Welcome to my interview with Josiah Bancroft, author of Senlin Ascends and Arm Of The Sphinx (part of the Books of Babel series). I am a huge fan of both novels and am eagerly awaiting the arrival of The Hod King sometime in December 2018. I loved this series because of the boundless imagination, solid characters and phenomenal setting. Josiah has given up some of his time to answer (quite) a few questions that I put to him about his novels. I will share a few details about himself and his novels and then I will share the Q&A. I hope you enjoy the interview and if you aren’t already a fan of this series then go check out the books and immerse yourself in the brilliant setting that is The Tower Of Babel.
About Josiah Bancroft
Josiah Bancroft’s fantasy-adventure series is published by Orbit Books (US/UK). Before settling down to write fantasy novels, Josiah was a poet, college instructor, and aspiring comic book artist. When he is not writing, he enjoys playing post-pop music with his band, Dirt Dirt, drawing chalk pictures on his office wall, and cooking pub curry for his wife, Sharon. He shares a home with her and their two rabbits, Mabel and Chaplin, in Philadelphia.
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About Senlin Ascends
Mild-mannered headmaster, Thomas Senlin prefers his adventures to be safely contained within the pages of a book. So when he loses his new bride shortly after embarking on the honeymoon of their dreams, he is ill-prepared for the trouble that follows.
To find her, Senlin must enter the Tower of Babel – a world of geniuses and tyrants, of menace and wonder, of unusual animals and mysterious machines. And if he hopes to ever see his wife again, he will have to do more than just survive . . . this quiet man of letters must become a man of action.
About Arm Of The Sphinx
Forced by necessity into a life of piracy, Senlin and his eclectic crew struggle to survive aboard their stolen airship as the hunt for his lost wife continues. But the Tower of Babel is proving to be as difficult to re-enter as it was to escape.
Hopeless and desolate, they turn to a legend of the tower, the mysterious Sphinx. But help from the sphinx doesn’t come cheaply and, as Senlin knows, debts aren’t always what they seem in the Tower of Babel.
Q&A with Josiah Bancroft
Thank you Josiah for taking some time to answer a few questions about your latest novel Arm Of The Sphinx (Books of Babel #2). Could you give us your own personal overview of what we should expect in within?
Arm of the Sphinx is a bit more of a swashbuckling adventure than Senlin Ascends. We get to see the Tower from a new perspective as Senlin and the crew of the Stone Cloud continue his search for Marya. New ringdoms are explored, old foes return, and fresh enemies are made. While Senlin Ascends was almost entirely Tom’s story, Arm of the Sphinx spends more time developing the secondary characters of the series. And we get to learn a little more about the Tower’s strange machinations and the mysterious persons responsible for it.
What was your initial inspiration for the Books of Babel series?
The book Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino, which is a fabulist travelogue, was the original inspiration for the Everyman’s Guide to the Tower of Babel. The story of the Tower began as a collection of snippets that I wrote in the style of a generally cheerful but often misleading guidebook. (Thank you, Douglas Adams.) One of the central themes of the series is the unreliability of texts. I think the real curse of the Everyman’s Guide is that while it is outdated and often wrong, it also contains nuggets of wisdom. A person could actually benefit from reading it, but only if they read with a sufficiently suspicious squint.
Is there anyone/anything in particular who inspired Tom Senlin’s persona or journey?
Tom is an assemblage of a few different (generally bungling) protagonists, including Ichabod Crane, Bilbo Baggins, and Arthur Dent, though Tom is more earnest and prickly than they are. I wanted a character who would come to the Tower feeling perfectly composed and prepared, only to be absolutely shattered by the adventure that ensues.
Arm of the Sphinx is quite different from Senlin Ascends. Can we expect this level of unpredictability from all of your novels?
Yes, I think so. And it’s not accidental either. I want to challenge myself as a writer, not because I think I’m especially good at every device I try, but because it helps to keep me interested in the work. With the third book in the series, The Hod King, I experimented with chronology and story structure. It was a thorough challenge. I really enjoyed it, and I don’t think I ever want to do it again. I feel the same way about Senlin Ascends. It was a pleasure to be so firmly ensconced in Tom’s perspective, and it was fun to play with the lyric and tone of fairy tales, but if I had tried to reproduce that, I think it very quickly would’ve turned stilted, self-conscious, and ultimately unfinished. I realize this variability will put some readers off, but I’d rather grapple with authenticity than perfect an impression of my previous work.
The Tower of Babel is a phenomenal setting with an unpredictable nature. What inspired such a unique vision?
I was heavily inspired by Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, J.G. Ballard’s High Rise, and Kafka’s The Castle. It’s safe to say that every idea I have is a reflection of some superior source. I think the trick to writing something that unique is closer to alchemy than magic. Or, to put it another way, it’s like if you wanted to create a new flavour of ice cream, you probably wouldn’t start by trying to invent a new fruit. You’d begin by experimenting with uncommon combinations of existing ingredients. What I mean to say is, the Tower is a very tall ice cream cone composed of many different scoops. And now that I’ve written that analogy, I realize I’m starving and should probably eat lunch.
