Sidewinders by Robert V.S. Redick

Today we’re excited to bring you an interview between authors Robert Redick and K.V. Johansen. In the interview, Redick talks about his latest release Sidewinders, the second book in the The Fire Sacraments series and how he outlines all those fantastic twists and turns and K.V. shares her secrets behind Gods of The Caravan Road, including what books inspired her writing.

K.V. Johansen writes epic fantasy full of gods, demons, shapeshifters, wizards, assassins, and warriors — people, human and otherwise, existing on the edges — while living on the innermost end of the Bay of Fundy, where the seasons divide between mosquitoes and snow. Her five-book series Gods of the Caravan Road is available from Pyr. Most recently, as Kris Jamison, she has committed Lit with Love/Rock/Compost, a novel about music, depression, and the summer of 2016. Her website is at www.kvj.ca.

Robert V.S. Redick’s Sidewinders was published in July 2021. The sequel to Master Assassins and Book II in The Fire Sacraments trilogy, it has been called “a beautiful fever dream of a novel” by Grimdark Magazine and “magnificent” by Locus. Robert has also worked in international development & anti-poverty organizations for several decades, and lived in various parts of South America, Europe and SE Asia. Today he’s anchored down in green and drowsy Western Massachusetts.

    1.      Let’s start with an easy question–what are your books about?

RR: So many ways to answer that one! In literal terms, it seems I’m writing epic fantasy/travel narrative hybrids. My first series, The Chathrand Voyage, is a vast sailing journey across a planet beset with war, dueling spy guilds, mages bent on becoming Gods, time-storms, and curses that either magnify intelligence or destroy minds altogether. My ongoing series, The Fire Sacraments, follows two peasant soldiers and several others swept into a war likely to maim their already-impoverished continent, and how they try to maintain their humanity even as they fight back against infinitely more powerful warmongers.

As for their hearts: all my books are about family and solitude; love and empathy; and the agonies, from war to madness, that result when love and empathy vanish. It’s funny how one discovers this only in the writing, though–I never set out with such conscious aims. I expect only shipwrecks would have resulted if I had.

Blackdog - Gods of the Caravan Road by KV Johansen

KV: Gods of the Caravan Road is set along a vast Silk Road type trading route in a world of gods and goddesses bound each to their own little piece of the world. The main characters are a caravan-guard who becomes host to a shapeshifting dog-spirit, an immortal assassin possessed by a ghost that feeds on death, the young man who loves him but who’s being drawn back to the homeland he fled by the needs of his dying gods; and a wandering wizard-warrior and her bear-demon partner, whose thread links all the stories. There are warlords who aren’t what they seem and devils who bargained with wizards to share bodies and power; there are fallen Old Great Gods and gods in exile and devils seeking to make themselves gods, and humans trying to survive it all and defend their small gods of the hills and waters against far greater powers. It’s about the people, human and otherwise, who struggle on through, trying to salvage or shape anew something worth having out of the mess. 

KV: I’ve been wanting to ask you, Robert — because you’ve got some startling twists and revelations in Sidewinders and things get very convoluted, in the best of ways —  do you plan your plots out in advance, or do you find twists and turns and unexpected developments taking you by surprise as you go along? 

RR: Really it’s both, Krista. I plot and diagram and outline like there’s no tomorrow. But after my first book I realized that side roads beckoned for a very good reason–because they wind through fascinating territory. You drive around some blind curve, and BANG, there’s the most fascinating thing in the whole book, and you didn’t see it coming. For me it was a vital lesson: sometimes the plainest, straightest path through a story isn’t the right one, even if it’s the only one visible from 10,000 feet.  

How about you? The surprises in your novels come on so fiercely, rushing out of the night. I don’t know anyone better at making me relax into the richness of the world just long enough to be pounced on! How much of that is pre-planned?

