... Brent Weeks on fantasy, colors, magic and the »glut in the 80's«

Brent Weeks ... Brent Weeks on fantasy, colors, magic and the »glut in the 80's«

zur deutschen Version The »Night Angel« trilogy by Brent Weeks was in Germany published by Blanvalet (Random House) and made Brent Weeks popular here as well. His trademark is ›Heroic Fantasy‹ with a dark impact. In the U.S. the first volume of »Light Bringer« was published with the title »The Black Prism«.
Reason enough to talk with this author about fantasy in general and his contribution to it ...


Zauberspiegel: Who is Brent Weeks? How did he come to write fantasy?
Brent Weeks: I'm the guy without a Plan B. I've wanted to write fantasy since I started my first book at age 13. Sometime in college, I decided to do it. I thought if I started early and failed, I'd still have time to do something else with my life. Problem is, I was pretty stubborn. (I also had a wife who supported my craziness--without her, I wouldn't be talking to you now.)

Zauberspiegel: What does Fantasy mean to Brent Weeks as a genre?
Brent Weeks: Fantasy means creative freedom. I can write about anything that fascinates me--as long as it interests enough other people too! I can hew close to a historical time period, or a historical character, or I can ignore history altogether. I can ask what-if and then build a story from there. It has its own set of challenges within that freedom, but it also makes some things much easier.

Zauberspiegel: 30 to 40 years ago, fantasy was something between the cornerstones Robert E. Howard and J.R.R. Tolkien. The genre has become more diverse since, in part because marketers looking for new labels (and found them) and also because the authors have expanded the spectrum of genres. What do you think about this development? What direction will fantasy take?
Brent Weeks: I think it's awesome in every way except that it makes talking about the genre harder. If someone says they like to read fantasy, do they mean they like books set in present day New York City except with some magic and lots of sex, or do they mean they like experimental literary works in which magic may or may not be real, or do they mean they like stories with boys and swords?
People are going to keep experimenting, but the field is set by the big sellers. Rowling's success pushed publishers to try to find other fantasy that would appeal to both children and adults at the same time. That's meant a huge expansion in Young Adult fantasy (at least in America). On the other side, perhaps because of that, we've had Laurell K. Hamilton and George R. R. Martin--both of whom write what is very much adult fantasy.
Whether any of the newer trends like steampunk or zombie can catch on and really change the whole genre remains to be seen.
I think that HBO doing A Game of Thrones is going to be huge--not as big as vampires, but big. Whether that will actually make readers of fantasy or whether it will just make a lot of readers for George R. R. Martin is a totally different question.

Zauberspiegel: In Germany, the »Night Angel« trilogy was presented with the label ›Heroic Fantasy‹. Can you understand why? Do you see yourself in the tradition of Howard and / or Moorcock?
Brent Weeks: I'm pretty comfortable with the label ›Heroic Fantasy‹. When I was writing the books, I thought of The Way of Shadows as heroic fantasy--it's a simpler narrative with a confined setting--and then I thought of Shadow's Edge and Beyond the Shadows as epic fantasy. They deal with multiple countries, different cultures, politics and higher stakes than The Way of Shadows. That said, all three books have things to say about heroism, about fate and choices, and even about good and evil. Howard and Moorcock aren't direct influences. Sadly, I haven't read any Howard at all, and the one Moorcock book I read I didn't like. But I have no doubt that both men have influenced me through other authors that they influenced. I'd say my own work falls somewhere in the shadowlands between the giants Tolkien and Martin.

Zauberspiegel: Your fantasy contains dark (horror?)elements.
In Germany, it is like this: Horror itself works extremely well in cinema and on DVD, but with for books it doesn't (except for King and Straub perhaps), and this genre is becoming a literature of small special interest publishers.
Is it the same in the U.S.? And if so: How can it be that dark elements were enthusiastically received in fantasy, while the horror genre is virtually starving?

Brent Weeks: It is the same in the US. As I understand it, after a glut in the 80's, horror fiction imploded and hasn't recovered. I think perhaps a lot of readers are like me: I don't mind being scared, or seeing a character go through a hellish experience, but I don't want to be scared for ten hours straight. My books are more like a roller coaster, with deep sharp dips and exhilarating turns, than they are like a shuffle through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

Zauberspiegel: The »Night Angel« trilogy is now completely available in Germany. In the US »Lightbringer« just started with »Black Prism«. Is that again a trilogy? Do you already have a contract for the German version of »Lightbringer«? For those interested in the series? How would you describe »Lightbringer«?
Brent Weeks: I'm striving to keep Lightbringer to a trilogy, because once I'm done with it, I'm going back to the Night Angel universe, which I love. I have already sold the German rights for the Lightbringer books, so they're definitely coming! The Lightbringer trilogy is a story set in an alternate Mediterranean Sea, around 1500. There are rudimentary firearms, swords, and magic together. In fact, the magic is really foundational for this society: there are lots of people who use magic, and it affects every part of the world. The story centers on two characters: the Prism Gavin Guile (the most powerful man in this world who wields both secular and religious power, like an old Japanese emperor or a medieval pope), and his bastard son, Kip, whom he doesn't even know exists. It's a story of secrets and intrigue and loyalty and betrayal and love.

