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INTERVIEW: Ben Chandler, author of 'Quillblade'

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

This week on the blog I'm featuring just a few of the amazing authors that are appearing at the Speculative Fiction Festival this weekend - 16 March 2013 - at the NSW Writers Centre in Rozelle, Sydney.

Today my guest author is Ben Chandler, the up-and-coming  author of 'Quillblade.'

What is your latest novel all about?
My latest novel is a Kung Fu / Western mashup based (very, very loosely) on an ancient Chinese legend about 108 outlaws who had some amazing adventures. It (my version) tells the story of a young girl named Mei, who is burdened with a crushing fate, and the 108 heroes who are destined to help her achieve it. The gods have forsaken the war-torn Cursed Lands, and only the Blessed Maiden can save the people from centuries of fighting. Mei heads to the lawless Frontier to recruit her army of 108, but the Frontier holds more dangers than she imagines, and her 'heroes' are not exactly what she expects . . . Readers can expect Kung Fu monks, slow-talking cowboys, magic stones, and a rather peculiar mystical dragon.

How did you get the first idea for it?
I love the Frontier. The 'Wild West' is such a wonderful imaginative space, and I've been wanting to tell stories about it for a while. Not the real wild west, mind you, but a fantastic version of it. That point on the map labelled 'here be dragons' but with plenty of ain'ts and y'alls thrown in - that's the place. I also love Kung Fu action films. These genres blend so well together, but a genre mashup is hardly a place to start a story. I stumbled across the legend of the 108 outlaws quite by accident and fell immediately in love, not so much with the actual tales, but with the notion of a small army of one hundred and eight individuals, each with their own interests and personalities, all striving towards a common goal. I've been wanting to tell a story based on that concept for about as long as I've wanted to write a Kung Fu / Western mashup. Then one day the image came to me of a crystal palace. I mean a literal crystal palace. One where the walls are perfectly clear so that no one living inside of it has any privacy at all, ever. Who would live here, I wondered. It occurred to me that this was exactly the sort of place you might stick someone you didn't trust, perhaps someone of whom you were even a little bit afraid. So, I had all of these different elements, each of which belonged, I was convinced, to a separate novel, but then something wonderful occurred - I met Mei (by 'met' I mean 'imagined', but you get the idea). Mei was a young girl living in a crystal palace. All of the other young girls lived there, too, because the patriarchal rulers of the Cursed Lands feared a prophecy handed down by the last Dragon Sage - that one day a Blessed Maiden would rise up to lead an army of one hundred and eight heroes, and together they would conquer the Cursed Lands and pave the way for the return of the gods. So there it was. A lone girl in need of an army. A lawless Frontier. Kung Fu. Oh, and the aforementioned rather peculiar mystical dragon. It all just seemed to come together after that, but Mei was the key. 

What do you love most about writing speculative fiction?
Oh, so much, really! I guess, in line with my answers to earlier questions, I love the frontier-iness of it. That question, 'What lies over that hill over there?' truly fascinates me in speculative fiction. Maybe over that hill is a lake with a sea serpent living in it. One who was trapped there aeons ago and worshipped as a god before being forgotten, only to be found one day by a very special brother and sister. Or maybe not. Maybe there's a village over that hill, one in which a young queen will be born with the power to see the future, but only five minutes before it occurs, and each time she uses her power she loses a lock of her hair. Or maybe not. Perhaps there is a crater there, left over from some great calamity that caused all magic to be expended in an effort to protect the world from destruction at the hands of a man who was supposed to have saved it. Or maybe not. That's what I love about writing speculative fiction. Anything - anything - could be lying just over that horizon, on the other side of that hill, and I can't wait to find out what it is!

What are the best 5 books you've read recently?
Always a hard question to answer. Here's a list, and in no particular order:

Eon, Alison Goodman (I'm late to the party here, but I loved Eon - very much looking forward to getting into Eona!)

Midnight and Moonshine, Lisa L Hannett & Angela Slatter (Caveat: I'm not yet finished with this collection. I'm taking my time and savouring each story, as should you.)

Bitter Greens, Kate Forsyth (I'm not just saying that because this is her blog! I LOVED it - bring on Wild Girl!)
(Bless you and thank you, Ben! )

Buffy: Season 9, Joss Whedon and many others (After what felt like a mixed bag with season 8 - the first season to transition to the comic book format - season 9 feels more like the Buffy we all know and love.)
The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien (A re-read - the twelfth? the thirteenth? Who keeps track any more? - prompted by all the things I didn't like about the new film!)

What lies ahead of you in the next year?
A busy year! I'll be doing a few appearances and some school visits in and around SA, NSW, and VIC, and in April I'll be running a boot camp for teenaged writers who want to write fantasy. I'm about to finish a brand new manuscript, one which is very different from anything else I've written. It's not a book for children or teens, for a start, though it's still squarely in the speculative fiction genre. I'm also about to start re-writing a project I finished a couple of years ago about a boy and his very peculiar dog. That one's been brewing for quite a while and I'm finally ready to get back into it. Oh, and I'll be turning thirty this year. I'm told this means I will finally be an adult, and that there is no hope for reprieve. I will attempt to counteract this by watching even more cartoons and pointing out that that's exactly what they said about turning twenty.

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