Monday, June 20, 2011

Interview with Jesse Bullington

Justin chats with Jesse Bulington over at FanLit

Originally posted at Re-posted here because Jesse is awesome and my forgotten blog needs more awesome.

Joining me today is the highly acclaimed author, Jesse Bullington. Jesse’s first book, The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart was a critical success, and you would be hard-pressed to find a book with a more divisive response from reviewers. Personally, I adored the book, so I’ve been itching to talk with Jesse for quite some time. His new book, The Enterprise of Death was released last week and it was the perfect time to catch up with him. Jesse also plans to stop by to answer any questions you may have, so be sure to make a comment or two. Orbit has also been nice enough to offer a copy of the new book to one commenter chosen at random. So with out further delay, the interview:
The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart
Justin: I think it’s been long enough since The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart was published that I can ask you to reflect a bit on the whole writing/publishing process of your first book. Was everything as you expected? How does it compare so far to your experience with your second book?

Jesse: It’s funny, because I thought I had very realistic expectations of how the process would go, and it turned out to be completely different than I anticipated. Mostly this was a good thing — I really expected the road to publication to be much slower, frustrating, and difficult than it actually was. Granted, it took me a couple of years to get an agent, but that was pretty much what I’d been led to expect, and in fact was a bit quicker than I’d anticipated, and after that it all went very smoothly. Everyone at Orbit is incredibly considerate of their authors, and I was consulted about everything, from the cover art on down. Again, I’d heard so many horror stories about the process that I kept expecting something awful to happen, but at a certain point I realized that I was in the most capable hands imaginable, and once I relaxed things went even better. Things with The Enterprise of Death have been every bit as painless, so to date the experiences have been similar.

I also wasn’t really expecting such a positive reaction to the novel, especially from authors I personally admire. And surreal and wonderful as it is to hear that someone whose work you love enjoyed something you wrote, hearing from random strangers that my book entertained them was somehow even more satisfying, and equally unexpected. Every single time I hear from a fan it catches me off guard in the best way possible.

On the other hand, I underestimated the effect having strangers bash my work on the internet would have on me. Early on I gave an interview, I think to Falcata Times, wherein I was asked if criticism bothered me, and I gave an answer along the lines of “hell no, I’m a badass new god who drinks the blood of haters breakfast, lunch, and dinner.” This was pretty easy to do before I’d really been hit with a load of negative reviews. Brutally honest book reviews are really, really important, and taste is of course subjective, but having something you’ve poured all this emotion and energy and thought into dismissed in a nasty and often personal fashion can really sour a day. I know, stop the presses, artists don’t like bad reviews, but it was something I wasn’t really expecting — normally I’m pretty good about taking criticism, I think, and most of the negative reviews I received didn’t give me pause — hell, many were positively helpful — but a few of them suckerpunched me with their vitriol.

Justin: What are some the most memorable reactions to your work, both good and bad?

Jesse: For all my whinging about bad press, most of the negative reviews I’ve received have been more amusing than hurtful, whatever the intention of the critic might have been. There have been calls for it to be burned, advisement on the necessity of taking a bath following a reading of the book, and the not-so-subtle implication that death would be preferable to reading the thing. I’ve also been compared to Satan, which is something of an accomplishment for a debut novelist, I think. One of the especially nasty reviews that actually got under my skin took a quote from The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart out of context to imply that I was misogynist, which was memorable in how awful an experience it was — one would think a professional critic could draw a distinction between a character in a novel and the author of said novel, but apparently not.

On the other hand, there have been some really great reactions, and for the most part that’s what I focus on. Being compared to authors I admire is a great feeling, and it’s interesting to see critics sometimes compare me to authors I haven’t read in ages but dearly loved when I did. In terms of a single soundbite, Kirkus’ remark that Brothers Grossbart was “as grotesquely pleasurable as picking a scab” sticks in the memory pipes, no doubt!

Justin: I think the burning one was mine. I meant it in the most complimentary way possible. I believe I also suggested the book could be given to any individual you wished to have condemned to hell. I did give it five stars though, securing my isle seat into the everlasting fire.

The Enterprise of DeathThe Sad Tale was simultaneously both low-brow and literary. It’s that duality that makes me feel that your work is important to the fantasy genre. I had never read anything like it… and still haven’t. Will The Enterprise of Death continue to push the boundaries in similar ways?

Jesse: I hope so — for all the belly-aching above about bad press, I think shaking people up and sometimes pissing them off is important for art to stay fresh and exciting. Enterprise is fundamentally different from the Brothers Grossbart in a lot of ways, and so I expect some of the readers who really enjoyed my debut will be turned off by this new one — not because it’s even filthier or weirder, because I don’t think that it is at all, but because it’s a very different sort of book, and I suspect that some readers crave the comfort of knowing what to expect from a book. That is, having read and enjoyed something, they expect the author’s other work to closely hew to what they’ve already enjoyed, and if the follow-up is too different they’ll feel somehow let down. For me, nothing is more important than moving outside of our comfort zones and exploring new territories — so while Enterprise is going to push boundaries, they won’t necessarily be the same boundaries I tested with the Brothers Grossbart. I’ve bitten off more with Enterprise, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the response, be it positive or negative, will be stronger with this one.

