Describe your latest book.
The Grey Bastards
is an epic fantasy set beyond the borders of the decadent kingdom of Hispartha, where for the sparse inhabitants of the Lot Lands, the threat of orc raids looms over daily life. The last Great Incursion is 30 years in the past, and Hispartha has all but abandoned the Lots. Only the half-orc gangs known as "hoofs" stand between their former human masters and the vengeance of their full-blood cousins. Riding massive hogs bred for war, these mongrel warriors guard the borderlands that divide the worlds of their mixed heritage.
Of all the hoofs, the Grey Bastards is the most notorious, yet the only leader they have ever known has grown increasingly tyrannical. Jackal, a young, cunning, and charismatic rider, intends to take his place. His designs are bolstered by two close companions: Oats, a hulking mongrel with more orc than human blood, and Fetching, the only female in all the hoofs.
Jackal’s plans, however, are thrown into turmoil when a mysterious betrayal saddles the Grey Bastards with a captive elf woman. Her reclusive people want her back, but her return could bring war to the Lot Lands. And what of the foreign sorcerer who seeks friendship with the Bastards? Could his sudden arrival aid Jackal’s bid for leadership or upset the delicate struggle for power?
The Grey Bastards
attempts to bring a vibrant grit to the world of fantasy literature. It utilizes many of the iconic elements of fantasy — old kingdoms, clan conflicts, fantastical creatures, and nonhuman inhabitants — but with warriors more reminiscent of Sons of Anarchy
than Tolkien’s noble allies. It’s an epic fantasy with sword and sorcery sensibilities, grimdark edge, and spaghetti western undertones.
What was your favorite book as a child?
This is a tough one because my mom read to my brother and me religiously, so there are many contenders. I’m going to cheat a bit and name a series: The Serendipity
series by Stephen Cosgrove. They are these slim little fables with wonderful illustrations by Robin James that usually contain some fascinating mythical creature and always, of course, a moral. If I had to pick one, I’d say Creole
was my favorite because I thought the design of the titular character was just fantastic. I still have the volumes my mother purchased from that series, and am pleased to say my 5-year-old son enjoys them immensely. They’ve become a regular choice during our nightly storytime.
When did you know you were a writer?
I would say I was about halfway through my first novel. There came this weird moment where I just knew I was going to finish it. It wasn’t something that was going to remain a fragment in a Documents folder on the hard drive, it was going to be a completed manuscript. Knowing I was a writer came with knowing I could (and would) finish a book.
What does your writing workspace look like?
It’s a simple desk near lots of windows holding a computer, several good dictionaries and thesauruses, note cards, a few bills (always bills), and never the Sharpie when I need it. Probably the most notable feature is the elliptical machine standing behind my chair, because sometimes I just need to get up and move.
What do you care about more than most people around you?
Well, I live in a red state, so I probably care more about education and the environment than most of my neighbors. I’m watching the rampant development of the Atlanta suburbs destroy all our woodlands, which keeps me in a constant, simmering rage. I just never have understood the point of bulldozing a forest to put up another shopping plaza when there are a half-dozen identical places within spitting distance fully abandoned because the businesses within folded.
Tell us something you're embarrassed to admit.
I am positively abysmal at card games. Poker, Gin Rummy, Spades, you name it. From shuffling to dealing to remembering rules, I am hopeless. And my ability to wrap a present is beyond embarrassing.
Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
I doubt he needs my help, but I think Jesse Bullington is brilliant. The Enterprise of Death
is unique, daring, disturbing, and well crafted. For me, it was the perfect blend of history, fantasy, and horror.
Besides your personal library, do you have any beloved collections?
I’m a huge tabletop gaming nerd. My collection of vintage Warhammer miniatures borders on pornographic. It’s the only thing I use eBay for! I’m constantly searching for those now out-of-print models that escaped me as a kid. My comic book collection is also something I treasure. My quest to procure every issue of The Savage Sword of Conan
series is ongoing, but the fun is in the hunt!
What's the strangest job you've ever had?
I worked for a professional drapery service in Chicago during my years there. It was a family owned and operated business with the second and third generations behind the wheel at that time. The meat of the business was installing stage curtains, mostly for schools, but we also did the giant professional theatres. It may not sound interesting on paper, but clambering up and down scaffolding taking down titanic opera house curtains inside these impressive performance spaces was a fun job for a young man.
Have you ever made a literary pilgrimage?
Not really. I live in Atlanta, and Oakland Cemetery is one of my favorite spots in the city. I always visit Margaret Mitchell
’s grave when I go, so that’s the closest I’ve come.
What scares you the most as a writer?
The question: “What’s your book about?”
If someone were to write your biography, what would be the title and subtitle?
If it were written in some distant, ideal future: Jonathan French: From Bullied to Bestseller
Offer a favorite passage from another writer.
This is a passage written by Samuel Shellabarger
regarding the Renaissance that I adore: “It was a fecundating sun that kindled to a responsive flame of joy in life. It evoked beauty and hastened decay. It brought forth indiscriminately good and evil, and while creating it also destroyed. The misèrere, the de profundis, the dirge of pilgrimage, grew faint, as men perceived no need for pity, no depths to rise from, no pilgrimage to make. Scornful of phantoms the passionate present engrossed and satisfied. Art, science, grace, a new philosophy, and different ethics, sprang up once more from ancient soil, while former creeds and codes, the medieval faith with its dreams of chivalry, became ancestral legend, discredited, if still poetically indulged. The sun had risen, dispersing dreams.”
