TQ: What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
Douglas: I don't know if it's a quirk, but I can worry a sentence or paragraph to within an inch of its life if I'm not careful. Write once sentence, fiddle with it for five minutes, move on to the second sentence, then go back to the first again. It doesn't make for a high word rate some days, let me tell you.
I suppose the one thing that might qualify as a "quirk" is the music I listen to when I write. I don't always listen, mind you -- usually, I prefer silence -- but if I'm in a coffee shop or waiting room or the like and there's noise? Then I put on either surf music or a playlist of songs from the "Cowboy BeBop" soundtracks (a great anime SF show from the '90s). The music is only instrumentals, though; I can't write to music with lyrics.
TQ: Who are some of your favorite writers? Who do you feel has influenced your writing?
Douglas: Favorite? Well, in the genre, it has to be Roger Zelazny, Barry Hughart, Sean Stewart, Joe Abercrombie and Gene Wolfe. Outside the genre, you're looking at Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, David Liss and Arturo Perez-Reverte.
As for influences...in written form, you definitely have Zelazny and Chandler and Hammett from above, as well as George Alec Effinger. I'm looking at Liss more and more to see how he fits his historical research so seamlessly into his novels, and I have to say I think Bernard Cornwell is a master when it comes to pacing an adventure story. They've all taught me something, and I've consciously studied how they structure their stories, tell their narratives, or fill their characters with life.
Outside the writer's circle it gets harder. There's so much media I've seen over the years--from old black & white gangster movies to Quentin Tarantino's work to Richard Lester & George MacDonald Fraser's 1970's Three and Four Musketeer films (which are the best ones ever made) to TV shows like "La Femme Nikita" and "Burn Notice"--where does it all stop? How can you say where one influence ends and the other begins when you get to these more transitory, or at least immediate, forms of story? I can't say one of those held a stronger sway over me than another, especially when you consider how long it took me to develop Drothe and his world; a lot of it was osmosis, picking up an idea here, and inspiration there, and turning or twisting it to fit (or not fit, in some cases) the piece I was working on. But I can't pretend these things didn't impact me as well, even if I can't point to a specific film or show or scene and say, "That one"; the acknowledgement needs to be made.
TQ: Are you a plotter or a panster?
Douglas: A little of both, but more of a panster. I always try to know where the book is going, but that of course doesn't mean the story won't change between page one and "The End." If nothing else, I make sure I know what is coming for at least the next three chapters, so that I can set up the flow from one chapter to another and make sure I don't get too much of the same thing piling up one after the other.
I'm much more of a character writer, and so I tend to let them have their heads when things get rolling. Sometimes this works exceptionally well; other times? Eh, let's just say I have a lot of "scrap" files on my computer with wonderful bits of dialog or action or what have you that will never see the light of day. However, this also makes for a lot longer writing practice, and I'm hoping to work with at least a bit more on structure as time goes on.
I tend to refer to revisions as "pulling out the machete." While I'm pretty free-wheeling on the first draft, I'm ruthless when it comes to shaping and fixing things in the second. That's where the story really comes together and the layering begins.
TQ: What inspired you to write Among Thieves?
Douglas: I've wanted to be a writer since I was twelve. And I knew I wanted to write fantasy. But after that? Hmmm....
I don't think there was any one thing, really. Oh, there were bits and pieces: I distinctly remember having a very cinematic picture of two people standing over a third in the rain in a stable yard. This is where I met Drothe and Degan and Jelem (Jelem was the dead one), but quickly realized that wasn't the story they wanted to be in; but that's how I found the characters. Likewise, I can point to the first time I found a copy of a "Dictionary of the Underworld" by Eric Partridge. It's a dictionary of historical thieves' cant (criminal jargon) I bought on remainder in a bookstore in college. I didn't know it at the time, but it helped me better cement the culture and practices of the underworld of Ildrecca over the years, not to mention some of the characters. Then there's the P.I.-style character I used to write on a computer bulletin board in college, which helped give me Drothe's voice....
