Monday, August 4, 2014

INTERVIEW: Rob Sanders

Today we get to sit down with Black Library's Rob Sanders and take a peek behind the curtain.

This article originally ran on Bell of Lost Souls about a month ago, but I figured I would give it a second life. We all know Black Library has an extremely talented pool of writers who craft the universes we play in and flesh out the characters we love and love to hate.

Tyler M. here with an interview with Rob Sanders. He is most well known for The Serpent BeneathIron WithinLegion of the DamnedAtlas Infernal and his newest novel, Archaon: Everchosen as well as numerous short stories and other novels.

Tyler: Lets start from the beginning, how did you first start working for Black Library?

Rob: I honestly came in off the slush pile. I didn’t know anyone at Black Library or have any friends in the publishing business, so it was just a case of sending some fiction and hoping for the best. I sent in a Warhammer Fantasy short story called The Cold Light of Day about a Kislevite whale hunter pursuing a corrupted whale through the frozen seas at the top of the world. A fantastic editor called Christian Dunn contacted me about the story and Black Library’s intention to publish it. Naturally I was thrilled. Christian moved on from editing himself a couple of years ago to write fiction for Black Library in his own right. The Cold Light of Day, however, was my first piece of published fiction still sells as an eshort to this day. Following the short story, Christian asked me to pitch some Imperial Guard fiction for the 40K universe that went on to become Redemption Corps. Since I expected to be working with Black Library in the future I asked Christian if I could spend a day shadowing him as an editor to get a better understanding of things from the publishing side of the process. It was a very valuable day and one of the key things I learned was how very difficult and rare it was to come in cold off a publisher’s slush pile. I’m glad I didn’t know that when I originally submitted or this all might not have happened…

Tyler: Can you explain the process that starts off a book? Do you approach BL with a completely new idea of your own, or do they give you the basic premise (for example, a book focusing on Imperial Fists) and let you come up with the rest?

Rob: There are different experiences for different projects. Most of my novels have involved me bringing a new idea and then a detailed outline to my editors. Occasional projects - like short stories for themed anthologies and fiction connected to specific events - do have a basic starting point, as you have described. The usual process is as follows: idea - run it by the appropriate editor - synopsis - approval and the setting of deadlines - execution - editorial feedback - edits and final draft. I’d be lying, however, if I didn’t admit that marketing concerns and the popularity of specific factions play their role in the process. Space Marines, for example, are understandably popular in Warhammer 40K fiction despite there being a tiny number of them, galactically speaking.

Tyler: What has been the most rewarding story for you to write?

Rob: That’s a tricky question. The honest answer is that the most rewarding story is the one I’m working on at any one time. In terms of response, the Horus Heresy short story The Iron Within and the novella The Serpent Beneath receive a lot of appreciation from fans of the series. It’s always rewarding to hear compliments about your work and I’m thankful not only for the time people spend reading my work but also for the time they spend saying nice things about them in reviews, at events and on the internet. In terms of execution, the novel Atlas Infernal allowed me to explore many interrelated facets of the Warhammer 40k background, while in Legion of the Damned I got to build a chapter of my own right from the foundations. The Excoriators Space Marines chapter has turned out to be very popular among fans. Right now, I feel it would have to be Archaon: Everchosen and Archaon: Lord of the End Times. They presented me with the difficult task of making a character as formidable, monstrous and well known as Archaon engaging for the reader. I found that the key to this lay in some structural choices and it was very rewarding to see Archaon develop as a character that not only has unexpected vulnerabilities, but who you can really root for – despite who he is. The most rewarding aspect is achieving a story in Archaon: Everchosen that not only meets the expectations of those familiar with the character but is also a fresh tale, full of surprises that follows Archaon from his conception to the realisation of his destiny: a destiny I’m working on at the moment with Archaon: Lord of the End Times.

Tyler: In your short story in Imperial Truth you wrote a small connection to Legion of the Damned, is this something you plan on doing in the future? Connecting the 30K and 40K universe in more tangible yet less obvious ways like this?