Justin: I agree that the reader needs to be challenged from time to time. I love my Dresden Files for their straight forward story telling and good versus evil structure. I also enjoy books like your own where maybe I’m being messed with a bit. If done correctly, as I feel you do, it can create a truly unique experience for the reader. Now, I know you have an academic background in history and folklore, and that was quite apparent when reading The Sad Tale. It looks as if The Enterprise of Death is built on the same foundations. How much actual research do you have to do when writing?

Jesse: I do a lot of research, some of it online but mostly through the local university’s library system. I research before getting started with any novel, continue to research as I write, and then do even more when I have a rough draft to work from. I accumulate hundreds of notes to myself as I’m writing a novel on details to research. When necessary — and possible — I try to talk with experts about specific issues in addition to what I can get from my texts. With Enterprise, for example, I exchanged quite a bit of correspondence with the head of the Archeological Society of Berne, who was incredibly helpful. Since I like the idea of my work taking place not in an alternate history but in our actual record I try my best to keep things as close to reality as possible.

Justin: So tell us a little about Awa, the protagonist in The Enterprise of Death. How is she similar or different from your bearded brothers?

Jesse: In a lot of ways she’s the opposite of Hegel and Manfried — they’re straight white men, she’s a black lesbian. They’re western European mutts, she’s a Fon of Dahomey. They have a rigid worldview, and everything they encounter enforces this preexisting paradigm. She, on the other hand, is curious and open-minded — she’s a character in search of meaning even as she acknowledges such meaning may be beyond human ken, whereas for the Brothers Grossbart the meaning is obvious and irrefutable. I think she’s a much smarter character than either Grossbart, and as a result she’s more complex, more conflicted, and undergoes many changes throughout the novel, versus the rather static Manfried and Hegel. She’s also a necromancer, which would put her into immediate “witch” territory for those pious Grossbarts.

Justin: The Sad Tale was hard to classify into a particular genre. Fantasy is the genre it seems to mostly settle into. I think that’s partly due to the story’s bestiary. The Sad Tale had one of the more disturbing renditions of a manticore I’ve ever read. Does this trend continue in The Enterprise of Death, without giving too much away?

Jesse: It does. I’ve always been into history, and the folklore that grew out of it, so writing historical fiction wherein the beliefs of the day are taken as real is a very natural and fun exercise for me. If anything, Enterprise has more fantastical elements than Brothers Grossbart, but I expect with future books the pendulum will swing back and forth — one of these days I’d love to do a second word fantasy, but I’d also like to do historical fiction with little or no obvious supernatural elements.

Justin: There has been a recent uptick in the online debate about the nihilistic trend some believe fantasy is taking. If this trend were represented as an army, of course being lead by Master Colonel Commandant Abercrombie. You would be at minimum a flag bearer, and more than likely a frontline General. I imagine your coat of arms bearing two bearded fellows holding shovels standing over a mutilated corpse of some sort. My imagination paints this as a rather short and one-sided battle. Since one side obviously cheats and takes no prisoners (unless their attractive) and the other side is full of pixies and milkmaids… wait, I’m getting distracted, back to the topic at hand. Is fantasy really trending nihilist? In my opinion, fantasy is just reflecting trends that are happening in literature as a whole. Fantasy with more “classical” themes is still quite available. This newer edgier fantasy is just growing along beside it. What say you?

The Robert E. Howard Omnibus: 99 Collected Stories (Halcyon Classics)Jesse: Oh man, this debate. Honestly, it all just seems so pointless and facile — are we really going to pretend that this might be something new, that Robert E. Howard’s fiction wasn’t nihilistic? It would be laughable if it weren’t for the fact that these attacks on “gritty” new fantasy authors carry a sometimes unstated but fairly obvious message that things were better back when everything was (often literally) black and white, ala Tolkien and Howard (one of the few genuine similarities between those two authors is their problematic representations of “exotic” dark skinned peoples). N.K. Jemisin and others have called this out as dog-whistling, and I’m inclined to agree — we should always be very suspicious of calls for a return to the good old days, and never more so than when said good old days consisted of awesome white dudes defeating the totally evil and bestial brown people. Hell, if that icky element wasn’t underlying this whole debate it would just boil down to “we like vanilla more than rocky road,” and I couldn’t care less what some old-guard windbag thinks of my personal sundae. Unless he posts a nasty review about my work, of course, in which case I’ll cry about it in a future interview.

I’ll add that one of the sillier, more clueless arguments I’ve stumbled over in the course of this debate is the idea that because many second world fantasies take their cues from Medieval Europe they must in turn be populated with characters possessing strong moral compasses or they become unrealistic. The reason given is that because the Christian Church played a huge role in Medieval European life the vast majority of the people of that era must have behaved a certain way, holding tight to Christian ideals and having uncompromising views of good and evil. This is idiotic — if that were the case, the Medieval period would have been a time of peace and unity and not, as is recognized by virtually every respectable historian, an era characterized by endless, bloody power struggles, with countless factions and individuals murdering and torturing each other every chance they could get, a time of political and religious turmoil where moral ambiguity was the name of the game. In short, the sort of setting which Abercrombie excels at rendering, along with his co-conspirators in the League of Nihilistic Guttertrash Perverts Invading Genre.

