Let’s start with an introduction: Who is Stephen Aryan?
Stephen Aryan is a really tall Englishman. He writes epic fantasy novels for Orbit that feature lots of wizards and magic, wars, warriors and non-human races. He reads a lot of books and comics, spends a lot of time outdoors in the forest, loves chocolate, genre TV and films.
Your latest book is a prequel novella to your Age of Dread series, Of Gods and Men, which I really enjoyed. How would you introduce it to a new reader, and what can fans of the trilogy expect from the prequel?
Of Gods and Men works in two ways. If you’ve never read any of my books before it acts as an introduction to my style of writing, pacing, my focus on characters and it still tells a complete story. And, if you liked it then you’ve got a good idea of what to expect in the novels that follow.
If you’re completely up to date and have read all three novels in the Age of Darkness trilogy (Battlemage, Bloodmage, Chaosmage) and the first in the follow on Age of Dread trilogy (Mageborn) then the story focuses on a fan favourite character, Vargus.
I receive a lot of requests for more information about him and this adventure should satisfy those readers. Also, despite it being a prequel, the story also has some clues and information that feeds into the Age of Dread trilogy.
What inspired you to write the novella? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
I had wanted to write a story about Vargus for a while, but finding a natural way to tell it, without crowbarring it in to a novel, took a while to develop. The title of the novella is also very specific as the story, at the start at least, follows Steinbeck’s famous novel. My novella also follows two seasonal drifters looking for work but after that it quickly deviates from what you’d expect.
In general I draw inspiration from everywhere. I think a writer’s brain is both a muscle and a stomach. Bear with me, I’ll explain. I think if you keep feeding your brain a diet of nourishing and interesting content, be it films, TV, books, comics, games, as well as non-fiction material, then that helps it generate ideas. But I also think you have to keep using it, like a muscle, and over time it gets used to the demands you’re making of it as a writer.
What’s next for the Age of Dread trilogy?
The second book in trilogy, Magefall, will be published in September this year and the final book in the trilogy will be published in 2019. I’m currently working on book 3 now so I can’t really talk about it without spoiling what’s already happened in Mageborn.
How were you introduced to genre fiction?
I started reading genre fiction as a young child. It began with Tolkien, David Eddings, Terry Brooks and Ursula Le Guin. Then it moved on to the DragonLance novels by Weis and Hickman, David Gemmell, myths and legends from around the world and then I expanded into reading outside of science fiction and fantasy.
How do you enjoy being a writer and working within the publishing industry? Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
I’m very lucky to be a published writer and I don’t take it for granted. It took me a long time to get here and a lot of hard work but I am enjoying it. As with every other industry there’s a lot to learn when you first arrive and it takes a while to get used to, but after a couple of years I’m familiar with the process of producing a book from start to finish.
No specific writing practices as such. I keep it nice and simple. I use a simple word processor and I plan all my novels ahead of time before I start writing them. At the moment I set daily and monthly word counts, because I have deadlines to hit, but I know that’s not for everyone and there isn’t one right way to do it.
When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?
I told my parents when I was about eight that I wanted to be a writer. They smiled and told me that was nice, as you would expect at that age. I said it again a few years later and I think my dad’s response was, “That’s nice but you still need to get a day job?” and he was right. I took it more seriously when I was about 18 as I started work on my first fantasy novel which I finished about a year later. Convinced it was the best thing ever I immediately started work on the sequel which I also finished. Looking back, I admire my determination and the ability to actually finish two novels but I also laugh at the arrogance of youth and the content. It was pretty rough, but even so, writing those books taught me some valuable lessons.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
I think the fantasy genre is constantly evolving with new sub-genres and labels being created all of the time. Some people are after a very specific experience when they pick up a fantasy book and the new sub-genres guide readers to the right kind of book. More fantasy books are being published than ever before making it both a very competitive market but also one that is bursting at the seams with amazing stories and new voices bringing their own unique perspectives.
I see my work fitting into the epic fantasy section. The books in the first trilogy are all very different; the first is a war book, the second a crime and mystery book, and the third is a creepy thriller, but they’re all epic fantasy as there are warriors and wizards in each. Magic is a big part of the world and it touches every part of the story in some way.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline, and what are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently working on the third novel in the Age of Dread trilogy and once that goes off to my publisher later this year I will start work on a new project. It’s something completely different, it’s not set in the same world, but it is still fantasy. I’m hoping to be able to pitch it to my agent and then my publisher later in the year but it’s still very early days.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
I’m currently reading The Human Division by John Scalzi. It’s the penultimate book in his Old Man’s War series, which are SF novels. I believe the books were recently optioned and are going to be developed into a TV series. They’re fast paced almost pulp style SF adventure books that are funny, clever and full of great ideas about humans trying deal with a host of weird aliens.
If you could recommend only one novel to someone, what would it be?
That’s a very difficult question to answer. My go to book is one that few people have heard about but I think deserves a lot more attention because it’s something quite special. It’s called The Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell. I’m not a fan of zombie books at all. They’re just not my thing. This is a zombie book. However, it’s not really about zombies. To be clear, it’s nothing like The Walking Dead. It’s a thoughtful book about humanity that just happens to be set about 20 years after the world has suffered a zombie apocalypse.
The story follows a teenage girl called Temple as she tries to make sense of the world. She was born after the change so she’s never known anything else. I think Alden Bell is someone people should be more aware of as he’s an incredibly talented and rare writer.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
At any given fantasy and SF convention in the UK, nine times out of ten, I’m the tallest person in the room. So I’m really easy to find in a crowd. And if it’s not me, then it’s James Smythe.
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
The year ahead is packed with so many exciting things like Marvel’s Black Panther film coming out this month, the new Avengers film later in the year, Ready Player One, the Han Solo film, the new Pacific Rim film. There’s so much geek content these days it’s impossible to keep up with everything and I’m constantly behind.
Stephen Aryan’s Of Gods and Men is out now, published by Orbit Books in the UK and US. Aryan’s Age of Darkness trilogy is also out now, again published by Orbit Books in the UK and US. His new series, Age of Dread, is ongoing, and (surprise!) published by Orbit Books in the UK and US.