JMW: Hello. This Jean Marie Ward from BuzzyMag.com. With me today is best-selling author and musician, Steven Brust. Welcome, Steven.
Steven Brust: Thank you.
JMW: “Dragaera,” the world of Vlad Taltos, has a very Eastern European flavor to it, not only in terms of food, but also in the vocabulary. Did you also draw on the folklore of Hungary in creating this world?
Steven Brust: I think the term stole outright, would be more accurate than drew on. One of the key elements of Hungarian folklore is a shaman-type…a shaman sort of person, called a táltos for instance. It’s also, sometimes, used in an adjectival form, as in a táltos horse or a táltos bull.
Steven Brust: That’s one, I don’t know about it. Táltos drum, wow. Now, I’m interested. Tell me.
JMW: Okay. In Wikipedia, they said that the táltos horse was, in fact, a drum used to invoke a trance state in the shaman
Steven Brust: Wow. That’s interesting. And if you read the folktales, though, it is often, you know, the youngest of the kids turns out to be a táltos, and he can do X, Y, and Z, or he finds a táltos horse, which talks to him after he feeds it…after he burns some logs down to embers and then feeds them to the horse, and then he can talk and guide the hero, and so on and so forth. But yeah, I had a lot of little bits and pieces of Hungarian folklore that I threw in there, just following my usual rule of, “If it’s cool, throw it in.”
JMW: “The Cool Stuff Rule of Literature”?
Steven Brust: “The Cool Stuff Theory of Literature,” yes, exactly.
JMW: “Vallista,” the 15th book in the series, is scheduled for publication in October 2017. Has the series always followed the course you envisioned when you began?
Steven Brust: No. When I began, I didn’t envision a course. I did not think there would be a course. Certainly, the first book, “Jhereg”, or “Jhereg”, however you wanna say it, was written as a standalone.
Now, I put in a lot of foreshadowing and references to past events because that’s one of the things I like as a reader, that always makes something feel more deep. But it wasn’t until I’d written three or four of them that I realized or admitted to myself I was writing a series. And once I did, I just started following the pattern of, “Write the next story, I feel like telling.”
So it isn’t that complicated prearranged plan of what order to reveal things in. It’s just, “Oh, yeah, I wanna to that story. That sounds like fun. I think I’ll do that.”
JMW: Are you still planning on…I think it’s 17 or 19 books?
Steven Brust: Nineteen books.
JMW: Nineteen books in the series?
Steven Brust: Yeah. If I don’t die first or something, then yeah, there will be 19 a first one, one for each house. The first one called “Taltos”, and the last one called, “The Last Contract.”
JMW: And getting back to, “Vallista” though, can you give our viewers a little teaser about it?
Steven Brust: It takes place immediately before “Hawk,” and I’ll just say, “It is a truth universally acknowledged.”
JMW: Oh, no. You’re stealing again, your specialty. I was about to say, well, were there any shout-outs to other pieces of literature or fiction or TV shows, you just gave me one.
Steven Brust: Maybe, there might be one or two other shout-outs buried subtly in there, or else there could be a whole bunch of them that are right in your face, I don’t know.
JMW: Depends on what your frame of the reference is. You recently started a new series with Skyler White called, “The Incrementalist.” How did the partnership come about?
Steven Brust: Well, it started when I first met Sky, excuse me, which is at a convention in Houston. And we started talking, writing. I’m a process geek, I can talk about craft all day and all night, so could she. So we would be talking about writing and everything, and this ended up with visiting, and I would…And one evening, we were sitting around on her porch, drinking whiskey, and she said that…she has a theater background, she was a director. And she said that one of the things she missed about theater was that it was collaborative. You could, you know, work with other people to see what they do with this thing you’re creating, which is…you know, I’ve written several collaborations and they all been just a joy. So I said, “You can do that with a book.” And she said, “I can?” And I said, “Yeah.”
I’d mentioned this idea that I’d been given several years before, by Tappan King [SP] for this group of sorts of immortals who have existed as long as human history, and who are secretly working to make things better. And I mentioned that to her, and we started kicking ideas around. It was Powers Irish Whiskey, just for the record. And next thing I knew, we were running with it. You know, I went back home to Minnesota, and I can’t remember if that was around the time I was moving away from Austin, which is where she lives. I was living there at the time. But I went back to Minnesota and sent her the first section. I said, “Okay, it’s your turn.” And we just kicked it back and forth.
