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When my late partner, Chris Bunch, and I finished the final book in the eight-novel Sten series, the last thing on our minds was to write a fantasy novel. We were hard science fiction guys – space ships with AM2-powered chain guns - escaping an attacking flotilla into hyperspace.

We both grew up on Buck Rogers Saturday matinee serials, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov. Other than a sneaking fondness for Conan The Barbarian, we generally avoided swords and sorcery and certainly fairy princesses and unicorns.

So how is it that Team Bunch & Cole ended up writing not one fantasy novel, but four?

It was like this: our editors at Ballantine/Del Rey Books were putting the serious arm on us to come up with a fantasy series. We said not a chance, and ducked and dodged like John Carter fleeing a pride of banth across the desolate plains of Barsoom.

In his usual diplomatic manner, Chris told them, "No way am I writing about fucking elves and Tinkerbell fairies and unicorns and shit."

I wholeheartedly agreed - and that, it would seem would be that. Besides, we had just sold a trilogy of historical novels under the main title of "The Wars Of The Shannons," to Ballantine Books and were happily boning up on black powder weapons and colonial-era bayonet tactics.

But they kept the pressure up. Fantasy was hot, they said, and we ought to follow up our success with Sten into the fantasy field. In short, they were as persistent as clotting Alex Kilgour intent on boring Sten’s ears off with a shaggy dog story.

We sighed and shuddered and finally said, okay maybe we’ll think about it. And they burst through that chink in our armor like a depleted uranium round through wormy cheese and before we knew it we were on a strict deadline to come up with something "pretty damned quick" so we could make the fall schedule.

As it happened, I was relaxing after work reading up on the great explorers and expeditions of old. I became particularly interested in Sir Richard Burton – not the 20th Century actor and husband of Elizabeth Taylor, but the 19th Century explorer genius who found the source of the Nile, entered the forbidden city of Mecca in disguise, spoke 29 languages, was a master with gun and sword and, in his spare time, translated The Arabian Nights and the Kama Sutra. (Check out his Wikipedia entry at: http://tinyurl.com/3e765h)

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