A little while back, Mark Lawrence (author of Prince of Thorns) told me about the upcoming debut novel by Mazarkis Williams, The Emperor’s Knife, and helped put me in touch with the author. Knowing absolutely nothing about either Mazarkis or his novel, I asked if he’d like to introduce himself and his novel on Civilian-Reader. He was kind enough to say yes, and I sent him a few questions. Everyone, meet Mazarkis Williams…
Seeing as you’re new on the scene, why don’t we start with a quick introduction: Who is Mazarkis Williams…?
I’ve been a hobby writer for many years. My chance at publication came recently and unexpectedly, and I’m very excited to see where it will all go. I’m a parent with teenagers. It seems to be all college and exams these days, and being a taxi service of course. And although my kids might find it hard to credit, like all of us in our forties I’m sitting here wondering where twenty years went and how come the coolest bands ever are suddenly cropping up on the ‘vintage’ music channel. I’m a lover of good music (some of it even contemporary), of microbreweries, and of good food whether cooked by me or someone else.
Your debut novel, The Emperor’s Knife, will be published this year (October in the UK, December in the US). How would you introduce the series to new readers?
It’s a book about passion, and I don’t mean that in the heaving bodice sense, but in the sense that it delivers its characters raw and in extremis; these people are driven by hunger, be it for power, freedom, redemption, or love. It’s a sand and sorcery setting with an Arabian Nights flavor, character-driven and fuelled by their conflicts. The plot, I hope, is compelling but it never drowns out the characters. They are swept along with it, but their decisions matter.
What inspired you to write The Emperor’s Knife, and where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
The inspiration came from reading the history of the Ottoman Empire, although the Cerani are only superficially similar to the Ottomans. There was an Ottoman prince, Mustafa, who lived imprisoned for fourteen years until his brother the emperor passed away at the age of twenty-seven. Mustafa was considered to be either mad or holy, and he was the basis for the character of Prince Sarmin.
My inspiration usually comes from history. In fact, if I am stuck, I just turn to some of my favorite subjects, and I usually can find the spark of an idea. Things that really happened are often stranger than anything I can imagine.
How do you enjoy being a writer and working within the publishing industry? Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
It’s overwhelming to be published. When you are in writing groups, critiquing one another and sharing advice, the goal is to become a better author. Getting published is a distant dream. Now that the unbelievable has happened, it’s exciting to share the story with readers.
I have worked in the publishing industry before, copyediting nonfiction for several companies. I thought I knew a lot about the business because of that. I was wrong. Quite often I have no idea what is going on or what is being asked of me, but my editors are patient and will always take the time to explain.
Working practices? I have learned to force myself to write even when I don’t feel creative. I would say that has been the hardest thing to do. The Emperor’s Knife took six years to write; Knifesworn will take less than one. A lot of that will be just forcing my fingers to move over the keys.
As far as research goes, I have many, many bookshelves crowded with history books. I can find almost anything I am looking for in my own house, but when that fails, Google is great. I recently googled medieval and ancient sewer systems, images of blue flax, and the taste of laudanum. I almost wrote that laudanum tastes the way that flowers smell, but it really doesn’t. Apparently it tastes disgusting.
When did you realise you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?
I wanted to be a writer when I was growing up. My first foray into writing, if you can call it that, was making up stories for the other neighborhood kids. When we had worn out kickball and it was too early for ‘bloody murder’ I would tell stories, just making them up as I went along. I remember the faces of the other children as they waited to hear what would happen next. That can be addictive.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
There are so many exciting things happening in the genre right now. I realize everyone says that, but it’s true. There has always been fresh and original fantasy to be found, but I am not sure if there were ever this many choices. Even in the last year, readers’ choices seem to have tripled. I get overwhelmed on Amazon because so many things look excellent.
I am not sure where The Emperor’s Knife fits in, but I hope it will be seen as part of the move toward deeper and more literate fantasy that can hold its head up against what many still see as ‘real books’ from literary fiction. That of course does not mean that the fun has been sucked out of it, simply that both the people and the world are more complex and more ambiguous than in a traditional good-versus-evil story.
The novel does provide a non-European setting, for which I feel there is always room. And it hits a good balance between being character-driven and plot-driven. It’s fast-paced without sacrificing a sense of atmosphere.
What projects do you have currently in the pipeline?
There is Knifesworn, which is the second book of Tower and Knife. That is currently taking up all of my attention, although I have a whole other world fully created in my mind, with merchant societies, pirates, and sorcerers.
Who are you reading at the moment (fiction and/or non-fiction)?
I just finished Miserere by Teresa Frohock, and I am halfway through The Winds of Khalakovo by Bradley P. Beaulieu. I recommend both. After that I plan to read Whitefire Crossing by Courtney Shafer. These are all Night Shade books – my editor sent me a box!
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
I have a spotless driving record.
What are you most looking forward to in the next year?
I look forward to finding out whether other people love my characters as much as I do. I look forward to finishing Knifesworn. I look forward to my writing friends finishing their own works and starting to look for agents. Things will get even more amazing after that.