Interview: Max Gladstone on Torture, Books and The Craft Sequence

December 17, 2013 Author Feature, Interview 9

Max Gladstone! What? Who’s that? Only the greatest new Fantasy author out there! Don’t believe me? Well, you should because I’m always right. And if you don’t think so, my trusty jumper cables will make you think otherwise.

Ahem, Oh yes – the point of today’s post. The man himself was only all too willing to join me for an extra special turn in the hot seat interview. It only took One fishing net, 3 rolls of ducktape, and …ok ok on with it, one with it. I hope you enjoy!

The Craft Sequence 1-3

Read my review of Book 1: Three Parts Dead

Read my review of Book 2: Two Serpents Rise

Book 3: Full Fathom Five – due to publish July 15, 2014 from Tor Books!

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Max, Max, Max! Thank you so much for agreeing to this very special torture session interview. Pay no attention to what I have here behind my back. *sparks*

*Gulp* I’m happy to be here and thanks for inviting me! Although this duct tape is a bit snug.

On to the interrogation shall we? Where were you on the night…wait no, so sorry that list is for my husband. Ok here it is.

What a relief.

Something oh so hard to do for a writer – condensing words. So lets have your twitter pitch for each of the books. I know I’m limiting you to 140 character or less…I don’t make the rules. Or do I?

Well, you are the one with the car battery and the clamps, so who am I to argue?

This is box title

Three Parts Dead:

A junior associate at an international necromancy firm has to resurrect a dead god. Also, gargoyles!

This is box title

Two Serpents Rise:

Forget it, Jake—it’s Fantasyland.

This is box title


Congratulations! You’ve killed the tyrannical storm god! Only… who’ll make it rain now?

Obviously, I bled love for THREE PARTS DEAD. Heck I did listen to the audio and read the print back to back. Obsessed much? Don’t be scared. Going in I didn’t realize that this book even though its the first in your CRAFT SEQUENCE series can actually be read as a stand-alone. Do you plan to make each of your books in this world books that would work fabulously as stand alone novels?

Thank you! I’m so glad you liked the book, and not just for self-preservation reasons. I hope each of my books will work on its own, while building on the others. Complete books are a pleasure to read and write—we experience a whole range of emotion along with the characters, and watch them grow. But stand-alone doesn’t mean you’ll never see these characters again! The traumas of each book change Our Heroes, and by the next time we see them they’ll have grown and responded to that change.

This is one of the many reasons I love Terry Pratchett: each book is its own marvel, but no one could confuse the Sam Vimes of Guards, Guards with the Sam Vimes of THUD!

I have to add that I have a love hate relationship for series fiction. I love it yes…but sometimes I just really want something that I don’t have to remember a trillion characters and details for each time I pick up the next book. How do you think series SFF can work for or against a writer?

It depends on the way the writer handles her series. Plot specifics are easy to forget: “Which of these guys pulled the Great Sword Lotsacuttin from the trunk of the World-Ash Tree?” “Did Alexios ever tell Findrazel that Bob died in the Battle at the Gates of Horn?” “Who brought the vodka?” You see what I mean. But if the writer’s done her job, characters lodge deep in the mind—much deeper than details . I’d recognize Lymond and Phillipa from Dorothy Dunnett’s books at a thousand paces. Or Locke and Jean from the Gentlemen Bastards series.

So, series that rely on the reader remembering lots of fiddly details from book to book can be hard on both reader and writer. The “series of bushes” approach used by Dunnett, Herbert, Leguin, and (in a way) Rothfuss—in which we’re following characters more than a situation—seems to cut both writer and reader more slack. Not that the “giant awesome thicket of story” approach can’t work! There are excellent examples, including The Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Amber. But it’s, well, a giant awesome thicket of story. People get lost in there.

Most readers tend to have their favorite genres. In the case of THREE PARTS DEAD, when I picked up the book the cover looked very ‘urban fantasy’ to me and yet the story was very much traditional fantasy, set in another world, perhaps not even not much unlike our own…except completely different. Now I’m not making sense. What I’m saying is – it can appeal to all fantasy readers. So how did you plan your world out and where did you draw inspiration or research from?

