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Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Hawk and His Boy: Book Review and Interview with Christopher Bunn

I recently read The Hawk And His Boy (The Tormay Trilogy), by Christopher Bunn. The story was beautifully crafted. It grabbed my attention right away and held it to the end.

From the author’s website: “The first book of the Tormay Trilogy, The Hawk And His Boy begins the story of Jute, a young thief who is hired to steal an old wooden box from a rich man’s house. On pain of death, he is instructed by his masters to not open the box. Being a curious boy, he opens the box and finds a knife inside. He accidentally cuts his finger on the blade and thus begins a series of events that soon has him on the run from his former masters in the Thieves Guild, the rich man (a particularly vindictive wizard), and the Guild’s original and anonymous client who hired them to steal the box in the first place. The client, who happens to be the Lord of Darkness himself, will do anything to catch Jute, even if it means plunging the entire land of Tormay into war.”

I wanted to reread this book the moment I finished it. The author’s writing is efficient at the same time that it is poetic and beautiful. Christopher has a way of saying just what needs to be said to convey a message and nothing that is obvious. The landscape that he created is dreamy, gauzy. I felt swept away with the characters in this book. There were a large number of questions left unanswered at the end of the story, but presumably they are dealt with in the upcoming books two and three of The Tormay Trilogy.

Please enjoy my interview with Christopher Bunn below, and consider picking up The Hawk And His Boy. It’s just $2.99 at the Amazon Kindle store!

UPDATE - March 22, 2011: 
The Shadow at the Gate is now available at Amazon.com for $2.99. The first book in the series, The Hawk And His Boy, is now just $0.99!

UPDATE - June 29, 2011:
Click here to view my recent review of The Shadow at the Gate and second interview with Christopher Bunn.

UPDATE - July 21, 2011:
The Wicked Day, the third and final installment in The Tormay Trilogy, is now available! - It's just $2.99 at Amazon.com.

Interview with Christopher Bunn

Cookie’s Mom: Christopher, thank-you for allowing me to interview you today. Would you please tell your readers a little about yourself? Do you typically write fantasies?

Christopher Bunn: Thank you for having me stop by. Great blog! Well, let's see. I'm a California farmboy, born and bred. I grew up working in the fields, which meant I escaped California as quick as I could after high school. I spent some years overseas, working in missions, as well as relief and development, and construction. After I finished grad school, I went into the television world for a couple years. I worked for a production company in Scotland, but we did projects around England, as well as Greece, Fiji, and Australia. After that, I went to work for an animation company in Chicago. They went bankrupt (not due to me, hopefully), so I moved home to California. Here I am now, back working on the farm. It's funny how life can bring you full circle.

As far as writing, I love to write in general, not just fantasy. Even if it's just a letter to the editor. However, fantasy is one of my main loves. In addition, I enjoy writing humor and science fiction (which is pretty darn similar to fantasy).

Cookie’s Mom: The Hawk and His Boy is such a rich and complex story. Did you always know that it would be a trilogy? Have all three books been written, or at least mostly written, in your mind since the story began? Is the process of writing a trilogy different from writing a stand-alone novel?

Christopher Bunn: I actually didn't set out to write a trilogy with The Hawk. I just wanted to write a single, stand-alone novel. However, when I finished, the thing was 450,000 words long. That's about 100,000 words longer than Eliot's Middlemarch. I did a lot of painful pruning after several rounds of beta-reading and got it down to 400,000 words. That was when I started thinking it had be carved into a trilogy. Not many people want to buy a book that’s big enough to double as an anchor. Happily, that meant all three books were finished even before I published The Hawk. That said, I'm not sure if I can properly answer your question about trilogy-writing versus stand-alone-writing, as I really didn't write a trilogy. I just wrote one enormous book. It, er, took me ten years. That's way too long to spend on one book or trilogy.

Cookie’s Mom: What inspired you to write this story, and to name it The Hawk and His Boy?

