With The Bard’s Blade (paperback, Kindle), fantasy writer Brian D. Anderson is kicking off a new trilogy called The Sorcerer’s Song. In the following email interview, he discusses what inspired and influenced this epic fantasy tale, along with how it’s fundamentally different from his previous indie novels.
Photo Credit: Eleni Anderson
To begin, what is The Bard’s Blade about and in what kind of a world is it set?
I’ve always had difficulty describing my own work without rambling on in a way that amounts to a full-blown synopsis. So I think I’ll start with the description given on the back cover.
“Mariyah enjoys a simple life in Vylari, a land magically sealed off from the outside world, where fear and hatred are all but unknown. There, she’s a renowned wine maker and her betrothed, Lem, is a musician of rare talent. Their destiny has never been in question. Whatever life brings, they will face it together.
Then a stranger crosses the wards into Vylari for the first time in centuries, bringing a dark prophecy that forces Lem and Mariyah down separate paths. How far will they have to go to stop a rising darkness and save their home? And how much of themselves will they have to give up along the way?”
The two protagonists are people I think readers can relate to on many levels. They are beset with the same challenges we all face each day. How much of ourselves are we willing to lose? How much can you change before you are no longer you? Against a backdrop of what for me was the most enjoyable fantasy world I’ve created to date, I believe readers will be able to find a piece of themselves within each of the cast of characters I’ve assembled.
There will be some familiar themes, and some that definitely relate to what we are experiencing in today’s society. But at its core, The Bard’s Blade is a story of love, loss, sacrifice, courage, and perseverance.
I set out to write a book that was relatable, relevant, yet something detached from the mundane; an escape from the chaos of real life in which to lose yourself. A tall order, I know. But I think I’ve succeeded.
Where did you get the original idea for The Bard’s Blade and how did that idea change as you wrote this story?
I had just finished writing the second book of The Vale and was in desperate need of a break. Book one of that series was entered into Mark Lawrence’s SPFBO [Self Published Fantasy Blog Off] competition, so I was spending some of my online time interacting with a Facebook group created for the fans and contestants. One of Mark’s “super fans” held a flash fiction contest, and I thought it might be fun to give it a try. I’d never written flash fiction and needed a distraction; a way to get my head back on straight.
The premise was simple: Three-hundred words based on a piece of fan art someone had created for one of Mark’s books. There were two words (I can’t recall what they were) that had to be included. Aside from that, there were no other rules. But still I couldn’t follow them.
No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t keep it to three-hundred words. So, in creating flash fiction I failed miserably. But the silver lining was that by the time I admitted defeat, the effort had spawned the concept for a new world that eventually became The Bard’s Blade.
As for how it changed, it did go through some alterations to put it mildly. The first draft didn’t take too long to complete, roughly eight weeks. And it remained more or less the same story throughout the drafting process. But when Tor picked it up, the carnage began.
I’d never experienced editing in this way. Entire chapters gone. New chapters written. Fantasy races eliminated. I’m telling you, reading the first set of editorial notes felt like someone had kicked me in the gut. For the first hour I was speechless. But as I calmed down, I realized that not as much had changed as I’d initially thought. From beginning to end, the plot and premise was still there.
It’s important to understand that I was an indie before signing with Tor. I used two primary editors, along with five beta testers. The editors would give me input. But it was general overview and prose comments. The beta testing was hit and miss. You try to base decisions pertaining to plot alterations on a consensus. If three of the five beta testers agree something is wrong, you take it seriously. If not, you look at it, make a decision, and move on. Most likely, if it’s a single tester complaining, the problem is a matter of personal taste, not genuine issues with the text.
Basically, I was used to having complete control. And giving that up wasn’t easy. But Lindsey Hall, senior editor at Tor, did not reach her position for nothing. I had to accept that I might not know everything and swallowed my pride. I’m glad I did.
