Author Interview: James L. Sutter

Thursday, April 17, 2014

James L. Sutter is the Managing Editor for Paizo Publishing and a co-creator of the Pathfinder campaign setting. In addition to campaign setting books like Distant Worlds and City of Strangers, he is the author of the novels Death's Heretic and The Redemption Engine, the former of which was ranked #3 on Barnes & Noble's list of the Best Fantasy Releases of 2011, as well as declared a finalist for both the Compton Crook Award for Best First Novel and an Origins Award. He's published short stories in numerous magazines and anthologies, including the #1 Amazon bestseller Machine of Death, and edited the anthology Before They Were Giants which pairs the first published short stories of speculative fiction luminaries with new interviews and writing advice from the authors themselves.

We sat down with James to ask some questions about his new Pathfinder Tales novel, The Redemption Engine, a sequel to 2011's Death's Heretic.

In your own words, what's The Redemption Engine about?

Plot-wise, it's all about Salim Ghadafar, a former priest-hunter from Rahadoum's Pure Legion who through some bad decisions ends up working for Pharasma. (I've always been fascinated by the concept of atheism in a world where gods are real, so forcing an atheist to work directly for a goddess seemed like a fun chance to explore that.) In this book, Salim's sent to Kaer Maga because someone in the city has been killing evil people and then stealing their souls, which would rightfully belong to Hell. It's up to Salim to unravel the mystery and put an end to it, but the scope just keeps getting bigger, and he ends up having to recruit a whole team of unusual folks to help him.

At a more metaphysical level, where Death's Heretic was all about exploring the idea of rejecting gods you know are real, this one's more about the idea of moral absolutes, and all the weirdness that arises when you start saying that creatures can have absolute morality. Devils are evil, but does that mean that breaking planar law to steal from them is okay? As you might imagine from the book's title, there's a lot in here about the nature of salvation, and whether it's always a good thing.

Without spoilers, what was your favorite aspect of this novel? What was the most fun part to write?

I wrote the entire concluding chapter of the book (and it's a big one) in a single session, and it was as exhilarating as it was exhausting. At that point, I'd been waiting to write that scene for a whole year. (I make myself write scenes in order to keep myself from getting lazy.) Trying to affect yourself viscerally with your own writing is like trying to tickle yourself, but with both novels, I've been lucky enough to get at least one scene that emotionally affects me, and it gives me great hope that it'll do the same to other readers!

Going along with that, while I got to play with a lot of awesome toys in this one, I think my favorite aspect was probably Bors and Roshad, the warriors of the Iridian Fold who end up acting as Salim's sidekicks. I introduced the mysterious group way back in my first descriptions of Kaer Maga, and it was time to finally let the cat out of the bag and explain what they're all about. Plus, I feel like I haven't seen a lot of married gay couples in RPG novels, and I wanted to mix things up a bit.

Who's your favorite character and why?

I know I just said Bors and Roshad, but while they gave me a chance to reveal some fun things, my favorite character is Gav, the street kid I invented way back in the journal of Pathfinder Adventure Path #3. He's a fast-talking philosopher-scamp, and I could happily spend days writing his patter. (You can see some examples in the quotes introducing each chapter of City of Strangers.)

Strangely enough, when I originally began the outline, Gav wasn't in it. As soon as I mentioned to Wes Schneider that I was pitching a Kaer Maga novel, though, his first question was how Gav was involved. And I realized instantly that he was right—Kaer Maga without Gav just wouldn't be the same. Even once I started writing the book, Gav kept creeping into scenes I hadn't cast him in. He's like that.

What drew you to this particular region of Golarion as the setting for a novel?

Shameless favoritism. Actually, it was Erik Mona who pointed me toward it: I was trying to figure out where to set my next book, and he noted that Kaer Maga and all its weirdness—bloatmages, sweettalkers, caulborn, troll augurs—might be the part of Golarion that I'm most associated with. Why not set the novel there? And just like Wes, he was absolutely right—it was a blast to go back and play in that sandbox again.

What's your favorite part of Golarion that you haven't written about yet?

One of the best things about this job is that if you're excited enough about something, it's likely you'll get to write about it at some point. But something I hope to write more about is the First World—as with Golarion's solar system, I had the honor of writing that plane's original gazetteer and creating most of the Eldest, and I'd dearly love to go back and flesh things out in greater detail.

How did you first get into writing?

I had always wanted to be a writer, but it wasn't until college that a creative writing professor suggested I try selling my writing. To my delight, the University of Washington Daily hired me after one article, and the first short story I sent out got picked up by a local fiction journal. Thus encouraged, I spent the rest of college working as a journalist, writing (and occasionally even publishing) fiction, and even editing the school's short-lived but infamously successful erotica journal.

