After having put the finishing touches to his middle grade novel Winterwatch, as well as having sold his latest series The Song of the Shattered Sands to publishers in the UK and Germany one might say that author Bradley P. Beaulieu’s stock is on the rise. His name might be familiar through his podcast Speculate, GenCon appearances, Kickstarter and several entries in various short story collections; yet writing wasn’t something this epic fantasy author saw himself doing whilst in high school.
Bradley P. Beaulieu, based out the Belle City on the Lake; Racine, Wisconsin, didn’t get into writing until he was in college. He read fantasy and Science-Fiction early enough, having been given The Hobbit in third grade and also playing ‘a metric ton’ of role playing games like D&D, GURPS, Villains & Vigilantes.
“I loved playing them, but I really gravitated to running the games, coming up with the world and the characters and the scenario the players would go through. It was a lot of fun for me, and it was where my storytelling skills first started to blossom,” Beaulieu explains.
Getting into Writing
Even though creative writing was something unfathomable, a ‘what if’, along the lines of being an astronaut or world class gymnast, it was still always in the back of his mind. He took his first stab at writing in college while getting a degree in computer science and engineering, they might have been truly horrendous, but they were a start.
“After college, I started writing a new novel, and this time I finished it. The only problem was it took me seven years to complete, and I thought: if I’m going to do this, I’d better dedicate myself to it or just drop the idea altogether.”
Beaulieu had been going to Gen Con gaming conventions since grade school, but mostly for the games. He had seen some writing seminars and decided to attend those.
“This is where I first met Kij Johnson, and she talked about a lot of things to help a young writer get started—going to writing conventions, entering contests, writing every day (a routine I still use today), and many other bits of advice. What you’ll find is that your knowledge and your network will expand like ice crystals, and soon I was attending four or five conventions per year, selling some short fiction, and participating in panels.” He entered Writers of the Future for six straight quarters until he won in 2004.
In 2004 he also started to get the earliest seed of an idea for a new series.
“That’s when I went to Scotland and picked up a bunch of postcards with artwork from a variety of European masters from the National Gallery in Edinburgh,” he explains.
The postcards, most of them portraits, became the basis for many of the characters in The Lays of Anuskaya. If one is interested it can be read in detail at the following post:
That the imagery of the tales is very important is clear when looking at the artwork linked to The Lays of Anuskaya as well as the short story collection Lest our Passages be Forgotten & Other Stories.
“I can’t stress enough how important the exterior packaging is,” Beaulieu agrees. “It’s the first impression for a lot of people.”
He has worked very diligently to relate his vision to the reading public. The trilogy, as well as the short story collection have different artists; Adam Paquette (The Winds of Khalakovo), Todd Lockwood (The Straits of Galahesh), Aaron Riley (The Flames of Shadam Koreh) and Sang Han (Lest Our Passage Be Forgotten). “It was great working with all of them, and it’s something I really enjoy: playing art director.”
By the time Beaulieu had finished what would become his first published novel, The Winds of Khalakovo, in 2007, he had been making steady short story sales and attended a number of workshops, getting his name out there. To find a home for his epic fantasy novel he decided to go against popular thought, to find an agent, who then sells the book for you, and went about making contact himself. His advice for anyone in doing this is to be friendly and businesslike and try to keep things short and sweet.
“That’s exactly what I tried to do. I approached Jeremy Lassen, the publisher of Night Shade Books, at World Fantasy in San Jose 2009 and told him I had an epic fantasy that he might like. I pitched it as The Song of Ice and Fire meets Earthsea.”
Mr. Lassen was intrigued, Beaulieu said, and even though they didn’t normally accept unagented manuscripts, he thought the pitch was cool enough and asked Beaulieu to send the full manuscript along. About five months later Night Shade made contact offering to publish The Winds of Khalaklavo and so the trilogy The Lays of Anushkaya found a home. This is not to say that the process wasn’t difficult.
