Please welcome Dan Stout to The Qwillery as part of the 2019 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Titanshade was published on March 12, 2019 by DAW.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. What is the first piece you remember writing?
Dan: The very first thing I remember writing was an epic fantasy called Castle Doom. I think I was eight years old. It’s filled with sentences like, “And then he slew a peasant.”
Let’s just say I don’t think it’ll ever be published.
TQ: Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?
Dan: I’d describe myself as a hybrid. My short stories are often pantsed, although I sometimes plot out longer pieces. Novel length work definitely involves plotting, but I prefer to use story structure as a diagnostic tool rather than a road map. I really do love the editing stage, and that’s partially because it’s when I get to break out the structural toys.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing? How does being a journalist affect (or not) your fiction writing?
Dan: The most difficult thing for me is the gap between starting and completing the first draft. I only get through that Initial first draft by lying to myself about how fast I can get it done and a stubborn refusal to give up.
I think my non-fiction work is a real help when it comes time to edit. It’s not that I’m less emotionally attached to my prose than other writers, but writing for a day job means that I don’t have the luxury of overthinking a problem. I jump in and start cutting and rewriting, because I know that if I don’t get it done, I’m not getting paid.
TQ: What has influenced / influences your writing?
Dan: Absolutely everything! I’m a big believer in the idea that all art and media is in dialogue with everything that came before. The great, gritty crime dramas of the 70s are certainly an influence, but so are the more recent fantasy mashups—everything from Fonda Lee’s JADE CITY to Marshall Ryan Maresca’s beautifully realized Maradaine novels.
TQ: Describe Titanshade using only 5 words.
Dan: Men in Black meets Chinatown.
TQ: Tell us something about Titanshade that is not found in the book description.
Dan: I think it has a lot of heart. The risk in writing a noir detective fantasy novel is that it could easily come across as especially bleak and nihilistic. If I did my job right, Carter’s worldview is that of a disappointed idealist, rather than a cynic who sees corruption as the natural state of the world.
TQ: What inspired you to write Titanshade? What appeals to you about writing Urban Fantasy?
Dan: I wrote the first chapter as part of an online flash fiction challenge. I had 90 minutes to come up with a story based on a prompt, and while I didn’t get a full story written out, I did at least get the rough outline for the book. That site was called Liberty Hall and although it’s sadly no longer around, at one point all kinds of great ideas were born there.
As far as the appeal of Urban Fantasy, the ability to use fantasy and science fictional imagery and tropes is a huge draw for me. I love finding ways to examine the many weird ways we interact with one another, and speculative fiction gives me a huge treasure trove of tools to highlight and distill all these human interactions. Plus, magic is awesome!
TQ: What sort of research did you do for Titanshade?
Dan: The advantage of doing a secondary fantasy world is that I can make my own rules and history. But that also carries the burden of making sure that everything hangs together on its own internal logic. I spent a lot of time tracking down original sources for descriptions of 70s era police procedures and arctic living. Again, I had the ability to pick and choose somewhat, because police training and technology varies wildly from one part of the world to another, so the Titanshade PD uses policies I’ve lifted from police forces. But with each element that gets described, that system becomes that much more set in stone.
And of course there’s a ton of research that doesn’t appear in the books. Things like how are building foundations and sewer lines dug when the life of the city could be threatened if a warming geo-vent is damaged? I’ve talked through things like that with architects and engineers, but unless it directly impacts the story, it’s never going to get more than a passing reference.
TQ: Please tell us about the cover for Titanshade.
Dan: Collaborating on the cover was one of the real joys of seeing this book come to life! DAW is amazingly open to author input on the cover. They work with a ton of fantastic artists, but I thought Chris McGrath had the perfect eye for the gritty realism and elements of wonder that were needed to pull off this illustration.
The cover is a bit stylized, in that it doesn’t depict a specific scene, but man, does it ever capture the feel of the book! I thought Chris really hit it out of the park. It was so much fun collaborating on the cover, and we compared notes frequently to make sure we staying true to the book while also giving him room to flex his wings artistically.
