Jon Sprunk grew up in Pennsylvania. When his first fantasy novel failed to find a publisher, he sought gainful employment in the Real World, only to return to writing a decade later. After learning from the Pennwriters annual conference and writers’ group, he had several short stories published. In June 2009 he signed a multi-book contract with Pyr Books; his first novel, Shadow’s Son, was a finalist for the Compton Crook Award and also a nominee for the David Gemmell Award in two categories. You can find him online at jonsprunk.com.
Shauna Kosoris: I found your Shadow Saga here at the library and absolutely loved it. What
inspired you to write it?
Jon Sprunk: When I started the Shadow Saga I had already been writing – and trying to get published – for years. Caim’s story just sort of came to me one day. I remember I wanted to write about a criminal who turns over a new leaf and tries to do some good. Then I had the idea that this character would be biracial, but instead of being a mix of two human races, I thought it would be cool if one of his parents came from another world. A Shadow world. Once I had that idea, I started plotting out the first book.
SK: Caim gets wounded early in Shadow’s Son, and is later mauled by a bear in Shadow’s Lure. Tell me, why did he spend so much time injured?
JS: Well, he gets into a lot of fights. Back in the day, heroes could battle with swords and spears all day, and then go to the tavern for a drink without a scratch on them. However I think modern fantasy readers expect more realism. Melee combat is bloody and painful, usually for both sides. So I try to incorporate a little practicality into my books. But not too much. No one wants to read a series about a guy who sits convalescing in a hospital for weeks and months. Or do they . . . ?
SK: I’ll leave that question in your capable hands. So where did the idea of Kit come from?
JS: Kit was a lucky accident. She wasn’t in the plot I mapped out, but when I started writing that first scene she just appeared. It was weird, but it felt right so I went with it. I’m glad I did, because Kit is a fan favorite. (And one of my favorites, too.)
SK: Well I’m glad you did, too. What was the hardest part of writing the Shadow Saga?
JS: Keeping up a regular writing schedule. When I was unpublished, I only had myself to please. But once I was under contract for three books, that meant I needed to actually write them all. Add to the mix that my wife and I had a newborn son who took up a lot of my time, and it was hectic at times. Yet, I formed some good writing habits during that period, too.
SK: Care to elaborate on those writing habits?
JS: For one thing, I learned to use my time more wisely. I’m a stay-at-home parent, so I had to adjust my writing schedule to fit around my new family. Also, I’d never written a series before, so I had to teach myself how to create multi-book character and story arcs on the fly.
SK: You first published several short stories before working on the Shadow Saga. What’s it like working on shorter fiction as opposed to long?
JS: Honestly, I don’t write many short stories. Never have. They have an entirely different skill set, in my experience. Like the difference between a sprinter and a long-distance runner. I try my hand at them once
in a while, but mainly I stick to novels.
SK: Do you plans to write any more shorter pieces?
JS: I have a couple shorts coming out in fantasy anthologies this year. One is a comedy piece about Gilgamesh and Enkidu as drunken louts. The other is an origin story about one of my characters in Blood and Iron, the first book in my next series.
SK: What can you tell me about that new series, The Book of the Black Earth?
JS: It’s epic fantasy set in an empire that bears resemblance to ancient Babylon. A western sailor is shipwrecked in this empire and taken as a slave, until he discovers a talent for magic he never knew existed. His newfound power makes him an object of interest to the ruling powers, who either try to use him or eliminate him. The story also involves a former mercenary and gladiator who becomes a leader of a slave rebellion, and a spy masquerading as a slave girl in the queen’s palace. Together, these three characters will change the course of the empire.
SK: You’re writing a short story about Gilgamesh, plus The Book of the Black Earth takes place in an empire resembling ancient Babylon. Why the attraction to ancient Mesopotamia?
JS: I’ve always been attracted to that culture, as well as the ancient Egyptians. I think there’s a lot of material there to explore, such as the differences in the way people lived there compared to the medieval European settings used often in fantasy.
SK: I’d like to finish up with some questions about your personal reading tastes. What book or author inspired you to write?
JS: Oh, too many to name them all. Some of my favorites are Tolkien, Tolstoy, Robert E. Howard, Glen Cook, Fritz Leiber, and H.P. Lovecraft. And I’ve recently developed a professional man-crush on Steven Erikson.
SK: Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?
JS: After you’ve read the classics of fantasy, everyone should check out Erikson’s Malazan series. It’s amazing.
SK: I’ll definitely have to. Finally, what are you currently reading?
JS: Currently I’m reading a friend’s manuscript, which is a comedic sci fi tale. After that, I’m diving back into Erikson’s series, which I’m a little more than halfway through. After that . . . I have no idea.