Friday, January 02, 2009

Interview with Joshua Palmatier

1) What was your inspiration for writing The Vacant Throne?

Well, The Vacant Throne is the sequel to The Skewed Throne and The Cracked Throne, so part of the inspiration was to continue the story already begun. But the main idea behind The Vacant Throne—that there’s a second magical throne out there, one that’s twin to the Skewed Throne seen in the first two books—actually came out of discussions between me and my editor while we were discussing the revisions to the first book. I’d already written about the existence of a second throne at the end of the first book, and my editor began asking me about particulars regarding that throne: Where is it? What is it for? How does it relate to the Skewed Throne? She got my mind working on the back story of the second throne, and that back story ended up giving me the setup for the plot behind The Vacant Throne.

2) Who are your favorite authors and books now and when you were growing up?
My favority authors while growing up were Andre Norton (who was my introduction to fantasy and science fiction), Terry Brooks, and Katherine Kurtz. I didn’t have a particular book from either of them that I’d rate as a favorite. I loved Brooks’ “Elfstones of Shannara” and the Camber books by Kurtz. Currently, I’d say my favorite authors are Tad Williams, Guy Gavriel Kay, and Stephen King.

3) What is it about fantasy/science fiction that attracts you?

I think it’s the boundlessness of it all. In fantasy and science fiction, you can do anything. There are no limits. You can push and push the bounds of believability, and then you can push it some more. Of course, you have to structure the fantasy or science fiction so that the reader is willing to push along with you or you won’t have any readers, but that’s part of the challenge. I think that an excellent writer can craft any story, no matter how unbelievable, so that the majority of readers WILL take that trip with them, and I think that most writers in SF and F are trying to become such an excellent writer.

4) Why did you decide to make Varis an assassin?

The initial vision for The Skewed Throne had Varis on a boat in the harbor of the city of Amenkor, a common person, someone living the ordinary life, and suddenly this mysterious White Fire—obviously magical in nature—sweeps out of the west and touches her. However, when I sat down to write the book, I’d started thinking about Varis, about her situation and where she came from, and realized that she needed to be in more dire straits if I was going to make her story believable. At that point, she became someone trapped in the slums of Amenkor—like many others in the city—and fighting to survive, fighting to find a way out. Her desperation to escape her situation is what drives her to become an assassin when given the chance, and it’s what pushes her to do things that she wouldn’t normally do, perhaps. Her being an assassin was also a way to take a common person in the society and get them involved in the world events—the politics and maneuverings—that are going on at the same time. Also, I’ve always wanted to write about an assassin; one that actually kills people during the course of the book. *grin*

5) What (besides writing) do you do for fun?

Besides writing and reading, I also teach a spinning class at my local gym and take other spinning classes as a way to keep fit and get some exercise (something writers don’t have a tendency to do as part of their job). I also collect crackle glass and go to numerous flea markets and antique shows looking for cool and interesting pieces, mostly related to the 1950s and the Art Deco era. And for real fun, I try to get friends together to play board games such as Ticket to Ride, Settlers of Catan, and Alhambra. Puzzles can also be fun.

6) What sort of research did you do to write this book?/What kind of preparation do you do when you are writing?

I generally don’t do any research ahead of time for my novels . . . but that’s because I don’t know what I need to research yet. The way I write novel s is more or less by the seat of my pants. When I start, I have a vague idea of what I think the book is going to be about. This usually amounts to one or two scenes scattered throughout the book, including something near the end and a scene or two in between. (I always have the initial scene in mind.) Then I start writing. I keep notes along the way, and write down things I need to research as I go. Sometimes, if I hit something that’s important to the plot, I’ll pause in the writing and do research on that at the time, but most of the time I save the research until the book is finished and I’m getting ready to do the revisions. So the amount of research varies with each book, and depends on where the book decides to take itself. In The Vacant Throne, most of my research involved ships and in particular, how ships fought while at sea.

7) Varis loves her knife. Is that your favorite thing too?

Um . . . no. For Varis, having her knife close at hand is a security issue. She feels safer when touching the knife, knowing that with it handy she can protect herself. It comes from living in the slums of the city and knowing that at any moment someone or something bad could happen. I (thankfully) don’t live in that kind of world and so I don’t feel the need to have a knife handy. *grin*

8) If you were a character in The Vacant Throne and had the option of touching one of the thrones (and thus gaining access to its power), would you do it?