I’ve talked a bit about this elsewhere, and I’m cautious of those electrodes, so—

Well, okay, if you insist. Back in 2008 I returned to the States after teaching in a rural high school in southern China. I hit the job market in September 2008, just in time for the economy to explode. And while everyone was picking bits of economy off their sweaters I thought, huh, while we just suffered billions of dollars—hundreds of billions—in damages as a planet, there’s no wound. You can’t point to the smoking crater where AIG once was. So we’d just weathered a spiritual war in which these ostensibly immortal, ostensibly mighty, ostensible persons died. And seen through this lens the Chapter 11 bankruptcy process was basically necromancy, involving wizards in pinstriped suits. And I thought to myself, “that sounds like a fun world.”

That was the initial inspiration anyway. Beyond that—the monsters, the gods, the Venom / zentai / Borg police, the rat brain library robots, the gargoyles—they all just kind of showed up. Each one has an obvious source, or a family of obvious sources; I could write you a bibliography as long as my arm, but start with Roger Zelazny, Dan Simmons, all the authors I’ve mentioned already, probably Stephen King, Robin McKinley, Anne Rice, old half-read issues of Spider Man and the X-Men, the first hour or so of Final Fantasy VII that I played one night at a friend’s house, and if you let me keep going like this we’ll be here all—


Okay, then. Next question!

Alright, maybe you didn’t see this one coming. There is essentially no romantic element in THREE PARTS DEAD – what’s up with that!? Haha, J/K. I’m complaining because personally, I’m not a huge romance fan and that has its place and time in other books. But I did think I would see a bit more flirtatious behavior after a few comments from Tara regarding how good looking the Gargoyle Shale was. Did you make a conscious decision to not have any romantic elements?

I love sex and romance as much as the next apparently human carbon unit! But it seems to me there’s a tough balance to strike between the demands of a plot-driven clock-is-running thriller (which THREE PARTS DEAD definitely is!) and the demands of a serious romance. Tara drools a bit over Shale because he’s a hunk, but she has more important things to do, like interrogate him, [SPOILER], stab him in the stomach, and steal his face[/SPOILER].

So, the lack of (human) romance in THREE PARTS DEAD is an artifact of the structure. A little under 48 hours pass from the beginning of Chapter 2 to the end of Chapter 19. The characters barely have time to eat, let alone screw. Cat gets the closest, but she’s sublimating a lot of her sex drive into her addiction. Tara and Abelard are both in business mode—and Tara, especially, is trying to prove her professionalism and competence to her boss.

(To get all abstract and theoretical for a sec here: THREE PARTS DEAD does deal a lot with philos and agape, the development and practice and perversion of friendship and charity and selfless devotion. Eros, when he shows up at all, is sublimated or warped—I’m thinking about Denovo here. And the climax is a restoration of all three…)

For TWO SERPENTS RISE, I tried to allow a little more time for romance by dialing down the clock and giving characters time and space to trust each other. The more fool they!

I often think quotes serve really well to catch readers attentions on interviews and reviews, I know I love peppering my reviews with quotes whenever I find ones I love. So you want to give us a favorite quote from THREE PARTS DEAD & TWO SERPENTS RISE?

The quotes that stand out to me today are dialogue for some reason. Enjoy!

This is box title

Three Parts Dead:

“I’m sorry I called you a witch,” Tara said.

It took a moment for Ms. Kevarian to notice she had spoken. Even then, she did not respond.


“Ms. Abernathy. I’ve wrestled with gods and demons. My ego is hardly so fragile as to be bruised by an associate’s poor choice of words. I am thinking.”

“Just thinking?”

“There is never any ‘just’ about thinking, Ms. Abernathy.”

This is box title
Two Serpents Rise:

“Would you give up,” Caleb said, “if our situations were reversed?”

Teo did not look up from her paperwork. “Of course.”

“I think she’s innocent.”

“You’re infatuated.”

“I’m not. I want to help her.”

“Because she’s pretty.”

“Because it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “And pretty is not even the right word. She burns. She’s a verb.”

“You’re an idiot.”

Now for the character dossier for your latest book TWO SERPENTS RISE…I think all us readers need an idea of what sort of people we are in for, don’t you? Here’s an example

Tabitha: Prone to outbursts of maniacal laughter while reading, Pistachio gelato hoarder, control freak and self diagnosed with a compulsive book buying complex she has been known to pretend being a bookstore employee to recommend books to random customers.

