Curled Up With a Good Book author interview
An interview with author Matthew Woodring Stover Curled Up With a Good Book brings you interviews with your favorite authors responding to questions about the pleasures and difficulties of the writing craft in general and about their stories and characters in particular. This month, we're proud to present our interview with Matthew Woodring Stover, author of Iron Dawn, Jericho Moon, Heroes Die and the upcoming Blade of Tyshalle.

What do you most admire about the Actor/assassin Caine, the main character in Heroes Die?

It's not easy to describe. In fact, this is one of the subthemes of the sequel, Blade of Tyshalle. In the words of one character from Blade:
"He does have power. One power: the power to devote himself absolutely to a single goal -- the power to be ruthless with himself and all else in its pursuit. It is the only power he needs; because, unlike the great mass of men, he is aware of this power, and he is willing, even happy, to use it."
In the words of another:
"You're better at it, that's all... Like throwing a punch. Focus. Directing energy. Concentration. No fear. The release of desire. Presence. That's who Caine is."
Caine is a man who can live his life like he's throwing a punch.

You've said that you have been writing about Caine and company for almost twenty years. Did you think at first that you were done with Caine's story when you finished Heroes Die?

Yeah, I did -- right up until Del Rey offered me a substantial chunk of money to write a sequel. I mean, Heroes Die is a complete novel: the central questions are settled at the end. It was never intended to be the first book of a series. On the other hand, it's also clear that some larger difficulties -- the societal forces that created Caine in the first place, and the pressures that put him in the bind that he struggles with throughout Heroes Die -- are still in place. Caine isn't trying to change the world. He just wants to save his wife.

That story's over. Blade is a whole new story, that deals with all those larger difficulties.

Heroes Die could well have worked as a stand-alone novel. In what direction does Blade of Tyshalle take the story and characters?

Heroes Die is a stand-alone novel; so is Blade of Tyshalle -- Blade just happens to feature some of the same characters., and follows some of the consequences of what Caine (and Hari, too!) did in Heroes Die.

As Caine himself observes: "The problem with happy endings is that nothing's ever really over."

I felt like I showed Caine in excelsis in Heroes Die; to write another linear action-adventure (no matter what sidebars of philosophy and social commentary I might have managed to shoehorn into it) could result only in a bigger, more labored, and probably inferior version of the first book.

Blade of Tyshalle is a different animal: it weaves the histories of four main protagonists (and several secondary ones) from the days before there even was a Caine -- from when Hari Michaelson was a student Actor at the Studio Conservatory -- to seven years after the events of Heroes Die, to show how what Caine did in that tale changed two worlds, and not for the better.

To show Hari Michaelson before he became Caine, and after he's had to give up being Caine forever.

Or so he thinks.

Blade presents answers to a lot of issues that people have been inquiring about in my mail: How did the culture of the Ankhanan Empire come to be a twisted blend of medieval feudalism and American federalism? What is Flow, and how do adepts use it to make magick? How did the caste society originate on Earth? What is the actual nature of the relationship between the two worlds? Does magick work on Earth, and does technology work on Overworld? If not, why not, and if so, why?

Blade puts all this and more into a framework that blends metaphysics with chaos theory, the demands of social responsiblity versus individualism, and the power of myth to shape reality -- not to mention a number of brutal murders and a substantial amount of graphic asskicking.

This is a Caine book, after all.

Blade of Tyshalle will be your second published sequel (Jericho Moon followed Iron Dawn). What difficulties and/or joys have you found specifically in writing sequels?

I hate writing sequels; I always feel like I'm expected to sort of "re-do" the first book, only make it bigger and (supposedly) better -- that, we all know, is the path taken by a number of the top-selling writers in this field. The problem is, if I could have made it bigger and better I would have done the first book that way in the first place.

I hate repeating myself.

So, I beat my brains out finding a new set of themes to explore; using old characters for new themes is like putting new wine in old skins. Sure, it might make better wine -- but it might also give you a rupture. After I turned in Jericho Moon, I swore I'd never write another... a resolution that lasted right up until Del Rey said, "This is how much we'll pay you for a sequel."

The funny thing is, I discovered with both Jericho Moon and Blade of Tyshalle that the sequel is much closer to the book I originally wanted to write. If you read Iron Dawn and Jericho Moon, you'll find that JM is by far the richer, darker, more complex and satisfying novel. It's exactly the same with Heroes and Blade. This may be a function of simply being a few years older and more experienced; it may also be a function of having the characters haunting my head for the extra couple of years. Characters grow up, too.

Blade of Tyshalle is the book Caine was born for. In Heroes Die, you get to experience Caine; in Blade of Tyshalle, you'll get to understand him, and his world, in a way that might leave you looking at yourself and your world a little bit differently, too.

If you'll forgive another quote from one of the heroes of Blade:
"You've guessed by now that what you are seeing is a Fantasy---what humans call illusion. There will be those who will try to tell you that Fantasy is the opposite of reality, that it is the same as lies... Fantasy is a tool; like any tool, it can be used poorly or well. At its best, Fantasy reveals truths that cannot be shown any other way."

Will Caine's story continue in one or more books after Blade of Tyshalle?


I'm not entirely sure he's going to survive this one.

There will probably be more Overworld novels, with or without Caine; there are a couple of characters in Blade that I think are strong enough to carry books of their own. I can't make any promises until I see how Blade turns out.

I've been considering doing some semi-prequels -- novellas from the middle of Caine's career -- telling the tales referred to in Heroes Die as "Retreat from the Boedecken", "Race for the Crown of Dal-kannith" and "Last Stand at Ceraeno". If shared-world anthologies ever come back into style, I might anchor a couple with new Caine novellas and open up the Studio to other writers; I'd be interested to see what other people can do with the Earth/Overworld universe. I've had tentative offers from one or two writers already.

When is the expected pub date for Blade of Tyshalle?

Summer 2000. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

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