This week I am interviewing Devin Madson, the winner of the 2017 Aurealis Award for best fantasy novella.
First off, could you tell us a bit about yourself?
Sure can, I’m an Australian fantasy author with a magical ability to turn fried zucchini and chocolate (not together) into books. I’m also a gamer, a terrible gardener, and parent of three including the infamous Toddler of Doom.
What book are you currently reading and are you enjoying it?
Not actually a fantasy book! Rare for me, but I’m reading Small Spaces by Sarah Epstein, which is a YA thriller set in Australia and given I don’t often branch beyond fantasy I didn’t think I would enjoy it but WOW. Talk about beautifully written and freaky as all hell. Really enjoying it. Last fantasy book I finished was Kings of the Wyld, which I’m assuming NO ONE needs me to tell them about. Lots of fun.
Your third novel, The Grave at Storm’s End, released in November last year. Did you find it easier to write the first book or the sequels?
I don’t find third books are harder to write than first books in a general sense, as in a first book you need to be laying groundwork you’ll reap the rewards of in the later books, but in the specific case of The Grave at Storm’s End – that was a difficult write for me. Between bringing out the second book and the third I moved country, got divorced, moved country again, started a new relationship and had a baby. That’s the kind of life upheaval that interferes with ANY book no matter where it sits in a series.
Last year your novella, In Shadows We Fall, won the Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Novella. What was that experience like?
There was a lot of screaming involved. I thought seeing my name on the nomination list was as good as it was going to get because it felt much safer to just assume I wouldn’t win. Better to be pleasantly surprised rather than disappointed. Sadly I am optimistic by nature and couldn’t help having a sliver of hope no matter how much I tried to crush it. So yeah, when they read my name out I ran around my house screaming and then my editor called and started screaming at me. Safe to say my whole team was thrilled.
Which of your characters do you most enjoy writing and Why?
In The Vengeance Trilogy it was Minister Darius Laroth, who is a very intelligent, broken and snarky fellow who has been with me for quite some time, but in my new series Cassandra Marius takes the cake. She’s an older whore turned assassin who has no illusions whatsoever about the world and her place in it, but she also happens to have a voice in her head with which she argues and fights for control of the body they share and as sad as it is to say I crack up every time I read those scenes and they’re damn fun to write. She’s also snarky, rude and doesn’t give a damn what anyone thinks of her.
What was the hardest thing about writing The Vengeance Trilogy?
Having to do it while parenting little kids! I am laughing and crying as I say that. But honestly about writing the actual books… probably getting the ‘magic’ system right. It is based on soul science and carries not only into my new books but every book I have planned, all in the same world. So my first of these characters, my Empaths, needed to be right to set the foundation, and they weren’t easy to write because they see the world so very differently so that was a challenge.
Now that you have completed The Vengeance Trilogy, what’s next for you?
I have the first book of a new series coming out June 7th. We Ride the Storm, Book 1 of The Reborn Empire. I’m also working on a spanish/moorish thieves and political intrigue fantasy series set in a different part of the same world. There are so many books in my brain waiting to be written that I need more hours in the day!
What drew you to writing Grimdark Fantasy?
Its honesty and the ability to really delve into the darkness of human psychology. Grimdark allows me to explore the shades of grey, and to have stories that focus heavily on the decisions of very complex characters rather than good heroes and evil demons, both of which I find difficult to empathise with and understand.
What book/series has had the greatest influence on your writing?
Gosh that’s tough, because although The Belgariad brought me to fantasy as a teenager and A Song of Ice and Fire opened the door to grimdark, I think the actual books that had the most formative influence on my writing itself aren’t fantasy at all but the works of Georgette Heyer, which I read repeatedly in my teen years. She was a master of characters and witty banter and was not an effusive describer of things other than ballgowns yet still managed to bring Regency England to life on the page with humour and mystery. I’ve just taken everything I learned from her and used it to write about people ripping heads off and backstabbing each other. No ballgowns though.
