Friday, July 31, 2020

Christopher Ruocchio Interview - Demon in White

Photo Content from Christopher Ruocchio

Christopher Ruocchio is the author of The Sun Eater, a space opera fantasy series from DAW Books, as well as the Assistant Editor at Baen Books, where he co-edited the military SF anthology Star Destroyers, as well as Space Pioneers, a collection of Golden Age reprints showcasing tales of human exploration. He is a graduate of North Carolina State University, where a penchant for self-destructive decision making caused him to pursue a bachelor’s in English Rhetoric with a minor in Classics. An avid student of history, philosophy, and religion, Christopher has been writing since he was eight-years-old and sold his first book—Empire of Silence—at twenty-two. The Sun Eater series in available from Gollancz in the UK, and has been translated into French and German.

Christopher lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, where he spends most of his time hunched over a keyboard writing. When not writing, he splits his time between his family, procrastinating with video games, and his friend’s boxing gym. He may be found on both Facebook and Twitter at @TheRuocchio.


Your newest book is DEMON IN WHITE (Sun Eater #3); can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about the novel?
Well, for those who may not have read the Sun Eater books yet, it’s a space opera adventure sort of written in the style of an epic fantasy. Set about 20,000 years in our future, it’s the story of Hadrian Marlowe, a young nobleman who runs away from his home and place as a lord in this vast galactic empire only to find himself thrust into the middle of a war between said empire and the Cielcin, the first spacefaring alien civilization humanity has encountered in all that time. The series is written as a memoir, and he tells us on the first page of book one that he’s the man who ended that war and defeated the Cielcin...his story is why and how, and about all the things no one knows.

Demon in White is book three, like you said (the others are Empire of Silence and Howling Dark). It’s been several decades since we last saw Hadrian, who of course expects to live for centuries thanks to his aristocratic blood, and he’s been serving the Empire now as a knight, having learned his lesson about trying to make peace with a species that literally can’t conceive of peace. Hadrian’s legend is sort of growing beyond his control, and he’s been transformed into a folk hero and semi-messianic figure, which is simultaneously useful to and dangerous for his Imperial masters. At his side: an unlikely but loyal crew of mercenaries, outcasts, and aliens. At his back: the knives and intrigue of the Imperial court. And before him: the Cielcin horde, under the command of a new and deadly prince who—it seems—seeks to unite the alien clans into an armada great enough to threaten not just the Empire, but humanity itself.

Which of your characters do you feel has grown the most since book one and in what way have they changed?
Oh, definitely Hadrian himself. As our narrator, it’s perhaps easiest to see in him. But the Hadrian of Demon in White is not the Hadrian of Empire of Silence. He’s 113 years old at the start of this one (if still a young man), which is a far cry from the 19-year-old we met in book one. He’s grown into his worldview, and as such has become by turns more nuanced and less conciliatory. He’s far harsher and less compromising, but has a broader outlook. His encounter with the Cielcin in book 2 left him with a stark appreciation for the fact these aliens are not human, and that has helped broaden his appreciation for humanity in general. We get to see him grudgingly mentor a young lord in this one, and he sees a lot of his younger self in him. His class prejudices, for instance, have more or less vanished entirely even as his dislike for the Cielcin has grown. Plus, he’s been forced to become a political player, and that’s made him more careful. But he’s still all-Hadrian, still prone to dramatic speeches and dark moods, and still with an essential core of decency and belief in the good and in the goodness of his cause, though I’m about to start testing him more and more—poor guy.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
One of my readers wrote me to say that his boyfriend had kicked him out of their apartment and he was living out of his university library with virtually nothing to his name, that he was “down and out” and my first book was one of the only things he had with him, and that it helped him through that period. He’s doing much better now, last I heard, which is a relief. The world’s a tough place, and everybody suffers—and if my work can help make any amount of suffering hurt that much less, than it was worth doing.