Christopher Bunn: There are a lot of small things that inspired this book, but the main thing was that I simply wanted to read a story like this. I wrote it primarily for myself. I don't know if that's a selfish thing, but it certainly meant I enjoyed the process. Even after ten years and countless revisions, I still enjoy thumbing through and reading about Jute and Levoreth and all the other characters who politely forced themselves into my mind and into the story.

I was going to name the first book Jute instead of The Hawk and His Boy, but one of my beta-readers, a very wise major in the US Army who was stationed in Baghdad at the time, wrote me and objected. His reasoning was that the story is more of an ensemble story, rather than a single storyline highlighting a main character. He's right. There are multiple storylines that weave in and out, all important and vital to the overall story. Despite that, the trilogy begins and ends with the character of Jute. That's why I settled on The Hawk and His Boy, which is a bit of a compromise between the superior firepower of the military and my own stubbornness.

Cookie’s Mom: You have created such a beautiful world in the land of Tormay. Was there an inspiration for this world and the creatures in it?

Christopher Bunn: I come from what I suppose most people would term an artistic family (though, that can also mean "weird family"). My brothers and I grew up in an environment of weaving, stained glass, painting, iron sculpting. Everyone played multiple instruments, except for my dad. We encouraged him to sing very softly in church: pianissimo. That said, I was taught to place a high value on beauty from a young age. Truth and beauty. They go hand-in-hand, I think. I wanted to weave that into Tormay.

However, ugliness and truth often go hand-in-hand as well. Life can be grim and difficult and dark, as we all know. I tried to find a certain accommodation for that in my story. Therefore, I was extremely deliberate in how I wove light and darkness in these books. Ultimately, though, I'm an optimist. One of my aims in creating the land of Tormay and everything that happened there was to give people a story that would have them sigh and smile at the end of it. And then walk away encouraged. Somehow. Hopefully.

Cookie’s Mom: Words have special significance and power in this world you have created. Sometimes a word’s power comes from its close relationship to what you call the first language. Was the ancient language of this book, gelicnes, based on an existing language? How did you come up with such beautiful names for the characters, places and spells we see throughout the story?

Christopher Bunn: You found me out. When I first began writing the story, back in Chicago, I got about one hundred pages into it and I had to stop. I stopped for several reasons. One of them was that I discovered I simply could not create names that rang true on their own and, more importantly, with each other. Of all genres, fantasy has that problem. You usually can't name your characters Fred and George in an otherworld fantasy and get away with sounding legitimate. You have to make them up. I found the task beyond me. That's when I went and bought myself a dictionary of Old English. About ninety percent of the names and non-English terms in the books are Old English. I used words that actually have a relation to who the person is in the story. For example, one of the agents of the Darkness in the story is called a sceadu, which is Old English for darkness, shadow, and destructive influence.

That's one of the beauties of Tolkien's writing. He knew what he was doing with names. How many dead languages did he know? What's more, I think he created entire languages to buttress the legitimacy of his writing. He was truly an amazing man. Me, I had to go buy a dictionary.

Cookie’s Mom: “The four words [first] spoken became the four beings who ruled and held sway over all the feorh—all of the essences of what is.” These four beings are the anbeorun; represented by the sea, the earth, the wind, and the fire. Each anbeorun has a companion, “a shadow of their being, an echo of their voice.” What is the significance of these companions?

Christopher Bunn: When I first started writing the story, I didn't have a clue that the anbeorun had companions. That detail slowly asserted itself as I wrote. I'm not sure how I can talk about their significance without revealing a lot of spoilers. Sorry! They all appear in the story, though, in varying degrees of prominence. One of the pairings in particular appeared out of the blue and practically stormed into the story before I knew what was happening. You'll meet them later.

Cookie’s Mom: Many readers like to know what their favorite authors are reading. Christopher, would you please share with us some of your favourite books? Are there certain authors that have inspired your work?

