Please welcome Gabriel Squailia to The Qwillery as part of the 2015 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Dead Boys was published on March 3rd by Talos Press. You may read Gabriel's Guest Blog - I, ZOMBIE - here.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?
Gabriel: I started writing comic strips with extended narratives in the fifth grade, when my teacher, Mrs. Glazeroff, found one of my drawings and gave me the back of the classroom door to play with. It became Gabe’s Gallery, and my elementary-school ripoff of Bloom County mutated into a graphic novel that ran to two or three chapters.
After that I switched to writing fiction. My first project was an epic fantasy about people with magic eyeballs. I never stopped writing after that. At least, I’d come up with an idea, plot it out a bit, write a chapter, then abandon the whole thing in anguish. This went on throughout high school, into college, and throughout my twenties. These days, I’d count all that as writing, though at the time it was clear to me that I was failing.
I started writing for the same reason I keep at it: because I have stories stuck in my head, and I want to get them out.
TQ: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Gabriel: A plotter, up to a point. I always have a rough three-act structure in mind when I begin, and a plot that consists of eight to twenty chapter headings, each of which means something very particular to me in story terms. There are some big set-pieces that I’m working toward, whether they’re big character moments or action scenes I’ve simply got to pull off, so most of my pantsing consists of getting those things to happen more or less plausibly.
Dialogue and fight scenes, two of my favorite things to write, are never planned. That’s all pants.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Gabriel: The angle of entry. I’ve never managed to get a book off the ground without false starts, sometimes dozens of them. I used to think this was because I was doomed with an imagination that exceeded my powers of description. Now that I’ve finished a couple of books, it feels more like hands-on worldbuilding. None of that effort is wasted; I end up working all those locations, characters, and effects in somewhere. But without an opening scene that snaps everything into place, they’re just details I haven’t integrated yet.
TQ: Who are some of your literary influences? Favorite authors?
Gabriel: It varies by project. For Dead Boys, I was looking pretty far into the past: Don Quixote, Dante’s Inferno, classic quests like The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Watership Down. I was hugely influenced by this single-volume condensed paperback version of The Mahabharata, translated by C. Rajagopalachari, which tells a library-sized story in a couple hundred pages. That density, that feeling that something astonishing and philosophically chewy is happening on every single page, was something I wanted to replicate. But I also wanted the whizz-bang-boom of manga like Naruto and animated films like Princess Mononoke.
Late in the game, Neil Gaiman, China Miéville, and Suzanna Clarke were inspiring, because I realized people were actually getting away with stuff this weird.
TQ: Describe Dead Boys in 140 characters or less.
Gabriel: A misfit band of adolescent corpses quests across the underworld for the Living Man, coming of age long after their deaths.
TQ: Tell us something about Dead Boys that is not in the book description.
Gabriel: Remington, the holy fool of the gang, has a pet crow nesting in his hollowed-out skull. If the idea of a kid with a bird peeking out of the back of his head sparks your interest, this is your book.
TQ: What inspired you to write Dead Boys? What appealed to you about writing a genre bending novel?
Gabriel: This one came to me world-first. I got an image of an underground pub the size of a football field packed with drunken corpses who could pull off their arms as bludgeons in the middle of their bar fights. I couldn’t stop messing with the world, though it took about a decade to get any of it to make sense.
Genre-bending comes naturally from reading all over the map. I didn’t set out to do it, and I wouldn’t recommend it, as it made publishing more of an adventure than I’d anticipated. But I loved my underworld and the characters it inspired, and I couldn’t rest until I’d figured out a way to pull it off to my own satisfaction.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for Dead Boys?
Gabriel: I spent a couple of years as a late-night librarian at Simon’s Rock College of Bard, where I had unlimited access to inter-library loans. I read everything I could find about the physical processes of death and decomposition. Most of it was too gross to saddle these characters with, so I went with a comically extended entropy that lightened up that source material. I also read up on the underworlds and funerary rites of various cultures. There are all sorts of rotten Easter eggs in there.
TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Gabriel: Siham, who appears late in the book, wrote like a dream. I think it was because I’d spent so much time setting her up -- I thought of the first two acts as getting the place ready for her arrival. And I really, unambiguously love her. She’s made of love.
Etienne was maddeningly difficult. It’s very tricky to plausibly introduce a character who’s been catatonic for a decade. I must have written his first scene a dozen times, with a different voice each time. It took a month to get it right, and I wasn’t sure I’d get through it.
TQ: Which question about Dead Boys do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Q: Which character are you most like?
A: All of them.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery lines from Dead Boys.
Gabriel: A bit of scene-setting near the beginning:
The motionless corpses that floated on the river’s surface were surrounded by glittering shoals of refuse and roiling rainbows of oil. There, past the bobbing shape of a claw-footed bathtub, was the stretch of river-bend where he’d thrashed out of the mud and onto his newly lifeless feet nearly a decade ago.
TQ: What's next?
Gabriel: I’m working on a top-secret New Novel that makes my love for Naruto still yet more explicit, with martial arts magic and rather more grit than my debut.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Gabriel: Thanks for having me!
Talos Press, March 3, 2015
Trade Paperback and eBook, 320 pages
A decade dead, Jacob Campbell is a preservationist, providing a kind of taxidermy to keep his clients looking lifelike for as long as the forces of entropy will allow. But in the Land of the Dead, where the currency is time itself and there is little for corpses to do but drink, thieve, and gamble eternity away, Jacob abandons his home and his fortune for an opportunity to meet the man who cheated the rules of life and death entirely.
According to legend, the Living Man is the only adventurer to ever cross into the underworld without dying first. It’s rumored he met his end somewhere in the labyrinth of pubs beneath Dead City’s streets, disappearing without a trace. Now Jacob’s vow to find the Living Man and follow him back to the land of the living sends him on a perilous journey through an underworld where the only certainty is decay.
Accompanying him are the boy Remington, an innocent with mysterious powers over the bones of the dead, and the hanged man Leopold l’Eclair, a flamboyant rogue whose criminal ambitions spark the undesired attention of the shadowy ruler known as the Magnate.
An ambitious debut that mingles the fantastic with the philosophical, Dead Boys twists the well-worn epic quest into a compelling, one-of-a-kind work of weird fiction that transcends genre, recalling the novels of China Miéville and Neil Gaiman.
Gabriel Squailia is a professional DJ from Rochester, New York. An alumnus of the Friends World Program, he studied storytelling and literature in India, Europe, and the Middle East before settling in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts, where he lives with his wife and daughter. Dead Boys is his first novel.