Jon Sprunk is the author of the fantasy epic Blood and Iron as well as the Shadow Saga trilogy (Shadow’s Son, Shadow’s Lure, and Shadow’s Master). He’s also a mentor at the Seton Hill University fiction writing program. For more on his life and writing, check out www.jonsprunk.com.
by Jon Sprunk
The first book in my new epic fantasy series, Blood and Iron, came out in early March. Briefly, it’s about a war for freedom in an ancient land ruled by sorcery and powerful cults.
Today I’d like to tell you about what inspired me to tackle this series. Sources of inspiration are a tricky thing to track down. There are lots of reason why I why like to write, but why did I write this story specifically?
The first thing that comes to mind when I ponder this series is the idea of freedom. Freedom comes in many different forms, and any discussion (or brainstorming) about it brings up a host of questions. Are all freedoms equal, or is there a hierarchy? Which freedoms are more important? Would you die for it? Would you kill for it?
As I started to formulate the plot for the first book, I knew I had a certain story to tell, about three people whose personal freedom was threatened. All three are slaves at some point in the first book, and yet not one of them truly believes they are in their innermost heart. That was an important concept for me, that while other people (or an entire culture) might restrict your actions, might even put you in chains and inflict horrible cruelties on you, they cannot truly take away your liberty unless you let them. On some level-even if it’s in your dreams-you can still be free.
How much of all this talk about freedom and slavery was inspired by America’s “original sin?” That’s hard to say. Some of it, certainly, has been percolating in the depths of my mind all my life. I can remember always being very concerned about personal freedom. Not the fake “flag on my lapel” sort of freedom, but the inalienable right to pursue our lives in relative peace.
War is also a theme throughout Blood and Iron, for a lot of reasons. Conflict on a grand scale always seems to result in some kind of war. In this series, I’ll be exploring many kinds of warfare. At the highest level, there is a clash between cultures. New world versus ancient world. However, most of the action happens lower down the conflict chain, as different social classes (masters vs. slaves) come into contention. There is also a second power struggle occurring within the empire, as the dominant priesthood (the Cult of the Sun) vies for power with the ruling class of magicians.
I think the freedom and war themes are connected in my head (and, hopefully, on the page). I’m always inspired by stories of personal heroics, of course, but it’s the seemingly-minor events that can change the course of history. The individual choices made at crucial moments. Because these books are epic fantasy, I’m working on a large stage, but I also wanted to focus on the intimate details of the characters’ lives. In that way, I’m still inspired by the sword & sorcery works of years past, from writers like Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber, who painted such gorgeous stories on relatively small canvases (going by modern word counts).
However, I’m also inspired by the great fantasy works of today. Writers like G.R.R. Martin, Joe Abercrombie, Glen Cook, and Steven Erikson thrill and provoke me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read something brilliant and been so thoroughly pissed off because I know it’s better than my work. That inspires me to up my game every day. One of the main reasons I moved from a S&S style to epic fantasy with this series is because I wanted to push myself, to grow as a storyteller. Life is nothing without challenges to meet.
So that’s my story. I hope this all made sense. Talk about inspiration can get vague and touchy-feely sometimes, but it’s an undeniable facet of the writing life. It drives every word. I hope I’ve been able to inspire some of you in a small way.