What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
Most of my energy at the moment is going in the sequel to Demon in White, the fourth Sun Eater book, but I’m also in the throes of editing two anthologies as part of my work for Baen Books. They’re both original collections, the first, Worldbreakers, is an homage to Keith Laumer’s Bolo series, and it’s all about sentient war machines. The second, Sword & Planet, is a collection of tales in the style of Burroughs’s John Carter books and Vance’s Dying Earth. Once I finish book four, my next project will be a Sun Eater novella for that! In addition to those, I have finished my part of a secret project that I can’t wait to share with everyone. Hopefully I’ll be able to talk about it later this year.

If you could work for anyone you choose, who would it be?
Well, the ultimate goal is simply to work for myself and to support myself writing, but there are some people I would like to work with. I’d love to take a crack at a Batman story one day, for instance. I’m a great admirer of the game designer Hidetaka Miyazaki, and working on the writing for a video game world would be a very different and interesting challenge.

Writing: Behind the Scenes
So on book one I didn’t really have a process yet. (New writers: It’s okay to not know what you’re doing. It’s okay to make mistakes). It took me years to finish and to figure out what I was doing and why. But for everything I’ve done since there’s been a pretty rigorous system. I’m a big believer in and advocate for outlining, ever since I was shown one of David Drake’s 50-page outlines. The outline for this one ran about 60 pages long, and I treat those outlines as low resolution drafts, because it’s easier and less wasteful of my time to work things out in summary than by writing chapters and throwing them out (which I almost never have to do). I keep myself open to inspiration, and am happy to go off-script and shift/rewrite my outline where necessary (because the stuff that comes by inspiration is often-if-not-always the best stuff), but I try and stick to my plan as closely as I can. I think this is one of those places new writers get stuck, thinking they’re seat-of-your-pants writers when in reality almost everyone needs some kind of outline.

As for quirks...I have to write in relative silence. I’m a huge heavy metal fan (I actually own the late Ronnie James Dio’s bed), but I can’t listen to my Judas Priest or my Savatage while I’m working, because I have to sound out my sentences as I put them down and the music jams me up. Plus I get stuck singing along. I have a very voiced style of writing, and I strongly believe that good writing must be written to sound good, and I hope I’ve done that...but I definitely write by ear in as quiet a place as I can get. In public, I carry a big set of headphones in my bag and keep a 10-hour white noise audio file on my PC’s desktop for easy access.

1. IT’S THE LONGEST SUN EATER BOOK TO DATE: Demon in White is just about 287,000 words long. Howling Dark was 260,000 and Empire of Silence was a humble 238,000.

2. IT WAS THE HARDEST ONE TO WRITE: In the time between starting work on this book and its publication, I: got engaged, found and bought a house, moved, painted half a dozen rooms, went on an international book tour, and got married...all before the Covid pandemic started. Hopefully none of the others are so fraught.

3. HADRIAN VISITS MORE PLANETS IN THIS ONE THAN IN THE LAST TWO BOOKS COMBINED: Demon in White is a galaxy-hopper compared to the last two volumes. Hadrian and friends visit at least 6 worlds in this one, while the last couple were relegated to 2 or 3.

4. THE RED COMPANY HAS A NEW SHIP: The ISV Tamerlane was a gift to Hadrian from the Sollan Emperor. It’s a full-on battleship with a crew of 90,000, 12 miles long and armed to the teeth—and yes, you will see it in action.

5. THERE’S A PREQUEL STORY: I wrote a novelette called “The Demons of Arae” which serves as a semi-prequel to the events of Demon in White. You can find it in an anthology called Parallel Worlds (which also features an original Dresden Files story, for anyone who’s a fan of that series). Check it out HERE!

6. A NEW CHALLENGER APPROACHES: Very early in book three, we’re introduced to a new villain: the Cielcin war Prince Syriani Dorayaica, who has claimed credit for some of the more devastating and strategic strikes against the Empire. He’s not like the other clan chiefs, who burn and raid planets at will. His movements are part of a cunning plan to break the Imperial frontier and the Legion supply chains...and it just might work.

