Q&A with Richard S. Ford – Author of Engines of Empire

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

Spotlight: Q&A with D. B. Jackson, author of the Islevale Cycle

David B. Coe is the author of more than 20 novels, half of them under the pseudonym D. B. Jackson. His latest series, the Islevale Cycle, began with the release of Time’s Children (which I really enjoyed) last fall. The subsequent volume—Time’s Demon—comes out this Tuesday. If you want, you can find my thoughts on it here. Somehow, I was lucky enough to play host as he agreed to answer a few questions regarding life, liberty, and the release of Time’s Demon.

Also, some other stuff.

  • First off, congratulations on the release of Time’s Demon! This is the second Islevale and your 23nd work published to date. As such, mostly I wanted to focus on your upcoming release, but first—what does it feel like to know you’ve published so many works?

Thank you for the good wishes, Will. And yes, it’s actually quite satisfying to look at the shelf in my office and see that line of published novels. This is a tough business, and there are moments when I focus on the things I haven’t accomplished that I want to—I would love to get to the top of the NY Times Bestseller list; and I would love to win a World Fantasy Award. But the fact is, I’ve survived in publishing for more than 20 years, and I keep on selling books, and that’s really gratifying. I recently figured out that over the course of my career, I have published nearly 3.4 million words. So, I feel like I’m finally getting the hang of this writing thing…

  • When you started writing Time’s Demon, did you expect it to go in the direction it ultimately did? Or did you have it pretty much mapped out from the start?

Time’s Demon, of course, is the second novel in my Islevale Cycle, so in a way I suppose you could say that my work on this second book began back a couple of years ago when I first started trying to conceptualize the entire series. All three of these books (Time’s Children, came out in October; I’m just finishing work on Time’s Assassin (Book 3)) have proven stubbornly difficult to plot and write. I usually like to outline my books, especially with epic fantasy novels, which tend to be sprawling stories with lots of plot threads and characters, and doubly so with time travel, which can be so complicated and mind-exploding. And for some reason, these books would not submit to outlining. I still don’t know why.

I began work on actually writing Time’s Demon in early 2018. But then I needed to do an extensive edit on my first draft on Time’s Children, and the changes I made to that novel forced me to rethink Demon as well. I returned to writing it in the spring of 2018 and finished it late in the year.

So certain things about the book had to change, but I always had in mind this approach to the structure—a continuation of Tobias and Mara’s story, but a deep focus on the other two main storylines: 1) Droë’s transformation; and 2) Orzili and Lenna’s backstory.

  • Who was your favorite character in the series to write?

I really do love all of my characters. That sounds like something all authors say, but there is truth to it. We create these “people.” They are the offspring of our imaginations and our emotional connection to them is deep. I will admit, though, that I am particularly fond of the time demon, Droë. She is capricious and predatory by nature, but also innocent and unsure of herself in certain ways. And her quest to understand the nature of love is one that I think speaks to all of us. Finally, just the fact that she is not human, that she experiences the world from an entirely different perspective, makes her fascinating to me, and I hope to my readers as well.

  • All authors struggle sometimes when writing. From anxiety, depression, or simply connecting with their characters, so many factors go in to being an effective writer. I know in the past you’ve chronicled about some of the challenges you’ve overcome while working on a piece. Did you have any of the same issues while working on this story?

That struggle with outlining the book that I mentioned before was truly difficult. I know it sounds like a small thing. So I had to write the books without planning them out. So what, right? Except that we’re talking about the creative process. I’ll refer you back to how we began this conversation: I’ve written 20-plus novels, and I’ve always outlined them. Some with more detail than others, to be sure—each project brings its own exigencies of process. But to confront these huge, ambitious, complicated books without a concrete sense of how I intended to take them from point A to point B to point C, etc. That was disorienting, to say the least. I spent months trying to work out the outline for book I, until finally my wife suggested that I stop banging my head against a wall and just start writing. That turned out to be good advice. And yet, it made the books a tremendous struggle. My first drafts of all three books were much rougher than my first drafts usually are. With the rewrites of the first book, I literally cut 45,000 words and then added in 60,000.

Now, the books have turned out great. The first book is the best reviewed book I’ve ever written, and I believe the second book is even better than the first. But it really was a fight every step of the way.

  • Anything time related gives me a headache. Pretty much from when my alarm goes off in the morning onwards. How did you manage to keep the events in order while writing a time-based fantasy? Were there any specific challenges?

