The Big Idea: Kevin Hearne
Posted on May 3, 2011 Posted by John Scalzi 34 Comments
Author Kevin Hearne had a novel way of getting to his novel Hounded — a way that involved equal parts of geekery, stubbornness and alcohol. Given who the constituency is here, I know I now have your attention. Or more accurately, Hearne has your attention, and I’ll give him the floor now to explain how each of those things found itself transmuted into the first book of a new urban fantasy series.
I confess that Hounded was spawned from an episode of Defiant Drunk Nerd Syndrome. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, I can explain briefly: When nerds get drunk with their nerd friends, they often suggest crazy hypotheticals and then try to defend them from the scornful derision of all the other nerds. Sometimes the shot-down nerd will remember the argument the next day, approach it soberly, and then deliver (defiantly) his proof that his drunken idea was, in fact, quite a good one. “So there!” may or may not be added to the end of the proof.
Here is the original drunken idea I offered to my nerd friends: “You know what would be badass? A Druid in the modern world! He could shapeshift an’ talk to animals an’, like, throw oil executives into their own spills, an’ the pelicans would be like, how does JUSTICE feel, son?”
The assault on this idea was swift and terrible.
Nerd 1: “The Druids are all dead, dumbass. Can’t happen.”
Nerd 2: “Yeah. The Romans and St. Patrick wiped them out.”
Me, Nerd 3: “Oh. But still.”
“But still” in nerdspeak signals a temporary concession, yet allows the nerd to rally at a later date with a spirited riposte.
My research began the next morning. I needed to figure out a way to plop a genuine olde-tyme Druid into the modern world. Doctor Who’s TARDIS seemed out of bounds. So did Doc Brown’s flux capacitor. What if one of the old Druids never died? I searched for Irish longevity myths, and it turned out that there were several ways a lad could have managed it, if we choose to read the old legends about the Tuatha Dé Danann as histories. The herblore of Airmid (she knew 365 herbs and what to do with them), the ales of Goibhniu (better than Guinness, I understand), or the hogs of Manannan Mac Lir (the Bacon of Youth!) each had the potential to provide a fellow with wrinkle-free skin.
That’s when I started thinking seriously about writing an urban fantasy novel. A truly ancient Druid walking among us, talking to his dog and shapeshifting like the old myths said they could? I couldn’t wait to write it! Atticus and Oberon were “born” right there.
Fine. I still had to figure out what happened to get Atticus out of Ireland, how he survived centuries of war and why he hasn’t saved all our forests. Further immersion in old Irish tales (and Irish ales) eventually suggested several possibilities. It would almost have to have been an Irish antagonist who drove him from the Emerald Isle—the Brits and the Vikings didn’t cause much trouble in Ireland until the Druids were all but dead. Fortunately, there were a few dastardly types among the Tuatha Dé Danann who could easily step into the role of villain. There were also tales of a magical sword named Fragarach that could cut through any armor. It was originally the sword of Manannan Mac Lir, god o’ the sea, but he gave it to another god, Lugh Lámhfhada, and Lugh gave it to the legendary first-century Irish king called Conn of the Hundred Battles. There is no record of Conn ever giving it back, nor of anyone using it after that time. Aha, I said to myself, now there’s a story waiting to be told.
If Atticus took that sword from Conn and the Tuatha Dé Danann wanted it back, that would explain why he had to flee Ireland and lie low. And when he finally gets tired of running and decides to make a stand—well, that’s going to be a fight worth watching.
The Consistency Gremlin spoke up at that point and said if I was going to treat Irish myths like history, then I’d have to do it for all myths. All pantheons would be alive, all gods equally valid, just as their worshippers imagined them. Whoa.
The story began to snowball: I didn’t just have an idea about a Druid and his dog anymore, I had an entire planet’s worth of myth and history to explore in a series. Once Atticus stops hiding, he and Oberon have to watch out for each other as not only the Irish, but the pantheons of the Norse, Chinese, Finns, Russians, Romans, and Native Americans seek to use him for their own ends.
I hope everyone enjoys the result of my Defiant Drunk Nerd Syndrome. To my nerd friends, I would like to add: So there!
Hounded: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|IndieBound|Powell’s
Read an excerpt of Hounded. Visit the author’s blog. Follow him on Twitter.
Oh yeah! Irish mythology? Dude, you had me at “druid.” I just downloaded it to my Kindle and can’t wait to read it!
*checks amazon kindle store*
I had the chance to read an ARC of the book, and although I had a quibble or two in my review, overall, I was very well pleased with the book and want more. Lovers of mythology like me will definitely love what Hearne is doing with Atticus and his world.
Read the first chapter in the linked excerpt. Sold, I say. SOLD.
That’s what I love about The Big Idea series. I likely would never have stumbled across this on my own (I’m not big on the urban fantasy genre as a whole), but reading about it, in the author’s own voice, intrigued me enough to check it out. It’s broadening my horizons, it is!
@#4 I couldn’t agree more with that. I’m going to buy the book, so there!
John: You’ve done it again, you know. First it was Stina Leicht (my 83 yr old MIL loved her book), now Kevin Hearne. Druid mythology? I’m there, dude!
Loved this book, and am eagerly awaiting the next two. In the meantime, I plan to push HOUNDED into the hands of all the fantasy readers I can find (I run Canada’s oldest SFF bookstore, so that’s a fair number). And how awesome to see that I’m not the only one who thinks Thor’s kind of a dick.
