Today I am interviewing Bradley P. Beaulieu, author of the new epic fantasy novel, A Veil of Spears, the latest installment in the The Song of the Shattered Sands series.
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DJ: Hi Bradley! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Bradley P. Beaulieu: Hello, and thanks for having me by for a chat!
I’m a software engineer by training, and until recently worked in that field full time since graduating from the Milwaukee School of Engineering. I got the itch to start writing somewhere along the way, though it wasn’t something I took seriously until I looked at a novel project that was about six years old and still unfinished. I figured it was time to either finish it or give up on writing.
Since then I’ve published over two dozen short stories and seven novels, with five more novels under contract. I largely write epic fantasy, but like to dabble in science fiction in short form. For five years I also ran Speculate! The Podcast for Writers, Readers, and Fans, with Greg Wilson, a project I was and still am proud of but that I eventually had to step away from due to time constraints. But the old episodes are still live, and people should definitely check out the new ones as well.
DJ: What is The Song of the Shattered Sands series about?
Bradley: The series follows the exploits of Çeda, a young woman whose mother was mysteriously killed by the twelve kings who rule the desert city of Sharakhai with a collective, iron fist. What began as a quest for revenge turns into a journey of discovery for Çeda when she comes across one of the miserable asirim, creatures who steal into the city to take tributes each night of the twin full moons. Çeda is not killed as she feared, and uncovers a wondrous secret. Her mother left clues to her heritage and the history behind the kings’ power in a book of poems she left for Çeda when she died. As Çeda begins to unlock the secrets of the kings’ past, she discovers more about her mother, their people, and the dark bargain the kings made with the gods of the desert to secure their power.
The Song of the Shattered Sands is epic fantasy told largely through the lens of our hero, Çeda. In fact, when I began writing it, I wanted to tell it only through Çeda’s point of view. I ended up expanding the POV characters, but this is still first and foremost Çeda’s tale. It’s also a tale of how culture and customs can be lost, how the victors write the history books, and how those written out of it struggle to uncover the truth and right the wrongs committed along the way.
DJ: What were some of your influences for The Song of the Shattered Sands series?
Bradley: I’d long wanted to scratch the itch to write a desert story. I can attribute this partly to liking the tales of the Arabian Nights (or One Thousand and One Nights), particularly the milieu. In fact, as my last series, The Lays of Anuskaya, progresses, you can see more and more of the Persian-influenced Aramahn coming into the picture, culminating in long stretches of desert scenes in the final book, The Flames of Shadam Khoreh.
So the desert was something I really wanted to explore, and I knew I wanted to steep the history of the city in a nomadic, Bedouin-like culture, but I’d probably (letting my geek flag fly here a bit) give the most credit to the Thieves’ World anthologies for the inspiration for the setting. I loved the city of Sanctuary when I first starting reading the anthologies in high school. I loved that it was the “armpit of the empire,” that it was a meeting point of old and new as the Rankan Empire drove into Ilsigi territory, that there were pantheons of gods vying for power, and in fact commingling even as they fought. Above all, I loved the vastness of Sanctuary and the hidden wonders it contained.
The feel of that is what I wanted to explore with Sharakhai. Sharakhai is in some ways a mere city state. But in effect it controls trade throughout a massive desert bordered by four powerful kingdoms, and because it controls trade, it has amassed incredible wealth and power. It hasn’t done so without making enemies along the way, however. The twelve immortal kings of Sharakhai are hated by many. And the roots of the story are buried deeply in that hatred.
In terms of style, I’ve had a number of influences. Guy Gavriel Kay is a writer I greatly admire. I love his ability to create prose that borders on poetry while telling such rich, complex stories. His stories are the closest I’ve come to consuming a painting in written form. I adore Tim Powers’ writing as well. I love the attention to detail he gives the story, pulling seemingly unrelated elements (often of our own history) and drawing them into a fascinating, cohesive tale by story’s end. Glen Cook is another I’ve long admired. His Black Company series was my first exposure to “gritty” writing. I loved that we got to experience the war against Lady and the Ten Who Were Taken from the trenches, not from the throne room.
DJ: Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers with sympathize with them?
Bradley: Çeda is my main character. She’s a scrapper, a fighter, and fiercely loyal to her friends. Early in the story, we learn that she lost her mother when she was killed under mysterious circumstances by the kings of Sharakhai. She had a foster parent for some years, but then began to run the streets with her friends. She grew up in a tough city, and it shows in who she is now. The most interesting part about Çeda to me is how much family means to her. She’s a young woman with no family to speak of except the one she made for herself. When hints of her mother’s history start to appear in her life, however, she works feverishly to uncover the truth.