Joe Abercrombie is popular because he’s a great writer who tells great stories, not because he’s gritty and readers are looking for that right now — Abercrombie rocks and his novels are serious page-turners, end of story. For what it’s worth, I like Tolkien (The Hobbit more than The Lord of the Rings). I like Howard, although I’d hesitate to call him a great writer. Both of these writers have a cave troll’s worth of warts to take into consideration when discussing them, Howard more than Tolkien, but whatever. Both authors preferred Heroes and Villains to flawed, complex characters, and as you point out there’s no dearth of contemporary fantasy novels that take the “classical” approach to fantasy, with Chosen Ones and Dark Lords and All That Noise, so why bother complaining? Human nature, stupid, narcissistic, human nature. I’m a fan of Cugel the Clever but want fuck all to do with Thomas Covenant — who cares? Bah, just thinking about all those look-at-meeeee essays makes my brain hurt — the bottom line is that I’m in favor of reading things that I haven’t read a hundred times before, hearing new voices and tales, be they gritty or dreamy, mithril hard or harpy feather soft.

Oh, and the standard of my unit in LONGPIG is a skeletal-winged turnip with a wreath of gilded beard hairs floating over a platter of sundry cheeses — still time to enlist, Generalissimo Abercrombie is always happy to have another rosy-faced recruit in our septic trenches.

Justin: Nice! I will write Commanderalissimo Abercrombie and attach your sponsoring papers post haste! I’ll be enlisted in no time. I wonder what my life expectancy as a new recruit will be? Probably depends on how much faster I am than the other recruits… or if I have some special powers.

Let’s say you’ve been granted the power to be a were-critter. On a full moon you get to roam the countryside terrorizing locals, loping through their streets and possibly raiding their garbage. What denizen of the wild would you choose to be, and why?

Jesse: This is a good question, and one that requires both careful consideration and a resolute commitment to not make jokes about furries. Aquatic and flying creatures seem like obvious choices, given the potential for exploring new environs, but there is also the innate appeal of the wolverine aka skunk-bear — who wouldn’t want to be a giant musk-reeking ferret? But then what of the bat-eating centipede, which combines the wall-scaling abilities of a normal centipede with the sheer nightmarishness of a vermicious knid? Decisions, decisions. I expect that if you check back with me in, say, ten years time, I should have an answer for you.

Justin: Okay, expect a tweet from me in ten years, then… Which reminds me: I think it’s safe to say that technology has changed a lot in the publishing industry, and one of the things it has changed is accessibility to authors. The link between fans and authors is completely different than it was just 15 years ago. I remember writing letters and waiting weeks to get a response. Now I just drop an e-mail or a message via social network and get a reply, typically directly from the author. Twenty years ago I would have been thrilled to get a pun-filled form letter from Piers Anthony. How important is it for an author to create an online presence in today’s market? I actually think it’s gotten harder for new authors. You are now an essential piece of your publisher’s marketing team.

Jesse: For me the hardest part is staying on top of things without losing myself in the timesink that is the internet. Blogging on my website doesn’t really come naturally to me so I’m rather thankful for the social networking sites that help me stay somewhat plugged in without having to come up with fascinating essays for my website every week. In terms of interacting with fans, I’ve made a lot of friends that way, so again, I mostly see the bright side of it. I remember hearing that Vincent Price supposedly answered every fan letter he ever received, and I think that’s a very worthy goal — so far I’ve stayed on top of it, I think, but in all honesty I tend to be rather sieve-minded, so if anyone out there has dropped me a line and has yet to hear back by all means give me a gentle reminder.

Justin: I was recently perusing your website and stumbled across the Fan Art section. I have to say your fans really captured the spirit of the Brothers Grossbart. My particular favorite was the masterpiece by Bryce Dayton. I don’t really have any questions about them. I just wanted an excuse to post Bryce’s picture, which makes me laugh every time I look at it.

Jesse: Yeah, Bryce’s piece is a thing of beauty to be sure! I’ve never been much of an artist, so holding contests and such to coerce those more talented than myself to do what I cannot is one of the definite perks of my success.

Justin: One last thing. As a fellow facial hair aficionado, I must say yours is quite bold. Is it necessary for the male author/artist to partake in the art of pogonotomy (god bless Wikipedia)? Personally, I have entered into my Cave-Man period, not completely unlike Picaso’s Rose period. I remind my wife that it is essential to my very being to keep the shrub growing, but I have been known to take bribes in exchange for trimming. The last great shearing netted me an ipod.

