Swashbuckling, dark deeds, heroic feats and lost causes.
I’m lucky enough to have the author, Sebastien de Castell join me today for an interview. He was nice enough to grant me a text based as well as video interview – both covering slightly different topics – so if you want be sure to enjoy them both!
TABITHA: *Leaps forth onto the stage brandishing one beautiful shiny stabby stab* Prepare yourself Sebastien, I’ve got you now! *looks at his swagger and his much better form and shinier sword and tosses hers to the side – to heck with this – I’ve got jumper cables!*
SEBASTIEN: Hi…umm…you know those jumper cables aren’t connected to anything, right?
TABITHA: It’s customary that I badger you for a 140 character twitter pitch for your book – that I will of course steal and pass off as my own. 1-2-3 go.
SEBASTIEN: I really think you want, like, a battery or something with electricity for those cables, don’t you? They’re just kind of dangling right now. Anyway…
The Three Musketeers meets Game of Thrones when a disgraced swordsman struggles to save a young girl caught in the web of a royal conspiracy
TABITHA: I do hope you’re enjoying your success with your debut novel so far *brandishes cable threateningly* Enjoy your success blast you! I’ve heard nothing but good things about your book and of course no one when asking me, or hell not asking me, will hear a bad word about TRAITOR’S BLADE. So let’s hear YOU say some bad words.
What DON’T you personally like about your book. Poke some fun at it. What, now that it’s hit shelves, do you cringe over?
SEBASTIEN: You’re going to hate this answer (though, really, who cares since you’re currently threatening me with non-electrified pieces of plastic covered wire), but when I wrote Traitor’s Blade I set out to make the book I most wanted to read. Everything that’s there was something that felt real and important to me and I don’t regret any of it.
*looks on with sympathy at Tabitha’s efforts to be menacing with the non-electrified jumper cables
Uhh…that being said, Falcio is a big whiner who runs around giving long speeches and moaning about the state of the world.
TABITHA: Good good, yes yes, No – I don’t see your point at all. I rule your opinion null and void and say you will get the hose again. *Shouts – Turn up the voltage Eegor!!* right right (can you tell I have my own oddball versions of how some of these conversations play out? – huzzah for adlibs interviewing!) Yes yes soo
SEBASTIEN: *Looks for Eegor, sees only confused Auto Club tow truck driver who shrugs, points a finger at his temple and makes long, slow circling motions in the air*
TABITHA: My impression of Falcio: “I will show you the pointy end of my sword, the barbed side of my tongue and then make you swoon for me all within the span of 30 heartbeats.” I might be missing a few finer points there. Falcio is a wonderful character. He is an idealist, a hero, not really an underdog in my opinion, wonderfully flawed and I must know the sword wielding secrets he keeps!
How many bones has he broken? Is he a reliable or deranged narrator? He obviously loses chunks of memory and goes all berserker at times – I say his view of things are suspect. Are we going to learn how he beat Kest? And do you prance around your living room with those swords of yours? (or do you prefer a wooden spoon the way I do it…much less chance for maiming ones self) How many arrows does Brasti carry around? What more tricks are up those greatcoat sleeves? (next thing you know they will put on a light-show!) Are you tired of my questions yet? *turns up the temperature in the hotseat*
SEBASTIEN: Umm…I should mention to your readers that the aforementioned hot seat appears to be a bean bag chair upon which someone has placed a heating pad. The heating pad is set to “mild.”
To answer your questions…
1. Falcio never lies to the reader, but as you get to know him you start to see that he has very idealized memories of the past. He sincerely believes that the King was the most brilliant and altruistic person he’d ever met. But over time, and especially in book 2 of the series, Falcio starts to realize that he’s been putting the people that he loves up on a pedestal and has to come to grips with the reality that they aren’t as perfect as he pretends.
2. I do, occasionally prance around the room with a sword, but that’s largely because I take rapier classes a couple of times a week and have to get my form back.