JMW: Did you split the point of view characters, or did you collaborate in another direction?
Steven Brust: No, it was very much split of point of view characters. It was, you know, scene for me to…you know, I wrote Phil, she wrote Ren, and we would tell each other a story, is what we were doing. And it was just an amazing thing in the end. The first draft took six months, which is amazingly fast for me. And it was just because I would get the scene done and send it to her, and she would come back with something, and I’d go, “Oh, I know what I can do.” And it’s astonishing how little choice there was in how the story itself unfolded. It was like it was predetermined. Once we’ve kicked off, it just had to start going that way. It was really fun, an amazing experience.
JMW: Yeah, it reads that way. Could you elucidate a little bit more on this nice mafia of “The Incrementalist,” so our viewers can get a better feel?
Steven Brust: The original idea, which I said, came from TappanKing, was that there’s this small group, and we ended up with 204 of them who are quasi-immortal. You know, it was when one of them dies, another replaces him, and might or might not have that same person’s personality. And their object is, like every time something bad happens in history, they try to make it a little less bad and try to encourage acts of kindness, and generally, try to push history in a more positive direction.
Steven Brust: Yeah. And then they will, you know, periodically get ideas about technology that would be useful. And they’ll try to slip, you know, hints of history and archeology that it would be good for people to know sort of point them in the right direction. And, you know, occasionally, they’ll screw up, do something horribly wrong. But overall, they have a positive effect.
JMW: Yeah. But I do have one major question that is raised by all of the series that I’ve read of yours. Are your heroes required to have mustaches?
Steven Brust: I’m sorry. Your mouth is moving, but I’m not hearing any words coming out.
JMW: Okay, we will take that as a given required. With all that’s going on in your writing life, when do you get the time to play music?
Steven Brust: You know, it’s funny. It’s not time that’s the issue because most of my music these days is strictly amateur, it’s at parties, friends will get together and hang out and we’ll swap some tunes. It’s mostly much more that there aren’t any places where I can smoke and play music any more. And so I end up being twitchy and irritated, which takes a lot of the fun out of it.
JMW: Well, that’s too bad. Obviously, that shouldn’t apply with a recording studio these days given how recording studios are set up wherever. Can we look forward to any more albums in the future?
Steven Brust: I don’t think so. I feel like the solo record I did, it [inaudible 00:10:48] . Pretty much said, everything I have to say about Steve with guitar playing music. I mean, I’ve written a few others since then, a few other, you know, few more songs. But I don’t really feeling it, I feel like to think that.
JMW: Okay, fair enough. There are two questions we always ask as we close up: What are you working on now?
Steven Brust: Let’s see. Right now, I’m working on another collaboration with Skyler, which is something completely different, and is totally weird. And I have no idea what is gonna happen or what’s going to happen with it, what it’s gonna turn out to be. And I’m also working on a new Vlad Novel, tentatively titled, “Salmeth .” And also, I’m now starting to think about the end. Think about, you know, I’m starting to gather the threads together and look at what I’ve got hanging out and just sort of start working towards “The Last Contract” in a very slow and gradual way.
JMW: Okay, good. And is there anything you’d like to add?
Steven Brust: I should mention, I’ve got another book coming out after, like, I think like six months after “Vallista”, called “Good Guys,” which is a standalone contemporary urban fantasy. And I have finished one, although it has not yet…Do I have to not mention that because it hasn’t been bought?
JMW: Well, you can say you’re finishing one. You can say you did a reading of it.
Steven Brust: Yeah. Oh, that’s true, I did. I did a reading of a new Paarfi novel, called “The Baron of Magister Valley,” which I am hoping to sell. And it concerns a nobleman who is falsely imprisoned. And after many, many years, escapes from prison to take revenge on those who’ve imprisoned him. It has nothing to do with “The Count of Monte Cristo.”
JMW: It had nothing to do with “The Count of Monte Cristo.”
Steven Brust: Why would you even suggest that?
JMW: I don’t know. That wholesale stealing must have something to do with it.
Jean Marie Ward writes fiction, nonfiction and everything in between, including art books, novels (2008 Indie Book double-finalist With Nine You Get Vanyr), and short stories such as WSFA Small Press Award finalist “Lord Bai’s Discovery” and “Personal Demons” in the award-winning anthology Hellebore and Rue. Her videos include author interviews and tutorials.