I was fortunate enough to get a little Q&A with Richard S. Ford, author of Engines of Empire and the Steelhaven series—each of which I’ve featured here—but also much more! Mostly it’s talk about his new book and the upcoming sequels, but also there’s a glimpse into the past: concerning books already published, sequels not yet written, worlds not yet realized. I learned a few things—and even made an addition to my TBR.
I was hoping to get this out last week, in time for the release of Engines of Empire, but these last few weeks have been insane—busy, stressful, everything happening at once. So… here it is now!
Many, many thanks to Orbit for making this happen, especially Angela Man, and of course Richard S. Ford for taking the time to answer some of my burning questions!
As is my style, I mostly stayed on task and asked questions about his latest release, but also snuck in some about his other books, other series, ones that we might not have had an adequate resolution to (ahem, Steelhaven). Luckily he didn’t seem to mind, and here’s the result!
Well, this is your fourth series (three as Ford, one as Cullen), and (unless I’m mistaken) your fourth different world (five including Kultus). Though some authors stay in one world their whole career, you’ve decided to do the opposite. So, do you have just so many ideas for different worlds, or feel the need to get started on something new after spending three straight books in one place, or some third option?
I hate to shatter the illusion that I’m some kind of creative dynamo, but the main decision to jump in and out of different worlds has mostly been made for me. I wrote Kultus back in 2010 with the intention it would be part of an ongoing series of 5 or 6 novels. However, Headline made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, and my focus had to shift away from Blaklok’s story to Steelhaven. When, after a couple of years, Headline then decided to cancel its SFF imprint (and fire my editor) I was forced to move on to something else, which would eventually become the War of the Archons series. Due to the fact my previous books had been left hanging in the wind as far as ongoing narratives were concerned, I decided WotA would be a self-contained trilogy with a definite beginning, middle and end.
Before I even finished that trilogy I’d had ideas for other stories percolating in my head for a while. I wanted to write something truly epic, but I’d also wanted to dip my toe into historical fiction for years. So which one to write? I decided, why not do both at the same time?
And do you think you’ll ever revisit any of your other fantasy worlds in the future?
I have toyed with the idea of finishing the Blaklok books, perhaps via self-publishing (I now have the rights back from Solaris) but it’s quite a difficult series to market. Self-publishing relies on being able to promote your books by leveraging established genres, and Blaklok doesn’t comfortably fit in one, since it’s an occult, steampunk, action-adventure, with an ultra-violent, potty-mouthed protagonist. But who knows?
There are also lots more stories to be told in the world of Steelhaven (what has happened to Nobul Jacks?), but while Headline still clings onto the rights for the original trilogy they’ll never be written.
Saying that, the two trilogies I’m working on at the moment may well spin out into longer series, though that will entirely depend on their popularity.
I quite enjoyed the book, but really would’ve liked to see a bit of the revolution from outside the Hawkspur family. Did this worry you at all when you wrote the book? And do you think we’ll see any more diversity from the characters moving forward?
No, it didn’t worry me. The first book establishes the world through the eyes of the Hawkspur family, and adding too may external POVs would have diverted the narrative focus. Saying that, book two will bring a couple of minor characters from the first book to front and centre. You’ll just have to wait and see who they are.
And which character was your favorite to write? And the most challenging?
Conall was the most fun to write, mainly due to his snarky interactions with Sted, his stalwart lieutenant. In my original draft he wasn’t even featured, but on revising the MS I realised I needed a character with a bit of ‘bite’.
Every character brings their own unique challenges. Usually finding logical motivations for your villains, without making them moustache twirling bounders, is the most difficult part.
Could you explain the magic system to me? Without spoilers, of course. I never quite wrapped my head around it. If it was interconnected or different or based on the different gods or… there was a lot going on!
The magic system is sort of interconnected, but not really. In Torwyn traditional ‘magic’ has been outlawed since the war of the Archmages a thousand years before the story begins. The only magic that’s allowed is the use of pyrestone, which can be harnessed as a power source for artifice, and manipulated by webwainers.
Across the Drift in Malador, magic is much more traditional, but with a slightly demonic bent. In Nyrakkis they use necroglyphs – magical sigils ritually scarred into the skin – to harness demon-magics, though they would call them gods. In Iperion Magna magic is even more sinister, but its use is mostly reserved for the Scions and their servants.
Due to various cultural taboos, few people have ever (in recent years anyway) tried to combine the two. But, perhaps soon, someone will…
There are some hints that we’ll be going somewhere new in Book #2, which I can’t get into because of spoilers, but what can we expect from the series looking forward?
Rumour has it that in the coming year or two, more novels are going to focus on ‘joy’, so I thought I’d embrace that and have everyone make friends and live happily ever after in this next book. Only kidding – there’ll obviously be much more violence, betrayal and rip-roaring adventure!
And what can we expect from you looking forward?
I’ll be continuing both my ongoing series. Shield Breaker, book two in my historical fiction series (writing as Richard Cullen) will be release around July. I’ve almost finished the first draft of Engines of Chaos, and once that’s nailed and sent to the editor I’ll be jumping straight into book three. So pretty busy really!
Congratulations on the release of Engines of Empire, and best of luck in the future! I already can’t wait for Book #2!
Hope you enjoyed this little peek into the mind of Richard S. Ford/Richard Cullen. If you haven’t already, feel free to check out my various reviews of his stuff, and then maybe go check out his books. It sucks about Headline and the Steelhaven stuff. Having recently finished that series, I’m still a bit frustrated by wondering about Nobul Jacks. But there are still other books yet to discover. I know I’m definitely interested in reading Kultus!
Richard S. Ford — Website
Kultus — Goodreads
Engines of Empire — Review • Goodreads
Herald of the Storm — Review • Goodreads
The Shattered Crown — Review • Goodreads
Lord of Ashes — Review • Goodreads