Monday 19 May 2014

David Tallerman interview

Today we're excited to have an interview with the fantastic David Tallerman:

The author of the novel Giant Thief - described by Fantasy Faction as "one of the finest d├ębuts of 2012" - and its sequels Crown Thief and Prince Thief, all published through Angry Robot.  He's also written the Markosia graphic novel Endangered Weapon B: Mechanimal Science and around a hundred short stories, comic and film scripts, poems, and countless reviews and articles.

You can find him on his website here:!page2/cjg9 & on Twitter @davidtallerman

For folks who may not know you or your work can you do a quick introduction?

Well I've been writing seriously for about eight years now; for the first half that was mostly short fiction and since then it's been primarily novels.  I'm the author of the comic Fantasy series The Tales of Easie Damasco, comprised of Giant Thief, Crown Thief and Prince Thief and published by Angry Robot over the course of 2012 and 2013, and the graphic novel Endangered Weapon B: Mechanimal Science, released last year.  I also had a Horror chapbook out from Spectral Press in 2012, The Way of the Leaves.  My short stories have appeared in around sixty markets, including Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Interzone.

Talking of the Easie Damasco books -

·         What came first the giant or the thief?

I can honestly say that they came together.  The half-awake image that began it all was of a man riding on the shoulder of a giant.  It struck me enough that I got to thinking how that might come about, and the most logical explanation I could come up with (again, I should emphasise that I was only half awake at this point) was that the man had stolen the giant, or had stolen something else that necessitated also stealing the giant as a getaway vehicle.  The whole concept of Giant Thief, the central pairing, the first few chapters, all of them came together from that single image.

·         Easie Damasco is a wise-cracking fairly non self-examining, loose morals sort of bloke when we first meet him (spoiler alert – there is character development) was it difficult to get his voice right? Was his character arc all planned out in advance or did it arrive organically?

Damasco's voice came very naturally; he appeared more or less fully formed, and the only change I made from my early notes was to tone down the amount of deliberate humour he was allowed ... to make him more the unwitting butt of the joke than the guy who's always cracking wise at everyone else's expense.

His arc was trickier.  The character that Damasco begins as is not one with much inclination to change; to listening to other people or paying attention to what's going on around him or any of the other things that tend to lead to character development.  So I had the sense almost from the beginning of where I wanted him to end up by the close of Giant Thief, and once Giant Thief was finished I knew where I'd want a series to leave him, but actually making it happen was a far more intricate process.

·         Why do you think there aren’t more fantasy tales with giants in them?

I don't know.  Giants are fun!  I came to fantasy as a kid largely through Greek and Roman mythology, so I don't entirely understand why adult-orientated Fantasy is so wary of monsters and the outlandish in general.  I guess they're associated with children's stories and fairy tales and there's never been much impetus to reclaim or reinvent them.  As far as Fantasy monsters go, it seems like dragons are about as acceptable as it gets these days. 

·         How did you approach writing the books – was the first going to be standalone or did you always plan a series?

It's funny, I was adamant that Giant Thief would be standalone; I absolutely believe that if you buy a book then it should stand alone, not tell you a piece of a story.  And it was only when I finished that I realised that there was scope for developing the world and the characters and for telling other stories, or even one much bigger story that Giant Thief could be the beginning of.  Yet, looking back, as much as I believe Giant Thief does stand alone, I find it difficult now to look back on it as anything other than the opening act of the trilogy.

·         If you can be a character from the books, who would it be and why?

None of the major characters, that's for sure.  I treat my major characters pretty atrociously.  Maybe I'd be one of the giants that gets to stay home, or an innkeeper or something, someone who manages to have a quiet life while everyone else is off having the traumatic, life-changing adventures.

·         Tell us a little bit about the path to publication, did you have an agent before the book deal?