What sort of challenges did you face when writing Arm of the Sphinx?
Arm of the Sphinx is the first sequel I’ve ever written, and so in some ways, everything was a challenge. I also wrote it during the years when I was trying very hard to find a readership for Senlin Ascends and failing miserably. The themes of disillusionment and despair that lurk under the surface of Arm of the Sphinx are quite genuine. But whenever I grew discouraged by the drafting process or my lack of readers, I would remind myself why I wanted to write these books: To have fun, to enjoy myself, to tell a rollicking and weird story. That really helped spur me on.
Your character development is superb, Tom Senlin’s transformation is remarkable. How did you approach mapping out each character’s stories across four novels ahead of time?
I didn’t do that. I should’ve done that. That would’ve made a lot of sense. No, what I did instead was fill a desk drawer with esoteric notes, written in yellow highlighter during a state of sleep-deprived mania. You know, like a professional would.
Did you always know you were going to become SFF author?
I started out writing fantasy stories when I was kid, but then I wandered off to try my hand at a few different things. I tried for about a decade to be a poet, which I discovered is about as realistic of a career choice as “astronaut” or “wizard” or “comic book artist,” which is another career I failed at. I only rediscovered my love for speculative fiction after going through a crisis of creativity in my mid-thirties. I like to schedule a major creative crisis every three to four years. Depending on how the next crisis goes, I’ll either become a mumble rapper or a video game athlete.
Are there any authors that influence your writing on any level?
Absolutely, and it’s a long list. I studied and taught literature for a while, so naturally, a lot of my influences are of the highfalutin variety: Nabokov, Kafka, Hardy, and Hesse all laid some smudgy fingerprints on Senlin Ascends. I love the work of Le Guin, Atwood, Adams, and Pratchett. Some of my favorite poets include Bishop, Auden, Larkin, and Dickinson. I just finished rereading A Wrinkle in Time, which I hadn’t cracked in thirty years, and which I still loved.
How long does it take you on average to write a novel like Arm Of The Sphinx?
It takes me about two years to finish a novel. I know— that’s ridiculously slow. Someone should invent some sort of device for squeezing books out of authors. Have you ever seen those clamps you buy for your toothpaste that squeeze the tube from the bottom up? We need one of those but for people. You could just clamp it onto the toes of your favourite author, and presto! You’ve made a mess on the carpet.
Can you tell us in five words what being an author/writer means to you?
Let’s choose empathy over oblivion.
Most important question… When can we expect The Hod King to be released (roughly)?
It’s slated to be out this December. I’m working through the edits with my editor now.
If you had to pick another genre to write within, which would you pick?
Oh, I’d like to try my hand at lots of genres. I’d like to write something in the vein of magical realism, or perhaps some sort of retro ray-gun science fiction, or maybe cyberpunk. Whatever I end up writing next, it’ll probably be a messy mixture of genres.
Do you celebrate finishing your novels?
Yes, I like to go out to a bar, get roaring drunk then yell at the heavens, “I’m a fraud, I’m a dirty fraud, and everyone sees right through me!” Then I sober up and start working on the next book.
Have you got a hobby/activity you do to wind down from all the writing?
Other than star-screaming, I still like to draw. There are some samples of my doodles on my website, if anyone’s curious. And I like to write and play music. I’ve been playing with my rock band, Dirt Dirt, for about six years now. We have a lot of fun. I’m also a practical cook, a homemaker, and an inveterate mumbler.
Finally, have you read a book/article recently that you would personally recommend to the readers of this post?
I think Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale is excellent and proves again just how broad and full of potential the fantasy genre is. I highly recommend it. I’m also enjoying Fonda Lee’s Jade City. It’s wonderfully conceived and is artfully written without being conspicuous.
Thanks for stopping by to check out my interview with Josiah Bancroft. His mind is a place of wonder and I am actually desperate to read his next novel but I have to wait till the end of the year. Tom Senlin is a brilliant character on an unforgettable journey. We are only half way through this story and I am excited to see what The Tower Of Babel still has in store for us in the future. I love the potential and the unpredictability of these novels and if you haven’t had the chance to read one yet then I highly recommending making time for them.
7 thoughts on “Arm Of The Sphinx by Josiah Bancroft (Interview) @TheBooksofBabel @orbitbooks #Interview #ArmOfTheSphinx #BooksofBabel”
Wow, just added to my TBR. I have never heard of these books but now I need them in my life.
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They are so good. Definitely worth your time 😁
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Great Q & A! I love how Joshua described his voice in the Books of Babel series as a ‘generally cheerful but often misleading guidebook.’ anyone who thanks Douglas Adams is on my TBR list for sure!! 😊👍🍻
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What a great interview! Had so much fun reading the answer, especially the one about getting roaring drunk! 😀 hahaha… brilliant! oh, and the mapping out of the characters! Great stuff!
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Thanks again Liis. Have you read the Books of Babel yet??
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Nope, haven’t got to them yet- you know, bookwormproblems 😀 haha, but I hope to try the series out in the future 🙂
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