Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Wizard Finds His Path: An Interview with Richard Lee Byers

It's time to meet one of the busiest writers I know, Richard Lee Byers. With all the groups we've been in together on social media, I'm really surprised it took me this long to get to interviewing him. 

All the more for you to enjoy now. 

Tell us a bit about your latest work.

Since December, I’ve had three novels come out. I’ll impose on everyone’s patience by plugging all three.

Blind God’s Bluff (Night Shade Books) is an urban fantasy novel about a small-time gambler who lands in a poker tournament for supernatural creatures. He soon discovers it’s a game played both at and away from the table, and magic and murder are standard tactics.

Prophet of the Dead (Wizards of the Coast) is my new Forgotten Realms sword-and-sorcery novel featuring my mercenary company the Brotherhood of the Griffon.

Pathfinder Tales: Called to Darkness (Paizo) is another heroic fantasy and my first set in the Pathfinder universe. It’s a homage of sorts to Edgar Rice Burroughs.

What are the themes and subjects you tend to revisit in your work?

I write a lot about the standard themes of adventure fiction: courage, loyalty, and duty. Above and beyond that, though, I’ve noticed that my protagonists tend to be pragmatic, skeptical, and logical as opposed to dogmatic, fanatical, or inflexible. Basically, I think there’s a secular humanist flavor to my stuff.

What would be your dream project?

Given the financial insecurity that is the lot of many a writer, anything that makes me a ton of money!

But if you mean creatively, well, I’m already writing the kind of material—fantastic adventure and horror—that I love. Without abandoning shared-world work like my Forgotten Realms and Pathfinder novels, I do hope to do more non-franchise books like Blind God’s Bluff over the course of the next few years. I have plenty of ideas. The problem is finding the time to do on-spec work that will hopefully be lucrative in the long run but might not generate much income in the short term.

If you have any former project to do over to make it better, which one would it be, and what would you do?

My horror novels from the late eighties and early nineties contain some strong premises and plots but, stylistically speaking, are crude compared to the way I write now. Again, if I had the time, they would benefit from rewriting. But I think it’s smarter to focus on creating new stories and let the old ones be what they are, clunky passages and all.

What inspires you to write?

All my life, I’ve loved language, wild ideas, and stories, and I think I always had a sense that I had the verbal skills and imagination to be a storyteller, and that I would enjoy it if I tried. It turned out I was right. For me, on a good day, writing is fun, and even when it’s not, it’s satisfying afterward when I look back on the work I struggled over and decide that it ended up all right, or hear from readers that they liked it. Getting paid is a motivator, too.

What writers have influenced your style and technique?

There are far too many for an exhaustive list. I’ll list some of those I idolized growing up because I suspect they influenced me most of all: H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Roger Zelazny, Stan Lee, and Raymond Chandler.

Where would you rank writing on the "Is it an art or it is a science continuum?" Why?

Clearly, it’s an art. There’s a dimension of subjectivity and individual taste to it that’s foreign to the objectivity of science. If it were a science, then we would have rules that could guide a writer unfailingly to the creation of a story or essay that every reader would like, and clearly, such formulae do not exist. There’s no piece of writing in all of literature that everybody likes.

That said, though, writing, like every other art, does have principles of craft underlying it. We may not be able to define what makes a good or bad sentence or a satisfying or unsatisfying plot in the same way that we know how many electrons there are in a helium atom, but we do have some useful ideas about these things, and good writers tend to be those who understand the principles, how to apply them, and how, when, and why to deviate from them.

Any other upcoming projects you would like to plug?

In 2011, I self-published The Impostor #1: Half a Hero as an ebook. This was intended to be the first installment of a post-apocalyptic superhero series, a labor of love reflecting my lifelong love of comics and pulp icons like the Shadow and Doc Savage.

I meant to get Impostor #2 out well before this, but various commitments took priority. But I am working on the second installment now and hope to have it available on Amazon shortly.

Also, in early 2014, The Reaver: The Sundering Book IV (Wizards of the Coast) is coming out in hardcover. This is my contribution to the six-book series that is bringing the Forgotten Realms universe forward into an exciting new era.