Exclusive Interview: “Among The Gray Lords” Author D.J Butler


They say that the third time is the charm.

But whether or not that will be true for the adventurous duo of Indrajit Twang and Fix remains to be seen. Well, until you read their new novel all the way to the end, that is.

In the following email interview, author D.J. Butler discusses that new novel, Among The Gray Lords (hardcover, Kindle), the newest sword & sorcery adventure in his Tales Of Indrajit & Fix series.

D.J. Butler Among The Gray Lords
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For people who haven’t read the previous books in this series, In The Palace Of Shadow And Joy and Between Princesses And Other Jobs, or the interview we did about Palace, who are Indrajit Twang and Fix, what do they do, and what kind of a world do they live in?

They’re thinking men. Indrajit is the last epic poet of a dying people, trying to find a successor and an audience in a world that has moved on from epic oral poetry. Fix is a former monk who left the ashrama for love.

Indrajit and Fix are partners in a jobber company, which is to say they start the book leading a mercenary squad of three. They struggle to make their way in Kish, an old and corrupt city all of whose important functions are farmed out to jobbers like themselves. We would recognize Kish as a sword and sorcery setting, with a vaguely Bronze Age and vaguely Mediterranean / Asian feel to it. Kish is famously inhabited by the Thousand Races of Man, so it looks a bit like Mos Eisley — no elves or dwarves need apply.

So, what misadventures do they get into in those previous novels?

In In The Palace Of Shadow And Joy, our heroes meet and fall prey to an insurance fraud scheme with deadly intent and political ramifications. They survive, gain the notorious and sometimes brutal Lord Chamberlain, Orem Thrush, as a patron, and decide to form their jobber company.

In Between Princesses And Other Jobs, they have a series of adventures in Thrush’s service, policing the city’s financial district, the Paper Sook, and otherwise trying to maintain their honor while making their living on the borders of thuggery.

These are both excellent adventure novels, but a reader could step into the series first with Gray Lords — time passes in the books, but there is no overarching epic plot.

And then what is Among The Gray Lords about, and when and where does it take place in relation to Between Princesses And Other Jobs?

It takes place not long after Princesses. The Gray Lords of Kish are the heads of its thieves’ guilds, the Gray Houses. This book opens with something of a personal revelation about Fix, followed immediately by a personal disaster. Our heroes spend the book trying to save the life of someone dear to Fix, sneaking and dodging among the Gray Houses, and inadvertently weaving themselves deeper and deeper into a dire plot to destroy the city.

In The Palace Of Shadow And Joy and Between Princesses And Other Jobs were both fantasy novels of the sword & sorcery variety. Is it safe to assume that Among The Gray Lords is as well?

All three books are sword and sorcery on their face and can be enjoyed as such; the heroes are clever, muscular warriors, making their way by personal heroism, while the magicians are always mysterious and generally hostile powers.

But the books are also buddy comedies, driven heavily by the banter and relationships among the main characters.

They are also a kind of low-key science fiction, in that the magic that appears in them is generally understandable as weird biology or advanced tech. They’re something like Jack Vance’s Dying Earth books, except with likeable and even admirable protagonists.

Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Gray Lords but not on anything else you’ve written, and especially not In The Palace Of Shadow And Joy and Between Princesses And Other Jobs?

The series as a whole is influenced by the Thieves World anthologies, Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd And The Gray Mouser, Jack Vance, Gene Wolfe, and Joe Lansdale’s Hap And Leonard.

In this book, we really get into Underkish, the massive heap of ruins atop which the city is built. In some sense, I suppose those sequences must be influenced by the old classic D&D dungeon crawls, but another clear influence is C.S. Lewis’ The Silver Chair — I’m thinking of the sequence in which Puddleglum leads the children through snow-roofed tunnels, only slowly realizing what they’re really seeing.

What about non-literary influences; was Among The Gray Lords influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games? You mentioned Dungeons & Dragons, and in the aforementioned interview for In The Palace Of Shadow And Joy we talked about how that book was initially going to be a pen & paper role-playing game.

The books are still going to be a TTRPG! There’s a team working on it, organized on my Discord server. Reach out to me and I’ll send you an invitation. And as of this writing, I’m heading to Marscon tomorrow, where I’ll GM a Kish session using the Basic Roleplaying system.

This book has a plot strand that really embraces its inner B movie; unfortunately, I can’t tell you any more without giving spoilers. But Ray Harryhausen would be proud. And my inner homeowner would rush to the garage for industrial quantities of spectracide.

As I’ve mentioned a couple times, Among The Gray Lords is the third book in the Tales Of Indrajit & Fix series. But is this series an ongoing thing, or is Gray Lords the final book of a trilogy or the third in a series or four or five…?

