Sunday, July 14, 2019

Bradley P. Beaulieu Interview - Beneath the Twisted Trees

Photo Credit: © Al Bogdan

Bradley P. Beaulieu began writing his first fantasy novel in college, but in the way of these things, it was set aside as life intervened. As time went on, though, Brad realized that his love of writing and telling tales wasn’t going to just slink quietly into the night. The drive to write came back full force in the early 2000s, at which point Brad dedicated himself to the craft, writing several novels and learning under the guidance of writers like Nancy Kress, Joe Haldeman, Tim Powers, Holly Black, Michael Swanwick, Kij Johnson, and many more.

Brad and his novels have garnered many accolades and most anticipated lists, including two Hotties–the Debut of the Year and Best New Voice–on Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist, a Gemmell Morningstar Award nomination for The Winds of Khalakovo and more:

* Top Ten Book and Debut of the Year for 2011 on Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist for The Winds of Khalakovo
* Best New Voice of 2011 on Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist
* 2011 Gemmell Morningstar Award Nomination for The Winds of Khalakovo
* Top Ten Debut for The Winds of Khalakovo on The Ranting Dragon’s Best of 2011
* Top Ten Debut for The Winds of Khalakovo on Mad Hatter’s Book Review Best of 2011
* Honorable Mention for The Winds of Khalakovo on LEC Reviews Best of 2011
* Top Five Book for 2012 on Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist for The Straits of Galahesh
* 2012 Most Anticipated for The Straits of Galahesh on Staffer’s Book Review
* 2012 Most Anticipated for The Straits of Galahesh on The Ranting Dragon
* 2013 Most Anticipated for The Flames of Shadam Khoreh on The Ranting Dragon

In addition to being an L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Award winner, Brad’s stories have appeared in various other publications, including Realms of Fantasy Magazine, Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, Writers of the Future 20, and several anthologies from DAW Books. His story, “In the Eyes of the Empress’s Cat,” was voted a Notable Story of 2006 in the Million Writers Award.

Brad continues to work on his next projects, including The Song of the Shattered Sands, an Arabian Nights epic fantasy, and Tales of the Bryndlholt, a Norse-inspired middle grade series. He also runs the highly successful science fiction and fantasy podcast, Speculate, which can be found at


What was the greatest thing you learned at school?
For college, I went to an engineering school for computer science and engineering (MSOE in Milwaukee, WI, for the curious-minded). The greatest thing I learned there was to think critically, to not take things for granted, to question what you hear and read. And don’t just assume that one way is the best way to solve a problem. Look for others. After all, just because something works doesn’t mean it’s efficient.

It helped me endlessly during my career in IT, but also in writing. Ernest Hemingway said, “The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof, shit detector.” And it’s true! When building a world or when crafting plot, it helps greatly to look at things in this critical manner, ensuring that the world feels whole, that the plot makes sense. This isn’t to say that all things are logical and ordered in my books. They aren’t. But when they aren’t, I’m making a conscious decision about it. It’s because of things like emotion, tradition, sometimes religion—things created for reasons other than pure logic.

Looking at your writing critically is a thing that pays endless dividends during the brainstorming phase, plotting, writing, and revising, and is absolutely something new writers should cultivate.

What was your favorite book as a child and why?
One book that really stands out to me is How to Eat Fried Worms. I honestly don’t remember much about the book anymore, other than a kid falls into a bet of some sort and ends up having to eat fifteen worms in fifteen days and ends up liking it by the end, but I recall it being the first book that really sucked me in. Maybe it was the gross factor. It was probably the gross factor.

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to have a life in writing?
I once heard an established writer give a keynote speech at a convention (I’m forgetting her name at the moment). She was talking about her career and that she’d known plenty of other writers that were brilliant, better than she was, who never made a career of it. Why not? Because they didn’t stick it out.

For me, persistence is by far the greatest trait needed by the career writer. Persistence is the key to it all because it takes time to learn how to write. It takes time to build your career. Hell, it takes time to write each book!

Want to write? You’ve got to be stubborn.

For those who are unfamiliar with your series; THE SONG OF THE SHATTERED SANDS, how would you introduce it?
The Song of the Shattered Sands is a sweeping, epic fantasy that focuses on the desert city of Sharakhai. Twelve cruel kings have ruled over Sharakhai and the desert for over four hundred years, but things are changing. There are hints that the power the kings have commanded for so long is weakening. The neighboring kingdoms sense it, and are closing in, each hoping to take the desert’s Amber Jewel for their own.