I'd gone to Fantasycon in, I think, 2010, with the crazy idea of handing out printed booklets to publishers containing the first three chapter of Giant Thief.  I happened to bump into Angry Robot's Lee Harris there, who I knew from way back, and while he didn't want one of my lovingly hand-crafted booklets he said he'd be willing to take a look if I submitted through the normal channels.  I think it was two or three months later than the offer for a two-book deal came through.  On the back of that I contacted a few agents, and the Zeno agency agreed to represent me.  Since by that point I was already thinking in terms of a trilogy they managed to wrangle the deal up to three books.

·         What books about giants and/or thieves would you recommend apart from your own?

It's shocking but I really haven't read any.  I can't think of anything at all with giants in that I've read.  Once I started Giant Thief I deliberately kept away from anything that might be similar - I don't think that any good comes from reading the books you imagine your work-in-progress might be like - and then afterwards I didn't want to be in the position of retrospectively comparing myself with anyone else.  With the trilogy done that's not such an issue now, and I have Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora waiting to be read, I hear that's really good.  Thief-wise, again, I'd heartily recommend Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories to anyone who hasn't read them yet.

·         What are you most proud of in the three books?

I think I'm most proud of my core cast.  Every character, even the ostensibly heroic ones, has some deep flaws, and it's those flaws more than their virtues that define where they go, especially after the first book.  Though the Tales of Easie Damasco are fundamentally light-hearted I didn't want them to shy too far from reality, and I think there are some genuinely complex moral issues that the characters are forced to deal with, a few of which are just plain insoluble without compromising and being compromised, just like in the real world. 

·         What did you learn about writing by writing a trilogy?

I learned how to plot a novel and - because of the particular timescale in which I wrote the Tales, which for the sequels basically amounted to a book a year around a full time job - I learned to write really damn fast.


Talking of Endangered Weapon B -  “madcap steampunk hijinks”  

·         How did this come about – was it a joint idea or did you have a script and look for an artist?

That's a long story.  Basically I wrote a five page script that got accepted for a magazine called Mangaquake; the editor asked me to expand to ten pages, which I did, and then the magazine promptly folded.  I went hunting for another publisher and stumbled over Bob Molesworth on the internet, who had a hand in a small press venture back then, not realising he was also an artist.  When I chased Bob up a few months later, he sent me the completed story - pencilled, inked, coloured and lettered - which we now refer to as Endangered Weapon B #0, and which is the last story in the trade paperback. 

 ·         Do you have a full series plotted & planned out?

There's a second arc that I've finished the script for, which wraps up a lot of what's set up in the first volume.  But I haven't planned too much beyond that point; a lot of the fun of Endangered Weapon is the sheer randomness of it, and that applies to the writing too, so I don't want to overthink it too much.

·         What do you prefer when working on comics over novels and vice versa?

The virtue of writing comics for me is collaboration and the sheer joy of someone else taking the ideas and images and characters you came up with and making them into something better than you could have imagined.  There are few things more satisfying than getting a load of finished pages back by an artist whose work you're totally in love with.

Novel writing is a far more solipsistic process, but then sometimes that's exactly what you want, to be cut off with just you and the story.  Plus you can set your own pace, at least until you start sending the end product out; drawing a comics page takes much longer on average than writing one, so producing a finished comic, let alone a graphic novel, can be a slow process.

·         What did you learn about writing by writing a comic?

Comics writing can teach you a lot about clarity.  You're writing two stories, basically, one for the reader and one for the artist, and the one for the artist has to be one hundred percent clear because otherwise they're never going to be able to represent what you have in mind.  Also, from writing both comics and film scripts, which is something else I've dabbled in, you learn a lot about dialogue and how much it can carry a story.

Talking of your short stories –

·         You have an impressive number of published shorts out there, have you considered doing an anthology?

                Yes I have ... plenty of thought, in fact.  But right now that's all I can say!

·         How do you go about finding a market for your shorts?