“Yes, it was difficult, but perhaps not in the way people would suspect,” Beaulieu says. “What’s difficult about it is in the learning of the craft. I didn’t come to writing right away. I got into computer science and have had a full career in the IT world. While I was doing that, I decided I’d like to give writing a real try. But I had to work very hard, as every writer does, on my craft, to make it the best it can be, and then try harder the next time, because your first works are not going to be your best works. So by the time I had written The Winds of Khalakovo, I felt like I was pretty far along and that the books were sellable. As it turned out, I was right, so if you look at just the sale process, it was pretty easy. Approach publisher, wait for answer, make sale. But the effort to get to that point was massive, so from that perspective it was very, very hard. I’m a believer in the 10,000 hour rule, that you’ll probably spend that amount before you’re an ‘expert’ in your field. I’m sure I spent that much and more before I made my first novel sale.”
 George R.R. Martin
 A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin
A Unique Style
One of the reasons for the sale might be the uniqueness of the setting and style of the trilogy, set in a more eastern European world with a strong 18th century feel. As with anything else the genre of fantasy needs to evolve and change. One can see that authors who tend to lean towards the more dystopian or realistic variant of the genre rather than the fantastical form of the 80s and 90s have blossomed in the past years.
“Grimdark is certainly receiving more attention these days,” Beaulieu says, venting his own view of things. “Writers like Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence, Sam Sykes, and others, are getting some attention for writing it, but I think it’s a pendulum. As a subgenre, it’s likely here to stay, but I also think that readers will move on to something new once they’ve read widely enough in that space.”
Beaulieu says that much of the world was created during the writing process, but explains the idea more closely:
“When I first started working on the world, it was the magic—the use of the elements—that came first. I had originally thought of having various tribes, people that specialized in each of the elemental forms (fire, earth, water, air, and life), but as I started the world became too complicated, I pretty much threw out the idea of separate tribes, but I kept the elemental magic itself.”
“Next came the world itself; I knew that I wanted to set the story on islands, and from there I stumbled across the notion of using Muscovite Russia and the Grand Duchy of Moscow as a ‘leaping off’ point for the culture. The question then naturally arose: how did they conduct trade? How did they move from place to place? I wanted to make this an inhospitable world, one in which it was difficult to carve out a place where life and culture could be sustained, and in order to do this, I reckoned that sea travel would be challenging for these people. The islands are protected by reefs, and so travel by sea is possible within each of the archipelagos, but beyond this, ships could easily be lost.”
“This was there the flying ships came in. I thought that maybe travel by air would actually be more dependable than sea travel. But this could only be true if they had some way to control it reliably. And this, by and large, is where the Aramahn came into being. I brought back the idea of the tribes, but recast them in such a way that they could control the elements, but not the people of the Grand Duchy. And so a strange compact was made between these two peoples: the Aramahn would provide their abilities to control these ships, and the Grand Duchy would give free access to the islands to the Aramahn, who roam the world and meditate and strive to attain enlightenment.”
Where does he find his inspiration for his books? He gives an in-depth look at this;
“As for inspiration, my primary influences, at least for the tone and scope that I was shooting for with my first series, The Lays of Anuskaya, were George Martin, Guy Gavriel Key, Clen Cook, and C.S. Friedman.
I love George Martin for the depth and breadth of his world. His world doesn’t have quite the feeling of antiquity of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth, but it’s every bit as wide and every bit as deep. And I love that he’s able to, in a very short amount of time, make you care about any character he chooses to write about. He’s a master of reader sympathy, even when the characters he’s writing about aren’t all that sympathetic.
I love Guy Gavriel Kay for his lyrical prose and the romanticism he brings to his tales. His stories remind me of the paintings of pre-Raphaelite masters, their lush colors and majestic subjects. I try to achieve the same overall effect in my novels. Often I’ll visualize scenes in just that sort of manner to help me focus on the effect I’m looking for.
I love Glen Cook for his gritty, in-the-trenches realism. While I strive for a romantic telling, there are times to set that aside and drag the reader down into the mud and guts and blood. That’s what I take from Cook, the feral, hindbrain nature of war when the fighting actually comes.