Jesse: Shame is what happens when life attacks and you are unprepared — no amount of facial hair will save you at the Crunch. Generally speaking, however, a verdant facial flourish is rarely a bad idea for anyone, regardless of gender, sex, or profession; however, those who stare into the beard should know that beard also stares into them. The most important thing is to neither know nor show fear when the decision to cultivate is settled upon — when a friend expressed concern that his own Darwinian chin might cause strangers to incorrectly presume him a fixed-gear carrying member of the Hipster movement I offered him this quote from a manual I have found cause to consult over the years:

A fundamental aspect of beard-wearing is coming to terms with the fact that certain undesirables will attempt similar facialscape improvements. Do not let this dissuade you, for as Abalone Smythe commented in his editor’s note to the Summer 1874 edition of Moustachios Quarterly, ‘It is the bearer who makes the beard and not, as these dreadful day laborers with their ear wax stiffened curlicues would have it, the lip weasel that makes the gentleman.’ That Smythe was a charter member of the fascist Royal Harumph Party should in no way impinge on the underlying wisdom of his observation that one should tend, as Voltaire would have it, to his own garden.
—Col. Reginald Louche. The State of the Face, and Other Observations on the Decline of the Proper Dandy. Stratford-Upon-Avon, Briarheart Press, 1923.

Justin: Brilliant.

That’s it for now. Once again I’d like to thank Jesse for spending some time with me. I will say that this was the most fun and interesting interview I’ve ever done. Be sure to leave comments and questions for Jesse. Every commenter will be entered to win a copy of The Enterprise of Death, provided by the nice folks at Orbit.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Interview with CJ Henderson

Justin chats with CJ Henderson over at FanLit

Originally posted at Re-posted here because I liked it a lot.Sit back and relax it's a big'un.

I recently chatted with C.J. Henderson, whose book Central Park Knight, sequel to Brooklyn Knight (which was really fun!) is being released today by Tor. We’ll be giving away a copy to a couple of commenters.

Justin Blazier: Thanks for taking time out to answer some questions for me. Your writing ranges across several genres. You’ve had successes in Horror, Detective, Adventure, Comedy, Sci-Fi and Fantasy. The Brooklyn Knight series seems to provide a home for all your varied writing interests. Was that the plan?

CJ Henderson: No, not at all. First off, it couldn’t have been because, well… I don’t actually ever have a plan. I make things up as I go along. All I knew when I started was that the character’s name was Piers Knight, and that he was a curator at the Brooklyn Museum, because I had worked that much out with the editor. I also had a fairly good handle on the character of the intern because I had decided to model her after a friend of my daughter’s I thought would be perfect for the part (ironically, I discovered after I made that decision that her friend had just been awarded an internship at the Brooklyn Museum for that summer, so I guess she was even more perfect for the part than I thought).

I knew it would have horror and mystery, because that was fairly well implied in what the editor and I had discussed. But everything else just worked its way in as I went along.
Brooklyn Knight (Tor Fantasy)
Justin: So, if you make things up as you go along, where did the original idea for The Brooklyn Knight come from?

CJ: In a nutshell, it was the idea of the original editor, the late Brian Thompson. He loved matching people to projects, and he was really good at it. He was a Brooklyn boy like myself, and he loved the Brooklyn Museum. He pitched the idea to me to have a curator at the museum get into some kind of urban fantasy mischief. He was an enormous fan of my Teddy London supernatural detective series, knew the work I had done for the Lovecraft estate with their character Inspector Legrasse, and the Zarnak stories I had done for the Lin Carter estate. He also knew I was getting a little bored with doing so many action adventure horror novels and shorts centering around hard-boiled detective types.

He realized (even if I didn’t) that I needed to shift gears. He also knew I was getting into a lot of lighter stuff, and so he put together an idea he thought might be perfect for me. He was right, of course. I took to the idea of Knight immediately. The first novel simply flew out of me. I knew so much about the character before the first chapter was finished, it amazed me. In fact, I still know tons more than the audience does.

Justin: I liked Prof. Piers Knight’s character quite a bit. He was simultaneously both frustratingly aloof and charming to those around him. I compared him to Indiana Jones in my review, but I don’t think the two characters would get along if left alone together. In your opinion what sets the professor apart from his relic-hunting peers we see in other works?

CJ: Wow… you know what I just said about knowing things the audience doesn’t? Well, I have to be a rummy here and dodge this question. You were sharp enough to notice that Knight is a bit different. That he acts just a bit out of step with others. For once (haha) that’s not bad writing on my part. No, he is different. He does have a secret. And just as there were clues ladled into the first novel, there are more in the second. The secret (first part, anyway) won’t come out until the third.

And yes, Piers would see Jones as an opportunist, as a user of people. Jones succeeded so brilliantly because of his amoral nature. It was great writing. Piers has no problem with making hard choices, but he would have blown up the Ark rather than let it fall into the hands of the Nazis. Indiana Jones is a little boy who has to have what he wants when he wants it. That’s what makes him adorable and why women love him and want to reform him, and why they forgive him when he acts badly. Women are hardwired to forgive children when they act stupid and self-centered. If they weren’t, none of us would survive childhood. But Piers is an adult. He is his own man. There will be no molding of the professor by outside forces any time soon. Adults can’t be forgiven by others. They have to accept responsibility for their actions.

Man, I talk a lot, don’t I? If I don’t curb myself, we’ll be here all day. Next question.

