Author interview with Max Gladstone
Max Gladstone's debut, Three Parts Dead, was released last year and ever since it hit the shelves it was on my to read list but I never quite got around to read it until this summer and well... It quite blew me away. What an amazing story Max Gladstone managed to create. Such a rich environment, great characters and the whole promise of the story is very cool, just to top it all off! The second book, Two Serpents Rise, is out this month and again Max Gladstone proves that he is a new force to be reckoned with in the UF genre. His books are a whole lot of cool!
Max has taught in southern Anhui, wrecked a bicycle in Angkor Wat, sung at Carnegie Hall, and been thrown from a horse in Mongolia. Max graduated from Yale University, where he studied Chinese. Two Serpents Rise, his second novel, is about water rights, human sacrifice, dead gods, and poker.
BP: First off can you give a introduction of who Max is? What are you hobbies, likes/dislikes?
MG: Max is a US-American ugly giant bag of mostly water. Transplanted North-to-South-to-North-to-China and back again. Have keyboard, will travel. Trad-geek, tabletop gamer (FATE system preferred), fencer, martial artist, Chinese speaker. Former editor, teacher, tour guide, translator, consultant, tech analyst, magazine hawker, pizza cook, and now—fantasy novelist! Likes good music. Dislikes papercuts, bamboo slivers under fingernails.
BP: What first inspired you to picking up the pen and start writing?
MG: You’re assuming I even remember! My folks have notebooks full of pen-scratches, all within the lines, none of them remotely intelligible, from before I knew how to read. Long as I can remember, writing has been a Thing I Do. I love the feeling.
But there was a day I decided to take it seriously. There was this superhero website called the FPL, which was basically a fanfiction site only with user-created heroes and villains and the like. People created characters, wrote stories with them, and moved on, which left a lot of characters lying around without anything to do. So I decided to stage an Apocalypse—I sent an open call to everyone on the site, “let me kill off your characters!” I spent the next year writing and releasing, piece by piece, a 240,000 word long apocalypse story, with angels, demons, superheroes, villains, cyborgs, Avatars of Time, popular revolutions, etc. etc. etc. Hordes of characters met epic fates. Cities were razed, children were born. People liked it. At the end of the year, after publishing the final chapter I looked back on what I’d done and said, I want to do this again—only with my own characters, next time!
BP: You were shortlisted for the John W. Campbell Best Writer award, when you heard the new what was the first and second thing you did?
MG: Before nominations are announced, the Campbell committee sends you an email asking you to confirm your eligibility. So the first thing I did, even though I knew I was eligible, was freak out. Once the freakout was settled, I think I did a bunch of pushups, because I couldn’t stay still. And then I collapsed in a chair.
BP: The Craft Sequence is set in a Urban Fantasy setting, but it is quite different from what you normally see this genre. What gave you the idea behind the books?
MG: I came back to the US in 2008; I went from college straight to rural China, where I taught for a couple years. So when I returned I was also entering adult life for the first time. US sort-of-adulthood was weird and confusing, and as a genre reader and writer I interpreted it as I’d interpret a fantasy novel. At the time, the financial crash was, well, crashing, which meant that my job hunt was an exercise in handing out resumes and watching people suppress their sudden upswell of maniacal laughter. Trying to make sense of the situation I spun this elaborate through-the-looking-glass interpretation of the real-world economy in fantastic terms, and I couldn’t get the idea out of my head—so I wrote it down. Hence, necromantic bankruptcy lawyers!
BP: There are many Urban Fantasy works however both Three Parts Dead and Two Serpents Rise set themselves apart from the rest. Where do you think The Craft Sequence sets itself apart with?
MG: Please excuse me while I blush heavily. In terms of form, I think the Craft Sequence is different in that it straddles the line between urban and epic fantasy—many urban fantasies tend to be set in ‘real world plus,’ as in, New Orleans with Vampires, Missoula with Were-Wendigo, etc. The Craft Sequence is set in a secondary fantasy world, which gives me the freedom to weave magic into society rather than presenting it as Something Freaky. The magic in these books isn’t Masquerading in any way. It’s a part of life.
BP: Writing a first book is quite a task did you learn anything in writing Three Parts Dead that you could use for writing its sequel Two Serpents Rise
MG: Three Parts Dead is so fast-paced that it was hard to incorporate reaction beats, hard to show people responding to absurdity or trauma. In Two Serpents Rise I tried to build in a little more breathing room, without letting the tension slack. I think it worked.
Also, I learned from the publication process of Three Parts Dead that I needed to allow myself more time to write launch materials.
BP: In writing either Three Parts Dead or Two Serpents Rise, what was your biggest challenge?