KV: None of it! I’ve tried, but outlines don’t work for me. I revise as I go, heading down a lot of dead ends on the way. By the time I’m about half to two-thirds of the way through I’ve probably written several novel-lengths of text and started several alternate books, but then I hit a point where I can see it all, write a sketchy outline of the rest, and it’s a downhill rush to the end. The world itself evolves the same way as the story — I think I know a lot about the world before I begin, but then I keep discovering more as I come to it. (I make maps as I go, too, so both the physical world and the plot unroll together.) Things really surprise me as much as the readers — Ahjvar was a minor character and Ghu, who is one of the most important characters to the stories and to me, was a total ambush, and look what happened. They took over three books, became people who are so important to so many readers, and the series couldn’t have resolved the way it did without them.

RR: And I have another question: your Gods of the Caravan Road series came to an end (as far as we know) with The Last Road two years ago. Was it wrenching to let go of a setting and a cast you’d lived with for a decade or more? And do you feel the door is firmly closed, or are there still voices and people on the other side eager to pass through?

The Last Road by KV Johansen

KV: I was sorry to leave them, and to leave that world, but I think I left it in a good place. I’m not much of a short story writer but it would be fun to do a few short story side-stories. Maybe someday I’ll be drawn back to it and write the earlier history, where Moth is one of the great villains, who knows? But for now, I’ve got a couple of other worlds that are dominating my thoughts. 

Do you ever get the urge to write smaller side-stories for your worlds, Robert? Little things from the past keep surfacing and shedding new light on the present in Sidewinders; are there other stories about Kandri and Mektu, or their father, existing in your mind, which might not affect the main story but that you’d like to write someday?

RR: I absolutely do get such urges. The trouble is finding the time and mental energy to run with them. But yes, in my mind at least, I love shifting east or west a few thousand miles and exploring what’s going on in a parallel country. And the imagined past (of a family, a country, a world) is almost always rich with things to discover.  

When it comes to writing actual new stories, though, I’ve noticed that I almost never have the urge to set them before or concurrently with the events of the novels themselves. I love it when my stories allow the reader to glance down into the well of the past, but I find I don’t want my stories to happen there. I just want to roll on. I might feel differently if my characters had reached a “happily ever after” stage, or were mostly dead. But so far neither has happened. The victories are real but never final. Characters get older. But they all have a lot of living yet to do, and so even my side-stories will probably inch forward with them into the future. 

         2. What fantasy & science fiction were you reading in your formative years that really influenced your style and your understanding of what a story should be? What non-fantasy did the same?

RR: I’ll answer this briefly (or else I’d go on for pages!): Tolkien of course. Le Guin almost as early. Susan Cooper and Kipling very early indeed. Then the unabridged & uncensored 1001 Nights –hard to find but worth it!–and great geeky world-building tomes like Dune and Niven & Pournell’s The Mote in God’s Eye. In high school, it was Dostoevsky, García Márquez, E.M. Forster, Chekhov, Calvino, John Fowles, Virginia Woolf. And Yeats. I lived and breathed his poetry for years. What a crazy mix, now that I think of it…

KV: Tolkien, obviously! Milne — the rhythms of his language were probably the start of it in my babyhood. Garner, Susan Cooper, Mary Stewart’s Merlin books, McKillip, Cherryh, Louise Cooper, and Glen Cook. Non-fantasy influences were Rosemary Sutcliff, Kipling’s Kim, LeCarre … and Beowulf and the Iliad. Funny, when you say Yeats, yes, he’s my favourite poet, too.

         3.  Can you tell us a little bit about what you’re working on now?

KV: I’m working on a beast of a book I’m referring to publicly as ‘the Forest Thing’. It’s either one long book or a duology. I wanted to do something more contained, something intense and poetic but more localized than Caravan Road in both time and place. It’s all winter forests, summer hayfields, and soul-wounded heroes (I keep bashing them up physically too.) Shapeshifters and immortals, because I can’t help it. Dragons! And after that I’ve got another thing, a series, with politics, religion, spies, and three or four heroes, including a woman who got cut out of the Caravan Road to make way for Ahjvar, and a man with no past. 

RR: I’m writing Siege, the last book in The Fire Sacraments trilogy. It’s all-consuming, both because it’s an account of a preposterously large and lethal assault on a great walled city, and because the lives of the individuals at the story’s heart are all fraught, entangled and begging for deliverance. In short: great fun. And I’ll never try something like this again.

KV: I’ll be looking forward to that! I love a good siege. 

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