Today we are talking to New York Times bestselling author, Kevin Herne. Herne is the author of multiple fantasy series, The Iron Druid Chronicles, The Seven Kennings, and Ink & Sigil. He also often works in collaboration with Delilah S. Dawson for their The Tales of Pell series. Herne chats with us about the power of the written word, tyromancers, and much more.
GdM: I read that Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was a big inspiration for you as a writer. Why is that, and how has it influenced your writing?
First, I have to acknowledge that rereading it today, there are a lot of problematic bits. But what interested me at the time I read it (in the early nineties) was the narrator’s voice and how his language changed as his mental health improved. It illustrated how vital language use is to a character’s personality, and that observation has really stuck with me and influenced how I approach building a character. What’s their vocabulary, their manner of expression, their favorite stock phrases? It signals quite a bit about who they are.
GdM: I watched an interview where you called science fiction and fantasy’s current state a golden age. I couldn’t agree more. Who are some outstanding authors that you are following right now?
Andrea Stewart! Read The Bone Shard Daughter, y’all. And The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix Harrow. Any or all of The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells.
GdM: In an interview I had read from years ago, you had mentioned reading Chew and Revival. Two great graphic novel series. As much as we live in a golden age of SFF, I think the same can be true of graphic novels and comics. Would you agree, and have you read any lately that you thought were fantastic?
I think there’s a lot of great stuff going on, absolutely. However, I confess I haven’t read many comics or graphic novels in recent years. I used to rely on recommendations from people at the comic shop, but I haven’t gone to one in, uh…eek, four years now? Excuse me, I’m just gonna go park my butt in the Oubliette of Shame and think about what I’ve done.
GdM: Chuck Wendig occasionally speaks pretty passionately on twitter about things like apples and sandwiches. What is something you are passionate about, aside from books, reading, and writing? I hear you enjoy a good whiskey sour.
Yeah, I’m into nature photography these days and share plenty of photos on my Instagram, and I follow a lot of nature accounts there. Wombats and quokkas and stuff. I also tend to share good food and drink, and I even started a hobby account called @chipstandsofcanada where I go by the name Chippy McChipface. It’s all chip stands and chip wagons, their menus, and sometimes (but not always) their food. It’s kind of a Canadian thing—in the US you have food trucks, but up here they’re all chip wagons because they always offer fries and poutine no matter what else they offer. Some of them specialize in something—grilled cheese sandwiches, chicken wings, or gourmet sausages, perhaps—but you can always get a basket of fries covered in gravy and cheese curds. I enjoy the names of these small businesses and their bright paint jobs, because the name of the game is grabbing attention. So far my favorite is a wagon named Cheesus Murphy and the Grateful Bread.
GdM: Can you tell me about tyromancers? How did you discover that was a real thing?
Sure! Tyromancers are folks who can detect the patterns of the future in the formation of cheese curds. Pattern recognition is the basis of many forms of seerage—whether it’s augury, reading tea leaves or palms, or tarot cards. I don’t recall exactly how I came across it, but once I did, I knew I wanted to create an anthology based on cheese wizards. It was just a mountain I needed to climb. So that’s how Three Slices came to be: I asked Chuck and Delilah to write a novella that included tyromancy, wrote one myself, and kablam: summit achieved. You can buy the world’s first tyromancy anthology in ebook or audio today, so cheez, don’t wait!
GdM: What is #shakespuck and #spicepuck? Have you thought of branching out into other things such as #bladerunnerpuck, #Labyrinthpuck, or #ROUSpuck? Because the world needs all of these.
Ha! Well, it was a way to goof around on Twitter by juxtaposing hockey with Shakespeare. I’d share screencaps of a Shakespeare movie, quoting lines or appreciating a performance as I watched it on my laptop, and interrupt it to celebrate goals of a playoff game that was broadcasting on TV. So you might see “But soft? What light through yonder breaks?” followed by “TKACHUK GOES FIVE-HOLE! YEAAAAH BABY!” I did it with several Shakespeare movies and also did a couple of Jane Austen adaptations and the David Lynch version of Dune. I could certainly do some other stuff next time hockey season rolls around.
GdM: How do you write the different voices for your story and keep them all on track? I have heard that you use Scrivener tabs. Could you explain that process? It seems like you do a ton of prep work on every character before sitting down to write because they are all so very unique.
This recalls the earlier question about Cuckoo’s Nest. I definitely think about how characters speak and how that reveals who they are. And that Scrivener tabs thing—I use that specifically for the Seven Kennings trilogy, where I’m weaving together eleven or twelve different first-person narratives and they all need to sound like people who aren’t me. Part of it is what they love and therefore what they notice. Hanima, for example, wants to lift people up, so she’s always noticing the highlights of being alive and declaring that they’re “the best.” Gondel Vedd loves language, his husband, and mustard, so he talks about these things almost to the exclusion of all else. Daryck du Löngren is a hunter so he’s constantly noticing ambient noises and his surroundings, yet he depends on others for smells since he broke his nose too many times in fights and suffered nerve damage.
