In a previous interview you wrote, “A great first chapter must move you from the mundane to the awesome without any sense of undue acceleration or dizziness.” What is a novel you have read in the past year or so in which this was done well, and how did the author manage to make it work so well?
Patrick Rothfuss does it in The Name of the Wind, a fantasy novel. Firstly, I don’t normally like or read fantasy, but I picked this one up because it was recommended by a bunch of Mac nerds I trust in these matters. Secondly, I got it in audiobook form. My kids are of an age where most of my waking life is spent driving them from one commitment to another. I was drawn to The Name of the Wind becaue it’s 45 hours long! Bargain!
But Rothfuss is a great writer, who revels in hiding the fantastic within the mundane. He does this well in the first chapter of by hinting at dark for a few pages before finally letting it run free. It really was impressive. He took a whole bunch of tropes that would normally drive me away and instead he drew me in with them. He is the goods.
For readers who may have read Without Warning and After America, or at least seen the covers in book stores, but are not familiar with Angels of Vengeance, the third in the series, how would you describe the book?
Everyone gits what’s comin’.
But also, to quote Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven, “Deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it.”
There’s a lot of blood, bad blood spilled in the previous two books, and Angels is about accounting for that. Interestingly, I had no idea when I started the series, that it would be three women who settled those accounts.
If you had to set your next novel before 1900, what might it be about and why?
Oh! I know this one! Which army in human history would be best equipped, technologically and culturally, to defeat a zombie uprising?
Who is one of your favourite fictional characters and what makes that character so appealing to you?
I’ve always been a huge fan of Peter Corris’s Cliff Hardy character. I’m pretty usre I haven’t missed a book yet. I think the thing that first drew me to Hardy, so many decades ago, was the very strong model of a masculine hero that he provided. The reward for his virtue was often painful, but he seemed to understand that in an imperfect world the coin of the righteous man is suffering.
What kinds of novels did you read as a teenager and are there specific novels you read as a teenager that still have a lasting impact on your reading or writing now?
I was a huge Stephen King fan as a teen. The Stand was the first book I ever bought with my own money. It was interesting when my early novels were translated into Italian and my translator was able to identify all of the stylistic influences hat I’d taken from King. I hadn’t even noticed them, but she did.
You’re an established novelist now, but what was it like for you writing your first novel and getting it published?
Ha! I did it as a favor to Michael Duffy, and for the advance of course. It was madness. Felafel was written in five weeks. It came out and I expected it to die and leave me free to return to journalism. That’s almost what happened. But given that it’s journalism, which is now dying, luckily things turned out differently.
If you could bring one novelist back from the dead for one day for the sole purpose of discussing writing novels, who might you choose and why?
I’d love to talk to Raymond Chandler about his Philip Marlowe novels, about what he was thinking when wrote them, and whether he was aware of himself as creating an entire genre and future history.
What is one of your favourite novel to film adaptations and why?
LA Confidential is surprisingly successful, but I really hated the book. Elroy is a difficult read but, strangely enough, he loved the adaptation too. I’m not sure why it works so well, given the difficulty of the source material. Maybe the producers used it more as a reference than a bible.
What is next for your fiction writing?
A f***ing awesome genre series. Think science vs monsters. I just sent off the first instalment to my publishers. I’m stoked.
John Birmingham’s author blog: www.cheeseburgergothic.com
The Australian Literature Review