Zauberspiegel: Our author Jochen Adam wrote that »Black Prism« was very well written, but he got in trouble with the concept of the world and the magic (which grows out of colors). It seemed too complicated to him, perhaps, I may add, to deliberate. Only a few notes and explanations were scattered in the book.
How was this world and the concept of magic created? Can you understand the difficulties he mentioned? Can you give any hope to Jochen, that you will penetrate deeply into the concept of magic?

Brent Weeks: The magic is simpler than quantum physics. Which is sort of a joke, but only sort of. The magic deals with color and light. Colors do exist objectively--we can quantify that orange is at wavelengths of around 600 nanometers. But we only know colors through our experience of them, which is affected by both our culture and our biology. Some cultures only have two color words--white and black. Cultures that have three color words alway add red next. But you can present a color word to two different people in the same culture and they'll understand you to be talking about two different things. Say, khaki or hazel. (I realize you're translating these, so this may be even more difficult.) And then biology affects what you see as well. A red-green color blind man (statistically, it is overwhelmingly men who are colorblind) simply doesn't experience red and green the way you or I do. To him, they don't exist as separate colors, and he has to take on faith that we're not all lying to him when we say they do. The biology of this is really intriguing, if you'll permit me a short digression. There are three color receptors in the human eye, and the middle one is coded on the X chromosome (of which men have only one copy). So if men have a genetic mistake in that chromosome, they won't differentiate between red and green. (Simplifying a little.) Because women have two copies of the X chromosome, they have a back up. If one has an error on it, the other will make up for it. Thus, colorblindness is extremely rare in women. But a cool thing happens when women have a variation between between those two middle-color-detecting chromosomes. If they don't line up exactly with each other, the woman (and this happens in half of all women) will be able to differentiate between pinks and reds to a superfine degree. (Only one in a thousand men can match this.)
So the old jokes about men not being able to match a shirt and a tie is based not on men not caring about colors of clothing--but because they don't experience them at all!
All this is real biology and real culture, but my magic is based on colors, so I use it.
The main conceit of my magic system is that it's the opposite of a candle burning. When a candle burns, the wax disappears (mostly) into heat and light (because matter can't be created or destroyed, but it can be translated into energy). My magic runs that process backward. Instead of taking matter and making it energy, you're taking energy and making matter. So, what is this substance like? In my world, red light becomes red luxin, which is sticky and flammable. Blue light becomes blue luxin, which is hard and brittle, and so forth. Each color has its own properties: weight, strength, smell, and therefore, uses.
Now, communicating all of this in a novel where the people are pre-scientific and don't have the concept of chromosomes, but do understand a lot about color because they work with it every day has be handled delicately. Especially because I don't like to dump huge lectures on a reader. So I dole out information slowly. I attempt to do this in a manner so that the reader can understand the action of the scene, even if she doesn't understand every nuance of the magic. But I imagine that reading it in English if one is a native German speaker would make it much more difficult!

Zauberspiegel: We had been talking about the dark elements in your novels. Wouldn't a truly natural home of such elements be some a kind of ›Steam-Fantasy‹ on the background of an alternative 19th century, ruled by steam-energy? An era being also the origin of the characters  of “Gothic Novels” (such as Dracula, Varney, Frankenstein, Hyde and the Invisible Man)? Couldn't this be a scenario for Brent Weeks?
Brent Weeks: That's an intriguing connection. I can see that the dark feeling of Jack the Ripper's London is kind of the same feeling you can get in Cenaria--which I didn't intend. There's certainly no reason why fantasy couldn't go there. My own knowledge of the time period comes mostly from popular fiction, so I'd have to do a lot of study before I'd feel like I have anything new to add. But it's a great idea that one of your readers would do well to exploit! And thank you, by the way, that's quite a nice compliment.

Zauberspiegel: What can we expect from Brent Weeks in the future? Are there concrete plans you can talk about?
Brent Weeks: I'm deep in Lightbringer 2 right now, which is tentatively titled, The Blinding Knife, and I've just written a novelette that is about how Durzo Blint became Durzo Blint. I haven't even sold that one yet, but it was a story I just had to tell, and it's a bit experimental for me. It demands a little more from a reader, but it is a lot of fun. After I finish the Lightbringer Trilogy, I plan to return to Midcyru. I know what happens next in that world after the end of the Night Angel Trilogy, but I haven't decided yet where I want to pick it up and whose story I want to tell first. But between those two projects that's likely the next ten years of my life!

Zauberspiegel: Thank you very much for the interview and good luck
Brent Weeks: Thank you, I'm really delighted to speak with you and to speak more directly to a German audience. Excellent questions, and thank you for hosting me.

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