Exclusive Interview: “The Free Bastards” Author Jonathan French

 

With The Free Bastards (hardcover, Kindle, audiobook), writer Jonathan French is bringing to a close The Lot Lands trilogy he launched in 2018 with The Grey Bastards and continued in 2019 with The True Bastards. In the following email interview, French discusses what did, and didn’t, influence this final installment, and hints and says it may not be as “final” as the end of a trilogy implies.

Johnathan French The Free Bastards The Lot Lands The Grey Bastards The True Bastards

Photo Credit: Casey Gardner

 

For people who haven’t read them, what is The Lot Lands trilogy about, and what kind of world are these stories set in?

The Lot Lands refer to a sizable swath of badlands that sit between the medieval human Kingdom Of Hispartha, and Dhar’gest, savage land of the orcs. The Lots are inhabited by gangs of half-orcs, known as “hoofs,” mounted upon giant boars bred for war. The hoofs patrol The Lots, repelling orc raids and generally trying to survive in an unforgiving environment rife with drought, bloodthirsty centaurs, and the long-reaching tyrannical arm of Hispartha’s monarchy. The series follows the titular hoof, The Grey Bastards. They are as foul-mouthed, over-sexed, proud, and tough as any of the half-orc hoofs, but also have the bad fortune of becoming central to the fate of the Lot Lands.

And then what is The Free Bastards about, and how does it connect, both narratively and chronologically, to the second book, The True Bastards?

Well, first off let me say “SPOILER ALERT” for those that haven’t read books 1 and / or 2 (but really, why haven’t you?).

When The Free Bastards starts, we see that open war between the hoofs and Hispartha has finally come to The Lots. Chronologically, nearly a year has passed since book 2. And our POV character has now switched to Oats. Even though Fetching has united the hoofs, they are spread quite thin, and the Bastards are scattered by the demands of the war effort. Oats is as close to the fighting as any. In fact, when the book begins he’s behind enemy lines on a rescue mission. We’ve seen the half-orcs constantly refer to their human adversaries as “frails” for two books now, but the war quickly proves that while any given individual Hisparthan soldier is weaker than a half-orc, the kingdom has much larger armies and can bring some sorcerous might to the battlefield, as well. Plus, they have cannons. Outnumbered, outgunned, and outmagicked, The Lots are in a tough spot. That’s when an old enemy shows up with an offer to help the hoofs win the war. Problem is, only Oats thinks it’s a good idea. At odds with Jackal and Fetching, and no longer the strongest among them, Oats begins to struggle with his long-ingrained loyalties to the hoof. Battered and exhausted from a lifetime of fighting, he wants peace for The Lots, and we are along for the hard ride he will take to get it, no matter what he has to sacrifice.

Given that this is the final book of a trilogy, is there a reason this isn’t called The Last Bastards?

Get out of my head, Paul!

I do plan to use that title, but not yet. While this is the end of The Lot Lands trilogy, my hope is it’s not the end for this world and these characters. Admittedly, we are saying good-bye for the foreseeable future, but I have other stories in mind that I would like to share one day. I’ll keep The Last Bastards in my back pocket for when it’s truly over for my mongrels.

So, when in the process of writing The Grey Bastards and The True Bastards did you come up with the idea for The Free Bastards?

I don’t plan too much ahead as a writer. I hardly outline. What I did know before even finishing book 1 was that every book would change POVs. The way the first book ends necessitated that. Once that was clear, it became even more clear how those POVs would progress in terms of which characters we would be attached to which books. For a long time, the idea for book 3 was simply “Oats’ book.” And I knew it would be the “war book.”

However, a lot always changes for me in process. It sounds kinda cringey artsy, but it really does often feel that I’m taking dictation from these characters. Like they’re telling me their stories. Granted, that’s on the good days. Other times they seem to be taking a drunken nap and won’t give me anything. And there is always a bit of “scope creep” when I write; the plot gets bigger in scale. With The Free Bastards that also happened, but I found myself constantly trying to rein it back to the personal. Big, sweeping, fantasy books with tons of battles are out there for those that want them. I tried to make sure that this book didn’t hinge on that so much, but more on the relationships within the Bastards. Oats made the perfect linchpin for that, as he’s always been the stalwart heart of the hoof. And my hope is that he escorts the fans to a satisfying conclusion.

The Grey Bastards and The True Bastards were epic grimdark fantasy tales. Is The Free Bastards one as well?

They’re all more gritty than grim, I think. “Grimedark” is the term I have unsuccessfully tried to make stick. One early reviewer said these books have as much in common with Arthurian tales as they do a Joe Abercrombie novel, and I think that’s true. Genre classifications are so tricky and fluid, though I understand why they exist. I certainly come from an epic fantasy background as both a reader and a writer. But the Bastards books are also styled after pulp Sword & Sorcery tales as well as comic books. I guess the books are like their main characters; mongrels.

