Friday, August 10, 2012

Exclusive Interview with Robert T. Jeschonek

Today on the Tannhauser Blog we have an awesome interview with Rising Sun, Falling Shadows author Robert T. Jeschonek.

First here’s a little bit about Robert and some of his work.

Robert T. Jeschonek is an award-winning writer whose fiction, comics, essays, articles, and podcasts have been published around the world. His young adult urban fantasy novel, MY FAVORITE BAND DOES NOT EXIST, was named one of BOOKLIST’s Top Ten First Novels for Youth. Simon & Schuster, DAW/Penguin Books, and DC Comics have published his work. He won the grand prize in Pocket Books' nationwide Strange New Worlds contest and was nominated for the British Fantasy Award.

And now after the jump, we’ll get to the questions, and answers…

Caution May Contain Spoilers!

The Tannhauser Blog: Hi Robert thanks for taking the time to talk with us today, let’s get started. How did you come to write a Tannhauser Novel, was it a project you had been hoping to do, or did FFG come to you?

Robert T. Jeschonek: Thanks, I was looking for a new project, and a friend of mine, Bill Keith, recommended me to FFG.  Bill put me in touch with editor Patricia Meredith, and we hit it off right from the start.  At first, we developed a full outline for a GRIMM novel, THE COP WHO SHOT UP THE FAIRY TALE...but FFG decided not to move forward with that one.  Given my choice of another project, I asked to work on TANNHÄUSER, which just jumped out at me as being exciting and loaded with possibilities.  The military science fiction aspects were especially appealing, as I’ve written some well-received work in that genre.  My top-selling e-book, in fact, is a military science fiction tale titled BEWARE THE BLACK BATTLENAUT.  I’m writing the sequel, RESIST THE RED BATTLENAUT, right now.  I’m also a huge fan of alternate history fiction, so that facet of TANNHÄUSER grabbed hold of my imagination, too.

TTB: Since Tannhauser was already an established universe, what sort of research did you do, before you began writing? Did you try the game itself at all?

RTJ: FFG sent me tons of background material, which I studied intensely.  The deeper I went with the research, the more excited I got about the book, because TANNHÄUSER has such a rich universe and an abundance of multi-dimensional characters.  FFG also sent me the game, which I played and loved.  It’s really well-designed, and the wealth of background and character detail makes playing it a truly immersive experience.  Even with the game and extensive background material, however, writing the book was a challenge.  When I started writing RISING SUN, FALLING SHADOWS, work on the Shōgunate module was not yet complete.  In fact, new developments were added to the Shōgunate background on a regular basis.  I had to keep up with the changes and integrate them into the book.  This helped ensure that the novel would be up to date when released, matching the material established in the Shōgunate module.

TTB: How did you go about developing the story/plot?

RTJ: The basic story evolved over the course of a series of e-mails with my editor, Patricia Meredith.  Once I’d been given the go-ahead to write something featuring the Shōgunate, I came up with some basic ideas about the kind of adventure we might use to introduce them.  For one thing, I wanted to find a location where we could bring together Union, Shōgunate, and Matriarchy forces.  Kamchatka seemed like a perfect setting—Matriarchy territory with a proximity to Japan and strategic value to the Union.  Kamchatka was even more perfect because of its wilderness and geologic upheavals.  During my research, I learned about the 1952 earthquake and tsunami that happened there, and I knew those disasters would add to the drama.  Once I’d chosen Kamchatka as the setting, I went to work crafting the plot by writing a full outline.  In the outline, I mapped out the journeys of the opposing factions—their motives, challenges, and interactions.  In this stage, I created the arcs that would define how each character changed throughout the book.  I also brought in the god Kutkha, whom I found during my initial research; Kutkha personified the raven gods of many aboriginal cultures in Asia and North America, adding another connective thread between the factions.  All along, I moved everything toward the climactic struggle in the volcano, Kronotskaya Sopka...and a possible sequel that was always in my mind.  From the start, I intended to end the book with Hiruko finally understanding his han’ei heritage and taking the first step toward a new destiny in the Shōgunate.

TTB: Which character was your favorite to write, and why? Were any that you found difficult to write?

RTJ: I loved writing MacNeal, a true hero in the classic sense and the heart of TANNHÄUSER.  He’s powerful, charismatic, courageous, and determined—the only kind of person who stands a chance against committed soldiers of darkness like Von Heïzinger.  I also enjoyed writing Tala Aponi, because she’s so rebellious and in-your-face.  She doesn’t take any crap, and her default mode of dealing with problems is blowing them up...but she still has a tender side and reaches out to Taki.  On the Shōgunate side, I had a great time writing the Daimyō, because he’s a master warrior with a complex personality and commitment to honor, a Shōgunate version of MacNeal.  My other Shōgunate favorite is Itami, with his blue skin, brutality, excellent vocabulary, and good manners.  He’s a true wild card; the whole time I was writing him, I kept thinking that his real motivations and goals are completely hidden.  I see him as a threat on the level of Von Heïzinger, using the Shōgunate to build his power base and initiate his own grand plans in this world.

TTB: Karl "Ozo" Zermann had previously be characterized as a more "human like" character, why did you choose to make him more "animal like" i.e. monosyllabic speech, heightened senses, etc.?

RTJ: Throughout the book, Zermann was under the influence of the heavenly gateway in Kronotskaya Sopka, which repelled his hellish energies and made his intellect more bestial.  The closer he got, the less human he became.  Itami also suffered from the heavenly influence, experiencing weakness, pain, and blindness, though he possessed a stronger intellect to begin with and was able to retain more of it.

TTB: Are the previously unknown characters like Taki and Hiruko completely your creations? If so what is your process for developing a new character?

RTJ: I did create Taki and Hiruko myself.  The process started with the kernel of an idea for each one.  With Hiruko, I needed a point of view character within the Shōgunate, someone who could show us what was happening behind enemy lines and help us understand the Shōgunate mindset.  With Taki, I needed a character who could provide expertise on the Shōgunate to the Union; otherwise, MacNeal and the 42nd Marines would be going in blind against the Shōgunate, unable to understand the language or cultural differences.  From those basic ideas, I layered on background and personality traits, making Hiruko and Taki as interesting and integral to the story as possible.  For example, I made Hiruko a clone of the Emperor, giving us a window into the secret world of the han’ei; I also gave him the soul of a poet, contrasting with the savage brutality of Von Heïzinger, Zermann, and Itami.  Taki, on the other hand, enabled me to showcase Japanese martial arts weaponry and provide a love interest for Tala.  I intentionally made him less confrontational and rebellious than Tala, bringing in qualities that balanced her more extreme tendencies.  I hope I’ll have the chance to write both Hiruko and Taki again, as they really came to life for me and surprised me with they did on the page...the mark of successful characters in fiction, as far as I’m concerned.

TTB: Thank you very much for taking the time with us today. And we all really hope you return to the world of Tannhauser soon.

RTJ: Happy to help, Miah!  

You can find out more about Robert at his website: www.thefictioneer.com or www.robertjeschonek.com.  You can also find him on Facebook as Robert Jeschonek and can follow him on Twitter as @TheFictioneer.  Also, he’s written over 80 e-books for Pie Press, now available for the Kindle, Nook, iPad, Kobo, Sony e-Reader, and other e-reading devices.

Thanks for reading everyone!