I use Duotrope's Digest, which is basically a market database and submissions tracker.  I'm hesitant to recommend it because it's a charging service these days and in my opinion it's not as cheap as it should be, but on the other hand it is completely brilliant.  I'd recommend it to anyone who's serious enough about writing to stomach the fifty dollar a year cost.

·         What attracts you to writing short fiction?

Short fiction will always be my first writing love.  With a novel you're generally tied to a single style and voice, but I think that if you're serious about writing short fiction then every story needs its own distinctive style and its own voice, and so that's where you get to experiment and try new things, to test yourself and take risks and generally muck about.

·         What did you learn about writing by writing short stories?

Just about everything; everything but planning and long-form plotting, really.  I still feel like I'm quite new to novel writing, I've finished three novels and nearly finished two more but compared with the hundred or so short stories I've written that feels like small change.  So I guess it's safe to say that most of my formative work was in short fiction.

General –

·         I saw you at 9 worlds last year. Are you going to be at any cons this year? Appearing on any panels?

I'm doing Nine Worlds again, and Fantasycon and Thought Bubble, the Leeds-based comics festival.  I definitely hope to be doing panels at the first two, but you don't get a lot of notice with these things.

·         What are you currently working on?

Well ... (Deep breath.)  I'm close to finishing the first draft of a WW1-set Sci-Fi novel, a fifth of the way through a post-apocalyptic Horror novel and plotting out my first attempt at writing a straight Crime novel.  Including the second volume of Endangered Weapon B I have three graphic novel scripts out with artists and I'm developing a couple more.  I'm writing about a short story a month and steadily editing up the last of my older short stories.  I have a novella, Patchwerk, that I wrote last year and plan to polish up in the next few weeks.

I've always liked to have plenty on the go, but since this is my first year writing full time I plan to make it count!

·         Do you have a set writing process, if so what is it?

Until I went full time at the end of last year it was always a case of writing whenever and however I could, but now it's gone completely the opposite way.  At the moment I'm doing five shifts of about an hour each spread throughout the day - usually split over two or three writing projects and research time - and then an hour and a half in the evening to catch up with e-mails, editing, blogging, things like that.  I like to work in my office, which was designed specifically for that purpose.  After years of writing in hotel rooms and on trains and wherever else, using whatever time I could scrape together, it all feels insanely extravagant!  But thanks to all the years when I had to do without such luxuries it's good to know that I can write in just about any situation shy of a hurricane if the need arises.

·         In one sentence, what is your best piece of advice to new writers?

Make it your goal to write every day, even if it's only for a few minutes; if you miss a day then don't beat yourself up about it but vow not to do it again, because if you can't learn commitment to the process of sitting down and writing then the chances of you learning anything else about the trade aren't great.

Many thanks to David for agreeing to being interviewed. We'll leave you with the opening part of Giant Thief for your entertainment. It's a Bristol Book Blog recommended read...
Extract from Giant Thief

Giant Thief by David Tallerman

The sun was going down by the time they decided to hang me.

In fairness, they hadn't rushed the decision. They'd been debating it for almost an hour since my capture and initial beating. One of the three was in favour of handing me over to an officer from amongst the regulars. The second had been determined to slit my throat, and was so set in his opinion that I'd hoped he might make a start with his companions. On that basis, I'd decided to lend him my encouragement. "He's right, you know. It's quick, but painful, and less messy than you might expect."

All that had earned me was a particularly vicious kick to the forehead, so I'd settled for the occasional nod or mumble of assent instead.

I'd often been told that sooner or later I'd steal the wrong thing from the wrong person and end up with my neck in a noose. While I'd occasionally suspected there was some truth to the theory, I'd made a point of trying not to think about it. Hanging struck me as a needlessly drawn out and unpleasant way to go, so I'd comforted myself with the knowledge that - law enforcement in the Castoval being what it is - I'd never need to worry unless I got careless or exceptionally stupid.

That day, unfortunately, I'd been both.


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