Interview with Peter Orullian
Today we have an interview with Peter Orullian. Though the relationship between EBR and Orullian started rather poorly, we have since become very good friends. We asked Peter if he could take some time out of his schedule for an interview. The release of THE UNREMEMBERED: The Author’s Definitive Edition (Amazon) is this week.
Elitist Book Reviews (EBR): Peter Orullian, thank you for dropping by EBR for a quick interview. We want to start out by giving you a chance to introduce yourself, and tell our readers why they should be reading your stuff.
Peter Orullian: Thanks, Steve. Well, I’m quoted as saying I have two abiding passions in my life: writing, and music. For groceries, I work at Microsoft in the Xbox division. I’m in marketing, and have had the chance work with television networks, movie studios, record labels, and game developers. I have stories about all that. But it all comes back to music and writing, for me. With the former, I’ve toured and fronted bands for sports arenas in cool places like Germany and Greece. That was damned fun! On the latter, well, that’s why we’re talking, yeah?
As to why they should read my stuff? I suppose it’s the same as every writer: I think I have something unique to offer. In fact, my whole plan with the series—The Vault of Heaven—was to write an epic fantasy that took readers from the familiar to the strange. Book one, The Unremembered, starts that. And book two, Trial of Intentions, turns it up to eleven, so to speak. In Trial, readers will get a close look at my music magic system that reviewers are saying they haven’t seen before (which pleases me), an entire society of science, and a place where I turn what you think is “evil” kind of on its head.
EBR: Why do you write Epic Fantasy?
Orullian: I’ve been on more panels about Epic Fantasy than I count. And they wind up challenging the panelists to talk about it in a way they haven’t before. But really, I like epic fantasy because of the scale. The stakes are large. You get to develop and explore cultures and ideologies and religion and militaries and histories, etc., in a way I don’t think you can in other fantasy genres. None of which means other fantasy genres aren’t super awesome. They are. And I suspect I’ll write some other types of fantasy before I go to the grave. But right now, I tend to see things with enormous consequences.
All that said, it’s often the case that these consequences are best typified in the sacrifice of the individual. But that’s a craft question, and you didn’t ask about craft.
EBR: The magic systems in your novels are music/sound based, and it seems to me all related at a very deep and fundamental level. Where did the ideas for these magic systems come from? Why did you decided to have such a strong focus on music magic?
Orullian: Well, if it wasn’t abundantly clear before, I’m a musician. I knew I wanted to do something with music and magic. However, when I got into the development of my magic systems (yes, plural), I decided it made sense for the various magic systems from the various cultures to all build off of unifying principles. In the Vault of Heaven, the primary unifier is something I call: Resonance. It’s a kind of governing dynamic. The various cultures don’t all recognize or call the underlying principle Resonance, but readers will surely get it.
By the way, Resonance as I define it in my fantasy world, isn’t entirely sound/music-based. But I’ll leave it there, since I don’t want to give it all away. However, I will say that it also underlies another part of Trial of Intentions that I hope folks are gonna dig: the science. There’s an entire city of science, with five colleges—each dedicated to a specific discipline: astronomy, mathematics, physics, philosophy, and cosmology. This is part of the “don’t get too comfortable with what you think you know about my characters” stuff.
EBR: Let’s talk about tropes. There was some backlash to the original version of THE UNREMEMBERED because people felt (myself included) that it was too trope-filled – a trait that has been significantly reduced in the Author’s Definitive Edition, and all but vanishes in TRAIL OF INTENTIONS. Can you take us through the process of this transformation? Is it a trend we will see continue in the remainder of the series?
Orullian: I mentioned above this idea of beginning the series by leveraging some of the conventions of the fantasy genre, with the aim of carefully leading readers to what I think is unique about my series. On one level, my notion was that it would make the work accessible to more casual fantasy readers—this is sometimes called “gateway fiction.” On another level, it had to do with me working to evolve those conventions naturally toward something readers haven’t seen before.
Now, we can definitely debate if my strategy was a good one. Maybe it was a bit idealistic of me to think I could draw more readers to the genre. In any case, the metaphor I like best here is the one about a crab placed in a pot of room-temperature water. The heat is turned on. And before it knows what’s happening, the crab is cooking. Effectively, that’s what I’m doing. Things are changing as the series moves along. That begins in the Author’s Edition of The Unremembered. And it gets turned way up in Trial of Intentions. I believe I told folks not to get too comfortable with what they thought was going to happen. Particularly with Tahn.
A good friend of mine, Ty Franck, called what I’m doing a deconstruction of fantasy tropes. I don’t know about that. It sounds like something Roosevelt did, doesn’t it? Heh. But what is true, is that the series will, indeed, continue to violate your expectations—mostly because where I’m going isn’t something I’ve seen before. So, with any luck, my readers will find it new, as well. And as I say, Trial of Intentions is a major turn of the crank in that regard. In fact, my favorite quote I got on Trial was from Robin Hobb. Part of what she said about the book was, “Orullian is doing things I haven’t seen in other books.” That kind of made my day.
