I’ve interviewed author-editor-TwitterChatMeister Bryan Thomas Schmidt before, and we recently posted a Dialogue Between Writers. Bryan’s visiting us again as part of his month-long blog tour promoting the release of his novel THE WORKER PRINCE, the first installment of the Davi Rhii Saga.
ANTHONY: Welcome back, Bryan! This time around we’re going to concentrate more on your upcoming novel release, which I was honored to receive an ARC of. So first let me say how much I enjoyed it. I’ve been talking it up to friends who like good solid SF.
BRYAN: Thanks, I appreciate that.
A: You started the story as an intentional reworking of the Moses story set among the stars. Davi Rhii is sent off by his natural, slave-born, parents and inadvertently adopted by the sister of the High Lord Councilor of the ruling society. As an adult, he learns of his background and has some hard decisions to make. One of the things that interested me is how your main characters map onto the Biblical originals in terms of their story function but also their personalities. Can you talk about your decision-making process as to when you opted to stick close to the originals and when to move a character in a different direction?
B: Well, I think a lot of that was sub-consciously done, to be honest. Obviously, between the Charlton Heston film, the Dreamworks film, and the oft-told Biblical story, some of those things are iconic, so they kind of just become tendencies when telling the story, you know? For example, the High Lord Councilor (aka Pharaoh) character, Xalivar, is obviously going to be strong willed and “an evil dictator” type. In this case, I decided to show his genuine love for Davi (aka Moses) and how his emotions tear at him a bit. It makes him more well-rounded and human and far more interesting that he’s conflicted. I’ve had readers tell me they really didn’t know whether to like or hate him, which is good. The Davi character (Moses) is also complex in similar ways with less obvious evil tendencies, although he’s imperfect. I did avoid things like the siblings Aaron and Miriam, but used Miri as Davi’s mother’s name in tribute to Miriam. I also skipped the whole father-in-law with beautiful daughters desert escape sequence. Davi’s love interest, Tela, has no father figure around really. And they meet in a more conventional way. Part of that is done because departing from the familiar is the only way to keep such an oft-told story fresh. And part of it because, frankly, it was more interesting for me than rehashing what’s been done before. But making Tela a strong-willed, independent fellow pilot, for example, also allowed for some relationship dynamics which are far more interesting. And it allowed for another strong female character. I have four strong major female roles: Miri, Davi’s mother and Xalivar’s sister; Tela, his love interest, trainee and fellow pilot; Lura, his birth mother (a supporting role) and Kray, a member of the Council of Lords (supporting). There are other women characters, but those are the ones who portray the kind of anti-damsel-in-distress women I grew up with in my family and which often don’t appear much in space opera. Also, because I was not writing a religious book but just a book with religion as part of its worldbuilding and because it was more science fiction rather than fantasy, I stayed away from the plagues, signs from God, etc. aspects of the story. They are important and great parts of the biblical story but hard to make work in a believable way in the context of what I am doing. Since these people are descendants of Earthlings, anyway, that’s actually part of their past history anyway, from a Biblical perspective.
A: Orson Scott Card tells the entire life story of Moses in STONE TABLES, embellishing some parts of Scripture and condensing others to fit the whole story into one book. Your story is intended to be a trilogy. How have you handled parceling out the Biblical story over the course of three novels?
B: Well, originally it was conceived as a giant TV mini-series or one long book. But once I got into it and started “playing” around with the story and departing a bit, it became obvious the story I had would go in some different directions. I wrote it as if it could stand alone, and I think “The Worker Prince” really could if need be (I hope there’s no need though). When I started considering how to write the rest of the story, I then realized there were two more books, one which deals with the aftermath of the fight for freedom and developing culture clashes as the workers/slaves are being mainstreamed as citizens against the desires of some others, and the other which deals with the exodus itself.
A: Authors often talk about characters “taking them by surprise.” Supporting characters suddenly come to the forefront because they can provide something to the narrative the main character can’t, etc. While your characters do map onto Biblical equivalents, as we’ve discussed, you’re also telling a large story with lots of supporting characters. Have any of these characters’ paths taken you by surprise either in Book One or as you’re writing and plotting Book Two and Book Three?
B: Oh definitely. And part of that is my trying to keep the cast from getting too big by finding ways to work the supporting characters I’ve already introduced back into new parts of the story. But in Book 2, I wound up killing some characters I never would have anticipated. It serves the story and character development very well, but they would not have been the ones I expected to “knock off,” originally. Also, some of the characters took divergent and interesting twists and turns in their journeys which surprised me. Farien’s journey, in particular, is really interesting in Book 1 but especially over the course of the three books. Some of the supporting characters who are minor in Book 1 take on interesting, larger roles in Book 2. Manaen, Xalivar’s majordomo, a couple of the Boralian military leaders, Bordox’s father Obed—several examples.
