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Friday, January 18, 2013

Interview by Speculative Faith

E. Stephen Burnett interviewed me for the Speculative Faith Blog about A THRONE OF BONES and various aspects of the novel that some Christians apparently consider to be controversial.

ESB: What’s different between Summa Elvetica and your newest novel, A Throne of Bones?

Vox Day: About 650 pages, for one thing. Summa Elvetica could be considered a long chapter in the life of one of the perspective characters in A Throne of Bones, the military tribune Marcus Valerius Clericus. In fact, it explains his agnomen, Clericus, which means “priest”. But the real difference is that I learned to stop being clever and to focus on the story instead of the subtext. The Wrath of Angels, for example, is a subtextual spin on the single European currency and the failure of the European elite to replace the pound sterling, but no one has ever picked up on that. I’ve found that the depth of the subtext tends to detract from the natural flow of the story, at least when written by an author of my admittedly limited talents.

After A Dance with Dragons came out, I was talking with a friend who was as disgusted with that epic disappointment as I was, and he was lamenting that with Martin having gone south, there wasn’t anything worth reading in that genre. I always wanted to write a fat fantasy and figured I couldn’t do all that much worse than Martin had, so I decided I would return to the world of Summa Elvetica. This time, however, I would throw out the intellectual fireworks that no one seemed to notice or care about anyhow and focus solely on writing a good story with strong, memorable characters. I assumed I’d have to self-publish it, but I needed to get Marcher Lord’s permission first since it could be considered a sequel of sorts even though there is absolutely no need to read the earlier novel. All I was looking for was a release and I was shocked when Jeff said he wanted to publish it, even after I warned him that I intended for it to be around 300,000 words. He didn’t blink, not then, and not later when I turned in the 297,500-word manuscript.

Despite being longer, Throne was much easier to write than Summa. It was exactly 494 days from that first conversation to publication on December 1, 2012. I figured that taking six years to write Dragons hadn’t done Martin any good, so what was the point of dragging the process out? Also, if it was going to be a spectacular failure, the less time I wasted on it, the better.


ESB: Now for the controversial parts. Last week, your editor/publisher Jeff Gerke shared the story behind the novel. In part: “The author felt very strongly that the book needed to have vulgarity (which, he informed me, is different from profanity), nudity, and even sex.” To you, how are vulgarity and profanity different? Which Scriptures have informed your views? Do you think you can write a character saying something you would try not to say?

Vox Day: The distinction between profanity and vulgarity is not original to me, anyone can look up the etymology of the words. To be profane is to attack the sacred. To be vulgar is merely to be low and common. Even the most uptight, eagle-eyed Churchian will not find any blasphemy or taking the name of our Lord and Savior in vain; such profanity wouldn’t make any sense in the world of Selenoth. To me, the idea of writing a book where legionaries are anything but low and common in their speech and behavior is so ludicrous that it would be more credible to give them jet packs and laser guns than to delicately avoid showing them drinking themselves insensate at every opportunity, whoring in brothels, bitching about their officers, and jeering at those who betray a physical response to being terrified in battle.

The verses which influence me on the subject of literary language are Leviticus 19:12, Colossians 3:8, and 1 Peter 3:10. Particularly Colossians 3:8. I find it absurd and bordering on the delusional to see Christians who would never think to object to angry, malicious, and slanderous speech in fiction nevertheless try to use the Bible as a basis for objecting to vulgar language in the mouths of fictional characters. I write about life in a fallen world and I do so as honestly and accurately as I can. I believe that to do otherwise is to be deceitful.

And yes, I absolutely assert that I can write something that I would never say or even think for myself. The writer is not the character. And the writer whose characters are little more than various reflections of himself is one who lacks imagination, creativity, and basic powers of observation.


This is merely an excerpt from the interview; read the rest of it at Speculative Faith.

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48 Comments:

Anonymous reubes January 18, 2013 5:09 AM  

Somewhat related: the battle against sexist sci-fi and fantasy book covers:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-21033708

Blogger redlegben January 18, 2013 5:33 AM  

Good stuff. I'm fixating on Colossians 3:8 and how it relates to language in general. What is vulgarity? It's a great question. I'm thinking Christians need to recognize their adoption of a PC mentality as it relates to words exiting people's mouths.

