With the release of his latest fantasy novel, Vowbreaker through the fiction line of Outland Entertainment, we virtually sat down with author Robert Duperre to discuss his new book, some of his writing processes and what he’s reading now. His novel Vowbreaker is out now from Outland Entertainment, and available from your favorite book and ebook retailers.
Outland Entertainment: Let’s start out with an easy one for you, and tell us a little bit about yourself.
Robert Duperre: Would you look at that—my favorite part of any interview! (Or not.) Let’s start out by saying that I’m a man who once was young, and is not so much anymore, whiling my time away comfortably in the middle of Connecticut as one of the luckiest people who ever existed. I mean, how could I not consider myself lucky? I got to marry the love of my life in Jessica Torrant, who is an astonishingly talented artist, care for the best little insane hound-mix rescue in our dog Rosie, have three grown children who make me proud every day, and am able to present the happenstance worlds I create for the whole world to consume, if they find me appealing.
I’d say that’s pretty damn lucky.
As for my journey as a writer, it began, in 2010, when I decided to self-publish The Rift, a zombie apocalypse series I’d been grinding out off-and-on for almost a decade. From there, I wrote a very personal sci-fi fantasy tale Silas, which was a sort of self-examination and preemptive therapy project for me, a way to come to grips with the fact our precious yellow lab Leo was getting on in years and would probably soon be leaving us (which he did a scant four years later). I also edited a pair of short story compilations (The Gate and The Gate 2), and followed that up by chaining myself to a desk for three years to pen the three-book fantasy epic The Breaking World with David Dalglish, which went on to be published by 47North starting in 2014.
After the breakneck pace of those first few years in the game, things slowed down a bit. I gradually published the five-book urban fantasy series The Infinity Trials over the next five years, which was a passion project of mine, both serving as a dedication to my daughter Lily and the basis upon which a lot of my current and coming works will be grounded. And, of course, I also wrote Soultakerand Vowbreaker, which have been (and will be) published right here at Outland. All while working a day job so we can afford to live, because let’s face it, publishing isn’t the game you want to get into if you want to consistently put food on the table and dealing with the many hardships that real life throws our way.
Wow, typing it out like that makes all this seems like an accomplishment. I guess we really don’t understand how much we’ve done in life unless we sit down and reflect on it a bit. In that way, maybe these opening “tell us about yourself” interview questions should be my favorite part of any interview. Who’d have thunk it?
Outland: What lead you to creating and writing Vowbreaker? What style of fantasy do you consider the novel to be?
Robert: Nothing I ever write seems to fit into one well-defined box. Which is probably at least a portion of the reason why I have a difficult time finding a consistent audience! That being said, Vowbreaker(and Soultakerbefore it) fit slightly into the post-apocalyptic fantasy bubble, though there’s a good amount of sci-fi thrown in along with a substantial dose of epic and heroic fantasy. And Vowbreakerin particular actually skews heavily toward the latter, as there’s an entire subplot that’s literally based around a fantasy world populated by D&D-inspired characters, complete with a Hero’s Journey campaign! It’s the mix-and-match that draws me to it, as life doesn’t fit neatly into tiny boxes. There are equal amounts of horror, romance, science, and the fantastic in every waking day of our lives. And I find that very appealing.
Outland: What about the Knights Eternal setting would appeal to readers?
Robert: When I thought up this world, it was openness and unpredictability that I wanted more than anything. And it kind of had to be. My writing can be very self-referential and cannibalistic unto itself, and The Knights Eternal’s setting is no different. This is actually a fictional world set within a fictional world, as it’s a universe that the main protagonist of The Infinity Trials creates at the very end of that series. A reality built from nothing by a teenager whose life had been filled with hardship and whose understanding of the workings of reality was slanted by her general youthful ignorance. To me, that opens up endless possibilities. Reincarnated musicians, alternative history, portals to parallel worlds, advanced technology that harnesses the power of the atom in the palm of your hand, monsters from dark dimensions, supercomputers that can predict the future, sophisticated A.I. that becomes fully actualized in a fleshy shell, and even magic; none of it is out of bounds. It’s a gigantic blank canvas, an expansive sandbox where I get to dive in and do whatever I feel might be interesting at that moment. Really, as a creator, you can’t ask for more freedom than that.
Outland: What are the challenges, as a writer, to creating and developing a setting like the one in the Knights Eternal stories?
Robert: I just mentioned openness, unpredictability, and freedom to do what I want up above, right? Well, all that comes with one gigantic caveat—the need for consistency. Even a world this open needs rules, and you need to make sure those rules are followed.
Do pull this off, I try to ground all of the fantastic elements with the common while adding a sprinkling of real-life science. Sure, there’s a good amount of handwavium, but there kinda has to be when dealing in fantasy. One way I did that was by basing the layout of the land on the actual United States—taking a map and crossing out large swathes that were either flooded, fell to tectonic trauma, or were otherwise eradicated by experiments that opened portals to other dimensions—and then adding in common landmarks that people might recognize. That’s on a macro scale; on the micro, that grounding can be as simple as giving something a technical name. For example, taking Heartcubes (the objects that allow one to harness the power of the atom, as I stated above) and calling them secure fissile neutronium reactors can give the objects an air of realism, to plant the seed that these outlandish things could be possible some time far off in the future.
