Interview: Chris Willrich on The Scroll of Years, Characters and his Wasabi confession

December 3, 2013 Author Feature, Interview 16

Chris Willrich was a total sport and let me interrogate him recently about his novel The Scroll of Years. It is a magnificent fantasy novel that I highly recommend! Be sure to enter our giveaway at the bottom sponsored by the awesome folks over at PYR!

The Scroll of Years

Read my review of The Scroll of Years

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Welcome Welcome Chris to your torture session…err interview! I appreciate you joining us today at Not Yet Read!

Thanks for having me!

I have to tell you I was blown away by The Scroll of Years! So lets have it in your words- a 140 character or less pitch, twitter style, for the book! Go!

Gaunt and Bone are lovers and adventurers in a fantasy world. With a baby on the way, they flee assassins to seek new lives in the Far East.

(Exactly 140 characters, ha!)

Some readers just don’t know what they are missing when they stick to one aisle or another in the bookstore. Hence why recommendations are so important! But I also think giving readers a taste of the characters personality is just as important.  So how about a super short character dossier on each of the main character? (Add any additional characters you want to rant about!)

For example I would describe myself as:

Tabitha: Prone to outbursts of maniacal laughter, thinks she’s right 90 percent of the time, walking hazard zone, hates to cook and has dellusions of grandeur. One shot one Kill!

…I know I know I’m not a character – but a girl can dream can’t she?

Ok your turn!

Imago Bone:
Suburb thieving skills, poor impulse control. He’s in it for the thrill. But a streak of good-heartedness kept him from going entirely to the dark side, and a woman named Gaunt tugged him out of his city and showed him a bigger world.

Persimmon Gaunt:
A poet of gloom, with a bright dash of wanderlust. She lured Bone out of the shadows of his city and into a roaming, adventuring life. She’d scoff if you claimed she was reforming him. But — just maybe — she is. Her poet’s insight often saves them from magical dangers.

Quite possibly the most stubborn person on the planet, she fled life as a downtrodden farm girl and joined a bandit gang. But her fate would be grander than a mere life of crime. Circumstances whirled her into an adventure with another young gangster, Flybait, and with Gaunt and Bone.

Cheerfully larcenous, a well-adjusted rogue, Flybait grew up on society’s margins, but was well-loved for all that. In a better world he’d be a better man, but banditry’s what he knows. He befriends Next-One-a-Boy and sticks by her through the chaos that follows.

Now would you recommend that readers read the Gaunt and Bone short stories before diving right into The Scroll of Years? Personally I hadn’t read them and I loved the book.

Thanks; that’s good to hear! Either way ought to be fine. It may depend on how much you like short fiction generally. Sword and sorcery grew out of pulp magazine stories, and thanks to The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Flashing Swords (now defunct, alas), Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Lightspeed Magazine, Gaunt and Bone got to be part of that tradition. I think it’s a fun kind of storytelling, but it’s different from the deep immersion you can get with a novel.

Right now, three of the stories are pretty easy to find. The first one, “The Thief with Two Deaths,” (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, June 2000) is reprinted at the back of The Scroll of Years. The next one (by series chronology) is called “The Mermaid and the Mortal Thing” and can be found at Lightspeed Magazine, here. (This is a reprint from Flashing Swords’ special Summer issue in 2008.) The third (again, in series order) is “The Sword of Loving Kindness,” and can be found in two parts beginning here, at Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

The rest can be found in back issues of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. The stories are: “King Rainjoy’s Tears” (F&SF July 2002), “Penultima Thule” (F&SF August 2006), and “A Wizard of the Old School” (F&SF August 2006.) Check the publisher’s web site for details:

When creating magic for your world – where are some of the places you drew inspiration and what kind of research did you do? Especially considering The Scroll of Years had a very East meets West feel.

I’m afraid the “Western” magic is 100% made up, while the “Eastern” magic is maybe 90% made up. The magical scroll of the title was inspired by something I read about ancient Chinese elite scholars and their love of landscape paintings, how they would study the artwork and imaginatively project themselves into the depicted world. There was also a fanciful story about a man who shrank himself into a three-dimensional miniature scene. I also played around with some things I’d read about feng shui, and some of the fantastical martial arts material was inspired by wuxia movies and the Wuxiapedia web site: . But as with the Western magic, it’s not really all that close to any actual belief system. I mostly just went with what made interesting images in my head. Some of the creatures, however, do come out of Chinese folklore, like the fox girl, the Nian, and some things about the dragons, which leads us to …

Dragons Dragons Dragons! I can never get enough dragons! You had some beautiful as well as deadly creatures in your world. Care to tell the readers about them some!?

