So, owing to the fact that my baby is now a toddler who will not sit still and quietly drink yogurt out of a tube while the adults are talking, we have not been to an author talk in quite some time. However, when we saw that Pierce Brown was coming to my neighborhood, we knew we just had to figure out a way to make it work.
I received Red Rising as a Christmas gift and immediately started in on it. I kept complaining about bits and nitpicking certain issues, but I sped through it quickly, then my wife did, and we ran out to pick up Golden Son. Okay, that book I not only sped through, I didn’t have the same need to gripe about small issues anymore. The energy, or “lifeblood,”of the first was there, but the world and characters had been ironed out so smoothly that I kept encountering pleasant surprises until… Wait! WTF? What was that ending again? NOOOOOOOOOOOOO….
We forced ourselves to wait until February 17, 2016 to buy our copy of Morning Star to guarantee a spot at the talk… so I can’t even spoil it for you if I wanted to. HOWEVER, there will be spoilers for the first Red Rising in what follows. You have been warned….
His editor, Michael Braff, opened the interview with the important question: kill, love, or marry: Ragnar, Cassius, and Sevro?
As you may have guessed, they were obviously good friends and the interview rolled along easily. They laughed about re-hatching the topics they have gone over so many times for the interview script, pretending the answers were spontaneous and surprising.
First off (to keep everyone in suspense about the important question), a little inspirational background for the aspiring writers in the crowd: up until recently, Brown had written 6 novels, couldn’t land an agent, and “couldn’t even get his mother to read past page 100.”(One of his best anecdotes was about presenting her with his first novel, a “700 page epic, filled with Pegasus and griffins and all that good stuff” and asked her about [insert name]- “Oh, he was my favorite character!” She insisted, and Brown clapped his hands together! “I made up that name! He’s not in it at all! I knew you hadn’t read it!”)
When he did get to writing Red Rising, it took him two-ish months, and he remembered the type of alcohol he was drinking at the time better than the writing process. The story began with the fact of Eo’s death. Brown was between careers, hit with a breakup and generally “in a weird place” when he decided to reread Antigone and got to wondering what kind of a man she would have loved and left behind, after her martyrdom. And, so Darrow was born.
Red Rising, according to Brown, he wrote for himself. Golden Son, he wrote for the characters he had come to love. Morning Star, he wrote for the fans and it was the hardest, because he had never had any outside expectations before (to continue the running commentary: no, not even from his mom… don’t worry Howlers, she has been warning him he better not kill Sevro too).
So, I am sorry to have kept you in suspense for so long: back to that burning question… though Brown squirmed and insisted that all characters are just little pieces of the author, so this was asking him to kill a little bit of himself, he settled on: Marry Ragnar, Kill Cassius, Love Sevro. (For the record, I do love Sevro but am not sure, given his hygiene habits, I would have actually chosen him for loving…)
The audience- clearly fans- was in stitches as Brown expounded on who would and would not be invited to his super bowl party and why- and okay, you have to be into the books to really enjoy comments like “Of course he would be there! I mean, Pax would basically BE the couch. Then he’d stand up to get a beer and knock the TV over.” (Sevro, by the way, wouldn’t make the cut because he would just sit in the corner, all emo, whining about how the party sucked. Mustang wasn’t making the guest list either, because she’d be more fun at an art museum. In retrospect, Brown’s answers make me wonder how much he himself actually likes Super Bowl parties….) It was a beautiful experience to see the author getting to share these kind of of loving, silly observations about the characters he invented with a group of people who had come to love them nearly as much as their creator does.
Speaking of- Brown described the books as a “space opera.” Planning the war and military arcs came easily to Brown, but making sure that all the character arcs came to a head at the same time was a careful process. Each character was summarized on one sticky note, which would have themes like “live fast, die fast” which tended to dictate whether or not they would survive or blaze out in dramatic fashion. With the HUGE exception…
Not of the Jackal, but of what the Jackal did to us. Brown described the Jackal as “the villain you don’t know how to write about because he doesn’t follow the plot.” He represents the inversion of the rules that dominate the world, one that is dominated by so much by physicality. So, to stay true to this, to break with the plot, Brown tossed all the characters’ names in a hat and pulled one out to figure out who the Jackal takes down. When he pulled Pax’s name… well, Pax had a long story that Brown was looking forward to. He was going to be great friends with Ragnar. He was going to bid on Darrow when he went up for auction. He was going to represent what happens when a good person innocently accepts what a flawed society has told him is supposed to be good. But here was his name, out of the hat? “You could have put it back!” One of the audience members called out. But Brown couldn’t have. “The Jackal robbed us of all of that!”
That tidbit was my favorite reveal of the night- seeing the something that never got to be- the bigger reveal was actually that Brown officially announced, more or less at the same that USA Today published the exclusive reveal: that Brown has already begun work on a new trilogy, set in the same world, called Iron Gold. The new series will expand the worldview beyond Darrow’s and will explore the question: “Have they unleashed dark ages or a renaissance?”
As you can tell my haphazard retelling of this, I quite enjoyed geeking out to all the random details that couldn’t have made it into the manuscript without loosing some of the series’ magnetic energy. As a movie fan, I was thrilled to hear that Brown himself worked on the first two drafts of the movie script for Red Rising. As a fan of fandoms (seriously, nothing makes me happier than watching people geek out about whatever happens to bring back their inner child, or spark, or whatever you want to call it), I liked seeing him geek out about Star Wars. As an arm chair intellectual, I was extremely impressed with how easily he made connections between Ancient Rome, sociology, science fiction, and regular old pop culture, too. As a mother, I enjoyed listening to the list of abridged classics for children and coloring books that showed an abbreviated versions of the Trojan War which helped shape Brown’s imagination growing up.
And, most especially, as a mother, I was especially enjoying listening to this talk in peace while my wife watched my daughter, and I got so caught up taking notes that I only got this one lousy picture to capture the event.
Alas, I hope you managed to enjoy some of my ramblings- if you did, then, I am sure, like me, you’re already looking forward to Iron Gold. (Otherwise, I am sure I would have lost you at the Superbowl Party!)