While the core concept remained the same, Lindsey’s insights helped me take what began as a good story and elevate it to the next level. Not to say we didn’t have disagreements. If I felt strongly enough about something, I would stand my ground. Not in an angry or contentious way. That’s not how either of us operate. I’d state my case, make my arguments, and we’d talk about it. But with very few exceptions, I had to admit I was wrong. Lindsey helped me see what I was missing. Being so close to a story often leaves blind spots. Thanks to her advice and input, I see more clearly now.
Ultimately, Lindsey earned my trust. And I’d like to think I earned hers.
The Bard’s Blade sounds like it’s an epic fantasy tale. Is that how you see it, or are there other genres that either describe it better or are at work in this story as well?
That’s the wonderful thing about fantasy: it fits into so many genres. It’s accurate to say that The Bard’s Blade is an epic fantasy story. But it’s also action / adventure, romance, suspense, and more.
As we mentioned, The Bard’s Blade is not your first novel; you previously wrote seven books in your The Godling Chronicles series, five in the Dragonvein one, two in The Vale, and three Akiri books you co-wrote with Steven Savile. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that were a big influence on The Bard’s Blade but not on any of your earlier novels?
There is no one specific I could point to as it pertains to the plot and general crafting. Not to say other writers haven’t impacted me tremendously. Every time I read a book I take away something new from the experience. I am certainly inspired by great stories and the talent of other writers.
But if there was anyone who helped me reach a point where The Bard’s Blade became possible, it has to be Michael J. Sullivan. I’ve known Michael and his wife Robin for a number of years. He introduced me to Laurie Mclean, my literary agent, after a blog radio show we did together, and had offered me some sage advice on how to proceed with my career. We’d remained in contact since then. A couple of years ago, he invited me to visit him at his home in Virginia. I was still 100% indie at the time, and Michael, having come from that world, makes a point to offer his time and his home to both aspiring indie writers just getting started, and well-established indies who’ve been around a while.
It was a fun trip, and while not entirely focused on career, I learned quite a bit. Michael took a look at my writing, offered up a nice mixture of praise and criticism, and even read my flash fiction piece. By the end, I felt more confident in my abilities, and decided that I would finish The Bard’s Blade in a more elegant and sophisticated style, somewhat of a departure from what I had written in the past. It’s a true example of my evolution as a writer.
I should also include Mark Lawrence. Without SPFBO, I would have never written the initial piece that sparked the idea. So, thanks Mark.
How about non-literary influences; did any movies, TV shows, or games have a big influence on The Bard’s Blade?
Not directly, no. But broadly, playing D&D as a teen and watching fantasy and science fiction movies certainly influenced my love of world building. I think you’d be hard pressed to find a fantasy writer with whom that’s not the case.
I suppose it would be fair to say that my style tends to be on the cinematic side…or that’s what I’ve been told. I write scenes and lay out my plots as if I am watching a movie. Though I seriously doubt I’m unique in this.
Now, The Bard’s Blade is the first book in a trilogy, with the second book, A Chorus Of Fire, slated to come out this August. What was it about The Bard’s Blade that made you think it was the first book of a trilogy as opposed to a stand-alone story or the first part of an ongoing series?
When I came up with the plot, I knew the beginning, middle, and end. It’s all the bits in between I needed to work out. So moving forward, as a matter of practicality, I framed it as a three-act play. It’s easier for me to break it apart that way. It helps me to stay focused and prevents straying too far from the core premise of the story. I suppose it would have been possible to shove them into one big book, but I think it works better this way. Both The Bard’s Blade and A Chorus Of Firehave what I hope are satisfying endings. Each definitely leaves the reader with questions. But neither are cliff hangers. So the experience shouldn’t be frustrating.
With The Bard’s Blade out now, and A Chorus Of Fire due out in August, it stands to reason that the last book will be out in the spring of 2021. Given that, some people will wait until the third is out before reading any of them, and some will read all three back-to-back. But is there any reason why you think people shouldn’t wait to read The Bard’s Blade?
