Please welcome Ferrett Steinmetz to The Qwillery as part of the 2015 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Flex was published on March 3rd by Angry Robot Books.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?
Ferrett: I wrote my first poem when I was in seventh grade. The first line was “In a time / when people live with the spider of hunger in their bellies,” and my anthropology teacher was so amazed at my burgeoning talent she asked to take the poem home with her.
Years later I realized it was my anthropology teacher who was impressed, not my English teacher, and that in fact my poetry was more dreadful than Vogons. But it was too late! I’d written too much! I was committed.
So my advice to all new writers is to find a fan straight away, and don’t question their qualifications too closely.
TQ: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Ferrett: Every novel I write involves the same process:
Come up with an interesting first scene.
Write the first half of the book.
Write about 15,000 words of the second half of the book.
Realize that those 15,000 words are totally wrong – they don’t answer the questions I raised in the first half of the story, I have the wrong antagonist, and by the way the characters are all wrong.
Spend three days defending to anyone who will listen that NO, these 15,000 words are great, I spent three weeks writing them, there’s certainly no need to chuck them out and devise a far better idea.
Chuck them out.
Drink an entire gallon of vodka.
Weep vodka tears.
Come up with a better idea.
Woozily stumble my way to the end of the book.
So as you can clearly see, I’m a die-hard plotter.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Ferrett: Drinking a gallon of vodka. But I am committed to the process.
TQ: Who are some of your literary influences? Favorite authors?
Ferrett: Okay, let’s get serious. I have a ton of influences, but the influences that ring most truly here are probably an odd combination of 1980s authors – David Eddings in the Belgarion, Harry Harrison’s Stainless Steel Rat series (one of the lead characters, Valentine DiGriz, is named after the Rat in a direct homage), Spider Robinson’s Callahan series, Stephen King’s The Stand. You see, what I love most about fiction is that sense of a band of brothers coming together, that sense that you are not just seeing a friendship but being there as the affection forms - and so Flex is largely about a couple of very different people making a home together in a world that hates ‘mancers.
But I also go a little darker, because my other influences are more modern – yes, there’s the keen edge of that old sourpuss Harlan Ellison lurking around in there, but I also love the rough-tinged violence of China Mieville, the biological imperatives of Peter Watts, the unflinching psychology of Kij Johnston, Suzanne Collins’ sharp-eyed take on class boundaries.
So basically, I wind up with a lot of friendship simmering in a stew of dark prose and psychological destruction.
TQ: Describe Flex in 140 characters or less.
Ferrett: A desperate father will do anything to heal his daughter in a novel where Breaking Bad meets Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files.
TQ: Tell us something about Flex that is not in the book description.
Ferrett: The thing people seem to really like is how magic works in the world of Flex. It all comes down to obsession. If you’re a Crazy Cat Lady, and really love those kitties, then eventually you might cross the event horizon and start doing Crazy Cat Magic. You’ll become a felimancer. But by then, the only thing you’ll care about is protecting your rampant horde of kittens, which explains why ‘mancers haven’t exactly taken over the world.
The lead character, Paul, is a bureaucromancer, and he believes firmly in the power of the DMV – for him, keeping good records is literally what holds civilization together, so he can cast some very odd spells. The woman who teaches him how to brew drugs? She’s a videogamemancer, and she can go Grand Theft Auto on people at a moment’s notice. And there’s all sorts of other ‘mancers – but most of them don’t live for too long.
TQ: What inspired you to write Flex? What appealed to you about writing an Urban Fantasy novel?
Ferrett: It started as a thought experiment – someone joked about brewing magical drugs when I was roleplaying, and I thought, “Well, how would magic drugs be different?” And so I thought of how magic drugs would work (it’s kind of a distorted, backlashy version of Harry Potter’s Felix Felicis potion), and what sort of limitations mages would have to encounter in making them to make it nice and dangerous for my lead characters, and pretty soon I had envisioned a guy who was totally unsuited to be selling drugs.
So of course he became my lead. So it goes.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for Flex?
