the next. It just builds on the layers that you are slowly putting in the text from book 1 all the way up to book 10. And even in the finale, as I'm sure we'll all see when it comes out. So Wars of Light and Shadow, you already mentioned your influence with that film. Are there any other like nonfiction or actually fantasy influences that you took heart from and entered into your work? What were the big players in constructing the Wars of Light and Shadow?

Janny: I think that your decision, any person's decision is only as good as their perspective and when that perspective grows and it changes, it may completely reorder what priorities that you value. So your value system changes as you grow and as you encounter and if you're not willing to look beyond your perspective, you stop growing. So a lot of what I was playing with is one person's attribute in one set of circumstances may make them the hero, but that same set of attributes in another set of circumstances might make them the villain. So it really takes a village to steer something because no one perspective is going to win through and make the right choice all the way down the line. So that was part of it. Part of it was I believe that a story is the gift of experience given to someone else, and I've been very fortunate and in my life being able to travel and experience things, ride horses, sail offshore. So a lot of my actual experience hands on has been placed into the book. So if you're an armchair reader and you don't want to be tried with what it really feels like to be tested physically in the wilderness, don't read these books because I'm going to bring that facet to it. I'm going to try to bring you some of that experience in full living color.

Janny Wurts riding Phil
Janny riding Watch Philomina (photo by Don Maitz)

Blaise: Yeah, you certainly bring those experiences to the page and you challenge the reader 100% even from the first chapter. I'd say you're not an author to hold the reader's hand, you're not going to spoon feed them the answers, you're gonna push them to the brink and both emotionally, psychologically, all-encompassing those types of feelings of reading a story. And it's also -- you introduce layers and layers of detail and lore and classes and understanding that will slowly build over time. And it's just a masterpiece of how you do this. When constructing this series -- and we'll start with Curse of the Mistwaith, obviously, because it's the first book. It's also, you said, it's the most challenging. When you are constructing all of these, like, hints and layers that you wanted to tell to the audience, how difficult was it to introduce it in the first book and slowly over time. Because I know you said you had struggled with the first book.

Janny: How much do you show? And how much do you not? And the timing when this first book came out was in the early nineties and I was constructing this first book all through the eighties and the seventies. So there were certain conventions that I followed to make it feel like you're reading a somewhat classical fantasy. I leave a lot of assumptions in place so that you think you might be looking at something that's vaguely medieval or vaguely European, but the further that you go, those layers are going to be stripped off and you're gonna find one day you wake up in the middle of the series and you realize you're not in Kansas anymore. This is not Earth. These are not European aristocracy. It's not constructed that way, actually. The entire system of the politics and the way the law is set up on this world is quite different than Earth. And it's built around the planetary electromagnetics that are not the same as Earth at all. So, I had to take the layers off, piece by piece by piece and the way that I do that was bringing two characters into the world that had not experienced it. And as they discover, you discover. And so one by one, all the assumptions that you're allowed to carry in book one get blown away.

Blaise: Yeah. And the further you get, just the more little hints that you pay attention to in the detail from book one and going forward, the more like the Aha! moment is, when you're connecting the dots. And I can honestly say from my own personal experience reading this within about a year span, I must say at least 95% of the material of what I thought would happen did not happen. So you definitely keep readers on their toes and nothing is as it seems, nothing is predictable. And you never write the same story, you never write the same ending twice. You're always pushing the envelope of what the story can be and where it's going to. And a lot of authors I know I can't do that. They feel comfortable in what they know how to do and they just keep doing it over and over again. And some are very successful doing it. But you chose a completely different approach. Why did you take that approach?

Janny: Well, first of all, it's a long form work and if you're going to spend five decades planning something and two decades actually producing the work, the actual writing the books, you had better not bore yourself. So I get tired of the same old, same old, really quickly. I've got to push the envelope and I felt when I set out to do this series, I wanted to absolutely gut punch you. I wanted to make a story that you look back on it and it's so memorable, you can't forget it and it's gonna knock the wind out of you. Not just once but many times, and I chose not to pull my punches, not to care about who reads this and hates it. It's not written for those people. I wanted to break the envelope not just once, but five times. So it's a story in five Arcs, and I wanted to hammer the envelope every time in five Arcs. So when you come back and you read book one, you carry all the perspectives that you did not have when you started book one. If you read book one and read through the series a second time, it will be a whole different story because the conflict will have a different shape because you will know where all the different factions are coming from and you will see things in the first book that were written right in, but you went right past because your assumptions blinded you.