After college, however, journalism started to lose a lot of its charm. It turned out that gonzo adventure assignments and articles about sex and rock and roll (I didn't know much about drugs) played really well on college campuses, and not so well at the sleepy suburban newspapers that were willing to hire me. Since I cared way more about writing than reporting, I started looking around for somewhere that wasn't so darn concerned with facts. And that's when I found Paizo.

I've already written about how I clawed my way into a job here, but suffice to say that folks like Wes, Erik, Jacobs, and the rest were incredibly gracious in teaching a neophyte author everything they knew about the business, and in giving me a chance to prove myself. A good community is a writer's greatest weapon.

Any advice for aspiring writers?

Lots! You can find some of it collected on the nonfiction page of my website or by following me on Twitter at @jameslsutter, but the most important thing is to write things and try to sell them. A quick Google search will tell you the basics about the submission business—the hard part is putting yourself out there, offering your stories or services and getting rejected time and again. It's a rite of passage that never ends, but if you keep at it, always stretching for that publication that's just slightly out of your reach, you'll make it. In this business, tenacity trumps talent every time.

What's an interesting bit of trivia that our readers might not know about you?

I'm a huge fan of group living. My wife and I currently live in a shared house with half a dozen other people, a dog, and a fully functional death ray.

Last but not least: if you had only 30 seconds to convince someone to read this particular novel, what would your pitch be?

Is it wrong to steal from the Devil? What would it mean to be an atheist in a world where gods are real? Do you like Heaven, Hell, and bizarre monsters and cultures? If so, this is the book for you!

Jenny Bendel
Marketing Director

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Tags: James Sutter Pathfinder Tales
The Exchange

You had me at City of Strangers, James. That guide made me dizzy. I look forward to The Redemption Engine.

Managing Editor

Thanks, Doug! I hope the novel does it justice. :D

Scarab Sages

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

You look much less froglike in person.

Managing Editor

Stratagemini wrote:
You look much less froglike in person.

The beard will do that.

Paizo Employee Creative Director

3 people marked this as a favorite.

I call upon the internet to photoshop Sutter's beard on to that grippli!!!

GO, INTERNET! GO!

Managing Editor

2 people marked this as a favorite.
James Jacobs wrote:

I call upon the internet to photoshop Sutter's beard on to that grippli!!!

GO, INTERNET! GO!

I APPROVE OF JACOBS'S MANDATE.

Liberty's Edge RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32, 2011 Top 16

James, can't wait to read this one. One burning question about the interview though:

What share of rent does the death ray pay?

Managing Editor

4 people marked this as a favorite.
JoelF847 wrote:

James, can't wait to read this one. One burning question about the interview though:

What share of rent does the death ray pay?

Man, the death ray is who we pay rent *to*!


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I am looking forward to picking up a copy of each novel at the FLG/BS. While I have yet to run anything there, Kaer Maga is one of my favourite weird-but-reachable places on Golarion. :)


James, i'm really looking forward to reading this. Death's Heretic was my favorite in the line so far. Thinking it may shortly be 2nd favorite. guess we'll see...

Managing Editor

Thanks everybody! And yeah, I'm very curious (slash excited, slash terrified) to see how folks feel this one measures up to Death's Heretic. Books are like children, in that you love them all equally, but sometimes you still want to pit them against each other in a gladiatorial match to see who would win.

Spoiler:

Or so I presume. I don't have children.


James I need this book now! Since I don't read things in paper, I need you to make a Time Machine and send me to April 30th


I'll definitely need to start reading your novels to see if this is addressed (they sound right up my alley), but do you feel atheist is the appropriate term for the character? Does he actually disbelieve in their divinity? Or would it be more correct to call him an antitheist or misotheist (or both)?

Managing Editor

1 person marked this as a favorite.
Davick wrote:
I'll definitely need to start reading your novels to see if this is addressed (they sound right up my alley), but do you feel atheist is the appropriate term for the character? Does he actually disbelieve in their divinity? Or would it be more correct to call him an antitheist or misotheist (or both)?

Actually, the best term for his beliefs I've been able to find is alatrism/alatry, but it turns out that basically no one knows what that means (including me until a few weeks ago :). So while I still think "atheist" was the right choice in terms of making things broadly understandable for the casual reader, in my mind "Rahadoumi atheism" is basically alatrism.


Davick wrote:
I'll definitely need to start reading your novels to see if this is addressed (they sound right up my alley), but do you feel atheist is the appropriate term for the character? Does he actually disbelieve in their divinity? Or would it be more correct to call him an antitheist or misotheist (or both)?

If you're asking this question you will love Death's Heretic. It doesn't get into a discussion of taxonomy, by any means, but the question of human relationship to beings calling themselves gods is the central theme.

The question is less "what word applies to Salim's beliefs?" and more "what does atheism look like on a world with active gods?"

Cheers!
Landon

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