I like to read books as they come out. The feeling of anticipation is part of the thrill. I know readers are gun shy when it comes to a new release. Justifiably so. Things can happen to delay a long-awaited book that can be exceedingly frustrating when you are eager to know what happens next. When the date keeps being pushed back, or worse, never arrives, it can feel like you’ve wasted your time. This can make binge reading sound quite appealing. I get it.
The argument I would make is that the discussions among fans, analyzing the plot and characters, making predictions about the next book, comparing one book to another; this can be as much fun as reading the book itself.
A final point: A good book will reveal more each time you read it. So, a second, or even a third pass can be as rewarding as the first.
The Bard’s Blade is the first novel of yours to not be self-published. Are there plans for Tor to republish any of your older books?
Not at this stage. I’m certainly open to the idea. But I think Tor wants to focus on new material. I can understand why. My indie works are very different, as anyone who has read them will notice after they read The Bard’s Blade. Not to mention that the work involved would be enormous. You see, Book One of The Godling Chronicles was my first full-length novel. While the story is solid, I’ve matured substantially as a writer since then. In a way, I would like to leave them as is rather than send them through a traditional editing process. Sure, I made mistakes. Sure, my work has improved. But The Godling Chronicles, Dragonvein, along with the others, are snapshots of where I was as a writer at the time. Perhaps they’re better left as is. A sort of archive of growth and improvement.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m very proud of my work as an indie. For all its flaws, The Godling Chronicles is still being enjoyed by readers. Dragonvein was a top Five finalist for Audio Book Of The Year. And all of my work has received its share of acclaim over the years. But I feel it’s time to move forward. And Tor has provided me with what I feel is the right path to do so.
So are there plans to write more books in any of those series?
I have three more to write: One in The Godling Chronicles (I started a two-book sequel I need to finish), the final installment of The Vale, and one more Akiri book. I’m working on them now and hope to have two ready next year.
After that, I will be stepping away from indie for a while. Partly because I’ll be exhausted. But mainly because I have a new series I’m wanting to dive into after the third book of The Sorcerer’s Song is complete. If all goes as planned it will demand much of my time.
Earlier I asked if The Bard’s Blade was influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. I know it’s early, but has there been any interest in making a movie, show, or game based on The Bard’s Blade or the trilogy?
Not yet. But I’m hopeful. Looking your way, Peter Jackson….
I think The Bard’s Blade would work as a movie. But I think it would work as a mini-series better. The way a longer form is able to ignore the time constraints of a movie fits perfectly with some stories.
But hey, if someone wants to make it into a movie, I’m game. It has all the traditional story elements that work well on the big screen, along with a modern edge that people seem to love: hopeful enough not to be depressing, dark enough not to be fluff. With the right script and cinematic vision, I think it would be amazing.
If The Bard’s Blade and the trilogy were being adapted into a TV show, who would you like them to cast as Mariyah, Lem, and the other major characters?
When I really think about it, the fact that I come up blank provides the answer. Outside the indie world, I’m relatively unknown. Felix Ortiz, the supremely talented artist who created the cover, was unknown (the story of how he came to be the cover artist in itself is awesome). My copy editor, Dorothy Zemach, who was one of my indie editors who Tor was kind and wise enough to bring on board, was unknown. So, I think it would be fitting that the leads were unknown actors who possessed the talent, but just needed their shot. It would be in keeping with the history of how The Bard’s Blade came to be.
Lastly, if someone enjoys The Bard’s Blade, which of your other novels would you suggest they read while waiting for the second book to come out?
The Vale for sure. It’s very different, but I think it’s some of my best work. Now, being completely self-serving…buy them all! It’s a unique opportunity to witness the growth of an author. From my amateur beginnings to signing with Tor, you can, book by book, watch how I’ve evolved and improved over a nine-year career as an indie.