Signal at the Havens
Original cover art for Volume 2: Ships of Merior. © Janny Wurts.

It's been pretty well proven that you eliminate 50% of the data that you see in front of your eyes, you just plain eliminate it. There were scientists actually that group cats in cages that had vertical bars and horizontal bars and when they were year old, they switched the cats from the cages and the cats who were brought up with the vertical bars tripped over the horizontal bars. They did not see them. And the cats who had the horizontal bars rammed into the vertical bars because they were not sensorally trained to that environment. So you are eliminating 50% of the available data based on how you grew up in what furniture you banged into. And then according to your belief system, you eliminate 25% more after that. So you're running on 25% of the available data that's in front of your eyes all the time, but because you trained your brain not to pay attention to it, you can't see it. So, I played with that concept tremendously as I wrote this series, when you go back and you reread it, you're going to see a whole vista that was not apparent because your current societal assumptions blinded you to what was actually happening on the page.

Blaise: Yes, I can attest to that. Going through the series, I know you and I have been sending chats back and forth throughout the series of little details. I read the line and my mind just went to something else because it was caught up either in the momentum of the story, in the characters, in the outside factions, the clans, the free wild, what have you. But if you go like a book or two later that particular line will change everything and you just had no idea. You don't know until you know, and then going back to reread this series, I'm very much looking forward to in anticipation for the finale. I very much anticipate reading it in a new light because not only do I know what's transpiring, but I know the hints and clues of where to look for.

Janny: You're going to be shocked at what you tuned out. And that's the biggest trouble people have with book one is their assumptions kill them. They walk in and they expect the story to do this and they get annoyed when it's actually doing that and then they get bored because they failed to read what was on the page and pick up where the story was actually taking them. And then they said, oh no, I'm gonna leave this book here. And I'm like happily bye-bye because I wanted the kind of reader who does pay attention, who does see between the lines, who does read and think about what they're reading, but even so, you're going to write off a tremendous amount of things because you think, you know, but you only know what you don't know.

Blaise: The one work that work is compared to most is Steven Erikson's Malazan or Malazan Book of the Fallen series. And I've read both series. You and I are both big fans of Steven Erikson's work and probably the biggest thing that the the two series have in common are the themes and just the layers and layers of details and introspection and revelations that will shock you when you reread the series. What would you say are the biggest comparisons and differences to the series? I know you and I are bigger fans of that one.

Janny: First one that comes to mind is the full spectrum of emotion. When you read the Malazan series, it really doesn't play on the light side at all. It really gets into the grim in the dark and the catharsis of seeing the worst that can happen and then growing through that. I wanted to have a full spectrum work I wanted for every dark scene that's in this book, I'm not gonna pull the punches. I'm gonna knock the wind out of you, but I'm gonna give you the light side. I'm going to give you something that's so incredibly beautiful it's gonna break your heart. So, I wanted that full spectrum. Every society has its music and its arts and you have the criminal end but you also have the Mother Teresa's. So, I wanted to build a series that had that full spectrum impact.

The second thing is, though this world has elder powers and has thousands and thousands of years of back history and ages and ages and even eras of back history that you will never see in the story. It's all built. I only selectively pull things forward. My story is much narrower because the world has restrictions. It's as much about what planet it occurs on and the differences between this planet and Earth as it is about what is happening on the planet. So there's a narrower cast of characters, they don't change their names, they don't ascend and become gods and you're not going to get confused that way. So in a way it's more character driven, you're going to take that character's journey and you're going to see that characters change and that growth and it's going to be more tight focused in that manner. I described the way that the writing of this series happens as a spiral because you see something at one level of awareness and then you will acquire more insight as to what's really happening and then you'll see everything again from another perspective and then it will spiral over the same things and you'll see it again from another perspective. And by the time you come out Arc V you're seeing on maybe 12 layers of perspective and it completely changes what you saw the ground floor. So Erickson is similar, but he usually does that by overlaying eras and time in history. I do it by building on the characters and how their awareness grows. I would say that I don't show war with this broad scale of perspective. You see it a little more through the character's eyes, but it's every bit as brutal and it's not quite so pulpy. It's definitely not a pulpy approach, you know, where you get these really bizarre creatures and stuff going on in Erickson. Most of the bizarre creatures happened in another era on this world and a lot of them are not still present. So I don't know how -- you would almost be a better person to give that opinion than me because I don't see the forest for the trees.