EBR: What was the most difficult lesson you learned from book 1 and the journey to a finished book 2?
Orullian: I’ve learned a lot about people. Their motivations. I’ve found some remarkable friends along the way. That’s the good part. But I’ve also learned that some—even among those who seem to the world to be the “good” guys—have only their self-interests in mind. That was hard to learn, man. Hard. That’s as specific as I can be about that.
One other thing: Tell people you love them. Sounds maudlin, right? But it’s relevant. See, I had a friend commit suicide not long ago. The series always had this as an important piece in Trial of Intentions. But I believe—after I went back to the book in edits—that it had grown more poignant to the story, as I worked through the issue myself. There’s a deeper story around all this that I’ll try to write soon. I’ll need to have my head straight to write it down. For now, suffice to say, it was another difficult lesson, and it found its way into the books.
EBR: The Author’s Definitive Edition of THE UNREMEMBERED really focuses the characters of your story, and TRIAL OF INTENTIONS has them going trough tremendous changes. Your ability to write characters has grown by leaps and bounds to the point where it’s become a huge strength. Why such focus on “character” in your novels?
Orullian: For me, characters are what give the story life. Cool plots and magics and pacing and setting are important, a’course. But if the characters don’t feel . . . well, human, then I think the story remains emotionally distant. Now, there are great reads about characters that you don’t necessary care about. I suppose that’s a kind of reading experience that some folks even prefer. Most of the time, I tend to favor books where I wind up emotionally invested in the characters. It makes their triumphs and their tragedies more impactful.
This goes for the “bad guys,” too. And one of the things that happens is that you progressively get to see into the Bourne (what many consider a bleak place in my world), and into the life of Roth Staned, an antagonist whose private agony you start to see. In light of their motivations, who you think they are . . . changes, shifts. At least, that’s my intent.
EBR: Let’s say you are in a bookstore, and someone asks you to recommend books to them. It can’t be your own (obviously they’ve already read them). What two books do you recommend, and why?
Orullian: Summer of Night by Dan Simmons (Amazon). And Boy’s Life by Robert McCammon (Amazon). What these books share in common is protagonists who are young kids, roughly ten or eleven years old. I love reading books where this is the case, because the characters still have some of that childhood innocence, but they’re also old enough to recognize and tackle big problems.
Now, I realize neither of these is epic fantasy. Sorry if that disappoints anyone. But these two books really hit me when I read them. And they happen to be two of the few books I’ve ever re-read. McCammon’s book is a wild ride, and beautiful. Simmons’ book—among a great many other things—taught me what it means to write and read about a character that you care about dying. I felt like I was mourning a member of the family. Really hit me.
EBR: Aside from Epic Fantasy, what do you love reading and writing?
Orullian: I kind of hit this above. My first fiction love was horror. I do read some autobiographies. I also read science fiction—usually the stuff recommended to me by friends. And then there’s research reading on various and sundry topics. Oh, and thrillers. Love a good thriller.
As for writing, I also write horror, science fiction, and some stories I guess you’d have to classify as “mainstream.” I also sneak in the occasional essay; you never escape your English major roots, do you.
EBR: When can I expect to have my likeness brutally murdered in your novels?
Orullian: For you, I’ll set up a time-loop thingy, where you experience your own horrifying death every day for eternity. How’s that?
EBR: What’s next for Peter Orullian? Anything cool baking?
Orullian: Well, I’m on to book three in The Vault of Heaven series. Along the way, I have some short fiction releasing: I have a story in Blackguards from Ragnarok releasing soon; and in early summer I have a story in Unbound from Grimoak Press. These are self-contained stories set in The Vault of Heaven universe. I also have a story coming out in Unfettered Two this fall, again a self-contained Vault of Heaven story.
And about these Vault of Heaven stories. I recently had several previously released tales set in my universe come out in a collection entitled: The Vault of Heaven, Story Volume One. That’s available both as a physical and digital book, for folks who keep score. And later this month, I have a novella entitled The Sound of Broken Absolutes that will also release, again both as a physical and digital book. Broken Absolutes is the story I had in Unfettered. It’s likewise set in my fantasy universe, and was the first place I really went into my music magic system.
There’s also a Vault of Heaven RPG in the works. No timing yet. But it’s progressing faster than I thought.
Beyond that, I’m still plugging away at a concept album set in the universe of my series. It’s in the progressive metal genre, so akin to bands like Dream Theater and Queensryche. Again, no timing, unfortunately. I have to work around other folks’ schedules for this one.
EBR: Last words?
Orullian: Mostly just thanks. Appreciate your time in putting together the interview.
I’ll add that for folks who read the original version of The Unremembered, it’s not necessary for them to read the Author’s Edition in order to jump into Trial of Intentions. For that matter, I wrote Trial in a way such that readers don’t have to read the first book at all. They can jump into the series with Trial of Intentions if they’d like. But it’s also true that the Author’s Edition of The Unremembered is a stronger book, and I wove in a few ties to book two. So, if folks either feel like starting from the beginning or re-reading book one, my recommendation would be to start with the Author’s Edition of The Unremembered (Amazon).