Ok, Ok – I know I’m not a character…don’t squash me meager little dreams yo!

Caleb: Gambler, risk manager, son of the last priest of the dethroned gods. Likes good tailoring, bad adventure novels, iguanas, fresh decks of cards. Dislikes snakes, demons, snake demons.

Mal: Cliff runner, Craftswoman of mystery, basically just trying to do her job but this Caleb guy keeps getting in the way with his delusions about saving her.

Teo: Caleb’s best friend, daughter of a noble family turned mobsters turned “legitimate businessmen.” Likes pretentious modern art, sports, her apartment, her cat, her girlfriend, and her liquor. Dislikes Caleb’s dad. Frequently frustrated by her family and her girlfriend.

The King in Red: Overworked undead skeleton wizard overlord of Dresediel Lex, who replaced the old god of water and rain after he killed Him (as well as most of the other old gods). Benevolent dictator? Ruthless overlord? Depends who you ask, but a little of column A and a little of column B.

Temoc: Caleb’s dad, last living Eagle Knight, priest of All Gods, standard-bearer of the Old Order and Leader of the Revolution at once. Not immortal, just very age resistant. Somewhat Batman.

Sundry other zombies, businessmen, traceurs, cultists, wizards, giant insects, demons, artists, sports stars, rebels, villains, and heroes.

With the release of your second book, Two Serpents Rise – how are you feeling? How has the journey to published author treated you? And do you have any future books outside of THE CRAFT SEQUENCE series that you’ll be working on?

I feel great! You know, for someone duct-taped to a chair. Reception for THREE PARTS DEAD was very positive, and people like TWO SERPENTS RISE, too. Having a second book out makes me feel more comfortable as a published author. Publishing the first novel I felt like a fluke—even though I had three more in the pipeline. The two books together are a solid foundation.

The next thing on my agenda is a game set in the Craft Universe—CHOICE OF THE DEATHLESS may well be available in app stores and on the web at by the time this interview goes public! it’s an interactive text adventure in which you play a junior associate at a Craft firm—Tara’s job, basically.

After that, my next book, FULL FATHOM FIVE, will be out in July. I’m really excited for Full Fathom Five. We’ve seen the world of the Craft, and the world of the gods. FULL FATHOM FIVE shows us the world in between, through the eyes of Kai, a builder of idols—false gods that help people hide their souls from pantheons and Deathless Kings. Only Kai’s idols are dying, and mysterious forces are besieging her island. FULL FATHOM FIVE will also feature the return of characters from both THREE PARTS DEAD and TWO SERPENTS RISE.

Oh, and outside of the Craft Sequence! Yes. I have a crazy space opera fantasy head-explosion of a book coming out next winter—no fixed title yet but HAMSTER HUEY AND THE GOOEY KABLOOIE wouldn’t be far off. Fistfights on the surface of stars. Undead spaceships. Tantric prophecy dream computers. I could just be saying words now, but I’m not, I promise. And then there’s the book I’m brewing right now, about which I don’t want to say anything yet.

You write fantasy so of course I must know…If and when the magical whammy hits us all – what creature would you end up as?

A dragon, if I had my druthers. Dragons are awesome. They combine my love of sitting and brooding on a hoard (books, thoughts, and experience in my case, gold in the dragon’s) with travel, excitement, and adventure. One goes out into the world, accumulates HOARD, brings it back, and broods for a while. And then—books!

We’re almost near the end now Max, you can make it.

Excellent! You know, I think I might be developing a bit of resistance to these electric shock—OWDAMMITBALLS.

You were saying?

Seeing as this is My Shelf Confessions, I definitely require one of yours. It need not be book releated – I adore collecting achingly embarrassing stories. Call it my troll toll before I unhook the lie detecting electrodes…yes yes I know they look an awfully lot like jumper cables – working with what I got.

I don’t embarrass easily. I mean, I take my fair share of pratfalls (at least!), but I emerge from them with head high, because pratfalls are hilarious. I used to pronounce a lot of words wrong—”scenario” as “se-KAR-no” for example—but that barely qualifies.

For all the dumb things I’ve done in my life, all the times I’ve chased people down while naked or lain awake for hours after a baijiu-heavy “dinner party” in Anhui listening to KD Lang albums on repeat while the world spun, nothing’s ever embarrassed me quite so much as I used to be embarrassed by the prose I wrote when I was a kid.

