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Interview with Nathan Tudor


He has researched ancient religion at Oxford, traveled the seven continents, and mastered the art of speaking in the third person. His debut novel The Empire’s Lion tells an epic story filled with action, identity, and the struggle to do what is right in an upside-down world. Allegations that he hired an alchemist to give him the tread of a cat and the ears of a fox are categorically false.


Q.1 Tell us something about yourself not many people know?
A.
Since I spend so much time reading epic fantasy “for work,” I like to read the slice-of-life manga to unwind. I can’t really read novels just for plain enjoyment anymore. I always see and analyze them through a craftsman’s eyes-so a different medium with different storytelling stakes and strategies is a nice diversion.

Q.2 Are we going to read more from you in the near future? Any new project you’re working on?
A.
Absolutely! The sequel to The Empire’s Lion is in the works-the title and release date are still forthcoming, but readers can expect more magical action, more deep revelations about the world, and more trials for their favorite characters. Following my newsletter is the best way to keep up to date on my progress with book two, and subscribers also get a free copy of my book Adept Initiate.

Q.3 What inspired you to write The Imperial Adept series?
A.
It came from a number of places. I’ve wanted to write a Roman Empire-inspired fantasy for years, and in college I majored in Religious Studies, spending much of my coursework on the ancient Near East and Greco-Roman Mediterranean. So, setting-wise, I already had a lot of background information floating around my head, ready to be woven into a story.

The other key piece of inspiration was the conflict between Reiva, the protagonist, and her primary adversary the Wolf. Reiva serves the Lazarran Empire as an Adept, an elite magical warrior. But now the Empire is sending her to subjugate the land of her birth, and the Wolf is there ready to kill her with an anti-magic blade. If he lands just one cut on her with that weapon, she will lose her fire magic forever. He’s the perfect enemy for Reiva-fervently loyal to his people, he despises Reiva as a traitor, and thanks to his unique equipment, he can go toe-to-toe with her in a way no one else can.

There was another core piece of inspiration, but I can’t tell you exactly what it was-(that would spoil one of the biggest reveals in the book!)-but I can say that as soon as it popped into my head, I knew I had my central conflict.

Q.4 What is the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
A.
Maybe it’s because many of my friends in high school and college were women, but I don’t find it particularly difficult to put myself into a female headspace. As a writer, one of the most important skills in my arsenal is listening to others’ experiences and imagining what it’s like to walk in their shoes.

As humans, we all have unique experiences, but Tolkien put it best when he said well-told stories are universally applicable. Even though I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman in a patriarchal society, for example, I can imaginatively enter that experience with analogies from my own life. 

Everyone knows what it’s like to be denied an opportunity for arbitrary reasons and to dream about what you would do if those barriers didn’t exist. I put that into practice while writing Princess Asrah’s perspective, tapping into emotions of frustration and futility, then seeking a way for her to apply a different sort of strength that contrasted with the way most other characters used military might and violence to pursue their ends.

Q.5 How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use any set formula?
A.
For plot, I’m a big devotee of the Story Grid method. I architect my stories in four acts, thinking about how each segment of the story affects the core value. So for the prequel, Adept Initiate-which is about how Reiva came to the Lazarran Empire and trained to become an Adept-I plotted that as a Status story, the core values being Success versus Failure. I’m thinking about conventional scenes and tropes at this stage to ensure I’m crafting a story that follows the classic shape of the genre, while also looking for ways I can put my own idiosyncratic spin on things.

I tend to build the spine of my story like that, and then I’ll rely more on intuition to bridge the major scenes. Finally, I’ll often get ideas for scenes while I’m in the process of drafting. I’ve learned to trust my unconscious mind’s suggestions on these things because those out-of-the-blue scenes are often some of the best in the book. It’s like I’m laying all the deliberate foundations so I can create the right circumstances for those unplanned gems to emerge.

When it comes to characters, I’m much more improvisational. I usually start with some core seed-it could be that I want an archer, a mentor figure, or someone from a particular culture-and then I’ll sketch them out with some key desires and needs. What do they want and what are they willing to do to get it? What are their guiding principles? I tend not to spend too long writing up backstories, instead preferring to discover things like that as I go.

