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Interview with Alan Smale, author of the The Clash of Eagles Trilogy


Please welcome Alan Smale to The Qwillery. Eagle in Exile, the second novel in The Clash of Eagles Trilogy, was published on March 22nd by Del Rey.



Interview with Alan Smale, author of the The Clash of Eagles Trilogy




TQWelcome back to The Qwillery. Your new novel, Eagle in Exile (The Clash of Eagles Trilogy 2), was published on March 22nd. Has your writing process changed (or not) from when you wrote Clash of Eagles to Eagle in Exile?

Alan:  It’s changed a lot. Writing Clash of Eagles was quite a gentle, meandering process. I took my time with it and enjoyed playing with the story, feeling it out and figuring out where I wanted it to go, trying out ideas and discarding some, taking the strongest themes and reworking them. Then once I got an agent (the terrific Caitlin Blasdell from Liza Dawson Associates) and editor (the equally awesome Mike Braff at Penguin Random House) I worked on it some more to tighten it up and improve pacing, make character arcs more consistent, and so forth. And during all of this I was also planning out the future volumes in the series. Even before I started Eagle in Exile I had already done the major structural thinking for both the second and third books, but I had to write them to a deadline. So I was much more focused when I was writing Eagle in Exile. I did still sometimes career down blind alleys and produce large gobs of text that had to be discarded or reworked, but overall I was much sharper and better organized.

I’ve just finished the third book, Eagle and Empire, and that was different again: I wrote it more quickly and in a more assured way, because by now I know the characters inside and out and it often felt as if they were speaking for themselves. There were scenes in Books Two and Three that I’d been waiting years to write, and I loved getting to them at last.

Another, shorter answer is that I’m better at the craft now. I’m essentially the same writer, but these days there are things I handle automatically in my first draft that in the past I’d have only thought to fix in the edit.



TQWhat do you wish that you knew about book publishing when Clash of Eagles came out that you know now?

Alan:  How supportive everyone was going to be. Before the launch of Clash I had a lot of fear. I really didn’t know what it was going to be like, but most everyone I came into contact with – editors, publicists, and especially readers – were helpful, friendly, interested. I guess they’re a self-selecting population, and I don’t tend to hear from the people who don’t care for my kind of fiction. I do get some critical emails from time to time, but even those are framed politely.

And other writers are awesome. I don’t know how it is in other genres, but in the science fiction and fantasy fields, authors are incredibly supportive. We’re collegial rather than competitive. We’re all in it together. Everyone celebrates everyone else’s successes, and that’s as true for the established authors who’ve been around forty years as it is for the new folks who are making their debuts. It’s a great community.



TQTell us something about Eagle in Exile that is not found in the book description.

Alan:  I do think the cover copy is great on both Clash of Eagles and Eagle in Exile. I’ll confess that I didn’t know how Del Rey was going to pull it off, but they did. They get right to the core of the story and present it in the most exciting way possible, without being too spoilery.

What’s not so easy to do in cover copy is explore subtlety and nuance. Amidst all the battles and action and derring-do, my hero Gaius Marcellinus has to navigate his way through a series of tricky moral and emotional situations. He’s a Roman, and he’s sworn to never raise a sword against an army of Rome. He’s not a man to cast aside his heritage and his oaths just because he’s made some new allegiances. And yet, Rome will once again invade North America. How does Marcellinus deal with that? His whole life is a high-wire act, and the difficulties and uncertainties exist at the personal level with his friends – and enemies – in Cahokia as well as at the large-scale, world-spanning level described in the cover copy.



TQWhich character in the The Clash of Eagles Trilogy series (so far) surprised you the most and why? Who has been the hardest character to write and why?

Alan:  The biggest surprise was Enopay. When Marcellinus first arrives in Cahokia its paramount chief, Great Sun Man, assigns three children to learn his language. Children soak up languages more quickly than adults, so it’s a smart move on his part. But those children grew in ways I wasn’t quite expecting. By the second book, one of them has reached adulthood. By the final volume two are essentially adult and the third – Enopay – has become far more pivotal to the story than I thought he would. When I hear Tahtay, Kimimela, and Enopay in my head they each have very distinctive voices and attitudes, and they don’t necessarily get along well together. They’re solid and opinionated characters in their own right. But Enopay’s development, and his importance, were things that I didn’t quite see coming, even when I finished writing the first book.

