An Interview with Markus Heitz

Markus Heitz is one of the most well-known and popular German fantasy authors. He published The Dwarves in 2003 (its English translation was released in 2009) and has been a professional author since. His work spans from dark epic fantasy to horror and thrillers, and even to games writing and children’s books. In The Return of the Dwarves, we return to the beloved world for new adventures. Heitz is one of my foundational authors, kindling a love for fantasy back in my school days, so it’s particularly exciting to be able to speak to him about his new book, returning to familiar worlds and international editions.

Cover of Return of the Dwarves[GdM] Can you introduce The Return of the Dwarves to our audience in a sentence or two?

[MH] Well… the dwarves are returning. I always endeavour to ensure that the title and content are congruent. I don’t want to spoil anything about the content. For dramaturgical reasons. 😉
But I can reveal that there will be a few surprises on this return. As far as I’m concerned, I’ll reveal that it could be about a very famous hero dwarf, for one thing. But I swear, there are plenty of new things to discover.

[GdM] The Dwarves was your first big success – books I personally grew up with and devoured. What has driven you to return to this world, to build so directly on your legacy?

[MH] It was about seven years before I decided to add new dwarvish stories to the previous ones. I thought about it for a long time: to tie in or not, to rebuild the country, what changes do I want? Little by little the decisions were made, and when they were finalised, the ideas for new novels exploded. For dwarves and Aelfar.

[GdM] Can you talk a bit about the challenges of returning to a familiar world, to write a – compelling – new story within its constraints?

[MH] In this case, there was no real challenge because I knew exactly how I was going to approach it: a mixture of the familiar and lots of new things, memories of the old Girdlegard for the fans of the first hour, completely new circumstances with maximum possibilities for the new readers, who don’t need to have any prior knowledge. The mix was incredible fun. Lots of echoes of the past and much more things to come.

[GdM] I love how The Return of the Dwarves uses the book-within-a-book hook. What drew you to this premise?

[MH] I like the nesting, and it also gives me the opportunity to give readers hints, insights and allusions to the adventures that have happened over the hero’s many hundreds of years.

[GdM] Heroes and legends are core to your work. What do you think makes a hero interesting, what makes a compelling character?
[MH] Heroes who claim to be heroes are usually not this. Or they’re really bad show-offs. Heroes who don’t want to be heroes in the first place, who stumble into their task, with weaknesses and making mistakes – that’s what I find exciting. In the end,
the character fights for the good. Well, okay, “good” from his point of view.

[GdM] After having been in the publishing business for two decades, what do you wish you had known starting out?

[MH] That you NEVER send your entire book to a publisher as a beginner, in 10-point font, without a synopsis. Well. That’s exactly what I did. Like a non-professional, which I wasn’t back then. But a kind God held his hand over me, and two publishers wanted ULLDART, my first work. That was the beginning of my career.

[GdM] Have you noticed big differences in terms of how your audiences react to your
work in Germany versus internationally?

[MH] I don’t get that much from abroad, to be honest. Sometimes via FB and X, and to my delight they usually ask for the next translation. So it seems that there are people outside Germany who also read my books – and want more. Huzzah!

[GdM] My favourite books of yours have always been your takes on myths, weaving together legend and history with SFF. However, as far as I am aware, these were never translated into English. Can you talk a bit more about translations, reception and the choices that go into international deals from an author perspective? (Note to the reader: If you can read German I recommend you take a peek at Kinder des Judas or Ritus).

[MH] How decisions are made as to which book could or could not be translated is no different from the publishers in Germany. They look at which book has sold best. So, the idea is to assume that it could also be a success in the respective country. The
aspect of timing should not be neglected. Sometimes you have to be in the right place at the right time. That’s better than
expensive marketing. Unfortunately, there is no real rule for the best timing. Let’s call it … chance. One of the most crucial factors in the creative field. You have to know that.

Romance fantasy aka Romantasy is currently extremely strong, while classic fantasy is currently struggling a bit in Germany. But everything comes and goes in waves. That’s why there will definitely be a trend towards classic fantasy again at some
point. It could just take a while. But dwarves live long.

