Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the release of your epic fantasy novel! As readers head into the second book of The Fire Sacraments trilogy, what are you most excited for readers to experience?
Robert V.S. Redick: My dream for every reader is that I can give them a rich, deep journey into another world and other lives. With Sidewinders, we're talking about a world plunging into war and adventures in a huge, lethal, enchanted desert. But the human spirit is hungry and resilient, and even in the midst of war, it seeks joy, love, and deep fulfillment. So, my book makes a lot of room for those, as well as the darkness of war. I like to think that while I lead my reader into some very dark valleys, I never abandon them there.
And if you'd like something more specific—well, I'm having a lot of fun learning how readers respond to the Jellyfish Massacre.
BD: This second book finds its world having suffered a terrible pandemic. While the story has been in the works for quite some time, it seems incredibly prescient given our own struggles. What has been your experience in seeing this story come to life, mirroring so much of our own circumstances?
RVSR: I felt both strange and anxious. Of course, thoughts about how to fix my book are trivial compared to the global disaster! But since were talking about the former, one of my fears was that people would think I decided to take advantage of the pandemic. As you say, the plot of this trilogy was worked out years before Covid came on the scene, but not all readers will know that. There’s nothing much that can be done, however, except to keep telling the truth. Beyond that worry, it’s just been a very eerie feeling, watching all the parallels. I mean, the invented plague in my trilogy is known as the Throat Rust! People die of it gasping for air, just as with Covid, tragically.
There's another major difference, however. The Fire Sacraments trilogy takes place entirely in Urrath, a continent with a strange relationship to the global plague. Over 95% of all Urrathis are entirely immune, but close to 100% are carriers. In the more powerful Outer World, the plague kills one in eight. So, at least Urrathis are told. True or not, the powerful Outer World has imposed a total quarantine on Urrath, with resulting poverty and technological isolation. It's lasted for centuries--so long that knowledge of the Outer World has started to wither. So while we rarely see people die directly of plague, it does shape every aspect of life.
BD: As a life-long fantasy fan yourself, are there elements of the genre that you like to pay homage to as a creator (or likewise avoid)?
RVSR: Oh, such a great question! Let me get to the negative response out of the way first: I try like the devil to avoid the familiar Dungeons & Dragons clichés. The merry band of rogues hunting for loot. The tavern with its "wenches" and boisterous, mead-quaffing mob. The dumb henchmen. The plucky thief who's always one step ahead of the Lord Mayor. You know the lineup. Don’t get me wrong: I was raised on D&D and love it with all my forever–adolescent heart. And I know there are campaigns with all the subtlety and beauty of the most carefully-wrought novels. But I don’t want all that stale, familiar stuff infiltrating my novels.
As for what I would celebrate—and I would rather say “celebrate" than “homage,” because I think the latter sometimes invites too much imitation—I guess I think of them as the great gifts of epic fantasy. the shelter and the solace of adventure in a rich, immersive world. The beauties that pierce the heart, the terrors that freeze the soul, the vistas that stop us in our tracks with sheer wonder. The exploration of the potential of the human spirit. No other modes or genres lay out quite the same feast, however much they nourish us in other ways.
The challenge is always to make it feel new. And I do mean feel, because the odds are that whatever element you think you're inventing has cropped up in a dozen places in the history of fantastic storytelling. You're unlikely to claim territory where no author's foot has ever fallen. What you can do, what you must try to do, is to make the fictional dream you're dreaming (and sharing in words) so irresistibly real and compelling that thoughts of no other work distract the reader from the experience.
BD: Are there any other upcoming projects on which you are working that you are able to share with our readers?
RVSR: The overriding priority right now is Book III, Siege, which is the conclusion of the tale. Like Sidewinders, it will no doubt be huge. I'd like it to be the most ambitious, enjoyable siege-narrative ever written--why not shoot for the Moon? But I can promise that, as with the first two books, it will be the very best of which I'm capable.
I also want to underscore that this really is a TRILOGY, not a never-ending series! Doesn't mean I'll never return to the world or the characters, but you'll have no doubt that you've read a complete story when you get to the end of Book III.
When Siege is finished, I have an enormous decision to make concerning which book to write next. It might be a return to the world and people of The Chathrand Voyage, my first series, which is a nautical adventure. It might be a novel set in this world, albeit one with magic. I just don't know yet.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for readers to learn more about Sidewinders and your other work?
RVSR: Hop right over to robertvsredick.com!