An Interview with John Marco
The winner of the 1999 Barnes & Noble Maiden Voyage Award for Best Debut Science Fiction/Fantasy Novelist, Marco talked with Ransom Notes about his new novel, his historical place among other fantasy writers, and his next Bronze Knight installment.
Paul Goat Allen: John, congratulations on another incredible book. As I've written in my review, you keep improving your craft with every new release. It seems to me that you really concentrate on the fundamentals of storytelling: realistic characters with realistic issues. The reader can't help but get emotionally involved. Even though they may be ruthless kings or legendary military leaders, they are dealing with similar issues everyone deals with -- acceptance, guilt, honor, love, rejection, etc. What's the process like when you're creating your characters? Do you base them on real people?
John Marco: First off, thanks for your kind words about the book. I certainly appreciate all the positive feedback. I wouldn't say that I base my characters on real people, necessarily. Instead, I think I base them on real emotions and human needs. I try to figure out what drives people, even so-called bad or evil people, and to get inside their heads. That's what all writers do: try to think like their characters and give them motivation, something to move them into action. For me, the process of creating characters is the best part of writing books. I like figuring out what makes them tick. I'm also able to sympathize with my characters in ways that I can't with people in the real world. Because these characters come out of me, I'm more able to give them a pass and understand when they do something wrong -- or even deplorable. In real life I'm just not that forgiving.
PGA: How much are you like Richius Vantran, the tormented main character in your first series, and Lukien, the melancholy Bronze Knight?
JM: If I have to be honest -- and I suppose I do -- then I have to admit I'm more like Richius than Lukien. Richius is younger and more impatient than Lukien; and although I'm not young any more, I'm still impatient. Plus, Lukien is a real iconic type of hero. He's genuinely a great soldier and leader of men. Richius was more of an antihero, thrust into a role he didn't want and, in some ways, didn't deserve. But both of them are wanderers, trying to find themselves and the answers to things. I think that makes them like a lot of writers.
PGA: You dedicated this novel to the men and women of the U.S. armed forces. It hit me halfway through the book that the city of Jador could so easily be a symbol for everything the United States represents, and the fanatical Prince Aztar could be the personification of terrorist organizations throughout the world. One particular passage struck me: "They hate us for what we are -- a free haven. Look around and see the faces of those nearest you, and you'll see what they hate and fear. We are no two alike. We do not all pledge ourselves to the same god or flag. Jador has become a beacon…" Am I crazy, or was this symbolism deliberate?
JM: No, you're not crazy. It's pretty obvious that any symbolism here is deliberate. I wrote The Devil's Armor in the shadow of September 11th. At times, I had to struggle to get it done. It seemed silly to be writing a fantasy book when the country was going through so much pain and soul-searching. But the passage you quoted is how I see things. Not only do I view the fictional land of Jador that way, but also America. And I'm glad you pointed out that the book is dedicated to the folks of America's military. It gives me another chance to say thanks to all of them.
PGA: Do you ever compare yourself to other contemporary fantasy authors and/or think about how you and your novels will be perceived historically?
JM: Honestly, I really don't think about how my books will be perceived in the future. I think of them as contemporary, a form of entertainment meant for today. If they last into the future and people are still reading them decades from now, then I will be very happy and pleasantly surprised. As for other authors, there are always comparisons to be drawn, especially among readers and critics. I don't mind, because it's a kind of shorthand, a way for like-minded people to compare notes. But I try not to spend time comparing myself to other writers. I just write the kind of stories that I would want to read.
PGA: When is The Sword of Angels tentatively scheduled to be released? Will it be the last book in the Bronze Knight saga? Obviously, the book is about Lukien's quest for the legendary sword, but can you give the fans a little more of a teaser?
JM: I'm hard at work on The Sword of Angels right now, and I'm trying to get it done by the middle of next year. That should mean it comes out sometime near the end of 2004, but you never know with publishing. And yes, it will be the last book about the Bronze Knight Lukien. The story will wrap up his tale nicely, I think, and should satisfy those who want to know what happens to him. Of course there is the search for the sword, but there's going to be a lot more to the story as well. All of the major characters and storylines set up in The Devil's Armor will be resolved. More than that, I can't say without ruining things.