What prompted you to start writing?
It always feels inevitable in the end. But I suppose it was when one of my friends passed away my senior year of high school. He was one of the special lights you meet in this life. A real larger-than-life human. That forced me inward. I spent more time alone, away from technology, feeling things – which is quite the opposite of how the modern world wants you to behave. After burying myself in books like Dan Simmons’ Hyperion and The Once and Future King, I started finding my own means of self-expression. I was 18 at the time, and it was like my emotions and imagination, which had been dripping out from a tight-piped faucet ever since I entered the ordeal that is high school, suddenly burst the pipes apart and came out in a torrent. Putting stories on page was the most freeing thing I’d ever encountered.
What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
Write. Continue writing. Don’t get discouraged by failure. If you’re not writing, you’re making up excuses or assuming everyone else is connected. Unless you can fix that and get connected, get working. Took me six books before getting published–that’s a load of heartbreak, but it also grants you an invaluable sense of power. You can succeed if you put in the work.
What was your publishing journey?
I wrote six books between 18 and 22. There was some interest from agencies, but no one signed me. My style was still a bit over-grand, impossible to market, or derivative. Sometimes all three. Then I wrote Red Rising. There was more interest, but most of the agents wanted me to change the tone, alter the story, and make it simpler and less harsh. I balked at that. Then I got a call from Hannah Bowman of Liza Dawson Associates. She was a new agent, and the manuscript had actually been on the desk of an agent who had passed on many of my earlier stories. Hannah wanted me to be her first client. I accepted immediately. We edited Red Rising before taking it to editors.
At this time, I’d moved down to Los Angeles and was living on an air mattress at one of my old professor’s houses as I tried to break into the entertainment industry. I was giving tours of the NBC studios as an NBC Page – peacock tie and all (my friends still sometimes call me Kenneth the Page). We received some offers for Red Rising, but they again wanted to substantially alter the story to be “faster,” “more accessible,” etc. We passed on those, which was a hard choice. Then, miraculously, Del Rey, an imprint I’ve read religiously since I was 8, offered a preempt three-book deal. I was giving a tour of the lot when I got the call from Hannah telling me what their money offer was. I almost fainted. It was far and away better than anything I could have hoped for. I told my tour group and suddenly was mobbed with hugs by Iowans and two families of Japanese tourists. I got $19 in tips. It was a damn good day.
Where did your inspiration for Red Rising come from?
It was really organic. I was hiking in the Cascade Mountain Range, and I’d been rereading the Greek play Antigone. I was struck by the contrast in the story, the dichotomy of the forces represented, a young disenfranchised girl who stands up to cold power, and I thought what a beautiful thing it was that such a fragile character could be a seed of destruction. Then I wondered, What did Antigone leave behind? What if there was a person who was in love with Antigone? How [could] her actions transform not only him but the world? The story started to unravel before me. Eo was conceived far, far ahead of Darrow. She was the first character. It was always about that sacrifice.
Who would you say were the key writers who influenced you in your creation of Red Rising?
Contemporary ones I would say, obviously. J.K. Rowling, because she ushered in a new age of fantasy culture being accepted by mainstream society in much the way J.R.R. Tolkien did. I think that Gene Wolfe, who is more of a hard sci-fi, hard fantasy writer, is fantastic. Stephen King is wonderful, but more because I realize that, although I am totally entranced by his stories, I cannot write at all like him, I have nowhere near the patience, and George R.R. Martin because of the amount of stories that he can juggle. And Frank Herbert as well. I think Dune and Alexander Dumas’s Count of Monte Cristo are the closest parallels to Red Rising in terms of tone and story. People compare it with The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner and other things like that, but I’ve always felt Red Rising’s soul is much more in line with Alexander Dumas and Frank Herbert. Those guys are classics, and I’m not comparing myself to them, but that’s where I got a lot of the inspiration. And then I would say Tolkien was hugely influential to me as well as Homer and Sophocles.
How would you describe your writing style?
I want my writing style to be something that is accessible, and that’s what’s so interesting about this book being called Young Adult. There’s a lot of discussion among readers: Is this Young Adult or is this not Young Adult? I don’t know. But the thing is that Young Adult is simply a book that is interesting in every chapter. A lot of books aren’t necessarily like that. A lot of my favorite books aren’t necessarily like that, and that requires a great deal of patience, and I don’t know if that patience is in line with the modern way of thinking. I’m always struggling with this: Should I take more time, but then I lose the interest of the reader? How do you balance pacing with content? My editor can always tell when I’m reading a Russian author or anything not written in the last 30 years because my writing all of a sudden becomes very bloated, and there are so many inconsequential conversations, and he’s asking me, “How is this driving the plot? Your reader just stopped reading.”