[GdM] Do you see major differences in how the different markets you are published in approach SFF? What do you think works particularly well in German that is perhaps underappreciated here in the UK?
[MH] I don’t follow the market very closely. I know, it’s a bit ignorant – but I always concentrate on writing and the next book idea. I don’t intend to write according to market trends myself, unless there happens to be an intersection between my idea
and the demand. Oh yes, there it was again, coincidence.

[GdM] Can you talk a bit about how your background as a historian has influenced your work as an author?
[MH] … History as such is full of ideas! A quarry from which an infinite number of works of art can be mined. Hence many works that relate to history, such as The Devil’s Playbook. While enjoying the novel, readers can do their own research and understand what really happened and what I invented about it. Specialist knowledge is also used in fantasy, such as my knowledge of conquest techniques, battle formations, fencing techniques or siege tactics. Sure, it’s fantasy, but I know pretty well how to crack a castle when you don’t have a magician on hand. And of course that is brought into the novel.

[GdM] I’d love to know more about your experience being known for one very specific series/setting and how you have handled these expectations while writing a very broad range of SFF?

[MH] Hahaha, well, it’s a bit like a restaurant that has a very extensive, varied and surprising menu. And yet most guests prefer to order ONE dish. And it’s the same with dwarves. As a chef or author, you can now despair that despite the large selection, many people only want one thing. But I have long since accepted this and am happy about every reader who also enjoys reading other books and discovering new worlds. The important thing for me is to have the freedom to really follow every idea. For me, writing only about dwarves would be like having to eat the same dish every day. Let’s say pizza. It would be okay for the first few days, but at some point you don’t want to anymore. Variety is extremely important to me, and I accept it if there are fewer readers looking forward to the new dish… book. So far, nothing has got past the dwarves. The Aelfar are hot on their heels, but the little ones are still the biggest success. And for that I am very, very grateful to the fans. That’s why I will always have a mixed menu. And the dwarves will always be part of it, sometimes with a new flavor.

[GdM] How similar (or different, as the case may be) is your writing process for adult novels across genres and in comparison to your work for children/games/music?
[MH] There is not really much difference. It’s always storytelling, regardless of the medium. If you keep in mind what the requirements are in the respective medium, it’s easy. And don’t forget: writing is also a craft in which you get better (at best) and
learn.

[GdM] Can you tell us anything about what’s next for you?

[MH] I’m currently writing a sequel, which I can’t say much about – for dramaturgical reasons – in case a few German fans also read this article. But there are vampires in it (real vampires don’t glitter in the sunlight, folklore doesn’t know anything like that, I swear!) and it has a historical background.

After that, I’m off to write the second new volume of Aelfar. In Germany, the first Aelfar volume will be published in summer 2024. The Black Eyes are just too much fun, and if the dwarves got two new novels, well… My writing schedule stretches into 2026, and yes, ideas are not my problem. They never are. It’s the time to implement everything. That’s a bit tricky.

[GdM] I’m aware you’re into pen & paper RPGs, so a two-pronged question: first, what have you been playing recently, and second, what would a D&D character based on yourself look like?

[MH] A sniper cat in a fantasy world called “Twaing” (that’s the sound the crossbow makes when triggered). I don’t want to talk about it, please… Yes, of course, it was very funny! A live P&P round on stage. And the audience almost laughed their heads off. Sniper, heads off… pun alert! Who would have thought that the hobby that accompanied me in the 80s and 90s would experience such a renaissance? I think it’s great! Let the dice roll!

Hahaha, really?! Based on me? Here we go: a Shakespearean-dressed Goth in black, always standing around in the background, taking notes, commenting and smelling good. In case of a fight, using puns, sharp knifes and poison, that looks like ink. And a
raven, who always quotes Nevermore. As mascot.

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Fabienne Schwizer

Fabienne Schwizer

Fabienne can usually be found with her nose in a book or two. Most of her life revolves around words, be that reading, writing, or editing. You can find more of her ramblings over on www.libridraconis.com, where she also reviews YA books and more lighthearted Fantasy and Science Fiction, as @FLSchwizer on Twitter, and @libri_draconis on Instagram. If you're curious about what she is currently reading, check out www.goodreads.com/libridraconis.

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