Christopher Bunn: I love reading. I could go on forever and probably bore you to tears about my favorite books. I'll try to behave myself and be succinct. Growing up, we had no television in our home. Instead, we had books. I grew up on Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald, and G.K. Chesterton. Those are all authors I still reread from time to time. They all wrote fantasy, in addition to other genres. In fantasy, I also greatly admire Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising series, Le Guin's Earthsea Trilogy, as well as Lloyd Alexander's The Chronicles of Prydain. I love Dorothy Sayers' Peter Wimsey mysteries. Richard Powell, an American humorist, is one of the funniest writers I've ever read. If you get a chance try his Don Quixote, U. S. A., as well as Pioneer, Go Home!. Similarly in humor, I'm a big PG Wodehouse fan. I own a great many of his books. And, even though I was forced to read Dickens in high school, I honestly enjoy him now. He's a master at plotting, and he creates marvelous characters. I could go on and on, but I'll stop my list there. Oh, wait! Robert Taylor's A Journey to Matecumbe is one of the most amazing books ever written. Please, however, avoid the Disney movie.

It's difficult to say whether certain authors inspired my own writing. Doubtlessly, I wrote the Tormay Trilogy partly because I grew up reading so much wonderful fantasy. But many other authors inspired me as well. There's even a character that shows up in the second book that is largely derived from reading too much PG Wodehouse.

Cookie’s Mom: Lastly, Christopher, The Hawk and His Boy fans want to know, when can we expect the second book in The Tormay Trilogy?

Christopher Bunn: The second book, The Shadow at the Gate, is already loaded in the Amazon system. I'm just waiting on my cover designer to finish up his art. He sent me some preliminary sketches today. Hopefully, that means it can go live sometime in the next two weeks. I'm very excited! The third book, The Wicked Day, should be out before summer.

Cookie’s Mom: Thank-you so much for speaking with me today. I look forward to continuing the journey in books two and three of The Tormay Trilogy.

Christopher Bunn: Thank you so much for having me!


Anonymous said...

Buy anything and everything this guy writes. He is true genius!

Noah Mullette-Gillman said...

Great review and interview. I'll definitely be read the book's sample!

Noah Mullette-Gillman

Anonymous said...

Awesome interview Sue, you are very good at this! Christopher Bunn is a very interesting man indeed! I can't wait for the second book, The Shadow at the Gate! Nice job!

(Linda Mc)

AMOffenwanger said...

Christopher is certainly in good company with having written one massively long book and then having to chop it into three to make a trilogy for ease of reading. It worked for Tolkien, why not for C.H. Bunn...
I was already looking forward to the second book, but now, with that hint about the Wodehouse character, I can't wait!

Anonymous said...

Excellent interview/review. Getting to know you thru these things. For someone who isn't into fantatsy, think you may almost have me intriqued! You may just convert me!

Cookie’s Mom said...

Thanks for all of your comments! I had a lot of fun with this interview. I'll post an update when The Shadow at the Gate is available for purchase.

Donna Fasano said...

Excellent interview!

Cookie’s Mom said...

Thanks Donna! I think the credit should go to Christopher. I love that his witty personality comes through here.

Cookie’s Mom said...

Hi everyone! The Shadow at the Gate (book two of the Tormay Trilogy) is now available at Amazon.com:

Ryan Fitzgerald said...

Christopher Bunn really should put his work up via Smashwords or at least Kobo so that folks with Sony eReaders and Kobos and Nooks (and other ePub viewers) can view his work.

Christopher Bunn said...

You're right. I've been meaning to put my books up on some non-Amazon outlets, but, well...I guess I have no excuse. I'll try to get that taken care of relatively soon.

Ryan Fitzgerald said...

Awesome to hear! :)

Sharon Wilfong said...

Wow! That was a great interview. Christopher Bunn sounds like my kind of guy! He loves all the authors I love. I'm going to go to Amazon right now and look for his book.
Also, thanks for visiting my site!

Cookie’s Mom said...

Sharon, thanks! I love to hear that. Christopher is such a talented author. Check out my second interview with him - it's even better!

Enbrethiliel said...


Someone who pays that much attention to language (and cites J.R.R. Tolkien as his inspiration) is totally going to be worth reading. Thanks for this interview, which has put Christopher Bunn on my radar! =)

FireStarBooks said...

Oh my goodness! This book is the kind of book I had been looking for! Thank you so so so much for this!

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