Monday, July 18, 2022

Ryan Van Loan Interview - The Memory in the Blood

Photo Credit: Justene Bartkowski | Photo Artist

Ryan Van Loan is an up and coming Science Fiction and Fantasy author. He started reading his Grandfather’s Reader’s Digest when he was four years old. Soon after, he read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer before eventually discovering science fiction and fantasy through the works of Robin McKinley, Robert Jordan, Stephen King and many more. He moved around a lot in his childhood from Montana to Georgia to Puerto Rico before finally ending up in Pennsylvania. Ryan served six years as a Sergeant in the United States Army Infantry (PA National Guard) where he served on the front lines of Afghanistan. All of that travel got into his blood and Ryan has traveled around the world with his wife, wandering Caribbean island haunts, exploring the palaces and cathedrals of Europe, and hiking with elephants in the rain forests of Southeast Asia. 

When he’s not traveling Ryan enjoys hiking, soccer (football), tabletop gaming, weightlifting (with his personal best coming from deadlifting three times his body weight), and all things culinary. Ryan's debut novel, The Sin in the Steel (Tor Books), Book One in the Fall of the Gods series came out on July 21, 2020. Today, Ryan lives in northeastern Pennsylvania with his wife and two dogs where he’s hard at work on his next novel.


Greatest thing you learned at school. 
Your success in life is directly related to your ability to effectively communicate your beliefs/ideas/goals.

When/how did you realize you had a creative dream or calling to fulfill? 
I fell in love with reading almost from day one. My grandmother had MS and she taught me my letters using her prescription bottles. Soon I was reading The Boxcar Children, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer & Huck Finn and I was hooked. I wrote poetry and songs for the rock band I was in during high school and I’ve always had my hand in some kind of music so a creative outlet was always there. It wasn’t until later in college, when my roommate told me he was writing a book that I thought if he could write a book, maybe I could too. I ended up writing a dozen novels (so far), my former roommate just wrote the one (which is still a huge accomplishment, writing an entire novel isn’t easy). After I came home from Afghanistan, I realized that writing was a way to reconnect with society, that developing deep characters required levels of empathy that translated into real life, and much like reading, once I caught the writing bug, I never stopped. I wouldn’t say it’s a calling, but it’s definitely a part of who I am.

Beyond your own work (of course), what is your all-time favorite book and why? And what is your favorite book outside of your genre? 
The Great Hunt by Robert Jordan because it opened me up to an entire genre called epic fantasy that fit my geeky love of history and rich characters combined with action, suspense, and intrigue. Through Jordan I discovered Robin Hobb, Kate Elliott, N.K. Jemisin, and many more authors.

Outside of genre, a book that I think about a lot is Ta-Nehisi Coates Between the World and Me. It’s part memoir, part letter to his son, speaking about Ta-Nehisi’s experience of being a Black man in America and it made me realize how shut my eyes were when I thought them open wide. It’s a difficult, visceral read that challenged me and I think would challenge a lot of folks who aren’t BIPOC. That alone would make it a must-read, but Coates’ prose is top notch, and his writing pulls you in and holds you close. I highly recommend the book along with his numerous essays.

Has reading a book ever changed your life? Which one and why, if yes? 
Many books have changed my life but let me talk about one that came to me at a crucial time around age 12. 12 was the age where everyone at school suddenly realized that clothing conferred status and popularity. I was never a quote, unquote, loser, but my family didn’t have much money. They couldn’t afford Nike or Gap or Abercrombie & Fitch…not if we wanted to have food on the table too. It was like someone flipped a switch overnight and suddenly many of the kids I’d been hanging out with left to form tighter cliques based almost primarily on the brands they wore. It seems so shallow now, but at the time it was very confusing for me, and it wasn’t until I started getting asked where my clothes came from that I realized I was being relegated to outsider status.

It was around this time that I began signing out the lavatory pass, but instead of going to the bathroom, I went to the library and would hang out for an entire class period before returning. No one was asking me why I was poor and judging me for it amongst the stacks. And that’s where I discovered Robin Mckinley’s The Hero and the Crown. It’s a story about a girl named Aerin who is daughter to the King, but instead of feeling like a princess she’s treated like an outsider. Aerin’s mother was an outsider, she has no magic unlike all of her royal cousins, and she has no interest in court. Instead, Aerin teams up with her father’s lame war horse and the two of them go off to fight dragons…not big dragons—those don’t exist, but nasty, dog-sized ones that terrorize villages. Until one day, a big dragon, the kind that were supposed to only be in fairytales, shows up, and Aerin and her faithful steed are the only ones who stand between her kingdom and destruction.

Sure, that’s what the story is about, but it’s secretly about battling with depression and finding a way to move forward, to discover new truths about yourself, even when all you’d rather do is lock yourself in your bedroom. 12-year-old Ryan needed to hear that message. 30’s something Ryan still revisits those themes from time to time. Whenever I’ve found myself in a lonely place, books have shone a light, and this is one that definitely did that for me.

