Interview with Evan Winter (THE RAGE OF DRAGONS)
Born in England to South American parents, Evan Winter was raised in Africa near the historical territory of his Xhosa ancestors. Evan has always loved fantasy novels, but when his son was born, he realised that there weren’t many epic fantasy novels featuring characters who looked like him. So, before he ran out of time, he started writing them.
Evan is the author of THE RAGE OF DRAGONS, which was originally self-published and was re-released by Orbit Books in July 2019.
Thanks for joining us, Evan. For those that haven’t heard of you, pitch Rage of Dragons (RoD) in 50 words or less. Go, go, go!
That’s tough, but here’s what I’ve got:
The Rage of Dragons is Game of Thrones meets Gladiator on Arrakis…
Readers are introduced to Tau, a warrior in training of the Lesser caste, and it is his story we follow. Tau is one of the most compelling characters I have had the joy of reading, not because of his role as the hero (some might say antihero), but because of his human flaws and ‘failings’. Where did the idea for Tau as a character come from?
First, thank you very much for the kind words. It means a lot to hear that readers find Tau compelling. In terms of an answer, and this may sound odd but, in the right circumstances, I believe Tau is inevitable. Of course, not him specifically, but I do think that what Tau represents is the natural and eventual reaction to a world or society which allows too great an abuse to befall its people. In my view, humanity is near infinitely adaptable. It’s one of our greatest strengths. It’s also a terrible weakness because our adaptability allows us to tolerate the inhumane. So, Tau represents what every powerful person or group fears. He is the early revolution, the elemental and emotional one that exists before the intellectual one comes to temper it. He is the vanguard of a people pushed too far who, instead of adapting to more abuse, have adapted to destroy the abusers.
The Rage of Dragons is set in an African-inspired fantasy realm, complete with epic battles, a complex social system, vibrant culture, violent consequence, and not forgetting the dragons. Where did the ideas for your worldbuilding come from?
The world formed from the questions I wanted to ask about the human condition. Its individuals, societies, magic, weather and even the land itself are what they are because they help me get closer to an answer to my questions. What I’m trying to say is that, in the beginning, the search for an answer seems to dictate many of the broader details. Then, as I write draft 1, into 2, and then 3, etc, those details deliver pinpoint specifics. Also, I say I’m looking for ‘an answer’ because I don’t believe I’m chasing some objective truth. Instead, my hope, in the telling of the story, is to find a truth that speaks to me and, with some luck, the reader too.
What’s next for Tau? What can readers expect from book two?
In book 2, everything becomes more complex, bigger, with many more moving pieces, and yet the pace at which the world moves increases dramatically. This isn’t easy for Tau because he tends to be a sword even when it’s a scalpel that’s needed, and the friction between what he is and what his world is come into direct conflict. In particular, Tau needs to find a way to survive or lose what little is left he loves.
Before being published by Orbit, you self-published Rage of Dragons. What was it that made you switch to the traditional route?
I want to become the best writer that I’m capable of being and though self-publishing is a remarkably good way to tell stories to the world, it means being an entrepreneur as well as a writer. I definitely enjoyed the education, the work, and the mentality that came with running my own one-person ‘publishing house,’ but, having had the experience and then being offered an opportunity to be traditionally published, I chose traditional because I want to focus entirely on the writing. Basically, I want to have the help and support that traditional publishing can offer in order to spend whatever time I have on my writing. Lastly, and as importantly as anything else I’ve said about this, I really felt like my editor understood the story I wanted to tell, and I was excited to have her support, expertise, and talent to help me do more than I’d be able to do on my own.
On that note, what has changed about the book since its re-release?
Even believing that my editor and I were chasing the same story, I was very worried about receiving editorial notes. This was because I’d spent half a lifetime as a professional creative getting notes, and the other half implementing them, watching this mandated work change my intent. Doing that was my entire creative life, until I finished RAGE. And, RAGE might have been good, great, awful, or anywhere in between and it didn’t matter in the way you might think, because the book was as close to what I wanted as anything I’d ever made. So, I was worried about notes… and then the notes came… and every one of them was something that I KNEW would make the story better. I dug deeper into what Tau wants from life, I tried to smooth the reader’s entry into the world, and I did what I could to let more of the life of the people around Tau come through. Those things made a big difference and they only happened because my editor pointed out where the best and most valuable work might be done without changing the book’s story at all.
2019 is shaping up be one heck of a year for fantasy, with some big-name releases (Joe Abercrombie, Ann Leckie, Mark Lawrence) as well as plenty of other voices that deserve to be shouted about. Is there anyone that you’ve recently enjoyed reading who is due to release a book in 2019?
I’m going to be there on day 1 for the next book in Will Wight’s Cradle series. Those books are compact, thrilling, joyous, page-turning extravaganzas and I dare anyone to get past the 50% mark in book 1 and not be hooked. I also have to bring up Kay Villoso. She’s become a friend and, in our talks, I’ve found that we see many things similarly. I’m still finishing up my book 2 and haven’t had the chance to dive into her work, but I’m excited to do so because, just from speaking with Kay, I can imagine how good her stories are.
If you were to do an Avengers-style ‘crossover’ between your world/characters and that of another author, who would you work with?
You know what’s funny? There are so many incredible worlds within which I would have LOVED to play, but now that I’ve been given a chance to live in the world I see in my head all day and night, I don’t have the need to create in any others until this one gets me where it’s going. I don’t wanna sound like I’m too out there, but writing this series has felt like living half here, on Earth, and half in Uhmlaba. The split feels almost tangible, and I actually start each day’s writing session by putting hands to keyboard and saying, “take me into the world.”
If you could have your books produced in a different format (e.g. film, TV, game, theatre, comic etc.) what would you choose and why?
Television. We’re in a golden age for TV and I love how the format allows a nuanced plot, theme, and character study to play out over time. It would be a joy to see the series there.
For the writers out there, what’s the one golden nugget of knowledge that you would pass on them, that you have discovered since being published (self or traditional)?
Outline your story. I hear it’s not for everyone, and if you’re certain it’s not for you then I can appreciate that. But, nothing else that I’ve done has helped even a fraction as much as becoming a hardcore outliner has helped.
Before we get to the final question, if there was ONE LINE from The Rage of Dragons you could share with readers, what would it be, and why?
“The days without difficulty are the days you do not improve.”
I don’t see this as being about the hardships society might place on us or the stones that fortune may throw. I see it as a call to action that seeks the next hill, mountain, or star system by never letting yesterday’s achievements be good enough. It’s not about feeling unworthy or inadequate, it’s about feeling hopeful and finding joy in the journey. It’s about the push, the push towards being more today than we were before.
And last but certainly not least, if there was one thing that you could have a reader take away from reading your work, and remember in 10 years’ time, what would you want that to be?
We are all far more alike than we are different.
Thank you for the interview and the questions. They got me to do a lot of thinking and head-clearing, and I’m grateful for that.
Thank you so much for joining us, Evan!
Evan Winter is the author of THE RAGE OF DRAGONS, available now.