However, the feasibility of fantasy elements, while important, isn’t anywhere close to the most challenging aspect of creating a work like this. Neither is timeline, as I’m a maddeningly linear writer and can obsess over the order of events to a level that borders on manic. Consistency with storytelling, however, is another situation entirely. While I don’t struggle with keeping the characters coherent in their aims and personalities, a plot that revolves around mystery, sleight of hand, and secretive inner working can be difficult to keep straight. I have a rather large “bible” for these books, but I’ll be honest—I’m not always as diligent about writing notes as I should be. Sometimes, especially if I’m on a roll (a rarity ever since the pandemic started, but I digress), I can tell myself I need to add some new aspect to the bible later, and then forget to do so. That can make for some embarrassing gaffes down the road, such as fudging a secondary character’s name, offering different explanations for certain aspects of the plot from chapter to chapter, or even completely forgetting to answer mysteries that I’d introduced earlier in the narrative. All of which make me have to backtrack when writing and cost me time, and even then I don’t catch it all. That’s why I’m so lucky that I have Alana as an editor. She’s great at seeking out these warbles in the narrative and pointing them out to me. There’s been numerous instances where she’s had to save me from myself. And for that I’m forever grateful.
Outland: How does Vowbreaker follow up on the first Knights Eternal book, Soultaker?
Robert: Like many middle volumes in a three-book series, Vowbreaker holds true to the trope that the heroes are separated, both physically and mentally, by circumstance and the different viewpoints that come about when the growth of the characters aren’t progressing in the same way. Not to give away too many details about Soultaker for those who haven’t read it, the three Knights Eternal are on their own separate journeys of self-discovery—one in the lands over the mountains beyond the Wasteland, where he comes across a strange settlement of oppressed people, and the other two traipsing across the desert in search of him, where they uncover truths about both their land and themselves that they weren’t expecting. It’s all about them finding each other again and trying to right wrongs that they had no hand in creating.
On top of that, this next installment furthers the development of the land of Yussai in which the heroes live, which allows me to inject the philosophical components that both inspire me and drive me nuts. Whereas Soultaker was, at its heart, about breaking down the lies we’ve been told about ourselves and the dangers of blindly following charismatic zealots, Vowbreaker sneaks in references to the ways power structures manipulate the populace, keeping antiquated rules and beliefs in place to keep those beneath them focused on the easy-to-hate other, and how a downtrodden people gaining self-actualization can threaten the entire power structure. I also wanted to show how ugly revolution can be, and how even if you disrupt the channels of power, it’s really, really hard to tear it all down when the infrastructure for oppression is firmly rooted in place.
On a lighter note, I also get to create cool new creatures, invent outlandishly fun scenarios, and play around with gender stereotypes, which was quite refreshing.
Outland: What can readers expect from you and the Knights Eternal books next?
Robert: The series has one volume left—Warmaker, which I’m writing very, very slowly. Sometimes, life gets in the way, as I’m sure everyone who’s lived through this pandemic can truly understand. I can’t really get into the plot of the book right now, as anything I could say about it would be massive spoilers for the second book, but what I can tell you is that the story will come to a satisfying conclusion. There’ll be angst and new demons and battles galore. And that’s a promise.
Though, if I get my own way, the end of Warmakerwon’t be the end of these characters. They’re all part of a much larger narrative, one that I hope to expand on in the future. Will I? Not sure. I’ve come to understand over the past few years not to make promises that I’ll have a hard time fulfilling. And this one would be a doozy.
Outland: What are you reading right now that your readers might be interested in reading about?
Robert: I’ve been on a massive Romance binge of late, as the outside world is kinda stressful and I need to infuse myself with some lightness, passion, and the knowledge that no matter how tense the situations are in the book I’m reading, it’ll all come out okay in the end.
(This isn’t a new thing—Vowbreaker is dedicated to Beverly Jenkins, after all, who’s a romance author of renown whose books have educated me, made me hot and bothered, and taught me to be a better person.)
Right now, though, I’m in the middle of something that splits the genre line—The Devil You Know, the second book in Kit Rocha’s Mercenary Librarians series. It’s a dystopian sci-fi romance with evil tech corps, genetically altered humans, and tons of action both in and out of the bedroom. A rockin’ good time, and I can’t recommend it enough.
Outland: Any parting words for your readers, or people who become your readers?
Robert: All I’ll say is that any book you read carries with it a bit of the author’s soul. I know that’s a bit of a cliché, but it’s true. But even so, whether you enjoy my stories or don’t, it’s an honor just for you to take interest in the worlds I’m trying to create. That, more than anything, is the gift that publishing gives me. The knowledge that out there somewhere, there are people who’ve ingested that which I’ve put down on paper,. And since a lot of this interview has been about how much I appreciate how privileged I’ve been in my life, then let me say that the love I feel for you all is very, very real.