Q.6 How long on average does it take you to write a book?
A.
I’m still new to the game, having just two books published, but if I had to extrapolate, it would be something like six months per finished 100,000 words. It breaks down to about a third spent on the first draft, then the next two-thirds spent revising. Every book is different though. 

Adept Initiate was very straightforward and smooth, requiring almost no revisions. It’s also on the shorter side at 95,000 words (well, short by my standards!) The Empire’s Lion, on the other hand, is 220,000 words with multiple interweaving plotlines, and a sweeping cast of characters in multiple locations-so it took much more time to fill in plot holes, get the structure and pacing down, and so on.

Q.7 What was your hardest scene to write?
A.
Two things come to mind. The entire opening sequence of The Empire’s Lion was the biggest challenge from a technical perspective. I struggled for quite a while figuring out the right way to introduce Reiva and the world. It’s a balancing act, bringing the reader into a fantasy setting without resorting to info-dumps and heavy-handed exposition, but I eventually nailed it down.

It was also hard to write because it was a harrowing experience for Reiva, knocking her down from a position of confidence and power to uncertainty, danger, and guilt. She makes a bad call and pays the price for it-it hurt me to put her through that.

The other hardest scene to write is a mass-execution scene that takes place around the midpoint of the story. Reiva is in the middle of a maelstrom of violence and the horrors of war-and she’s on the perpetuating side. It’s a major escalation in terms of her internal struggle and the guilt she feels waging war on the land of her birth. It took a lot of energy to put myself into her perspective for that scene, but it paid off.

Q.8 Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
A.
Even if no one but my friends and family were reading my books, I would still write. It’s an existential need to tell stories, to envision the conflict between personalities, ideas, and values.

Given that, I would probably be teaching literature, religion & theology, ancient history, or something like that. Some way I could share stories with others.

Q.9 If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead role?
A.
I must admit I’m not particularly well-versed in the world of film, so I don’t have much to draw on for this question. Who would play Reiva? I think Zendaya did well as Chani in Denis Villeneuve’s Dune adaptation; I could see her in the role.

Q.10 Is it vital to get exposure and target the right readers for your writing, tell us about your marketing campaign?
A.
I’ve been doing book interviews like this and going on some podcasts. It’s been enjoyable seeing the different sorts of questions different interviewers will ask-everyone has their own angle about what’s interesting and worth knowing about. A big piece of my strategy has been newsletter shares with other fantasy authors on Story Origin. I see getting readers on my email list as a critical investment for the future.

Q.11 If you could be a member of any fantasy race, which would you choose and why?
A.
Oh man, there are so many! I love elves, especially of a more nocturnal, wintry sort of expression. Eventually, I want to write a book where the planet’s moon is inhabited by elves-so I’ll go with lunar elves.

Immortality is really interesting to me especially the Tolkien sort of elvish immortality where they can die in battle or from grief. It raises all sorts of existential questions. Do you do everything you can to avoid death-staying away from more ephemeral races like humans, keeping away from war? 

I recently read Jay Kristoff’s Empire of the Vampire, and the protagonist remarks that no one fears death like those who live forever. I’m curious how I would think and act if I had that sort of conditional immortality.

Q.12 What is one stereotype about fantasy writers is absolutely wrong? What one stereotype is dead on?
A.
There’s this stereotype that fantasy writers are just derivative hacks recycling the ideas of Tolkien, writing every protagonist as a paint-by-numbers Hero’s Journey orphaned-farmboy-Chosen One set in a knockoff of medieval Europe. That’s a prejudice of yesteryear-if someone holds that view, I can only assume they haven’t read much modern fantasy. Characters are complex and variegated, and settings span such incredible imaginative breadth-the genre is coming into its own intellectually and artistically, and it’s such an exciting time to be part of the fantasy world.

As for a dead-on stereotype…we really are as nerdy a bunch as you can imagine. Playing RPGs, hyper-fixating on obscure hobbies and interests, you know the type. I think you need to be a bit off-kilter to dream up the sorts of worlds and characters that fantasy readers love.

