It’s probably a weird idea to start an interview with the writer of one of your favorite trilogies by confessing you’ve never actually read up on him prior to the interview. Especially if that author has been dubbed by Buzzfeed as one of today’s hottest authors -- both because of his award-winning trilogy and by his disturbingly good looks.
But New York Times chart-topper Pierce Brown, author of the famous Red Rising trilogy (translated into over 33 languages to date with millions of copies sold), is disarmingly down-to-earth, a good listener (half the time I felt he was interviewing me!) and an all-around geek. In our interview, below are my top lessons from my journey with Brown from Shakespeare to Iowa to Mars.
1.” I would pitch it to people and people weren’t interested.”
People didn’t always want to read what he wanted to write...
With Red Rising’s cult-like following and a movie version in the making, it’s hard to believe that once upon a time no one wanted to read what Pierce Brown wanted to write. “I always wanted it to be a space opera. I always wanted it to be bigger in scope than it was but no one was interested in that…I would pitch it to people and people weren’t interested” explains Brown.
Much more vast in scope than the usual Young Adult (YA) books it is compared to, the Red Rising trilogy is Shakespeare meets Game of Thrones IN OUTER SPACE. “What I wanted to do was to make it a soap opera but in space. More Star Wars, more Shakespearean” he says. Apparently people were not ready for this. So Brown found a way to make us listen.
2. “How do I lure people into that story I wanted to tell."
…So he found a way to make them interested.
Apart from a crazy imagination that paints for us an entire universe, Brown is a very clever writer – so clever that, he confesses he tricked us all. Okay, not tricked exactly but definitely he used Red Rising as a hook given the negative reception to his ‘space opera’. “ … how do I make it acceptable? How do I make it relatable?? Red Rising is where I lured it in. It teased a lot of things…Looking back on it, the key to the intentions was always to make it huge ” he explains. Thanks to his ‘deception’, there are now global Howlers to date - a following of men and women who’ve embraced his universe and are hungry to love and hate more characters.
3. “The difference is, if you break up with one of these girls, she might invade your planet.”
Pierce is unafraid to write about emotional men and strong women.
In Brown’s case, so strong (mentally, physically and emotionally), he himself is afraid to sleep with them. In a cheeky game of F*ck, Marry, Kill I gave Brown the difficult choice with 3 of the most formidable women in his books – Victra, Sefi the Silent and Aja. “With Aja, I think I’d lose it. She’d break it right off. I’ve literally written women that I’m too terrified to sleep with! The men were easier! Sefi would eat me. I’d marry Aja. She’d be loyal. Sefi I feel like. A shark on the leash…” Brown quips laughing.
4. “Sevro is also based on a human being I grew up with…When we were younger we burned down a barn. He was my bestfriend growing up in Iowa.”
It’s adorable that Brown writes his real-life bestfriend into one of the most beloved characters. “I would always root for the underdog. I created Darrow as an underdog and he became…not as much…And that’s why I wanted to bring Sevro in. To remind him of that. And I felt that was a good way to stay true to the root of the story."
5. Maybe I would have coffee with Thomas Jefferson. No okay that would suck. No. I would have coffee with..AH ROALD DAHL. I feel like he’d just be lovely.”
He picks his alcohol and coffee company well.
Brown knows both good coffee and a good whisky (He’d appreciate the Laphroaig 10!) When asked whom he’d have a Jameson and a coffee with – Brown is quick to school me on his vast whisky choices (“Did you just assume Jameson is my favorite cause I posted it?” he teases) but is slow and careful on the company he’d choose for either beverage. “I would have a whisky with Ernest Hemingway. No. TE Lawrence. And then coffee with JRR Tolkien…JK Rowling would be lovely too. Maybe I would have coffee with Thomas Jefferson. No, okay that would suck. No. I would have coffee with..AH ROALD DAHL. I feel like he’d just be lovely.”
6. “He said he feels like cellphones are the death of empathy.”
Pierce is a huge fan of Louis CK.
In Morning Star, Brown drops a hint of humor with the Easter egg “Bye Felicia” – prompting me to ask about his brand of humor and his favorite comedian. His answer is surprisingly deep and gives a peek on his thoughts on cyber bullying and the digital wall we hide behind.
“I like Louis CK because he’s dark. He’s a philosopher. He doesn’t do the cheap easy humor…CK can make something funny like….Kids obsessed with their cellphones. He did this one thing about empathy. He said he feels like cellphones are the death of empathy? He’ll see kids or people generally be mean on social media. Like mmm yummy that felt great. But they won’t see that person cry. They won’t see that person cry or feel bad. It’s all the meanness without any of the pain, without any of the guilt. Would you say it to their faces? You wouldn’t."
7. ”It’s fun to use science fiction to explore social movement, injustice, patterns.”
Brown’s trilogy sets itself apart because it never paints an oversimplified version of hating the big bad government just because it’s easy to. “Would the pyramids have been built without slave labor? No. But at what sacrifice” Brown says he acknowledges in his trilogy what humanity achieved on the back of the crushing color-caste system he created. “I think it’s the purpose of an artist to criticize headlines not just point fingers at politicians. Because I feel like that’s the easy target and that just makes them popular. You’re trying to get cool points by picking on Trump. He’s a problem yeah but what is the underlying reason behind that problem? We voted him into power. How did that happen? Why did that happen? I think it’s the artist’s role to explore why that happened.”
8. “I was copying other people’s voices instead of my own.”
Have your own voice. Always.
Despite his achievements at a young age (“I wrote Red Rising when I was 22. And I wrote Golden Son when I was 25 and then Morning Star at 27”), Brown actually wrote 6 books prior to the Red Rising trilogy. When asked why it never got published Brown says “I wrote six books before that. They had nothing to do with Red Rising. Basically science fiction, thriller but they weren’t any good. They were good in a way but not the right way. I was copying other people’s voices instead of my own. Neil Gaiman. George RR Martin, Anne Rice”.
Side note- Me: Anne Rice?? Really that’s unexpected! Which brings us to fun random fact number 9 below:
9. “I love vampires. Yeah Lestat’s my boy. The Vampire Lestat.”
Lesson 9 – Yes, boys can love vampires too.
10. “He’s not a good man…bastard”
Apparently, he gives great dating advice too.
When I tell Brown that my second favorite character after Sevro is Roque, I get this response “He falls in fake love all the time. He’s so emotional. And he romanticizes them all. He falls in love with like 3 women… It’s like you are a lame little dude. Would he fall in love with them if they were ugly? Darrow and Sevro would. I don’t think Roque would. Roque is in love with the idea of being in love. That selfish inability to have empathy. He’s not a good man…bastard”.
‘Red Rising’, ‘Golden Sun’ and ‘Morning Star’ are available for P649 each (Trade Paperback).
‘Iron Gold,’ the fourth book in the series, will hit shelves in January at all National Bookstore branches.
Article written by Romina Nanagas.