An Interview with Dane Vale
Fantasy author Dane Vale debuts his Fantasy series, Sagas of Irth, and talks with NP about his twin brother, Dean, new projects, what inspires him, and why he wishes he had a carnyx.
NP: What’s your all-time favorite fantasy book and movie?
Dane Vale: I’m a big fan of both Fantasy and Sword & Sorcery books. The series that will always have the biggest influence on me was Michael Moorcock’s Elric series, culminating in Stormbringer. As a kid, his way of world-building heavily impacted my sense of what Fantasy could be.
The first couple of books of A Song of Ice and Fire impacted me a great deal, as well. I may not entirely agree with George R. R. Martin’s approach to Fantasy and/or the dark tone, but I know that the first books of that series hit me hard.
I also really like Katherine Kerr’s work, which is always very satisfying. Even though she’s really more of a Science Fiction writer, Joan D. Vinge’s Snow Queen Cycle affected me.
In terms of movies, I don’t know. Peter Jackson nailed The Lord of the Rings about as well as anybody ever could. Dragonslayer is rewarding in its own way, as is Legend, which is always a favorite of mine. I recently binge-watched Vikings (sure, it’s “historical” but it’s also fantastical). I loved Vikings, found it very entertaining.
NP: Do you and your brother, Dean, compete in fiction?
Vale: Only in terms of output. He does his thing, I do mine. I think Dean has an easier job of it, because he treats his works as one-offs—like a single book about a topic he likes. But for me, there’s world-building, history, and a series of stories about particular heroes. So, longitudinally, I have a bigger task (just don’t tell Dean that!)
NP: Does he read your work, and do you read his?
Vale: We do. Our different perspectives help with objective sort of reads you need at the front end of a work.
NP: What inspires you as a writer?
Vale: Ruins inspire me (laughs). I know that sounds odd, but I love ruins. Ruins invariably have stories, and I always want to know those stories. I love history, devour it when I’m not writing.
NP: What do you think about the pandemic?
Vale: It’s terrifying and sad. Particularly in the United States, it’s a needless catastrophe borne of failures in leadership. Artistically, it’s fascinating to see how people react to it. Any great pandemic brings out the best and worst in people. There’s something very primal about plagues, in terms of how people react to them.
I think Fantasy has renewed power in the face of the pandemic—while contemporary writers are tasked with dealing with the problem of the pandemic in their fiction somehow, Fantasy writers, dealing with other worlds and other time periods, can press on the way we always have.
Further, people need a place to escape to, which Fantasy always provides. So, I hunker down, try to stay healthy, and remain productive. I encourage people to read history to see how other cultures and time periods dealt with pandemics in the past, to gain perspective.
NP: Tell us about Sagas of Irth.
Vale: Okay, this is sort of complicated. I originally wrote two trilogies, gosh, years ago. I liked the characters in the world, which I dubbed “Irth”—but I let those stories languish, didn’t actually find markets for them, because I didn’t think they were ready, yet.
So, I drew maps (love maps), built the history of the world—the religion, the history (ancient and recent), established timelines, and so on. The world grew, and I was happy to help it grow, but I still didn’t unleash it.
Then, I came up with the characters of Farys and Sibyl, who’re very much a “dynamic duo” for me. They’re almost literally Sword (Farys) & Sorcery (Sibyl). I liked their vibe, and came up with two opponents for them—the Manticore (Farys) and the Dragon (Sibyl). The Dragon actually existed from my earlier world-building, whereas the Manticore was new. I see Farys and Sibyl as very Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser in their unity as opposites. Farys is the urbane sophisticate mercenary knight, and Sibyl is the more rustic ingénue, elemental and mystical.
Another character I pulled from my world-building is Fiss’Q (pronounced “FISK”), who’s one of my favorites. She’s a curious, Renaissance warrior woman who’d give James Bond a run for his money. Fiss’Q ennobles anything she’s involved in, and I look forward to writing more stories with her.
Anyway, Farys, Sibyl, and Fiss’Q propelled me back to Irth, and I began to conceive of a series of many novellas that document particular adventures of theirs, toward some particular character arcs. These stories are like islands in a sea of Irth, which will eventually lead back to the novels of Irth. It’s very exciting to work on it, and through it.
NP: Who would you cast in a televised Sagas of Irth series?
Vale: I’ve never really thought of that, can’t imagine who would be good for characters of mine. Tilda Swinton would be great as one of the goddesses of Irth. Might be fun to see Michael Fassbender play a character in Irth (specifically, one of my Justiciars in the Northlands, which you’ll see likely in 2021 or 2022).
NP: If you could have a director make your Sagas of Irth?
Vale: Guillermo del Toro would be glorious. He gets Fantasy, beautifully visualizes it on the screen.
NP: What’s with your fascination around the carnyx?
Vale: I love all sorts of musical instruments. The Celtic carnyx is just so fascinating and strange. It makes bagpipes look almost tame by comparison. Willfully primitive, and unforgettable in both look and sound.
I love the image of a group of Celts with them, their boar-faced horns blaring hauntingly across a battlefield. They’re so willfully terrifying, full of Celtic bravado. I would love to have one handy, just for random moments when one needs to bring the noise.
NP: Are there other stories in the Sagas of Irth planned?
Vale: Oh, I have a bunch. I think there are something like thirty-six books in all of the Irth series, a mix of novellas and novels. Tons of stuff to do. I calculated if I worked on them nonstop, it’d take about two years to get through them all.
Once I get through all of those, I’ll likely be done with Irth, except for maybe some prequels. There are some key aspects about Irth (don’t want to spoil anything) that should come out as the series progresses. Some of those revelations will drive the creation of prequels, but if I do the main series, I’ll be okay to let that ride a bit.
NP: What are your next projects?
Vale: Novellas, novellas, novellas. I’m banging them out quickly, one after another. They’re paving the way for novels, which are coming later (I’m thinking around 2022, depending on where the novellas take me).
NP: Why novellas?
Vale: I actually think novellas are a perfect vehicle for Fantasy fiction. I had a number of short stories that ran long—too long to find homes in periodicals, but worthy stories, all the same. So, I decided to make them novellas, because there was enough material in them to expand, but without the burden of them being fully novels. They give readers a taste of Irth, a sense of the characters and stories they bring, without the massive commitment that comes with a full-blown novel.
I love novels, both writing and reading them, but I understand the commitment they represent on the part of the reader. But, with novellas, and especially with Fantasy novellas, there’s a chance to explore a Fantasy world without having the massive buy-in that might come with delving into a thousand-page novel.
The irony for me is that, when I’m finally done with the Sagas of Irth novellas, there’ll be over twenty of them, which’ll be well over 500,000 words written just for them. So, while they’re individually shorter than any novel, the body of work represented by the novellas will be considerable.
NP: Sounds ambitious! Anything else?
Vale: Oh, yes. I also have an entirely different Fantasy world that I’ve developed, one that I think people will greatly enjoy on its own merits. It’s far more Steampunk/Slipstream in character than pure Fantasy, but it just has to wait until I power my way through Irth. That series will be all novels, incidentally, and will be hopefully worth the wait!