Please welcome fantasy author Ryan Schuette to the blog…
Ryan Schuette, you’ve been a busy person! You’re a writer, editor, and illustrator who’s a PBS-recognized journalist and former NPR reporter with experience across sub-Saharan Africa and Washington, D.C. Can you share one of your favorite jobs and/or experiences?
It’s true; I’ve been pretty busy! Early on in life, I decided to focus first on my professional career and creative goals, mature from those experiences, and then shift my attention to marriage and kids. I proposed to my college sweetheart in August and hope to focus on those latter goals as I finish the epic saga I’ve started with A Seat for the Rabble, Book One of the series A King Without a Crown.
I count my time as a freelance reporter in Uganda as one of my most formative experiences. Working for Kampala’s The Daily Monitor and The Independent sent me on investigations that informed A Seat for the Rabble and still linger with me.
For one story, I toured one of the many overcrowded remand prisons in Uganda. While there, I learned that some people had been jailed for 20 to 30 years for crimes they were never even charged with. As was frequently the case in that country—at least at that time—families had to bribe judges to get them to prioritize the cases of their loved ones. Woe to you if your family didn’t have the resources.
It horrifies me that people all around the world unjustly languish in prisons—that they spend their precious lives behind bars. That particular story taught me that power has layers, and it inspired the experiences of wrongfully imprisoned peasants in A Seat for the Rabble.
As you mentioned, I’m also an artist, and it’s been fulfilling and meaningful to fill A Seat for the Rabble with 20 original chapter illustrations.
How did your life on the road influence your work as a fantasy author?
A favorite poet of mine, David Whyte, once wrote, “We shape our self / to fit this world / and by the world / are shaped again.” I’d like to think that I shaped myself to report on the use and abuse of power, to hold the powerful accountable to the people, and that, by the world, I was shaped to explore the layers of power through my creative fiction.
For me, the transition of my professional life—from slums in some of the poorest areas on earth to the gentrified metropolis of Washington, D.C.—felt less like traveling a road and more like climbing up and down a ladder of extremes. At each step, I discovered lifestyle tradeoffs and insights.
Although we tend to see the Global South as materially poorer than the West, for example, the people who live in these regions tend to rely more heavily on social capital—on relationships with family members and friends. I had to rely on those connections when I had malaria in Uganda and Sierra Leone. By contrast, the rich, developed West suffers from what’s been described as an “epidemic of loneliness.” And this shows up in A Seat for the Rabble, with those in power often feeling alone and mistrustful, while oppressed peasants celebrate their social closeness and how enviably and reliably they show up for each other.
Fantasy is a wonderful, transportive vehicle for the exploration of these themes. Like George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire saga, A Seat for the Rabble is a meditation on the use of power—both political and magical—up and down the class ladder. The novel also delves into the nuances of ethnic conflict and empowerment, a la Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone.
What are other inspirations that lead you to write A Seat for the Rabble?
I’ve always loved the transportive nature of fantasy. Fresh off my experiences with NPR in D.C. and sub-Saharan Africa, I stepped back into the fantasy genre in 2015 with a desire to write a cautionary tale about populism and political corruption.
Several fantasy sagas inspired A Seat for the Rabble. These works include A Song of Ice and Fire, Patrick Rothfuss’s The Kingkiller Chronicle, Children of Blood and Bone, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Guy Gavriel Kay’s Tigana, and the Dragonlance series by Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman. Guillermo del Toro’s masterful Pan’s Labyrinth gave me ideas on how to wed fantasy to the realities of revolution.
Like some of these authors and directors, I also drew heavily from history’s myriad examples of class conflict for A Seat for the Rabble. I researched the Peasants’ Revolt of England, the French Revolution, and the English Civil Wars. I’m especially intrigued by the lives of complicated historical figures whose terrible deeds left humanity a little better off, and Oliver Cromwell and Napoleon Bonaparte inspired the story arcs of several protagonists.
The prominence of the Estates-General in the French Revolution—with its chambers for lords, clergy, and the masses—gave me a blueprint for the Worthy Assembly, a medieval parliament that seats every class but the peasantry. For centuries, peasants and anointed knights have lacked any formal power, and their desire for representation fuels much of the action in A Seat for the Rabble.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t touch on how the last decade in U.S. politics influenced this novel. Watching the way Donald Trump excited his base with sensational lies and disinformation led me to think political violence was inevitable, and I took the logical next step with this insight by writing an armed revolt at a legislative capital into A Seat for the Rabble. I wrote this scene a full year before January 6, 2021, and felt equally incredulous, angry, fearful, and a little proud of my insights when insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol building.
