Friday, February 20, 2015

Grim Interview: Daniel Polansky

Today we're joined by Daniel Polansky, a Brooklyn native and author of the Low Town trilogy, and the upcoming Empty Throne duology, of which the first installment Those Above, is slated to hit the shelves on February 26th in the US. 

The Low Town series was a blend of noir and fantasy. Would you say that your upcoming series (Those Above) is more traditional fantasy, or can we expect more genre blending?

A: It's a little hard to say--the Low Town stuff had a very deliberate sort of an aesthetic, being in first person and with that stylized hard boiled dialogue. Those Above is somewhat grander, both in terms of the language and some of the themes. It's sort of a noir on a much larger scale, the foolishness and brutality of nations as opposed to of individuals.

One of the reasons why so many people loved your first trilogy was because of the genre blend. Can readers expect more noir in your upcoming novel?

A: Yes, though perhaps of a less conventional sort. There's a strand of the novel dealing with urban poverty and the crime that runs through that, and there's generally a lot of violence and malfeasance and drinking and bad behavior.

Who would you say was your biggest influence as a writer?

A:I suppose it would maybe depend on the book? The Low Town stuff was all Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, but Those Above is somewhat more flowery. I like to think that my writing is evolving, and so therefore my influences evolve as well. Hopefully that doesn't sound pretentious.

You’ve said in the past that Westerns were a big influence for Low Town and it’s respective sequels, what influences were you inspired by to write Those Above?

A: It's really hard to go back and pull apart all of the original threads. I'm a big history buff, have been for a long time, I think I was reading Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire while I was coming up with some of the ideas for Those Above. Robert Graves's I, Claudius and Claudius the God. Lots and lots of other things, probably.

Do you read any other authors in the genre, and if so who are your favorites?

A: Sure, lots of people. Myke Cole and Mark Lawrence and Stark Holborne and John Hornor Jacobs. I always say Gene Wolfe so Gene Wolfe once again. Tim Powers is awesome. I could go on for a while here.

Considering you were published by the time you were in your mid twenties, what advice could you offer to struggling writers?

A:Read a lot. Read more than you're reading. Read the most difficult books that you can make yourself read, push your comprehension skills, sharpen your understanding of language and your knowledge of the world.

Where do you see the fantasy and science fiction genre in the next ten years?

I am honestly the absolute worst person to answer this question. Trends and currents in the marketplace are just not something I have a very good grip on, probably to my detriment. I suppose there will be some good books and a lot of bad ones, but that's hardly a change in the status quo.

What does an average day of writing look like for you?

A:I'm a night owl, so I wake up late morning and brew a pot of coffee and just get to it. I try to get down a thousand words or so, then I go for a long walk and find a coffee shop and try to do it again. This pattern repeats until happy hour, and then I trade coffee for beer.

How do you feel about the rise of Grimdark? Do you consider your books Grimdark?

A: In any genre or subgenre there are some good things and some bad ones, so without trying to be pedantic I would say I like good grimdark and dislike bad grimdark. As far as my own books go, I can understand why someone would group them in under that rubric, but again you have a very different perspective on the stuff you've written. They just have their own look to you.

The synopsis for Those Above hints at the three main characters we will get to meet, a woman, a general, and a boy killer. Was there one in particular that was especially fun to write?

A: You're not really supposed to pick favorites (like with children) but yes, totally. The woman referred to in the blurb is Eudokia, the Revered Mother, sort of a Machiavellian type controlling the strings of empire from behind the scenes, and on a bunch of levels she was just so much fun to write.

If Low Town was made into a film, whom could you see playing The Warden?

A: Me. I would play him. I would make like Stallone with Rocky and refuse to grant the rights unless I was the lead also. would have to bulk up about sixty pounds and get taller and also a lot older and have my face beat up. But I could do it.

When you aren’t busy writing, what other hobbies or activities are you involved in?

A: Reading. Chess. I walk around the city. I talk to people occasionally. I don't travel like I used to but I'm usually still out of the country a few months a year.

If you lived in Low Town, what would your job be?

A: Oh Christ, nothing very impressive--I'm clever enough to get into trouble but not tough enough to get out of it. I guess everyone's clever enough to get into trouble. Anyway. I'm going to go with dream vine tester. I would be good at that.

Considering your novels have many darker elements to them, have you received any negative reactions from family, friends, or readers?

A: Well, some people just don't like my books, obviously, but I gather you're asking more along the lines of if I've offended anyone, to which the answer would be; a few people. Some readers have a way of taking the things a character says as being things you think, something especially common with a first person perspective. But that's pretty rare, honestly.

Is there a certain novel you would suggest is essential reading for struggling authors who want to write in the fantasy genre?

A: Not really, not one guy in particular. There are a lot of great writers but there's not really a silver bullet answer here. But just to say something I'll say Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe, which is pretty tremendous.

Fantasy has many mediums these days ranging from films, to video games. Are you a fan of any of these popular franchises?

A:Sure, some of them, probably not anything unexpected. Firefly was great. Lord of the Rings was really cool. Game of Thrones, except having read them it's a little less exciting. I had my Xbox stolen a year ago and never got around to buying another, so my video games skills have kind of atrophied. My peak video game skills are all centered around like, early 2000's rpg's. My Morrowind character was on point.

Without giving away any spoilers, what can fans look forward to with Those Above?

A: Sex, blood, greed, death, hope, despair, evil. Lots of evil. It's bigger and more expansive than the Low Town stuff, there are a lot of viewpoints, I swung a bit more for the fences, if that makes sense. Hopefully people respond in a positive way.

How many books are planned for your newest series?

A:Two! Just the two of them. I don't know why people don't write duologies more. Did I spell that correctly? THESE ARE SO RARE THAT I DON'T KNOW THE PROPER SPELLING. Anyway, two. But a strong two! Like a kick in the head, two.

Thanks for joining us Daniel, looking forward to the new book, and best of luck with the release.

Thanks tons for having me! Please, if you have any interest, go out and pick a copy of my book. You could read it, or you could use it for terribly uncomfortable toilet paper, or you could buy a bunch of copies and build a fort. I think this last plan is probably the best.