And I love C.S. Friedman for her relentless, serious, dark tone. I will admit that I could use more humor in my books, but I think there’s something to be said about a ruthless sort of oppression. It makes you feel that much more for the characters when the way ahead is so bleak, especially when the characters are as human as Friedman portrays them.”
Apart from writing short stories for various anthologies, Beaulieu just finished a middle grade novel titled Winterwatch, a Norse-inspired tale, an epic fantasy for kids. The decision to write for a younger audience came as his daughter approached middle grade reading age, as well as producing something he would have wanted to read when he was in middle school. Being out of his comfort zone he claims wasn’t more difficult, but there was an adjustment period.
“The book is written, and I’ve done as well with it as I could right now,” he explains. “But I suspect it still needs some tweaks before it’s really ready for a younger audience. We’ll see how that process goes over the coming months.”
He delves into the plot of the book:
“It tells the story of Hadrian, a boy whose mother is killed when Llorn, son of the dark god Hyrn, returns to the Bryndlholt forest, an event that triggers a war when the dead rise from the northern wastes and head south to attack the people of the Bryndlholt.
The mystery of Llorn deepens when Sigrid, a girl who claims to have lost her memories, arrives in the village of Hrindegaard. When she does, break-ins start occurring in the village, a thing the adults try to cover up but that Hadrian and his friends soon learn is related to the strange ash- wood staff his mother had with her when she died, an artifact Hadrian returned to the village elders after her death. As Hadrian flies in the Trial of Talons—a contest that will allow youngsters to enter the ranks of the eagle scouts of the Winterwatch—he begins to suspect that there is much more behind the break-ins than he’d first thought, and that they relate directly to his mother’s death.
At its heart, Winterwatch is a tale about a changing world and what these young children do to combat it when it does.”
Although his work takes place in a faraway time, Beaulieu utilizes modern ideas and has a strong presence on social media like facebook, something he finds to be very important, because it is important to connect with the fans.
“I think it absolutely is,” he says.” Add to it that writers are insecure creatures, and you have a formula for constant overuse of social media. I do try to limit myself, but I also do want to keep my name out there, to let fans know where I am and also to let potential fans hear about what I’m doing. Hopefully it’s not obnoxious. I do self-promote, but I try hard to mix in other content. I think it’s important to strike that balance.”
The importance of self-promotion and getting noticed through social media is an interesting topic. There are several avenues an aspiring author, as well as a veteran, can use to connect with readers. It may be both beneficial and detrimental.
“I think it’s opened up new avenues to reaching an audience,” claims Beaulieu. “So in a way, it makes it easier for a writer, but the flip side is that it’s easier for a writer today, which means that more people are doing it. Competition is higher. There are loads and loads of people trying to break in, and so you can hit a wall if you’re not careful about how much you use social media for self-promotion. People can become numb to it. But on the whole, I think it’s been great for writers.”
He also shares his views on whether promoting yourself is important in today’s market.
“I think it is. You can probably find examples where that isn’t true, but by and large, you want to keep and expand whatever audience you have, and the great thing about it is that you can do so easily as long as you’re active and keep your networks fed with interesting news about yourself and things that excite you. As long as you’re earnest and talk about things that truly interest you, it will come across in your social network voice and be well received by like-minded people.”
Kickstarter and Podcasting
This is not his only presence on the internet. He has been active more than once on Kickstarter with both his own projects as well as part of short story collections; most recently Heroes! by Silence in the Library and The Bard’s Tale anthology by Blackspoon Press. He is far enough along in his career that he often gets asked to contribute stories to various anthologies, not necessarily Kickstarter-funded, even though these days the extra time is getting harder to come by. His first own Kickstarter campaign was for the short story collection Lest out Passages Be Forgotten & Other Stories, and due to his name already being fairly known, it went well.
“I also had a lot of friends who were willing to join in and spread the word. I’d also like to think I put out a quality package, which always helps with Kickstarters to give people confidence that they’re going to receive something worth the money,” Beaulieu reflects.
