Six Elementals Author Interviews will introduce prospective readers to some of the best writers in their genre you may, or may not, have heard of, via a series of six questions. I encourage you to check out the work of these phenomenal creatives! Links to their websites and purchase links will always appear, accompanying the interview. Check them out!
I am truly humbled to be joined by the award-winning, phenomenal, gaslamp / grimdark fantasy author, Krystle Matar! Krystle’s current published works are: Legacy of the Brightwash and Dark Ends (anthology with several other authors where Krystle’s contribution called Tainted appears).
P.L.: Thank you so much Krystle for joining Six Elementals Interviews, this is a real treat! Your debut novel, Legacy of the Brightwash, has been heralded in numerous self-published fantasy circles as “The Book of the Year”. You have achieved the finals of this year’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO7) – congratulations! – with Legacy of the Brightwash selected as one of ten books amongst 300 incredible books entered in the competition. My understanding is that the creation of your highly touted book has been in the making for approximately a decade! Can you tell us what went into the making of your novel, and how long it took you to compose this masterpiece?
Krystle: Thank you so much for having me, PL, and you’re entirely too kind! I think I started working on the “messy draft that would become Brightwash” at around the same time I had my youngest child–so about six years. The first draft was about 270,000 words and not good at all. Previously in my writing, I thought you had to get from the start of a book to the end in a linear fashion, and you had to have all your plot points and twists figured out ahead of time, but I couldn’t hold that much information in my brain at one time. So I wrote shorter books with very straight forward storylines, and not a lot of background stuff, because I just assumed I wasn’t clever enough for books with big backgrounds and lots of politics. It also meant that I didn’t finish stories very often. I would start, and then I would get stuck, and then I would start over. Rinse and repeat. But I had this idea for Tashué to be in a fantasy book, and I really didn’t want to get stuck in that same loop of not finishing. So when I was working on that giant draft, I decided that no matter what, I would keep going. Just get to the end and sort it out in revisions. I came to decisions like “for the story to keep going [redacted] needs to have died three chapters ago” so I would just keep writing as if that had happened and trusted future Krystle to clean all that mess up. There was a lot to keep up and I realized that I had more than one story in there, because there was a lot I needed to add to make the world, the politics, and the story complete, so I’ve now cut that original idea into three parts to become a trilogy. Legacy of the Brightwash is book one.
The revision process was bumpy and a little frustrating. A few false starts, and yes I stopped and started over. But eventually I began to build a story that was cohesive and made something like sense. I was blessed with amazing friends who beta read for me and pushed my to dig deeper. I also hired sensitivity readers to help build nuance and depth–shoutout to the amazing folks at Salt & Sage Books, and Tessera Editorial for their help. Every revision pass I did was about letting the fear fall away, and pushing harder into the themes that I really believed in. Building up the characters that I really wanted people to know. I’ve been writing about some of these people for more than a decade in other books (now trunked and abandoned, because I’m all-in with the world of the Dominion). I couldn’t stop until things were just right–and I’m glad I pushed myself so hard. Some of the scenes that folks respond to the most are things I added at the very last minute!
P.L.: Well, all the fans of Legacy of the Brightwash, and they are legion, are grateful to all the care and attention you paid to get the story just the way you wanted it. Kudos to all your hard work! The results are spectacular! I am one of those fans of your work, of course! One of the big reasons for that is Tashué, who has struck a real chord with me, as we have discussed on a few occasions. Tashué, the central character of your book, is a troubled law enforcement officer. Why did you choose to have this type of person as the protagonist in a fantasy book?
Krystle: Tashué being part of law enforcement was a nod to our history. I’ve been writing about him a long time–coming up on 19 years now, more than half my life–and in his last few stories before I brought him to a fantasy world, he was a homicide detective. In one of those stories, he was chasing a serial killer who was murdering children. That book, while deeply flawed and never to see the light of day, was a great encapsulation of who Tashué has always been in my stories: a man driven to protect people, and a man who loves children. When I was moving him to fantasy, I wanted to preserve some of his history as he evolved through the books I wrote about him. Him being a father, him being an artist, him wanting to protect vulnerable people. I have to admit that I’ve lived vicariously through Tashué’s experiences a lot in our history, so he’s often thrust into things that I can’t experience for various reasons, and he became a police officer right about the time I was considering the same career. It didn’t work out as a viable option for me (I was a single parent already at the time and I couldn’t figure out how to make sure my children were taken care of) but I would say it worked out very, very well for him. Well, maybe he’s not exactly happy, but we finally got a debut novel out of it.