Questions from Fans
I’ve recently started reading Mythology by Edith Hamilton, & have realized how embedded the Red Rising series is in the Greeks & Romans (especially given PierceBrown’s Red Rising epiphanic description when hiking & some of the names). How much of the Greek/Roman symbolism is coincidental, & how much of it is done purposefully? For instance, Bellona is Latin for the Goddess of War, & walks alongside Mars (Latin for the God of War); given that tidbit of information it’s appropriate that the Bellona house is from Mars, but was it done on purpose or is the tie coincidental?
Most of it is done intentionally. Pax being a huge brute, when his name means peace. Bellona being the goddess of war. Barca being the last name of Hannibal, who almost defeated the Roman Republic. However sometimes I stumble onto happy accidents, which I latch onto to make myself seem smart. For instance: Rim/Core being Byzantine Empire/Roman Empire.
How does Pierce spit Sevro’s dialogue out of his fingers? It’s so bloodydamn golden.
He drinks far too much coffee and whiskey.
Where do you get your military strategy? I, have been completely taken by surprise on more than one occasion. Have you read military strategy books, or have a source you refer to? “Art of War”?
Far too much time reading political/military treatises as a kid. And far too many days spent playing strategy games, and fortifying that experience by reading oodles of history books. It’s great fun. I recommend “Makers of Modern Strategy”.
Just preordered the German translation of Iron Gold coming out on November 5th. Do you know when the translation of Dark Age will be available?
I do not. Usually it is about eight to ten months after the publishing date of the English version.
Will there ever be an howlerfest in Europe? Can‘t wait!!
Not for Dark Age. But perhaps for the 6th book! It’s difficult sometimes to coordinate with so many different publishers. My American publisher coordinated Howlerfest, so I’d have to find a similar partner in Europe. Now would not be a bad time to start advocating for it from your country’s publisher.
How do you manage to make even a robot like me feel things when reading any of the books in the series?
I’ve been studying the occult for many years. I have sympathetic voodoo dolls of every reader. It is a growing collection. My garage looks creepy.
Do Golds put pineapple on pizza?
The Board of Quality Control would never permit such an odious affront to a Roman delicacy.
I love Red Rising, it has inspired me to start putting some of the crazy stories in my head on paper. One of the things that I have trouble with is comparing my first draft of something to the published version of my favorite authors (aka you). So my question is would you be willing to share an excerpt of the first draft version (scene, paragraph, chapter) compared to the final published version?
Ha! You wish. I enjoy people thinking I’m not a frenetic mess in my first drafts. I see the merit of this, but so much effort goes into presenting a tight product that it might be too much of ‘seeing how the sausage is made’. Rest assured that first drafts are all over the place, and that you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself in your first or even second draft.
Darrow has died in many ways that one can but, with the help of others, he has always risen. He carries the future of his entire people and the expectations of many and it obviously weighs heavily upon him and he continues to inspire those around him for good or ill. Have you found that you and Darrow share this ability to inspire others and if so, how has it affected you?
What a question. I find that the strength of any one individual is dwarfed by their ability to inspire strength in others. As David Mitchell once wrote “What is an ocean but a multitude of drops”. One man emphatically cannot change the world. One man who inspires others to his cause can do anything. When I was a kid, I was a leader. Not on purpose. I just liked doing my own thing, and others just joined along. I remember a teacher one time pulling me aside when I was in 4th grade and telling me this and then asking me–so you’ve got some followers, but where are you going? Where are you leading them? That question has resounded in me since.
Have you taken “The Draft” quiz on the Red Rising site and if so, what house do you belong to?
I have. I’m a Minerva.
If you were to write the Red Rising trilogy from any other character’s perspective, whose would it be?
Sevro is the knee-jerk answer. Cassius is the one who would actually provide the more interesting perspective.
If you could make a playlist for Darrow, Mustang, and/or Sevro, what are some songs that would have to be on it?
Your Bones – Monster and Men. Dream Team – Aidan Knight. Jupiter – Sleeping at Last.
Do you see yourself in full or in part in any of the characters you have created? All of them or just one in specific?
Darrow is the closest to my personality. The way he processes, blames himself, empathizes is very in keeping with my own though process. But another part of me is Sevro and Mustang and even the Jackal.
Who’s your favourite character in the series?
Has to be Sevro. He’s one of the few characters who wears his heart on his sleeve. Albeit a very black and twisted little heart. I usually write him listening to Notorious BIG.
If you got to be the first person on Mars, what would be your first words as you stepped onto the surface?
“Per aspera ad astra.”