An Interview with John Lawson, Author of ‘Sorrow’

IMG_5513John Lawson has been writing for over 30 years, beginning in Junior High with his cartoon strip, evolving into short stories in High School, and dungeon modules for his RPGs in college.  His goal was to write scripts for “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” but upon graduation, reality set it, and he became a technical writer, crafting help and manuals for software developers.  He’s still doing that, by the way, but in-between his job and his family and his video game addiction, he also writes dark fantasy novels about a place called the Seven Kingdoms.

Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Sorrow. When did you start writing and what got you into fantasy?

I began writing in earnest back in 1999.  It was a purely impulsive thing.  I was on vacation, I had nothing to do, so I pulled out a pad of paper and just started writing.  The words just started coming out of me.  Instinctively, I began habits that I continue to this day, keying in on words or events or people that fascinate me and finding ways to worm them into my narrative.

Fantasy was the natural genre for me (considering the subject matter, I think most people would call it Dark Fantasy). Raised on a diet of AD&D as a child, I was drawn to the tales of swords and sorcery and monsters and heroism.  However, I’ve found myself growing impatient with contemporary Epic Fantasy.  I enjoy the rationalism of so-called “hard” Science Fiction, with everything based on legitimate science (or as much so as possible) and as little “magic” as possible.

If I was a braver author (or more educated), I’d write in the Science Fiction genre.   

What is your book about?

Sorrow is a story about a girl, Faina, who is way beyond her depth.  Once privileged, her family has lost its status and wealth, and as a guarantee against their debts, she’s been offered up as something of a marker.  She’s moved into the palace of a strange noble, where she’s watched and well cared for, but nonetheless a prisoner.

She’s a happy, energetic thing, and somewhat to the consternation of her keepers, she ends up bonding with the various servants and other local common folk, all of whom seem to adore her.  (Some of my favorite scenes are of her mixing with her friends and caretakers.)

But then the murders begin to occur — assassinations, really — for these people are living in a tumultuous, religiously volatile time, not unlike our own.  Important people are being killed, and that draws the attention of the duke.  He sends his man to deal with things, and it quickly becomes a contest between two very deadly assassins.  And poor Faina caught in the middle of it.

It is a much different book from my previous book, The Loathly Lady, taking place much later in time.  Instead of swords and torches, Sorrow offers flintlocks and gaslight.  It’s more political intrigue than high fantasy.  More Jason BournethanLord of the Rings.

What was your inspiration for Sorrow?

I wanted to write a coming-of-age story.  So often in entertainment, books, TV, movies, the protagonist in these kinds of stories are boys, so I wanted to diverge off-type somewhat and chose a female lead.  I wanted to try to express events like first love and loss through her perspective.

perf6.000x9.000.inddIn terms of settings, the courts of the EroBernd Empire and Vestiga Gæsi and the intrigue therein were inspired by such movies as “Rob Roy,” “Dangerous Liaisons,” the machinations of families like the Borgias.  In terms of the class struggles, I’ve drawn inspiration from Chaucer, Dickens, Dumas, Hugo, and Twain and contemporary movies such as “City of Men” and “Slumdog Millionaire.”

Did your book require a lot of research?

Yes, indeed.  I’m a compulsive researcher.  As a reader, it really pulls me from the story if some aspect strikes me as implausible or inaccurate, so as an author I do my best to keep things as grounded as possible.  Sure, I have magic and monsters and general fantasy weirdness, but they are realistic enough to the point where I hope the reader might imagine, “Yeah, that could happen.”  Language, culture, religion, ritual are all elements that I thoroughly research.  I keep copious notes and maintain a small encyclopedia of my world in the hopes of maintaining consistency (90% of which, I’m sure I’ll never end up using). 

What do you do when your muse refuses to collaborate?

I don’t sweat it.  I know some authors push through blocks, forcing themselves to write a certain amount of time a day, or a certain number of words.  I’m sure that’s a valid approach, and I’ve done it myself occasionally, but I don’t practice it as a rule.

I’m always thinking about my writing, even when I’m not actually writing.  Always looking for inspirations, jotting down notes, researching interesting words or factoids that I’ve found in other books or movies or TV shows.  I’m often my most productive on the treadmill.  All that cardio sends my mind into a different place.  Little sparks of inspiration come to me.  Alas, it is almost impossible to take coherent notes on my Kindle, so often afterwards I look at what I’ve written and have no idea what means. 

How do you keep your narrative exciting?

I don’t know.  Is my narrative exciting?  I hope it is.  At the very least, I hope it is interesting, surprising, and maybe even shocking.  I try to write the kind of books that I enjoy reading, filled with interesting, intelligent characters in interesting settings.  Often, the mayhem that ensues is a direct result of their interactions.  Some of my favorite scenes have absolutely no action whatsoever.  On the surface, they are merely conversations between people, but more emotion and firepower is exchanged between them than in any battle.  It’s great fun. 

How do you define success?

Creating a story that I enjoyed writing, being able to share it with others, and hopefully, they enjoying it.  I’m not out for money.  I’m not looking for a movie deal or fame or anything.  Just looking to share the stories.  My stories aren’t for everyone.  They’ll never be the next Twilight or Harry Potter, but I figure, with patience, they’ll find their audience.

My interview with the author was originally published in Blogcritics.

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