Anonymous Sensei January 18, 2013 5:43 AM  

I would rather debate theological matters with an angry, Richard Dawkins-brandishing atheist than listen to a fellow Christian ramble on about how he personally approves of this or that Bible verse and “just thinks” the revealed wisdom of the Creator Lord of the Universe is “neat”.

This. One thousand times this.

Had to laugh at the Sandi Patty comment, too, since my childhood was similar. My parents meant well, though, and I respect them for it.

Anonymous Faust January 18, 2013 5:51 AM  

297,500?

There was no impulse to go write an extra 3,500 and round it out?

Anonymous VD January 18, 2013 6:14 AM  

There was no impulse to go write an extra 3,500 and round it out?

I was actually shooting for 295k, but ran a little over. Taking all of the cuts after the first draft was complete into account, I actually wrote around 335k, which does not count the 18,370 for AMB. However, I think I actually started AMB a long time before starting Throne, so only about 12k of that was written from scratch.

Anonymous Beau January 18, 2013 6:41 AM  

Plot Spoilers (sort of)!

A married soldier separated from his wife for months strongly desires to make love to her at the soonest upon return. Controversial? Hardly, this scene tied Seneloth to reality.

An enraged father has a slavegirl assisting his daughter to lose her virginity whipped and subsequently sold to a whorehouse. Shocking? Surely, but given the familial context of the Roman Republic, again this too grounds Seneloth in reality.

My only complaint with the book was a shot at triune that more accurately describes the theological variant Modalism, but, like the greater subtext of the Summa Elvetica, who would notice?

VD's Seneloth is a rich fantasy world well worth exploring, with great potential from multiple perspectives. Personally, I'd enjoy very much a tale of the goblin convert from SE. Avoiding the usual royalty-in-rags tripe, I think a story arc about a nothing-special no-latent-super-powers guy dealt all the low cards in life, but finding peace would be a great addendum to the world. Room for such exists in Seneloth.

Throne of Bones is a speculative fiction feast. Well done, VD.

Anonymous VD January 18, 2013 6:49 AM  

Beau, if you haven't written a review yet... please do so. You may not be my ideal reader, but you have to be reasonably close to so nearly grok the fullness. You've essentially anticipated the rationalization for a novella about a half-orc fathered by rape that I sketched out a few years ago. Except, you understand, for the finding peace part....

Anonymous VryeDenker January 18, 2013 7:46 AM  

I'm scared that some Chrisitans I know would rebuke Jesus for acting in an "un-Christian" manner when He returns to pass judgment.

Anonymous Sensei January 18, 2013 7:57 AM  

Not a soul will rebuke Jesus for anything on That Day...

Anonymous Merle Haggard January 18, 2013 8:03 AM  

I wonder how often it happens that someone turns away from Christianity as a result of being raised in a "Christian" environment. Sorry for the scare quotes, but I don't know how else to do it. I left Chrstianity because I experienced a sugary sweet yet soulless version of it, happy faces plastered across people who shared nothing. I decided I preferred the company of atheists. It was only after many years that I returned to Christ, and in many ways I remain a crappy Christian. I guess it's the whole Churchianity thing. Or it's like a lot of contemporary Christian music: insipid, limp horrible stuff that I strongly suspect even God can't listen to. Had to get that off my chest. Thanks.

Anonymous Jeromus January 18, 2013 8:26 AM  

Vox,

You could always use the argument that Scripture itself uses vulgar language.

"Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ." - Phil 3:8

Rubbish in the Greek being the equivalent of our term "shit". They don't teach that in Sunday school.

Anonymous Faust January 18, 2013 8:37 AM  

I remember Jesus himself referring to the pharisees as "Sons of vipers." In English it's simply a rather archaic, harmless insult that wouldn't be out of place in a Disney movie. I wonder what it sounded like in the original?

Anonymous VryeDenker January 18, 2013 8:40 AM  

There is exactly one Michael W Smith song I can listen to. It's one where an all-girl Choir does most of the singing, mind.

It's funny how modern men of God are trying to be such big nancies when the examples of Godly men in the Bible include

1. A guy who killed a lion with his bare hands
2. A guy who was tasked with paying a dowry of 100 Phillistine foreskins and ended up presenting 200.
3. A guy who had (and kept satisfied) a thousand wives and concubines.