Justin: You dabble in the humor business a bit and you’ve even written some humorous fiction. Brooklyn Knight had its fair share of funny moments. How important is it for you to make your readers laugh from time to time, even though the overall tone of the novel is fairly serious?

CJ: I wouldn’t say it’s important to me. It’s more that humor just comes to us in real life all the time. Sometimes we see it and sometimes we don’t. Two of my absolute favorite horror movies are Ghostbusters and Tremors. Both of these movies are filled with humor, but one of them is thought of as a comedy and the other as a horror movie. I really do believe it’s only the presence of so many comedians in Ghostbusters that made them promote it as a comedy. The storyline itself is straight horror… and Lovecraftian horror at that.

For instance, none of the Knight short stories have that much humor. I think it’s because novels give me more time to relax and get into character situations, where the shorts have to be story-driven, straight forward, zoom-o kind of things. I love writing humor, my three most recent short story series have all been mostly comedy-driven. But to stop straying all over the place from the question, no, I don’t plan comedy in my novels, look for places to stick it in, or fret if it doesn’t happen. I just let things flow.

Justin: Where has all the comedy in speculative fiction gone to? I like to read and write humor and often wonder why I don’t see more of it on the shelves in the SFF genres. With the success of legends such as Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams, you’d think we’d see more.

CJ: I don’t know what to say. I love comedy, as I just said. But, it also took me twenty years of being published before I chanced writing any. I think it takes a great deal of skill to turn out decent comedy. I find myself holding my breath anytime I send one out, waiting to see what the editors say back to me. The problem with comedy is that so much of what is passed off as humor is topical — transitory. Funny today, maybe even tomorrow, but next month? Who knows?

By Other Means (Defending The Future)I do stories now about two sailors, Rocky and Noodles, which are sci-fi military musical comedies. Monty Python meets Abbott and Costello kind of stuff. There are a lot of Star Trek references which, if people catch them, will be funny, but I don’t rely on those for the humor, because yes, old farts like me think the sun rises and sets with Classic Trek, but the younger audience, who knows? And, nothing turns off an audience faster than an entertainer so in love with something they find fault with their audience for not getting how “clever” they are.

The Challenge of the Unknown series centers around a network news show dedicated to info only on UFOs, haunted houses, witches, werewolves, et cetera. The idea came to me thinking of the old ABC show Sightings, which ran for two years I believe, actually only covering such news. I always wondered, what would happen if these people went into one of these haunted houses and peoples’ heads started spinning, and stories started pouring out. These are much in the Ghostbusters vein, with the humor coming from the absurdity of the situation, and horror based more on the hideous things Hollywood types do to each other rather than buckets of meat and blood being thrown against the wall.

I guess the answer is, humor is tough. Even out of the two examples you gave, I never got into Pratchett, but I chased down every scrap of Douglas Adams. Yeah, humor is subjective, and scary. You have to have iron pants to submit humor.

Central Park KnightJustin: The new book, Central Park Knight is releasing today. How was the writing of book two? I know, for some authors, book one is sort of a feeling-out process, and book two can be easier or more difficult depending on how you felt about book one.

CJ: Book two was a lot harder. Since the clues being hidden were closer to the surface, since essentially the second book is the second act as far as the big reveal is concerned, they took a lot of effort to conceal. I hate authors who write books which don’t end, basically telling the reader, “hey, you want more, you want answers, wait for ‘em, or go away. I don’t care enough about you to bother.”

Think back to the original Star Wars. Now, sure, that story doesn’t end. When the first movie is over, the rebels are still in terrible trouble. But, we’re given enough of an ending that we’re all happy. As the old-timers (like myself) in your audience will remember, there was no talk of a sequel. We all thought that what we had seen was all there was going to be.

Well, that’s the way I write my novels and even my short stories. The ending is the ending. Period. I always want whatever I deliver to the public to feel like that’s all they’re getting, and for it to be a satisfactory meal. So, yeah, this one was harder because to achieve that sense of completeness, I had to work a lot harder.

Also, on a more mundane level, the idea of the series is that Piers will have a different intern in each book. Intern is by its definition a transitory position. And, I didn’t just want to bring in a clone of the first intern. Even if the public loved her, it was a cheat. Why bother changing characters if there’s no real change? So, to give myself a challenge, I brought in someone completely different. Different on every level, just to make myself work harder.

And, while I was at it, I thought, why not do that on all levels? You see, another thing that irks me about some series writing is the way the characters do the same things every time. It’s like a female character on a TV show who always wears boots, jeans and a tank top. Does she own no skirts? No suits? No gowns? No sneakers? Anyway, where a lot of writers would have Piers search the museum for mystical weapons suited for the new menace and then dispatch it, I didn’t want things to be that easy. So, as soon as he assembled the weapons in the second book, I pull the rug out from under him so that we can see if he has any worth as a thinker, as a man.

Yeah, I set myself a number of challenges in the second book, and I probably made my editor (the incredibly patient and insightful Kristen Sevick) wonder if the merchant marine might not be a more rewarding career, but I had a good time and was happy with what I accomplished. Now I’m just waiting for the world to return the report card.

