Where does this fit in the universe of novels and short stories about Dabir and Asim? What do you use to keep track of their timelines and adventures?
I should lie and say that I’ve got a complex chronology written out, but the truth is that I know these characters and the arc of their lives so well that it’s easy to track. There’s a point in time, directly after the fourth intended novel, where the Caliph’s vizier is actively trying to thwart them, having moved on from finding them moderately embarrassing to actively disliking them because he thinks they’re deliberately trying to make him look bad, particularly Dabir. Because the caliph esteems them, the vizier can’t have Dabir and Asim removed in an obvious way. So, when the caliphate is endangered, he sends out Dabir and Asim, hoping that they’ll get killed in the process. On the plus side, their lengthy absences gets them away from the court. On the downside, they keep managing to make it back, usually covering themselves in glory. This eventually results in a calamity . . .
The changed physical setting of the citadel, the diners keeping their backs to the tree, the use of formal Arabic: I only appreciated these hints upon a second reading. Which story elements do you think might go undetected by readers?
Oh, I’d hate to spoil anything, but I do appreciate you telling me that. I try to tie most of their adventures to existing myths but not bog down the pace by expounding upon the details in depth. That way, if readers don’t really care, they can just dig in and enjoy the adventure. For instance, the primary guest star is part of a cycle of myths, and readers can read about her in more detail if they like.
I try to craft all of my work with care and that will hopefully mean return visits reward readers. I’m still waiting for readers to see some of the foreshadowing and subtext in my most recent series (The Ring-Sworn Trilogy), things that they may not notice the first time through. I was delighted last year when one reader observed something about the titles and their relation to something in the text, a matter that no one, not even my beta readers, had picked up on. There are another few things in those books I’m waiting for someone to notice and appreciate, and I hope they’ll tell me when they do.
Can you talk about why you chose the ending you did? Will the bracelet reappear in a future story?
I’d known how the tale would resolve since I’d conceived it, but if you mean the closing sentences and all that, it just came out that way when I typed the first draft and I was pretty pleased with the result. I don’t know how many readers out there grew up watching re-runs of the original Star Trek the way I did (over and over, because it was the only good speculative fiction available on-screen in my part of the country when I was a kid) but the best episodes, especially so many of the strong ones in the first season, are really quite melancholy. When the Enterprise slowly soars away at the end and the somber music follows her, you have a sense that only brotherhood/sisterhood and compassion can avert disaster, and that experiences have consequences—we (the crew/humanity) got out this time, but it was close, and life is fragile and bittersweet and to be savored, and we might have ended up like those people who made the wrong choices, or who were doomed because of their previous actions—or we realize how close they were to failing and losing their lives and all else they held dear.
What I didn’t realize until I was much older was that this feel is an essential component of hardboiled fiction. The writers of the original Star Trek grew up steeped in that kind of writing because it was all around them, and many of them were veterans of World War II or were young enough to have experienced it even if they weren’t on the line. As a result, that sense of duty, responsibility, teamwork, life’s fragility, and the necessity of hard choices permeates the best episodes. I love that sensibility, whether owing to natural inclination or because Trek storytelling got hardwired after so much watching, and so it ends up in all my fiction.
For some reason, it is often more marked in the Dabir and Asim tales, maybe because each of the short stories is rather like an episode from a TV series. I can dream that someone would make that one.
As for that bracelet, I don’t have any definite plans, although it will probably turn up on their memento shelf some time as a background detail.
What’s the best fan feedback you’ve ever gotten on your writing?
One of my favorite reviews is a five-star write up on Amazon that reads something like “Arrived in excellent time in good shape.” That cracks me up every time I think about it. Another is a one-star review because For the Killing of Kings was too gay, owing mostly to the mention of one of the characters having a husband. Given that my books tend to be PG-13, with sexuality a component of characters rather than a central theme of the narrative, the review said far more about the reviewer than the work—although the outrage over the reviewer’s prejudice drove some who might never have heard of it to go read the book, and that amuses me.
My most rewarding fan feedback about Dabir and Asim in particular is when people write that they love the characters and their warmth. One reader said that she loved Asim’s heart, and that made my day. He’s not flawless, but he’s a good man, and I’m glad that comes through for a lot of people.
Probably my most surprising fan feedback came one day when I was sitting at a convention table with some friends. I’d just shown them the copy of the cover of the second Dabir and Asim novel (The Bones of the Old Ones), which hadn’t been released yet. Some friendly fellow I’d never met wandered up out of the blue and told me how much he’d loved the first one and that he was looking forward to the second. I thanked him, and exchanged a few more words, but it was only after he left that one of my friends informed me that the stranger was none other than writer Scott Lynch. Color me stunned and honored. He later blurbed The Bones of the Old Ones.
Any news or projects you want to tell us about?
I recently returned the third and final book of my new fantasy trilogy to the copyeditor at St. Martin’s, which means the whole series should be available by August of this year. I’m pretty pleased about that—the whole thing starts with For the Killing of Kings. Some of my fans are excited to hear that I’ve pulled the outline for the third Dabir and Asim novel out of mothballs and am refining that, although I’ll have to draft that as a side project. I have nearly enough Dabir and Asim stories to publish a new collection, but a number of those stories haven’t appeared yet so I’ll have to delay that collection’s appearance for a while. You can find a (fairly) up-to-date list of the other Dabir and Asim stories on their dedicated page at my website, including their upcoming appearances in publications.
I’m currently working on several other book/series proposals and a cycle of adventures featuring another character, a series with episodes even more closely interlinked than those of Dabir and Asim. I’m excited about all of it. I’m also delighted to be working on issues six and seven of Tales From the Magician’s Skull. The magazine is getting better with every issue and I think readers are going to be thrilled with the contents.
Spread the word!