I am delighted to bring you another instalment in our ongoing interview series here at the lair. This week I had the pleasure to chat to Levi Black (pseudonym of James R. Tuck), whose upcoming book Red Right Hand has me extremely excited. Levi kindly took time out of his very hectic schedule to talk about this book and other things, such as tattooing.
Levi Black, welcome to Smash Dragons!
First up, tell us a little about yourself and your upcoming book Red Right Hand?
Well, I've written a few books, tattooed a few folks, and bounced a few more out of bars. Now I'm pretty sedate and just chill at home with the dog and the Missus. The book Red Right Hand is my first with Tor and my first as Levi Black and I love it. It's the best thing I've written.
It's a Lovecraftian horror novel masquerading as an urban fantasy. It's dark and scary and has a great main character in Charlie. She has a depth to her that makes her fascinating to read about.
What was your motivation behind writing Red Right Hand? What inspired it?
I had an image in my head of the first scene of the book. Often that's how I start a new story is with a scene that pops into my brain. I saw it all, Charlie, the skinhounds, and the Man In Black with his red right hand and his long sword of destruction.
From there I really wanted to get into the concept of humanity versus completely alien gods. How they may veiw us, especially someone who has suffered the type of trauma that Charlie did when she was younger, and how they may be completely wrong in how they see us. I also wanted to explore the resilancy of the human spirit. Charlie is a survivor. I wrote a lot of warriors and hardasses, but Charlie isn't that.
She is a broken girl who has struggled her way to healing and now has been thrust into a new world where she is the weakest thing there. But she may well be the toughest character I have ever written.
The cover for Red Right Hand is amazing! Did you have much input in that design process?
I gave them the description of Charlie and told them I definitely wanted to see a version of the Man In Black's red right hand, since that is the title. Otherwise my list was of things they could not do. Charlie is a slim girl and dresses a certain way. No deep cleavage, no bare midriff, no dresses, no skirts, short hair, no suggestive poses. She is tough and the concept of any kind of seduction or “her sex is her power” crap would never fly.
Cover artists don't have time to read the book so you have to be clear in what you don't want more than what you do want.
Favourite character to write in Red Right Hand? Why?
I loved Charlie and the Man In Black was fun but I have a soft spot for Ashteroth, the fallen whore goddess. Shes just so sad. Shes not in the book much, but you will see her again. I also loved Cthulhu. He's the old standby but for me I made him the cool god and mixed him a little with Starro the Conqueror.
You have a background as a tattoo artist. I’m curious, what led you down the path to writing?
I'm arrogant lol. You have to have a certain level of arrogance to decide you are going to make a living by permanantly altering someone's appearance.
So I read a book I was vastly disappointed in and said: “I can write better shit than that.” I then googled “how do you write a novel” and found Lilith Saintcrow's blog where she gave real world advice on writing a book. I read it and applied it and wrote my first novel. That first book sold to Kensington in a 3 book deal without an agent, so my arrogance paid off.
What particular style do you like to do as a tattoo artist?
I'm a bold line and bright color guy. From new school cartoons to old school traditional. I dabble in almost everything though. It keeps me sane.
How did it feel to get a blurb from Jonathan Maberry on the front cover?
Jonathan is great. We get on really well whenever we wind up at conventions together. However, Jonathan is such an awesome individual that if you can't get along with him then you are a true asshole.
He was nice enough to blurb this. I got a lot of great blurbs from great authors. It was nice.
Red Right Hand isn’t your first book. Can you tell us a little more about your previous work?
It ranges from urban fantasy to crime fiction to sci fi and horror. You can tell I wrote the book, no matter what it is. I definitely have a voice.
I’m very curious about the Man in Black. Is he your typical antagonist? Or will he wander that grey zone between evil and good more?
He is a chaos god so he's not truly evil, he just seems that way to us. He is immensely powerful and has his own agenda that may not factor in the survival of humanity as part of it. He's also very mercurial and capricious for an elder god. I really enjoy writing him.
As he says : “I am never the lesser of two evils.”
Famous swords are a big part of fantasy fiction. Can you tell us a little more about the black-bladed sword wielded by the Man in Black?
I'm actually writing book two of the series now (Bloodthirsty Gods) and have delved a bit into what the sword actually is. Just like the Man In Black's coat isn't a simple coat, the sword is not a simple sword. They are called Oathbreaker and they are an entity all their own.
I love black-bladed katanas and cursed swords and all you can do with them.
Horrible creatures and monsters are an important part of Lovecraftian fiction. Can you give us a sneak peak at some of the eldritch horrors that we might see in Red Right Hand?
Well, there are the skinhounds which are a creation of mine. They hunt Charlie and are hellhounds who have been flayed so they are raw muscle and tendon over skeleton. They are pretty creepy.
You also get Yog Shogura the Cancer God. He's super creepy. Just imagine a malevolent elder god who takes the form of tumorous cancer.
Of course the Man In Black is Nyarlathotep, the Crawling Chaos himself. He isn't like anything you've seen before.
I always like to ask a question about writers and their process. Are you a planner or a pantser (architect or gardener) when writing? Do you write every day? Or just when you feel like it?
I do not write every day. I write mostly 3 days a week and spend the other days on life stuff and doing the work of being an author that doesnt include writing. The busy work will kill your productivity.
I am an outliner. A loose outliner but I need some plan to get from the beginning to the end of the book, and I do write from beginning to end. No jumping around, a straight line through.
There has been a recent resurgence in cosmic horror and Lovecraftian storytelling in recent years. What do you think it is about this particular subgenre that readers and writers find so alluring?
I think its a response to the over abundance of classic monsters we had in genre over the last several years. The vampire and werewolf in particular. Those got done a lot and people want something darker and wilder. The Mythos provides that.
I noticed that you have a short story coming up (written under your real name) in the Mech: Age of Steel anthology being put out by Ragnarok Publications. Can you tell us a little about it?
Odin-Mech versus Frost Giants in icebound Oslo. There's some weird shit in this one. Dark norse magick, blood sacrifice, and other weirdness.
Tell me about your three favourite books. What are they? And why do you love them?
The Road by Cormac McCarthy.
The language that McCarthy uses is absolutely gorgeous, so teeth-achingly beautiful it makes my heart sing.
High Fidelity by Nick Hornby.
This book is real. It lays bare how men think in relationships. I recommend everyone read it.
New York City Tattoo by Michael McCabe.
I love the history of American tattooing and this book is an oral history of some of the founders of it from NYC. This book is full of characters. It's got great photos and artwork. If you don't find this one interesting then I am not sure we can be friends.
I bet those might be a bit surprising to some readers.
If you could meet one author (dead or alive) to talk about the craft with who would it be? Why?
I would sit down with Mickey Spillane. He seemed like a good, take-no-shit kinda guy. I like his work and I bet his advice would be salty and true. I love straight shooters and have no time for bullshit or people who want to discuss the loftier, wispy, nature of writing. I want down in the muscle and the bone of it. We can get metaphysical if you want, I'm in for that, but I want substance with it.
Will there be an opportunity to buy a signed copy of Red Right Hand online once it’s released?
You should be able to go to Foxtale Books online. They will carry signed copies you can order online. Or you can track me down when I am in your area at a convention or an appearance!
And finally... best writing tip?
Write the fucking book. No matter what you have to do, write that book. Nothing else matters.
Levi Black, thanks so much for stopping by!
Thanks for having me.
Red Right Hand is available to pre-order now at all good book outlets. Check it out people, it sounds like it's going to kick ass!