Justin: How many more of the Knight series can we expect? The Professor has the potential to carry a long-term series. His talents and interests lend themselves to some great stories.

CJ: How many we can expect is up to Tor, of course. Hopefully sales will justify their continued faith in the series. I know the third book inside and out. In fact, if folks go to my website, posted right now are the stories “An Excess of Joy,” which is the first few chapters of Central Park Knight, and “Pragmatic,” which I know, and well, I guess now everyone else knows, is what I plan to make the first few chapters of the third novel.

Like I said, there’s going to be a big reveal in the third book (and no, you can’t figure it out by reading “Pragmatic”), but it’s a reveal for the audience only. In the fourth book, I want that reveal to be made to the world at large. The fifth would be Piers dealing with the world having found out his secret. Then, in the sixth, there would be a reveal to Piers about his secret. And then… well… after that trying to tell you what I know without giving anything more away gets impossible. So, let me say that I see the possibility of a lot of books myself.

Now, I only know the actual menace and some of the plot for the third. I know nothing of the stories of the others, just the big moments. Whether it’s vampires, werewolves, bad-ass fairies, killer clowns, I don’t know. Knowing that the menace in the third book is another massive one, I’d like to calm things down in the fourth. Of course, I thought I was going to do that in the second, and well… that didn’t work out, did it?

Justin: Which authors have had the biggest influences on you creatively?

CJ: Wow, well… in no particular order, just as they pop into my pea-sized brain… ah… Stan Lee, Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Clifford D. Simak, Jack Vance, Rex Stout, Douglas Adams, Alfred Bester, John Brunner… I could probably go on, but how many people can be the “biggest?” Better stop before I water down the honor too far.

Justin: Where/when did you get your start writing? Has it always been something you’ve wanted to do?

CJ: My earliest memories are of telling stories to the other kids under the street light at night. I have always been a storyteller, and I always will be. The fact that I was able to get my work into print and make my living from writing has been a terrific blessing, but I would have been doing it no matter what. Yeah, it’s what I always wanted to do.

Justin: I read your bio on your website. You point out a fact that most readers don’t realize — that more than likely their favorite author has a day job *gasp*. Your list of past jobs is quite extensive. One on the list was “Lounge Lizard.” What exactly is a lounge lizard, and how exactly does one become said lizard of the lounge?

CJ: It’s just an old term for someone who sings in a lounge. It’s meant to convey a sense of not the Frank Sinatras and Tony Bennetts, but the guys who are only cheap knock-offs of them. For every Lady GaGa there are ten thousand really sad and awful imitators. Now, hopefully I wasn’t that bad, but I did get into a suit and sing in bars for very little money, knocking out stuff like “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” for people who were just trying to drink and not be seen by anyone who knew them while they tried to hook up with people who were not their spouses. Oh, my sad, sad past.

Justin: Looking back over the years of your writing career and comparing that to what new authors go through now, do you think things are better or worse for aspiring authors?

CJ: Yes. Not being a wise-guy, it’s easy to talk about how much harder things were back when, or how hard they are now, depending on how one wants to be viewed by those to whom they’re speaking. But, for new authors, things are as they are. They don’t know what it’s like to have print magazines in every drug store that people actually bought and read, but on the other hand, they don’t have the fear and mistrust of the internet that a lot of older writers have in the back of their minds. They accept the world for what it is, because that’s what it is.

Having had to walk uphill ten miles every day to sell a story when I was young, having grown up in an era when self-publishing was a dirty word, it’s easy to look around and talk about the vast opportunities that folks have today. But, it’s always goddamned hard for people to break into any aspect of training. Look at all the American Idol-like shows. That fierce competition, the fear, the panic and hope and desperate desire, that’s all of us. Dancers, singers, sculptors, photographers, comics, writers — all of us — we all want to make it, get the checks, hear the applauds, feel the love, and we all have to go up against a world full of others who want the same things.

There is always a terribly small and finite amount of reward to spread around amongst the hordes of hopefuls who desire to be recognized for their talent. People write for a lot of different reasons, and they don’t usually know what it is they’re trying to do, or why they’re doing it. They just know they have to do it. And it hurts to be rejected just as much now as it always has. Being told you’re no good, that you need to improve, that you’re services are not required at this time, whatever, hurts just as much now as it always has.

And yeah, I know this isn’t exactly what you asked, but it’s the best I’ve got. Yes, I’ve written some 70 books/novels, had hundreds and hundreds of short stories and comics published, thousands of non-fiction pieces printed, and I’m still scrambling after the next sale. There are a handful of writers who can churn out anything and have it end up in print without worry. For the rest of us, it’s a scary, numbing, humiliating crapbag of a job, with one of the sweetest rewards any human being has ever received, one of the most golden rings ever snagged.

It’s always been hard, and it’s always going to be hard. If it wasn’t, everyone would do it. And then getting published wouldn’t mean anything. And in a way, getting published doesn’t really mean anything. People with no talent get published all the time. People whose work will not last even unto their own demise get read by millions.

