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AUTHOR INTERVIEW | Chris Evans author of A Darkness Forged in Fire

Chris Evans is the author of the historically influenced fantasy Iron Elves series, which begins with A Darkness Forged in Fire recently released in mass market format. The second in the series The Light of Burning Shadows will be released today in hardcover by Pocket Books. I was a fan of the first book, which is why I'm glad to give Mr. Evans this forum. MH: Hello Mr. Evans, welcome to Mad Hatter’s Bookshelf. Thank you for taking time to answer our questions. Firstly, can you tell us a little about yourself? CE: Thanks for having me. Well, I was born in Canada which means I’m a really nice guy until you put me on a patch of ice at which point a switch flips and I find myself doing things that wind up with someone getting a broken jaw…or tailbone…sadly, it was my jaw and butt that got broken which explains in part why I’m a writer today and not a hockey player. I now live in Manhattan and like most New Yorkers I love the city while finding it exasperating at times, too. Overall, it’s an incredibly vibrant and amazing place with an infinite number of distractions to amuse and inspire you, especially if you’re a writer. I also work full time as an editor of history, military history, current affairs and conflicts books for Stackpole Books, and when I’m not doing that you can often find me out running in Central Park. MH: For those who haven’t dipped their toes into your Iron Elves series, what would you say to perspective readers to whet their appetite? CE: I’m an unabashed and unapologetic fan of fantasy, including the ancient tropes of elves and dwarves. That said, when I embarked on the Iron Elves I wanted to try my hand at evolving the traditional European medieval setting to something more like the time of Napoleon. I’d always wanted to see what would happen to the core of Tolkien’s world if you moved it forward in time, and this gave me a chance to explore that. The other big driving force is my interest in history and military history in particular. I wanted to create an epic that was told, in part, from the perspective of the ordinary soldier. Armies abound in many fantasies, but they’re often relegated to the background. My interest was to bring that to the fore. MH: What did you want to accomplish with the Iron Elves storyline? What themes were you exploring and do you think you’ve succeeded thus far? CE: First and foremost I simply wanted to tell an entertaining story. And I wanted to delve into imperialism and colonialism in a fantasy setting. When it comes to the characters, I looked to tap into people not content with the world as they find it, or their place in it. Judging from the emails I receive from readers and the foreign translations that are underway I’d say I’m making progress, but there’s still a lot more I want to achieve with the story before it’s done. MH: The Iron Elves series is heavily influenced by the Napoleonic era and between Naomi Novak’s Temeraire and C.C. Finlay’s Traitor to the Crown it seems like the military historical fantasy sub genre has been having a huge resurgence. What are your thoughts about this? Do you think it will bring more non-fantasy readers into the fold? CE: I think military history has often been a key component of most fantasies, but it tends to get overlooked or placed in the background while the story illuminates the lives of the main characters. What we’re seeing with works like Finlay’s and Novak’s is an explicit acknowledgement of just how central military conflict has been in the fantasy genre and how interesting it can be. I’m not sure if this will bring more non-fantasy readers to the genre, but I think it will broaden the reach in general and that’s always a good thing. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of the whole genre labeling system anyway. When you examine it closely it’s really just refined tribalism fueled by bookstore shelving categories. I read a lot on Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt before writing The Light of Burning Shadows, so it’s possible some readers might want to go and check out the real thing in the nonfiction section if mine inspires them in any way. Like most readers, I read widely. Fantasy for me is often the gateway to another genre be it fiction or nonfiction. Ultimately, I hope that these books encourage more people to read, no matter what the genre. MH: What Fantasy books have left you in awe? Which writers have influenced your work the most? CE: Tolkien and Rowling, naturally. Those two have achieved immortality with their fantasies and regardless of what you might think of their prose (I happen to be a fan of both) you can’t deny their success. Well, you can, but then you’d be willfully contrarian and looking for an energetic conversation over a few beers and that’s fun, too. Terry Pratchett is another fantasist who impresses me greatly. The man is spit-your-drink-on-your-keyboard funny, and intelligent about it at the same time. As for influencing my writing, I draw on a different set of names that aren’t often mentioned in fantasy circles, authors like Rudyard Kipling, T.E. Lawrence, Ernie Pyle, Barbara Tuchmann, George MacDonald Fraser, Len Deighton, Bernard Cornwell, and John Keegan to name a few. They’re all masters, but only Kipling would probably be called a fantasist though Lawrence did dabble in stretching credulity at times. MH: What character from your books do you most identify with? CE: They’re all part of me to some degree. Konowa encompasses some of my frustrations, Alwyn some of my fears, and Yimt most definitely a good portion of my sense of humor. And I enjoy