Enter Çeda, the primary character in the series. Çeda is a pit fighter when we first meet her, but she has long harbored a desire to bring down the kings, who killed her mother when she was young. Through clues left to her by her mother in a book of poems, Çeda begins to see ways that the kings rule might be broken forever, but it won’t be easy—the kings haven’t ruled for over four centuries for no reason, after all.

What follows is a deep and expansive tale that shows Çeda infiltrating the ranks of the Blade Maidens, the protectors of the kings, and works to destroy their rule with allies both new and old.

Your newest book is BENEATH THE TWISTED TREES. Can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about the novel?
Beneath the Twisted Trees is the fourth installment in The Song of the Shattered Sands. Çeda has grown throughout the books. She’s been an assassin. She’s been a warrior. She’s fought the kings with guile and courage. And she’s grown. She’s become a leader in the desert. As the book opens, she’s ready to use her newfound position of power to help free the asirim, Çeda’s cursed ancestors, from the chains that bind them.

Beneath the Twisted Trees marks a change in the series. Çeda has been on the run for much of the previous books. But now she has become a force in the desert, and she’s ready to wield that power to achieve her ultimate aims.

She has more to worry about than the kings alone, however. War has come to the desert. The neighboring kingdoms, as feared, are moving on Sharakhai, each hoping to take it for their own before the others do. Making matters worse, the desert gods have become more involved and are working against Çeda.

What began as a personal tale of revenge for Çeda in Twelve Kings in Sharakhai has become a story that spans five kingdoms. The face of the desert is about to change forever, and Çeda is at the very center of it.

Which of your characters do you feel has grown the most since book one and in what way have they changed?
The main character, Çeda, has certainly grown. But I would say her love interest, Emre, has grown the most. When we meet him in Twelve Kings in Sharakhai, he’s a callow youth who’s hiding a secret. He pretends to be tough—there’s really no other way to survive in the city’s west end—but deep down he fears he’s a coward. Çeda is always saving him, from himself, from others.

He’s long suppressed those feelings, but goes through a transformation in the first book. He becomes something dark, overcoming his fears but only by becoming ruthless and unfeeling at the same time. It was heart-wrenching to write about Emre at times, because deep down he’s a good person, but he found some pretty terrible ways to overcome his fears.

Fortunately, Emre has grown since then. He’s learned that cruelty is no way to live. He felt adrift for much of his life, a man without a tribe, but he comes to love the thirteenth tribe, a tribe the desert forgot about but that is reborn through his and Çeda’s efforts. He sees community for the first time and embraces it. He’s becoming the man he might have been had some of the tragic events of his youth never happened.

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
Hmm. Good question! I’d probably have Çeda meet Frodo Baggins. Both of them are lovers of stories, and I think they’d have a grand time sipping araq or quaffing beer while telling their tales to one another.

What do you feel is the most significant change since book one?
Years back, in the early days of working on Twelve Kings, I was sitting on a panel with Scott Lynch, a writer I’ve really come to admire. He was talking about how a few different series—from Lois McMaster Bujold and Steven Brust—looked at different aspects of a world in each of the books in a series. In other words: the books in the series were not simply one long arc broken up artificially by book covers, but rather, different prisms through which the world was viewed. Scott said he’d adopted that same approach for his Gentlemen Bastards series (a series I highly recommend, by the way). In the first book, he has a major heist, a la Oceans Eleven, in the second book it’s piracy on the high seas, the third book is about cheating in politics, the fourth book is about espionage and war, and so on.

That approach really spoke to me, so I’ve been using it as the series has progressed. In the first book, Twelve Kings in Sharakhai, I’m trying to show the heart of the city of Sharakhai, what it’s like now and why someone like Çeda would want to bring the Kings down. In the second book, we see more about the Kings and the Blade Maidens who protect them. In the third book, we head deep into the desert and learn more about the desert tribes who gave birth to Sharakhai.

Book Four, Beneath the Twisted Trees, explores Çeda and her transformation into a leader, even a figurehead. I have plans for Book Five and Book Six as well, but I’ll save those for another interview. ;)

What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?

My current project is Absynthe, a decopunk novel set in a parallel universe Roaring Twenties Chicago. It tells the story of Liam Mulcahey, a veteran from the Great War who survives an attack on a speakeasy only to discover that the war he thought he fought in Europe was in fact fought on American soil. How he could have forgotten he has no idea, until Grace Savropoulis, a wealthy heiress, enters his life and reveals the truth: that he was involved in a military experiment during the war that had devastating consequences for the country after war’s end, and that he, Liam, is one of the few people who can do anything about it.

