Ten Questions About Dead Things, By Stephen Blackmoore
I am a fan of Stephen Blackmoore. I also consider myself his friend, even though he keeps taking restraining orders out on me — seriously, now I have to stay 603 miles away from him at all times, which will make the next WorldCon very awkward. WHATEVER. I dug the hell out of his first novel, City of the Lost, but for me, Dead Things is an epic favorite — I don’t read fast, but this book was like a gun pressed to the back of my head and I read the hell out of it in very short order. I loved it. So will you. Let Herr Doktor Blackmoore tell you all about it.
TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF: WHO THE HELL ARE YOU?
I am a sparkly unicorn who grants wishes and frolics in the… Wait. Where am I?
Oh. OH. Sorry. That’s, uh, that’s for something different.
I’m an author. I write books. There’s CITY OF THE LOST, about an undead thug who gets caught up in a hunt for the item that raised him from the dead. KHAN OF MARS, which comes out later this year, set in the 1930’s pulp adventure world of the role-playing game SPIRIT OF THE CENTURY, about a hyper-intelligent gorilla fighting for freedom on the red planet. My newest book, DEAD THINGS. I also write short stories and co-host the bi-monthly lit event Noir At The Bar L.A. and run a true-crime blog called L.A. Noir.
I’m kinda all over the place.
GIVE US THE 140-CHARACTER STORY PITCH:
DEAD THINGS is an urban fantasy novel about a necromancer who comes home after 15 years to solve his sister’s murder to find it’s a trap.
WHERE DOES THIS STORY COME FROM?
The protagonist of DEAD THINGS, Eric Carter, is a necromancer, a rarity among mages. He sees the dead, talks to them, makes them do what he wants. It gives him a perspective on life and death that a lot of people don’t have. It’s isolating for him in a lot of ways.
Carter disappears from his old life leaving behind a lot of resentment, anger and confusion. And when he comes back fifteen years later to deal with his sister’s murder he finds himself having to deal with the fallout of his decisions. His old friends don’t know how to handle him and he doesn’t know how to handle his friends. It’s not easy for him.
Between that and his abilities with the dead a lot of the book is about ghosts. Ghosts of dead people, ghosts of dead relationships, ghosts of the way things were and aren’t anymore.
And for me that’s the core of the story; disconnecting yourself from your life and the challenges of trying to come back to it. That doesn’t always work. People change. Sometimes it’s the people you thought you knew. Sometimes it’s yourself.
We’ve all done it at one point or another. It’s part of growing and defining your own life, whether you do it at eighteen, thirty or sixty. And there’s always fallout from those actions. Carter’s forced to confront the choices he’s made and the consequences of his decisions. A lot of the story comes from examining what kind of awkward homecoming that might be like.
HOW IS THIS A STORY ONLY YOU COULD’VE WRITTEN?
A lot of writing is about choices. Which words to use, which ones to leave out, what plot points to emphasize, that sort of thing. All of those together, and a dozen other things, contribute to a writer’s voice. I’d like to think that I bring something unique in terms of style to the stories I write. Another writer would have made different choices, focused on different things. I’m sure, hell, I know, that someone else could have written Eric Carter’s story. But it wouldn’t have been this one.
WHAT WAS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT WRITING DEAD THINGS?
Making the character of Eric Carter unique and not a rehash of Joe Sunday, the protagonist of CITY OF THE LOST.
Though it’s set in the same world as CITY OF THE LOST, DEAD THINGS is a very different book. The protagonists are very different people. How they view the world and their place in it and the challenges they face are about as far removed from each other as it’s possible to be. In CITY Joe Sunday is trying to adjust to a sudden new world that he’s been thrust into.
But with Carter, it’s coming back to a world that he thought he knew. Sunday’s very much a fish out of water character, and Carter is more of a guide. He knows his world, or at least he thinks he does.
I tried to keep Carter different from Sunday by focusing on Carter’s relationships and his character more than I did Sunday’s. It’s a much more emotional and character driven book. I think it worked. Guess we’ll find out.
WHAT DID YOU LEARN WRITING DEAD THINGS?
That writing a book is something I can repeat and do it on a deadline.
I’ve looked at my writing career, though it’s new enough that calling it a career feels pretentious I don’t know what else to call it, as a series of stepping stones. I always want to be moving. I don’t want to do anything that isn’t going to lead me to something else.
The first novel I ever wrote was a weird, little mess for NANOWRIMO back in 2002 to prove to myself that I could do it. After that I focused on writing and publishing short stories, get my name out there, get some bullets on the resume. I didn’t try to tackle anything longer for a few years. Then I wrote CITY OF THE LOST, sold that and jumped onto DEAD THINGS.
I’m proud of CITY OF THE LOST. I think it’s a good book. I wanted to make sure that DEAD THINGS was, if not better, at least as good and yet different enough that it stood out.
Up until the point that I turned the book in I wasn’t entirely sure I could do that. NANOWRIMO notwithstanding (and I don’t really count it) I had never written a book with a deadline. I was playing with things that I hadn’t really done before, digging into some emotional territory that wasn’t always fun to write, dealing with the pressure of knowing that I could completely blow it.
Now that the book is making its way into people’s hands I’m fairly confident that I pulled it off. Knowing that I can do that gives me something to hang onto when I run into a rough spot and start believing that I can’t. I have proof that I can.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT DEAD THINGS?
That Eric Carter is a fuck up.
It’s not that Carter’s incompetent, it’s that he makes bad choices because of flawed assumptions. You know, like we all do. He set in motion a series of events based on what he thought people needed and when he comes back into the life he left behind he’s still operating as though everything should be the same and it isn’t.
I don’t like characters who can’t fail. Superman holds no appeal for me. Indiana Jones is more my speed. Watch Raiders of The Lost Ark and you’ll see just how much of a failure as a hero Indiana Jones is. He screws up just about everything he tries to do in that movie. Loses the gold idol, burns down Marian’s bar, gets her killed (not really, but he doesn’t know that) and ultimately loses the Ark. He’s a fuck up. he just looks good doing it.
That kind of character is much more interesting to me and I tried to put that sort of limitation into Carter.
WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY NEXT TIME?
Well, I’m about to do a next time. The sequel to DEAD THINGS, BROKEN SOULS, is due to be delivered in July for a 2014 release. DEAD THINGS was written during nights and weekends because of my day job. This time I’m going to try to carve out a couple weeks off the day job and go somewhere I can’t be interrupted. I don’t know if it will help, since I have an enormous capacity for distraction, but I’m hoping to find out.
Also, the outline for BROKEN SOULS is slightly more comprehensive than the one for DEAD THINGS. The DEAD THINGS outline started something like, “Stuff happens and then this thing over here and then…” eventually getting into the actual plot. I didn’t really have a beginning in mind.
This one is a lot more locked down, which on the one hand should make things easier and on the other, as I write it, I realize that it might be a little too tight. I’m curious to see how far away I diverge from the outline with the finished book.
GIVE US YOUR FAVORITE PARAGRAPH FROM THE STORY:
I don’t have a favorite paragraph, but I do have a favorite line. “Death keeps her promises.”
WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU AS A STORYTELLER?
I’m working on BROKEN SOULS at the moment and then I have the next one in the series, HUNGRY GHOSTS, along with a couple of short stories I need to do and, depending on how things shake out, some gaming work that I can’t really talk about, yet.
I’m hoping to branch out into some other directions this year and try my hand at a comic script, maybe a screenplay, two things I’ve never tried before. I don’t really expect much to come of them other than getting used to the form and use them to jump toward other things.
Like I said, they’re all stepping stones.
Read the first chapter here.