I suppose Sintikala is the most difficult person to write. After Marcellinus she’s the most important character, but we’re in close point-of-view on Marcellinus throughout. We never see into Sintikala’s head. All we know about her is what Marcellinus knows, plus what we can intuit from her actions and words. There’s a lot going on that Marcellinus is oblivious to, but that the reader needs to be aware of. Sometimes Sintikala’s actions surprise Marcellinus, but they need to be believable to the reader. That can be tricky.



TQ:   The Clash of Eagles Trilogy series is Historical Fantasy and Alternative History. Why did you chose the Roman Empire as the historical basis for your trilogy?

Alan:  It was a very fast decision. As soon as I knew that I wanted to write about the great Mississippian city of Cahokia, I realized I needed an outsider to serve as the reader’s eyes and ears. I needed a culture clash to throw everything into sharp relief. And somehow it was apparent to me right away that the invading culture had to be Rome. A Roman invasion of North America would look very different to the Spanish, French, or British incursions we know from our own history, but would cast an interesting new light on them. Rome would be an imperial, annexing culture, but the process would be completely different. I knew that that “the Roman Empire invades North America” was the elevator pitch, and that I had to write it, even if nobody else ever read it. It was what I wanted to do. It was what I cared about.



TQ:   Please give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Eagle in Exile.

Alan:

Dark:
        [Sintikala] turned on him, eyes flaring. “Can I not? You do not remember what I told you? When my husband was killed, when he needed me most, I was not with him, I was not there. Today-now, once again I was in the wrong place. Not there. It is my life, to never be there. To fail. And then men die. Men die.”

Flippant:
        Hurit looked worried. “If he keeps wandering around by himself, a bear will eat him.”
“Eat Tahtay?” Dustu snorted. “Tahtay is so bitter that the bear would spit him right out again.”


        “Just because you argued with your girlfriend, there’s no need to fall on your sword.”

        “Please step back, [name]. I would not want you to slip and accidentally slay Gaius Marcellinus before he has run out of ways to entertain me.”



TQIf you could have dinner with three deceased historical figures who would they be and why?

Alan:  I’d be really interested to meet Julius Caesar, Napoleon, and Adolf Hitler, but I certainly wouldn’t want to eat a meal with them. There’s been so much written about each of those terrible historical figures that it’s impossible to envision the human being inside any more. I do wonder what they were like as people. I’d like to know whether they sound smart in conversation, whether they’d seem charismatic at all when removed from their time, or whether they’d just come off as dreadful, banal, hateful, manipulative, and small-minded. I feel that I might understand some of the pivot points of history better as a result.

But not for dinner. It would be a really terrible dinner, and I’d have to scrub my brain with bleach afterwards.

For dinner I’d probably go with the Emperor Augustus, Shakespeare, and Leonardo da Vinci, because it would be so much fun to explore their minds and hear their stories. It would have to be a very long Roman-style dinner with multiple courses, so Augustus would be in charge of the catering.

If you did give me a time machine, though, there would be lots of other dining possibilities, and I might have to think for longer. Aristotle. Alexander the Great. Elizabeth I. Cleopatra. Teddy Roosevelt. They’d all be fascinating dinner companions. It’s an almost impossible question.



TQWhat's next?

Alan:  A short answer for once: I don’t know! I’m sure there will be a series of edits on the third book, Eagle and Empire, and more publicity work for the trilogy as a whole. But I don’t have my next book project all outlined and researched and ready to jump into. I have ideas brewing, but they’ll take a while longer to come into focus.

I may work on shorter fiction for a while, exploring some of those brewing themes. And I’ll read. A lot. Over the last couple of years, the day job and the writing deadlines haven’t left a whole lot of time for reading fiction, so that’s the area I’ve been seriously neglecting. I have a huge pile of SF to read, some of it by friends of mine – and yes, it’s very cool to be able to say that! I’m looking forward to diving in.



TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Alan:  Thank you for having me!





Eagle in Exile
The Clash of Eagles Trilogy Book II
Del Rey, March 22, 2016
Hardcover and eBook, 576 pages

Interview with Alan Smale, author of the The Clash of Eagles Trilogy
Perfect for fans of Bernard Cornwell, Steve Berry, Naomi Novik, and Harry Turtledove, Alan Smale’s gripping alternate history series imagines a world in which the Roman Empire has survived long enough to invade North America in 1218. Now the stunning story carries hero Gaius Marcellinus deeper into the culture of an extraordinary people—whose humanity, bravery, love, and ingenuity forever change his life and destiny.

In A.D. 1218, Praetor Gaius Marcellinus is ordered to conquer North America and turning it into a Roman province. But outside the walls of the great city of Cahokia, his legion is destroyed outright; Marcellinus is the only one spared. In the months and years that follow, Marcellinus comes to see North America as his home and the Cahokians as his kin. He vows to defend these proud people from any threat, Roman or native.

After successfully repelling an invasion by the fearsome Iroqua tribes, Marcellinus realizes that a weak and fractured North America won’t stand a chance against the returning Roman army. Worse, rival factions from within threaten to tear Cahokia apart just when it needs to be most united and strong. Marcellinus is determined to save the civilization that has come to mean more to him than the empire he once served. But to survive the swords of Roma, he first must avert another Iroqua attack and bring the Cahokia together. Only with the hearts and souls of a nation at his back can Marcellinus hope to know triumph.





Previously

Clash of Eagles
The Clash of Eagles Trilogy Book I
Del Rey, September 1, 2015
Mass Market Paperback, 464 pages
Hardcover and eBook, March 17, 2015

Interview with Alan Smale, author of the The Clash of Eagles Trilogy
Perfect for fans of action-adventure and historical fiction—including novels by such authors as Bernard Cornwell, Steve Berry, Naomi Novik, and Harry Turtledove—this stunning work of alternate history imagines a world in which the Roman Empire has not fallen and the North American continent has just been discovered. In the year 1218 AD, transported by Norse longboats, a Roman legion crosses the great ocean, enters an endless wilderness, and faces a cataclysmic clash of worlds, cultures, and warriors.

Ever hungry for land and gold, the Emperor has sent Praetor Gaius Marcellinus and the 33rd Roman Legion into the newly discovered lands of North America. Marcellinus and his men expect easy victory over the native inhabitants, but on the shores of a vast river the Legion clashes with a unique civilization armed with weapons and strategies no Roman has ever imagined.

Forced to watch his vaunted force massacred by a surprisingly tenacious enemy, Marcellinus is spared by his captors and kept alive for his military knowledge. As he recovers and learns more about these proud people, he can’t help but be drawn into their society, forming an uneasy friendship with the denizens of the city-state of Cahokia. But threats—both Roman and Native—promise to assail his newfound kin, and Marcellinus will struggle to keep the peace while the rest of the continent surges toward certain conflict.





About Alan

Interview with Alan Smale, author of the The Clash of Eagles Trilogy
Alan Smale grew up in Yorkshire, England, and now lives in the Washington, D.C., area. By day he works at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center as a professional astronomer, studying black holes, neutron stars, and other bizarre celestial objects. However, too many family vacations at Hadrian’s Wall in his formative years plus a couple of degrees from Oxford took their toll, steering his writing toward alternate, secret, and generally twisted history. He has sold numerous short stories to magazines including Asimov’s and Realms of Fantasy, and he won the 2010 Sidewise Award for Best Short-Form Alternate History.




Website  ~  Facebook  ~  Twitter @AlanSmale

Interview with Alan Smale, author of Clash of Eagles - March 20, 2015


Please welcome Alan Smale to The Qwillery as part of the 2015 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Clash of Eagles was published on March 17th by Del Rey.