writing each one for those same reasons as it lets me explore different facets of myself and go to places I’ve never been. MH: Have you always wanted to be a writer? CE: I think I have. I got serious about it around ten years ago, but ever since I was a child I enjoyed writing. I still have journals and short stories I wrote when I was in grade school so clearly the idea of writing was present at an early age. I’m tempted to call it a wonderful affliction or even addiction because at a deep level I can’t imagine living without writing. MH: How much back-story have you written or have you created most of it as you go along? In other words are you a plotter or more a stream of consciousness writer? CE: I think I fall somewhere between the two, but I’m still working out my system so it remains an evolving process. I research a lot before and during the writing of a novel, and constantly revise as I discover new and more interesting things. There’s a distant point that I’m aiming for, but how I get there I leave open, plotting a few key scenes along the way but otherwise allowing the story to grow naturally as I write. MH: Your Publisher has gone the extra mile by printing your covers with a metallic finish. Are you happy with the covers you’ve been given and how important do you think they are to a books’ success? CE: I am thrilled with the level of support I am receiving from Pocket Books here in the US as well as Simon & Schuster worldwide, especially in the UK and Canada. I love all the covers. As for the metallic finish, I especially appreciate that for the simple reason that most books don’t have it. If everything being published tomorrow came out with metallic finishes I’d be the first to ask for brown paper covers. I doubt anyone buys a book because of the cover, but they might pick it up and read the flap copy, so in that sense the cover matters. There are literally millions of choices out there, so anything that improves the odds in your favor is a good thing. A cover that stands out has done its job. After that, it’s up to the story inside. MH: Without giving too much away what’s in store for Konowa in The Light of Burning Shadows? Also, will we get to see his father show off his fantastic powers and transformations again? CE: Konowa and the lads are definitely in for a rough time as they sail across the ocean and land in a desert realm. This book delves a little deeper into the inner conflicts of some of the characters and that’s very much inspired by my work with combat veterans. As for Konowa’s father, Jurwan, well, he’s still in squirrel form and as twitchy as ever. I was delighted at how many readers loved that, and surprised that a few seemed quite put out by it. Maybe there’re more allergies to nuts out there than I realized! MH: Will there be any more Iron Elves books after the 3rd volume? With the same characters or something set in the same world? CE: The plan right now is that the Iron Elves will conclude at the end of the third book. I’ve started book three and have a fairly clear end point in sight. Having said that (uh oh, caveat alert,) I can definitely see further adventures with these characters at some point down the road. MH: Do you have any plans for books outside the Iron Elves series? If so how would they differ from what you’ve done? CE: Yes, there will be other books and series. Two are in the works now. One takes a lot of the fantasy elements we all know and evolves them even further in time than the Iron Elves. There will be a strong military history component again and a focus on the individuals who have to face the enemy on the field of battle, but with even more twists than I have in this series, and a greater development of personal relationships. MH: If you could be any character from a fantasy book who would it be and why? CE: Commander Sam Vimes in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. He’s a flawed character to be sure, but who among us isn’t? His competence, temper, and exasperation are equally fascinating and hilarious. Richard Sharpe of Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series is another. It’ll come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Sharpe that Konowa was inspired in part by Sharpe’s adventures. MH: What are 2 things most people don’t know about you? Do you have a pet monkey you keep sequestered in the backyard? CE: That I broke my jaw playing hockey, oh wait, you do know that. Ok, well, I did break a tooth playing cricket. (And yes, it was my tooth). Come to think of it, I have a propensity for injuring myself out of all proportion to my skill level at any given sport. I’m currently recovering from a double leg injury from running which is seriously frustrating because the only Olympic dreams I have are confined to the women’s synchronized swim teams. MH: Is there anything else you’d like to say? CE: Thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk to your readers. Just like the metallic covers, an interview gives an author a chance to make an impression and get a potential reader to check out the book. I appreciate that chance. MH: Thank you for your time. I’ll definitely be checking out The Light of Burning Shadows soon. Excerpt to The Light of Burning Shadows is available here. Chris Evans's: Blog Chris Evans’s: Website


Cindy said...

Thanks for this interview! I just finished the first Iron Elves book and it was a lot better then I went in expecting.

A lot of people give it a hard time in some of the reviews but I thought it was good.

ediFanoB said...

After reading several reviews I liked to read this interview. It's good to get some information about the people behind books. And now I think I should read the Iron Elves books.