Rob: As an author working in all three key Warhammer settings - the Horus Heresy, Warhammer 40K and Warhammer Fantasy – it’s always tempting to make connections. Any piece of fiction should have a textual unity, with all elements working together to make a single vision of characters and events in a designated time and place. If you fail to achieve that as an author then the narrative begins to fall apart for the reader under the weight of its own contradictions and meandering preoccupations. When you have a number of pieces of work in the same setting – even separated by great time – it can be a great opportunity to make those connections. It gives the readers of a series the same important impression of unity that rewards their commitment to a greater body of work. When I was writing Hands of the Emperor it made sense to bring in Demetrius Katafalque from Legion of the Damned not simply because I wanted to (that wouldn’t have been a good enough reason) but because it made sense that he would be on Ancient Terra at that time and in that place – given what readers knew about him from Legion of the Damned. I’d like to return to him one day.

Tyler: One of my favorite stories from you is Atlas Infernal, I know you have written a short story about Inquisitor Czevak since then, but can we expect another full novel featuring him?

Rob: I really enjoyed writing about Inquisitor Czevak. I feel he offers something different in the Warhammer 40K universe. With the Atlas Infernal itself and his ongoing rivalry with Ahriman of the Thousand Sons, Czevak’s tales seemed also to lend themselves well to short stories or ‘short trips’. In Shadow Play he finds himself wrangling with Lelith Hesperax and her Dark Eldar, in Necessary Evil he is foiling Ahriman once again on the daemon world colony of Perdition’s Landing and in Czevak to the Dark Tower Came he is investigating apocalyptic events on the Imperial world of Savignor. My schedule is quite full at the moment with projects for Black Library and other publishers but ultimately, yes, I think that Czevak more than deserves another full length adventure.

TylerAtlas Infernal brings up an interesting aspect of writing in the 40K sandbox. In the novel there is a Techmarine from the Relictors chapter who are declared Excommunicate Traitoris at that point, but in the lore that didn't occur until after the Eye of Terror campaign, which has since been retconned back to before anything happened. How as a writer does stuff like that affect you?

Rob: Well, you said it. It’s a sandbox and you’re playing in there with toys that routinely pass through the hands of other authors and background writers for a constantly evolving setting. It’s inevitable that toys are going to get moved around. Does it bother me? No – it kind of goes with the territory. Do you need a slightly thicker skin and the skill to move with an ever changing background? Yes. It’s a balancing act - like working on the deck of a ship. As well as concentrating on everything else you’re doing, you have to re-orient gently with the rolling pitch of the vessel and the changing sea.

Tyler: Are there any plans for a full length Horus Heresy novel for you in the future? If so, can you give us any hints?

Rob: As you know, I’ve been writing Horus Heresy fiction for a while and it’s been very well received. What you come to learn from working in all three settings and in coordination with other authors, editors and games designers who also work within those three settings is that there isn’t a queue as such in which you’re waiting for your turn. A lot depends upon who is working on what and when – and don’t underestimate the importance of emerging background from other sources like games and miniature development. Schedules don’t always fit and sometimes the things you want to write about – for one reason or another - need to come later on. A good example of this is the novella Cybernetica - that I actually wrote a number of years ago, but will actually be coming out this year. To answer your question but without going into it too deeply, I’ve had Horus Heresy opportunities offered to me that I’ve decided against in favour of other Horus Heresy opportunities that suit my interests more. Simple as that.

Tyler: In Iron Within you created one of the most memorable Iron Warriors characters since Honsou and the gang, are there any plans for you to revisit Warsmith Dantioch in the future?

Rob: Barabas Dantioch is one of my favourite characters and Iron Within – despite being a short story (albeit a rather chunky one) – really seemed to chime with Horus Heresy fans. His trials continue in Dan Abnett’s Unremembered Empire but absolutely, I’d love to write more about Dantioch.

Tyler: What other Black Library novel, series or author inspires you most right now?