3. Brasti carries three different bows – a short bow, meant for using on the back of a horse, a standard bow, used for most combat situations, and a heavy longbow named Intemperance for when he needs to fire an arrow at long distance. He has different arrows for each one, but he would never want me to reveal the details. An archer needs his secrets, after all.
4. The Greatcoats have many tricks up their sleeves (and the other parts of their coats.) You’ll see a couple more of them in book 2!
5. Finally, I am not tired of your questions yet, but readers should note that the highest temperature on the hot seat is about the same amount of heat as holding a nice kitten to your face.
TABITHA: Insert intelligent question here that you’re burning to have asked but no one (except me) has been brilliant enough to ask yet. I know, I’m so clever.
Wait! No, I’ve decided that only I, Tabitha, should be allowed to ask questions. In fact, I have one right now: if you had to swap series with another author and have them finish the Greatcoats series while you completed theirs, who would that author be?
SEBASTIEN: Wow…that’s…that’s a great question, Tabitha. It goes right to the question of inspiration and what sorts of literary stylists I admire…Unfortunately, it will take some time to find the answer.
[At this point, Mr. de Castell left the interview room and did not return until several weeks later. Witnesses to his sudden departure say he boarded a bus headed for the East Coast. The driver later reported that Mr. de Castell left the bus along a long, lonely road, where several hitchhikers say they saw him sitting alone in a deep meditative state. State troopers found him that way two weeks later and finally took him to a local hospital where he was treated for dehydration. Doctors insisted he remain for several days under observation, but, sometime around midnight on the second night, Mr. de Castell mysteriously disappeared from the hospital, only to re-appear the following week back at the interview room. Tabitha did not notice his return, being still occupied with attempting to torture a small leather ottoman with the previously mentioned jumper cables.]
SEBASTIEN: I have the answer!
TABITHA: *still threatening the ottoman* Hang on. I’ve almost broken him. Look how he squirms! Where is your empire now, Ottoman?
SEBASTIEN: Umm…it’s not that kind of ottoman…Anyway, I have the answer to your question.
TABITHA: I asked a question? No, of course I did. Good. Good. Answer it now, if you value your life!
SEBASTIEN: I’ve always been a fan of Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos series. He’s got a great voice and style, so I think in this mythical scenario, he’s the person I’d pick to finish the Greatcoats. I doubt he’d ever let me near his own series, of course, but one can dream.
TABITHA: Onto more serious topics. Moving onto the racey bits – there is a sex scene in the book. (I don’t say, yes I do say people, it’s an adult book) There might be some notions of how it could be believed by some to be ‘rape’. I personally don’t believe so at all. Tell us about that?
I always find it interesting when sex scenes are included in fantasy novels that aren’t in a romance/erotica genre. It makes me wonder, now why was this included – is there some higher purpose or did the author just want to throw in some sexy times. So can you tell us a little bit behind the reason of why you included it and what this scene really means?
SEBASTIEN: The sex scene in Traitor’s Blade is actually off-camera, because the sex itself isn’t what’s emotionally important about the scene. I think the one or two folks who’ve found it upsetting did so because Ethalia binds Falcio’s hands. She has just begun healing his wounds and, for her, what follows is part of the process of helping him become whole again. But she knows that Falcio is terrified that all the rage he’s been carrying inside him will make him become violent if he lets go even for a moment, so she binds his hands to take away that fear. If he had wanted her to stop, she would have. But he needs to discover for himself that he isn’t the crazed berzerker that he sometimes fears he’s becoming. That’s why a little later in the scene he tells her to take off the bonds and they continue – because he’s realized that he’s not as broken as he once believed.
All that being said, there’s no wrong way to read a book, so if a reader sees it as a violation of Falcio’s person then that’s okay and they can interpret the rest in that light.
TABITHA: Now let me give the readers a bit of a taste of what they are in for. Can you give us a short character description of each of the key players? Like so…
Tabitha: Wouldn’t know the right end of a sword unless it stabbed her. Head constantly in the clouds, scatterbrained and her own walking hazard zone. Has delusions of grandeur and only the cat would be insane enough to follow her. (What I’m not a character yet? – who do I have to set on fire around here?)
Now your turn
SEBASTIEN: A traveller in search of sources of wonder who frequently talks too much, and despite being aware of this, insists on answering yes or no questions with a story. In fact, once when I was ten years old I…oh, I’m doing it again, aren’t I?
FALCIO: A troubled, broken man who has lost all the things he loved best in the world but who, deep inside, remains the idealistic young boy who swore he’d become a Greatcoat one day. He’s determined to see through his dead King’s last command no matter what the cost.
KEST: Analytical, preternaturally calm, and likely the best swordsman in the world. He’s obsessed with becoming even better, because he’s convinced that one day he’ll have to face a vastly superior swordsman. He’s right.
BRASTI: Almost as charming, handsome, and skilled as he thinks he is. Utterly convinced that archery is the noblest pursuit and fairly sure that swords are just long metal sticks meant for barbarians.
TABITHA: Traitor’s Blade being as fun as it is, or as fun as many of us readers say it is, you must think us a crack brained lot. Torture, mutilated body parts, some more torture, whole families burned. What kind of fun is that!? Lots of fun I tell you. What were you going for there with such a split balance?
I had another question in there somewhere – oh yes – for how heavy some of the content was it never tipped into the realm of depressing or grim. If a reader were after additional books akin to your own – which would you recommend?
SEBASTIEN: It’s interesting that people see that dichotomy between the swashbuckling and humour versus the grit and darkness. To me, the two go hand in hand. Falcio, Kest, and Brasti live in a terribly corrupt and decayed country, in which violence and power go hand-in-hand. They make jokes and banter because they have to – because laughter lets light into the darkest places. They take pleasure in their friendship and swashbuckling because that’s what you do when you can’t control the evil things around you: try to fight them as best you can and enjoy the people you love for as long as you can.
I think people who enjoy the voice and pacing of Traitor’s Blade might enjoy Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos books (of which Jhereg is the first one.) Nine Princes in Amber (first of the Amber Chronicles) from Roger Zelazny has a wonderfully brisk pace and shares some of the noir stylings that influenced me. If you enjoy the sword fights and haven’t seen Princess Bride then I’d urge you to do so simply because it’s a wonderful film in which the actors did all their own fights and were magnificent in those roles.
TABITHA: Do you think you have another mental mindset or face you put on when you sit down to start writing your dialogue? Personally I feel like an entirely different person when I interview someone (like some rabid squirrel all hopped up on go-go juice – but I’m sure you could tell that already) What sort of prep do you do to put yourself into writing mode? I ask because the dialogue you write is some of the most entertaining I’ve read.
SEBASTIEN: That’s so wonderful of you to say, though it would sound better if you weren’t still jabbing at me with the (still not electrified) jumper cables. For dialogue I’m always looking to find flow – I want it to have its own pace and timing. Some of that comes from just listening to lots of different people talk. When I was a travelling musician I got to hear all kinds of different ways of speaking and these all show up in one form or another in Traitor’s Blade. My own family was very prone to banter – trying to one-up each other to show who was most clever (often failing miserably.) Brasti’s perpetual attempts to sound brilliant come from that.
TABITHA: Care to share with us your favorite chunk of dialogue from Traitor’s Blade? Do it I command you!
SEBASTIEN: I don’t have a favourite, per se, but one I enjoyed writing is the dialogue scene that contains no words – only steel. I won’t reveal it here so as not to give spoilers but you’ll know it when you read it.
TABITHA: As the country Tristia is undoubtedly corrupt it sets a really sad tone for the lives of all those featured. Can you tell us if any of it was modeled or inspired by some place in-particular? Or any parts of the book actually. (yeah I went for the obvious question – at least I didn’t ask “where do you get your ideas?” – I hear authors hate that question…by the way is that true? haha
SEBASTIEN: On the surface, Tristia shares a lot with Renaissance and early modern Europe. However it’s a place that has been stuck at that level for several hundred years, crushed under the weight of its own corruption and unable to move forward socially or politically. Part of that comes from our own time, where we know we could be moving forward as a society but it just seems as if we’re spinning our wheels sometimes because we can never muster the political will to solve long-term problems.