When The Grey Bastards was coming out, it was compared to Sons Of Anarchy. Since then, Sons came to an end, but its creator, Kurt Sutter, started a spin-off called Mayans M.C. Is The Free Bastards at all influence by Mayans M.C.?

I haven’t watched Mayans yet, so no direct influences.

Something else that came out since The Grey Bastards was released in 2018 is the biker zombie video game Days Gone. Did that have any influence on The Free Bastards?

Nope. I don’t play video games these days unless it’s with my 9-year-old son, so they tend not to be that hardcore.

How about that movie Wild Hogs? That had to be a huge influence on The Free Bastards, right? Right? Hello, you still there?

[stares in Ron Swanson]

So was The Free Bastards influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?

At this point it’s nice because when you’ve reached the third book you’re really only pulling from the previous installments of the series. The books begin to inform themselves. Inspiration isn’t as important as continuation, I guess. I often found myself grappling with that creative gremlin “What hasn’t been done before?” That’s kind of a trap, of course, but it was still an obstacle. Thankfully, I always find my North Star by focusing on character interaction and development. I can stagnate really quickly wondering if plot is derivative or action is unoriginal. That’s when it’s time to refocus on being earnest with the characters which, for me, tends to right the ship.

In a more literary vein, are there any writers, or stories, that had a big influence on The Free Bastards but not on The Grey Bastards and The True Bastards?

Hmm. I started writing Free Bastards while True Bastards was in editing, so there definitely wasn’t anything I read between them. As for past influences that came up that didn’t before, not that I can think of. Man, guess I’ve been buried under this for so long I can’t see anything else.

As you are well aware, there have been people who’ve been waiting for The Free Bastards to come out so they could read this entire saga back-to-back. But do you think that’s the best way to experience this story?

It might be the best way for them, sure. And I welcome all visitors to The Lots, whenever they may show up.

In the interview we did for The Grey Bastards you said that there had been some interest in making a movie out of it. But then, in the interview for The True Bastards, you seemed to indicate that nothing came of that interest. Where, if anywhere, do things stand?

In a bit of a limbo, I’m afraid. There was some truly exciting movement on it for a few months with some awesome folks. Pre-production art, pilot script, pitch strategies. But it’s crickets now. I was warned that might happen, but it’s still a bummer. Maybe another opportunity will come around. There does seem to be a swell of interest each time a new book launches, so with the trilogy being complete, perhaps more will happen. But I’m far from the only fiction author waiting for something like that. Many have been in the game far longer, with much higher sales and bigger fan bases, so I’m not going to bet my financial future on film/TV development. Just gonna keep writing.

But if it was up to you, what form would an adaptation take?

The format that was proposed and being prepped for the Bastards was very exciting: super high-end digital animation. Several people close to me, personally and professionally, were dubious at first. Like, “Animation? Really?” For some that sounds juvenile or not as prestigious as live action. But I thought it had real potential. Especially for a fantasy book where most of the characters aren’t human and riding giant pigs. I still think a premium network TV show using that advanced animation would deliver the best adaptation free from many of the budgetary and technical constraints of live action.

And if that did happen, who would you want to voice Oats and the main characters?

I tend to prefer unknown actors, but that doesn’t make for a very interesting answer. And I’d be dishonest if I said I didn’t indulge in some dreamcasting from time to time.

I don’t have a concrete choice for everyone, but I’d kill to see Andre Braugher as the Claymaster. These days, most people know his comic performance from Brooklyn 99, but I first saw him in high school in Glory and Homicide: Life On The Street. The Claymaster’s voice is described as a “hateful troll,” and I don’t know any other actor that could do that better than Braugher. I will admit, Warbler is 100% based on Kris Kristofferson. Apparently, I love characters with distinctive voices. The cover model they got for Oats for The Free Bastards is pretty spot on to what I had in my head, but I’m afraid I don’t know his name. I recently watched Normal People and discovered Paul Mescal, who has to be one of the most skilled performers I’ve ever seen. I think he’d be great as Mead. Sterling K. Brown for Hoodwink, hands down. No actor can emote without saying a word like that man.

Johnathan French The Free Bastards The Lot Lands The Grey Bastards The True Bastards

Finally, if someone enjoys The Grey Bastards, The True Bastards, and The Free Bastards, what fantasy trilogy of someone else’s would you suggest they read next?

They should check out The Reborn Empire series by Devin Madson. Plenty of sweeping action on horseback, strong characters, and decapitations.

 

 

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