Today I have the pleasure to introduce to you Sebastien de Castell. Sebastien is the author of the Spellslinger series and The Greatcoats series. His debut novel, Traitor's Blade, was shortlisted for both the 2014 Goodreads Choice Award for Best Fantasy and the Gemmell Morningstar Award for best debut. He lives in Vancouver, Canada with his lovely wife and two belligerent cats. You can find more information about his series on his website - https://decastell.com/
:Q We have been introduced to a lot of characters, both human and animal. Who was the easiest for you to write? Who was the hardest?
A: Ferius came naturally, not because she’s like me but because she’s this swaggering, enigmatic stranger who comes to turn Kellen’s life upside down, defying any mage she meets even though she’s got no magic of her own and relying on tricks and daring to survive. At the same time, she’s got this deeply conflicted philosophical side which is only slowly revealed throughout the story. With all that going on inside her, I found I always enjoyed writing her scenes.
Nephenia, on the other hand, was so off at first that my editor asked me to remove her from the final scenes. Her reasoning was spot on: Nephenia existed only through Kellen’s eyes and his expectations of her. However I’m obstinate as a writer, so instead of cutting her out I expanded her role in the story and exposed her own arc to the reader. When my editor read the final draft she asked if we could have Nephenia come back later in the series, which opened up a lot of new possibilities that I’ve enjoyed writing.
2. Which character most closely resembles you and why?
None of them, really, because in a way the trio is modelled after Freud’s three aspects of personality (I should note that I’m not a Freudian by any stretch of the imagination, but as a novelist the idea of the ego, superego, and id made for a compelling way to create three separate characters).
Kellen is the ego. He’s us, in a way, our conscious mind trying to make sense of the world and what to do. Ferius is his conscience, forcing him to learn things he’d prefer never to know. Reichis, of course, is the id: take what you want and kill anyone who gets in your way. The characters themselves are vastly more nuanced than that on the page, of course, but I like that symmetry.
3. Gitabria has been my favorite place so far in this series. Is Gitabria based off a location somewhere in the world today or did you create it from scratch?
Gitabria was one of the first settings I ever devised before writing the novel itself. I generally prefer to first write the story and then build the world around it. But with Charmcaster being the third book, I knew we needed something different from the settings we’d seen so far. I’m in a terrific writing group and they helped me brainstorm everything from the contraptions and devices to the massive mercantile bridges and coin magic.
4. If they existed in real life, which character would you invite to dinner? Who would be your best friend? Who would be your arch nemesis?
Ferius Parfax would be an outstanding dinner guest, other than the fact that she’d point out all your hidden bad behaviours. Reichis would be an excellent best friend so long as you didn’t mind him stealing your stuff. As to a nemesis? Well, I modelled Tennat after a kid I knew when I was young who used to bully me despite being smaller than I was. Little bullies – the kind who learn to protect themselves from being bullied by becoming more aggressive and vicious than everyone around them – are the worst. I can’t tell you why, exactly, but there it is.
5. Reichis is a squirrel-cat and Ishak a hyena. What made you choose those specific animals? Did you originally have them as different animals? If so, what did they start out as and how did you settle on a squirrel-cat and hyena?
Here in Vancouver where I live we sometimes have raccoons come visit in our backyard (mostly to steal things and sometimes take a bath in our little fountain and dry themselves off with our cushions.) So in 2011 when I first wrote Spellslinger, Reichis was a raccoon. Then 2014 came along and Guardians of the Galaxy came out and it felt like people reading the book wouldn’t be able to help but imagine Rocket. So my publishers and I went on this long trans-Atlantic process of debating various animals. I pushed for a hare (or jackrabbit as they’re known in North America), because I liked the idea of a rabbit who was convinced he was the apex predator of the animal kingdom. My publishers kind of wanted a wildcat. I suggested a giant flying squirrel, and they still kind of wanted a wildcat. So I went off and wrote a four page biological treatise on the squirrel cat, and everybody was happy. However Reichis’s ability to make his fur change colour comes from the jackrabbit, whose fur changes across seasons as camouflage, so I got my hare in the end. It’s actually been kind of amazing to see the response to Reichis and how quickly squirrel cat seems to be slipping into the lexicon.
As to Ishak, I knew right away that I wanted him to be a kind of hated animal rather than the “cool” ones we see so much in fantasy like foxes or lions or whatever. Nephenia’s changed a great deal when we meet her again in Charmcaster, and Ishak represents part of that change – from someone everyone desires to someone who doesn’t care how she’s perceived. I also liked that the yipping sounds of hyenas are sometimes confused for human laughter, so I gave him the ability to mimic any sound. He and Reichis make an excellent burglary team now.
6. I saw something that showed a new book in the series coming out every 6 months. Have you always had the series set on being 6 books?
I never really look ahead in those terms myself, but it’s a necessity for publishers now. The Greatcoats (my swashbuckling fantasy series) was originally going to be a trilogy simply because that’s what I was familiar with as a reader. However my esteemed publisher Jo Fletcher thought it should be a quartet, so once I started planning out the series in 2012 it was with the four books in mind. The same was true of Spellslinger. My editor felt six books was the right length for the series, and so that’s how I planned it out. Of course, now that the books have done well, there’s talk of what happens after the series is concluded. I have some very cool ideas brewing on that front . . .
7. I can only imagine how busy you must be with deadlines especially with having two books release per year. Are you able to find some time to read for pleasure? What are you currently reading? What is on the top of your To Be Read list?
Two books a year? Hah! Last year I had three books come out and next year will also be three. That means I also have to write an extra book each year so that my agent will have new things to pitch once my current series is concluded, and on top of that my own sanity demands I write a strange and likely unpublishable novel each year. All told I’m usually writing four books a year, only two of which people see.
As to reading, I try to read about twenty-five books a year. The mere fact that I have a number in mind tells you that it’s something I have to very intentionally carve out time to do. Anyone interested can see what I’m reading on Goodreads, though fantasy fans might be disappointed to see all the non-fantasy titles there. I find I draw more inspiration outside of the genre I’m writing in.
Best novel I’ve read this year so far is probably The Alice Network by Kate Quinn – a historical novel about friendship and the fight for one’s identity told across two different wartime eras. Fans of Code Name Verity should give it a try, and anyone who hasn’t read Code Name Verity should go do so now.
Best fantasy I’ve read this year is probably The Cruel Prince by Holly Black. I never read urban fantasy fairy tale stuff because it’s just not my thing, but since I was doing an event with Holly in London this year I picked up the book. It’s an absolutely terrific story that I think anyone can enjoy. Dark and daring, with the fantasy always subverted by real human drama, as it should be.
8. I know it is way too early but can you give us a little tease about what to expect from Soulbinder later this year?
Soulbinder takes us on Kellen’s quest to rid himself of the shadowblack, and the discovery that when you’re an outlaw spellslinger there are worse and darker things you can turn into than a demon.
9. Are you working on any other projects that readers should be on the lookout for?
Some big things on the way, but I’m sworn to secrecy right now. I’ll be announcing a new series to my mailing list in the coming month (anyone who wants to can join on my website at www.decastell.com) and then publicly shortly after that.
Thank you very much for your time! We wish you nothing but success going forward. #TeamReichis
"I know my opinions will not always align with everyone else’s. I hope this blog serves as a way to introduce others to books they would otherwise not have read." - Frank Miceli Jr.
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