Emre is Çeda’s best friend. They live together and have flirted about being more than friends, but I actually like that they’ve resolved to have a platonic relationship. Emre is hiding a secret. It has to do with Çeda and a terrible night that took place when they were young. It’s something Emre has never been able to resolve within himself. It’s dark, and Emre has long tried to suppress it, but it had to come out sometime, and does so in some rather destructive ways.
Ramahd is the final main character. He’s a lord from the neighboring kingdom of Qaimir. On the surface, he’s a diplomat. Behind the scenes, however, he’s been working to find the man responsible for the death of his wife and daughter. That man is Macide, and he’s the leader of a movement whose purpose is to overthrow the twelve kings of Sharakhai. Macide’s tale is one that weaves through Çeda’s, Emre’s, and Ramahd’s and slowly brings them together.
DJ: What is the world and setting of the The Song of the Shattered Sands series like?
Bradley: Sharakhai is a city-state in the center of a massive desert. It controls trade by controlling the desert itself and the flow of goods that travel on caravans in massive, age-of-sail style sandships. The world has a very Persian-esque feel to it, but also has a lot of Bedouin influence, founded as it was by twelve tribes that wander the desert, moving from place to place to take in its wonders. Those same tribes came to loathe Sharakhai’s existence and eventually, centuries before our story begins with Çeda, banded together and waged war on it.
It was in that time that the kings made a deal with the desert gods to secure their power. The gods granted them long life and magical power. They granted them the asirim—a sort of mummified undead—who protect Sharakhai but also steal into the city to take lives as tribute. That history, the war and the dark bargain the kings made with the desert gods, is beginning to resurface with Çeda’s help. And now it falls to Çeda and her friends to do something about it.
DJ: How have the reviews been from readers, bloggers, and reviewers for the first two books of The Song of the Shattered Sands series? Is there anything that your audience seems to be particularly enjoying or is eager to find out more about?
Bradley: The reception has been great. People really seem to enjoy Çeda, and I’m glad because I do too! They like that the world itself is not western European, but styled after medieval Persia. They also seem to enjoy the worldbuilding, which is something I really enjoy and take pride in.
As for what people are curious about, they find in the first book that there is a grand mystery that’s unfolding, and that the characters are in the center of it. Like the three blind men describing the elephant, however, no one has the full picture. That’s something that I’m doling out slowly over time, and my readers seem really invested and curious about it.
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing A Veil of Spears?
Bradley: My favorite part was giving readers some of the larger payoffs that I’d been working toward in the first two books. Each book has its own arc, but I also hint at larger mysteries and plots along the way. Some of those, because of the nature of such plots, took a long time to set up. So it was really satisfying for me as the author to start revealing some of the things about Çeda’s past, the mystery behind the kings of Sharakhai, the slowly growing threat of Meryam, a blood mage related to Ramahd, and plenty more.
DJ: Did you have a goal when you began writing The Song of the Shattered Sands series? Was there a particular message or meaning you are hoping to get across when readers finish it? Or is there perhaps a certain theme to the story?
Bradley: One of my favorite analogies for Tolkien’s works is that The Hobbit is fairy tale, The Lord of the Rings is legend, and The Silmarillion is myth. I love that. And I like the notion that there are different prisms through which we can view the world. I find it very interesting how history changes over time. Our modern perceptions skew the way we look at the past, and as more time passes, more and more layers of story are added to the history, until you end up with archeological strata, each layer adding its contemporary baggage, that distorts or occludes or sometimes completely conceals the truth. It’s a very human thing we do as we write our collected histories, and that was something I wanted to play with in the history of the Kings, the city of Sharakhai, the desert tribes, and even the gods of the desert.
DJ: I’m always curious when authors are writing a series, how close to the original course they stayed or if it ended up evolving and changing. Did the plot stay the same as you had first imagined it? How about the ending? The evolution of your characters?
Bradley: Though the series isn’t done yet, I can answer this to a degree. The larger overall arc is staying pretty close to how I imagined it in the beginning. I knew from the start what the kings’ dark bargain meant to them, the people of the desert, and the gods themselves.
But the execution is so different from where I started. If we consider that overarching plot a framework for a building, the actual building itself—the facade, the interior, the landscaping, the artwork—changed drastically from what I’d initially envisioned. The characters became real instead of these rough constructs I had in the beginning. The cultures in play have history, they have goals, they have had atrocities committed against them. The world itself began to take form, and it advised me on where the story needed to go to reach the end.