Dragons: Well, they start big and impressive and become titanic and awesome. Their life cycle is tied to a magical elemental system, with the Western dragons being related to earth, fire, and metal, and the Eastern ones being linked to earth, water, and air. The Western ones are more destructive, but this isn’t usually because of any deliberate cruelty. It’s just dangerous to be too close to one. Some of the older ones settle down to become mountains or islands! Unfortunately for Gaunt and Bone, their enemies have convinced a still-active Western dragon to help hunt them down.

Eeep…those critters that nearly got Bone in the first part of the book…I know you can bludgeon me over the head I forgot what they were called!

They’re springfangs, and no worries! They’re kind of like sabertooth tigers with natural camouflage and asymmetrical fangs; they hunt as perfectly synchronized mated pairs. I used that classic rationale from fantasy roleplaying games: a wizard made them.

I loved your decision to have multiple perspectives – it really made everything come alive for me. What are some of the challenges you faced going with that many alternating POVs?

If all the POVs “sound” exactly the same, that can get dull. What I mean is, something about the text in each section should reflect the mind you’re “seeing” the action through. So (I hope) you get more poetic description in Gaunt’s sections, more observations about thieving in Bone’s sections, a kind of take-no-prisoners tough attitude in Next-One-a-Boy’s sections and so on. At the same time, if the sections sound too different the book’s going to feel kind of disjointed. So that was a balancing act.

The other thing I feel like I’m still learning is how to assemble these sections in a way that they build on each other in a nice rhythm. With a single POV the plot itself should take care of that, but with different lines of action it can be less clear how to make things flow. It’s nice when there’s no direct connection between scenes and yet they seem to knit together harmoniously anyway.

I am highly anticipating the next book in this series due out early next year. Do you know how many books you plan for this series?

Since I make a lot of things up as I go, and publishing’s never a sure thing, it’s hard to be certain. I’m hoping for at least three, but I could do several more. I have a lot of material sketched out or drafted.

There really aren’t that many pregnant main characters in the fantasy fiction I read, indeed I think I could count it on one hand. There also seemed to be a lot of themes dealing with women and independence. Was there a certain message you were trying to get across to readers?

Whenever I’ve tried doing “message” stories the results have been pretty lifeless. So, no, there isn’t really a deliberate moral here. But I think in an unplanned way, choosing to focus on Gaunt’s pregnancy made women and women’s stories an emergent theme in the book. A contributing factor is that some of the Chinese material came via my wife and my late mother-in-law (my wife is Chinese-American on her mother’s side), two very strong-minded women. So their personalities shaped the story, too.

Ok so if you lived in your own fantasy world, or if the big bad magical whammy hit our world tomorrow – what sort of creature would you be?

Oh, I’d want to be whatever counted as a wizard — I’d be perfectly willing to be less powerful if I got to be the guy who knew all the secrets!

Now for the icing on the cake!

I’m all about embarrassing confessions, and why look there…we are My Shelf Confessions. So you had to know this was coming…Do you have a tasty, juicy, preferably embarrassing confession to share with us? It need not be book related. Who me first you say? Ok – I was walking to the mailbox late several nights ago..and while reading on my way there (in the dark yes I’m that obsessed) my foot hit the curb and I and the book flew…and landed in a very awkward heap.  Did I mention I am my own hazard zone?

Well, there’s the wasabi story … I was dating someone, and she found out I’d never been to a sushi place as far as I could remember, so we went to this snazzy place in Palo Alto.

I wanted very much to impress her, so I tried to look cool, focusing exclusively on her and our conversation while I ate, looking down as little as possible. This, despite the fact that I really had very little idea what I was actually eating. At one point I noticed this green stuff that looked kind of like mint ice cream, thought, hey, why not, and popped it into my mouth.

The green stuff was wasabi paste, a tiny pinch of which is plenty hot! I downed the whole thing. My date gave me a look that said, Did you just do what I think you just did?