I don’t think so. Obviously it would depend on the need for that power at the moment. If there is no dire need, then why would I want to accept the power along with all of its consequences? For example, if you touch one of the thrones, then you’re tied to the throne, which means that you can never leave the city (or at least never pass outside the influence of the throne itself). That’s a fairly strong restriction, and I don’t think I could handle being tied to one place like that. There are other consequences of touching the throne that I couldn’t live it as well. So, assuming no dire need, I think I’d pass on having access to all of its power.

9) What are you writing now?

I’ve handed in the first book—called Well of Sorrows—that’s the start of a new trilogy set in the same world as the Throne of Amenkor books, but at a different time period and involving different characters. The new series will eventually connect up with Varis’ storyline, although how it will connect up won’t be obvious in the first book. So I’ve got the two sequels to that new series that I’m working on. I’ve also started the first book in another fantasy trilogy that’s not associated to the Throne of Amenkor books and hope to have the proposal for that finished (and hopefully sold) in 2009.

10) Did you always want to write? Or did you stumble into it? How did you get where you are now?

I’ve wanted to be a writer since the eighth grade, when an English teacher wrote on a short story that the story was good and I should continue writing. That was the first moment that I realized that all of those books I’d been reading were actually written by someone. And that someone could be me! From that point on, I started working on short stories and eventually started a novel. The first draft of that novel was HORRIBLE, but it taught me how to be a writer and I hope that it will eventually see print (although a completely revised version of course). As to how I got to where I am now . . . lots of hard work, numerous drafts, lots of rejection, and a metric ton of persistence.

11) What does a typical writing day look like for you? How long do you write, that sort of thing?

My writing days fall into two categories: days when I have to work (I teach mathematics at a local college), and days when I don’t. On Days when I teach, I usually only get an hour or two maximum to work on writing, if I get any time at all. Basically, I sit down and write for that hour, usually brand new material, without looking at the old material, because my time is limited. On days when I don’t have to teach, I start writing in the morning and reread the old material, making minor changes/revisions, and then get on with new stuff. I break for lunch, and write after lunch until I have to head to the gym. On these days, I get in about six hours of writing. If I have errands to run or other writerly activities (such as answering interview questions, emails, talking to my agent, talking to my editor, etc) then I try to get at least four hours of writing in.

12) Where do you write?

I write on my laptop at a desk with a notebook to one side for writing down any plot thoughts that strike me, as well as to keep track of names of characters, places, things, etc. I also have a stack of CDs that are “writer friendly,” meaning I can play them without the music interrupting the writing flow. Other than that and a glass of water, there’s not much else in my writer space.

13) What is easiest/hardest for you as a writer?

The hardest part of writing is just getting myself to sit down and write, damn it! *grin* Seriously. Once I’m writing, the hardest part is to work in the emotions of the characters without those emotions sounding stilted or fake or over the top. I also have to work very hard at the dialogue, since it has to sound real, and yet it can’t actually BE real, since if you listen to most conversations, they’re long and boring with lots of unnecessary wordage. The easiest part of the writing for me is probably the world itself. I can sink myself into the character and their situation enough that the descriptions take little effort, yet still get across the effect of having the reader there, living that particular scene.

14) This isn't your first book; tell us a little bit about what else is out there?

I have three books out and available in stores at the moment, all in both hardcover and paperback. They comprise the Throne of Amenkor series which consists of, in order, The Skewed Throne, The Cracked Throne, and The Vacant Throne. The new novel, Well of Sorrows, which starts a new trilogy, will be released sometime in late 2009, although I don’t have a set release date yet.

15) What is the purpose of fantasy/science fiction, if any?

I think the purpose of fantasy and science fiction is to keep our imaginations alive. In order to keep advancing scientifically, you have to be able to dream and the SF and F field allows writers and readers alike to dream big, to dream the impossible. Some may think this only applies to science fiction, but I think it’s true for fantasy as well, since both ask the reader to open their minds and consider other possibilities, other alternatives, even those that might not initially make sense, and that ability is necessary to keep ourselves from falling into the same rut.

To summarize, GO FORTH AND BUY THE VACANT THRONE! *grin* The entire “Throne of Amenkor” trilogy is now complete in paperback, so go check it out and see if it’s something you might like. It’s full of assassins and thieves, murder and mayhem, cats and dogs living together . . . er, well you get the picture. There’s blue people and magic and insane furniture. But most of all it’s a series of rousing stories in a world full of danger where everyone is simply trying to survive, some at the expense of others. Here are the links for for all three books:

The Skewed Throne:

The Cracked Throne:

The Vacant Throne:

For excerpts from Chapter One from each book, and other information about the series, check out my website at and for entertaining tidbits about the author and his life, check out his blog at

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

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