In the past year or so I have been able to interview several authors for 42 Webs. Thank, partly, to Hal-Con, to different groups I have become affiliated with, and to the generous authors who gave up their time to answer back. So far my favorite interview has been with Jeff Somers, author of the Avery Cates books.
I sat down with him last year, well more email and he replied, and we talked about Cates, being a writer, and his upcoming book Tricksters. Well now that Tricksters is out (watch for my review) we decided to do a follow up and see how thing are going for Jeff.
1) Magic has always been a system with consequences but normally the consequences are reserved for the ‘big spells’. What made you want to examine a world where every spell had a physical and personal cost?
The novel has its origins in a short story I wrote nearly 20 years ago, which centered on a man witnessing a homeless vagrant suddenly levitate in a bar parking lot. That image was the core of the story, though it was buried pretty deeply in the final version of the novel.
On a broader sense, this is a bit of a reaction to all the stories out there where immense power is depicted without consequence – when having some random talisman or simply being born as The One means you can wield all this power at no personal cost. There should be personal cost. There has to be – and I think at a certain point I realized that the levitating vagrant in my story was a vagrant because he’d paid that price – and then I was off to the races.
It’s possible this was inspired by my lifelong love affair with booze, actually. I mean, you can drink all you want and have a great time, but there is a correction coming, and that correction is usually harsh. See? Consequences. Forget entropy, the universe is all about consequences.
2) What research goes into a book centered on self mutilation? (insert obvious emo music joke)
I think your standard issue adolescence is all that is required, actually. Including the Emo Music. Which we all have far more of then we’re ready to admit. J’accuse!
In other words: None research. None whatsoever. That’s how I like to roll: Ignorant and defensive.
Mags is rare for me in that he is a being of pure imagination – he’s not based in any way on anyone. But I definitely wanted a Of Mice and Men dynamic, because Lem and the other characters are so knowing, so crafty. I wanted someone to counterbalance that and be sort of innocent.
I also wanted to have a character who represents a more traditional form of power – Mags is a big guy, and very strong, and more or less fearless in the moment. Mags could kill someone with his bare hands if inspired to do so. And yet he’s one of the least effective people in the story. In this universe, nothing trumps magic, if you know what you’re doing.
4) Mika Renar was a villain that when all was said and done we learned very little of but still found ourselves spellbound for (see what I did there?). I compare her to the early days of Ernst Blofeld from the James Bond films – a relatively silent mastermind in the back. Will we learn more of her? Of what it takes for someone to get to a place where mass genocide is and alright thing to do?
You’ll get to know a little more about her in Fabricator, yes – but not much. I think her motivations are pretty simple, actually. It ties back to the idea of consequences – she has found a way to have other pay the consequences for her use of magic (by having others bleed for her) – so why wouldn’t she seek to have others pay the ultimate consequence for her?
I liked playing with the idea of all the big-shot mages in the book being rich, the upperclass, the 1%. They see it as natural for everyone else to pay their bills, in a sense, and are outraged that anyone would question their right to do whatever they want.
Naturally, I’d be Mika Renar in a second. Rich, powerful, and with a bona fide way to become immortal? Excuse me while I throw every one of you under the bus. Wait, that may be unwise to admit. We can edit that out, right?
5) What can you tell us about Melanie Billington and the upcoming war?
Let’s call her Mel Billington, Ustari Hunter for the sequel. I don’t think the war is going to go the way people might assume. There’s more of a cat-and-mouse, mental side to it – although a lot of people are going to die as a result. That I can guarantee. Because why else write novels unless you can destroy worlds? Seriously.
Melanie is a small-timer who becomes a True Believer – in the fight against Renar, in Lem’s specialness, and in her own sense of what’s right and wrong. Which can be a dangerous thing in of itself, that faith. I kind of feel like you always have to question your own judgment of morality. Melanie doesn’t do that, though her absolutely loyalty to Lem tempers her a bit.
6) What about the Urban Fantasy genre made you want to write in it? What about it drew you in?
This might sound like an old saw, but I don’t think about genres beyond the broad buckets of SF/ Fantasy, Horror, etc. When my agent told me Pocket was categorizing this as UF I thought, huh. It had simply never occurred to me. When I was growing up I thought of things as Science Fiction, and nothing else. Then again, I also think everything should cost the same as it did in 1977, so obviously I am not thinking about the world in the right way.
I think just as with The Avery Cates books, ultimately there’s a lot of hard boiled detective in Trickster. A lot of those classic detective novels from Chandler and Hammett had protagonists who were frequently broke, desperate, and up against conspiracies.
A lot of my fiction stems from taking reality as I see it and just twisting it a bit and seeing where that leads me. Sometimes it leads me to a futuristic sort of universe, this time it led me to a universe based on the one I live in but proposing that magic really existed but was much more rare and much more difficult than you might think. But ultimately the process of creation is basically the same.
7) The Avery Cates series takes place in the future, Trickster takes place in the present. You seem to be going back in time. Will we see a steampunk or fantasy series next from Jeff Somers? Does writing back in time require drinking at 88 mph?
Hah! Is it backwards in time, or just going sideways to alternate universes? Who knows, buried deep, deep in there might be a connection between those two universes.
But no steampunk from me. I wouldn’t look good in the fashions.
8) A topic authors often seem divided on is writing for shared universes (Forgotten Realms, Star Wars, Dragonlance, Ebberron, Warcraft, Magic etc). Some are staunch defenders of it and some are not. Which side does Jeff Somers fall in that debate? Is there any shared universe you would love to write for?
I have nothing against it as a practice, but it doesn’t appeal to me. First of all, all that research! I prefer to just make up my own stuff and be able to claim super secret history when I screw up my own details. Plus, I don’t like to share – I prefer to work in my own sandbox and have no desire to work in anyone else’s.
When I was much, much younger I wrote what is essentially fan fiction set in the universe of that old 1960s TV show The Prisoner. I was a huge fan and it’s like 40,000 words telling a sequel story about the character. It was a lot of fun, but I doubt I’d spend time on something like that today – instead, I’d be much more excited to jump off from there and do my own paranoid spy thriller, you know? Which no one would care to read, of course, because they already have The Prisoner.
Seeing how Jeff Somers has already answered 42 Web’s signature question. We have given him a slightly edited one to answers
9) What is Jeff Somers reading these days? Anything he’d suggest for his fans and audience?
The best novel I’ve read recently is The Man in the Empty Suit by Sean Ferrell. It’s pretty amazing, a bit of a mind screw, and has had me jealous ever since I read it. I’d recommend it wholeheartedly.
Jeff can be found at his blog: jeffreysomers.com