Robert V. S. Redick Interview, plus links to author biography, book summaries, excerpts and reviews

Robert V. S. Redick
Photo: Kiran Asher

Robert V. S. Redick

An interview with Robert V. S. Redick

Robert Redick, author of The Red Wolf Conspiracy: The Chathrand Voyage, answers our questions

Tolkien was suspicious of allegory. Is the Chathrand an allegory? Or is it simply a bloody big boat?

I'm with Tolkien completely. The Chathrand books are an allegory-free zone. As a writer, the moment you pursue an allegory, you're trapped. Your story can't breathe if you have to keep prodding it back towards something you've decided it should prove.

But Chathrand is certainly more than just a vast sailing ship. I think of her as a character, with history, moods, loyalties – and a destiny quite her own. Of course she's also the stage on which much of the action takes place: a stage with room for 700 players. This makes her a kind of village under sail. Indeed, one deck is known as 'Night Village' to the rats and Ixchel, who live there.

It's clear, both from your author biography and from your book, that you love languages. Do our languages shape our view of the world? Did the languages in The Red Wolf Conspiracy shape your creation of Alifros?

Oh, very much so. This is a story of constant encounters with difference: sailors were the original agents of globalization, for good or ill. And what you find when you take such encounters seriously is that every last one must be hand-tooled. Just so with language. It's easy to grab a handful of sounds and call it a language: Barpish will be full of Bs and Rs, Gruntish will be full of guttural 'ughs'. It's easy to say all the denizens of Doogong will start their names with D. But language isn't like that. It borrows, it fuses, it breaks its own rules. Look at English: a perfect witch's brew. Its grammatical bones have stewed for centuries in a cauldron of exceptions.

The trick, I might add, is to honor complexity without drowning in it. And that goes for character as well.

Pazel and Thasha are both teenagers. How did you get inside their heads? Remembering your own teenage years? Or do you have younger relatives who will recognize themselves in Thasha and Pazel? What special qualities do teenagers have as protagonists in fiction? Are their qualities especially useful for a fantasy?

I've been 16 ever since I was ten. Really: even before I reached that age, I think I saw the self I could most comfortably call me in the 16-year-old I would become. And certainly thereafter. It's a mode of being as well as an age: the time when you gain both independence and an agonizing knowledge of the limits of independence, the toil and arbitrary luck involved in going anywhere. And doesn't that feeling last the rest of our lives?

So, yes, I think teenagers are a key fantasy age. Frodo may have been 33, but in the terms I'm talking about he was very much a teen. As for my family: well, let's just say there are a lot of psychic teens stowed away in the Redick clan, fortunately. And some real teens on my wife's side, who've yet to have a crack at Red Wolf.

Tell us about Nilus Rose. He's not your average ship's captain. Where did he come from? Did he end up as the character you first envisaged?

I love writing about Rose. He is greedy, brutal, secretive and deranged. But there are cracks in his shell – his attachment to his old witch-seer, and obviously to the parents to whom he keeps sending letters, although they may be dead. Rose is just so drastically alone – not even the other conspirators come close, although they need his services.

Such isolation was a characteristic of the old sea-captains, although they didn't necessarily go mad and see ghosts and lock people in cupboards. But Rose isn't modelled on any historical or literary figure. He does bear some resemblance to my old University of Florida professor J.F. Eisenberg, who was probably the world's leading carnivore mammalogist.

Life on the Chathrand is vividly evoked. Have you sailed on a big sailing ship? And did you make it up into the rigging? Was it terrifying?

I have, briefly, sailed on a tall ship. And yes, I climbed the 80 feet to the crow's nest while under sail, up frayed and rotting ratlines. Not scary at all, as long as you didn't move or think or breathe.

Can you name seven records and one book (you already have the Bible and Shakespeare) that you'd be happy to be washed up on a desert island with?
(1) Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here
(2) Lutunn Noz – Celtic Music for Guitar
(3) The Beatles – Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts' Club Band (of course)
(4) Steve Klink – Blue Suit
(5) Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn – Dust to Gold
(6) Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? (soundtrack)
(7) Violeta Parra – Las Ultimas Composiciones

As for the book: it would have to be The Brothers Karamazov – if only to remind me that I'm not the only one with problems.

Reproduced from with permission of Del Rey.

Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

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