No, I can't really point to one thing: it was a process, driven by me simply wanting to write. Everything else was just added on over the years.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for Among Thieves?
Douglas: As I mentioned above, I stumbled across the concept of actual historical thieves' cant early on. That led to both learning more about historical criminal cultures, as well as some of their practices. There are pamphlets from the Elizabethan age that tell not only about the people who performed various crimes, but also how some of the crimes were carried out. This was invaluable for me not only in being able to see how criminals of the time operated, but also into getting an idea of how they were organized as well. And that was just the beginning. It's surprising how much is out there on this kind of thing now--it seems to be a growing field of academic study, which is just great for me.
I also have a B.A. and M.A. in medieval history, which helped quite a bit, if for no other reason than it gave me a lot to draw on. History is so chock-full of fascinating (and surprising) bits and pieces, it's hard not find inspiration there. A bit of a twist, a bit of a tweak, and voila!, you have a clever bit of something for your world.
Thirdly, I've been practicing and teaching historical rapier combat for over seven years now. This came in rather handy when writing the combat scenes (although it also got in the way at times: it's easy for me to get too detailed in describing a fight, which is why it's handy to have readers who don't handle swords to tell me when I've gone over the top in terms of detail or terminology).
TQ: Describe Among Thieves in 140 characters or less.
Douglas: Drothe, informant for a medieval mob, finds something he's not supposed to and gets in over his head. Danger, intrigue, and betrayal ensue!
(Hah, with one character to spare, even!)
TQ: Without giving anything away, what is/are your favorite scene(s) in the book?
Douglas: There's one scene where, after I wrote it, I simply sat back and smiled. It's not the most important or definitive or character-altering scene in the book, but the way it read just made me happy. I never changed it. And when I got my first copies of the book, I opened one and random and came to that scene again--and it still made me smile.
It's a scene where Drothe, the narrator, isn't quite all there (he's been wounded, and is sitting in the rain, bleeding), but is the one to notice an impending danger approaching and tries to do something about it. The way the images and sensation combined with his narrative voice just seemed to click. Like I said, I still smile at how it turned out.
TQ: How many books are planned for the Tales of the Kin series?
Douglas: That's hard to say. I didn't conceive of this series as being a "trilogy" or "quartet" or anything like that. Each book is meant to stand on its own in terms of its main plot, with there being a sense of completion at the conclusion of each novel. I want the reader to be able to finish the story and not feel like they are balancing on the edge of a cliff, waiting for the next book to come out.
That said, there's also an over-arching storyline I'm trying to address in each book as well. That's more of a big-picture kind of thing, though, and something that can be dealt with in a number of ways in each novel: as a sub-plot, or part of the background, and so on. So while each book will have a definite "End", there will be aspects of the world and the occasional thread that won't always be resolved as neatly, since it is meant to be picked up again later.
But, getting back to your original question: I'm currently contracted for three books. If sales do well and my publisher wants more, I'll do some more; if not, then I'll be working overtime to finish up that bigger story arc by the end of book three. Either way, I don't want to leave readers hanging when everything is said and done.
TQ: What's next?
Douglas: Hard to say. Like I said, the Tales of the Kin is meant to be able to go for more books than contracted, but that doesn't mean it will. If it does, then that's what I'm going to be doing for at least a few more years; if not, well, I have a stand-alone urban fantasy that's 85% done. It's a lot of fun, and I'd love to get back to it and sell it. After that, I'm toying around with a fantasy in a French Revolution-era style setting. That's a period not as many people seem to play with in fantasy, and I think it has a lot of potential. However, I don't have anything more than one character and a very loose motivational arc for him, so that would need a lot more research and fleshing out before I was even ready to propose it to my editor. I've kicked around with a couple of steampunk ideas, too, and have a couple of protagonists in mind, but it's all tentative. Then there's the library at war with itself...
Yeah, no shortage of ideas.
