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Monday, August 18, 2008

Interview with Charlie Huston

Order “Every Last DropHERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s
Review of “The Shotgun Rule
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Review of the Joe Pitt Casebooks

Charlie Huston is the author of the Henry Thompson trilogy which includes the Edgar-nominated “Six Bad Things”, the Joe Pitt Casebooks, the Los Angeles Times bestseller, “The Shotgun Rule”, and the recently relaunched Marvel comic book, Moon Knight. Charlie is also a badass writer and one of my favorite new authors outside of the fantasy genre :) So I was quite ecstatic when Mr. Huston agreed to an interview which talks about his new Joe Pitt book, “Every Last Drop”; his upcoming standalone novel, “The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death”; movie adaptations; comic books, and much more…

Q: To begin with, for someone who has never read a Charlie Huston novel, how would you describe your writing style and where would you recommend they start?

Charlie: I think my prose is very direct. There’s a writer’s voice, and I have a style that’s meant to keep things moving, but the stories are delivered without much in the way of decoration. Dark, violent and profane are all apt adjectives. But the ultimate goal of just about everything I write is to ultimately break the reader’s heart. Happy endings don’t come naturally to me, even when I shoot for one I end up with something that’s 95% cocoa bittersweet. Start at the start, “Caught Stealing” was my first novel and is probably still the most user-friendly.

Q: “Every Last Drop”, the fourth book in your Joe Pitt series, is coming out September 30, 2008 here in the US (Del Rey), and March 2009 in the UK (Orbit). Could you give us a preview of "Every Last Drop"?

Charlie: At the end of the previous book Joe Pitt, our “hero” left Manhattan for the Bronx. So, we’ll have some chaos in the Bronx, get a look at what Vampyre life is like up there, and Joe’s gonna have to figure a way back to Manhattan. As with all the books, this one moves the series plot forward while telling a self-contained story. That said, this close to the end of the series, it’s not the best book to jump in on.

Q: One of my favorite aspects about the Joe Pitt novels is your original take on vampires. Where did your inspiration for the different Clans and your vision of vampires originate from?

Charlie: I wish I could say that Joe’s world was crafted and mastered before I started writing the novels, but the truth is that it’s largely a process of evolution. I started with the idea of a single power block that controlled Vampyre life on Manhattan: The Coalition. The Clans evolved when I started tinkering with the idea of a small underground. It became more interesting to think in terms of several power blocks in contention. Their philosophies evolved as well. I did do a brief series bible (parts of which are on pulpnoir.com), but much of that information never went into play.

Q: I believe the Joe Pitt series was planned as five volumes. Is this still the plan?

Charlie: I planned a series, but I didn’t know it would be five books until I had finished the second. At one point I envisioned an ongoing series, but that became boring before I even started. Doing a terminal series forces you to make hard choices that change your characters. Compressing what I’d thought would be a six or seven book series down to five intensified everything. Very little gets teased out. You introduce a conflict make a choice as to how to resolve it and get on to the consequences.

Q: In a recent interview that I did with Steven Erikson
HERE, the author talked about how 'heroes ain't what they used to be' and what happens when the 'good guys are just as bad as the bad guys'. Naturally I was reminded of Joe Pitt :) So with this series, are you satirizing good vs. evil in any way, and what kind of a hero is Joe?

Charlie: Joe is not a hero. He’s a protagonist. I’m not trying to say anything about the current state of the hero, I just wanted to write about someone badass. As I dug into Joe I discovered that he wasn’t just badass, he was mean. Joe’s perspective is simple: “I’m a son of a bitch. I was a son of a bitch before I got turned into a Vampyre and I’m still a son of a bitch. Being turned didn’t make me into the kind of person who will drink blood to survive, I was already that kind of person.”

Q: Well Joe is definitely badass…and mean :) But isn’t protagonist just another word for ‘hero’? After all, Joe possesses some noble qualities, especially towards his girlfriend Evie…

Charlie: No, it’s not the same. A protagonist is merely the lead character, the one to whom things happen and who instigates action on his/her own. A hero may be defined in those terms, but it’s not the primary definition. And I feel almost certain it’s not what Erikson was getting at. When we talk about heroes we’re almost always talking about noble figures, the righters of wrongs. They may be sullied, but they are still heroes, working in the bets interest of others rather than themselves. Joe may care for Evie and show her a degree of tenderness, but, from what I hear, Hitler liked dogs, that didn’t qualify him for hero status.

Q: Okay, good point. So “Already Dead”, the first Joe Pitt novel, was optioned by
Phoenix Pictures (Pathfinder, Zodiac). What's the progress report on the film adaptation and will you be involved in the production in any capacity?

Charlie: I’m not involved in the movie adaptation of “Already Dead” at all. Which is as it should be.
Phoenix still has the option. They also have a screenplay by Scott Rosenberg. Their approach, and Scott’s execution, are aimed toward a large scale franchise.

Q: So you don’t think a writer should be involved with an adaptation to preserve the integrity of their vision?

Charlie: If they wrote a novel in order to see it turned into a movie, then, yes, by all means, they should protect that vision. I don’t write my books working toward the final step of a movie version. When the book is done, the story I wanted to tell is done. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the idea of seeing some of them as movies, but I’d much rather see someone else’s interpretation of my book than try to reinterpret a story I already told.

Q: Has anything else of yours been optioned for adaptation?

Charlie:Caught Stealing” was optioned in the past, but nothing ever came of it.

Q: Do you have a dream adaptation?

Charlie: I’ve told my stories and don’t have any particular vision for how they should/could be retold in other forms. It’s not that I don’t want sell a few more options and see some movies made, I just don’t have a dream adaptation. Having said that, and while it’s not a dream, I do love Brad Anderson’s movies and think he would be a perfect writer/director for translating anything I’ve written.