Example: when I was eight, I started a novella with the line “Michelle ‘Liberty’ Johnson was a knockout.” I think I got the word ‘knockout’ from an Indiana Jones movie novelization—maybe the whole sentence. I bear full responsibility for the name. I was nine, so adults all seemed infinitely tall to me; I think the mean height in that book, which was about an artificial Earth built by the people who were left behind when the wealthy & powerful built their own artificial Earth to evade the planet’s destruction—I think the mean height was somewhere in the neighborhood of six and a half feet. In sixth grade I had an engineer character on the old alt.starfleet.rpg boards whose name was Retal Ne’telkmar and who could shapeshift and was a powerful psychic. In eighth grade I wrote a Cambpellian monomyth in which the mentor character was a three thousand year old, seven-foot-tall Scotsman sorcerer with cybernetic implants who used a katana because WHY NOT.

And, now that I’m actually describing all this stuff out “loud” and in public, it sounds really awesome. But that’s as good as I’ve got for you.

You’ve been a real sport and I appreciate you volunteering your time in what must be a very busy schedule. Now back to work with you!

Wait, you should pull the duct-tape gently, not just—AAAAAAAAH that was refreshing. Didn’t need that hair anyway. Or most of that skin.

Thanks so much for hosting me!

Don’t worry I’ll capture you again sometime in the near future. You can run but you can’t hide!

Two Serpents Rise

The new novel set in the addictive and compelling fantasy world of Three Parts Dead

Shadow demons plague the city reservoir, and Red King Consolidated has sent in Caleb Altemoc — casual gambler and professional risk manager — to cleanse the water for the sixteen million people of Dresediel Lex. At the scene of the crime, Caleb finds an alluring and clever cliff runner, crazy Mal, who easily outpaces him.

But Caleb has more than the demon infestation, Mal, or job security to worry about when he discovers that his father — the last priest of the old gods and leader of the True Quechal terrorists — has broken into his home and is wanted in connection to the attacks on the water supply.

From the beginning, Caleb and Mal are bound by lust, Craft, and chance, as both play a dangerous game where gods and people are pawns. They sleep on water, they dance in fire… and all the while the Twin Serpents slumbering beneath the earth are stirring, and they are hungry.

Two Serpents Rise (The Craft Sequence #2)

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Tabitha (Pabkins)

When I'm in the zone I can flip book pages faster than the eye can see - screaming "More Input!" I'm a book, yarn, & art supply hoarding goblin who loves to draw, make toys and craft all sorts of creepy cute things. My current habit is to listen to audio books while I'm arting it up!
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9 Responses to “Interview: Max Gladstone on Torture, Books and The Craft Sequence”

    • Tabitha the Pabkins

      Haha! So is it just adult fantasy that is hit or miss with you? Cause I know you looove YA fantasy! =)

      This series feels very much like urban fantasy but is definitely traditional fantasy as well because its an entire world not our own, creatures, magic system, etc. I definitely loved it. I don’t know any of my SFF bloggy friends yet that haven’t. So It would be well worth giving a shot!

      Have you ever read any of Patricia Briggs? She writes that popular Urban Fantasy series – but originally she started out writing traditional fantasy. She has a stand alone fantasy that I love – The Hob’s Bargain and two duologies. One features dragons!

      • Wendy Darling

        Hah, actually I have a hit or miss relationship with YA fantasy, too. I’m lucky enough to have found some series I really, really love, but others still leave me cold. I haven’t quite put my finger on why some work and not others–I do know that I am often impatient with too many external details/copious world-building/weird words and customs if they come at the expense of great character development and story, though.

        I like the Mercy Thompson series a lot, but I didn’t know she wrote fantasy! I’ll have to look into that, thanks for the rec. 🙂
        Wendy Darling recently posted…Dickens Christmas Séance: event recapMy Profile

        • Tabitha the Pabkins

          Oh then if you enjoy her writing style you will probably really like her earlier fantasies! Raven Strike I think is the first in one duology and Dragons Bones or Dragon Blood is the other duology (Hurog duology).

          I completely agree with you. I need a really good balance of character to world building. I’ve suffered a bit in the past from things like: really funky naming conventions, made up words that aren’t easily interpreted in context, too too much world back history all at once. Huge sticklers for me.