Anonymous VryeDenker January 18, 2013 8:43 AM  

You could always use the argument that Scripture itself uses vulgar language.

You should read Ezekiel again sometime...

Anonymous jack January 18, 2013 8:45 AM  

Small note: I liked, in the linked interview, how the Bible verses would pop up in their window as your mouse pointer passed over them. And, the interview was pretty good as well.
I think I will add that site to my favs list...

Anonymous Wendy January 18, 2013 8:50 AM  

...if your kid likes AC/DC and you buy him a Sandi Patty album as a putative alternative...

Oh dear. That does explain a lot. And now there's this mental picture of Vox jamming to Love in any Language.

Blogger Joshua_D January 18, 2013 8:51 AM  

It's all about maturity, growth in Christ, and knowing what Jesus did for you on the cross. It's about letting go of rules and rituals of immature, controlling people and accepting the gift of grace and freedom in Jesus. He did come to set us free, after all.

Anonymous TLM January 18, 2013 8:52 AM  

I absolutely assert that I can write something that I would never say or even think for myself......

Wonder if E.L. James can say the same thing concerning "kinky fuckery".

Blogger Nate January 18, 2013 8:59 AM  

"I remember Jesus himself referring to the pharisees as "Sons of vipers.""

That's not the bad one... the bad one was when he referred to the religious leaders as used feminine hygene products.

Blogger Nate January 18, 2013 9:06 AM  

" Except, you understand, for the finding peace part...."

Well.. perhaps he can find peace after a binge of a exceptional violence.

Anonymous VD January 18, 2013 9:13 AM  

Oh dear. That does explain a lot. And now there's this mental picture of Vox jamming to Love in any Language.

It's funny that you should mention that. I was just working with the guys from Psykosonik on a techno remake.

Blogger Nate January 18, 2013 9:37 AM  

"I was just working with the guys from Psykosonik on a techno remake."

Oh.. so that's what Hell's soundtrack will be.. okie doke.

Anonymous Hood January 18, 2013 9:49 AM  

Vox,
The thing I've enjoyed most about the tome so far, besides that 'gasp' and people ask what you're reading, is the balance. Not just from the moral standpoint, but the strategic. These characters truly appear to be strategizing, not because it's a good story line, but because they have to in order to garner their desired outcome. It's been very well played.

And you can't honestly say you didn't put a little bit of you into Marcus Clericus can you?

Anonymous VD January 18, 2013 10:06 AM  

And you can't honestly say you didn't put a little bit of you into Marcus Clericus can you?

There are bits of me in most of the characters, I imagine. But the ones that are closest to me are Marcus and Aulan, then Corvus.

Blogger James Dixon January 18, 2013 10:19 AM  

> To be vulgar is merely to be low and common.
> You could always use the argument that Scripture itself uses vulgar language.

There's a reason St. Jerome's Latin translation is called the Vulgate.

Blogger Booch Paradise January 18, 2013 10:28 AM  

There are few things that annoy me more than Christians who believe that Christian morality is basically the same as the sensibilities of old women.

Blogger Positive Dennis January 18, 2013 10:32 AM  

I think Aulun is a very interesting character, a basically good man who is a murderer. I think this describes the modern American soldier.

Anonymous Curlytop January 18, 2013 10:39 AM  

Excellent interview, Vox! There are so many astute points made in this one that highlight the problems with the Churchianity culture. The distinction between the profane/vulgar, the self-righteous posturing that permeates from the evangelical crowd and then the distinction with your approach with TOB versus Martin's GOT.


@James Dixon,

"There's a reason St. Jerome's Latin translation is called the Vulgate."

Exactly, and you should have been a fly on the wall of the church when I acknowledged this to a small group of home-schooling moms one year. The children were translating John 1:1-7 in Latin using the Vulgate translation. I merely gave the historical context of where the term 'vulgar' originated and why, and you'd have thought I said "G—D—" right there in the sanctuary!

Anonymous Peter Garstig January 18, 2013 10:47 AM  

The Wrath of Angels, for example, is a subtextual spin on the single European currency and the failure of the European elite to replace the pound sterling, but no one has ever picked up on that.