Q.13 What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
A.
I do a mixture of primary source reading and slapdash internet rabbit-hole dives. The Imperial Adept series is set in a world inspired by the ancient Mediterranean-think Roman Empire, Second Temple Judaism, Hellenization-so for research I dug into books like Virgil’s Aeneid and Tacitus’ Annals of Imperial Rome

Reading Tacitus helped me figure out a key plot point for the shape of the overall series. I read an academic article on how the Roman legions adapted to desert warfare. And as I mentioned above, I already had a background in this area from my studies; I spent time at Oxford studying different expressions of ancient Judaism for example, and that formed much of my inspiration for the kingdom of Talynis.

When it comes to smaller things, like what a galley ship looked like, I’ll resort to Wikipedia or YouTube videos. I’m a chronic over-researcher, and it can rapidly become a form of procrastination for me, so I usually won’t let myself spend more than a week doing preparatory research for a project. Otherwise, I never start. After that, I do research as I go.

Q.14 Among all the supporting characters in your book, who is dear to you and why?
A.
They’re all so dear to me in their own ways-I feel bad for the suffering I put them through! While working on book two in the series, Yaros and Domi have come to the fore as personal favorites.

Yaros is a mercenary who contracts as Reiva’s bodyguard, though he becomes a close friend. In The Empire’s Lion, we got some glimpses of his past as an assassin and why he left that life behind. In book two, Yaros has to face what and who he’s been running from. It brings out much more emotional range from him than was apparent in book one, and it raises questions about whether he’ll be able to step up and take ownership of what he abandoned.

Domi is Reiva’s best friend since her training days. Her Adept magic grants her control over water, and in this book, the Empire tasks her with searching the seas for Reiva to bring her home after the chaotic events. It’s been quite an experience writing Domi, as she’s torn between her trust in Reiva as a friend and her loyalty to her military superiors, who are skeptical about whether Reiva is still faithful to Lazarra. Everything is a mess right now, and Domi is struggling to sort out where she falls in that havoc.

Q.15 Who designed your book cover? How do you select them?
A.
My covers were designed by MiblArt. I found them by browsing some design competitions, and their covers stood out to me. I’ve been more than happy working with them for Adept Initiate and The Empire’s Lion, and will definitely do so for the rest of the series.

Q.16 How do you select the name of your characters?
A.
It varies. Sometimes I just throw sounds together until I have something I like that's how I came up with Reiva, for example. Other times I will look for inspiration in real-world names, or even just lift them wholesale from history. Flavia, for example, was a Roman name I gave to a Lazarran character.

Q.17 Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with good or bad ones?
A.
I do. So far I’ve been fortunate to have all good reviews-I pay attention to what the reviewers liked as well as what didn’t quite work for them. I trust my instincts on whether that particular feedback will work for me (sometimes it does, other times it would turn my work into something different than my aim).

It wasn’t a public review, but someone did once send me some feedback that the book wasn’t for them because they weren’t interested in Reiva as a character. When I get something like that, I assume the book ended up in the hands of the wrong reader. You can’t please everyone, and trying to do so will just leave you with something lifeless.

Q.18 Which famous person, living or dead would you like to meet and why?
A. GK Chesterton
, “the prince of paradox.” He was an incredible writer who died in the 1930s-I would love to listen to what he would think if he saw the world today. What surprises him, is what came about as he expected. I’d also be curious to see if he speaks the same way he writes.

Q.19 What is your favorite book from other authors and why?
A.
Impossible to pick, but if I had to, I would say Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun. Wolfe was a writer without peers when it comes to prose, ideas, and allusiveness-a fantasy author who could stand shoulder to shoulder with any other great American writer. 

Ursula Le Guin called him “our Melville,” and if that’s not high praise, I can’t imagine what is. There’s such density to Book of the New Sun, so many puzzles, so much psychological depth, and mystery-I hope someday I can attain even just a measure of Wolfe’s skill.

Q.20 Share the experience of your writing journey so far?
A.
The writing journey has been amazing. Challenging as well, yet deeply fulfilling. Writing is, by necessity, a solitary endeavor, but I’ve been very fortunate to have friends and family that have my back and believe in me. 

Some days I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that there are total strangers-more and more every week-who are reading and enjoying my writing, and paying me so they can experience it. And I’m just getting started, so I’m looking forward to how readers respond to all the books yet to come. 

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