A: Another thing that intrigues me about THE WORKER PRINCE is the cultural history. Even though this is taking place in a far-away solar system and far in the future, there are references to “old earth,” and to the colonization of this distant system. The history of, and the animosity between, the races now known as the Borallians and the Vertullians clearly stems from our own time and place in the universe. That history is largely in the background of this first book, but can you tell us anything about how these planets came to be colonized and how one came to be enslaved by the other?
B: The Boralians are a group of colonists formed from mainstream Christian churches, Muslims, Hindus, new agers, and other Earth groups. The Vertullians are Evangelicals. Both groups fled Earth after years of conflict between them to start over. Unfortunately, the Vertullians’ ship broke down and crash landed on Vertullis before they even realized who their neighbors were. The Boralians had already settled the next planet over. When the two discovered it, the Vertullians tried to make peace but the Boralians enslaved them instead. That’s basically what I tell in Book 1. The other history is an animosity toward Evangelicals developed in society because of their conservative views and a gradual domination of more liberal ideologies on Earth. As such, the Evangelicals became marginalized and persecuted. Outcasts in their own society, they find themselves more and more maligned, which leads to their decision to flee Earth. The Boralians who also fled were a portion of those on Earth who just grew tired of the fighting and wanted a peaceful fresh start, or so they thought. Obviously they don’t end up living that out. There are a series of post-colonial incidents, like the Delta V slave revolt, which are referred to as well but not really explained. I actually plan to do a short story on that one. And I have plans for a YA early life series about Davi and his friends now as well. If the books are well received enough anyone is interested, that is.
A: The last time we talked, you gave a little bit of background on how you came to write THE WORKER PRINCE 25 years after having the initial idea in your teens, and how the current cultural climate (try saying that ten times fast!) regarding religion influenced the way you’ve told the story. I’d like to step back from the plot, characters and cultural influences for a moment to ask a more general question I didn’t ask you last time: which writers have influenced you the most, both in your writing overall and for the Saga of Davi Rhii particularly?
B: For world building, my hero is Robert Silverberg. Majipoor has always been one of my favorite series, starting with “Lord Valentine’s Castle” which remains one of my all-time favorite books. Silverberg built that world in amazing depth I couldn’t even begin to aspire too, but, at the same time, he also taught me a lot about the necessity to think through details I never would have imagined. I admire Lewis and Tolkein too, of course, and others as well, but Majipoor is the world I have the most passion for that I’ve read and know in most detail because of just loving spending time there so much. Losing myself. For action, Timothy Zahn especially but also Kevin J. Anderson were big influences on me. Kevin even gave some suggestions and answered questions as I went through revisions. I kept Zahn’s original Thrawn Trilogy handy as I wrote action sequences for pacing and just ideas and inspiration. I later did a blog entry on how to write action based on all I’ve learned. http://bryanthomasschmidt.net/2011/07/17/10-tips-for-writing-good-action-scenes/ I also used Nicholas Sparks, whose love stories move me deeply, in writing the subplot of Davi and Tela as well as Sol and Lura. Those two are the great love stories in this novel and I wanted sections of real passion and emotion captured in words which no one does like Sparks can. For thriller pacing, John Grisham and WEB Griffin are inspirations. They know how to keep books moving. Griffin also is great with political twists and turns which I threw a lot of into the books to keep the readers guessing (and myself as I wrote, actually).
A: How soon can we expect to see Book Two of the Saga of Davi Rhii, and can you give any hints about it without spoiling the end of Book One?
B: Book 2, “The Returning,” is almost done and scheduled for publication next spring. In Book 2, the workers are free and full citizens but protest movements and hardliner sections amongst the Boralians are protesting it, accusing the workers of getting governmental favoritism, stealing all the good jobs, etc. In the meantime, Davi and Tela’s romance has hit some road bumps. Then someone is killing off workers and Davi, Farien and Yao get involved investigating. Meanwhile, old enemies are seeking revenge. Does that whet the appetite a bit?
A: Since I’ve already asked you the usual “what’s your favorite book” question and I doubt your answer has changed in the past month, let’s vary it up a little: what’s currently on your reading table, and what upcoming releases are you most looking forward to?
B: “Spellbound” by Blake Charlton, “City of Ruins” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Silverberg’s Majipoor anthology—I have two of them, waiting for the third. They are authors I admire, two of whom are friends, and whose series I loved before. So I can’t wait to know what happens next. Much of my reading time is consumed by SFFWRTCHT reading– a book a week, and I have some huge epic fantasy authors booked this fall and their books are as big as their names. Then I have the magazines I subscribe to, especially Locus, Asimov’s, and Analog. I am perpetually behind reading them. And then I am still learning craft whenever I can so I read that stuff too. So I am looking forward to the next good read, obviously, but perpetually drowning in options and reading at the pace required to manage what I need to with chat and reviews first, everything else second.
Thanks for stopping by again, Bryan! Good luck with the rest of the tour!
Speaking of which, Bryan’s next Blog Tour Appearance is on SFSIGNAL tomorrow, October 3rd Oct. 3, discussing 15 Science Fiction Classics With Religious Themes