What’s hard is getting published, and getting read, and then getting reread. What’s hard is writing something that will affect the way people think and live their lives. That will touch their souls. That will make them cry. That will make them a better person. That will make them remember you in their prayers.

That’s what’s always going to be hard. And it should be.

Justin: I always like to ask authors their opinion on the state of the industry. Some are a bit nervous as things move quickly into unknown territory, with the internet and electronics changing the landscape almost daily. Where do you see SFF publishing in the near future. Is it really all doom and gloom? Or are we on the brink of a renaissance of sorts? Maybe something else entirely?

CJ: You’re talking to a guy who’s getting away with writing scifi military musical comedies. Science fiction is in a recession right now because science itself is in a renaissance. Every day, something’s being cloned, or a new app is changing everyone’s perceptions, or a new element is being identified, a new origin for the universe is being uncovered … I mean … I just saw something yesterday on the fact that cars can now parallel park themselves. Are you kidding me? Really? Crap!

Also, genres take turns. A marketplace gets saturated and has to fall to rise again. Fantasy is pretty big right now. Steam-punk is growing, but in both fantasy and sci-fi directions.

I’m not nervous, but I write everything. I miss writing hard-boiled detective stuff, but the market isn’t there. Also, I’m not as angry and crazed as I was thirty years ago when I was knocking those stories out all over the place. Now, I want to laugh, and to make other people laugh, so I do a lot more comedy. I also want to give people hope, and to try and get them to believe in themselves and their ability to accomplish things. That’s a big part of whatever I write, no matter what genre I fold it into.

So, for the SFF marketplace in the near future, all I can say is, it will be doom and gloom for those who don’t give the public what they want, and butterscotch and sunshine for those who do.

Now, of course, figuring out what people want … and when they’re going to want it … well, wow … talk about asking for the philosopher’s stone …

I really enjoyed chatting with C.J. Henderson and will look forward to hunting him down at a local convention this summer. Central Park Knight released today, so be sure to check it out. If you comment below, we’ll enter you into a drawing to win a copy (winners will be announced in the comments, so check the box to subscribe to the comments). You can also find more of C.J.’s work on his website. His site is full of samples and short stories. Personally, I enjoyed the Rocky and Noodles story quite a bit.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Book Review: Shadowmarch by Tad Williams

Shadowmarch: Shadowmarch: Volume IThe plot of Shadowmarch is rather complex, but the basics of the story are simple. Three groups vie for time in the main storyline. First and foremost are the lands of Southmarch, ruled for many generations by the Eddon family. Directly to their north are the lands of the Q’ar. The Q’ar are the fairy folk, long ago driven out of the southern regions by humans. The Q’ar have not let the many years soften their bitterness and hatred of humans. The third group involved in the story inhabit the desert kingdom of Xis to the far south, and they are ruled by the not so nice god-king Autarch. The fairies want their land back, and the southern-based god-king wants everything. The Eddons and the people of Southmarch simply want to survive. The narrative flows back and forth mainly between these three locations, telling the story from the perspective of several individuals in each of the three geographic areas.

Shadowmarch is essentially one ginormous prologue. It is in this book that you become intimately familiar with all the major players in the SHADOWMARCH series. It is a very entertaining read despite the fact that its main purpose is to set you up for the remaining books. My summary does not do the complexities of the plot justice. There is so much going on that I would have to write a book of equal size just to explain it all to you. Don’t run away just yet, it’s not as bad as it sounds! Tad Williams is amazingly adept at weaving complex stories in a digestible manner. I ran away from huge epic fantasies because I was growing weary of books filled with overly complex family lineages and violently tragic storylines. Shadowmarch has been my antidote, and has renewed an excitement for long epic fantasy that I thought I’d lost some time ago.

Shadowmarch has a large number of major characters. Some get more time than others, but in general the attention is spread fairly evenly among them. The most prominent characters are the Eddon twins, Briony and Barrack. A large portion of the book is spent with those two and their dealings in and around Southmarch castle. The next in line would probably be Chert the Funderling. Funderlings are a dwarflike people who are the miners and stone craftsmen of Southmarch. Chert’s story centers on a strange boy he finds near the northern border close to the lands of the Q’ar. Chert is probably my favorite character. He is funny, intelligent, and kind, and his stone-themed curses never failed to make me chuckle. The characters I just mentioned are only the Southmarch cast. There are also the fairies of Q’ar and the Autarch’s people in Xis, who provide the left and right to Southmarch’s center stage.

I'm very glad I decided to tackle this seemingly daunting series. I have not read any of Tad’s other works, but if they are anything like this, then I just increased my TBR pile exponentially. I listened to Shadowmarch on audio CD by Brilliance Audio. Shadowmarch is narrated by Dick Hill, and he is nothing short of brilliant. Mr. Hill is one of those voice actors who act their parts rather than simply read them. I was enthralled with his performance. I actually own the print version and have never read it, but when Brilliance sent me the audio version I could no longer ignore it. I will continue to choose the audio version over the print version for SHADOWMARCH. —Justin Blazier

You can also learn more about Williams' books at the Fantasyliterature Tad Williams page

Friday, June 10, 2011

Book Review: The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

The Wise Man's Fear (Kingkiller Chronicles, Day 2)
I finally got to read Patrick Rothfuss’ The Wise Man’s Fear. Life and my TBR pile would not allow for me to tackle this book as quickly as I would have liked. Luckily, Brilliance Audio sent me the audiobook and I was able to squeeze it in on my commute to work. Like many fans of The Name of the Wind, I was anxious to see how the story of Kvothe would progress. I was also anxious to see if Mr. Rothfuss could “call down lightning” twice. To say the least, I was not disappointed.