DJ: When I read, I love to collect quotes – whether it be because they’re funny, foodie, or have a personal meaning to me. Do you have any favorite quotes from Twelve Kings in Sharakhai that you can share with us?
Haluk raised one hand to his cheek, felt the blood from the patterned cuts the mail had left in his skin, then stared at his own hand with a look like he’d disappointed himself. And then his eyes went hard. He’d been pure bluster before, trying to intimidate Çeda, but now he was seething mad.
None so blind as a wrathful man, Çeda thought.
DJ: Now that A Veil of Spears is released, what is next for you?
Bradley: I’m working on Beneath the Twisted Trees, the fourth book of the Shattered Sands series, and I’ll have two more books to write after that. Once the full six-book series is wrapped up, I have another science-fantasy series waiting to be written. It’s called The Days of Dust and Ash, and it’s a story about a broken world, a world where once-great cities have been reduced to isolated pockets, enclaves that fight to survive against a semi-sentient plague known as the ash.
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Bradley-P.-Beaulieu/e/B004C1TZ04/
Author Newsletter: http://eepurl.com/b-MSpv
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
Bradley: You’re very welcome!
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*** A Veil of Spears is published by DAW and is available TODAY!!! ***
Buy the Book:
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The third book in The Song of Shattered Sands series—an epic fantasy with a desert setting, filled with rich worldbuilding and pulse-pounding action.
Since the Night of Endless Swords, a bloody battle the Kings of Sharakhai narrowly won, the kings have been hounding the rebels known as the Moonless Host. Many have been forced to flee the city, including Çeda, who discovers that the King of Sloth is raising his army to challenge the other kings’ rule.
When Çeda finds the remaining members of the Moonless Host, now known as the thirteenth tribe, she sees a tenuous existence. Çeda hatches a plan to return to Sharakhai and free the asirim, the kings’ powerful, immortal slaves. The kings, however, have sent their greatest tactician, the King of Swords, to bring Çeda to justice for her crimes.
But the once-unified front of the kings is crumbling. The surviving kings vie quietly against one another, maneuvering for control over Sharakhai. Çeda hopes to use that to her advantage, but whom to trust? Any of them might betray her.
As Çeda works to lift the shackles from the asirim and save the thirteenth tribe, the kings of Sharakhai, the scheming queen of Qaimir, the ruthless blood mage, Hamzakiir, and King of Swords all prepare for a grand clash that may decide the fate of all.
About the Author:
Bradley P. Beaulieu began writing his first fantasy novel in college, but in the way of these things, it was set aside as life intervened. As time went on, though, Brad realized that his love of writing and telling tales wasn’t going to just slink quietly into the night. The drive to write came back full force in the early 2000s, at which point Brad dedicated himself to the craft, writing several novels and learning under the guidance of writers like Nancy Kress, Joe Haldeman, Tim Powers, Holly Black, Michael Swanwick, Kij Johnson, and many more.
Brad and his novels have garnered many accolades and most anticipated lists, including two Hotties–the Debut of the Year and Best New Voice–on Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist, a Gemmell Morningstar Award nomination for The Winds of Khalakovo and more:
* Top Ten Book and Debut of the Year for 2011 on Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist for The Winds of Khalakovo
* Best New Voice of 2011 on Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist
* 2011 Gemmell Morningstar Award Nomination for The Winds of Khalakovo
* Top Ten Debut for The Winds of Khalakovo on The Ranting Dragon’s Best of 2011
* Top Ten Debut for The Winds of Khalakovo on Mad Hatter’s Book Review Best of 2011
* Honorable Mention for The Winds of Khalakovo on LEC Reviews Best of 2011
* Top Five Book for 2012 on Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist for The Straits of Galahesh
* 2012 Most Anticipated for The Straits of Galahesh on Staffer’s Book Review
* 2012 Most Anticipated for The Straits of Galahesh on The Ranting Dragon
* 2013 Most Anticipated for The Flames of Shadam Khoreh on The Ranting Dragon
In addition to being an L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Award winner, Brad’s stories have appeared in various other publications, including Realms of Fantasy Magazine, Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, Writers of the Future 20, and several anthologies from DAW Books. His story, “In the Eyes of the Empress’s Cat,” was voted a Notable Story of 2006 in the Million Writers Award.
Brad continues to work on his next projects, including The Song of the Shattered Sands, an Arabian Nights epic fantasy, and Tales of the Bryndlholt, a Norse-inspired middle grade series. He also runs the highly successful science fiction and fantasy podcast, Speculate, which can be found at speculatesf.com.