P.L.: With your ability to understand others, and insights into the human condition, you no doubt would have made a fabulous police officer! Grimdark, or dark fantasy, seems to be all the rage, particularly in the self-published fantasy community. As a grimdark author, to what do you ascribe the immense popularity of grimdark fantasy?
Krystle: Full disclosure, I didn’t realize I was writing grimdark until the first reviews started rolling in. I didn’t aim for it exactly, and in fact I remember worrying that folks who liked grimdark would be disappointed because it wasn’t dark enough! In the time since, though, I’ve learnt more about grimdark in general, and I get it now–it’s not so much about the violence, it’s about examining the human condition. It’s the counterargument to the type of fantasy where the hero is shiny and without flaws or doubts. Grimdark acknowledges that sometimes the solutions to a problem are not always obvious, or “good” or “bad”. Sometimes there are no good options, and folks are muddling through as best they can. But grimdark is also about hope, and I know some people won’t believe me, but there it is. It’s about standing up EVEN THOUGH there are no obvious solutions, it’s about fighting for what you believe in EVEN THOUGH everything looks bleak and impossible. That’s what I was writing about when I built this world for Tashué & co. The road ahead of them is not going to be easy, but he’s going to fight for what he believes in even if he doesn’t think he can win. I think a lot of people can relate to that.
P.L.: I will attest that the trials and tribulations of Tashué and the characters in your book are very compelling to read, and you have made all your characters so relatable! Legacy of the Brightwash has some very poignant and compelling themes. Can you elaborate regarding some of the themes the book explores, and morals of the story, if any?
Krystle: Someone very dear to me–one of my sensitivity readers, who thereafter became a friend–said that Brightwash was an examination of the commodification of humanity. They also said it was an exploration of living and loving through trauma. I think that just about nails it. The world I built for Tashué & co is bleak. Their economy is built on human suffering, in a way that isn’t too far from the reality that we live in. Yes, there’s magic, but the core of exploitation of humanity is something we see in our own economy. We criminalize certain experiences, and we vilify otherness. It’s a rough world out there, and it’s a rough world in the Dominion. But the flip side of that is that we have an immense capacity for love. Finding love–be it romantic love, or the love between family, or the love between FOUND family and the friends we can’t live without–is cathartic and healing. Brightwash has a romantic thread with the evolving relationship between Tashué and Stella, but it’s the complexity of all the kinds of love in his heart that drives his entire story. His son, his friends, the people he’s lost along the way. Love gives us the courage to try to change things for the better.
P.L.: That is a beautiful sentiment that you have expressed Krystle, and very inspiring. Do you have any other writing projects on the go that you can speak about?
Krystle: I’m working along steadily on Legacy of Brick & Bone, the sequel to Brightwash and the second in this trilogy. Another project that I’m very excited about is called Coyote. It’s about a character that walked into Brick & Bone, and I love him. It will be about his time before he arrives in Stella’s life, and how he (barely) survived many years in the wilderness. I get to lean hard into mysticism and wilderness survival for him, since he’s a bit of a bushman and he can scry. I was also researching the history of poppies and opium for the Dominion, which lead to a whole book idea about a poppy farmer. I think that one will be a bit lighter than my other projects, so I turn to it now and then when I need a break from all my heavy, depressing sad boys. Speaking of sad boys, Ishmael Saeati demands a book of his own; The Watchmaker’s Son is forever in progress. He also gets a short story called Paperweight Watch which is coming up in a beautiful anthology about grief, pulled together by the incredible Virginia McClain.
P.L.: Oh wow, that all sounds very exciting! I can’t wait to read your future works! Can you please define what writing success means to you?
Krystle: Damn, that’s a good question. My success isn’t measured by books sold or by money made. Success, for me, is having the freedom and the courage to write from my heart and soul. I want to continue to write in a way that’s honest and vulnerable. I want to continue to push the boundaries of my own comfort so that my stories are raw and open. I want to continue to write books that catch people off guard, but also make them feel seen. I want to write books that I can still be proud of in five, ten years, books that take a stand.
P.L.: I have no doubt you will be able to look back with immense pride at all of your accomplishments! You have achieved so much already! Best of luck in the SPFBO#7 finals! It has been fabulous speaking to you Krystle! Thank you so much for interviewing with me!