The second was for The Lays of Anuskaya, where Beaulieu had a falling out with his then-publisher, Night Shade Books. This was partially due to issues with the publisher, partially to release dates being pushed back, as well as problems with distribution. Unable to come to a satisfactory resolution, he ended up getting his rights back and decided to fund the third installment through crowdfunding. It was also successful, which he contributes to the fact that the audience trusted that he could see such a project through, but also because they wanted to know how the trilogy was going to end, as well repackaging the three books to give them a fresh feel and a common design.
As if this wasn’t enough, Beaulieu’s voice can be heard regularly through the magic of podcasting, as he co-hosts a show called Speculate!.
“Speculate! is a podcast for writers, readers, and fans that I started with fellow author, Gregory A. Wilson. We create podcasts of several different types, including:
- Fiction Reviews – discussions of novels or short fiction.
- Author Interviews – interviews or roundtables with some of the great and new voices in speculative fiction.
- Writing Technique – nuts and bolts discussions of writing technique that stem from the works we’ve reviewed.
- Artist Interviews – just to shake things up, we thought we’d include some interviews with various artists in the speculative fiction arena.
“In general, though we may not always stick to this formula, we discuss a particular set of short stories or a novel, and then we interview the author(s) in the following episode, and finish up with a show where we get into the more nitty gritty details of writing technique. This allows us to dig deeper into the fiction we’re discussing, and it hopefully allows the listener to be both entertained and informed.”
Started just for fun the show now boasts 116 episodes and counting. Even though most of the episodes are free there is of course a cost involved when it comes to running a podcast. When the Kickstarter fell through they started a Patreon page where fans can support with various sums every month instead. Patreon supporters receive rewards in return that regular listeners to not.
Writing in Wisconsin
With so many thing going on; family, day job and podcasting finding time to write must be difficult, but Beaulieu still believes in getting writing in every day, at least an hour. This typically happens at the end and when that time comes he sits down writes, edits or brainstorms.
“I don’t count marketing and publicity and certainly not social networking. I want to get one solid hour of writing, and that nets me about two books per year worth of content.”
Being based in Racine, Wisconsin known as the Belle City on the Lake and maybe not for its cultural climate seems odd for a published author, Beaulieu enjoys it.
“Southeast Wisconsin, which is where I grew up, is a great place to live,” he explains. “It’s close to Milwaukee and Chicago, but it’s also a quiet place where there aren’t too many distractions. Life is fairly easy here. I typically try to get out a few times a week to write at coffee shops and the like just to break up my writing routine, and I can do that easily enough nearby or in Milwaukee, which is a pretty short drive. Winters are harsh, but spring and fall are beautiful.”
So what’s next for him in the coming years? He is currently working on Twelve Kings in Sharakhai, the first in the new epic fantasy series called The Song of the Shattered Sands, as mentioned earlier. He gladly relates the plot in short:
“In the cramped west end of Sharakhai, the Amber Jewel of the Desert, Çeda fights in the pits to scrape a living. She, like so many in the city, pray for the downfall of the cruel, immortal Kings of Sharakhai, but she’s never been able to do anything about it. This all changes when she goes out on the night of Beht Zha’ir, the holy night when all are forbidden from walking the streets. It’s the night that the asirim, the powerful yet wretched creatures that protect the Kings from all who would stand against them, wander the city and take tribute. It is then that one of the asirim, a pitiful creature who wears a golden crown, stops Çeda and whispers long forgotten words into her ear. Çeda has heard those words before, in a book left to her by her mother, and it is through that one peculiar link that she begins to find hidden riddles left by her mother.
“As Çeda begins to unlock the mysteries of that fateful night, she realizes that the very origin of the asirim and the dark bargain the Kings made with the gods of the desert to secure them may be the very key she needs to throw off the iron grip the Kings have had over Sharakhai. And yet the Kings are no fools—they’ve ruled the Shangazi for four hundred years for good reason, and they have not been idle. As Çeda digs into their past and the Kings come closer and closer to unmasking her, Çeda must decide if she’s ready to face them once and for all.”
The future looks bright for Bradley P. Beaulieu and his future endeavors, both in the realm of middle grade fiction, epic fantasy and various short story collections.
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