You hid it well.

Blogger Nate January 18, 2013 10:57 AM  

"And you can't honestly say you didn't put a little bit of you into Marcus Clericus can you?"

Not the pretty boy womanizing slave?

Anonymous Daniel January 18, 2013 11:14 AM  

As one who has been banned* from teaching at a community college in small, but certain part, for using Wrath as a critique of the euro, I would suggest that there are a number (a minority to be sure) who appreciate your subtext-as-driver books very much.

*Total Drama Queen Alert. Not really banned at all. Just pointedly, despite exceedingly high student and chair evaluations, not asked back. The bit about Wrath being questioned as "appropriate" for a lit/comp. class, though, really did happen. It wasn't even assigned reading, just used it as an example!

Anonymous VD January 18, 2013 11:30 AM  

Not the pretty boy womanizing slave?

No, I had a particular friend in mind.

As one who has been banned* from teaching at a community college in small, but certain part, for using Wrath as a critique of the euro, I would suggest that there are a number (a minority to be sure) who appreciate your subtext-as-driver books very much.

I stand corrected. And a little impressed.

Anonymous T14 January 18, 2013 11:55 AM  


*light spoilers*

Nearly finished and I really don't recall much in the way of vulgarity (of any definition). I suppose some things are implied. And the word "todger" was reintroduced to my vocabulary. Goblin surnames maybe. And one mustn't forget urine magic. Okay I suppose there was some vulgarity.

Book three - "The Form of Fjords" - with an Iles de Loup focus.

Anonymous Daniel January 18, 2013 12:26 PM  

You hid it well.

Not that well, and certainly not on purpose!

One of the more obvious quotes that tip the hand:

"'Don’t be silly.' He shifted, snapped his fingers and a fifty dollar bill appeared. 'It’s just an elementary matter of moving around a few atomic particles.'"

Excalibur in Albion is (among many other things) a token and symbol of currency, a reasonable stand-in for the pound sterling. The other principalities want it, but it isn't what they think it is.

Another quote, directly related to Albion(England) opposition to European control:

"The battle for England's soul has been lost. For one hundred years we fought long and hard, but the evil tide was too much this time. There was no Arthur, no Alfred, not even a Canute. Though it shames me to say it, there was nothing for it but to retreat behind these walls and hope for the best."

The deep association of principalities with cities, and the dueling takeover attempts is a very nice two-layered picture of the conflict.

But the most simple exposure of the subtext is that if you simply note that the Mad One is a a stand in for Gordon Brown, opposing the Euro (the growth of the European swallower of principalities and the Fallen), for his own crazed powermongering purposes, you get an absolutely diabolically beautiful picture of the spiritual drivers (or should I say, with no hint of worship or adoration, "animal spirits") of the monetary system in European economics. A Sauron and Saruman, if you will, duelling it out over the soul of free men.

"Even if the Mad One intended to resist her, he could not win. As it stands, who can say what he intends. He is, as you very well know, quite mad."


"Lucifer brooked no rivals, even a rival whose challenge existed solely in his mind. There had been treachery, bitter, soul-slaying treachery from the most unsuspected source, through which the Mad One had deposed Albion’s king as well as other, lesser royals such as Gloriana.

Now, a new power was rising, swallowing up principalities and dark princes alike, and yet Lucifer did not bestir himself to stop her. From this, some thought he feared her, others, wiser and more cynical, surmised that Lucifer was behind her rise and was using it to rein in some of his more powerful servitors. And then, there were the fearful, who worried that the Shining Prince had wearied of the great game at last, that he was now ready to risk everything with one final roll of the dice."

The point of the book isn't necessarily that the "lesser" evil of the Mad One was preferable to the greater evil (i.e. That the pound, while economically more free and therefore better than the Euro) but that there was a good unaccounted for that no one ever takes very seriously, until it is too late for the evil (i.e. that no currency (the root of all sorts of evil) no matter how sound, is any token that replaces the sword of the Lord's mouth, the Truth of Jesus Christ.

