July 23, 2015

A King-Sized Ass-Kicker: an interview with Steven Shrewsbury, co-author of "King of the Bastards"

STEVEN L. SHREWSBURY lives, works, and writes in rural Illinois. Over 360 of his short stories have appeared in print or electronic media along with over 100 poems. 9 of his novels have been released, with more on the way. His books run from sword & sorcery (OVERKILL, THRALL, BEDLAM UNLEASHED) to historical fantasy (GODFORSAKEN) extreme horror (HAWG, TORMENTOR, STRONGER THAN DEATH) to horror-westerns (HELL BILLY, BAD MAGICK, and the forthcoming LAST MAN SCREAMING). 

He loves books, British TV, guns, movies, politics, sports and hanging out with his sons. He’s frequently outdoors, looking for brightness wherever it may hide.  (source: sshrewsbury.wordpress.com)

About King of the BastardsRogan has been many things in his life as an adventurer — a barbarian, a thief, a buccaneer, a rogue, a lover, a reaver, and most recently, a king. Now, this prehistoric bane of wizards and tyrants finds himself without a kingdom, lost in a terrifying new world, and fighting for his life against pirates, zombies, and the demonic entity known as Meeble. And even if he defeats his foes, Rogan must still find a way to return home, regain his throne, save his loved ones, and remind everyone why he's the KING OF THE BASTARDS.

I had the chance to ask  Steven Shrewsbury a few questions about his collaboration with Brian Keene to make King of the Bastards happen, and epic fantasy in general. Enjoy!

Gef: So who approached who with the idea for King of the Bastards? And how high of a quirked eyebrow did that person get at the prospect of collaborating on such a no-holds-barred fantasy novel?

SS: Frankly, I think it was Brian who wondered that of me over ten years ago. We are both huge fans of Howard & Wagner and he’d took one of my stories on HORRORFIND ages ago. I’m never at a loss for ideas and we both thought fantasy needed a kick in the balls as well as the ass. He threw the idea of a collab out there and we started exchanging ideas. Next thing ya know…Rogan walked out of the past.

Gef: Have you had much experience with collaborations in your previous work? How much leeway did you guys give each other in finding your rhythm in writing it?

SS: I’d collabed with Peter Welmerink on the BEDLAM UNLEASHED tales & novel, but not much really. There were no limits in violence or debauchery. When Brian later added Meeble, a member of his Thirteen mythos to the package, I did ask of that characters abilities and whatnot, but there wasn’t a limit. We refused to write with condoms on our heads.

Gef: The cover alone has me envisioning a tale that would make the writers of Heavy Metal blush? What was your initial allure to epic fantasy?

SS: The covers of the hardback and paperback are really something. I know we both grew up enjoying the same comics and books. Burroughs, Howard and Wagner to name a few author wise, and always felt there were good tales left to tell.

Gef: How have you found the genre has progressed over the years? It seems the trend at the moment has been towards darker tinged fantasy stories, possibly due to the success of the Game of Thrones TV series, or perhaps simply a product of the times, since even Superman has been presented in a much more grim fashion than in days gone by. Is it as robust as always, or has you noticed publishers succumbing to following what's popular?

SS: Personally, when all this started over a decade ago, I felt fantasy was going the way of the TSR gaming industry and losing a bit here & there. GOT has certainly re-stoked the fires. Time will tell. The works of Joe Abecrombie are a testament that gritty tales can still be put out there in a simple fashion, ala the late Gemmel and others.

Gef: Rogan at the start of this novel seems to have seen it all and done it all. Is he a bit war weary when readers meet him or is he lusting for adventure atop his newly acquired throne? It sounds like he's been put through the wringer before the book even begins. Did you and Brian have a bit of one-upmanship going on in figuring out what obstacles and horrors to throw in this character's way?

SS: Perhaps, but we had fun doing it. I don’t think we intentionally tripped each other up. Mind you, Brian was so busy with other things as the sub date neared, and we needed one more epic fight and about 15k…and he gave me a brief window to do it. I’d like to think I rose to the occasion. Tales that that spew out of my mind and I enjoy doing them. It wasn’t there the day before and now it is.

Gef: How much emphasis do you place on setting as character? With a tale like this, it's almost like you have carte blanche to work with as far as world building goes. Was this the meat of the brainstorming sessions?

SS: I hear I write character driven fiction. We understood the era of the work, a pre-flood time where the world was much different, but that was the basic guts of it. The folks within, they are the magic, good or evil. The world was ours, just really long ago in a forgotten slice of time. We didn’t set it on a planet LIKE the Earth in an era LIKE one of ours…as I think that is sort of silly, really. Tell yer damn story and roll on. We both did set it at a particular place in mind, however, roughly the Carolina coast of am antediluvian world.

Gef: What do you consider to be the saving grace of the epic fantasy genre?

SS: That anything can happen and the only walls are the writer’s imagination. If you have any sacred cows, I suggest they better be served as steaks and burgers.

Gef: What's the worst piece of writing advice you ever received? Or what piece of writing advice do you wish would just go away?

SS: “Forget writing that kind of fantasy you like so much, honey…the GIRLS are in charge of fantasy publishing now, so just forget it.” One that would go away? Some Dumbass writer in NYC telling me I was out of line for wanting to be paid for writing. What the heck was I thinking?

Gef: Do you have any guilty pleasures when it comes to books or movies or whatnot?

SS: Oh, back in the day the GOR works were fun, but they were what they were. On movies, ugh, they make bad ones, don’t they? I like KRULL and even the first Arnie CONAN flick, as long as I don’t focus on how much it has nada to do with the character Robert. E. Howard created. I’ve caught myself watching SYFY channel flicks when I’ve drank too much, or that silly AMERICA UNEARTHED program that adds little to interesting topics…and the guy doesn’t know the diff between Celtic and Greek gods. Sheesh.

Gef: What projects are you cooking up that folks can expect in the near future?

SS: Brian always has many things in the works. My latest Gorias La Gaul novel BORN OF SWORDS just came out from Seventh Star Press as well as my horror novel WITHIN from Black Bedsheet Books. Rumor is my Lovecraftian horror western LAST MAN SCREAMING might see the light of day and possibly the re-release of BEDLAM UNLEASHED the fantasy collab by Peter Welmerink and myself. But if Rogan will swagger out again, that is a tale for another day…

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