Fugitive Prince
Original cover art for Volume 4: Fugitive Prince. ©1997 Janny Wurts.

Blaise: So my perspective is, you're right, Erickson introduces his world through -- it's dark and it just gets darker as the series goes on. I mean you and I have both read Memories of Ice and we both read Reaper's Gale. Those are some of the darker books you can read in the series and probably one of the darker books in all of epic fantasy. You introduce dark tones and dark themes as well. And you also give the other side to that the the light and the hope of what's to come. Yes and Ericsson does it through history and like ages and lore, and you do it through different times as well. Like I think when we introduce your characters, you're in the Third Age and there's Ages one and two which we barely even touch.

Janny: There are Eras before Ages one and two.

Blaise: Exactly, and we never -- even reading the series -- we don't really touch on those too much. That's how big your world is and how much meat on the bone there is left to tell even beyond this series once it's done. So it's just a different approach to storytelling and one that -- I love all different types of storytelling. Yours is definitely something different and it's something that I very much enjoyed reading.

Janny: I think too, you know, Erickson when he started out, his elder powers are pretty much in your face.

Blaise: Right.

Janny: Mine, you build up to that, you definitely build up to that and you might be in the same time period in the same moment in time as one of those elder powers, but they're so quiet. You aren't going to see them unless you're prepared to see them. You're not going to see them unless you're running at that frequency or you're ready to see them. And that's one of the things you'll find when you go back to book one is some of those things are very much present, but because of your assumptions and your prejudices, you missed it. And I really wanted that, I really wanted that sense of you're going to break out of your boxes one by one by one. I wanted you to fall into that pit of assumption. So the elder powers are very, very much present, but they're very, very subtle until you start hitting the level where they are active and then they're not subtle at all.

Blaise: Exactly, that's that's one thing I did pick up reading your series and while we're on that same wavelength, why don't we also talk about the different structures and powers and characters that inhabit your world. So we have, we have the two main characters. We have Arithon and we have Lysaer who are the two half brothers, one of shadow, one of light. They enter Athera and it's -- through prophecy, they're destined to remove the curse of the Mistwraith from the land. And we won't go much further into the details of that. But also in this world there's different powers. There's different kingdoms, there's different clans. There's the free wilds. We have the seven Fellowship sorcerers and we have all of male sorcerers and we have the, the Koriani who are female sorcerers who contain a lot of magic and the history of them. Can you just talk us about constructing these different aspects of your world and particularly the Seven and the Koriani, because those are my favorite aspects of the books.

Janny: Well, I think we have to go and strip down to the very basics of this world. It has a steeper inclination. So it's a smaller in diameter world than Earth is. And it sits on a steeper axis. So it has a very powerful magnetic field and it has a very powerful set of electromagnetics. So I actually built the magic system on physics, resonance, particles of light being both a particle and a wave at the same time. And then I built the magic systems around that as to how do you access that? And I used some very real things. Quartz is piezoelectric. It both holds and discharges electrical impulses. So how you access that electromagnetic potential depends which faction you're coming from. And so I tried to build it along frequency and resonance and physics -- real physical properties. So the Fellowship act one way and the Koriathain can access their power another way. And there are other elder powers on the world that access them a completely different way up to and including bending time and space. So it depends which shoot you drop the marble down. But all the principles underlying all of the power on this world are the same principles. So it's basically one unified reality and you're you're accessing it probably 6-7 different ways. So if that answers you.