I also have a sci-fi thriller trilogy waiting to be written called The Days of Dust and Ash, which tells the story of a broken world, a world where once-great cities have been reduced to isolated pockets, enclaves that fight to survive against a semi-sentient plague known as the ash. Ash devours the landscape, remaking it in its own horrific image. What’s worse, it creates demons, twisted creatures born from the fears of the humans who have survived. A powerful substance known as dust helps to fight the darkness, but the only real way to defeat it is to learn of its origins, a thing that becomes possible when an ash mage known as Blue discovers a mysterious girl named Xioka, who may have the ability to unlock the past and find a way to save the world.

What decade during the last century would you have chosen to be a teenager?
You know, I think I’ll stick with the 80’s. I was there for the rise of the arcade and the personal computer. I got to play all the fun games, from Zork to Ultima to Robotron, when they first came out. Looking back, it really was a wonderful time to be a teen!

What were you doing the last time you really had a good laugh?
Truth to tell I was playing Overwatch. The game is really intense, a first-person shooter but team-oriented. Blizzard has done a really good job of making it light. There are a lot of comedic elements, like the unique dances each of the twenty-some characters has that you can use during games or in the “ready room” before a match begins.

I won’t lie, one of my favorite parts of the game are the “environmental kills,” which are when you knock people off the edges of the map and into pits, off buildings, or what have you. It’s kind of hilarious to see these badass characters get “booped” off an edge by characters like Lucio, who has a serious sonic blast. It’s even funnier when the opponent has just released their ultimate, which has about a one-second warning before it’s unleashed. Seeing Lucio boop someone who’s just announced their intention to slay everyone… Well, what can I say? It tickles my funny bone.

Thank you for having me by!.

The fourth book in The Song of Shattered Sands series--an epic fantasy with a desert setting, filled with rich worldbuilding and pulse-pounding action.

When a battle to eradicate the Thirteenth Tribe goes awry, the kingdoms bordering the desert metropolis of Sharakhai see the city as weak and ripe for conquest. Çeda, now leader of the Shieldwives, a band of skilled desert swordswomen, hopes to use the growing chaos to gain freedom for Sehid-Alaz, the ancient, undying king of her people. Freeing him is only the beginning, however. Like all the people of her tribe on that fateful night four centuries earlier, Sehid-Alaz was cursed, turned into an asir, a twisted, miserable creature beholden to the kings of Sharakhai--to truly free her king, Çeda must break the chains that bind him.

As Sharakhai's enemies close in and the assault on the city begins, Çeda works feverishly to unlock the mysteries of the asirim's curse. But danger lies everywhere. Enemy forces roam the city; the Blade Maidens close in on her; her own father, one of the kings of Sharakhai, wants Çeda to hang. Worst of all, the gods themselves have begun to take notice of Çeda's pursuits.

When the combined might of Sharakhai and the desert gods corner the survivors of the Thirteenth Tribe in a mountain fastness, the very place that nearly saw their annihilation centuries ago, Çeda knows the time has come. She was once an elite warrior in service to the kings of Sharakhai. She has been an assassin in dark places. A weapon poised to strike from the shadows. A voice from the darkness, striving to free her people.

No longer.

Now she's going to lead.

The age of the Kings is coming to an end . . .


“Çeda and Emre share a relationship seldom explored in fantasy, one that will be tried to the utmost as similar ideals provoke them to explore different paths. Wise readers will hop on this train now, as the journey promises to be breathtaking.” —Robin Hobb, bestselling author of Fool’s Assassin

"Fantasy and horror, catacombs and sarcophagi, resurrections and revelations: the book has them all, and Beaulieu wraps it up in a package that's as graceful and contemplative as it is action-packed and pulse-pounding." —NPR

"The Song of Shattered Sands series is both gripping and engrossing." —Kirkus Reviews

"Beaulieu's intricate world-building and complex characters are quickly becoming the hallmarks of his writing, and if this opening volume is any indication, [this series] will be one of the next great fantasy epics." —B&N SF&F Blog

"The city of Sharakhai and surrounding area is a living, breathing thing and I revel in it. Beautiful writing, a deep and exciting story and characters you care about." —Shelf Inflicted

"[Beaulieu's] writing is more an immersive experience than anything else; he draws the reader in with such great skill. The first novel was an electrifying start to the series, providing a spectacular introduction to a multi-layered and captivating character living in a world whose layers match her own." —SFF World

"[With Blood Upon the Sand] is an ambitious sequel, larger in scope than its predecessor – and it pulls it off magnificently. It’s intelligent, well drawn and a lot of fun to read – and so I’d recommend it wholeheartedly." —Sci-fi and Fantasy Reviews
You can purchase Beneath the Twisted Trees at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you BRADLEY P. BEAULIEU for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of Beneath the Twisted Trees by Bradley P. Beaulieu.