Q: You’ve already branched out into comic books so would you be interested in writing original screenplays for television for film?

Charlie: Probably not originals. Most any original story idea I might have I’d rather tell as a novel. I’d be far more interested in adapting other work. And probably not TV. Working on a series is a tremendous time commitment.

Q: Speaking of comic books, you’ve worked on the relaunched Moon Knight series—which you are still currently assisting with I believe, Ultimate Annuals 2, and the “X-Force Special: Ain't No Dog” one-shot through
Marvel. What do you feel are the biggest differences between writing a novel and a comic book, and what are the positives/negatives of each format?

Charlie: Briefly, comics have pictures, most novels do not. To write for comics you have to try and think visually, let the art tell the story and keep the words out of the way. Frankly, I’m not very good at it.

Q: What do you think of the cross-pollination today between different formats such as films, novels, comic books, television, et cetera? Do you think it’s more advantageous for a writer like yourself to be producing works in different mediums?

Charlie: It serves a number of purposes for a writer to be active in various forms. At the most base level, it helps to spread awareness of your work. From a creative point of view, it forces you to use different muscles. Not only is the writing itself different in all of these disciplines, but the processes are different, as well as the business and social cultures. Working in multiple fields forces you to stretch you skill set. That’s always going to improve your work.

Q: After “Every Last Drop”, your next novel to be released is “The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death”, which is currently set to drop January 13, 2009 (
Ballantine). What can you tell us about this book and how does it compare to your other novels?

Charlie: This is the first in a proposed long-running crime series. Something I could return to every year or two. The inspiration was a combination of moving to LA and wanting to write something set here, and a desire to get a little lighter, and wanting to tackle a detective book. As always, nothing turned out as I expected. Though the body count is much lower than my average book, the story is, in many ways, the darkest I’ve told so far. Web Goodhue is a slacker, a guy with something gone wrong in his past, and he takes a job as a crime scene cleaner. On one of his first jobs he meets the daughter or a wealth Malibu suicide, and shit gets all fucked up.

Q: In a recent interview
HERE, a character by the name of Elizabeth “The Whacker” Borden was mentioned. Apparently she appeared in a couple of short story anthologies, but could you tell us a bit more Borden, what makes her a unique protagonist, and how things are developing on a possible novel starring the character?

Charlie: Detective Borden is wrong in every way. She is a dirty cop in every way. Every time it seems like she’s done the right thing, it turns out she’s done something utterly fucked up. She is bad news and she doesn’t like you. And there’s a reason she’s like that. I’m hoping to tell the story about why she’s like that some time in the next couple years.

Q: In that same interview you also talked about a speculative fiction crime novel that you're currently working on. Is there anything you can reveal about that project? For that matter, what else are you currently writing or are planning on starting in the near future as far as novels and short stories?

Charlie: The current novel is under wraps for now. I’ll be struggling with it for a bit longer, and then moving on to Joe Pitt 5.

Q: A trademark of your books, besides the noir influences, is the explicit language, violence, and racial epithets. Is this explicitness just a result of the noir influence, necessary to the stories, or something else, and do you ever worry about offending readers?

Charlie: I just cuss a lot myself and I tend to write about the kind of people who cuss a lot. There’s actually considerably less cussing in the published versions than in the first drafts. I weary of it myself and cut a great deal before the books go into print. And, no, I don’t worry about offending people. It’s a book, you can always put it down.

Q: You write some of the sharpest and most realistic dialogue I’ve ever read in a novel. What’s your secret?

Charlie: Thank you. I don’t think there’s a secret to good dialogue. I think you either have an ear for it or you don’t. That’s not to say you can’t develop a good sense of dialogue, but it requires that you listen to people. I like to eavesdrop.

Q: As a reader, what has impressed you the most recently or that you are looking forward to reading?

Charlie:Sharp Teeth” by Toby Barlow (Reviewed
HERE) is the best fucking book I have read in years. I love it. Everyone should read it. Rival gangs of werewolves fight over turf in Los Angeles, written in blank verse. Fucking brilliant.

Q: It is definitely a great book :) One of my favorite debuts of the year so far... In conclusion, is there anything else you’d like to say to your readers?

Charlie: Thanks for reading. More is on the way. Hope you like it.

7 comments:

RedEyedGhost said...

Great interview! I cannot wait for Every Last Drop to come out. I love his first person present tense story telling, it really gets you involved in the action and makes his books very hard to put down.

Robert said...

Thanks RedEyed! I'm looking forward to the new Joe Pitt novel myself :) Should be great!

gav (nextread) said...

Stunning interview. Really insightful. Great job.

I really should now ready my copy of Half Blood of Brooklyn. I think I like to savour them as the Joe Pitt stories are just too short and I'm saving it.

Robert said...

Thanks Gav :) It's the last interview you'll see from me for a while ;) I hear you about the Joe Pitt novels. But while they may be short, they pack quite a punch!

frank said...

Charlie Huston is pretty much the man. I'd like to see him on another ongoing comic, but I'm looking forward to everything! Keep writing, Charlie!

Em said...

If Charlie Huston wrote a grocery list, I'd spend hard-earned cash to be able to read it, he is that damn good. See also the really funny piece he wrote a year or two ago on his website blog about cussing in his writing, and how it's all his mom's fault. Thanks for the interesting conversation, Robert.

Robert said...

Frank, Charlie writing another comic book would be great! Personally, I'd like to see him write an original story or maybe bring Joe Pitt to the world of comics :)

Em, you're more than welcome :) And thanks for the heads up about the cussing article. I'll have to look for that :)

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