Once I have an idea of who they are, it necessarily colors how they take input, process it, and deliver output. There are some subtleties of language I pay attention to as well, some dry syntax stuff that might bore people to tears if I broke it down, but which I hope pays off on the page. The tabs allow me to write all of a single character’s chapters in sequence to keep myself in that headspace, and thereby (hopefully) keep their language consistent.
GdM: You have worked with audible hall of famer Luke Daniels on the entire Iron Druid series for audio narration. Do you adjust your storytelling for his voice, knowing that he will be recording it for a listening audience?
The only adjustments I make now are to insert something in there to mess with him a little bit. For example, at one point Granuaile had to run across part of Poland and had to stop somewhere for a break. I could have picked any city on the map, but I picked the one with the most consonants: Bydgoszcz. And yes, I laughed maniacally while I typed that out. Luke is simply outstanding and can handle anything.
GdM: You have a writing partner for the Kill the Farm Boy series in the great Delilah S. Dawson. What was your writing schedule like when working with a partner? Did you split up the story into specific sections or come together to write it in the same space?
Both! We would meet (in New Orleans or Seattle) to kind of sketch out characters and a broad plot outline, then we would trade writing chapters without worrying who the point-of-view character was. All characters were our characters, in other words, and none belonged to only one of us. The entire process was delightful. I’d write a chapter, email it, and work on something else until a new chapter arrived in my inbox. That chapter would make me laugh and then it was my turn again. Super fun—and, I hope, fun for readers.
GdM: Tell me about Oberon. How much fun did you have writing him? He is about the best animal character I have ever read and brings me joy just thinking about him. Was he always an Irish Wolfhound? Or was that a no-brainer due to the Irish folklore connection in Iron Druid/Ink & Sigil world?
He was always a wolfhound, yeah, because the early version of the breed—warhounds—are mentioned in the old stories about Cú Chulainn. I figured an Irish Druid would want one as a friend, especially if he himself could shapeshift into one. But Oberon’s character and behavior were modeled on a couple of smaller dogs with expressive faces, a pug and a Boston terrier who gave me much joy for many years. They unfortunately have moved on to another plane now, but I’m glad their spirit lives on in Oberon. He was (and is) an absolute blast to write.
GdM: Your new series, Ink & Sigil, takes place in the same world as the Iron Druid but is very much its own thing with its own distinct voice. What made you decide to come back to this world?
Well, I love the world and didn’t want to leave—it’s just that Atticus told his story the way he wanted to tell it. So a different narrator was needed, and Al MacBharrais presented himself as an interesting contrast—aging instead of eternally youthful.
GdM: Could you tell me a bit about Al MacBharrais as a character?
He’s a sixty-three-year-old sigil agent who’d like to retire but can’t because his apprentices keep dying in freak accidents. He discovers, however, that they might not be accidents after all; he’s been cursed, perhaps doubly so, and until those curses are lifted he’ll be unable to train a successor. As a sigil agent who writes and enforces contracts with otherworldly entities, using magical inks and sigils invented by Brighid, First among the Fae, he runs into many of the same deities that Atticus and Oberon did, so there’s plenty of continuity with the Iron Druid books without requiring people to have read them first. He’s been widowed for more than a decade and feels lonely, so he’s trying to do something about that, albeit slowly.
GdM: Buck Foi is a hilarious foil to Al MacBharrais. Where did you get the idea for his character? Are all hobgoblins as mischievous as he is?
Answering the second part first: Hobgoblins see themselves as fulfilling the role that court jesters used to fill in monarchies. They exist to speak truth to power and poke a needle in someone’s swelled head when it gets too big. That being said, some are far more mischievous than others and some struggle with whether they want to act as a check on power or actually overthrow it. Lots of that gets explored in the second book, Paper & Blood (more on that below).
As for the idea, I’d point to A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare. Robin Goodfellow (or Puck) is a hobgoblin in service to Oberon, the king of the fairies, and he tends to screw things up rather comically.
GdM: Your newest book in this series, Paper & Blood, releases this month. Could you tell us a bit about where we are in the story and what we might have in store for this book?
There are only five sigil agents in the world, and when two of them disappear in Australia, Al has to go there with Buck to discover what happened. There he teams up with Atticus, Oberon, and Starbuck, and eventually they are joined by Nadia and Gladys Who Has Seen Some Shite (Yes, that whole thing is her name). Because there’s something in the Australian bush spawning some deadly chimeras, and Al wants to know why as much as he wants to stop it. Both Atticus and Al are surprised by who’s behind it and their motivation for doing it.
GdM: Lastly, the Iron Druid was a nine-book series. Are there long-term plans for Ink & Sigil?
I know how it’s going to end, but when exactly that comes depends a bit on demand. If folks want more, I can certainly write more adventures and would be delighted to do so. But I can also wrap things up in the next book, so spreading the word about these first two and getting folks to read them now would help tremendously in ensuring more to come. So have fun and tell your friends!
Read Paper and Blood by Kevin Hearne