A Seat for the Rabble is the first book in the A King Without a Crown series. Have you fleshed out the entire series? What comes next?
Yes, I’ve plotted out an eight-volume series, with each volume split into two smaller books. The second volume, An End to Kings, follows A Seat for the Rabble, and we continue the stories of several POV characters in the third volume, A Cavalry of Griffons. I’m carefully foreshadowing later plot twists and events in these books and hope that sharp-eyed readers will be able to connect the dots.
My elevator pitch for the series: A tyrant rises from the ashes of a morally justified revolution, triggering prophesied events that could lead to humanity’s enlightenment—or its destruction.
When you aren’t working, what do you enjoy reading? Care to share a favorite book or two?
I’m between a lot of books right now! I’m devouring Patrick Rothfuss’s The Wise Man’s Fear and starting on Rebecca Yarros’s Fourth Wing. I’m also between Our Share of Night, a horror novel by Mariana Enriquez; Matt Wallace’s Savage Legion; and Frank Herbert’s Dune. I’m also rereading Fourth Wing, Sarah Maas’s Throne of Glass, and A Storm of Swords.
If we’re talking nonfiction, I’m reading Jason Stanley’s How Fascism Works, Gabor Mate’s Scattered Minds, and Adam Jentleson’s Kill Switch: The Rise of the Modern Senate and the Crippling of American Democracy.
I also read BBC and NPR news articles voraciously. It’s critical to stay informed about our world—especially in uncertain times.
What inspired you to become a fiction writer?
I love the art of storytelling—how we can lose ourselves in another world, get caught up in a character’s emotional arc, and, ultimately, learn something about ourselves.
In fact, I wrote another fantasy series in high school that I never published. That haunted me for years. The Game of Thrones television series and A Song of Ice and Fire showed me what was possible in the genre, and I returned to fantasy writing to craft the fantasy epic that I wanted to see in the world.
I’m also the author of The Art of the Big Lie: Political Cartoons About the Fight for America’s Soul and Real Terrorists Wear Stilettos, a romance novel and political satire about Muslim and Jewish dominatrices who take on racism in suburban Dallas.
About the Book:
Centuries ago, the peasants of Loran killed their king. The more powerful classes—lords, priests, and merchants—exacted revenge by stripping the lowborn of their seats in the Worthy Assembly, where subjects make laws with the crown. Consumed by corruption, Loran now teeters on a knife’s edge . . . and there is no end to the terror and injustice visited on Commoners.
As priests ruthlessly rip peasant children from their families, Jason Warchild sees a war coming—a war he means to prevent. Aided by his cunning sister and traitor uncle, the bastard prince enters a deadly tournament to claim his crown, unite the land against his family’s enemies—and return peasants to power for the first time in hundreds of years.
Amid tournament politics and threats of revolution, two children embark on journeys that will shake Loran to its core. One, a boy hostage, accompanies Drexan the sorcerer to confront an ancient evil responsible for the strife; the other, a peasant girl, stakes her soul on a gambit to raise her father from the dead.
Kirkus Reviews: “Immense yet immersive. . . . a curious, highly detailed, engrossing fantasy.”
Reader review: “It’s one of the best fantasy books I’ve ever read and a triumph for the genre.”
Reader review: “A Seat for the Rabble represents epic fantasy at its finest—addictive, shocking, and rich in world-building complexity. If you want a work with a cutting interpretation of the forces running our own troubled world, this one’s written specially for you.”
About the Author:
Ryan Schuette is the author of A Seat for the Rabble and The Art of the Big Lie: Political Cartoons About the Fight for America’s Soul. He’s also authored a romance novel under his pseudonym.
Before returning to fantasy fiction and art, Ryan wore a few hats. He’s both illustrated and reported for National Public Radio and various trade publications, including DS News and MReport. He’s also freelanced for Al Jazeera America. He lived and worked in Uganda as a 2008-2009 Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar and holds a master’s degree from American University in Washington, D.C.
Somewhere along the way, he also started a nonprofit and fair-trade lingerie company that operated in West and Central Africa, respectively. Many of his friends still wear safari-print boxers.
Ryan lives in Texas, where he looks after his cat, Rusty.
To learn more about Ryan or his epic fantasy series, A King Without a Crown, visit RyanSchuette.com.
Author contact links: