A big welcome to Max Gladstone who is here answering a few of our questions and celebrating the release of Full Fathom Five, Craft Sequence #3 (published on July 15, 2014 by Tor Books).
Interview with Max Gladstone
All Things Urban Fantasy: The Urban Fantasy genre is no stranger to mixing magic with familiar parts of society. Turning that practice on its head, the Craft Sequence mixes familiar elements from our world, namely economic and legal structures, with a completely fantastical parallel universe. What came first, the drive to create a new world or a fascination with the mutable potential of global economics?
Max Gladstone: The chicken! No, the egg! Sorry—all kidding aside, it was probably the latter for the Craft Sequence, though the two aren’t really opposed to one another. My brain tends to deal with new systems by recontextualizing them in terms of magical and/or science fictional rulebending. In this case, the more I learn about the economy, the more this huge metaphor—legal work as necromantic process, economics as soul-trading, offshore banking etc—develops. The metaphor’s a magnifying glass, and I’m the detective in this analogy I guess. I had to work in a new world for these books since the systems that fascinated me already exist in our world, and those of us who don’t deal with them every day tend to classify them as either boring or incomprehensible. Of course, it’s a hop skip and a jump from “incomprehensible” to “mystical.” This way I could talk about the weirdness of, say, bankruptcy without needing to break down as many preconceptions about its mundanity.
ATUF: There is a strong, visual component to the way your world is written, have you ever day dreamed about transforming your stories into another medium, like graphic novels or TV?
MG: Thanks! I think a lot about how scenes look and feel; I’d love to see a graphical adaptation someday. To be honest, that’s not only because of how the scenes look in my head; for me, the best part of writing is knowing someone else has been inspired to do something with or by my work. One of the best moments of my writing career has been learning that, for example, there’s fan art for the Craft Sequence! And even fan art for the game I wrote! SO COOL. So a big part of the thrill of seeing a graphic novel or TV or film interpretation would be to see what a team of excellent creative folks would do with the world.
ATUF: What is your writing process like? Over the course of your writing career, have you found that your process has changed significantly?
MG: My writing process is a bit Rube Goldberg. I have a bunch of idea seeds floating around; when I want to write a book I tend to sit down and start at word one. If I were a more together person, I’d probably break the story first, outline everything, develop good models of character, then go at it. As it stands, it’s a coin flip whether I’ll be able to drive all the way through the book on the first try, or get 20k in before realizing my story’s a tissue of coincidence & consigning it to the “Drafts” bin. On the plus side, failed attempts get me closer to the nut of the book. My final drafts are very long, and shrink a lot in the editing process as extra words and scenes fall out. (Full Fathom Five, my latest, probably had the most shrink—the first draft was around 160k, I added at least 20k of new material to that, and the final’s around 109k. Yipe!) That stuff hasn’t changed. Almost everything else has.
When I was young I handwrote everything. For a while (two books, say) I wrote on an Alphasmart Neo in the grim mornings before work and on the subway. The last couple books have allowed for longer stretches of writing time: once I walk my wife to the subway in the morning I find a coffee shop, sit down, and write until I hit 3,000 words or so.
ATUF: If so, what was the latest “Ah ha!” moment that made you excited about trying things a new way?
MG: This might seem sorta quotidian to you, but: notecards! I spent a few days stymied by nonintersecting plotlines at the end of my next book. What to do? What to do? It’s especially hard when you have people in different corners doing different things, because a lot of the typical thriller tricks don’t work as well if certain characters can’t help one another! Finally, in a fit of despair, I turned to Microscope rules: notecards, pen, big open swath of table. “This has to happen here! And before that happens we need this other thing.” Sure, the system helped, but I’m convinced part of what allowed me to break through the wall was the physicality of the process—standing up, circling the table, cutting cards into strips, arranging rows, adding numbers, twiddling with paper clips. It’s been great for the book! Maybe I’ll try it earlier next time.
Or else, you know, I’ll just revert to Rube Goldberg style. What’s the point in building a sane mousetrap?
Max has taught in southern Anhui, wrecked a bicycle in Angkor Wat, and been thrown from a horse in Mongolia. Max graduated from Yale University, where he studied Chinese.
FULL FATHOM FIVE by Max Gladstone
Available on July 15, 2014 by Tor Books
On the island of Kavekana, Kai builds gods to order, then hands them to others to maintain. Her creations aren’t conscious and lack their own wills and voices, but they accept sacrifices, and protect their worshippers from other gods—perfect vehicles for Craftsmen and Craftswomen operating in the divinely controlled Old World. When Kai sees one of her creations dying and tries to save her, she’s grievously injured—then sidelined from the business entirely, her near-suicidal rescue attempt offered up as proof of her instability. But when Kai gets tired of hearing her boss, her coworkers, and her ex-boyfriend call her crazy, and starts digging into the reasons her creations die, she uncovers a conspiracy of silence and fear—which will crush her, if Kai can’t stop it first.
Check out Julia’s 5 bat! review of FULL FATHOM FIVE here!
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