Why is storytelling so important for all of us? 
This is a great question. We’re all telling ourselves our own stories as we live them…I believe it’s embedded in our genetic makeup. Every time we recall a conversation, an inciting incident in our lives, plan something daunting, we’re creating a story of who we want to be and then we either become that person or we don’t—and if we don’t sometimes it’s because we discover something even cooler along the way or sometimes, it’s because we failed. And that’s OK. There’s so much power inherent power in owning your own narrative. It means that if you don’t like the story you’re living in, you can tell yourself a new story, you can become something else. For example, maybe this is your “all is lost” moment at the end of Act 2 and you’re about to rally against all odds for a climactic triumph in Act 3. Listening, reading, and watching stories shows us models for ourselves and allows us to train our inner narrator and I think that’s why everyone is drawn to storytelling…even if they don’t realize it.

Can you tell us when you started MEMORY IN THE BLOOD, how that came about? 
The Memory in the Blood was my pandemic book—it literally got me through that first lockdown summer. My day job is in healthcare so my engine was already redlining, but during the summer of 2020, my debut novel launched which meant figuring out how to do promotion when no one could leave their house. Also, I was wrapping up edits on the sequel. AND I knew I had to turn in book 3 by the end of summer. All of that sounds stressful, and it was, but I love writing…actually sitting down at the keys and watching a story leap from my mind through my fingertips and onto the screen. It’s a magic all of its own. The other nice thing about writing this book is that I had already outlined it from beginning to end—I knew how the story ended.

You see, this series, The Fall of the Gods, is the story of a young streetrat turned detective, SambuciƱa ‘Buc’ Alhurra who is determined to overthrow her corrupt society. It’s a wild world made up of island city-states, powerful trading companies that control empires, mages, pirates, and ignoble Gods. Throughout the series, Buc shows us her sharp tongue and her even sharper wit (and when needed, her equally sharp blades) as she solves mysteries to uncover secrets empires have failed to find the knowledge need to give her a shot at achieving her ends. The final book is her taking that shot and knowing that if she fails, her world may fall with her. Heavy themes, but there was something strangely comforting spending time telling a story about people coming together to tackle a life and death struggle head on.

What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating your characters? 
I’m a character-driven writer. Every book I’ve ever written has started with a character’s voice slipping into my mind when I’m asleep or working out or in the shower (I know, voices in your head is rarely a good thing, but it’s okay—I’m a writer, we’re weird like that). What surprised me with the characters in The Fall of the Gods (and there are great ones…pirate queens, undead mages, killers with hearts of gold, empresses, and our autodidact streetrat turned detective main character) is how much they grew over time. It shouldn’t have surprised me, I suppose. As readers, we all know the joy that comes from getting to spend not just one book, but several, with a favorite character. Watching them change and grow over time. I wasn’t prepared for how awesome that felt being on the other side of the page. It already has me excited about the next series I’m going to tackle.

Your Favorite Quotes/Scenes from MEMORY IN THE BLOOD
“What can I say? Pissing people off to the point of madness is a gift.”

-The heroine of The Memory in the Blood, Buc, is wicked, off the charts smart but unfortunately, she has a hard time not riding roughshod over anyone who can’t keep up with her. Over the series she slowly begins to learn the difference between intelligence and wisdom…but old habits die hard.

“For a moment we stared at each other. Then two Goddesses went to war.”

-At the end of the first book, Buc (spoiler warning) becomes infected with magic from one of the Gods. The series is her struggle, both externally and internally against powers greater than herself, but as Buc begins to learn to harness her newfound abilities, she discovers that old saw about power and corruption has more than a little truth in it.

“We ricocheted off thin air, the blow reverberating through the entire craft, rattling my teeth. The ornithopter spun in a circle, its nose tipped up, then began to slowly fall forward, almost in slow motion, until suddenly everything snapped together as reality asserted itself and we fell like a stone from the sky.”

-Fantasy books are often about imaginative worldbuilding and mine are no different. This world is set in the Age of Sail, think Venetian Renaissance meets Caribbean vibes and you wouldn’t be far off the mark, but because there are ancient Gods with hidden knowledge there’s also some pretty futuristic (for the period) technology, much of it using sophisticated gearwork. Da Vinci came up with an ornithopter concept that he never quite made work but being a fantasy author, I don’t have the same limitations when it comes to physics. I had a blast with this scene, giving Buc a chance to fly amongst the clouds…until she runs into something that shouldn’t be there and then physics begins to reassert itself. It’s just one of many examples throughout the book where cool flights of fancy find their way onto the page.

