I was lucky to be set up to interview R.R. Virdi, author of The First Binding. Big thanks to boss-man David! Now, if you’ve heard of The First Binding, you’ve probably heard that it is a good novel for fans of The Kingkiller Chronicle. At the time I sent the interview questions off, I had read a few chapters. I’m about halfway through at the time of writing up this blog post and I can definitely see the comparisons. I’m a HUGE KKC fan so this is a big compliment from me. Don’t be mistaken though, this story is still all R.R. Virdi. His humor shines through in the novel and in this interview. I can absolutely say that this has been one of my favorite interviews to date, because Virdo
FFA: Thanks so much for taking the time out of your schedule to do a little Q&A for FanFiAddict! To start out, tell us a bit about yourself!
RRV: I grew up in Northern Virginia as the son of a cab driver. Early life saw me gravitate towards video gaming a lot, eventually working on cars, athletics pursuits (I am not academically inclined in most respects, at least…I don’t jive with our system), and obviously, reading. Today, I keep my automotive interests to working on cars when I want because, one, I hate customers, and two, I don’t want to end up the resident car guy for all my friends to text and call me with, “Hey, my car made this weird sound.” Dear gawd, spare me that. Beyond that, I mostly try to still game, which is not happening these days, work out, which I make time for, and read.
I’m a simple guy.
FFA: Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?
RRV: No. In fact the earliest art I felt inclined toward, and still miss, and would love to return to, is acting. But I shuttered that a few times in my life. The earliest non art career I felt called to was herpetology, the study of reptiles, particularly because of my long love of snakes. Something I still have to this day. But growing up in an Asian household meant by my teenage years my only acceptable pursuits were: doctor, lawyer, engineer. Bonus points if I could do all three. I only sort of joke because my father would have loved for me to be a doctor who manages his own legal affairs and helps other doctors with theirs in our spare time (because doctors have plenty of that, right?), and it would be nice if I could cobble up some nice medical device patents on the side.
Seriously…we’ve had this talk. Feeling sorry for me yet?
FFA: When did you first get the idea for The First Binding?
RRV: In 2018 near the fall. I had another story idea in mind, and nowhere near as lyrical, but similar structure in a way, and also following a character of notoriety and heroism. Both. But the storyteller that became Ari was to be a set piece to show up and drum up some fun and intrigue, only in true storyteller fashion, Ari stole the scene, and my thoughts, and he ended up demanding his own series.
Performers can be divas. And here we are.
FFA: How would you describe The First Binding to someone asking about it?
RRV: The simple answer? It’s a South Asian take on things like The Odyssey, or the journey’s of Marco Polo. Grand, complicated, heroic, and sometimes close to villainous. It follows the ideas of how someone can be both the villain and the hero, especially if you’re hearing things secondhand, and let’s be honest, most people never hear it that way. A story or rumor has passed through dozens by the time it reaches some folks, especially in a world without twitter and instant communication. So what happens to the idea of that person then?
I wanted to explore the life of that person, and under the belief that an epic, especially epic fantasy, does not need a cast of 90 pov characters. Why can’t one person’s life be considered an epic. What is more epic than a life itself? No one knows all of what happens in a single person’s life. No one is present for all of it. You only ever know what someone tells you. And people hide things, things go misrepresented. Lies spread, and truths. What’s that do to a person? What’s that make you think about them?
Where’s the truth through it all? I thought it’d be fascinating to tackle that in this series while flooding it with my culture and South Asian inspirations.
FFA: Wow! Honestly, that’s an amazing description. Perfect! How would you describe the main character, Ari? What are their main strengths and flaws?
RRV: Ari’s biggest strength apart from his persistence is most certainly his sense of kindness. Though, it can get him into trouble at times. He will throw himself into harm’s way or precarious situations to help someone because he knows what it’s like to be helpless. But he doesn’t think everything through in those moments. It’s reactionary for him. It makes him a good person at his core, but not a wise one. Which ties into another strength that is also a flaw of his.
He is terribly, terribly clever. Not wise. Not prudent. Not necessarily a great intelligence, even though he is not dumb by any measure, but Ari has a million ways to get into trouble, and just as many as to get out, but he could probably do with a bit more learning how and why not to get into those situations in the first place. But I forgive him that, mostly because he hasn’t had a lot of older positive role models and influences in his life to teach him that. He’s had a hard life, and when cleverness is how you’re left to survive with and on, you can’t really blame a person for relying on that more often than other traits.
