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Monday, April 26, 2021

Interview with Ryan Howse, the author of Red in Tooth and Claw

Author Info: Ryan Howse is the author of The Steel Discord, The Alchemy Dirge, and Red in Tooth and Claw. He lives in Saskatchewan, Canada, with his wife, children, and cats.

Book Information: Red in Tooth and Claw by Ryan Howse, Published: June 1, 2020, Genre: Horror Fantasy, Pages: 151 (Print Length), CW: Injured and dead animals (wilderness survivalism), Disease, Claustrophobia


Thank you for joining us, Ryan, and welcome to Fantasy Book Critic! Before we start, tell us a little about yourself.

Thanks for having me. I’m Ryan Howse, author of the A Concerto For the End of Day series, which includes The Steel Discord and The Alchemy Dirge, and the forthcoming The Vivus Nocturne, as well as the standalone Red in Tooth and Claw.

I’m married and have two great young kids, and two cats named Cathulhu and Necronomicat.

I really enjoy, in no particular order, Star Trek, Deadwood, eschatology, classic westerns, and Horizon Zero Dawn.

I play tabletop RPGs enough that I built my own system for a sci-fi Star Trek meets Mass Effect kind of feel and have been running games in it for nearly a year now.

Do you have a day job? If so, what is it?

I’m currently helping organize vaccine distribution.

Who are your favorite current writers and who are your greatest influencers?

My all-time list of writers includes Umberto Eco, Mary Shelley, Dostoevsky, Ursula Le Guin, JRR Tolkien, Matthew Stover, Gene Wolfe, China Mieville, and Catherynne Valente.

I’ve been very impressed with the works of Raymond St. Elmo, who does very clever metanarratives. Rick Claypool’s The Mold Farmer was a fantastic, weird novella about workers in the aftermath of an alien invasion, and it’s my favorite book I’ve read this year. Kameron Hurley is always pushing herself with each new book.

Serious writing takes not only a story to tell, but the craft of writing to tell it well—can you comment on your journey as a writer?

I’ve been writing for as long as I’ve been able to. I remember doing stories of dinosaurs eating each other when I was in kindergarten. I wrote seven full-length original novels in high school and a couple more in university. I stalled out after that, starting and stopping probably a dozen novels.

But I was always reading. I fell hard into the New Weird around that time, and their use of prose to suggest a strangeness to the setting really astonished me. Prior to that, I hadn’t considered that prose was more than having words read well together, but it is the way you peer into the story.

To further explain that, I’ll use The Dark Tower as an example. The Gunslinger’s prose is weird and alien and broken, and it makes the setting feel weird and alien and broken.

I absorbed not just the stories, but the way stories are told, and once I learned how to craft that, the rest of it came easily.

What do you think characterizes your writing style?

I like to hope the prose, as mentioned. Being thoughtful about how you’re writing a story is huge. For A Concerto at the End of Days, I wanted that writing to seem strange and distorted. For Red in Tooth and Claw, it’s a close, clear look through each of their perspectives.

How would you describe the plot of Red in Tooth and Claw if you had to do so in just one or two sentences?

Chemosh, a scout imprisoned by the enemy, agrees to lead the way through a brutal winter wilderness for his freedom. But both his knowledge and his resilience are put to the test, not just by the wilderness, but by the chaotic, violent man he guides--a man he must rely on if they are to survive.

What was your initial inspiration for Red in Tooth and Claw? How long have you been working on it? Has it evolved from its original idea?

It’s been percolating in the back of my mind for a long time. After I finished the first draft, which was just a few weeks after my daughter was born, I found the original outline I’d written way back in 2010 or 2011.

That original outline would have been a lot longer. Chemosh would have been far more scheming, and Agash would have had a different name and been, while still violent and chaotic, a bit more emotionally manipulated by Chemosh. It still could have been a good book, but I’m glad we got the book we did.

It was also, by far, the fastest novel I ever wrote. It had percolated so long that once I let it come out it poured.

You've written the story in 3rd person present tense. Why? What are the advantages and disadvantages of writing in the present tense and why does it fit this story?

This is the only book of mine I’ve written in the present tense, and I have gotten a few reviews saying, “I usually hate present tense, but this one was great!” Present tense fits this book for immediacy. Also, the opening is also Chemosh desperately trying to live in the present because he doesn’t want to remember life before the dungeon. What better way to make it feel like that than to write it in present tense?

If you had to describe Red in Tooth and Claw in 3 adjectives, which would you choose?

Brutal. Evocative. Human.

How did you come up with the title?

Well, the phrase has been around a long time. I simply adopted it. Thanks, Tennyson.

How does it tie with the plot of the book?

It suggests a struggle with nature, which is what the book is about—both the environment and the human nature of the protagonists.

Who are the key players in this story? Could you introduce us to Red in Tooth and Claw’s protagonists and antagonists?

The setting is late Neolithic, with the first settlements starting to form. Agash is a chaotic and violent man who is the son of the ruler of his people, one who hates the burdens placed upon him with that role. He knows he is unfit for society.

Chemosh is a spiritualist of the Yathirem tribe. He was to be a shaman before he was captured by Agash’s people and tossed into a dungeon for months.

How did you select the names of your characters?

Chemosh came from an old Moabite god. Agash originally had a different name but it felt too modern. I used Gilgamesh—my favorite of the ancient epics—and then shortened and re-arranged it.

Does your book feature a magic/magic system? If yes, can you describe it?

This is actually a difficult question! Chemosh is a spiritualist, and he believes in a spirit realm, even seeing it, while Agash absolutely does not. I wanted the ambiguity of that to remain intact. From each of their perspectives they are both right. If it ever seems like one side is more likely than the other, consider whose point of view you’re reading it from and what they’re going through. I leave it up to the reader to decide.

Cover art is always an important factor in book sales. Can you tell us about the idea behind the cover of Red in Tooth and Claw?

It’s a photo that fortunately for me was creative commons. The dark of the sky, along with the fog, I hope hints at both the awful weather and the potential spirit world while the forest and mountain are where they spend the vast majority of the book. The environment, after all, is the most consistent threat throughout the book.

While it’s not a traditional fantasy cover, it’s also not a traditional fantasy book.

Have you written it with a particular audience in mind? Who’ll enjoy it?

I hope this book will be enjoyed by people looking for wilderness survival tales, ambiguous horror, low-key fantasy, or just a close examination of these two very different characters forced to rely on each other.

What are you most excited for readers to discover in this book?

The ruined city has the eeriest moments. The scene directly before that had one reviewer so scared she felt nauseous.

Can you, please, offer us a taste of your book, via one completely out-of-context sentence.

They do not feel like stones, not truly, and they are the precise size of human teeth.

What’s your publishing Schedule for 2021/2022?

I have to finish up my third book in A Concerto for the End of Days, titled The Vivus Nocturne. It’s a sort of weird western, in a frontier town where vivus, an essential ingredient for magic, is mined. I have a secret project drafted, and another one half-finished.

Thank you for taking the time to answer all the questions. In closing, do you have any parting thoughts or comments you would like to share with our readers?

Thank you for having me! I hope people enjoy the book.

In addition to writing, I review books at both Grimdark Magazine and BeforeWeGo, and I’m on twitter at

NOTE: Many thanks to Justine, Timy & the Storytellers On Tours for giving us an opportunity to take part in this tour. Here's the tour's full schedule.


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