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November 3, 2008 / schulerbooks

Interview with Brent Weeks, author of The Way of Shadows

“If you must worship, worship as the other wetboys do.Worship Nysos, god of blood semen, and wine, At least those have power. Nysos is a lie like all the gods but at least he won’t make you weak. Today, you’ve become an assassin.”

Born and raised in the gutters of Cenaria, Azoth is like any other street urchin: born to lose. Until he makes either his wisest or most foolhardy choice in life and apprentices himself to Durzo Blint, the deadliest killer in the city. Trained in the arts of murder and deceit, he rises and disguises through the echelons of power, never knowing if he is becoming a power player, or just a bloodstained pawn in a game far beyond him.

Born and raised in Whitefish, Montana, Brent Weeks was trained in the art of fiction at Hillsdale College in Michigan. It was here where he began the work that would eventually turn into his debut work: the Night Angels trilogy.

“When I was in college, I wrote a fantasy novel set in this same world. In one section, this inscrutable bad-ass gets hired to kill the female lead. He breaks into her quarters effortlessly, but at the moment he’s about to kill her, he looks into her eyes and sees that she’s not ‘unclean.’ He ends up saving her life and then disappears. That book ended up having some structural flaws that I couldn’t fix, so I abandoned it. But I had these nagging questions: who is this guy? Where’d he come from? How did he become this bad-ass? That became Azoth, a terrified kid on the streets who just doesn’t want to be afraid anymore.”

Set in the fictional work of Midcyru, The Way of Shadows follows Azoth through the many facets of his world; from the seat of power to the dirtiest alleyway. Along the way he meets any number of allies and enemies, although even he would be hard pressed to tell you which is which. Weeks’ prose slips past your defenses like a chocolate-covered razorblade; rich and evocative, and riddled with enough shocks, twists, and betrayals to make the book almost impossible to put down.

As the story began to form in Weeks’ mind, he had his central character, now all he needed was a world for him to play in. “I started by drawing the map. I am completely unburdened with artistic talent, so this was painful. But I think countries are deeply influenced by their geography. So simply drawing a map gives your imagination a playground: imagine a valley with rich farmland, and you can guess that over the last few centuries, a few people have tried to take it. Were they successful? What happened when they got kicked out? How do the people who live there now feel about that? ”

The result is a world that feels as real as the street outside your front door, and as the trilogy continues, the scope of Azoth’s world will expand greatly. “In The Way of Shadows, you only see hints of what’s out there because much of the action takes place in one half of one city, but in Shadow’s Edge, I expand the scope to a national level. Beyond the Shadows is truly international.”

Any writing endeavor takes work, and for Weeks writing is a full-time job. “I think Faulkner said, ‘I only write when inspiration strikes, and I make sure it strikes every day at 9AM.’ I’m stricken with a strange affliction: I’m a night person who’s most productive in the morning. Every day, my butt’s in the chair from 8AM until usually 1 or 2PM. At the beginning of a book, I aim to write 500 to 1,000 words a day. By the end of a project, I write 2,000 words a day. I sometimes have insomnia, so I imagine the next day’s scenes until I fall asleep. That way if I don’t sleep, I’m still working.”

Bringing Azoth’s world to life took more than just regular time at the desk. Weeks hit the books to garner material for the deadly enterprises undertaken in the book. “I did do some research on historical poisons, folk abortifacients, weaponry, the hashishin of the Middle East, and the Thuggee of India. I also have always had a special fascination with lawless areas of the world both now and in history.” Though he also adds that research was for him a starting point to give his imagination a foothold. “Most of the work is just a footrace between imagination and logic.”

It’s a footrace that Weeks and his creations are winning, as not only have sales on the first volume gone through the roof, but the trilogy has found allies on foreign shores. “I never imagined that my first books would sell internationally,” said Weeks, “especially not before I’d established any sort of sales track record in the US. I’m told that’s pretty unusual.” Through word of mouth, the book has been picked up by French, Dutch, and German publishers, and is published in the UK as well.
With such a burst of success, it would be easy tom imagine Weeks resting on his laurels for at least a moment, but the debut novelist has not become unknown to his keyboard by a long shot. “The next book I’m writing is set in an entirely new world. I’m young and I don’t want to get stuck in one world for my whole career. That said, I think readers are going to find deep characters, surprising twists, tons of action, and the really cool magic that I hope are my hallmarks. Right now, I’m planning for the new project to be a stand-alone.” He adds though: “For those who are dying for more of this world, I absolutely will come back to it.”

The Way of Shadows and Shadow’s Edge are on sale now, with the final volume, Beyond the Shadows due out by November 25th.

-Greg Baldino, Eastwood

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