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By Patrick St-Denis & Rob H. Bedford (2007-08-09)
Q: Without giving anything away, what can you tell potential readers about Acacia: The War with the Mein?
That "without giving anything away" thing is really on my mind right now. I just got a full page review in Entertainment Weekly. Iím thrilled about it, but I have to admit that they give away some major plot points from right up to the end of the book. Itís made me more and more conscious of what I say when I talk about it. But back on subjectÖ
What I hope Acacia is for readers is a mature fantasy that reads a bit like an historical epic, but one set in an imagined world and featuring genre elements like magic, ancient curses, massive power struggles and even a few duels with monstrous beasts. Iíd like to think that it can be read as an adventure following the fates of four royal siblings caught up in a major upheaval. I also hope that readers will find it chock full of real-world issues and themes, a complex mix of history and politics, backstabbing, revenge and (occasionally) redemption. Iíd hope that my perspective as an historical novelist and as a person of color who has lived abroad quite a bit informs the novel too. Acacia isnít a story of clear good versus evil. Itís a multi-cultural world with lots of players that all have legitimate grievances, desires, hopes. In many ways Iím as big a fan of the "bad guys" as I am of the good, and I hope readers will feel similarly. Also, Iíd like people to know that the novel does follow a complete narrative arc. All of the most immediate plot lines reach some amount of conclusion by the end. Yes, there are two more volumes on the way, but readers donít have to read all three of them to get some satisfaction. Of course, I hope theyíll get to the end of Acacia and want to read more. But I promise they wonít have to.
Q: What can readers expect from the forthcoming sequels? Do you have a working title for the second volume yet? What's the progress report? Any tentative release date?
I do have a working title, although I havenít shared it that much. In my mind it would be called Acacia: The Other Lands. Whereas the first novel deals with the wars between the Akarans and Meins, the second one opens up a larger story. Itís about what happens when the rulers of the Known World (of the first book) make contact with the power that lives across the ocean Ė the people with whom theyíve been trading for years through intermediaries. Suffice to say that making this contact proves to be a mistake, and our heroes (even the villainous ones) find themselves in a struggle thatís on an even larger scale than The War with the Mein.
Progress report? Letís just say itís early days yet. Remember that I do have a day job. Iím coming off a busy teaching year, actually, but next year Iím in a new job that should allow me to get the sort of full time writing schedule I like to have back. In any event, Iím contracted to deliver the book to Doubleday next May. Thatís what I plan on doing, which means a publication in summer 2009.
Q: What was the spark that generated the idea which drove you to write Acacia: The War with the Mein in the first place?
Before I got to the spark I spent some time collecting the kindling. A long time ago I told my first editor that one day I wanted to write a fantasy. The genre had been so important to me as a young reader, and as an adult writer I felt like it offered such wonderful potential to explore substantive themes while also enjoying great flights of imagination. Iíd been thinking for a while that good old fashioned storytelling was sadly lacking from literary fiction. And I was a literary writer. (Still am, kinda.) I developed as a writer at university and through an MFA system, and my first two unpublished novels are decidedly "literary". But as soon as I go out of my MFA I started to feel the itch to just tell good stories again. I hope that my first three historical novels did that, and I do think thatís a big part of why they got published and read (unlike those first two unpublished novels). I enjoyed historical fiction, but through all those years I never forgot what fantasy meant to me.
As to the spark that light this kindlingÖ In a way it was Peter Jacksonís LOTR. I loved those films in many ways. My kids do too, and with them Iíve watched the movies countless times. So Iím a big fan. ButÖ I really wished I could see and read more fantasy that reflected actual human cultural diversity. It disturbed me that the only inkling of people of color in the films comes in the form of identity-less hordes imported to fight for Sauron. Itís such an epic set of films, but I doubt Iíve ever watched that many continuous hours of a story in which no person of color so much as has a line of meaningful dialogue. It reminded me how much I wanted to do my own epic, one in which people of color werenít entirely the "other", and a world in which all things white werenít necessarily good and all things black werenít necessarily evil.