What is the most heartfelt thing a reader has said to you?
In the first book of this series, A Fall in Autumn, the main character, Valerius Bakhoum, has cancer and very little time to live. Shortly after its publication, a reader wrote to me to tell me he had survived the same diagnosis as Valerius had, and how important it was to see a character reflect his own experience, his own fears, and his own courage in beating it. It meant so much to me, to know someone saw their greatest danger reflected in a way that validated their own experience. I’m getting a little misty just typing about it. That reader and I have kept up via email since then. He’s an absolutely incredible landscape and nature photographer, just an incredibly gifted artist.
Every book is, essentially, a reader and an author clasping hands across the ever-widening gap of time, and it means so much to me when that connection really lands.
What was the hardest part of writing this book?
Figuring out how to end it so that it remains both science fiction and hard-boiled noir. Detective novels usually end with the private eye a little wiser, a little more worse for wear, and though they’ve solved the case they haven’t particularly profited by it. That’s important for the idea of an open-ended series, like if I wanted to write twenty more books about Valerius as a private eye without particularly having his circumstances grow or change. But that’s the problem: I do want Valerius’ circumstances to change over the series. I want the world to change, and I want Valerius to be a part of changing it. After all, that is vitally important to the science fiction side of the coin. So I had to balance those two elements: I had to let the book land so that Valerius is essentially still Valerius but the gears of the world around him have started to turn. I needed to create a sense that things will inevitably change and keep Valerius maybe even a little bit unaware of the role he’ll play in that change. That was an enormous challenge.
Also, the original ending of this book involved Valerius inciting a riot against a powerful institution, and I turned it in on January 5th, 2021. The next day the attempted insurrection at the United States Capitol happened and I emailed my publisher and told him I had to rewrite the ending of the book. I couldn’t run the risk anyone would read my book and think I thought Trump’s stirred-up mob of murderers were right or reasonable or that what they did could be excused.
What was your first published work? Tell me a little about it.
My very first book was Perishables, a suburban horror story about a vampire at a meeting of his neighborhood association when a very small zombie apocalypse breaks out. It’s actually composed of three interconnected novellas, and together they tell the story of a curmudgeonly vampire and what gets him to start rejoining the world of the living in little ways here and there: relearning how to form friendships, being reminded there are humans he likes, that sort of thing. I loved writing it, and I love the main character of Withrow. In fact, I wrote a five-book series about him, The Withrow Chronicles, which concluded (for now) in 2019. 2022 is the tenth anniversary of the first edition of Perishables, which won the Laine Cunningham Award for best novel from The Blotter, so Falstaff Books is going to publish a special annotated edition. Many of the places (and a few of the people) from Perishables are taken from my own life and experiences, so I’ll be going through and talking about that. I love that book, and I love that series, and I am so pleased to get to revisit it after all these years.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
I wish I were faster, but it takes me at least a year for a novel, often more like 18 months. For a novella, I can usually knock out a first draft in four to six months. I have a very demanding day job and am basically only able to write on Saturday or Sundays, and only sometimes at that. My brain is just too tired the rest of the time. I know writers who work extremely intellectually and emotionally draining jobs all day and then write for hours at night and I am absolutely in awe of their abilities. I just don’t have that sort of mental stamina. I have to be able to start fresh and focus on writing for a few hours on a weekend day.
What book is currently on your bedside table?
San Francisco’s Lost Landmarks by James R. Smith. One of my series is a historical fiction/time travel/urban fantasy series set in that city, and this book is an absolute treasure trove of historical places that no longer exist. It’s rich with photos, first-hand accounts of people who went to these places that no longer exist, and everything else a writer needs to bring San Francisco’s past to life. Did you know there were multiple locally-owned and -operated amusement parks in San Francisco from the late 19th century through the 1970’s, complete with everything from roller coasters to log flumes to zoos to wax museums? One of them even had an unofficially official policy of making it easy for kids to sneak in, because the park operator knew kids would tell their friends and some of those friends or their families would turn into paying customers. San Francisco has an unbelievably rich history and this book makes it so accessible, so immediate, so vibrantly alive.
What are you working on now, and when can we expect it?
Next up is the fourth (and final?) book in my urban fantasy time travel series. That series features modern-day queer witches in San Francisco summoning up the very real historical figure of Emperor Norton, that city’s greatest eccentric, and sending him tripping through time as they fight a demon of real estate.
I’m also currently writing an Appalachian-set cosmic horror novel about a haunted house and family trauma and what to do when the life the main character has escaped tries to pull him back in with the lure of family tragedy. Despite that description, I also happen to think it’s a very funny book! The main character is a sharp-tongued old queen who’s very wounded inside. In a lot of ways he’s a very courageous character, which is good because he’s going to be facing down unimaginable horrors.
And after that, of course, is the third book in the Autumn series!