It also depends on what is your moral high ground. And the series is going to leave you with assumptions on one side until they get broken. The Koriathain, they started as a secret society and they started thousands of years before they even arrived on this world. So we won't go into that. But their principal purpose was originally a humanitarian organization and it got corrupted, changed, warped, became something else in the course of centuries. Thousands of years, multiple societies. The Fellowship's purpose is different. They are not a humanitarian organization. They are totally, their moral high ground is devoted to something totally different. And until you can wrap your head around that, you really don't know where they're coming from. They might seem tyrannical or they might seem this or they might seem that. So one of the things the series plays with is, what is the moral high ground? What is the moral compass driving this faction or this aspect of society or this secret sisterhood, what is their purpose? And unless you know that you're not going to make the right judgment call as to what they're really doing. So I try to have multiple entry points and that's part of what happens as you go through the series. You think, you know who these sorcerers are, or you think you know what the Koriathain are really doing. And then come the Third Arc where you raise it to world view and you start seeing what the moral compass is behind some of these factions. It's gonna totally change what you thought happened in book one.

Blaise: Yes, the further along you get the more the histories of these two factions, the more the repercussions of their choices of how they interact with the magic system of Athera in terms of electromagnetic fields and the crystals that are involved -- it will just blow you away and it will keep building on it throughout the series as well. One question I wanted to ask you because I've gotten several new readers who have tried this and they're confused when they look on Goodreads or Amazon they see the Arcs. So book 1 is Arc 1. Book 2 and 3 are Arc 2. Books 4 through 8 are Arc 3. Book 9 and 10 are Arc Four. And the finale is Arc 5. When you were putting this series together and you wanted to put it into different Arcs, could you just go through how you constructed those and what they mean for any new reader wanting to pick up your Wars of Light and Shadow series?

Janny: The first book is really the stage setter, it's the ground floor where you're going to step in there and it's going to feel like a traditional fantasy except it's not going to do what you want it to do. The hero is not necessarily going to be the hero and the bad guy's not gonna necessarily be the bad guy and they're even going to change places. It depends where you are in the narrative. So basically book one is the stage setter, so you have to come into it somewhere. And so I tried to put a little bit of the foundation for everything because there's small little things that happen in the first Arc that are going to play out tremendously in the 5th Arc and the final volume it had to be in there in the in the ground floor. So I would suggest people if you're having trouble with book one, there's a couple of satellite shorts you could read first that would give you an easier entry. But it would also give away some things that come later.

Okay, the second Arc deepens the characters and deepens the conflict. So it really gets you invested in those two characters and what they stand for and how they evolve because they're set against each other in volume one. But how do they handle it? And it deals with what do you do? Do you make the choice for the many? Do you get the mass following or do you try to subvert that, one on one? So the two characters have opposite backgrounds. One was trained to rule and the other one was trained to be a very discerning individual and an artist. What happens when you set that against each other? The guy who's charismatic into the mass following that can build a huge huge war host. How do you how do you subvert that? How do you escape it? So the second Arc deals with the first stage of how these two half brothers handle what has happened to them and it gets you very deeply invested and it deepens the feel of the place, deepens the feel of the things that these characters encounter. So you really set roots into the world.

The 3rd Arc takes you to world view and that's where you begin to see where all the factions are coming from, what their moral compass is. You realize that there's far more happening than what these two characters have encountered yet. There are bigger conflicts at stake underneath of what's going on. The 4th Arc stages you for the mysteries. So that takes you down deep into the magic and the layers of the magic and how it works and exactly what happens when conflict overlays on top of this planet that is not Earth and how it changes things. So the impact of the surface action, you're gonna begin to see under it and over it, it's gonna get taller and it's gonna get deeper and you're gonna realize that everything that happens has bigger impact. So it's like tossing a stone into a puddle. Those ripples are gonna start to widen. So 4th Arc takes you and stages for the mysteries.

