When did you realize that you wanted to become a writer?
Just last Tuesday—it was all very sudden. I’m kidding, of course. I realized I wanted to be a writer when I discovered Bob Salvatore’s Dark Elf Trilogy 25 years ago (I’m dating myself with that revelation, I suppose, though at least if I’m dating myself, I know I won’t get turned down…well, I probably won’t get turned down; I do have SOME standards, though, so it’s entirely possible I might reject me).
I’d always been an avid reader, but that was the first time I was consciously aware of books shaping my worldview and inspiring me to think about my approach to life in a different way. I thought it would be pretty fantastic if I could someday do for a reader what Salvatore did for me (and what numerous other writers have done since): entertain, inspire, and provoke thought.
Where do you get your ideas from?
Ritually sacrificing stuffed bunnies and ripe mangoes to the goddess Buhlschitt in exchange for inspiration. Isn’t that how everyone gets ideas?
What are you currently working on?
I’m just finishing the first draft of a book tentatively titled THE PART ABOUT THE DRAGON WAS (MOSTLY) TRUE (though I suspect the title will change). It’s a prequel of sorts to THE CHRONICLE OF HELOISE & GRIMPLE, albeit written as a cohesive narrative as opposed to a serialized adventure as its predecessor was. It’s a fantasy homage/parody that’s part Hobbit, part Behind the Music with the joke cadence of a Tina Fey show.
Where did you get your idea for The Camelot Shadow?
The scene that opens Chapter 1—an older man, sitting in a well-worn leather chair in a magnificent library late at night, a book in his lap and a glass of Scotch by his side—popped into my head unbidden one night when I was trying to fall asleep. I was in college at the time and far more concerned with midterms and naked quad streaking than writing books, so I didn’t do anything about it immediately. Every so often, though, I would think about that scene. The details were so clear in my head—I could practically smell the chair leather and feel the vellum pages within the books. Eventually, I started asking myself who the man was, why he was so melancholy, how he’d amassed all those wonderful books, and why it seemed as though this quiet moment was just the calm before the storm. As I answered those questions, I realized I had a story I had to tell.
It’s funny—when I finished writing the book, I was convinced that was it. I’d told those characters’ tale and it was onto the next thing. But, after a while, I started thinking about them again—what happened after the story ended, and even what had come before. I missed hanging out in that world and writing in that ornate Victorianish style. What can I say? I like my prose like I like my Little Mermaid villains—over the top and incredibly purple.
So, having released a prequel short (THE STRANGE TASK BEFORE ME: BEING AN EXCERPT FROM THE JOURNAL OF WILLIAM J. UPTON), I’ve begun plotting a couple of sequels. It’s safe to say that we haven’t seen the last of these characters—well, except for those who met rather final fates in THE CAMELOT SHADOW.
What does your writing process look like?
Mostly it involves trying not to get carsick while typing in the backseat of a stranger’s car, as I chronicle here:
Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
I like to slip in an occasional joke or phrase that only a couple of close friends will catch. A few characters in THE CAMELOT SHADOW are named for close friends, too. And sometimes I’ll work in a Ghostbusters quote, which sharp-eyed GB obsessives will catch. Oh, and if you take the first letter of every sentence in THE CAMELOT SHADOW, you will discover a riddle that, if you can solve it, will lead you to an ancient pirate treasure worth eleventy-billion dollars.
What is your favorite book of all times?
Let me complicate a very straightforward question by saying that I’m ruling ineligible for my response any book that’s part of a series. “That seems unduly draconian, Big Nose,” you might opine, and you would certainly be justified in holding that opinion, both about my exclusion of series books and the proportions of my proboscis. That said, the reason for that exclusion is that I find it impossible to judge a book in a series solely on its own merit; it is inextricably bound up with and linked to the events that happen in the other books in the series, events that inform your response to the book upon first read and shade your memory and perception of it after you’ve read subsequent volumes. For example, I would probably say that GOBLET OF FIRE is my favorite Harry Potter book, but perhaps my love for that book is, at least in part, a result of the buildup to it in the preceding three books and knowing the impact that Voldemort’s return at the story’s end will have on future tales.
(Should I have marked that as a spoiler? I feel like that one’s pretty fair game at this point. Voldemort always comes back, people.)
With that in mind, then, I’ll limit the pool of potential candidates to stand-alone books, and while it’s still an exceedingly difficult choice, if forced to select a single tome, I would say Bram Stoker’s DRACULA.
I first encountered DRACULA as a precocious second grader. While I wouldn’t recommend that most 8-year-olds read a book that’s likely to give them nightmares, if not force them into years of therapy (or, at least, force them to look up every other word), I was hooked from the get-go by a book whose style and plot resonated from page one. For whatever reason, the ornate language, shiver-inducing slow-burn buildup, and terrifying prospect of one of fiction’s most fascinating villains appealed to me so much that, 10 years later, I would make Victorian lit the primary focus of my collegiate career as an English literature major (though, to be fair, the subsequently read works of Dickens and Conan Doyle played a significant role in that decision).
Sure, the book is laden with Victorian melodrama and weird psychosexual shenanigans, but I love that stuff (well, the Victorian melodrama, at least). I’d be hard pressed to think of another single book that pulled me so fully and completely into its world and left me breathless at its conclusion.
What is your favorite fictional character and why?
That’s a little bit like asking which is my favorite piece of macaroni in a bowl of macaroni and cheese—I have whole mouthfuls of favorite fictional characters (which is a weird thing to say, maybe). If I was forced to answer the question lest I be denied mac and cheese in perpetuity, I would say Drizzt Do’Urden from R.A. Salvatore’s Dark Elf books. Dark elves are typically evil, sadistic, and very unlikely to bake cookies for new neighbors. Drizzt, however, has a good heart, and he fights his way to the surface world in an effort to live a life that’s true to his values. What I love most about Drizzt isn’t that he’s noble, brave, and very good at killing orcs (though I do enjoy all of those things)—it’s that he’s always asking questions about the world around him and is unflinching in examining his own actions and beliefs in the service of becoming a better person. I aspire to have Drizzt’s courage and commitment to self-improvement and facing the uncomfortable truths we all have to confront within ourselves from time to time.
Sean, thank you very much for deciding to do this interview with me. It was really an honor and I greatly appreciate it!