Yes, writing time travel will give an author fits. Part of it is the complexity of following multiple time lines, and that I found challenging but fun. It’s not all that different from writing multiple plot threads in different parts of an imagined world, which I have done before with other epic fantasy series. The harder parts of time travel books involve the anachronisms, the implications of playing with timelines, and the fact that if characters can move through time they can render pretty much any plot point irrelevant. They get an endless supply of do-overs. And so the biggest challenge for me was coming up with a time travel “system” that made time travel rare, that limited how often my characters could go back and mess with my plot points. I did that by exacting a heavy cost for my time travel. Time travelers are rare and the “between” through which they pass to go back in time is harrowing and harsh. More to the point, though, for every day my time Walkers go back, they age that amount. If they go back a year, they arrive a year older. And when they return to their rightful time, they age another year. So, they can’t time travel too much without spending chunks of their lives. That keeps the complications and do-overs to a minimum.

  • What can we expect from the series looking forward?

Well, the initial draft of the third and final book in the series, Time’s Assassin, is written, and I obviously don’t want to give away a lot. But I can tell you that all the plot threads are tied off in the end. All the answers you’re after as a reader—What happens to Tobias and Mara and Sofya? What will Droë do with herself after her transformation? What will Orzili and Lenna do to ensure that Sofya never comes to power?—all of those questions will be answered. There are moments that will be difficult for my readers—really difficult. And there will be others that will make them cheer. In the end, though, I expect that fans of the series will be satisfied by the conclusion.

  • This is the sixth book I’ve read by you under the name of D. B. Jackson (to go with another four under David B. Coe). May I ask, why did you decide to use this pseudonym for this series?

So the D.B. Jackson pseudonym originated with my Thieftaker Chronicles, which I wrote for Tor beginning in 2012. I had just finished my third epic fantasy series for Tor, which together accounted for eleven novels, and I was making the switch to historical urban fantasy with Thieftaker. The folks at Tor were concerned about my branding. They felt that people knew me as a writer of epic fantasy and would expect that same thing with the new series if they saw my name on the cover. So they had me write the books under a different name. I was fine with that. Now since Thieftaker, I’ve written two series: The Case Files of Justis Fearsson for Baen, as David B. Coe, and the Islevale books for Angry Robot as D.B. Jackson. Baen asked me to write the Fearsson books under my own name, because they felt that their fan base, in the part of the U.S. where I live, would know me by that name and would be more inclined to find the books. Angry Robot chose to have me write the Islevale series as D.B. Jackson, because they saw that the critical response to the Thieftaker books was good, and they wanted that reputation behind the new series.

Frankly, I don’t care too much one way or another. I have fans under both names (and most people know that both names are me, although every now and then I come across someone who has NO idea) and I have a good reputation critically under both names. The bottom line is this: I get to write stories for a living, which is the best thing in the world. The rest is unimportant.

  • Last question: I’ve got to ask. I really have to. I’m a big fan of your Thieftaker and Justis Fearsson series; is there a chance we’ll be seeing anymore of those, or are they shelved for the foreseeable future?

Well, there is a Thieftaker short story collection—Tales of the Thieftaker—that came out from a small press a couple of years ago. And I’ve had another Thieftaker short story come out since then. So Thieftaker is certainly still ongoing. I haven’t done a novel in a while, but I fully intend to return to that world. And I plan to write more Fearsson, too. I love the Fearsson books. In many ways, they are more dear to me than anything else I’ve written. So I would expect that I will go back to both in time. I may have to self-publish them or go with small presses, but I’ll do more.

  • Thank you so much for your time! I know you’re probably really busy with the release date for Time’s Demon so near at hand and I really appreciate any time you were able to spare.

My pleasure! Thanks so much for the questions and for hosting me on your site!


A few quick things before we wrap this up. First off, a big thanks to Angry Robot for help in setting this in motion! If you haven’t heard of them—well first off you should feel very foolish. While not the biggest or most popular publisher out there, they rep good stuff. I’m a big fan of the Islevale Cycle, but The Legend of the Duskwalker (specifically Three) by Jay Posey is probably my favorite series they’ve released. Anyway, you can check them out on twitter or their website if you’re in the need for something to read.

David B. Coe is the author of 23 published works (22 novels, plus the Tales from Thieftaker novella omnibus). These include the LonTobyn trilogy (which won a Crawford), the Winds of the Forelands pentalogy, Blood of the Southlands trilogy, The Case Files of Justis Fearsson, the novelization of Scott’s Robin Hood (the one with Russell Crowe), and Knightfall: Infinite Deep (a tie-in with the Knightfall series on History Channel).

David has a Ph.D. in U.S. history from Stanford University. His books have been translated into a dozen languages. He and his family live on the Cumberland Plateau. When he’s not writing he likes to hike, play guitar, and stalk the perfect image with his camera.

You can find him on twitter, facebook, or his own website.

And just in case you missed it, Time’s Demon will be released on Tuesday, May 28.