I Never Planned To Be A Novelist…
I never planned on becoming a novelist, it’s just something I sort of fell into. I have no training as a creative writing and I had never tried my hand at fiction before the little bubble of the Warden’s voice sprung into my head early one morning while I was drinking my fourth cup of coffee and avoiding my then-bosses’s attention, and since I didn’t have anything to do that Tuesday but work (haha) I figured I might tap out a few hundred words, and see how I liked the sound of them.
And reading them back at lunch they rang kindly off the ear, sufficiently melodious at least to encourage adding another hundred thousand or so to them. The Straight Razor Cure was a tremendous learning experience –when I started it I knew nothing about writing a novel and when I finished it I knew a tiny bit more than nothing. Writing it I felt like I was constantly discovering how to do new things, testing out my modest abilities in new and unexpected ways.
By contrast, She Who Waits was a breeze. Three books in I had the Warden’s voice down. I could do that patter in my sleep. Sometimes walking down the street I would slip unconsciously into that Low Town patter, confusing author for protagonist, mean-mug the corner boys that lived in my neighborhood (this was back when there were corner boys in my neighborhood and not artisanal cocktail shops), before swiftly recalled my meager muscle tone and general lack of courage and placing my eyes back on the horizon. My point being, it was easy, and I was good at it. I could pump out a Warden novel in a couple of months—a little bit of scheming, some drug references, a dash of magic, a sword in someones neck. Boom.
I was tempted to write about five more Low Town books. It would have been, probably, a wiser business decision than striking out in a new direction, nor would it have necessarily been creatively bankrupt. Ross McDonald wrote something like 25 Lew Archer books, and every one that I’ve read is excellent. There are eight Phillip Marlowe novels, plus some short stories, and if Poodle Springs is kind of a turd still that’s an admirable standard of excellence. It’s perfectly possible to write an episodic narrative and still maintain a high level of quality—it just wasn’t something that I felt I could do .
Although if we’re being honest, it also wasn’t really something I wanted to do. You don’t get better at something by endlessly repeating the same motif, not really. Each of the Low Town books gets (appropriately) sharper, more tightly plotted, better written, but like anything there is a point of diminishing returns. Those Above is, by contrast, a different beast entirely. Bigger in scale, written in the third rather than the first person, lots of world building, and I traded in the sparse noir language for something more elaborate, even baroque. It was tough. I mean it was hard as hell. It was nearly as hard as writing Those Below, but that’s another story.
Those Above is audacious, or at least it was audacious by my own personal standards. Writing it made me a better writer, allowed me to consider ideas I wouldn’t have been able to work through within the narrow confines of the Low Town milieu, to stretch my world-building chops beyond slums and backroom drug-dens and the like. Working in the third person you sacrifice a certain amount of immediacy, but you gain an ambiguity which allows for more complex thought. Removed from the Warden’s action hero tropes, I could deal with violence and death in (I hope) a more interesting, subtle way.
A writer trying to judge his own work is, to paraphrase Nietzsche, ‘an eye looking inward at itself.’ I don’t really know how I feel about Those Above. I don’t really know how I feel about any of my books. I know that’s not the sort of statement you’re supposed to make as a writer in the 21st century, where unhesitatingly positive self-promotion is the order of the day, but I’m not unhesitatingly positive about anything short of sunny days and IPA’s, and lately even the IPAs can get too hoppy. There are things I like about Those Above. There are things I don’t. But one of the things I do like about it is that I didn’t coast when writing it—it was a struggle. I was a better writer by the end of it then I was when I started. Hopefully you’re encouraged to take a gander and see if, in the process, I wrote something worth your time to read.
They enslaved humanity three thousand years ago. Tall, strong, perfect, superhuman and near immortal they rule from their glittering palaces in the eternal city in the centre of the world. They are called Those Above by their subjects. They enforce their will with fire and sword.
Twenty five years ago mankind mustered an army and rose up against them, only to be slaughtered in a terrible battle. Hope died that day, but hatred survived. Whispers of another revolt are beginning to stir in the hearts of the oppressed: a woman, widowed in the war, who has dedicated her life to revenge; the general, the only man to ever defeat one of Those Above in single combat, summoned forth to raise a new legion; and a boy killer who rises from the gutter to lead an uprising in the capital.