Interview with Devin Madson (WE RIDE THE STORM)
Devin Madson is an Aurealis Award-winning fantasy author from Australia. After some sucky teenage years, she gave up reality and is now a dual-wielding rogue who works through every tiny side-quest and always ends up too over-powered for the final boss. Anything but zen, Devin subsists on tea and chocolate and so much fried zucchini she ought to have turned into one by now. Her fantasy novels come in all shades of grey and are populated with characters of questionable morals and a liking for witty banter.
Welcome to the Fantasy Hive, Devin Madson.
Let’s start off with the big question: We Ride the Storm was originally self-published, but has now been snapped up by Orbit as part of a SEVEN book deal. That’s huge! What exactly happened there, and how do you feel about it now? I imagine it’s a very different world from self-publishing.
VERY different. And I expected that, but I still underestimated just how different. It’s one of those fairy-tale stories you think don’t ever happen to people or at least will never happen to you personally until suddenly you have an unexpected email in your inbox. I hadn’t been submitting to agents or pitching, I’d just been finalising edits on the second book in the series, which was due out in March 2019. In January, I got a surprise email from Nivia Evans at Orbit US and I admit I thought it was some kind of joke/scam/accident at first. It all sped from them being interested, to me having to pull the release of book 2, to getting an agent and then an offer in April, and yes I was seriously sure that I had misheard when Julie (my agent) said they wanted six books. My original trilogy and the three books of The Reborn Empire. Then I had to be a total diva and point out that I’d planned it as a four-book series and could they maybe make it seven books?
Could you treat us to an elevator pitch for We Ride the Storm? Why should readers check out your book? (Spoiler, it’s fantastic! – CJ)
We Ride the Storm is the story of an empire built by war being brought down by war, crushed beneath its history of division and inherited hurts. We follow a snarky assassin with a voice in her head she can’t escape, an honourable warrior trying to hold on to his tenets while being forced to fight in a foreign war, and an ambitious princess who wants to rule the empire in her own right whatever the cost. There’s lot of intrigue, tense battles, trippy necromancy, respectful head severing and tea. And disaster-humans desperately trying to do the right things despite everything.
And now for some fun: reality warps and you suddenly find yourself leading a D&D-style party through a monster-infested dungeon. What character class are you, and what’s your weapon of choice? Also, what animal would you ride into battle?
Always, always a rogue. Always dual-wielding short blades. I am a sneaky stealth stabber—no who am I kidding? I always choose to be a dual wielding rogue in video games and then proceed to play like I’m an invincible tank, rushing in wildly hacking. But I would absolutely love to ride a giant dog!
What inspired you to start writing fiction in the first place, and how long ago was that? Was fantasy your first love, or did you start off writing something different?
I’ve written stories for as long as I can remember. My parents still have books I wrote when I was six and seven years old, and in my first year of school at five years old, I was bitterly disappointed when I found out the book we were going to write in class was only meant to be one page long. I’ve always loved fantasy, and ALMOST it’s the only genre I’ve ever written. I think when I was about fourteen, I wrote a terrible and very unrealistic creepy teenage romance (there was totally a love interest sitting watching her sleep…), although I say romance, it had a very tragic ending. A dead baby and the young woman crying so much in the rain that she didn’t see the truck when she crossed the road… I’m not sure what it says about me that all the stories I wrote in my formative years were depressing. Also not sure if that one is better or worse than the Christmas tree that got bullied and chopped down I wrote at six. Or the dog out in the snow that fell asleep beneath a tree only for snow to fall from the branches and smother it that I wrote at about thirteen…
What books or authors do you think have influenced you the most to become the author you are? Many of us have beloved childhood favourites or more recent books that simply blew our socks off, and we are eager to know yours (you know, the ones your book will soon be sharing shelves with all across the world…)
The author who has most influenced me is not one I’m likely to share a shelf with, interestingly. In the period between reading Redwall and all the middle grade sci-fi I could get my hands on, and discovering my first adult fantasy novels (The Belgariad by David Eddings… a fairly traditional starting point), I read Georgette Heyer almost exclusively. She wrote regency romances, but in the punchier style of the early 1900s rather than the early 1800s, and her character work is honestly amazing. I didn’t realise at the time that I was soaking up a master of complex, real characters, people who were never perfect and yet so easy to cheer for and love. And her subtle humour! Glorious. Those lessons live with me to this day.
Are you a plotter or a pantser writer, or a mixture of both? And as a follow-up question, did you do much research before you began, or more as you went along? I imagine your internet browser history looks a little horrific by now.
Both! Depending on the situation. I pants first novels in series because I’m too lazy to sit down and plan things out and to my shame, beat sheets and story structure plans are all gibberish to me. But when I sit down to write later books in a series, I tend to plan a lot more. I know the characters and the story better by then and it’s not as likely to veer wildly. The only time I tried to plot a first book it… didn’t turn out like I planned.
Because I pants generally, I tend to research as I go rather than all beforehand, but yeeeaaah my browser history is quite bizarre and terrifying. Bits of anatomy, questions about bruises and blood congealing and what <insert awful thing here> smells like.
Your main characters are all wildly different from one another and their backgrounds are rich and evocative. I found Captain Rah e’Torin and his exiled warriors particularly fascinating as he finds himself drawn into a war in a strange new land. How did you go about developing your characters and the world they inhabit?
This world has actually been around quite a while now. I first started writing it seriously in my first trilogy (The Vengeance Trilogy, which Orbit are rereleasing on August 4th), continued it in my novella, In Shadows We Fall; in the first books of a few things that are currently shelved for later, and now in The Reborn Empire series. It started as a magic system based on soul reincarnation and bit by bit grew everything else, inspired by bits of real-world history and shaped by the stories I wanted to tell.
So when it came to starting this book, I already had a lot of material to work from in terms of the world. It’s also a continuation of a generational story that starts back in the novella (you can read them in any order) so Miko in particular came almost fully formed as the third woman from this family (her mother is a POV in The Vengeance Trilogy and her grandmother the only POV in In Shadows We Fall).
Other than that, because I tend to pants things, I didn’t give a lot of thought to who or what I was going to write before I started. The Levanti were entirely born from the original first line of the book. I can never start a story without a first line, and as soon as “It’s harder to sever a head than people think,” came into my head I needed to know why. Why is this character doing this? Why is it important? And with every question I asked, I discovered more about Rah and the Levanti and… BOOM, there they were.
What books have you recently enjoyed?
I’ve been very lucky and enjoyed all my recent reads. Most notably The Perfect Assassin by K.A. Doore, which has amazing world-building, sweet assassins and heartbreak. A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers, a deep character study of a sci-fi novel about finding your place in the world and so much more. And The Vanished Queen by Lisbeth Campbell, which I was lucky enough to get an ARC of as it’s not out until August. It’s a tense and intimate political fantasy built on the heartbreaking reality of characters having to shape themselves in response to cruel abuse. It will stay with me a long time.
And finally, what’s next for Devin Madson?
Finishing off this series! I’m just at the end of book 3 and now have to stick the landing with book 4. After that I already have a bunch of ideas for other stories in this world, and I am tinkering with a time travel, court intrigue, restoration era, f/f novella. I also have an audio drama set in my world called The 59 Bodies of Saki Laroth that I’m working on, because clearly I hate free time.
Thank you so much Devin.
We Ride the Storm releases today – 25th June 2020 – from Orbit Books; best of luck with the release and the rest of the series!