And the 5th Arc, the final volume is going to take you into the elder powers, take you into the mysteries, You're going to go through the heart of it and you're going to really see the entire picture of how it all fits together. So I look on it also, if you want to split it as books 1, 2 and 3 as being one set, and then five books in the middle, center arc. And then 4th Arc and 5th is three more books.Those three fit very tightly together, so really you cannot assess what you're seeing in book one unless you've read the second arc on top of it. Then you're going to have an accurate picture of what was started to be built in the first book. I stick endings. I don't front load things, I don't write at all in the first few pages and then you spend the rest of the book figuring it out. No, I start you not knowing anything and I hammer the ending. So you won't figure it out unless you have finished that book or finished that Arc and I don't cliffhang you so you will finish the book at a point where you feel like you've accomplished something but you can't see the whole picture until you've seen the whole thing.

Blaise: Yeah, I can attest to you absolutely stick landings. You don't give cliffhangers but you also can kind of figuratively stick a knife in people not literally, but figuratively stick a knife in people. I remember finishing some books in the series and just being shaken, shaken by what I've just read, the repercussions, the revelations of how it relates to an earlier entry and just picking up the next one immediately. That's just the type of gripping tale that you have written and it's just -- I can't speak highly of it enough. Now, although we're talking highly and glowing of your masterpiece, the Wars of Light and Shadow... for anyone new to your writing, I think we both agree that this is not the place you should begin because you throw people into the deep end rather quickly and it's pretty much sink or swim. Any new reader, how would you walk them through entry into your works and building them up to this masterpiece?

Original cover art for Volume 6: Peril's Gate. ©2001 Janny Wurts.

Janny: It depends what you want to read. If you want a simple piece of fluff and you want to have a book that has a quick read that's very simpler, very linear. My first book, Sorcerer's Legacy is just a court intrigue story and it flows very quickly. You don't have to think too much, you can just read it and get through it. The second book that I wrote after that is the only coming of age that I did. It's called The Cycle of Fire, beginning with Stormwarden, it's a trilogy. And it has three young people, all of whom have flaws. And unlike many books that start with young protagonists, they're not all going to make the right choices and they're not all going to come out okay. So these are pretty linear stories. Then I did The Master of Whitestorm where I took apart the psychological makeup of what makes a hero. And that one is very episodic. It's very sword and sorcery. It's got a very narrow cast, sort of as a series of adventures that are stuck together until you reach the half point and you begin to get a picture of this character's life, his psyche, what he's really about, and then it leads him to face his worst fears and what happens then. So, those are very simple books if you want a simple book, those are the ones to start with. If you read the Empire series, those are the easier entries. The bridge between the Empire series that I did with Ray and the Light and Shadows would probably be To Ride Hell's Chasm, which is a combination court intrigue, thriller, action, adventure, mystery. And it also is about a warrior, but a very different one than Master of Whitestorm. But it has a bigger cast of characters and a little bit more complexity of language. So that gives you -- and then there's short stories, some 36 short stories. I don't do the same story twice. And that throws people too. They might absolutely love one book and then pick up another one and hate it because I would get bored if it was dull like that. I have to write a different story. I will never write the same ending, I will never write the same character, I will never write the same setup or world. And so that throws people when they come off one of the earlier books and they think they can rip right into Wars of Light and Shadow. Well, it's a different book. I took the gloves off there and I did not pull any punches. I put everything I had into that book and it definitely is a more complex read. And it's more complex with the ideas, language, and with the concepts, it's bigger. It's deeper.

Blaise: Depending on the type of reader you are, you may like one book or series more than than another. I personally, I have read The Empire trilogy. I have read The Master of Whitestorm, which I absolutely loved. I'm looking forward to reading To Ride Hell's Chasm in the coming months as well. So I'm very much looking forward to that. What helped me enter Wars of Light and Shadow was I did have the Malazan background, but even with that it still didn't prepare me 100% for what's to come. And that's just the joy of picking up a new series. Now you're not just an author, you are an artist. Your cover art, they're spectacular, the colors and how detailed they are. And I know you're going to go through the process of putting together artwork for your finale. So could you just walk us through that process of sketching and how those come to be because they're wonderful.

