I'm over the moon to be able to finally bring you my interview with the irreplaceable Daniel Polansky! For those of you who don't know who he is, Daniel is the author of the acclaimed and popular Lowtown urban fantasy series. He was recently kind enough to take some time out of hectic schedule to chat (hilariously at times!) with me about various things, including his latest release, Those Above (scroll down for full review. Quick summary.. it's amazing!).
First up, tell us a bit about yourself and your upcoming release Those Above.
The first thing to know about me, Daniel Polansky, which is who I am, is that I suck at interviews. Not any good at them. But then again, what sort of a person is really good at interviews? Think about that for a moment – what does it say about you if you're really, really good at talking about yourself. Nothing good. Anyway, sucking at interviews is why the above question reads 'upcoming release' instead of 'recently released', because your MC, the bold and noble (I assume) Matthew Summers sent me these questions like four months ago, and I forgot about them, and then HE SENT ME A REMINDER EMAIL AND I PROMISED I WOULD RESPOND TO THEM AND I DIDN'T. So that's the sort of person Daniel Polansky is. I wouldn't say a monster, but – fuck it, yes I would. A monster. A malcontent. Lacking in class, grace, diction, other things a person should have a surfeit in, rather than a deficit. Where was I? Right, Those Above. It's a book. I wrote it. My name's right there on the cover, can't you see it? WHY AREN'T YOU LOOKING AT IT IT'S RIGHT THERE?!?! Depending on how you look at it, Those Above is about Elves and humans and swords and battles, or it's about how our perspectives imperceptibly shape our define our lives, limiting what we can understand and appreciate.
Why did you become a writer? Was it something you always envisaged yourself doing?
Honestly? I wanted to go traveling, and I had this idea that if I could sell a book I could work from the road. Hence, Low Town. Hadn't always envisioned myself as a writer, but I read constantly and from a young age which is the best/only real training for the job, so.
Those Above pits humanity against these perfect beings who rule from their eternal city. What can you tell us about these creatures? How did you come up with them?
Yeah, I mean, not to play too coy here, but I'm gonna take a mulligan on this one, because sort of the whole point of the book is sort of trying to decipher that mystery. OK, they're basically elves. You got me. They're kind of elves. But weird elves. Like, not Tolkien elves.
Hodder and Stoughton has described Those Above as Tolkien meets The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Can we expect to see a bucket load of war, rebellion, and change in this book then?
Yup, all of those things exactly.
This is your first foray into epic fantasy. What challenges did you face in writing epic fantasy instead of urban fantasy?
Honestly it was hard as hell, I don't really know in retrospect why I tried it. First of all there are 4 characters instead of 1, obviously, and the characters are more authentically human and less action hero cliches (The Warden was a ton of fun to write, don't get me wrong, but mainly his purpose was to trick people and hit them with swords.) Plus the scale is much larger, I had to do a lot of world building even though most of it the reader doesn't exactly see, or only sees pieces of. Definitely the Empty Throne series was the hardest thing I had to write.
The cover for Those Above is brilliant. How did it come about?
Thanks! I can claim absolutely no credit at all. Hodder handled that entirely on their end.
Themes like war, power, love, and loss seem to be popular in your books. What attracts you to exploring these concepts?
Shit, what else is there to think about?
You have a reputation for writing extremely gritty, character driven books (and we here at Smash Dragons love them!). Does this trend continue in Those Above?
Yeah, I think so. Those Above is a bit grander in scope, but it gets down into the nasty thick of things as well. Really it's about how each character views and effects this extraordinary moment of which they are a part.
Who are your literary influences? What drew you to speculative fiction?
This is a hard question to answer, actually, and it kind of depends on what I'm writing at any given moment. I sort of like to think of myself as a literary chameleon – actually, I sort of like to think of myself as a two-fisted, action-adventure hero with a roguish grin, stunning good looks, and the literary prowess of a young Marcel Proust – shit, where was I? Right, influences. Genre wise, let's just say a bunch real quick because it's getting late here in Anatolia, which is where I am, and the letters are starting to blur together. Gene Wolfe, Borges, Chandler, Hammett, William Goldman.
Take me through a writing day in the life of Daniel Polansky. Do you get up at the crack of dawn and smash out ten thousand words before lunch? Or do you rise in the afternoon, drink a bottle of scotch, and hope that you can crawl to the computer in time before you pass out?
If I'm in Brooklyn, I get up late but not shamefully late, drink coffee and write from my apartment, walk a while, drink coffee and write from a cafe, walk a while, drink beer and write from a bar.
The zombie apocalypse is upon us. You have to assemble a crack team of fellow authors to survive in a now very dangerous world. Who do you pick, and why?
I'm gonna let you in on a little secret. Genre writers, they aren't exactly a physically prepossessing bunch. I mean there's Myke Cole who (spoiler alert) was in the military, and there are a whole wing of guys whose author photos have them caressing the barrels of assault rifles (don't quite need to be Freud to read something into that one!) but I don't really know any of those last and would probably anyway prefer being eaten by zombies to having to survive in their company. So my short answer is, if you needed to pick a profession from which to gather a team of people to survive the apocalypse, you really could not pick a worse one then writers.
I have read before that you are not a fan of Elves (I tend to agree with you). Care to explain this dislike? Do you think writers rely too much on clichéd tropes like Elves, Dwarves, and Old Wizards when writing speculative fiction?
Elves, dwarves, orcs – it's all Tolkien fan-fiction, you know? Who wants to be dithering around in another man's sandbox? The whole point of genre fiction is you can make up whatever you want. I guess some people feel like the ideas really resonate with them, but they don't particularly with me, and even if they did I'd still want to go out and break my own territory. Just my opinion, don't digitally lynch me.
What is your take on the state of speculative fiction at the moment? Do you think we are entering a boom period due to popularity of Game of Thrones for example?
In terms of sales? I don't know. In terms of literary merit? Also don't know. To be able to comment broadly on the state of the genre like that...it's kind of impossible. So many books come out every month, and I'm pretty busy writing my own. There could literally be 5 debut authors this year that would blow my mind if I read and I would have no idea at all.
Craziest thing a fan has ever said to you?
Gosh, I dunno. Some of my fans are not the most...well-adjusted people, but I feel kind of bad picking at them in a public forum. Even the most discomfiting ones are essentially well-meaning. Oh, this is kind of crazy – a guy in the US contacted me back when the 2nd and 3rd Low Town books weren't available, and said he was dying of cancer and would I send them to him. So that was nuts, but more in a flattering/sad way then a weird/awkward one.
Can we expect to see you in Australia anytime in the next few years?
I would hope so! I love traveling and that's one part of the world I've never been to. I'll holler at y'all if I come through.
And finally, why should readers go out and buy Those Above?
I could use the sales? No, that's not going to help. Let me just offload this one to a real clever Australian cat, who has some choice words about the subject... Those Above Review.
Daniel Polansky, thanks for your time.
You can find Daniel's books at all good stores and online retailers. The Low Town books are simply amazing, and Those Above continues in this tradition. I implore you to click on the links below (or hit up your local store!) for more information and purchase details.
Up next in our interview series, we speak with wonderful Margo Lanagan and her upcoming project (alongside Scott Westerfeld and Deborah Biancotti) entitled Zeroes.
Peace out peeps, and remember to keep on reading!