Fanlit reviewers Robert and Stefan both echo the majority of my thoughts on The Wise Man’s Fear. They’ve done an excellent job in analyzing the novel, so I will not take my review to that level. Instead I’ll keep it simple and give a few of my likes and dislikes about the novel.

The story ambles and sidesteps its way through the telling of Kvothe’s thoughts and adventures, and it’s wonderful. The book packs in 1000 pages and it still felt too short. What I liked most about the story is what everyone likes: Kvothe. He’s such an amazing character and its impossible not to find him engaging. In The Name of the Wind the side characters were a little flat. I felt Mr. Rothfuss made big strides in preventing that from happening in The Wise Man’s Fear. The cast of characters seemed a little more colorful and a bit more detailed than in the first book. The races of this world get some much-needed page time too. Personally, the people of Ademre were my favorite. I could easily see spin-off stories just based on the Adem.

The things I didn’t like were few, but the thing I disliked the most is actually hard to explain. I had to research and call upon my fellow reviewers to help find the right term to describe it. It’s a type of plot device, and I learned that the closest I could get to a term is Diabolus ex vacuus or maybe Diabolus ex machina. It is a fairly common trope; I just didn’t expect to see it so often. There are a couple of these devices in the story, and even the Chandrian themselves fall into this category. I do not want to reveal more than that, due to spoilers. Rothfuss’ writing is often superior to some of the story elements he uses, perhaps because the basic story was written a long time ago. Not really a huge deal overall, I just found it a bit awkward at times.

I listened to The Wise Man’s Fear on Brilliance Audio CD. It clocks in at a massive 43 hours stretched over 36 discs. It is huge. The story is narrated by Nick Podehl, and he does a wonderful job. He can be a bit dry at times, but overall his tone is perfect for the somewhat aloof Kvothe. If you usually hesitate to purchase audiobooks due to the price, I strongly suggest you pick this up because 43 hours of an amazing story is well worth the $30 you’ll spend on it. Let me repeat that in case you didn’t catch it….43…FORTY THREE…hours…long. That’s over an entire work week or two entire days of fantasy storytelling.
—Justin Blazier

You can also learn more about Rothfuss' books at the Fantasyliterature Pat Rothfuss page

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Book Review: The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie

The HeroesI often struggle when someone asks me what my favorite fantasy book is. I’ve read so many great books that it’s very difficult to pick one above all the others. I don’t have that problem anymore. My answer now is easily Joe Abercrombie’s The Heroes. I cannot think of a book I have enjoyed so much on so many levels than The Heroes. That’s a bold statement, you say? Yes it is. This book deserves it, and I will do my best to try and explain why.

The overall plot of The Heroes is relatively simple. It follows a battle over the course of three days. The battle is being fought between “The Union” and “The North.” The Union is an entity that has much in common with medieval England. The North has much in common with Vikings or some other barbarian state. They’ve been brought together in war through a series of convoluted events that happened in previous novels. The reasons they are fighting are completely unimportant. The focus of this story is the individuals doing the fighting, not the fight itself. They all have their own reasons for being there.

If you are familiar with Abercrombie’s work then it will come as no surprise to you that there are no “Heroes” in this story. These are flawed human beings, and over the course of three days you follow several of them through their various trials and tribulations. Abercrombie paints the most realistic characters you can imagine. He’s so good at writing these colorful and disturbed individuals. Abercrombie will have you siding with mass murderers and feeling sorry for psychopathic killers, and you won’t even notice.

As with Abercrombie’s other works, this book is violent, vulgar, and often absolutely hilarious. Abercrombie is a master of dark humor and uses profanity with an artist’s touch. The profane inner monologue of Col. Bremmer Dan Gorst nearly had me weaving into oncoming traffic with laughter while listening on audio. Entire complex and awful situations are often summarized by characters in a single expletive. I absolutely loved it.

The writing is superb. Abercrombie has honed his style to a razor’s edge. He continues to improve upon excellence. I thought Best Served Cold was nearly flawless, but I would have to say The Heroes is one step closer to perfection in my opinion. If he continues this trend I will have no choice but to sell my worldly possessions and start a cult in his name.

I listened to The Heroes on MP3 by Tantor Audio, narrated by Michael Page. Mr. Page does an excellent job with the voice characterizations. The North men tend to sound similar, but there are only so many “gravel rough” voices a guy can do. The voice acting was just enough to draw you into the story without being overdramatic. I was very pleased with the overall production and would not hesitate to listen to more from Tantor or Michael Page. —Justin Blazier

You can also learn more about Abercrombie's books at the Fantasyliterature Joe Abercrombie page