Janny: Well, I had to learn to draw because at the time I started developing this series, everything looked like Conan and I love Frank Rosetta, but I wasn't writing a character that looked like that. So I always doodled all my life. So I simply sat down and said, I'm gonna learn how to draw and I'm gonna go get cover commissions, I'm gonna bring myself up to a professional level. And then I'm gonna darn well paint the covers and illustrate this thing because you only get one shot at seeing what the author actually saw. Many artists can illustrate this series after I'm gone. That's fine. But you only get one chance to see what I saw. So it's a very very different process when you write and when you draw. It uses a different side of your brain and it's visually -- visual is different. The easiest way I can describe it is that I'm sitting at the easel drawing one day and a friend of mine is learning to use my word processor back when word processors were new. And I turned around and she had come to the end of the sentence and I said, "Make a spot." I'm drawing and a period is a spot. Paper that you write on when you want to take a telephone note is striped paper. It isn't lined paper, it isn't writing paper, it's striped paper. So when I come off of drawing and I try to write, it's a mess because I'm not thinking in symbols. I'm not thinking in words, I'm thinking in direct color. Direct visual is different. So another thing I can tell you is when I'm doing drawings, I gotta be careful when I'm crossing the road because you see the car coming at you and you're looking at the reflections on that shiny piece of paint on that car. You're not thinking "car coming at me, gonna take me off at the knees". You're looking visually at the light, the shadows, the reflections, the texture. So it's a very different process. So it does take a lot of extra time to learn to get good at both because it requires a lot more focus in two different complete areas of your brain.

Blaise: Well your artwork is just fantastic and I know how uncommon it is for an artist to be an author as well. Do you have any other colleagues who do the same thing? Because I think it's pretty pretty rare from my perspective.

Janny: Well Howard Pyle was my big inspiration on that. He was very famous writer / illustrator and I went down to the Brandywine Museum in high school and I saw those big huge pictures that he painted in oils, pirates and the Black Arrow and all the really cool stuff that N.C. Wyeth did. So I was exposed very early to the fact that writing and illustrating could be done with the same mind. There are authors today who do illustrate. Greg Bear did book covers before he became a writer. Maggie Stevedore is one who does absolutely gorgeous drawings. So it isn't uncommon. CJ Cherry even had very accurate drawings of some of the concepts she had in some of her books. To the point where I did a game cover illustration for one of her pieces of writing and I said, what does this look like? And she drew the whole thing out. So it isn't impossible to do this, but it's uncommon because you really have to conquer two disciplines. But yeah, there are -- I know Stephen Erickson even does beautiful drawings, I've seen him do them. I've seen him do incredible doodles and drawings. So it is not a rare thing, but just the sheer number of hours it takes to develop that to professional standard. It takes an awful lot of time.

Master of Whitestorm
Original cover art for Master of Whitestorm. Winner of two consecutive World Fantasy Art Show Awards. ©1990 Janny Wurts.

Blaise: Yeah, I can only imagine writing an 11 book epic and then doing the sketches in the books themselves and then doing the cover art and the coloring. It's a nonstop like year round job. Even after you finished the draft, which you currently did. Now you have to prepare the edits and you have to prepare the sketches in your mind and doing all the -- and doing the appendices which are very, very long and they're very detail-oriented. And one thing I noticed: if something was confusing me or I forgot something when I was reading a book, just going to the appendices just, "oh yeah, I remember this this part" and those are so great and how you construct those. Were those difficult to put together or those pretty much straightforward as you were writing the next book in the series.

Janny: Well, they were straightforward as far as the definitions, but I tried to give you a wider view. So if you go and you look in the glossary and you look up a name or a place or a character or a historical figure, you're gonna probably pick up some historical detail that was not in the books. So you're actually gonna get little tidbits in that appendix material. Not only that, the language. The language was constructed in a really different way. I'm not a linguist, I did not base it on linguistics. I based it on power and the concept of power and how it translates through into physical reality. So the way the language is constructed is really different and I actually put some of the translations and some of the root meanings and some of that world building which took years into those appendix materials. So you're going to see a little wider view than you would if you did not look up that term. So I try to give you a bonus for the fact that well you didn't remember this detail from a former volume, but if you have to look it up, you're going to get some extra insight.

Blaise: Yeah, I remember looking up the appendix and learning something I didn't quite remember, like, oh this is interesting to learn, especially learning about the certain swords and their history. So that was very entertaining as well. So, well done with with those. It was definitely very rewarding. If you take the time to look look through it. Coming up in the end, I just ask this on all my author interviews: since I'm #UnderTheRadar, are there any authors who you feel are a little bit under the radar or need more exposure to get more readers to their works?

