New Year’s Newsletter and interview with Bryce O’Connor
I really wish I had more to tell about how my own work is coming along, but alas, writing is a slow process for me. It’s still A Testament of Steel, and right now, the book is at around 130,000 words with another 30,000 to get to the end. So all in all, it’ll be roughly 550 pages long. It’s been a beast of a book to write with a massive amount of worldbuilding that stretches back over 7000 years. Plus, there’s all the new characters to keep in line.
This month I got to interview a good friend of mine, Bryce O’Connor, author of the bestselling Wings of War series and the epic fantasy, A Mark of Kings, that he co-wrote with Luke Chmilenko (I spelled Luke’s name correctly on the first try!). I met Bryce in 2018 at DragonCon, and it was the highlight of my year. DragonCon, I mean. Not meeting Bryce, although that was pretty fun, too. Bryce and I shared a house at the con with another author friend of ours, Dyrk Ashton, and between the three of us, I don’t know if anyone had more fun at DragonCon that year. So, of course, we did it again in 2019.
Bryce recently released the fifth book in his Wings of War series, Of Sand and Snow, and he’s here to tell us all a little bit about himself. Or at least as much as the general public would want to know.
DA: What inspired you to become a writer? Wasn’t it something about Todd Lockwood’s art?
BO: So while fantasy art has been a major influence on me since I fell in love with writing, what got me into writing itself is more basic: the power of escapism.
I didn’t have a rough childhood. My parents are amazing. I was half-decent at sports. I was an ok student. But following 9/11 I became a child of a liberal, French family who moved from the northern states to South Carolina. The result was… less than desirable for a kid going through middle and high school.
It was around this time that I discovered escapism, though I wasn’t familiar with the actual term at the time. I’d loved reading for a couple years already, but it was the first time I actually identified the relief and wonder I felt when diving into the books, allowing myself to forget about the world and my troubles for a moment and exist in a place where I got to be an observe (or participant) in any combination of epic, scary, wonderful, beautiful, happy, sad, or breathtaking stories I wanted to experience.
By the time I was in high school, all I know was that I wanted to be someone who could provide that level of safety, that moment of escape, to someone else.
DA: Me and escapism are fond friends. It’s a sad thing in some ways, but I also wouldn’t change a thing. Also, a French family in South Carolina . . . I’m pretty sure there’s a joke in there somewhere.
BTW, that leads to my next question. What did you do before you became a writer?
BO: I got paid to hang out with small humans all day!
Ha. I graduated in 2014 from Ithaca College in Ithaca, NY with my Doctorate of Physical Therapy. From there, I needed a job that I would enjoy, allow me to live comfortably, and provide me with the time and flexibility to write and create.
Three months after graduation, I was hired at Mary Cariola Children’s center as a pediatric physical therapist, working closely with kids with special needs and their families doing everything from helping toddlers learn to walk to playing basketball on a full-sized court with teenagers who were way better at sports than I could have ever hoped to be -_-
DA: Wait! You were PAID to monitor children? Hmm. I’m not so sure about that. I know you Bryce. Onward! You’re known for the world of your bestselling epic fantasy series, Wings of War about a pseudo-dragon? Where did Raz come from?
BO: Hehe. Pseudo-dragon. I’m stealing that.
Raz, as odd as it’s going to sounds, was born from a moment of inspiration in that suspended place right before you fall asleep. As far as I recall, there was no major striking muse to him. His personality and actions as a whole are heavily influenced by the likes of Drizzt do’Urden (The Legend of Drizzt) and Kylar Stern (The Night Angel Trilogy) but he as a person just kind… popped into being. A lot of my concepts come into existence this way, though now it’s more often while walking my pup around the block in the morning.
Funny enough, Raz’s original iteration didn’t have wings, and while he now has a neck-crest that rises like a fin over his head when he wants to be threatening, that was originally a full throat-frill, like that spitting dinosaur in Jurassic Park.
Damn… I’d forgotten all about that till just now. Trip down memory lane!
DA: Wait til you get to my age. Then you can tell me about memory lane, although at this point memory lane is a bramble-covered path. It’s a hard thing getting old, but it beats the alternative. So, now that we know how Raz came about, how about a quick summary or blurb about the series? BTW, you know how much I love the books. Raz is a wonderful character.