Share a sentence of your own that you're particularly proud of.
"Seek potent allies and you shall find the most grievous of your future foes."
Describe a recurring nightmare.
There is an interstate interchange here in Atlanta known locally as Spaghetti Junction. It has 14 overlapping bridges, the highest 90 feet in the air. I often have to drive over the topmost bridge, which fuels a recurring nightmare of my truck going off the side. The worst part is how realistic it always is. There are never any of those dreamlike elements that tip it off to save your sanity, like the road being made of squids or Rasputin riding in the passenger seat. Nope, it’s my truck in every detail, the bridge is a perfect copy, and the fall is disturbingly, terrifyingly realistic. Really hope it’s just a nightmare, but there is that morbid part of me that wonders if it’s a premonition.
What's your biggest grammatical pet peeve?
It’s a personal one, meaning I think it’s one only I do. And it’s using “drug” instead of “dragged." Being from the South, I acquired the foible honestly. “I hitched that log to my truck and drug it off the road.” “We drug the canoe up on the shore.” That’s how it’s said in daily speech and it creeps into my writing. Even my New York editors miss it on occasion, but the British never do!
Do you have any phobias?
Great. White. Sharks. I can’t even watch them on TV. My son gets much enjoyment seeing me flee the room if one appears on the screen.
Name a guilty pleasure you partake in regularly.
Video games, for sure. Far less than when I was a kid, but the itch is often there. Thankfully, I don’t have much of an attention span for them, so I rarely put in the required hours to finish one. Good thing, too, because they are such a time sink! I do still keep an active account on Lord of the Rings Online, since it’s the closest thing there is to touring Middle Earth.
What's the best advice you’ve ever received?
Lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way.
Do you ever dream about The Grey Bastards being adapted into a tabletop wargame?
And the answer is: Yes! Everyone raves about A Song of Ice and Fire
getting an HBO show, but I think G. R. R. Martin's real victory was getting a miniatures wargame. I daydream all the time about a gorgeous line of models: half-orc hog-riders, centaur marauders, orc raiders, noble and low-born cavaleros, Unyar scouts. I write up army lists for each of the hoofs and mull over rules for a game focused on mounted combat. One day, maybe...
Top 5 Books I Adore as a Reader, but Make Me Feel Inadequate as a Writer (In Descending Order)
The Enterprise of Death
by Jesse Bullington
This book is perfectly balanced between brilliance and blasphemy. Morbidly atmospheric and delightfully profane, it takes major narrative risks and handles those risks with true artistry. With intriguing historical elements, strong doses of horror, and enough magic for fantasy, it’s a novel that defies most genre definitions, but at its core are all the best trappings of a penny dreadful. Bullington, you talented, talented bastard!
Robocopter Ski Patrol
by Aaron C. Cross
Humor is damn hard to write and those that commit to being humorists always have my respect. I’d love to write for Futurama
, but know I don’t have those comedic chops. Cross does. This book is zany, but well-honed. Laughing out loud has become little more than hyperbole these days, but with Robocopter
, you actually will. Often.
by Josiah Bancroft
Just about every book I’ve read has at least one line that makes me go, “Damn,” and elicits that potent mixture of becoming simultaneously impressed and envious. With this book, it happens on just about every page. Every. Fucking. Page. I’d probably put a hit out on Bancroft if he wasn’t such a damn gentleman (not to mention, I want to see what happens in the rest of his series).
The Faded Sun Trilogy
by C. J. Cherryh
This is a bit of a cheat, being three books, but I read them in a single volume. And that volume is probably the reason I will never attempt to write science fiction. Cherryh’s ability to world-build without exposition is awe-inspiring. The alien cultures created, presented, and explored in this series are as intricate and nuanced as the story itself. An immersive, slow-burn I love, but could never emulate.
by Joe Abercrombie
This is to literature what The Longest Day
is to films: many tackle the subject of war, but few manage to create a vision this thoroughly realized. The events are sweeping, but the approach is intimate. It’s an ugly thing, armed conflict, and the flawed people involved are made uglier by its effects, yet you’re still left with sympathy for them. Pretty sure Abercrombie made some dark pact to pull that off. To my mind, the only thing wrong with the book is that he will have a tough time topping it. If he ever does, the reader in me will rejoice, but the writer will stick a fresh pin the voodoo doll.
÷ ÷ ÷
is the author of the Autumn’s Fall Saga and The Grey Bastards
. His debut novel, The Exiled Heir (Autumn's Fall Saga #1)
, was nominated for Best First Novel at the Georgia Author of the Year Awards in 2012. His second book, The Errantry of Bantam Flyn (Autumn's Fall Saga #2)
, rose to #6 on the Kindle Norse/Viking Fantasy bestseller list, proudly sharing the Top 10 with Joe Abercrombie. Jonathan currently resides in Atlanta with his wife and son.