So, there’s this sudden flamethrower going off in my mouth. I gasp, “excuse me,” and flee to the restroom, tears rolling from my eyes, feeling like I’ve got dragon-smoke coming out my nose. I turn on the tap in the sink and shove my mouth under it, trying to hose down the fire. I think, I’m going to die from eating the wrong thing in a sushi restaurant. This is a really embarrassing way to go.

It seemed like hours, though I think it was maybe five minutes in reality. I’m glad no one else came into the restroom. Finally things cooled off, and I realized that I was going to live, and that I’d have to go out and face my date. After this display I figured it was probably my last date, so I resolved to at least look at what I was eating this time.

“So,” she said when I returned, sounding amused, “that was wasabi.”

I did some even more embarrassing things around her later. But she married me anyway.

Thank you so much Chris for putting up with me. I was so thrilled to have you and can’t wait to read more of your work.  Now back to the writing cage with you. *whips out the cattle prod*

I’m on it! Thanks very much!

The Scroll of Years

It’s Brent Weeks meets China Mieville in this wildly imaginative fantasy debut featuring high action, elegant writing, and sword and sorcery with a Chinese flare.

Persimmon Gaunt and Imago Bone are a romantic couple and partners in crime. Persimmon is a poet from a well-to-do family, who found herself looking for adventure, while Imago is a thief in his ninth decade who is double-cursed, and his body has not aged in nearly seventy years. Together, their services and wanderlust have taken them into places better left unseen, and against odds best not spoken about. Now, they find themselves looking to get away, to the edge of the world, with Persimmon pregnant with their child, and the most feared duo of assassins hot on their trail. However, all is never what it seems, and a sordid adventure-complete with magic scrolls, gangs of thieves, and dragons both eastern and western-is at hand.

The Scroll of Years

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Tabitha (Pabkins)

When I'm in the zone I can flip book pages faster than the eye can see - screaming "More Input!" I'm a book, yarn, & art supply hoarding goblin who loves to draw, make toys and craft all sorts of creepy cute things. My current habit is to listen to audio books while I'm arting it up!
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16 Responses to “Interview: Chris Willrich on The Scroll of Years, Characters and his Wasabi confession”

  1. Diamond

    This book looks so cute! I like the idea of having a pregnant woman, I don’t think I recall many pregnant women in fantasy fiction. And dragons! Oh I love my dragons too 🙂

    Haha and that Wasabi story was the best! I especially liked the last part 😉 so cute!

    Thanks for sharing this Tabitha. I’m so glad you put it on my radar >.<
    Diamond recently posted…Book Blitz & Giveaway: Dragon Craving by Livia OlteanoMy Profile

    • Tabitha the Pabkins

      I agree – reading the short stories first would definitely have helped get us all acquainted with the characters first. I think that’s why I didn’t get as attached to Gaunt and Bone until later. Where as I got really attached to the two teens right away because they had more build up in the book itself, and it felt like we should have known Gaunt and Bone already.

  2. Tammy

    Awesome interview! I loved the book, except for the way Gaunt is depicted on the cover, but I already mentioned that in my review, LOL! And the wasabi story reminded me of a couple of sweet emotional scenes in the book. Now I know where he gets his inspiration:)
    Tammy recently posted…Tammy’s Top Ten Most Anticipated Books of 2014My Profile

  3. Stephanie

    Thanks for spotlighting this one. I had never heard of it and am excited to read it. It sounds fantastic. I love the idea of a pregnant female and her roguish lover. Great interview.

  4. Heidi

    Oh gosh that torture session… err interview was so much fun. I loved the embarassing stories. You really walk and read on the to the mailbox? And the so that was wasabi thing was great. Sounds like a book that I need to read!

    • Tabitha the Pabkins

      Hey I have to use every available minute to read! I also read/listen to audio books in the car instead of music. If I could read in my sleep I would! I know wasn’t that a great interview!? Thanks for reading. It is definitely a book you want to snag!

  5. Cait D

    I can’t enter the giveaway because I’m INT, but this was SUCH a fun interview! That wasabi story cracked me up. 😉 I’m usually not into fantasy like this, but I totally am going to find this book and read it.

    • Tabitha the Pabkins

      Sorry Cait! We have other INT friendly giveaways on the sidebar tho!! Definitely pick it up if you can find it because I absolutely loved it! Thanks for dropping in.