Other than that? I'd like to get my life back into a regular rhythm. I've never been a fast writer, and doing a book a year is a new challenge for me ("Among Thieves" took over ten years). I'm getting a better handle on it, though, so I'm hoping that by the time I'm into Book 3, I'll have enough of a routine going that I can start fitting a few things back into my life that I've had to set aside for the last year or so while I learned how to be a professional writer.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Douglas: Thanks so much for having me, and for featuring "Among Thieves" this April. I really appreciate it, and I hope the readers who took up the challenge to read the book enjoyed it.
About Douglas' Book
Among Thieves has 2 covers - US and UK.
A Tale of the Kin 1
(April 5. 2011 - US)
Drothe has been a member of the Kin for years, rubbing elbows with thieves and murderers in the employ of a crime lord while smuggling relics on the side. But when an ancient book falls into his hands, Drothe finds himself in possession of a relic capable of bringing down emperors-a relic everyone in the underworld would kill to obtain.
A Tale of the Kin 1
(April 1, 2011 - UK)
Drothe is a Nose, an informant who finds and takes care of trouble inside the criminal organization he’s a part of. He also smuggles imperial relics on the side.
When his boss sends him to Ten Ways to track down who’s been leaning on his organization’s people, Drothe discovers hints of a much bigger mystery. Someone is trying to stir up trouble between lower-level criminal organizations, including the one Drothe belongs to. And there’s a book rumored to contain imperial glimmer (or magic) that a lot of very dangerous people seem to be looking for - including two crime bosses known as the Gray Princes.
When Drothe discovers the book, he finds himself holding a bit of swag that can bring down emperors, shatter the criminal underworld, and unlock forbidden magic…that's if he can survive long enough to use it.
|Photograph by Ben Zvan Photography|
Growing up, there were always books in the house, and Douglas was encouraged to read both through example, as well as by the general policy of the house, which was that the answer was never “No” when it came to getting more books. Toys, games, and so on could be “no”, but not books. You see where this is going, yes?
Given this background, it was only logical that Douglas entered the University of Illinois with a dual major in computer science and mathematical theory–logical, that is, when you consider he changed majors within a year. After a few early academic hiccups (he got kicked out of school), as well as four different majors (psychology, business, liberal arts, and pre-law), Douglas settled into the study of history, with a minor in english. A Bachelor of Arts degree was eventually achieved, followed by a Master’s in medieval history at New Mexico State University. A PhD at an Ivy League university was considered, then happily discarded, after as year of study.
Needless to say, with his broad and varied academic background, it was only a matter of time before Douglas followed the storied path of so many Liberal Arts majors and took whatever the hell job he could find. Stints as a waiter, bartender, bookstore manager, pizza delivery driver, brewery worker, freelance RPG writer, and technical/business writer followed, until Douglas finally settled into the one career he seemed destined for: stay-at-home dad.
Somewhere along the way, a copy of “A Dictionary of the Underworld” by Eric Partridge fell into Douglas’s hands. Having sold a few fantasy short stories, Douglas thought a book that defined historical thieves cant (criminal jargon) and described some of the practices of that world might come in handy at some point. Little did he know.
Among Thieves, his first novel, grew out of this unlikely seed over the course of a decade. It was acquired by Roc/Penguin U.S.A. on Douglas’s 45th birthday in 2009.
Douglas lives with his wife and two sons in Minnesota. When not writing or chasing after his kids, he likes to practice and teach 17th century Italian rapier combat (in the tradition of Ridolfo Capoferro), cook, read, and hang out in coffee shops.
What: One commenter will win a copy of the US Mass Market Paperback of Among Thieves.
How: Leave a comment answering the following question:
Which cover do you like better - US or UK?
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Who and When: The contest is open to all humans on the planet earth with a mailing address. Contest ends at 11:59pm US Eastern Time on Tuesday, April 26, 2011. Void where prohibited by law.
*Giveaway rules are subject to change.*