Do you remember when you first came up with Gaunt and Bone?
I was writing longhand in a coffee place in Menlo Park, California, in the ’90s. I was doing the second of a planned series of stories in a dreamlike fantasy world, taking cues from Dunsany, Lovecraft, and Leiber. (The first one, “The Lions of Karthagar,” eventually appeared in revised form in Black Gate 15.) I wanted a classic Dungeons & Dragons style thief, and played around with names resembling Indiana Jones and Inigo Montoya, coming up with Imago Bone. The inspirations suggested a lot about his character. Next, I needed a reason for him to do something dangerous, so along came his “Goth” girlfriend and her stolen book of poems. Her name, Persimmon Gaunt, was meant to suggest a love of life and a fascination with death. They clicked with me, and when I went on to do a third story in that sequence, they ended up answering the “want ad.” So, I just ran with that and wrote more stories about them.
Who is your favorite supporting character in The Scroll of Years and why?
Next-One-a-Boy. I was really taken by her absolute refusal to quit or be overawed by her elders. I liked being inside her mind.
Was there ever a point when you were writing The Scroll of Years when you didn’t feel like you would be able to pull it off?
Kind of. I shelved the book for what was probably a couple of years. Initially I think I was just waiting for life to calm down enough for me to focus on the story, but the calm period took a long time to arrive. I actually forgot about the book for a while.
The Scroll of Years is a complex novel, as it takes place in many “different” places. How did you keep track of all of it?
I worked on the book very slowly, since I could only get to it in snatches. Although that was frustrating, a nice side effect of the slow process was that I had a lot of time to think about the details.
You showed a really intimate knowledge of the cadence and tone of Eastern speech and mannerisms. Other than the vibrant Eastern community that can be found in the Bay area, have you ever spent time immersed in a Far Eastern culture?
I really appreciate the compliment, though mileage may vary. My wife is Chinese-American on her mother’s side, so if I’ve picked up any useful cues, it’s probably because of that connection.
I felt like the Eastern culture you presented formed a really nice contrast to Gaunt’s and Bones’s normal lifestyle. Was this intentional or was I just reading into things too much?
I think that’s an interesting observation, but no, it’s just an accident of the choice to send them to the “East.”
You included plenty of verse from Gaunt. Are you a poet or just an author who happens to write poems?
The latter. I’ve been interested in poetry for a long time, especially after taking a class from the poet Nelson Bentley at the University of Washington back in the ’80s. (Quote: “Humorous gloom is one of the specialties of the Northwest.”) But I’ve still got everything to learn about it. One of these days I’d like to study poetry in a serious way. I do have a published poem online at Strange Horizons — see http://www.strangehorizons.com/2012/20120227/willrich-p.shtml
Who is your favorite poet and why?
T.S. Eliot, because his Four Quartets helped get me through college. I think I barely understand that book, with all its links to philosophy and history and religion, but the language is inspiring, and I get something new out of it every time I read it. I like his other work too, but that particular book clinches it.
Sticking with the poetry line of questioning, at times your inclusion of verse felt very Tolkien-like. Was that on purpose or did it just kind of end up that way?
Thank you—I admire Tolkien’s work very much. He wasn’t on my mind, though, believe it or not. Le Guin maybe, just a little, because of the Taoist elements in her Earthsea books, though I don’t think she includes much poetry there. However, many of her passages strike me as poetic. Your question reminds me of something I love about Tolkien, though, which is how he uses language to get across a sense of place. I hope I can approach that in my own writing.
What is next for Gaunt and Bone?
They will return in a sequel titled The Silk Map, forthcoming from Pyr.
What is next for Chris Willrich?
I have a Pathfinder Tales novel upcoming from Paizo, titled The Dagger of Trust. It features bards, conspiracies, magic, and monsters!
I will eventually get more activity going at www.chriswillrich.com, so I hope people will check it out. Thanks!