Penguin Australia contacted me recently to ask me if I’d review Captive Prince, which releases today. I first read Captive Prince Vol1 and Captive Prince Vol2 (now renamed Prince’s Gambit) back in March 2013. I reviewed them both together then and I loved them. Here is a link to my review. Even though it’s about the first two books I don’t think it’s too spoiler-y but I can’t vouch for the comments and links. The books received lively discussion at the time and there were many wonderful and spoilerific discussions.
I loved the books and I’m so excited to see a m/m fantasy series being released into the mainstream. I wanted to promote the series, even though I rarely do promo here. (The author is also Australian for extra bonus points.) When Penguin offered an interview, I agreed and then I wracked my brains for interesting questions. I had help from Janine Ballard from Dear Author and Brie from Romance Around the Corner. Thank you ladies. Your questions were the really good ones.
Thank you also to CS Pacat who made all of the questions look really clever. Thanks also for your comprehensive answers and good luck with the books! I hope they sell bazillions.
And now, without further ado, the interview:
I read Captive Prince Vol1 and Vol2 when it was first released electronically (and loved them). Has much changed in the Penguin version?
The biggest change is that the additional “bonus chapters” that came with the first release will be included in the paperback edition in the US, and in the ebooks in Australia.In every other regard, Penguin wanted to respect the original editions as much as possible, so the changes are minimal, just a sentence tweak here or there.
You clearly had an overarching plan for the trilogy and one of the joys of reading it was seeing things recast as new information came to light. You obviously knew all the backstory already but you didn’t want to let on too early. How tricky was that to pull off for you? Or, was it just organic?
I’m a compulsive planner, and I plotted everything in advance. As for the “recasting”, that was a technique that I first learned reading Iris Murdoch’s novels–perhaps particularly The Bell–the way that a new piece of information can “backlight” what has come before, allowing you to see it with new eyes, and the power of that kind of paradigm shift in the narrative. Murdoch is a master of viewpoint and of shifting perspective, and The Bell is a masterclass, like many of her novels.I think what is tricky about this technique is really two things. First, having to plot your moments of revelation carefully. But second is having the fortitude to hold back from revealing until the right time, which is difficult as a writer, when you know this wonderful thing. It’s like having the mettle to “hold” in poker when the stakes are growing higher and higher.
What was the genesis/inspiration of the Captive Prince story for you?
I wanted to write the book that I wanted to read. I love high-octane escapism, adventure, swordfights, chases, escapes, true love, intrigue, high stakes – and homoerotica, themes of sex, power and sexuality.I also love princes–not in a Prince Charming sense, but because they are liminal, they are in a state of becoming, and they must displace someone else in order to fulfill their promise and become King. Displacement is so powerful to me as a theme. I was immediately caught up by the idea of a prince who becomes a slave.
Throughout Volumes 1 and 2, we see Laurent almost exclusively (but for the Vol. 1 prologue) through Damen’s POV, but we never get access to Laurent’s own POV. Can you speak to why you chose to withhold Laurent’s POV from the reader, and what are the advantages and disadvantages of that for you as a writer?
I am fascinated by biased viewpoint, and I wanted the reader to have the same journey as Damen: to start out hating Laurent, and end up in love.I think that a book’s unwritten text can have just as much impact on the story as its written text, by this I mean, what is left out, what isn’t said out loud. So as a writer, I like to harness my unwritten text, to attempt to use it intentionally, in the same way that a sculptor is aware that negative space informs a sculpture and creates it deliberately.
Withholding Laurent’s point of view allowed me to create a space of unwritten text, and introduce a tension between what is written and what isn’t, as we gradually realise that Damen’s viewpoint is biased, that his reality is not objective, that the reality that Laurent is living is radically different to his own.
Captive Prince engendered some controversy because it contains a rape that Laurent essentially perpetrates against Damen, and also other graphic and disturbing elements, including, of course, slavery. What made you choose to go that route and do you see yourself doing so again in future works?
Yes, there’s a scene in the first book in which Laurent forces Damen to receive a blow job from a male courtesan, to become aroused against his will and to climax. The book also portrays sexual slavery, and not only of the, “Antoninus, peel me a grape,” or the, “Bathe him and bring him to me,” variety. There are very few scenes of explicit violence, but the threat of violence pervades the first half of the first book, which is written to be intentionally disturbing. As a writer, I’m interested in exploring extreme situations. I also think that extremes are what the fantasy genre does best – often better than realist fiction. Realism as a technique is very good at describing actions and behaviours within a certain bandwidth, but because extreme acts and situations can seem so fantastical that they explode believability even if they are true, they often sit awkwardly in a realist setting. In a fantasy setting, the extreme and the fantastical are assumed to be plausible, and can be explored in depth.There were also reasons to do it that were specific to the work. I wanted the court of Vere to be a disturbing place, because it is an external representation the inner self of the series villain, a touchstone for the violence that he inflicts, often invisibly. Or, in the case of the series heroes, Damen and Laurent, I needed there to be unforgivable acts on both sides, a narrative balancing: If you killed my brother, you have done something unforgivable to me; if I own you as a slave I am doing something unforgivable to you. It’s likewise important for the story that we meet Laurent at his absolute worst. I didn’t want to flinch from any of that content.
I think I’ll always be interested in extremes, and I think themes of sex and power will absolutely inform my future work, though perhaps in different ways.
When you’re not writing, what do you like to read? What are some of your favorite books, and those that have influenced you as a writer?
My favourite author is Dorothy Dunnett, and she has influenced me enormously as a writer. Her writing is restrained, yet there are things going on between the lines. She is the master of the invisible, particularly in her later books. Where is this tension coming from? Why is this scene so agonizing? Why is this scene so emotional? Tension and emotion rise and rise sometimes almost unbearably, yet when you look at the writing, at the actual words, there’s nothing to show that the scene is emotional at all.
What is the release schedule for Vol2 and, most importantly, Vol3?
Prince’s Gambit will be released in July, and the third book will follow, with the date to be announced shortly.
Is Vol3 finished or are you still working on it?
It’s finished, and sent off to the editor as of the 31st of March. Vale, Captive Prince!
Vol1 and Vol2 were originally written as free online serials. How did your writing process differ with Vol3?
Truthfully, writing the third book was both more intense, and lonelier. When I wrote the first two volumes, I cursed the limitations of the serial format daily! When I left it behind, I realised how incredibly lucky I had been to have had a community of readers living the story along with me, how much their company and support had meant, and how much I missed everyone. I think I will always look back on that time as one of my most privileged and wonderful experiences as a writer.But the change was probably a good thing for the book overall, because it allowed me to write in much more of a traditional format – a first draft, then a second draft. The book absolutely benefited. I could do things that I could never have dreamed of doing if I had been writing in a straight line with no chance for backtracking or rewrites.
Once the Captive Prince trilogy is complete, what writing project(s) will you be working on next?
My next series will be young adult. In my head it is completely marvelous. I hope it turns out that way on the page too!I also have a mini-project that is Captive Prince adjacent, although I can’t reveal any of the details yet. I am ridiculously excited though, and can’t wait to share the news. Stay tuned!