TQ: What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
Stephen: Occasionally, I wear a fez. This one.
In fact, I'm wearing it right now.
TQ: Who are some of your favorite writers? Who do you feel has influenced your writing?
Stephen: Some writers hate the question, "Where do you get your ideas?" To which my answer is, "Daily peyote suppositories and naked wandering through the desert."
But this is the most dreaded question for me. I don't have an answer. There are too many.
Influences? There's Chandler's style and Hammett's plots. Hunter S. Thompson's bat country. There are writers who make me want to be a better writer, like Charlie Huston, Duane Swierczynski, Victor Gischler, Rob Roberge, Ray Banks. There's Blade Runner and Robocop and Chinatown and L.A. Confidential (the movie - this is blasphemy but I hate Ellroy's books).
It goes on and on and tomorrow I'll have a different answer and it will be just as true as this one.
TQ: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Stephen: I don't really believe there's a difference. At some point we're all making it up as we go. If you're a plotter then you're pantsing when you're plotting, which, come to think of it, sounds rude and scatological.
Whether you're writing down an outline, doing a storyboard or writing scenes full blown, it's the same process. It's all building up the story in one form or another. And however one does it, it's still going to require rewrites and multiple drafts.
I outline. I write full scenes. I write full scenes in my outlines and vice versa. I write without an outline. Or pants.
But that's an entirely different conversation.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Stephen: Doing it. There are so many distractions and excuses. Just getting off my ass and writing is the hardest thing. Video games, the internet, the day job, the hobo I have tied up on the roof. They're all attention sucks. You have to beat them with a shovel until they stop screaming.
Especially the hobo.
TQ: Describe City of the Lost in 140 characters or less.
Stephen: L.A. thug Joe Sunday is murdered and raised from the dead. Things go downhill from there.
TQ: What inspired you to write City of the Lost?
Stephen: The thought, "zombie noir" popped into my head one day and I couldn't shake it loose. Gave it up, went back to it, ditched it a few more times. Finally wrote a short story that turned into the book.
Though I love writing and reading straight crime fiction, I keep going back to genre mash-ups and noir and horror have always felt like a good fit for each other.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for City of the Lost?
Stephen: Not a lot, really. I mostly pull things in by osmosis more than I deliberately set out to research them. I've picked up a lot about L.A. for my true crime blog, L.A. Noir, where I talk about some of the more weird, funny, or just plain tragic crimes that go on here. I wanted to get that same sense of weirdness in the book.
TQ: Why did you set the novel in Los Angeles?
Stephen: Well, I live here and I know the place. That makes it easier. Setting it in a town I'd never been to or one that I just barely knew wasn't something I was really interested in.
But more, I love Los Angeles. It's such a beautifully screwed up town. It's full of contradictions and bulldozed history. It's beautiful illusions and ugly realities and sometimes the other way around. It's people just trying to lives their lives. It's every conceivable culture smeared across the landscape. It's enormous and tiny at the same time. You can see signs for Chinese fast food in Spanish. Whole blocks are given over to Hangeul. A Jewish deli with glowing neon is down the street from half a dozen Ethiopian restaurants with hand lettered signage.
It's cliches are so well known in popular culture that people think they know it. People know Hollywood, and the stereotypical glamour. They don't know about Sleepy Lagoon, the Watts Riots or Special Order 40. That the concrete channel called the L.A. river, empty most of the year, once put half the city under water and killed over a hundred people. That Dodger Stadium is built on stolen land.
I wanted to write something set among the more hidden parts of L.A. And then twist those bits around a little bit more.
TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? Hardest and why?
Stephen: Joe was the hardest, hands down. The book is in first person so everything's from his point of view. Anything he doesn't know, the reader doesn't know, though they'll probably be faster on the uptake than he is on some things.
The biggest challenge with him is that I have a bigger vocabulary than he does. He's not much of a thinker and he doesn't have much in the way of formal education.
I got some copyedits at one point that suggested he use a particular word in place of another and, though I agreed with the copyeditor, the note I sent back was, "I don't think he would even know what that word means." That said, I didn't want to make him stupid. Just very linear.
As to easiest, I think that was probably the character of Samantha. Whenever she was in a scene it made things go a lot more smoothly. I was trying to get an easy sort of banter between her and Joe and every scene with them just popped. I like writing dialog and she's the sort of character that lends herself to that.
TQ: Without giving anything away, what is/are your favorite scene(s) in City of the Lost?
Stephen: That's a tough one. There are so many.
It's probably when a character called The Bruja first shows up. She's a little less and a lot more than she seems to be.
TQ: What's next?
Stephen: My second novel, DEAD THINGS, is a follow-up to CITY OF THE LOST. I don't know when it will be out. Presumably some time next year.
I'm doing this series a little differently from most, in that the focus is on the world, rather than just a single character, so Joe Sunday doesn't make an appearance in this one.
Instead it's about a mage whose particular knack is communicating with the dead. He left L.A. years before because Bad Things happened. He comes back when he finds out his sister has been murdered and discovers that he might just be a pawn in a much bigger game.
Right now I'm working on a pitch for a possible future book in the series titled FIRE SEASON that follows a side character from CITY OF THE LOST as the protagonist. We'll see if the publisher goes for it.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Stephen: Thanks for having me.
About City of the Lost
City of the LostDAW Trade, January 3, 2012
Trade Paperback, 224 pages
Cover and illustrations by Sean Philips
Joe Sunday’s dead.
He just hasn’t stopped moving yet.
Sunday’s a thug, an enforcer, a leg-breaker for hire. When his boss sends him to kill a mysterious new business partner, his target strikes back in ways Sunday could never have imagined. Murdered, brought back to a twisted half-life, Sunday finds himself stuck in the middle of a race to find an ancient stone with the power to grant immortality. With it, he might live forever. Without it, he’s just another rotting extra in a George Romero flick.
Everyone’s got a stake, from a psycho Nazi wizard and a razor-toothed midget, to a nympho-demon bartender, a too-powerful witch who just wants to help her homeless vampires, and the one woman who might have all the answers — if only Sunday can figure out what her angle is.
Before the week is out he’s going to find out just what lengths people will go to for immortality. And just how long somebody can hold a grudge.
Read my 5 Qwill review of City of the Lost - here.
Read Stephen's Guest Blog - Our Lady of the Shadows - here.
His first novel, a dark urban fantasy titled CITY OF THE LOST will be coming out January 3rd, 2012 through DAW Books and will be available at all the fashionable bookstores. Hopefully some of the seedier ones, too. He would, after all, like to buy a copy.
His short stories and poetry have appeared in magazines like Plots With Guns, Needle, Spinetingler, and Thrilling Detective, as well as the anthologies UNCAGE ME and DEADLY TREATS.
Despite evidence to the contrary, he does not have rabies.
What: One commenter will win a copy of City of the Lost from Stephen. US/Canda ONLY.
How: Leave a comment answering the following question:
Favorite book, movie, comic, or TV show with zombies?
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Who and When: The contest is open to all humans on the planet earth with a US or Canadian mailing address. Contest ends at 11:59pm US Eastern Time on Friday, January 13, 2012. Void where prohibited by law. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 years old or older to enter.
*Giveaway rules are subject to change.*