FFA: Was it important to you to include South Asian mythology in this series? Do you have any favorite books that feature South Asian mythology that you can recommend to readers wanting more?
RRV: Very important, and I could say the Mahabharata and the Ramayana were the biggest inspirations, and to some degree, they were, but I focused more mythology books focusing on origin myths, stories, folklore, and then going back to proto Indo-European mythology. Because the Mutri Empire is not India. It’s a different evolution of things with a different beginning. So again, it will feel South Asian, and there are certain some mythology, language, and word play references people will see that are overt. But many things are new.
I wanted to do for South Asian mythology what Tolkien did for British mythology with Middle Earth. He went back to pre-Arthurian sources like the Prose Edda and Beowulf, and his studies and information coalesced with everything else in his imagination to come back and create Middle Earth.
I didn’t want to do a retelling or reinvention of the Mahabharata. There is a place for those, and many exist, but I wanted to do the grand adventure story in a new feeling South Asian inspired world. And the story of South Asia is also the story of the Silk Road. So I ended up doing no end of studying of that. The most important book I read was: Silk Roads, A New History of the World by Peter Frankopan.
FFA: I have no doubt that you will achieve that goal! Do you feel like fantasy has gotten more diverse in the last few years? What do you like about the current state of fantasy and what do you want to see more of?
RRV: It absolutely has, and I’m hoping it continues. I’d love to see more takes on what might be “tired” or “niche” genres according to publishing but with more diverse settings. Like we have Silk Punk because of Ken Liu. So how about more steampunk styled works with Asian or African influences? More South Asian urban fantasy (my favorite genre is urban fantasy), things like that. Dazzle me. Show me all the new things. I’m not picky. But I am a sucker for someone inspiring my imagination with new cool combinations.
Just give it to me.
FFA: I am a huge fan of The Name of the Wind and I’ve seen some people make references between your novel and NOTW. Do you see any similarities between the two? Are you a fan of The Kingkiller Chronicle? Also, I’ve heard that there is an easter egg towards Kvothe, can you confirm?
RRV: Well, I’m not sure how much of an easter egg that piece might be. I was pretty overt with it without naming Kvothe. A touch of a love letter. And there are certainly similarities, and it’s in some ways part of the theme of the story. I can’t say too much without giving things away, but there are arguments of how stories inspire others, languages do too, terms and names are taken, translated, evolve, as do characters from mythology. <.< >.> No story is truly original, and if you try, you can trace the inspirations and evolutions of things. You can see how and where they twist. Sometimes it’s intentional with meaning, sometimes not.
And I am most certainly a fan of The Kingkiller Chronicle. There was a time I was down to little money in my bank account, but I scrimped and saved to get a triple signed edition of the tenth anniversary Name of the Wind. My only regret with that is not realizing (it was tiny print) that I could have requested my copy to be personalized when ordering from the website.
Maybe one day, huh?
(Edited to say, that as I’ve been mapping out my First Binding review in my head, I planned on calling it a love letter to KKC, so I totally agree with Virdi’s phrasing here. There are elements that KKC lovers will triumph over, but it’s also unique and a beautiful homage to South Asian mythology, at the same time -Cassidee)
FFA: Do you read reviews or do you prefer for reviews to be left to the reader?
RRV: No author should read their reviews.
. . .that being said. :cough: Uh, sometimes I’m aware of what’s said. Though, like I said, no author should read their reviews. It’s probably better for your mental health that way.
FFA: To give the readers a sneak peek, what’s one of your favorite quotes from The First Binding?
RRV: Brahm’s tits.
Now you can see where Ari’s mouth and sass comes from.
FFA: Where do worldbuilding, characterization, and plot fall in order of importance to you?
RRV: I’m not sure you can rank them, and that they’re all important to make a great story. But I do prefer character. I believe plot is character in motion, and there are all kinds of motions a character can take and or make. Worldbuilding is obviously extremely important to me too, but I find they’re all equally crucial.
FFA: Character development is always at the forefront for me, as well! When you write, do you prefer silence or do you like music or some other type of noise in the background? Has your writing process changed over time?
RRV: Depends on my mood, and I can do silence, but more and more I’ve taken to listening to music without lyrics. The lyrics would distract me, but movie soundtracks, or from video games and anime? They work brilliantly and I can just type the time away without issue. My process has stayed the same except for being able to put more time in the chair, to the deficit of my butt, and crank out quality words. It’s all practice.
