An Interview with Fantasy Author James Duvall

When did you start taking writing seriously and honing your craft?

I first got interested in high school. I thought I was taking it seriously in college but later realized I wasn't making much progress or really putting the time in. I would say I've been seriously writing for about 8 years.

Are you a pantser or planner? What is your philosophy on planning out your books / pantsing through the writing process?

I tried pantsing and it wasn't for me. I wasn't getting the strong thematic developments I really wanted to see. I've been a plotter since starting my third manuscript. (I've completed 8).
Generally speaking I start by ideating a few really epic scenes. In Shards, I wanted to have a moment when Sapphire came face-to-face with the leader of the warp singers and really have to look death in the eye. I had another scene in mind where Blaze would get to say "We are the Soldiers of the Last Watch" and that was going to have to be a big epic moment to really land with the gravity of it. After that I take those scenes and I start trying to figure out how they could fit into a story. Not every cool scene idea lives to the end.

The outline comes from all that effort. I'm somewhat flexible with the outline as well though. If I get "on the ground" as it were and find a change might make a scene a lot better, the outline gives me an opportunity to go back and see what impact that change might make on the future of the story.

What three fantasy authors would you say has most influenced your writing?

Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Brandon Sanderson.

Have you ever abandoned a piece of writing and left it unfinished? Would you ever go back, change it and finish it?

Ah yes, several times. Most of the time if its abandoned its because I lost interest in the subgenre or the story had some fatal flaw. I have enough new ideas coming in that it's pretty uncommon to resurrect something I'd laid down.

Do you have a day job and if so what is it?

I'm an electrical engineer focused on electromagnetics and software development.

How has your career impacted your writing career?
Well it takes up a lot of time. I have to travel a lot which makes writing difficult. On the other side of it you get exposure to a lot of different places and systems and you start to see how the world works when you get down to the level of design and implementation. You also see how things break and what causes problems and it lets you create very realistic everyday problems in your stories.

What fantasy subgenre(s) do you enjoy writing the most?

I do mostly epics. It is extraordinarily rare for me to write something where it's not life and death.

Outside of fantasy, what genre or subgenre would you like most to write in? (eg. Historical Fiction, Mystery, Sci Fi, Spy Thriller, etc.)

Lately I've started working on a battlemech series :)

What was the first book you've published and what do you like about it?

The first full length novel I've published is The War of Embers. I really enjoyed working on it. It was quite a long haul. I had a few epic scene ideas in mind for this story and I think I got there. I'm pretty sure I did. It's actually a rewrite of one of my first concepts, a story then-called The Light of Syrrel. At the time I don't think I was mature enough to handle a story of the size that was needed.

My favorite concept in this particular book is [the hero is] turned into a dragon pretty early on and has to learn to live that way. The way his life fundamentally changes, even after he's able to shapeshift into a human form fascinates me. I've seen this kind of thing approached as wish fulfillment, and I can assure you if this is wish fulfillment then I must be a djinn of old.

What was the most recent book you've published and what do you like about it?


Shards is one of my favorites, and I'm presently about halfway through the sequel. I love the new kind of dragons I created for the series. I love Sapphire and her brilliance. I love Timothy and his struggle to become a better man. I love Aebyn and how his simple belief that Timothy can be honorable instills this drive in Timothy to live up to that expectation.

How many books have published thus far and what are their titles?

I currently have 5 books up on Amazon.
  1. The War of Embers (Ryvarran Novel)
  2. The Ashfall Run (Ryvarran Novella)
  3. Shards (Pendrian Novel)
  4. The Brightistry (Pendrian Novella)
  5. The Lion's Roar: The Spellhound (Monster Hunting Novella)

What was your favourite hero/protagonist you've thus far written about? What makes them special?

Sapphire Nightsong! Imagine a world filled with clever humans, stalwart dwarves, noble centaurs, and mysterious owlmen. Now imagine these great, prestigious magical schools where the best are sought out and trained.

Then one day the greatest magical talent of an age is born. The officials come through testing children, but no one thinks to test the hungry animal huddled in a heap of rags above the apothecary's shop.

When she's grown and comes to them they reject her. It simply cannot be. What this does to her, how this shapes her, really makes for a great character.

If I were to describe Sapphire in one sentence I would say... She is Beautiful in her Hatred.

What was your favourite villain/antagonist thus far? What makes them special?

Praetus, the Scepter of Ashes.

He's strange, intimidating, and has a great flair for showmanship. He's a big oolari priest (owl-person) that's got himself a true feather from the Phoenix. He also has a habit of dusting with wings with ashes and tiny crystals so what when he flares his wings in an impassioned monologue, ash and embers scatter from his wings. I like his passion, his fearlessness, and the incredible obstacles he's going to pose to the Fletcher Street detectives.

If you could propose the plot of a TV show what would you make it about?

Probably a hybrid procedural crime/fantasy story. That's more or less how I got started working on Mistweaver.

Do you like to use tropes in your writing and subvert the reader's expectations, or do you try to avoid them entirely?

I honestly don't think about it. I think you can find yourself making yourself predictable in whole new ways by trying too much to subvert expectations. I mean, everyone expected the end of Game of Thrones to be great. Subverted expectations~

Do you celebrate after you finish writing a chapter or a book? How do you celebrate?

Sometimes if I think I've come up with a cool line I'll show it off to a few friends :) Finishing a book I'll usually call up and talk to my friends about it and how excited I am to send it out for pre-reading.

Do you prefer to write what you would like to read, or do you try to cater to a specific audience? Or sometimes both?

I write what I would like to read with maybe a few edges smoothed off to cater to a broader audience. At some point people want to hear more than just "how weird and difficult it is to be a shapeshifter hiding in plain sight".

What is the darkest thing you've ever written about?

I write mostly darker stories. Common themes I like to explore are enduring tragedy and moving on after life-altering situations. There's just something inspiring about seeing someone able to lift their head and face the world knowing it will forever be dark.

It is good for you to hope. Hope is the foundation of despair.

If you could go back in time and change something in your past to become a better writer, what would you change? (For temporal causality purposes we will assume this doesn't completely change history and that only that one thing has been changed.)

I think I would've tried to find someone more willing to give me harsh, honest critique sooner.

When reading fantasy what is one thing you wish other authors would stop doing? (eg. I wish various writers would stop trying to copy GRRM.)

Nastiness. Tired of nastiness. I think the best way to summarize it is my complete feeling of "meh" about Carnival Row after the satyr guy informs the rich girl that the perfume she's wearing is the piss of a female ogre in heat. I felt like it added nothing to the story and its just gross. Like certain other... fluids... that someone had to drink in the Magicians.

Where do you see yourself twenty years from now and what might you be writing about by then?

By then I'd like to have the entire Nightsong series written and published.

What is your next book that is coming out, when should it be available, and what is it about?

Shards 2: Mistweaver is coming out this summer! In fact I've got a really cool cover preview...

What are you currently reading by other fantasy authors?

Currently I am reading Master and Commander, as I wanted to learn more about life on boats for an upcoming project.

If you could recommend one or two fantasy author(s) for me to interview after you, who would that author be?

Kyle Robert Schulz has some interesting stuff going on. :)

Thanks to James Duvall for taking part in my series of interviews with fantasy authors. My goal is to have a new interview with another fantasy author every Sunday. Want to read more in the future? Subscribe or Follow!

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