7. BACK TO THE ARENA: There’s another gladiator fight in this one. That’s all I’m going to say.

8. DEEP LORE: This one delves deeper into ancient Imperial history than the previous two volumes. We get a clearer picture of what happened to Earth and of the Foundation War than ever before.

9. OLD AND NEW FRIENDS: Demon in White adds a few new faces to the crew, among them a junior officer named Lorian, a manic tactical genius with a nerve disorder and one of my favorite additions to the cast. Plus some old faces will be popping back up...including one or two we haven’t seen in a while.

10. IT ISN’T THE END: This is NOT a trilogy! It’s a 5-book series. Demon in White is the middle book of a longer story. The battle is far, far from over.

What is the first job you have had?
I worked as a bus boy and then a waiter at Casa Carbone, an Italian restaurant in Raleigh, NC for...I think 7 years. I started when I was 16 and worked 4-6 nights a week through high school and college. I worked there until about after 2 months after I got my editor job with Baen Books, and still go in for takeout maybe twice a month (and as often as I could during the height of the pandemic). It could be pretty stressful, but I miss the interpersonal aspect more than I thought I would after so long in an office. I actually wrote a lot of Empire of Silence (my first book) in the wait station on slow shifts, if you can believe it.

What's your most missed memory?

Not so much a single memory, but I remember when I was gearing up for the release of Empire of Silence, a bunch of my old school friends came into town and were staying with me, and I was struck with the realization that we would never again be in gradeschool together, hanging out on the field or in the lab or playing video games until 6 AM on the weekends. One of us teaches at Princeton now, another’s at medical school in Poland, and I’m married. We still talk more or less every day (thank God for Discord), but the experience drove home the reality that time does not run back.

Which would you choose, true love with a guarantee of a heart break or have never loved before?
Love. Always love. The world is bleak and painful enough without our turning our backs on the one thing that transcends that ugliness.

What event in your life would make a good movie?
I don’t know so much about a great movie, but I spent two summers as a summer camp advisor for NC State (so I didn’t have to move back home). Mostly we were just in charge of prepping the rooms for the visiting students and for manning the dorm hall front desk, but the culture of University Housing is a really strange one, half dysfunctional family and half school spirit cult, and I could absolutely see a great sitcom done about that world. Universities are weird, weird places, and there’s a lot of opportunity for humor there.

What is one unique thing are you afraid of?
As a child, I had a series of really vivid nightmares in which I transformed into different things (very often a dog, but occasionally other animals, a tree, or a different person). In all those dreams, no one would believe I was me, and I couldn’t convince them. In a sentence, I think I’m afraid of being taken for something other than what I am—which I don’t think is actually unique at all, but I’m not sure I believe any of us is so different from the rest that we have any truly unique fears.

The third novel of the galaxy-spanning Sun Eater series merges the best of space opera and epic fantasy, as Hadrian Marlowe continues down a path that can only end in fire.

Hadrian has been serving the Empire in military engagements against the Cielcin, the vicious alien civilization bent on humanity's destruction. After Hadrian and his Red Company achieve a great victory, a cult-like fervor builds around him. However, pressures within the Imperial government scared of his rise to prominence result in an assassination attempt, luckily thwarted.

With the Empire too dangerous to stay, Hadrian and his crew leave for a massive library on a distant world. There, he finds the next key to unlocking the secrets of the Quiet: a set of coordinates for their origin planet, unnamed and now lifeless. Hadrian's true purpose in serving in the military was to aid his search of a rumored connection between the first Emperor and the Quiet, the ancient, seemingly long-dead race linked to so many of Hadrian's extraordinary experiences.

Will this mysterious lost planet have the answers?

You can purchase Demon in White at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you CHRISTOPHER RUOCCHIO for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of Demon in White (Sun Eater #3) by Christopher Ruocchio.


  1. I miss not being able to stay home and play, instead of working.

  2. "Name one thing you miss about being a kid." Thinking there would be enough time.

  3. Lemonade stands. This was a quick way to make some extra cash and to hang out with all my neighborhood friends on a hot summer day.