I don’t hate the question about where ideas come from. Often it’s from things that I see happening in our own world which then sparks an idea for a more fantasy-oriented exploration of the problem. I also get a lot of ideas from music. In fact, several scenes in Traitor’s Blade came directly from specific songs I was listening to during the time I was writing the book.
TABITHA: Now we come to the fun part! Dirty little secrets. I must have them. So I can lord it over your head later. What should I share one of mine? What fun would that be *strikes the cables together* Out with it then – I might be convinced to strike this information from the general public eye if you write me into the next book! That’s right my name is spelled T A B I … alright alright so you won’t break under this kind of torture, strong stuff you’re made of. Give us a something embarrassing anyway for my efforts.
SEBASTIEN: *takes out nine volt battery from pocket flashlight and offers it to Tabitha in sympathetic attempt to help the jumper cables seem more threatening* My embarrassing secret is that, despite all the careers people know about, there is one that is only known by about nine people on the planet. You could torture me all you want and you’ll still never know what it was.
TABITHA: Alright I do have one – My secret – or maybe not my secret – I can type around ehh a little over 100 words per minute and yet I frequently typo my own damn name – in my defense it only consistently happens when I’m doing it like this in all caps TABTIAH see what I mean? Ok not a good enough tidbit for you? *sparks cables – seriously who’s the one doing the interrogating here? – I’ve also consistently misspelled your name by adding a T on the end.
*How many times I’ve now misspelled my own name in this interview alone ~approximately 20*
SEBASTIEN: I frequently eat more than 300 grams of chocolate in a single day. I have to exercise almost every day otherwise I’d balloon in weight.
TABITHA: Since you’re a musician Do you have any publicly streaming clippings of your vocals anywhere? I really insist you share them with us. People sound so completely different singing versus talking *and all of you can here him talk in the video interview we also recorded – go watch it you know you want to*
SEBASTIEN: Here is a clip of a Beatles show I performed in a little while ago. The audio is rather terrible but I’m the guy on the far right (playing John Lennon in the show.)
If anyone is ever vaguely interested, I think I have a couple of the original demo songs from a 90’s original band I was in which was called The Flu (later on several other bands used that name, so if any became famous then it’s not the one I was in.) We wrote jangle-pop songs with a Crowded House/Replacements kind of feel.
TABITHA: alright alright your screams are not falling on deaf ears – I’ll wrap this up. Now for the most important question you’ll ever be asked in your life. WHAT – pray tell, are your thoughts on the scrumptious mysterious canned not quite meat, salted supreme delicacy that is SPAM? Be warned your answer may cause me to instantaneously combust.
SEBASTIEN: Though reviled by the majority of the population for the past several decades, in the year 2018, hipster a-holes will strive to make it cool again. Expect to see Spam vendor stalls at Burning Man.
TABITHA: No really though, thanks for joining me and letting me scrape at your brain with my lobotomy ice pick. I seriously look forward to reading more of your books and force feeding them to every reader I possibly can.
SEBASTIEN: You’re an absolute delight, Tabitha.
TABITHA: ahhh shucks *blushes*
If you made it this far you deserve a treat – and that is a chance to win a copy of the book courtesy of the publisher!
Sebastien de Castell had just finished a degree in Archaeology when he started work on his first dig. Four hours later he realized how much he actually hated archaeology and left to pursue a very focused career as a musician, ombudsman, interaction designer, fight choreographer, teacher, project manager, actor, and product strategist. His only defence against the charge of unbridled dilettantism is that he genuinely likes doing these things and that, in one way or another, each of these fields plays a role in his writing. He sternly resists the accusation of being a Renaissance Man in the hopes that more people will label him that way.
Sebastien lives in Vancouver, Canada with his lovely wife and two belligerent cats.