Exclusive Interview: “Wraithbound” Author Tim Akers
It may seem counterintuitive, but distraction can, for some people, be an important part of the creative process. Trent Reznor of nine inch nails once told me he had an arcade in his studio so he could clear his head when he got stuck. But in the following email interview with author Tim Akers about his new novel, a high fantasy / hard magic thriller called Wraithbound (paperback, Kindle), he explains that when he got stuck writing it, his distraction of choice was to write another book.
To start, what is Wraithbound about, and what kind of a world is it set in?
Wraithbound is a story about a young man named Rae, who has always dreamed of being a Stormbinder like his father, with an air elemental stitched into the fabric of his soul. Those dreams died when his family was forced to flee to the outer reaches of the Ordered World, for reasons Rae never fully understood. Still determined to learn magic, Rae tries to bind an elemental. Instead, he mistakenly binds his soul to the ghost of a dead mage, drawing the attention of a cabal of murderous assassins.
The world of Wraithbound is a place where Chaos has already won the eternal battle between Heaven and Hell. Massive magical energies are wielded by the justiciars of the Iron College to preserve pockets of civilization, using orderwalls and bastions to keep humanity safe from the predations of Chaos. But slowly, inevitably, Chaos leaks in, to destroy what it can and corrupt everything else.
Where did you get the idea for Wraithbound?
I’m a cosmology guy. I come up with a world that interests me, work out the magical underpinnings of that world, and then slowly build up from there, layering cultures, religions, and histories on top of the cosmology. I look for tension points in the world, and then build the plot out of that. So for Wraithbound, I came up with the idea for a magic system in which mages bound their souls to spirits from other planes, allowing them to either draw the spirits into our world, or to enter those other planes themselves. I started with the elemental planes, but added four more: Life, Death, Order, and Chaos. By then I had this image of a mage bound to an unwilling wraith, and what that might mean. The story came out of that.
It sounds like Wraithbound is an epic fantasy story. Is that how you’d describe it?
I’m happy calling it epic fantasy, though my writing style tends toward pacier narratives. It’s certainly epic in scale, but focuses on the personal dynamic. It’s not a chosen one story, but the stakes are incredibly high. When pitching to potential readers, I call it high fantasy / hard magic thriller.
Wraithbound is not your first novel. Are there any writers, or maybe stories, that had a big influence on Wraithbound, but not on anything else you’ve written?
If my math is correct, Wraithbound is my ninth novel to be published. I can point to influences like Brandon Sanderson for the centrality of the magic system for the plot, and Daniel Abraham for the importance of character as a driving force, but I think I’m at the point in my career that I’m confident enough in my voice to say that Wraithbound is uniquely mine. It’s very Akersian.
Are there any other writers or stories you think had a big influence on Wraithbound?
Well, the two writers who influence my style the most are William Gibson and Tim Powers. But neither of them write epic fantasy. Since I mentioned Sanderson earlier I will say that his Cosmere system intrigues me. I’m trying to do something similar, with a massively complex backstory and world that reveals slowly through the course of several different series. Who knows what will come of that.
And how about non-literary influences; was Wraithbound influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
I am unapologetic about the way the Final Fantasy games have impacted my worldbuilding. I love the mix of modern technology and high fantasy, the truly epic scale narratives the Final Fantasy games tell, but also the heartrending character interactions. They do an amazing job of making the stakes of the story so personal, yet so universe-spanning. If I get close to that at all, I’ll be happy.
Now, Wraithbound is the first book in a series you’re calling the Spiritbinder Saga. What can you tell us about this series?
I like to frighten my editor by saying that I have a twenty book arc planned. The fact is that I have roughly five books sketched out for the Spiritbinder Saga, but I also have another related series tentatively called Bladecaster, and then plans for a Unification Trilogy where those worlds intersect. But whether I get to write any of this depends on how Wraithbound does.
Along with Wraithbound, Baen recently released the mass market paperback version of your urban fantasy novel Valhellions. What is that book about, and what kind of world is it set in?
Valhellions is a much lighter novel about the end of the world. A group of rogue Valkyries have stolen a sword forged by Nazi occultists during WWII and are using it to raise an army of the dead, in the hopes of storming Valhalla and kicking off Ragnarok.
Man, I hate when that happens. Now, Valhellions is the second book of its own series, called Knight Watch after the novel of the same name. What can you tell us about this series in terms of your plans for it?
Well, I’m writing book three right now. The Knight Watch world is a portal fantasy about Ren Faire heroes who discover that things like dragons and faeries actually exist, they’re just hiding in plain sight and pretending to be accountants or soccer moms or book store clerks. Knight Watch is an organization that monitors these entities to ensure they don’t destroy reality or cheat at the Lotto. I pitch the series as Men In Black at the Ren Faire. It’s a nice mix of Pratchett and Butcher, a lot of snark, a lot of action, etc.
Book three centers on the steampunk version of Knight Watch. It’s tentatively titled The Eccentrics, and should be out next year.
So did you write Valhellions and Wraithbound either concurrently or consecutively? I ask because I’m curious how writing the former influenced the latter, and vice versa, given that they’re both fantasy novels, but set in different kinds of realms.
Neither and both. I started Wraithbound because that’s what my agent and I agreed I should write next. But about halfway through the first draft, the idea for Knight Watch came to me fully formed. It just fell into my head. So, without saying anything to my agent, I sat down and wrote Knight Watch, then outlined Valhellions. Then I went back to Wraithbound. I’ve been switching between Wraithbound and the Knight Watch series, revising one while drafting the other, for years now.
They’re completely different things, and one always serves as a relief from the other. If I’m stuck on Wraithbound stuff, I’ll hop into Knight Watch / Valhellions / The Eccentrics and just screw around for a while. Those are much more dynamic, seat of the pants style books. Wraithbound requires so much more worldbuilding and plotting and just…craft. Knight Watch stories I can crank out without much effort.
Earlier I asked if Wraithbound was influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But to flip things around, do you think Wraithbound could be adapted into a movie, show, or game?
I started my professional life in tabletop role-playing games, and still freelance for various tabletop companies. I’d love to see an RPG of Wraithbound, maybe even something online. I mentioned Bladecaster earlier. The world for that story started as a card game that I came up with. So, ultimately, I’d like to see it as a combo miniatures / card game of some type. Mashup Magic The Gathering and Age Of Sigmar, and you’ve got Bladecaster.
So, is there anything else you think people need to know about Wraithbound?
I promise to complete the series. I hate books that drop one book, then a second three years later, then…silence. I write a book every eight months. I’m currently doing the third Knight Watch novel, but once that’s done it’s straight into Wraithbound II. I’m not going to leave the readers hanging. Promise.
Finally, if someone enjoys Wraithbound, which of your other books would you suggest they read and why that one?
Either The Pagan Night, which is the first book in the Hallowed War trilogy, or Knight Watch. Pagan Night is epic fantasy full of family drama, religious zealots, feral gods, and big, sweeping battles. Knight Watch is lighter, funnier, maybe more accessible. Both are a lot of fun.