‘A Metaphor for Real Life’: Conversation with Fantasy Author Ryan Peabody

Like many fantasy readers, Ryan Peabody spent his childhood imagining worlds and dreaming up big adventures. However, when he entered law school, his love of fantasy grew for another reason — it gave him space to relax and explore.

Shadows of Hammerfall author Ryan Peabody

“I like the unexpected,” he says. “I suppose I’ve always enjoyed the fantasy genre, even as a youth and all the way through law school, as a space to relax and explore. I have read all different genres, fiction and non-fiction. But I was always drawn back to fantasy for its unique ability to capture the imagination with adventure and big ideas. As a writer, the world of fantasy was so vast that the logical next step was to further expand that universe in areas that I personally wanted to explore.”

The Texas-based author has wrapped up Shadows of Hammerfall, the first in an eventual three-book series chronicling the adventures of brothers Drakiel and Kael, and their efforts to save their kingdom from corruption, invaders, frightening primordial creatures … and how they shape themselves, society and world in the process. It features many twists and turns, including some that surprised Peabody as much as anyone.

‘I wanted more than an adventure; the characters needed to be more like real people. I wanted to get them to reject the status quo and effect real change,  in both themselves and in the world around them.’ — Ryan Peabody

In other words, a strong fantasy debut by a lifelong fan of the genre. Shadows is being shopped to publishers now; publication is anticipated in late 2018 or 2019.

Word Journeys sat with Ryan to discuss Shadows, in a conversation that not only offers up plenty of tidbits about the book, but gives insight into the writing process.

WJ: Ryan, thanks for joining us. Where did you come up with the seed of what became Shadows of Hammerfall?

Ryan Peabody: The very essence of fantasy is a metaphor for real life. I wanted more than an adventure; the characters needed to be more like real people. I wanted to get them to reject the status quo and effect real change, in both themselves and in the world around them. So many people today just accept the ideas of others rather than testing their own. My characters face off against the greater problems in society and find that making any progress to finding solutions is infinitely more difficult than they appear. The Shadows looming over Hammerfall are those problems, and iour aspiring heroes must pass through the crucible of fire and transform from naïve youth into hardened adults.

WJ: Can you elaborate more on what we’ll read in Shadows?

RP: Two brothers are born into a family where their entitlement is all they will ever need. Yet satisfaction in this lifestyle becomes more unbearable and oppressive than being in prison. They strike out to challenge the powers that be, and in the process, find themselves so far over their heads that  the course of their lives changes forever. As their brotherly relationship is shattered and rebuilt, they individually uncover a corruption in Hammerfall that will unlock secrets of an ancient past that will plunge them all into darkness. They alone can stop it, if they can only rebuild their broken bond in time.

WJ: In the book, we see a parallel, in some ways, to the social and political movements in the US. Did you have that in mind when writing it? Or did that draw out naturally through your characters and their stories and journeys?

RP: It’s more about the controlling forces in society than politics. That being said, politics has a tendency to get out of hand on either side; most people may agree. So I wanted to use that as a starting place and delve deeper. I wanted to pit my heroes against the person behind the person; the unknown antagonist pulling the strings of society. At the same time, I wanted to craft characters able to justify any action as a means to an end, and challenge notions of morality as they begin to slide down a dangerous slope to becoming the very thing they proclaim to fight against.

WJ: You present a great juxtaposition of influences in the boys’ lives, between Yodden, their wise blacksmith friend and a guiding light; and the Prime Chancellor, a very corrupt and authoritative, yet charismatic man. Tell us about the ways in which you present good v. evil in these characters, and also the room that fantasy allows you to develop variations of the theme.

RP: I wanted to blur the lines between good and evil by making these two characters pulling toward their own ends, but by following very different directions. It’s almost like the idea of vigilante justice; is killing a known killer justifiable? Or is due process more important than righting a wrong, particularly if the justice system itself is corrupt? The main characters must decide to fight within a broken system or justify their actions outside of it.

WJ: “Shadows” is in many ways the story of two brothers, Drakiel and Kael, who embark on a journey together – and then everything in both their lives changes. What are some of your favorite parts of their journey?

RP: My favorite part, without giving too much away, was their role reversal over the course of the book. The brothers start out with nearly the same personality profile and then are drawn in such dramatically different directions. I found this to be a particularly interesting concept, what would happen to the same person growing up in different environments; taking a different path through life. How dramatically different would the “same person” end up as a result of very different environments and external forces? I also explored how such seemingly small decisions can have dramatic impact on the life paths we follow.

WJ: One of my favorite parts is Drakiel’s sentence to the Wilds, a truly foreboding land – but you do a great literary thing by showing him experiencing his own lessons, then coming back to fight again with those new lessons in place. How does the journey, along with the original wild landscapes and creatures you created, help you draw out Drakiel, as well as set up the later story?

RP: Drakiel needed to learn humility; he finally had a situation  he had no control over. He had to give in. He had no choice. He had to be broken down and rebuilt. He had to give up who he was so he would have the opportunity to grow into who he was meant to become. In discovering the new land he was also discovering who he was meant to be. The wilds were a reflection of his own inner-self. Instead of fighting against the world he had to learn to adapt to it, and in doing so became a very dangerous man, taking these lessons back to the civilized world as a force of nature himself.

WJ: What types of creative license does working with two brothers give you when developing character?

RP: Although there are a host of unique characters, the brothers consistently emerged as focal points because of their unquenchable need to take action. The type of action they individually decide  frames their decision-making process and drives their characters. One sees the world as black and white while the other a pallet of gray. The reader may be able to almost anticipate how they will each react in a given situation, particularly as they come to know them better and better throughout the story.

WJ: When writing fantasy, what do you think are the most important ways your story holds the audience?

RP: Character and plot, in that order. The characters, including the creatures the readers will find unique and interesting, are constantly forced to make big decisions based on inadequate information. Sometimes they get it right, sometimes wrong, but most of the time in ways that will leave the readers questioning what they would have done in the same situation. The plot continually splits off and then rejoins the mainstream as well, like a river with branching tributaries, rapids and all.

WJ: You’ve set up Shadows of Hammerfall for eventual growth into a number of future books – one of which you’re writing. Can you give us a sneak preview of how Shadows ends – and where you are taking it from there?

RP: Without giving too much away, Shadows ends with a glimpse into an uncertain future. But to understand the future we must first understand the past. Book Two starts by answering some of the big questions about the more secretive characters and the incredible impact they will have on the story. It pulls back to get a bird’s eye view before quickly plunging  into the thick of the story.

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