Please welcome Max Wirestone to The Qwillery as part of the 2015 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss will be published on October 20th by Redhook.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?
Max: This is actually my very first book, so just I started just over a year ago. I wrote UNFORTUNATE DECISIONS when I was doing collection development for my library, and I noticed that my geek readers and mystery readers overlapped on their book taste a lot, even though there were no books that scratched both itches. I thought I'd dig up a geek-themed mystery to add to the library, but I couldn't find anything. The book I was looking for didn't seem to exist, which was unbelievable to me.
So, I wrote it.
TQ: Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?
Max: I am a panster through and through. Even when I try to plot, things go off the rails. I feel like comic writing is like doing a good improv, except that you are doing all the parts and you can go back if you mess up. Things usually get very silly, very quickly.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Max: I have a tendency to go too big. My first drafts always start off with too many characters, and I have to cut them down as I go.. (The first draft of this interview had three people in it.) I get there, but my path is littered with bodies along the way.
TQ: Who are some of your literary influences? Favorite authors?
Max: My heart belongs to the stylists-- Raymond Chandler, P.G. Wodehouse, Ngaio Marsh, Raymond Carver -- writers that you instantly recognize because they have voices that jump right out at you. It's funny, because they don't necessarily have voices that that are similar to each other. I think perhaps I just appreciate their confidence. Also, most of them are funny, especially Raymond Chandler, who really doesn't get enough credit for his comedy writing. .
TQ: Describe The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss in 140 characters or less.
Max: An inept detective; a stolen weapon from an online game, a Jigglypuff cap and MURDER.
TQ: Tell us something about The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss that is not found in the book description.
Max: The climax of the book takes place at a Con, and is a very loving send-up of Con culture, both good and bad. If you've ever gone to an overcrowded con and thought about killing someone, this is the book for you.
TQ: What inspired you to write The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss?
Max: Aside from just thinking that it would be a nice addition to my library, I really wanted to have a book that was for geeks, by geeks. I often feel that geek characters get consigned to being sidekicks, or else they have their actions commented on by disapproving non-geek characters. I was sort of thinking: to hell with all that. Dahlia Moss is a book that's supposed to feel like you're at ComicCon or PAX-- a safe, warm, crazy place where you know that you're among your own people. It's like a hug, or perhaps a Vulcan salute, assuming the Vulcan in question was drunk and prone to saying things like "I love you, man."
TQ: What is your current favorite MMORPG?
Max: The best MMO still is World of Warcraft, which is an unimaginative answer, but quantifiably true. My all time favorite, though, was City of Heroes, which I thought was a wonderful, weird, game that that really let players be creative. You really could spend days in the character generator, inventing your own superhero with ridiculous powers and insane cosplay. My main character in that game was Hester Prynne, who had hellfire themed powers. Her costume was ridiculous, with flames running up her legs and, of course, a scarlet 'A'. I remember running into a player who who role-playing as Sir Issac Newton and thinking: these are my people.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss?
Max: Don't laugh, but I read quite a bit about Pokemon. One thing I was careful about was making sure that Dahlia didn't have exactly the same geek interests that I did, and let her have her own geek hobbies. To be sure, this was all deeply pleasurable research.
TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Max: I find Charice, Dahlia's somewhat overdramatic roommate, very easy to write. As the parent of a four-year-old, I think I'm generally tamping down on chaos and so it's very freeing, as I do when I write Charice, to just let it run free.
The trickiest character is Detective Anson Shuler, whom I adore, but runs absolutely ram shod over any notion of plot I have. He was initially supposed to be in a single scene and then disappear forever-- his name is a Magic the Gathering joke, which should give you an idea how much currency I expected him to have-- and yet each time I revised the novel he made more space for himself. This continues to be true in the sequel. I quite like writing him, but it can be frustrating when he does not steer the novel in the direction I would want.
TQ: Which question about The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Max: I keep anticipating the question: "Just who the hell do you think you are?" which I feel certain that someone will pose, probably while throwing a drink at me. It hasn't happened yet, however. Maybe we could do it anyway, just so I won't be nervous anymore.
TQ: Just who the hell do you think you are? (throws drink, which is tricky to manage over the internet)
Max: I'm no one! No one I tell you! (sobs)
Wow, that was actually really freeing. I'm glad we did it. I feel liberated.
TQ Note: No authors were harmed virtually or otherwise in the posing of that question.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery lines/paragraphs from The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss.
I got up and Nathan stood quickly, stashing his bento box back into his bag. I was all but
physically shuffling him out the room, but he was stalling me. If he were a Pokémon,
this would have been where he revealed his super-effective stat reduction on me. He made pouty
eyes and scratched at his neck.
This worked surprisingly well.
“Don’t laugh, but I kind of wanted to hang out with a private detective,” he explained.
His embarrassment lasted nanoseconds, and he was bright again. “Makes you feel like you’re in
on something. You know, put the squeeze on the old up and down. Derrick the gin mill.
Hoosegow the bean shooters.”
“You’re just stringing together nonsense words.”
“Maybe,” said Nathan. “But you have to grant that I’ve got the cadence down.”
TQ: What's next?
Max: There at least two more books coming up in the Dahlia Moss series. Astonishing Mistakes will come out next year, and is a riff on the alpha-male culture of fighting game tournaments. Also I make fun of Twitch a lot-- the streaming service, not the hip-hop dancer. Charice gets engaged, Shuler gets sloshed, and Dahlia is knocked off a steamboat. It's a good time.
I'm also brewing up a fantasy novel that's lightly inspired by It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World. Instead of Ethel Merman, there's a talking skeleton. (As I consider that sentence I realize it looks like some kind of madlib, but this is actually a thing that is happening.)
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery!
The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss
Redhook / Orbit, October 20, 2015
Hardcover and eBook, 320 pages
For fans of The Guild, New Girl, Scott Pilgrim, Big Bang Theory, Veronica Mars, or anyone who has ever geeked out about something.
The odds of Dahlia successfully navigating adulthood are 3,720 to 1. But never tell her the odds.
Meet Dahlia Moss, the reigning queen of unfortunate decision-making in the St. Louis area. Unemployed broke, and on her last bowl of ramen, she's not living her best life. But that's all about to change.
Before Dahlia can make her life any messier on her own she's offered a job. A job that she's woefully under-qualified for. A job that will lead her to a murder, an MMORPG, and possibly a fella (or two?).
Turns out unfortunate decisions abound, and she's just the girl to deal with them.