FFA: I am a huge fan of poetic prose. What I’ve read so far of your book, the writing seems right up my alley. Does the prose come natural to you or is there a lot of thought put into it?
RRV: It took a lot of thought and studying including working with a voice coach to make sure the aural pleasure I wanted to evoke came through when I was reading the lines allowed in the first draft. This is a book about oral storytelling, so there were a lot of techniques and styles and rules I had to learn that go against modern conventions of writing. Sometimes passive voice DOES work better. It’s not about what looks nicest on the line, but what sounds best.
It’s Ari’s job. He has to perform, sound well, sound beautiful. There’s no movies, no technology for entertainment like today. There’s no cause to listening to a storyteller if he’s telling a tale no different than your drunk uncle in the tavern. He has to be more. Commanding. Evocative. Lyrical.
The natural voice to me is from my urban fantasy years. Clipped. Noir. Hard-hitting and fast. And I do love that. But this series demanded me brushing up on songwriting, poetry (from many cultures: Middle Eastern, South Asian, I studied Tang Dynasty poets, Latin, and more). I’ve spoken entire chapters aloud to make sure they follow the rhythmic pacing I wanted.
It was a tiring process, but well worth it to get the book I wanted.
FFA: Do you like your characters are a reflection of yourself or people in your life? Any of your characters that you relate to more than others?
RRV: Oh, god, I hope not. Okay, maybe a little. Ari can be a bit sassy and dramatic. I’m an entertainer by career choice, so… However, I’d like to think my pyromaniac tendencies don’t come close to Ari’s. And I certainly do not preen or give nearly as much attention to my appearance as another character you will see in the series.
But I do believe bits of beliefs filter into all our characters. Ari knows what it is to be misunderstood and never fit in wherever he goes. I’ve certainly felt that through most of my life. Ari knows what it’s like to have people come up with stories about you, never come to try to get to know the real you, and start rumors about you.
Been there. And I suppose we all have. I believe that’s called highschool, right?
And Ari knows what it’s like to be deprived kindness and then trying to give that back to others.
FFA: Thanks again for your time! I always like to finish interviews with a rapid fire Q&A to get to know our author!
Favorite book (all-time): Ah, Neverwhere or The Alchemist (but only because standalone book – not series).
Favorite book read this year: :Shame face: I haven’t finished a new read this year – pandemic burn out. I am ashamed. I’m still reading things.
Favorite show and/or movie: Movie – Forest Gump (The First Binding utilizes similar story techniques), Matt Reeves’ new The Batman with BATtinson is a close runner up. Show: Avatar: The Last Air Bender
Coke or Pepsi: Dominion Root Beer, because I have tasted more of life’s offerings than those two. But, fine, Coke.
Wine, liquor, or beer: I don’t drink alcohol. Yeah, I know…I’m not cool people.
Tea or coffee: Tea for beverage, but I shotgun pure caffeine anhydrous pills for waking up in the morning. Give me my energy in an efficient pill I need no time or distance to get.
Sword or bow & arrow: Sword.
Would you be a mage, king, or knight: I’d prefer none because they didn’t have access to indoor plumbing or central heating. Pretty crappy way to live, but I suppose king. I’d probably blow my own face off being a mage, and a knight still ends up working for other people. I think I’ve done enough of that in my life. Miss me with medieval employment.
Favorite Hobby: Gaming
Dream vacation: That one’s hard to say. I don’t have one per se. I keep crossing cool things off to do, and I come up with trips as they take my fancy.
Favorite animal: Sea otters. They’re puppies with opposable thumbs and they can juggle rocks.
Favorite musical artist: If we’re talking bands? AC/DC. If singular artists? Eminem or Johnny Cash. <Yeah, I know, they’re so similar, right?
And what an interview, folks! Please check out The First Binding TOMORROW and congratulate R.R. Virdi on one heck of a novel.
ABOUT THE FIRST BINDING
All legends are born of truths. And just as much lies. These are mine. Judge me for what you will. But you will hear my story first.
I buried the village of Ampur under a mountain of ice and snow. Then I killed their god. I’ve stolen old magics and been cursed for it. I started a war with those that walked before mankind and lost the princess I loved, and wanted to save. I’ve called lightning and bound fire. I am legend. And I am a monster.
My name is Ari. And this is the story of how I let loose the first evil.