Interview with Alan Smale, author of Clash of Eagles - March 20, 2015




TQ:  Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Alan:  My mother taught me to read early, which meant that I read faster than other kids and quickly got through the (limited) supply of books available at my primary schools. I’ve always thought this must be why I started making up my own stories, though I can’t know for sure. But I did start writing when very young; my first story was called “The Mountain Children”, and it was about two girls and a boy, Val, Su, and Chay, who lived in the jungle. It was obviously completely derivative, based on the Tarzan movies and cartoons, but I apparently had fun with it at the time. By my teen years I was writing novels about intrepid men of action while hiding in my room. I took a break from writing while I was getting my degrees and moving from England to the U.S., but I knuckled down and got serious about writing for publication in the mid-1990s.



TQ:  Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Alan:  When I write short stories I’m definitely a pantser. I find a character or a setting I like and start free associating, and see where the story takes me. I’m often most of the way through before I figure out how it should end. Now I’m writing novels (and quite long novels, with a substantial cast of characters), by necessity I’ve switched around to being a rather careful plotter. In the giant wildernesses of ancient America, even getting my characters to where they need to be through the forests and along the rivers and all at the right times of year when such travel is possible, requires planning and a bit of arithmetic. Plus, for the Clash of Eagles books there’s an intricacy about the plotlines and the various relationships that it would be tough for me to wing. The details of the scenes unfold in real time while I’m writing them, and I’m often forced to make course corrections when my characters insist on doing things I hadn’t originally intended, but I always know my end-points.

I’m also fond of Kurt Vonnegut’s definitions of Bashers and Swoopers: bashers go one sentence at a time getting everything right and when they get to the last word of the story, they’re all done. Swoopers write quickly in a torrent of words and then go back to fix “everything that is just plain awful.” I’m 100% Swooper.



TQ:  What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Alan:  Finding the time and the quiet to get into the deep concentration mode that works best for me when I’m writing scenes for the first time.



TQ:  Who are some of your literary influences? Favorite authors?

Alan:  When I was twelve I read War and Peace and Lord of the Rings in the same summer holiday. I still think I broke myself a little bit doing that, but it did give me the taste for large-panorama epics, centered around a few critical characters. I think ever since then I’ve been more interested in stories set in the past than those set in the future.

For influences, I’d have to list some of the more inventive and offbeat writers: Stephen Baxter, John Kessel, Ursula Le Guin, James Morrow, Tim Powers, Keith Roberts, Michael Swanwick, Harry Turtledove, Jo Walton, Walter Jon Williams, Connie Willis. I also have a weakness for pulp time travel novels, but don’t tell anyone. These days I try to read as broadly as possible, but I’m very aware that I don’t have time to read as much as I should. Once I finish this trilogy I’m going to put myself on a hardcore reading program to try to catch up.



TQ:  Describe Clash of Eagles in 140 characters or less.

Alan:  When Gaius Marcellinus’s legion is destroyed deep in newly-discovered North America, he struggles to find a place and purpose in this strange new world.



TQ:  Tell us something about Clash of Eagles that is not in the book description.

Alan:  There are a lot of small, personal, human moments. The book description (correctly) focuses on describing the world and the major conflicts, the broad brush-strokes of the story, but beyond the legions and battles, adventures and culture clashes there are also quiet scenes of human beings trying to understand one another better, work together, solve problems, make things happen. I’m actually rather fond of a number of these scenes.



TQ:  What appeals to you about writing alternate history? How easy or difficult was it to go from the short form, the "A Clash of Eagles" novella, to the novel length for Clash of Eagles, which is set in the same world?

Alan:  Knowing the real history adds depth and resonance to the altered history. I believe that a great deal of history is contingency. When you read the recorded thoughts and feelings of people who lived in a particular place and time, and what they believed was going to happen next, their predictions are often very sane and sensible and equally often completely wrong. History can go off in all kinds of different directions. I find it fascinating to consider other paths that human history could have taken.

In this case it was very easy to transition from short-form to long-form. The novella version that won the Sidewise Award is actually not all that short: as published in the Panverse Two anthology it ran to about 25,000 words. I did a fairly extensive rewrite when it became the first part of the novel, but the characters, setting, and ambience of the novella are still rather similar. I knew very early on in the novella-writing process that I would be going further. I knew this was the story I wanted to tell.



