An Interview With Max Gladstone

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Max Gladstone is one of the big up and comers in fantasy these days. His Craft Sequence was just nominated for a Hugo for best series, and he has started multiple other group writing projects such as Bookburners. I am increasingly becoming a huge fan of his as he puts out more work, and he graciously agreed to let me ask him questions about his books and his life as an author. If you haven’t checked out any of his work yet you can find reviews for the first two Craft books here and here, and one for Bookburners here. Otherwise please enjoy our conversation below!

First off, some questions about you as an author as a whole:

You have a really interesting writing style that makes me feel like I know you as a person after reading your work. It makes me feel like we are already friends even though we have never met. Do you do this intentionally, do you just write yourself, or am i just insane and projecting because I am lonely?

Hah! I don’t think you’re making it up—I also don’t think I hide in my work too much. Many of my storytelling rhythms come from the gaming table, and when I sit down to write these days I am often just thinking about telling a story to my friends, and including little references and tips of the hat I’m sure they’ll catch. Different sorts of storytelling have their own idiosyncrasies, of course, but that common thread remains.
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Do you have a plan for your career as an author? I know you are sorta wrapping up the first part of The Craft Sequence now (or so I thought until I saw the announcement for Ruin of Angels), and have started up the BookBurner project. Do you have any other authorial goals that you are striving towards that you want to talk about?

I have big dreams, and I’m working to see them come true. The tactical maneuvering is a lot more complicated—how do I get from there to here—and contingent on developments. I’m sorry if that sounds vague, but it’s hard to be more specific! In the near term, I’m focusing on writing a few excellent standalone novels, and on filling out the next phase of the Craft Sequence.

What do you like to read? Do you read fantasy and if so do you have favorite books and/or inspiration?

Everything! I read nonfiction, mysteries, plays, poetry, and, of course, fantasy and science fiction. I take joy and inspiration from my favorite authors—there’s a long list, but at the core we have Dorothy Dunnett, Roger Zelazny, Ursula LeGuin, and Robin McKinley; other major influences include Sam Keith’s The Maxx, The Sandman, Terry Pratchett, and Wu Cheng-en’s Journey to the West. And I’m always finding new inspiration, in history and literature.

If you could work on a new collaborative piece with any other author, who would you choose?

I don’t know! There are lots of people I’d love to collaborate with—and I’ve started to work with some of them already! Amal El-Mohtar and I are right now putting the finishing touches on an excellent novella that I’m excited to share with people, for example.

Are you doing a book tour anytime soon?

I’m often traveling to conventions—I don’t know about any plans for a book tour for Ruin of Angels, but those don’t generally finalize until later.

Then some questions about your work with your Craft Sequence:

When we read Three Parts Dead for our book club, one of the major things that a group of people loved was its great workplace wish fulfillment. The Craft Sequence feels like one of the most adult fantasy series we have read because of all the professional issues it tackles. Was this intentional or a byproduct of the general ideas you had for your book?

Responses to my books tend to fall into two rough categories: the people for whom it feels like an office power fantasy, and the people for whom it precisely captures the enormity (and enormousness) of their daily work. I think it speaks to the peculiar (and often unhealthy) culture of work these days, that we lionize jobs with this level of intensity. I wrote the Craft Sequence in part because the more I tried to understand my world, the more I found myself relying on the language of fantasy fiction, and I think that, yes, as a result, it is a pretty adult series—in that it’s about things that adults, and people trying to become adults, spend a lot of time worrying about.

I remember hearing that the next Craft Book was going to be Six Feet Over, but that seems to have changed to The Ruin of Angels while I wasn’t looking. Can you talk about what this change means or at least inform me if I am hallucinating new craft books?

No, you aren’t hallucinating! My editor and I decided that Six Feet Over, while an excellent title, wouldn’t be enough of a marker that we were starting a new phase of the Sequence. And since I plan the future books to tick forward in time, rather than jumping around the timeline, dropping numbers from the titles would be a good signal. We’ll see how well that works!

Were there any particular jobs or job stories that you drew from in your personal experience for any of the books?

Nothing I can talk about in an open channel! But in general, the books were informed by my experiences in the non-profit sector, in research firms, and by my friends’ experiences in finance, law, academia, and engineering.

Of all the occupations you have invented in the Craft Sequence, which would you want to do if you lived in the world?

Honestly, I’m not sure! People have a hard time of it in the Craft world, as they do in ours; every cool opportunity brings costs with it. I really like the machine-monks in Dresediel Lex, though. I love the notion of maintenance as a sacrament. I really think it is!

What was the inspiration for the setting of Dresediel Lex? Mesoamerican culture and faith is so rarely touched on (and even more rarely touched on in a meaningful way), that I really sat up and took notice.

I wanted to expand the world of the books and highlight different sorts of cultures existed in this world—and since I wanted the cultures to feel less like a planet of hats, where you have, like, the Warrior culture and the Peaceful Hippy culture and whatever, and more like a through-the-looking-glass version of our own, where complex belief systems produce a whole lot of complex people, I decided to draw heavily on existing analogues. The desert setting suggested Los Angeles and Mexico City; I did a lot of reading on Mesoamerican religion and anthropology, and the dynamics of colonization, and spent a lot of time talking to friends, in hope of getting things right.

There are some seriously metaphysical and strange scenes in the Craft Sequence. Was there any scene that was particularly hard to write?

Not really. My brain’s just pretty weird, I guess.

Would you consider doing a Craft graphic novel?

Certainly! Watch my site for further news….

Finally, some question about the wonderful Bookburners:

Was Bookburners was inspired by Buffy, and/or anything else? What made you want to sit down and write a story about kickass archivists?

I’ve never seen Buffy, but many of our writers have, and Julian, the co-founder of Serial Box, has as well, so we have a lot of Buffy fans on the creative team! As for why we wanted to write about kickass archivists—why wouldn’t you want to write about kickass archivists? There’s all the ass-kicking! And the archiving!

You have successfully completed your first season of Bookburners. What would you say is the most important thing that you have learned while writing the book and collaborating with other authors?

Notecards. Over the course of writing Bookburners S1, I got my notecard game on point, and learned how to outline by basically doing everything Margaret Dunlap does—and it’s changed how I write practically everything. On the one hand, I spend a lot more time planning now, but that time working on the front end makes the writing far smoother, and allows me to focus more on my line-by-line prose work.

What is the process involved in working on something like Bookburners compared to one of your Craft novels?

Now that I’m outlining my novels more, it’s quite similar. With Bookburners, though, there are always more stages, because everyone has to be on the same stage—so we write, and test, and talk to one another about what we’ve written, and go back in for another pass.

It is a strange experience reading a book episodically as opposed to the traditional chapters. I thought you guys did a great job making Bookburners feel like watching TV show episodes, but occasionally it felt like chapters ended rather abruptly. How did you approach making episodes instead of the usual chapters?

Thanks! We try to think of each episode as a story in its own right, with its own beginning, middle, and end, as well as considering its place in the season overall. it requires a little more structural thought out front, but in the end, the greater structure allows us to create a more compelling, propulsive fiction—if we land the beats correctly, of course.
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