Once Chris’s work was done, Katie Andersen and the team at DAW did a fantastic job of designing the jacket. The distressed cover, the title font, the slight tilt to the world… all of that came together in the final package. I love seeing art that hews close to the source material while still bringing the artist’s touch to the page, and I think we all worked together as a team to pull it off.
TQ: In Titanshade who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Dan: For me, writing a 1st-person POV is all about finding the rhythm. Once I get into that voice, that character is pretty easy to write, as it just flows outward. So Carter was the easiest person to write.
The hardest would have to be one of the secondary characters, because their voice needs to come through as unique, and their actions reasonable, even when seen only through the filter of Carter’s observations. I have to stop and ask myself if their actions are honest more often. So I’ll say Ajax, since he shares so much time “on stage” with Carter.
TQ: Does Titanshade touch on any social issues?
Dan: Yeah, absolutely! The city of Titanshade is an oil boomtown whose wells are running dry. In addition, the world’s first industrial revolution was spurred by magic, until the source of manna was hunted to extinction. So the question of resource management and income inequality is an ever-present backdrop to the story.
I’m also very interested in how working class people are portrayed in fantasy and sci-fi. Sometimes it seems like speculative fiction has two categories of income: the ultra-rich and those with absolutely nothing. That ignores the huge swath of the population who are getting by, but with no safety net. To me, that’s the really interesting area to explore. The orphan living in squalor has nothing to lose by going off on a quest to save the world, but a single parent working two jobs to pay the rent just doesn’t have the time!
TQ: Which question about Titanshade do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Dan: Sure! I wish more people would ask how to get it from their library. I think that a lot of people are interested in a range of books, but aren’t able to purchase a copy at full retail price. But most libraries have a way for patrons to request a book, either for order or through inter-library loan. And that goes for almost any format—print, ebook, and audio.
Libraries are a way for readers to discover books and authors at no cost, while still supporting those authors and publishers. I was a library rat growing up, and I’m always happy to help people find out more about their local library system, and how to request a copy of their favorite book (mine or someone else’s!).
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Titanshade.
Dan: One of my favorites is “Know the city and you’ll know the victims. Know the victims and you’ll know the killer.”
It’s not uncommon to see the victims in crime mysteries portrayed almost as props, while the hero and villain are fully fleshed out characters. I do my best to bring a sense of humanity to the victims of the crimes as well, to make them sympathetic, even if they weren’t likable people in life.
TQ: What's next?
Dan: I am hard at work on the next book in the Carter Archives, trying to make it as multi-layered and mysterious as possible, while still keeping the sense of fun and adventure that fuels the first book. I can’t wait for it to be out in the world a year from now.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Dan: Thank you! It’s so much fun to be here and talk about this crazy noir fantasy book!
The Carter Archives 1
DAW, March 12, 2019
Hardcover and eBook, 416 pages
This noir fantasy thriller from a debut author introduces the gritty town of Titanshade, where danger lurks around every corner.
Carter’s a homicide cop in Titanshade, an oil boomtown where 8-tracks are state of the art, disco rules the radio, and all the best sorcerers wear designer labels. It’s also a metropolis teetering on the edge of disaster. As its oil reserves run dry, the city’s future hangs on a possible investment from the reclusive amphibians known as Squibs.
But now negotiations have been derailed by the horrific murder of a Squib diplomat. The pressure’s never been higher to make a quick arrest, even as Carter’s investigation leads him into conflict with the city’s elite. Undermined by corrupt coworkers and falsified evidence, and with a suspect list that includes power-hungry politicians, oil magnates, and mad scientists, Carter must find the killer before the investigation turns into a witch-hunt and those closest to him pay the ultimate price on the filthy streets of Titanshade.
Dan Stout lives in Columbus, Ohio, where he writes about fever dreams and half-glimpsed shapes in the shadows. His prize-winning fiction draws on travels throughout Europe, Asia, and the Pacific Rim as well as an employment history spanning everything from subpoena server to assistant well driller. Dan's stories have appeared in publications such as The Saturday Evening Post, Nature, and Intergalactic Medicine Show. His debut novel Titanshade is a noir fantasy thriller available from DAW Books. To say hello, visit him at www.DanStout.com.