Anonymous Daniel January 18, 2013 12:47 PM  

BTW, Peter Garstig, just to be clear: I only mean that the "hiding" was revealed (with the above passages) to regular students, not that it wasn't cleverly folded into the text, nor that you missed something obvious. I just meant that the plot Wrath is richer for the subtext once you begin to unspool it, though the good story is certainly not dependent on it.

Anonymous Jack Amok January 18, 2013 1:03 PM  

There are few things that annoy me more than Christians who believe that Christian morality is basically the same as the sensibilities of old women.

I agree, though I'm sure that the ongoing switch to the sensbilities of young girls is an improvement. Wait, actually, that's not fair. It's the secular Left that has the sensibilities of young girls. The churchians have agreed to compromise and meet them half way by adopting the attitude of a 40 year old incipient divorcee.

Anonymous Beau January 18, 2013 1:18 PM  

@ Nate

Well.. perhaps he can find peace after a binge of a exceptional violence.

Yes. Of course. Done by and to him. Seneloth would be hard put to depict the depths of degradation suffered by many in our world. Many readers would find anything close to reality as utterly outside their imaginations. Maybe this character's trajectory would be instead of an arc - a trough. But who could read such a novella without some serious relief interspersed?

@ VD

Yes. I'll write a review. Amorr!

Anonymous Wendy January 18, 2013 1:20 PM  

...by adopting the attitude of a 40 year old incipient divorcee, "cool dad".

Added my little bit.

Blogger Survival Gardener, AKA David the Good January 18, 2013 1:53 PM  

"I write about life in a fallen world and I do so as honestly and accurately as I can."

And how does "urine-based magic" fit into this?

I almost dropped my e-reader when I read that part.

Anonymous Daniel January 18, 2013 1:59 PM  

The source of enchantment for those vibrant umbrella drinks, don't you think?

Blogger Survival Gardener, AKA David the Good January 18, 2013 2:05 PM  

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=50Qo62s8QNg

Hee hee.

Anonymous Beau January 18, 2013 2:29 PM  

And how does "urine-based magic" fit into this?

You don't want to know.

Blogger LP 999/Eliza January 18, 2013 5:23 PM  

Edifying epic interview from an epic fantasy writer!

Anonymous Kickass January 18, 2013 9:41 PM  

I enjoyed this interview and the one by the publisher. It is interesting to hear your thought process laid out like that.

I don't trust your publisher's judgement though. You should publish the sex scene unedited and let us judge whether or not it should have gone in.



Blogger Desert Cat January 18, 2013 9:52 PM  

"It's funny that you should mention that. I was just working with the guys from Psykosonik on a techno remake."

Ignore Nate. I was just listening again a few days ago to some Psykosonik on YouTube, wishing that creative thread had not ended as soon as it did. I'm psyched to hear you guys may be juicing up the machine again.

Anonymous Matt January 18, 2013 10:37 PM  

"To me, the idea of writing a book where legionaries are anything but low and common in their speech and behavior is so ludicrous that it would be more credible to give them jet packs and laser guns than to delicately avoid showing them drinking themselves insensate at every opportunity, whoring in brothels, bitching about their officers, and jeering at those who betray a physical response to being terrified in battle."

Ok, but then Tolkien had none of this sort of thing in LOTR, and to be honest I can't say it detracted from the story. Do you think it did? Was Tolkien being deceitful in some way, by not portraying e.g. the Riders of Rohan or the hobbits of Underhill in this manner?

Blogger Survival Gardener, AKA David the Good January 19, 2013 12:34 AM  

"let us judge whether or not it should have gone in"

That's what SHE said!

Anonymous Sensei January 19, 2013 4:27 AM  

Was Tolkien being deceitful in some way, by not portraying e.g. the Riders of Rohan or the hobbits of Underhill in this manner? -Matt

No, because Roman legionaries were real historical animals, and hobbits and Riders of Rohan are entirely creations of Tolkien's considerable imagination. Similarly Vox is free to describe elves however he wishes, because we don't have examples of real life elves handy as a basis. He may choose to observe certain literary conventions or not, but we can't say "your elves are unrealistic" and mean very much by it. But when wishing to insert Roman legionaries into a fantasy world and observe what follows, they must be themselves, or they effectively cease to be Roman legionaries, and the compelling result is entirely lost. The charge of unrealism can then be leveled, if appropriate, because reality is the basis in this case.

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