Meet the Characters
Knowing who shows up in this, the final book of the trilogy, could put us in some spoilery waters, but let me tell you a little bit more about the main character: SambuciƱa ‘Buc’ Alhurra. She’s just about to turn 18 when we meet her in The Sin in the Steel, and she’s closing in on 20 by the time the series ends, so needless to say the last couple of years of her life have been pretty wild. Buc’s an oversized personality in a deceptively diminutive body. As someone who isn’t very tall, I enjoyed us getting to spend time with someone who can’t solve all of their problems through brawn. Buc’s a young woman shaped by her experiences of growing up on the streets where starvation was always one crust of bread away, but when she met her partner in crime-solving, Eld, he taught her to read (or as he says, showed her the alphabet and got out of the way) and Buc used all of her newfound, book knowledge to understand WHY her world allowed children to starve in the gutters. And then she put together a plan to remake the world…the only problem is to do so means taking on the Gods, both old and new and corrupt society they’re propping up.

If you like adventure fantasy with heart, found family, and whipsmart woman who doesn’t know when to quit, then I think you’ll like Buc. She grows on you, like a barnacle as Eld says, even if she’s very sharp, almost cutting, when we first meet her.

Your Journey to Publication
I wrote my first novel in 2007 after reading Stephen King’s part memoir, part master lesson, On Writing. I went off to war in 2008 and didn’t write another novel until I was home in 2009. That second novel was the one where I realized, no matter how long it takes, I’m in. I want to be a professional, published author.

…and then I wrote another 5 or 6 novels before I landed an agent. Yikes!

Looking back on things now, I’m OK with that, but I won’t lie: it was frustrating. My third book got a lot of interest from agents requesting the full manuscript and that went on for every novel thereafter which sounds great, but when you keep hearing how the prose is good or the plot is great but (that inevitable “but”) it just isn’t quite catching them, you begin to ponder the definition of insanity.

That said, when I finally got an email from an agent asking to jump on a call to discuss my book, things changed—in the way of publishing—both infinitesimally and rapidly all at once. I quickly learned that all of the research and knowledge gaining you go through trying to find an agent needs replicated when it comes to being a published author. It’s a bit like summiting Everest only to discover there’s an Everest to Everest lurking beyond (and ‘lo it’s name is Acquisitions). But in 2018 I had a call with an editor from Tor Books, one of the largest science fiction and fantasy publishers out there and home to many of my favorite authors. Midway through the call, I realized that I was no longer pitching the editor my book and she was pitching me her and Tor and that’s when I knew something big was going to happen. And it did! I signed a 3 book deal with Tor, my debut The Sin in the Steel launched in 2020, the sequel, The Justice in Revenge came out in 2021, and I’m wrapping things up with The Memory in the Blood in 2022. I could say a lot about the journey of launching a career during the pandemic, but that’s a story for another day.

What is the first thing you think of when you wake up in the morning? 
Coffee. Always coffee. Without caffeine, I’m a shade of myself.

What is your most memorable travel experience? 
My wife and I spent a day in the jungles of Northern Thailand with two elephants who were rescued by a conservation park. It was just the two of us, our guides, and these massive, gentle beasts who took food right out of our hands, swam with us in the river, and just chilled. It was the most zen-like experience I’ve ever had.

Which incident in your life that totally changed the way you think today? 
Spending 2008 in eastern Afghanistan, much of that time outside the wire behind a .50 cal.

Have you ever stood up for someone you hardly knew? 
Yes. I have a problem with injustice in any form. Unsurprisingly, this led to several near-misses of getting my ass kicked in high school and college.

What do you usually think about right before falling asleep? 
How much shit I have left to do.

If you could be born into history as any famous person who would it be and why? 
I don’t think I’d want to be any famous person…one doesn’t reach those levels unless a lot of shit has happened to you and the stakes are always high. If I could back in time, though, I would like to have a conversation with Abraham Lincoln in that narrow window between when he knew the Union had persevered and he was assassinated. I think he would have a lot of wisdom to share that is relevant to our time now.

The Memory in the Blood is the pulse-pounding conclusion to Ryan Van Loan's The Fall of the Gods series, featuring sea battles, hidden libraries, warring deities, old enemies, and one woman's desire for liberation and revenge.

When her quest to destroy the Gods began, Buc was a child of the streets. Now she is a woman of steel, shaped by gaining and losing power, tempered by love and betrayal, and honed to a fine edge by grief and her desire for vengeance.

A perilous, clandestine mission to a hidden library uncovers information that is key to destroying both the Dead Gods and their enemy, the Goddess Ciris. Ciris's creation, Sin, who lives inside Buc, gives her superhuman abilities and tempts her with hints of even greater power. With that power, she could achieve almost anything—end the religious war tearing her world apart, remake society at a stroke—but the price would be the betrayal of everything she has fought for . . . and the man she loved would still be dead.

In the middle of this murderous, magical maelstrom, a coded message smuggled out of the heart of the Dead Gods' cathedral reveals that the Dead Gods intend to destroy Ciris—and much of the world with her.

This. Will. Not. Stand.

If Buc has to destroy all Gods, eat the rich, and break the world's economy to save the people, she will do it. Even if it costs her everything.
You can purchase The Memory in the Blood at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you RYAN VAN LOAN for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of three books in the The Fall of the Gods Series.