As a game designer turned young adult author, Andrew Schvarts talks to us about his debut novel Royal Bastards, a genre-blending fantasy starring a rag-tag team of misfits turned heroes.
Royal Bastards debuts on bookstore shelves tomorrow, Tuesday, May 30, 2017. Here’s what author Andrew Schvarts had to say about his upcoming book:
Give us your elevator pitch for ‘Royal Bastards’!
Game of Thrones meets The Breakfast Club!
Where did the initial spark of your story stem from?
Royal Bastards, like almost every story I’ve written, was actually the combination of two ideas. First, I had this vague notion that I wanted to do a story about a group of totally different teens who get framed for a crime and have to flee together to clear their names. I also really wanted to write a YA version of Game of Thrones, something that took the intrigue and the action and the backstabbing of that world but reframed it in an explicitly teen way. I was sort of mulling over these two ideas separately before suddenly realizing, wait… this is the same story!
Tell us about your journey to becoming a published author.
When I graduated college, I really wanted to be the next Stephen King, so I churned out a huge volume of horror short stories and novels… none of which sold. At the time, I was working a soul-crushing job writing marking copy for a PC hardware company and desperately looking for a way to escape. I got really lucky when I saw a job listing for a writer at a mobile game studio, and landed the gig.
A paying job writing video games was a dream, but the one thing I initially struggled with was the tone: the games they worked on were light, G-rated high school comedies for the teen market, so completely out of my wheelhouse. I had to basically forget every trope I knew and relearn how to tell a story.
And I ended up loving it! To my real surprise, I had a blast writing fluffy fun high school content, and I sort of fell in love with the YA tone there. After a few years on the job, I decided to give fiction writing another try, but now using everything I’d learned writing games. From there, I think it was a fairly typical author journey: I had one novel that couldn’t land an agent, one novel that came close but couldn’t quite sell, and then third try was the charm with Royal Bastards.
You work as a video game writer, producer, and designer. How do you think working in game design has influenced your YA writing? How is the narrative approach for game design and YA similar or different?
Game design is, at its core, a job of communication, of articulating an idea to a lot of different people and covering every detail and point of uncertainty. One of the first, harshest lessons I learned was ‘every miscommunication is the designer’s fault’, and that’s something I think a lot about, even in fiction writing; since becoming a designer, my writing has definitely become more details-focused, my world-building more robust, my outlines… still pretty minimal, but hey I have outlines now!
The difference between writing fiction and writing for games is sort of like the difference between building a rollercoaster and building a house. With fiction, it’s all about an author’s singular vision, and you’re fine-tuning every word and moment to create this one curated, constructed experience. With games, there’s still an element of authorship, but it’s much more about creating a space for the player to tell their own story, to create fun elements that they can play with in a way that’s uniquely their own.
What kinds of stories do you feel most drawn to?
I think my favorite stories are all genre chimeras that combine different pieces and tropes in surprising and original ways. I like action-packed stories that have a lot of heart, or stories that somehow run that narrow gauntlet between hilarious and horrifying. I also will enjoy pretty much any story with a roguish, charming thief.
Does research play a role in your creative process?
Embarrassingly little! In general, I tend to write pretty improvisationally, winging it most of the way, so my research tends to happen after the fact; I’ll write a scene where a character travels a hundred miles on horseback, and then sheepishly look up how fast horses actually travel.
How do you think your background in English and Russian literature has influenced your writing in this book?
I love Russian literature, especially 20th century works, and I think there’s definitely some influence there. The Russian novels I love tend to have that indefinable, genre-breaking quality, a playfulness even when describing horrific things, a sense of the absurd on matters both emotionally devastating and politically profound.
Which of your characters are you most similar to? Which of your characters are you most different from?
This is probably something I shouldn’t admit given what a questionable, unlikable character he is, but there’s a lot of ‘high school me’ in Miles. The entitled male nerd, at once convinced he’s smarter than everyone around him and constantly stinging at perceived slights, battling his own insecurities… I’m thankfully not that person anymore, but there’s definitely some old personal demons haunting that character.
As a loud, boisterous and frequently-rambling guy, I think I probably couldn’t be more different from Zell, who is soft-spoken, serious, and meticulous. Also, he’s a warrior badass and I trip over my own feet probably three times a day.
Finally: what makes you passionate about the Royal Bastards’ story?
I think my favorite thing about Royal Bastards is the ensemble cast, and the way it’s ultimately, despite the action and the intrigue and the romance, a story of friendship. That’s my favorite subgenre, the ‘ragged team of misfits forced together by circumstance’, and as much fun it was to write big action set pieces, the scenes where the gang bonds and banters, gets to know each other, are the ones I really loved most.
About ‘Royal Bastards’
Being a bastard blows.
In Royal Bastards by debut author Andrew Shvarts, the bastards of western nobles witness their parents instigate a violent coup, and must band together to get the truth to the king before their kingdom plunges into civil war. With an addicting ensemble cast of characters, life-or-death stakes, and witty, irreverent humor, this fantasy novel, the first in a trilogy, is unique, smart, and makes a perfect crossover read.
Tilla resents being a bastard. Her father, Lord Kent of the Western Province, cast her aside as soon as he had trueborn children. At sixteen, Tilla spends her days exploring long-forgotten tunnels beneath the castle with her stablehand half-brother, Jax. Tilla secretly longs to sit by her father’s side. Instead, she sits with the other bastards, like Miles of House Hampstedt, an awkward scholar who’s been in love with Tilla since they were children.
Then, at a feast honoring the visiting Princess Lyriana, the royal shocks everyone by choosing to sit at the Bastards’ Table. Before she knows it, Tilla is manipulated into taking the princess on a late-night escapade. Along with Jax, Miles, and fellow bastard Zell, they stumble upon a crime they were never meant to witness. Rebellion is brewing in the west, and a brutal coup leaves Lyriana’s uncle dead—with Lyriana next on the list. The group flees for their lives, relentlessly pursued by murderous mercenaries; their own parents have put a price on their heads to prevent the king and his powerful Royal Mages from discovering their treachery. The bastards band together, realizing they alone have the power to prevent a civil war that will tear their kingdom apart—if they can warn the king in time, and survive the journey…
With tongue-in-cheek humor, action-packed storytelling, and a loveable ensemble cast, Royal Bastards dares readers to put it down, and is unique and unforgettable.