TQ:  What sort of research did you do for Clash of Eagles?

Alan:  Now that I’ve become a fanatical plotter I’m also an obsessive record-keeper, and so I know that I’ve read over 120 books in the course of researching this series. Many of them have been about Cahokia, Rome, the Norse, everything I would need for the series, even tangentially. I’ve been reading about ancient Rome all my life, but I needed a much greater depth of knowledge about Roman armies, weaponry, and so on, to be able to write about them effectively.

Without doubt, the areas that required the most research were related to the pre-Columbian civilizations of North America. In the era when Clash of Eagles is set the Mississippian culture dominated the Mississippi valley and much of the Ohio valley. Its central city of Cahokia covered an area of over five square miles and had a population of twenty thousand people or more. The Mississippians were a mound-building culture, and Cahokia had at least 120 mounds of various types: square platform mounds, conical mounds, ridge mounds. You can still see its remains at the Cahokia Mounds State Historical Site, near St. Louis. I’ve read everything I can find about Cahokia, from popular books to quite dense academic works, and also quite widely about Native American cultures in general to try to make the details of the city and its people as authentic as I can.



TQ:  Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Alan:  My hero, Gaius Marcellinus, is the easiest to write, because he’s the most like me. He comes from a triumphalist European culture, he’s well-traveled, a cynic, a pragmatist. I think it’s relatively easy to put myself into his Roman mindset. The hardest characters are the Cahokians, because despite all my research they inhabit a culture that’s greatly separated from me in space and time. There would naturally be many differences between us in how we view the world – but I think there would also be some similarities. Adding to the mix, the story is told from the close perspective of Marcellinus, so we only directly discover what the Cahokian characters are thinking if they choose to tell him. We’re limited by his perceptions. And since Marcellinus is career military, and is coming very late to some of the ideas of family and community, there are places in Clash where things should be apparent to the reader that Marcellinus himself completely misses or misinterprets. That requires a bit of care while I’m writing.



TQ:  Which question about Clash of Eagles do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Alan:  I’m always surprised that people don’t ask me if I really believe the Roman Empire could possibly have survived until the thirteenth century. In fact, I do believe that, quite strongly. Historical trends and events tend to look inevitable when viewed in hindsight, but I believe there’s no inherent reason why the Roman Empire had to fall when it did. With the kind of strong leadership the Empire had in the first and second centuries A.D. it might well have been able to weather the Crisis of the Third Century. And without the civil wars and the economic decline of the third century Rome would have been stronger, it’s borders better guarded, and the Empire as a whole more able to deal with the “barbarian” migrations of the later period. Rome had dealt with much worse in the past. I’ve written in more detail about that elsewhere.



TQ:  Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery lines from Clash of Eagles.

Alan:

         Every day took the Legion farther from the coast and stretched their provisions even thinner. Battle was ahead, a city to be sacked, spoils to be had – but how far? His men grumbled, and even Leogild’s sunny Visigoth humor began to cloud over.

and

         [The new Emperor, Hadrianus III] had figured that if he set the wheels moving quickly enough and remained popular enough to die of old age, he might leave as his legacy a world where the sun never set on the Roman Imperium.
         Candidly, Marcellinus thought the man was cracked.




TQ:  What's next?

AlanClash of Eagles is the first of three books. I’ve already turned in the second to Del Rey, and I’m currently writing notes and drafting scenes for the third. I’m really excited about writing the concluding book in the trilogy; it contains scenes, adventures, and emotional resolutions that I’ve been looking forward to writing for years. Aside from that, I’m collaborating on a short story with another writer – it’s only the second time I’ve co-written a story, and it’s a very different process. A novella of mine, “Visionaries of Bedlam”, has just appeared in the Apollo’s Daughters anthology, and a novelette called “English Wildlife” is scheduled for the big fall issue of Asimov’s. “English Wildlife” is a bizarre secret history that’s completely different from Clash and from most other things I’ve written, and I’m looking forward to seeing what reception it gets. After that? I’m wondering if people will be interested enough in Clash for me to be able to write more stories in that world!