BO: At Dragon Con in 2018, Dyrk Ashton (of Paternus legend) helped me come up with (what I thought) was the single best elevator pitch a fantasy series has ever had:
The Wings of War is the story of the Punisher, if Frank Castle was a motherf*cking dragon.
Boom. Too bad it turns out I have to shockingly often explain who the Punisher is, much less Frank Castle. Then again that was before the Netflix show did really well, so maybe I’ll have better luck now with it…
DA: I love that comparison to Frank Castle because it’s so perfect! I believe the final book in Wings of War, book 5, came out on New Year’s day. What can you tell us about it? Will this be the absolute finale for Raz’s story?
BO: Ha! Soooo… I can tell you it’s not the final book, but that’s about as surprising for you as it is for me!
I’m what’s commonly referred to as a “discovery” writer. More plotting comes into play as a story progresses, but especially at the beginning of a book I’m basically a mama bird: I kick my characters out of the nest, and just watch what happens. I put Raz in a desert, and let him wander around until something happened. Then I went from there for 4 books.
When it comes to book 5, I got about 150k words in (about the size of the 3rd Harry Potter book) and realized there was no way I was going to be able to wrapt the story where I wanted to, when I wanted to. So… I didn’t. At 185k+ words, I leave fans with plenty of story left for a sixth (and ACTUALLY final) book 😀
DA: Damn it, Bryce! Another book! You sumabitch! You milking this series or what?
Just kidding. I was channeling your fans. Hehe! What about audiobooks? I ask this of everyone. Will there be an audiobook version of book 5 of Wings of War?
BO: It will. I just need to lasso my rep long enough to get the damn thing in process!
DA: I know the feeling. BTW I need to thank you for getting me in touch with Andreas. He really is a fantastic artist. Speaking of art, your eye for it is excellent, and art has always been an important part of your life? Is that something you ever plan on pursuing as well?
BO: HA! HAHAHAHA! “Do I ever plan on pursuing it myself?”… That made me giggle. I have a very small talent for sketching. Or did. It’s been years since I practiced.
That being said, fantasy art as a whole has indeed been MASSIVELY influential on me, especially in my writing (you mentioned Todd Lockwood higher up, who is matched only by Raymond Swanland when it comes to inspiration on my work), but I’ve come to happy terms with the fact that that is a passion I can let others fill for me. I love finding and sharing new art and artists, and there’s no desire to try and create my own material when that time could be spent doing something much more productive (like burning my most recent draft of A Mark of Kings II -_-).
DA: So no hidden Bryce O’Connor masterpiece paintings, eh? Why am I not surprised. You and Luke Chmilenko recently released A Mark of Kings, which has always done phenomenally well. What was the writing collaboration like for that book? And when does book 2 come out?
BO: A Mark of Kings definitely took us both by surprise, but neither Luke nor I are complaining about it! We have a really atypical co-author system in place, but it works extremely well for us. Essentially, we establish a lead writer, and a secondary writer. Then, we work on the story, the lead writing it out while we work together to develop the plot. The secondary is essentially there as an extremely-knowledgeable editor following along, ensuring consistency, quality, and the like, all while taking a big part in development of the planned story and character progression. The lead does shoulder most of the labor, but we have our own way of balancing that out, and overall the system works wonderfully for us, because we have faith in the other’s ability, voice, and writing no matter what else happens.
DA: And after Luke gets done beating you over the head to finish your part of A Mark of Kings, what happens next?
BO: Ahgh! SO MUCH!
Luke and I have another series we’ve been sitting on for about a year now we’re both itching to work on, because it’s AWESOME.
Outside of that, I have a lot of personal projects I’m balance at any one time. I recently started a company designed to help talented-but-underexposed authors get a fairer shot at the industry, and I have several individual stories I hope to write one day, one of which I haven’t been able to get out of my head for 3 MONTHS. I also have some other opportunities outside of writing that are just waiting for me to take the time to see to them, but unfortunately no one has discovered the cure for sleep yet…
DA: Sounds like you’re awfully busy. Better than being bored . . . most of the time. Anywho, thank you again to Bryce O’Connor for stopping by little corner of the web, and if you’re interested in his books (and you should be), here are the links to Wings of War and A Mark of Kings.
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