It’s an ongoing thing. I’ve got enough short stories to fill out about a third of another volume, at this point. I’m not sure Indrajit and Fix are the kinds of characters who would ever really be satisfied with happy endings, anyway.

Now, along with Among The Gray Lords, you have another new book out, the paperback version of Time Trials, which you co-wrote with M.A. Rothman. What is that novel about, and when and where is it set?

It’s sort of Stargate meets Quantum Leap. An archaeological team jumps back in time and has to defend ancient humanity against monsters who look like Egyptian gods.

I’ve seen Time Trails referred to as a LitRPG novel, and a technothriller, and also that it has a fantasy feel. How do you describe it, genre-wise, and why that way?

Yeah, those are all correct. It feels like epic fantasy, because the band of heroes with assorted powers have to go on a quest against monsters. It starts like a Michael Crichton novel. And the story, uh…follows some D&D logic. We do not print the game statistics, though, so maybe it’s fairer to call it LitRPG-Lite.

Time Trials also sounds a bit like it takes influence from such movies as the Indiana Jones series, and the National Treasure movies, as well as Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon novels and the movies based on them. What do you consider to be the biggest influences — literary and not — on both the story in Time Trials, and how you and M.A. tell it?

All of the above. And Stargate and Quantum Leap, as noted. And the AD&D Player’s Handbook. And Mike’s Levi Yoder novels…play a role. Graham Hancock is an influence. Charles Hapgood’s Maps Of The Ancient Sea Kings. The history of Old Kingdom Egypt.

Time Trials is not the first time you’ve co-written a novel. You previously co-wrote the Cunning Man Series with Aaron Michael Ritchey. What was it about Time Trials that made you want to write it with someone else, and specifically with M.A.?

Well, Mike proposed the project to me, and I liked his idea. At that point, I couldn’t very well write it without him, could I?

And then, to bring it back to Among The Gray Lords, how, if at all, do you think co-writing Time Trials with M.A., and working within such different genres — how do you think those things impacted how you wrote Gray Lords, or the story you’re telling in it?

The Indrajit & Fix novels definitely share a sort of ancient world-fantasy feel with Time Trials, as opposed to a medieval world-fantasy feel. They also share roots in fantasy gaming, though sort of from contrary directions: Time Trials is a kind of D&D book set on Earth, while Indrajit & Fix are having adventures in its own fantasy setting meant to played in using D&D or any similar game.

Now, this is normally the point when I ask if someone thinks their book could work as a movie, TV show, or game. We already talked about it being a game, and in the interview we did for In The Palace Of Shadow And Joy, you also said, “I have a Hollywood producer who’s a friend and we talk,” and then you expressed interest in turning this series into a streaming show. Has anything ever come of that?

Not yet. Still talking. If any other Hollywood producers are reading this and interested, reach out. My friend can stand the competition.

If something did happen with an Indrajit & Fix movie or show, who would you want them to cast as Indrajit and Fix and the other main characters and why them?

I like Jason Momoa [Aquaman] for Indrajit; he’s tall and has the sense of humor for it.

Fix would have to be played by someone similar muscular, but shorter, and with a kind of grim gravitas. Maybe an actor like Mark Wahlberg [The Family Plan], though he’s a pretty white-looking guy, and Fix has a darker complexion. Maybe Antonio Banderas [Uncharted], but 25 years ago. Maybe Vin Diesel [Fast X]?

The third member of their jobber company would require some CGI work, since he’s a tall man with the head of a dog. I feel like Dwayne Johnson [Black Adam] would do a great job.

So, is there anything else you think people need to know about Among The Gray Lords or the Tales Of Indrajit & Fix series?

These books are funny.

D.J. Butler Among The Gray Lords

Finally, if someone enjoys Among The Gray Lords, and they’ve already read In The Palace Of Shadow And Joy and Between Princesses And Other Jobs, what sword & sorcery novel or novella of someone else’s would you suggest they read next?

They should read Howard Andrew Jones’ Lord Of A Shattered Land [which you can read more about here]. Howard’s protagonist Hanuvar is half Conan and half Hannibal of Carthage; the book is exciting to read, but has a crisp literary edge to it.

And after they do that, what LitRPG novel or novella of someone else’s would you suggest they read?

The Sleeping Dragon by Joel Rosenberg. Rosenberg’s series is not strictly LitRPG in that he doesn’t heap game stats on you. Maybe it’s proto-LitRPG, like Tron, where the central conceit is the same — the characters go into their game world and have to fight evil there — but the page isn’t cluttered with details about hit points and powerups.


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