Rob: Great question – and one which cannot fail to get me in trouble with someone somewhere! Let me put it this way. There are a great number of BL authors whose work I especially appreciate and who I personally like. They aren’t necessarily the same people, all of the time! In terms of inspire, I’d say different authors for different settings. I’d have to go with some old favourites. Kim Newman (writing as Jack Yeovil) for Warhammer Fantasy. The short story Ignorant Armies is still, for me, one of the best in the canon. For Warhammer 40K I’d say Dan Abnett. I read the Eisenhorn series in preparation for writing Atlas Infernal and really came to admire the trilogy.

Tyler: One thing I hear a lot is how important it is as an author to continually read other people's works, what are you reading now and what are your all time favorite books? (from any genre)

Rob: One reality of being an author is that you spend most of your time writing your own novels rather than indulging in the pleasure of others. There are, of course, times when I get to read other Black Library novels as part of that process but I should really make more time for such pursuits simply for pleasure. This also applies to authors writing in the same genre or works in other genres. I’ve had a soft spot for crime fiction since my own was selected for the televised final of the UK’s largest writing competition. I’ve won a literary fiction writing competition and some of my favourite literary authors tend to stray into science fiction territory like David Mitchell (Ghostwritten and Cloud Atlas), Margaret Atwood (Oryx and Crake and The Handmaid’s Tale) and Kazuo Ishiguro (Never Let Me Go). At the moment, however, I’m reading some fantasy – George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones, to see what all the fuss is about! (I hope Rob doesn't get to attached to characters :) - Tyler)

Tyler: Your latest novel is Archaon: Everchosen (which I am very much looking forward to getting my hands on), how does it feel to take on such an iconic and important character in the Warhammer Fantasy setting?

Rob: I’m really enjoying writing about Archaon. Archaon: Everchosen is out now and I’m working on the second part of the duology - Archaon: Lord of the End Times – as we speak. I also wrote a ten thousand word Archaon short story called Archaon: The Fall and Rise, which accompanies the ebook version of the novel. It’s fantastic to write about such an iconic character. As a dark warrior, chosen of the Chaos gods and the doom of all the world, he is very much my kind of character. Naturally such a character comes with challenges. He has some wonderful background, including his acquisition of the Six Treasures of Chaos, and I worked hard to ensure that Archaon’s story felt epic while not feeling like a shopping list of items to collect. Another challenge was making Archaon a character that the reader not only wanted to follow, but could feel for and root for. My aim in both novels is to make the reader want the end of the world as much as Archaon does. A further difficulty was putting someone as deadly as Archaon in peril. The stakes have to be high and the foes epic in order to justify Archaon being in danger. Ultimately, to assist with these challenges, I decided that Archaon’s story needed to be told right from the very beginning – literally from his dread conception. The novel not only takes in a great expanse of time but there are also few Warhammer novels that could claim to travel so far in the setting. Archaon: Everchosen takes the reader on a journey across the globe, visiting distant lands on the other side of the Warhammer world.

Tyler: Can we expect to see more novels from you in the Fantasy setting?

Rob: I love that I’m one of the Black Library authors that moves between the Fantasy, Warhammer 40K and Horus Heresy settings. After completing Archaon: Lord of the End Times, I have more science fiction stuff lined up but it would be great to return to Warhammer Fantasy.

Tyler: Any final thoughts?

Rob: As well as my fiction writing you can find me active on my blog which includes features, reviews and games oriented about my Warhammer fiction. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the more the merrier over there. You can find and follow the blog here. To keep up to date with fiction releases, events and the blog you could also click LIKE on my Author Facebook page and / or  FOLLOW on my Twitter page. Thanks for reading.

Rob Sanders is the author of six science fiction and fantasy novels, as well as numerous short stories, novellas, audio dramas and comics. His fiction has appeared on the New York Times Best Seller list and has won national writing competitions. He lives off the beaten track in the small city of Lincoln, UK.

What is your favorite book or story from Rob Sanders? I personally can't wait to read Archaon: Everchosen.

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