Ferrett: Paul, the lead character, is an amputee – his right ankle was crushed in a battle with an illustromancer. So I did several days’ research on what happened when you lost your foot, how you got around, what sorts of psychological effects it tended to have. I even know precisely what model his artificial leg is.
Beyond that, not much. I write fantasy because it’s far easier to make things up.
TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Ferrett: The easiest character was Valentine, a sexy overweight goth videogamemancer who I’ve done my damndest to make her both into an interesting character and unapologetically unashamed of her body type. She’s snarky as all heck, which is pretty much the role I play at any party, so her dialogue pretty much consisted of finding the most awkward thing it was possible to say and transcribing it.
The hardest character was the terrorist ‘mancer who serves as the antagonist of the book. When I outlined my writing process earlier, I’m not kidding – originally, the book had an entirely different villain! But as I slowly discovered who Paul was, I realized I needed an enemy who was diametrically opposed to all the things that Paul believes in. Paul is a person who believes in saving people, in fairness, in pushing back the power of kings and corporations to make life easier for the little guy – and I needed someone who stood against all of that.
The villain is, of course, a ‘mancer. But exactly what type of ‘mancer she is remains a mystery to Paul for much of the book.
TQ: Which question about your novel do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Ferrett: “Say, Ferrett, who would you cast in the roles of your lead characters Paul and Valentine?”
And the answer is that I don’t know. It’s odd, because Paul is a scrawny amputee who is, frankly, a little colorless – he loves sharp suits, but isn’t particularly handsome. And Valentine is about fifty pounds overweight and totally sexy. Neither of them are classic Hollywood types, and despite the fact that I love Rebel Wilson and Melissa McCarthy, they’re too whacky for the role. I wish there were more slots in Hollywood for dramatic BBW beauties, but you won’t find them, and you won’t find a lot of short-and-scrawny thirtysomething dudes either.
So basically, I wish there were enough roles in Hollywood to cast it!
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery lines from Flex.
“I’ve fucked up a lot of things in my life, Paul. Pretty much all of them, in fact. But ’mancy?” Valentine flexed her fingers, unleashing a smile sharp enough to draw blood. “One skill can redeem a life splintered with flaws. But only if you’re very, very good at it.”
TQ: What's next?
Ferrett: I’m putting the finishing touches on the sequel to Flex, Flux, wherein even cooler things happen, and am also working on sort-of sequel to my Nebula-nominated novella Sauerkraut Station, wherein a boy takes an apprenticeship in the finest and strangest restaurant in all the stars. (Yes, yes, get your Douglas Adams jokes in now.)
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Ferrett: Thank you! What an awesome challenge you have here. I’m rooting for all y’all.
TQ: Thank you!
Angry Robot Books, March 3, 2015
Mass Market Paperback (US/Canada) and eBook, Cover Art: Steven Meyer-Rassow
A desperate father will do anything to heal his daughter in a novel where Breaking Bad meets Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files.
FLEX: Distilled magic in crystal form. The most dangerous drug in the world. Snort it, and you can create incredible coincidences to live the life of your dreams.
FLUX: The backlash from snorting Flex. The universe hates magic and tries to rebalance the odds; maybe you survive the horrendous accidents the Flex inflicts, maybe you don’t.
PAUL TSABO: The obsessed bureaucromancer who’s turned paperwork into a magical Beast that can rewrite rental agreements, conjure rented cars from nowhere, track down anyone who’s ever filled out a form.
But when all of his formulaic magic can’t save his burned daughter, Paul must enter the dangerous world of Flex dealers to heal her. Except he’s never done this before – and the punishment for brewing Flex is army conscription and a total brain-wipe.
File Under: Urban Fantasy [ Magic Pill • Firestarter • Bureaucramancy • The Flex & the Flux ]
Ferrett Steinmetz is a graduate of both the Clarion Writers’ Workshop and Viable Paradise, and has been nominated for the Nebula Award, for which he remains stoked.
Ferrett has a moderately popular blog, The Watchtower of Destruction, wherein he talks about bad puns, relationships, politics, videogames, and more bad puns. He’s written four computer books, including the still-popular-after-two-years Wicked Cool PHP.
He lives in Cleveland with his wife, who he couldn’t imagine living without.