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Victor Gischler Interview – A Fire Beneath the Skin

Victor GischlerA few weeks ago, we reviewed Victor Gischler’s A Fire Beneath the Skin series. Today we are catching up with the author to talk about it and his many other projects!

I was surprised to see Wikipedia has an entry on you, and I confess, I did some background research on it. A quick look at your bibliography shows a wide range of genres, from humorous crime fiction to post-apocalyptic, from vampires to superhero graphic novels. What inspired you to write a classic fantasy story?

As a young reader, fantasy and science fiction were my first loves. I devoured Tolkien at an early age, and I actually aborted several attempts at fantasy novels when I was first trying to write. So, I found my way into other genres (I like to read all over the place) but finally returned to fantasy when the right idea clicked into place. That idea became my first fantasy novel Ink Mage.

Who are your fantasy inspirations? How about literary inspirations, in general?

Well, I’ve already mentioned Tolkien. Not especially original, but the master is the master. Brent Weeks and Mark Lawrence are current practitioners of the genre I enjoy very much. But as I said, I’ve read all over the place—Connie Willis, Kurt Vonnegut, Cormac McCarthy, Chester Himes—very different writers all showing me something different about the craft.

One of the magic systems in the Fire Beneath the Skin series looks a little like magic-users from Dungeons and Dragons. Are/were you involved in RPGs? If so, as a GM or a player?

Ink Mage (cover)I like the idea of “spell components”—the idea that the magic must be connected to some physical thing in the real word. This is a bit D&D-ish. I played as an adolescent, but it’s been years. To me this makes more sense (as much as a made-up thing can make sense) than the too-easy wand waving of Harry Potter. I love those books/films as much as anyone else, but it did seem the magic was a bit easy.

The Fire Beneath the Skin series introduces Tattoo Magic. How did you go about creating that magic system?

The magical tattoos were, in a way, a reaction to the more complicated “component” system discussed above. What if the spells were inked right into a wizard’s skin? That would eliminate the need to carry around a bag of stuff and a spell book…although the tattoos have other risks, which readers will soon discover. New tattoos equal new powers, so it was fun to invent what these tattoos did and what they looked like.

Introduce us to Rina.

Rina is the young daughter of the local duke. She soon finds herself on the run from various dangers as she looks for new tattoos to gain the power she needs to visit justice on those who have wronged her. She’s nineteen, but these are not YA stories. The novels can be gritty in places and peppered with adult situations.

Do you have any tattoos? What and where?

Nope. But I’ve always found them interesting. I’m too indecisive to pick something I want on my body forever. Maybe someday in the future.

Did you draw on any historical figures or stories for Rina’s path?

The Tattooed Duchess (cover)I can’t think of any, but I’d be interested to hear if any readers thought of historical figures. With Rina, I was putting together a few different types of characters. She is spoiled and privileged and needs to grow up fast. Once she discovers she can be tough, she goes with it, makes it work for her. I can picture a specific scene in which she is hunched over a table in a tavern, writing something important on a parchment, smoking and drinking and talking shit with her companions. That’s a different Rina than the spoiled girl we meet at the beginning of book one.

While not the literary mass murderer that George RR Martin is, you seem to have no qualms about killing off beloved characters. What goes into plotting the death of a major character?

These are people going from one dangerous situation to another. It always rang false that all the people we like come through fine. Bad things happen. Readers shouldn’t feel safe. One of the running jokes of Star Trek is that the Red Shirts are cannon fodder. But you know Kirk and Spock and Bones are going to make it back to the Enterprise fine. I offer no such comfort in my novels.

Have any of your fans complained about character deaths?

Yes. And that’s how I know I did it right. Nobody complains about a character death unless they care. Part of caring about a character is being afraid for them.

Fire Beneath the Skin has several antagonists. Who is your personal favorite?

A Painted Goddess (cover)Minor spoiler but…what the heck. The character Giffin is my fave because he is the worst. Rina’s homeland is invaded by a foreign army. They are conquerors, yes, but there is nothing inherently “evil” about being from a foreign land. On the other hand, Giffen is a traitor to his own people.

Do you plan on any more fantasy series? A return to Helva?

I’m currently working on short “SideQuests.” These are novellas that return us to the world of Helva but with new characters and stories. Full-sized novels are also in the planning stage.

What’s next for you?

My agent is currently shopping a new fantasy series. Fingers crossed.

We would like to thank Victor again for taking the time to speak with us today! To learn about A Fire Beneath the Skin and his other works you can visit his website and follow him on Twitter!

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