- I found the first novel in your Fifth Ward series to be a refreshing departure from a typical epic fantasy novel. What made you decide to go in that direction?
Frustration, mostly (he says with a chuckle). When I first set out to write fantasy, it was in an epic vein, but I could never find the right human story inside all the epic-ness to justify the sprawling size of the tale I wanted to tell. In subsequent (and still unpublished) books, I tried melding fantasy elements with real history. I was really proud of those books, but they didn’t seem to land with editors (though one came very, very close at a small press publisher).
I landed on the premise for The Fifth Ward almost by accident, because I had cop-buddy movies on the brain and was basically cycling through all sorts of interesting settings, and there it was: a cop-buddy story in a fantasy city. It didn’t even instantly strike me as ‘the one’ but after a couple weeks, I realized the idea wouldn’t leave me alone, so I ran with it.
I was just trying to come up with something that excited me, that had some real publication potential, and that wouldn’t allow me to get sucked down a deep rabbit hole of research and world-building (which I tend to do). That simple notion of a buddy-cop story in a semi-familiar, pre-industrial fantasy world just seemed like a real untapped well in terms of fun storytelling possibilities at a real, human scale. As it turned out, it was.
- Who has been your biggest influence as a writer?
Just based upon prevalence, Stephen King. My entire adolescent reading life was dominated by King’s work, and right up until about the age of 20 or so, I would’ve called him my favorite writer without hesitation. I eventually branched out and collected a number of other favorites and notable influences, but King was there first and laid the groundwork, so he wins.
- Why did you decide to pair a human and a dwarf as pseudo police officers as your two main protagonists in your Fifth Ward series?
I knew right away I wanted to use the classic fantasy races simply so I could comment upon everyone’s assumptions about those races. Knowing that, it was just a matter of trying out the pairings in my head. For some reason, human/dwarf just stuck. Before that time, I’d never cared much for dwarves in fantasy, but through Torval, I’ve come to really love them. I think some of the work I did in Friendly Fire (the second book) about dwarven culture and Torval’s relationship to it is some of my best character work, ever.
- Who is your favorite writer?
That’s nearly impossible to answer, there are so many. I already mentioned Stephen King, who still looms large, but in recent years, horror writers like Laird Barron and Gemma Files are my superstars. Tim Powers influenced me heavily when I discovered and devoured his work. I still aspire to the level of artistry and grounded, human insight on display in Ursula K. LeGuin’s work. For crime fiction, I love hardcore, pessimistic noir guys like Jim Thompson and James Ellroy. In more literary moods, Cormac McCarthy, Flannery O’Connor and Joseph Conrad.
See? What is that, 10 ‘favorites’?
- Magic was not at the forefront of Fifth Ward: First Watch. Why was that more in the background of the novel?
That was just the kind of story I sought to tell. I wanted magic present in their world, and I brainstormed a number of stories where it would play a more integral role (see Book 2), but ultimately, I just felt like I was after something more grounded and relatable.
- What current writing projects are you working on?
Last year, I wrote a Warhammer: Age of Sigmar tie-in novel called Realm-Lords that will be out later this year, and I’ve just commenced work on another novel for them that’ll probably be out next year.
I also just finished the first draft of a new, original horror novel set in the 1920s involving gangsters, apocalyptic cultists and a vampire. That one’s still pretty shaggy, though, so it needs work before it’ll get out in the world. Hopefully, by next spring, that’ll be squared away and ready for shopping to publishers.
- Did you start off with the intention of making Fifth Ward a trilogy or did it involve into one?
I saw it as an open-ended series, where each book could more or less stand alone—aside from internal continuity involving the characters’ own evolutions. Orbit contracted me for three. As yet, there are no plans for more, but I’d certainly love to return to that world. My hope, when starting, was to follow Rem and Torval through a couple decades of friendship and trials, so we’ve still got a long way to go to fulfill that.
- What type of scenes do you most enjoy writing?
Probably scenes of suspense or weirdness: where a character either realizes something’s not right and has to figure out what it is, or where we’re ramping up to a big confrontation. I think the mechanics of writing scenes of that sort are so specific and fine-tuned, I love the challenge inherent in them.
Also, scenes where the humanity of the characters really shines through: moments where lovers bare their hearts, moments where one friend admits a sin or a shameful incident to another. People being vulnerable and revealing things. I know that’s not what people really sign on for with a fun, fasty-paced fantasy read, but I think it’s the presence of those moments, between the action and wonder, that really give a story its heart and soul.
- What is your best quality as a writer?
Three things: stubborn dedication to my work, consistent output, and a desire to constantly improve. Whatever else I may accomplish or not, I’m pretty proud of those three.
- If Hollywood was making a film adaptation of The Fifth Ward, and the director asked you to cast the roles of Rem and Torval, who would you choose?
When I was writing, it was Eddie Redmayne and Ray Winstone in my head. Ray Winstone just has the coolest face, the coolest, craggy voice, and the most wonderful look of combined mischief and menace in those beady eyes of his, and the ability to be both dangerous and endearing. He’s Torval, through and through. Since that was five or six years ago, though, I might now say someone like Richard Madden (Robb Stark on Game of Thrones) for Rem, and maybe Dave Baustista as Torval. Baustista’s got a lot of heart and soul behind his enormous physique, not to mention great comic timing, so I think it’d be awesome to see him play a character that’s only four and half feet tall.