Janny: Oh boy. Do you know I could go on all day on things like that. I would say I really like Paige Christie. She's with a small press, she shouldn't be. Her books are amazing the way she twists and turns tropes and puts them on their head. I think there are tons of authors that came from the eighties and nineties that people have forgotten because they're pre internet. So people like Barbara Hambly, people like Ellen Kushner, people like Elizabeth Willey who did A Sorcerer and a Gentleman. She was doing Fantasy of Manners before that. People like Emma Bull who did War for the Oaks, which was urban fantasy before urban fantasy became a thing. People like Charles de Lint. There are an awful lot of authors who were not doing Tolkien clones who have just plain been forgotten or put aside and they're still writing. A lot of these authors are still going. I highly recommend Carol Berg for depth of character, for grit, for unpredictable books that you can't predict the ending. She's just top notch. I would have said Martha Wells but she's become discovered now that she's done Murderbot, but I've been reading Martha Wells for years and years. Read Jani Killian series by Kristine smith, incredible science fiction. Just so well done. Sarah Zettel's science fiction mind blowing, she's as good as any male writer, but because she was a woman and writing science fiction, she's been written off and I constantly pushed people to read the Quiet Invasion and it blows their mind. It's a first contact story. It's just so, so well done. RM Meluch, the Jerusalem Fire, another author who has been completely stepped over and forgotten. Amazing work about the perspective of a battle. What do you do when you're a general and you win a war and then you realize you fought on the wrong side of history? Whoa, powerful story. I would say the Merro Tree by Katie Waitman, another look of cultural appropriation and what the entertainment industry can do and not do when it intersects politically. So yeah, I could go on all day on authors that you ought to dig up and read.

Blaise: Well one such author and I'll end with this one that you introduced me to and I can't thank you enough is Ricardo Pinto, Stone Dance of the Chameleon series, one of the grittiest, darkest, grim dark fantasy series I think I've ever read and I'm only three books in and it's, I've been told that it's just gonna crush me just going forward. So I have you to thank for that.

Janny: And visual, his style, his visual style. It's just absolutely so lush. He mixes what, Mesoamerican and megafauna dinosaurs altogether in this incredible world. It's just an amazing piece of work. But so different. You can't quantify it, you can't characterize it same as Ken Skull's work. You can't, you can't quantify those kind of fantasies. They're just so original.

Blaise: Yeah, you can't can't put it to words and you wouldn't know it unless someone points it out to you or you just come across it in a bookstore, which at this day and age, those was a few and far between. But we're always thankful for for the authors who persevere through tough times who are willing to put in the extra mile to reach an audience. I enjoy tremendously finding these authors, reading them and sharing their works with with the community because I feel like there's too many underappreciated authors and and series that need to be read.

Janny: Thank you for Shadows of the Apt by Adrian Tchaikovsky, amazing piece of work, and whoever recommended Miles Cameron, Red Knight, that series just blew me away. Fantastic book, fantastic series.

Blaise: I agree on both of them. Shadows of the Apt to this day, still top five series along with Wars of Light and Shadow and Malazan to go with others. So I can't thank you enough for writing this series and I appreciate it from the bottom of my heart and with that I think we'll wrap this up. Janny, why don't you tell our audience members where they can find you on social media, Twitter, and your website where they can find your artwork?

Janny: I am absolutely the only Janny Wurts in the entire world. So if you spell it correctly, you will find me. I have a website, it has lots of excerpts, it has recorded excerpts, I'm on Twitter, I have a fan page on Facebook and I answer my email so I'm pretty easy to find.

Blaise: Lovely and I'm sure with more and more readers entering the series, they will be reaching out again and again. I know I've been getting a bunch of emails and followings and messages saying I can't wait to dig into this series, reminds me so much of this. So very much looking forward to the following growing and hopefully by the time the finale is out, we'll get there and maybe we'll do a reread. I can't wait for that.

Janny: Thank you very much for having me, Blaise.

Blaise: Cheers!

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