Hats off to you, Mr. Hearne.
I love characters that have a companion dog. I’m in!
I’m gonna go pick this up at the store asap. Read the sample stuff, and it was awesome. :D
Dang, I’m definitely going to have to get this next time I’m at the bookstore!
I’ve got a friend with a birthday coming up who loves a) books b) his Irish heritage and c) urban fantasy. Mr. Hearn, you’ve got a sale!
You had me at “Bacon of youth”.
Please tell me that that was the solution you took!
Chris S @ #7 : Consider me pushed.
Nerd 4: So… Captain Planet is an ancient Irish Druid now?
Just kidding! Sounds like an interesting book to add to my list.
If the book is half as funny as this post, then count me in, even though I am (strangely embarrassed to say this…) apparently not quite the nerd I thought myself to be since, like, half this shit went over my head and I was ignorant of many of your references. See, this is the price you pay when the opportunity to sit at the cool kids’ table presents itself and you leave your nerd friends behind without so much as a backward glance of regret… until you grow up and discover that the nerds have actually conquered, and now run, the fucking world. (Why, oh why, did I let my subscription to the Sci-Fi/Fantasy book club run out??? Oh, the shame….).
But as I am now married to a geek (some redemption there, no?), I will rush out and buy this book, which no doubt my spouse will pry out of my hands and read first. Can’t wait!
I thank you Sir! Now I have birthday present ideas to give to my friends!
Hmm.. Now I’m not sure I can wait a week and a half to get it ON my birthday.. DAMN!
It is truly scary how quickly one can purchase a Kindle book. Gratifying, but scary. But I do want this one; there’s a ton of well-researched backstory here, and a smart-ass protagonist the likes of which I haven’t seen since Roger Zelazny’s guys. Good job!
I was also lucky enough to read the ARE of this book. Well worth the time! Thoroughly enjoyed the story, and the next books in the series are already on my kindle wishlist.
Just read the first sample chapter, and this is fantastic! Definitely a must-read.
Have I lost my ability to read, or are there going to be two sequels out in the next two months? How’d that happen?
But are the pelicans avenged??
I was supposed to hold off kindle books for a month, but I have no willpower against this brilliant premise. Already three chapters in…
Thank you. :) This has been highly entertaining, and I’m looking forward to more. (Not to start a flame war, but it reminds me a lot of the early Anita Blake novels …)
Hi all—sorry it took so long to jump in, it’s been a crazy day.
Chris S: The full extent of Thor’s dickishness will be revealed in book 3. It’s coming in July! I’m probably going to Hel for that pun.
Brian: I didn’t use the Bacon of Youth since that was more my wee joke than something extant in the mythology. The hogs of Manannann Mac Lir would resurrect themselves after being eaten, however, so it was kind of like All-You-Can-Eat-Bacon-Till-Your-Heart-Explodes for the Irish, and those hogs were the main dish at the Feast of Youth Manannan served to the Tuatha Dé Danann.
Minka: You are forgiven for wanting to be cool. We, the nerds, welcome you back. And coincidentally, nerds are cool now, so it all worked out. :)
MBL: Fear not, you read very well! Hexed comes out June 7 and Hammered on July 5. This is because I love you, man.
r: The pelicans are going to throw down in forthcoming adventures! Stay tuned.
Almost done #1. It’s loads of fun! Looking forward to 2 and 3.
I want to buy your book but it is not available to kindle users in Australia. You might want to speak to someone about that.
Catching up on Big Idea posts and this one sounded far too up my alley to miss. Bought for the Nook.
Hey, this really happens? *starts writing down train wreck of ideas in head*
Okay, now what? LOL…
Good on ya, mate–happy you followed through to finish! May there be more of us finding such success and inspiring others and keeping that creative flow bubbling and boiling in the cauldron to spill out and bless us all.
I bought this yesterday and read it. A great book and I can’t wait until June for the next installment, and July for the third. Oberon is an awesome character btw, I love him.
Just FInished this. Any book that makes references to Iron Maiden, has hot women and talking dogs is a winner. Can’t wait for book two.
you had me at ‘druid’ and ‘Irish mythology’.
already ordered – hoping the book reaches me soon *shakes fist at the post office*
I wanted to tell you that both the Iron Druid chronicles are a desperately needed breath of fresh air in the Urban Fantasy field (I generally read a lot of UF books, and boy, what a pleasure to both get away from angsty overpowered female protagonists and male demons, lol). I didn’t think there would be life after Jim Butcher’s Dresden files, but both Hounded and Hexed are an order of magnitude of storytelling that is unequivocally awesome. A sense of humor from the central characters is blended with just the right mix of action and world-building to tell the story of the last Druid. My favorite character is the Morrigan, especially after her appearances in Hexed! And I’m thrilled that Hammered is coming out in July. Any hints on #4’s title yet? Thank you so much for writing these, it’s a real treat to read them.
Awesome, thank you from my fantasy soul.
Is there a short story appended to one of the books that tells how Atticus got Oberon? My husband thinks so but we have the 9 books and I can’t find it! BTW- Love the series! Read them all with no breaks in between! As an Irish lass, I surely appreciate them. Maiden name is Murphey!