TQ:  Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Alan:  Thank you for inviting me!





Clash of Eagles
Clash of Eagles Trilogy 1
Del Rey, March 17, 2015
Hardcover and eBook, 432 pages

Interview with Alan Smale, author of Clash of Eagles - March 20, 2015
Perfect for fans of action-adventure and historical fiction—including novels by such authors as Bernard Cornwell, Steve Berry, Naomi Novik, and Harry Turtledove—this stunning work of alternate history imagines a world in which the Roman Empire has not fallen and the North American continent has just been discovered. In the year 1218 AD, transported by Norse longboats, a Roman legion crosses the great ocean, enters an endless wilderness, and faces a cataclysmic clash of worlds, cultures, and warriors.  

Ever hungry for land and gold, the Emperor has sent Praetor Gaius Marcellinus and the 33rd Roman Legion into the newly discovered lands of North America. Marcellinus and his men expect easy victory over the native inhabitants, but on the shores of a vast river the Legion clashes with a unique civilization armed with weapons and strategies no Roman has ever imagined.

Forced to watch his vaunted force massacred by a surprisingly tenacious enemy, Marcellinus is spared by his captors and kept alive for his military knowledge. As he recovers and learns more about these proud people, he can’t help but be drawn into their society, forming an uneasy friendship with the denizens of the city-state of Cahokia. But threats—both Roman and Native—promise to assail his newfound kin, and Marcellinus will struggle to keep the peace while the rest of the continent surges toward certain conflict.





About Alan

Interview with Alan Smale, author of Clash of Eagles - March 20, 2015
Alan Smale grew up in Yorkshire, England, and now lives in the Washington, D.C., area. By day he works at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center as a professional astronomer, studying black holes, neutron stars, and other bizarre celestial objects. However, too many family vacations at Hadrian’s Wall in his formative years plus a couple of degrees from Oxford took their toll, steering his writing toward alternate, secret, and generally twisted history. He has sold numerous short stories to magazines including Asimov’s and Realms of Fantasy, and he won the 2010 Sidewise Award for Best Short-Form Alternate History.





Website  ~  Facebook  ~  Twitter @AlanSmale

2015 Debut Author Challenge Update - Clash of Eagles by Alan Smale


2015 Debut Author Challenge Update - Clash of Eagles by Alan Smale


The Qwillery is pleased to announce the newest featured author for the 2015 Debut Author Challenge.



Alan Smale

Clash of Eagles
Clash of Eagles Trilogy 1
Del Rey, March 17, 2015
Hardcover and eBook, 432 pages

2015 Debut Author Challenge Update - Clash of Eagles by Alan Smale
Perfect for fans of action-adventure and historical fiction—including novels by such authors as Bernard Cornwell, Steve Berry, Naomi Novik, and Harry Turtledove—this stunning work of alternate history imagines a world in which the Roman Empire has not fallen and the North American continent has just been discovered. In the year 1218 AD, transported by Norse longboats, a Roman legion crosses the great ocean, enters an endless wilderness, and faces a cataclysmic clash of worlds, cultures, and warriors.  

Ever hungry for land and gold, the Emperor has sent Praetor Gaius Marcellinus and the 33rd Roman Legion into the newly discovered lands of North America. Marcellinus and his men expect easy victory over the native inhabitants, but on the shores of a vast river the Legion clashes with a unique civilization armed with weapons and strategies no Roman has ever imagined.

Forced to watch his vaunted force massacred by a surprisingly tenacious enemy, Marcellinus is spared by his captors and kept alive for his military knowledge. As he recovers and learns more about these proud people, he can’t help but be drawn into their society, forming an uneasy friendship with the denizens of the city-state of Cahokia. But threats—both Roman and Native—promise to assail his newfound kin, and Marcellinus will struggle to keep the peace while the rest of the continent surges toward certain conflict.

Interview with Alan Smale, author of the The Clash of Eagles TrilogyInterview with Alan Smale, author of Clash of Eagles - March 20, 20152015 Debut Author Challenge Update - Clash of Eagles by Alan Smale

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