In your opinion, other than Tolkien’s works, which fantasy series has had the greatest influence on the fantasy genre?
This is one of those questions that could lead to author war. So many have changed the genre, decade to decade, but from where I’m sitting only two have guided enormous shifts in the way people outside the fandom perceive and receive fantasy: Harry Potter and Game of Thrones. Between them they not only brought swathes of new readers to fantasy, but also helped bring fantasy from ‘geeky nonsense’ to ‘mainstream cool’.
If you could write in any fantasy world, which would you choose and why?
Well, mine of course. But assuming you mean other than my own… The world of Bioware’s Dragon Age games. I have always been a massive fan, but what I love about it is the inbuilt conflict within the society on a basic, ethical level. Should mages be allowed to live free despite the danger they pose to society, or should they be kept in circles, guarded by templars to protect the rest of society even though it infringes on their rights and their freedom. After all they didn’t choose to be born a mage.
If I had to pick a book world it would have to be Westeros because I love scope and naturally write low-magic high-politics character drama with lots of blood.
If you could write a book using another writers character, which character would you choose and why?
Can I pick two? Because to separate Locke and Jean (Scott Lynch’s Gentlemen Bastards of course) would be a crime. I have loved their deep and enduring friendship since I first picked up Lies of Locke Lamora, and I can well imagine them having all sorts of mad adventures in pretty much any setting. They would be a fun pair to transplant, because they are resourceful and entertaining and snarky banter is totally my thing.
An evil wizard casts a spell on you and transports you to a world from a fantasy novel. Which fantasy world would you want it to be?
That’s tough when most of the fantasy worlds I read about are grim and awful. Assuming I have magical powers, I’d have to go for the Harry Potter world simply because I can wander back to the muggle world and my muggle friends and my high speed internet whenever I like. If I had to go for a full other world then Discworld all the way because that place would be off the wall.
You cannot return from the fantasy world you have been sent to and are doomed to spend the rest of your days there, what profession do you choose to take up?
Can I still be an author? It is seriously the only profession I have ever wanted or actually ever had. I tried three different university degrees in an attempt to educate it out of me, but ended up just writing in my lectures. I’m really not cut out for much else.
What is the weirdest place you have found yourself working on a book?
In a haunted insane asylum (not kidding). Also in front of endless Thomas the Tank Engine re-runs.
What weird writing rituals or habits do you have?
For each book I pick a set of epic music and listen to it every time I sit down on that particular book, which often ends with me unable to ever listen to it ever again mind you… And every writing session starts with green tea and chocolate. Otherwise everything just feels weird.
Why should readers check out your books?
Hardest question of all because all writers are built of self-doubt and coffee (tea in my case) but my books are a bit different, I write characters in all shades of grey and like to explore the depths of the human psyche to see just what we might do if forced into situations our world doesn’t possess. So if you’re not after fluffy happy endings and you like complex characters and snarky humour then this is for you.
About Devin’s Books
You will die. Your children will die. The empire will burn.
Empress Li is out of favour at court. Foreign-born and past her prime, she is to be set aside. But she won’t go quietly. With nothing left to lose, Li will do anything to stop Emperor Lan signing a secret alliance that could tear the empire apart. Yet when her life is threatened, old mistakes come back to haunt her and only a three-year-old boy can change the course of history.
About Devin Madson
Devin Madson has given up on reality and is now a dual-wielding rogue with a lot of points sunk into stealth and lock picking skills. A completionist at heart, she works through every tiny side-quest and always ends up too over-powered for the final boss. She is still waiting for her Hogwarts letter (a total Ravenclaw) and dreams of flying away in the Tardis.
Anything but zen, Devin subsists on tea and chocolate and so much fried zucchini she ought to have turned into one by now.
If you’re after happy, fuzzy tales then you’ve come to the wrong place. Her fantasy novels come in all shades of grey and are populated with characters of questionable morals and a liking for witty banter.