MG: The schedule. I wrote Two Serpents Rise while working a full-time job and planning my wedding, which left me about fifteen minutes over AM coffee, a morning train, an evening train, and maybe an extra half hour at night when I should have been sleeping. I worked on an AlphaSmart Neo, which is a graphing calculator’s brain with a QWERTY keyboard attached—800 hours of battery life on three double As, and instant on. As a result of the schedule, the rough draft of Two Serpents Rise was very rough. I wore out my delete key editing that book.
BP: Have you encounter any specific problems in the series so far?
MG: Specific problems… not really! Each book is its own challenge. I do find walking the magic system line complicated. I want to provide a consistent ‘user experience’ for my world’s magic, so it doesn’t feel like I’m cheating when I use it to solve problems. On the other hand, if you define magic too much, it loses its magic.
BP: If you would be given the chance to rewrite any scene or chapter of either Three Parts Dead or Two Serpents Rise would you do so? And if yes, what would it be?
MG: I probably wouldn’t. Those books are written, and done. Though there are a few characters in Two Serpents with complicated interior lives and motivations that, because of the structure, are harder for readers to access. The information’s all there, but hidden. Maybe someday I’ll write an answer key.
BP: Three Parts Dead focused on Tara but for Two Serpents Rise you choose a new protagonist, Caleb. There were some leads to continue with Tara’s storyline. Why did you decide to introduce a new protagonist and can we expect to see Tara’s return to the series?
MG: A few reasons! The Craft Sequence is a lot bigger than any one city or protagonist. I have an entire world in mind, and I want the reader to have chances to grow familiar with the world—its cities and civilizations and their bonds with one another—before I start the Vicious Endgame brewing in the back of my mind.
Whoops, did that slip out?
Also, the events of a book are often crazily traumatic. It’ll take a while for Tara, and for Alt Coulumb, to respond to events of Three Parts Dead. If I started another book directly on the heels of the first, and then a third on the heels of the second, she and the other characters would degenerate into bundles of trauma much faster than I want. So, Tara gets a bit of a break for recuperation. In the meantime, we get to see (and terrorize) other people! And Tara will return—I’m brainstorming her next book at the moment, as a matter of fact.
BP: Everybody experiences fantasy and science fiction differently. What do you like most about writing fantasy and science fiction?
MG: I like being able to hold twisty mirrors up to the world we live in. I like thinking about life from odd angles. I like writing about wizards and spaceships. And I like writing the stories I grew up reading.
BP: A third book is already announced in the series, will The Craft Sequence run as a trilogy or have you planned to write more books in the series?
MG: I’ve already written a fourth book (sitting on my hard drive, not yet edited), and I’m brainstorming a fifth. There are a ton of stories to write in this world, and while I do have an endgame in mind, it’ll take a little while to get there. We need to see more of the world, and more of the central actors, for any ending to work.
BP: Both Three Parts Dead and Two Serpents Rise have turned out to be great reading experiences and you manage to create some great twists and turns along the way. Can you tell a bit more about what we can expect in the third book of the series?
MG: Thank you! I’m glad to please. For Full Fathom Five, you can expect more skulduggery, a visit to the Skeld Archipelago, the appearance of some old familiar faces, slam poetry, petty theft, spies, mafiosi, offshore banking, cargo cults, workplace scheming, brainwash golems, manufactured pseudo-gods, and the perils of home ownership. Also a sort-of-extinct volcano. I’m going into a bit of a John LeCarre place for this one.
BP: Do you have other projects besides the Craft Sequence that you are currently working on or that you wish to pursue in the near future?
MG: Oh yeah. For starters, I’ve written a choose-your-path type adventure game set in the Craft Sequence world for Choice of Games. That should debut in early-to-mid December. Players can live the life of an associate Craftsman or Craftswoman! Other than that, I’m scheming a sort of twisted road novel.
BP: and just lastly if you would have to recommend your 5 favorite books to us, which would they be?
MG: Five! Excellent. Let’s see. I’ll cant this toward genre:
1. Lord of Light, by Roger Zelazny — Sci-fi about Hindu gods, Buddhism, reincarnation technology, planetary colonization, human society and frailty, psychic powers, and general badassery.
2. A Game of Kings, by Dorothy Dunnett — Dense, brilliant, and well-researched historical fiction about a charismatic supergenius exiled Scottish nobleman-turned-mercenary in the mid-fifteenth century. A model for plotting, pacing, moral ambiguity, perspective, and pure gorgeous prose.
3. The Hyperion Cantos, by Dan Simmons (Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion) — Practically perfect space opera.
4. The Hero and the Crown, by Robin McKinley — accomplishes more in 200-some pages of ostensible YA than most “grownup” epic fantasies do in five times the length. Great heroine, genuinely awesome dragons.
5. Little, Big, by John Crowley—as close to the American fantasy novel as anyone’s yet written. Maybe as close as anyone can write.
BP: Thank you for your time Max and good luck with your future writing!