Book Group Questions Re: American Craftsmen Part 5 (SPOILERS)

Q) Do you have a bibliography that you can share (stories alluded to, books used for information or inspiration, etc.)?  Many club members find bibliographies or playlists of songs authors listened to while writing to be really fun ways to connect with the author a bit, or to get a sense of what was influencing them while they worked.

A) Here’s a link to a blog in which I discuss the use I made of the American literary canon: (it’s particularly detailed on what uses I made in the Hawthorne and Poe sections at the end). I looked at a lot of nonfiction sources. Among the many histories and courses I read or listened to on early America, The Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick, American Jezebel by Eve LaPlante, and the lighter The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell remain memorable. For Puritan folklore, I made particular use of Albion’s Seed by David Hackett Fischer. For some of my military family characterizations, I was inspired by the life and writing of Lucian Truscott IV, who was a grandson and son of military officers.

[Song list is in an earlier blog entry.]

Q) OR, rather than trying to make a bibliography, could you just say a bit about your influences (people, ideas, life experiences, etc.), whether for American Craftsmen specifically or for your work overall?

A) Another important influence was my friend Dave “Boobie” Dutch, a veteran of the First Gulf War who gave me invaluable background on special operations.

Originally, American Craftsmen was going to be a sweeping epic of American magic generally. My fellow Clarion Workshop alum Stephanie Dray saw an early version of the military opening, and she said in no uncertain terms that that was the story I should focus on. I’m very grateful for her advice.

Q) What were the most enjoyable and difficult aspects of writing American Craftsmen (and its sequels, though we can’t quite relate, yet)?  For instance, did you have particular fun writing a certain scene or character?  Any notable trouble with the same?

A) Endicott ended up being a fun character to write, once I decided that the modern-day Endicotts weren’t Dale’s true enemies. But he did start as a problem: a stereotype of the stick-in-the-mud Puritan that goes back to Shakespeare. This didn’t please me or my initial readers.

I dealt with this by giving Endicott a healthy dose of self-awareness. He has some idea of how he appears to others, and he even plays off of that image at one point to try to rattle Dale. He has a churchy sense of humor about his relationship with God, and he’s the first to realize the absurdities of the various situations he gets himself into. He’s vulnerable to being fooled once, but not twice.

It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise then that Endicott is the first person point of view protagonist for The Left-Hand Way. His character has the most room for further interesting changes and events.

Because of all the necessary worldbuilding, American Craftsmen was more difficult to write than The Left-Hand Way, which is relatively streamlined in terms of exposition and holds a faster pace.

Q) We completely understand if you can’t answer this, but is Roman really going to turn out to be a villain in the next installment?!  The man’s so likable and entertaining, which made it very easy to forgive his “sketchiness” (hiding his powers and all that)!  And it makes me inclined to think that his stealing Roderick’s spirit isn’t necessarily an evil act in itself, just an ill-advised one that might be under orders from some unknown person(s).  I’m excited to find out for sure!

A) If The Left-Hand Way is my Empire Strikes Back, then Roman is somewhat parallel to Lando Calrissian–a rogue who has made a deal with someone far more evil, a deal whose cost he doesn’t yet understand. But there the similarities end, so you’ll have to read book 2 to see how he turns out.

Book Group Questions Re: American Craftsmen Part 4 (SPOILERS)

Q.) I know I particularly enjoyed the allusions to Poe and Hawthorne tales, as well as other historical figures and events.  Were these allusions part of your inspiration or were they worked in later?  Can we expect more and different ones in later installments of the series?

A.) The historical and literary material was a consistent inspiration from beginning to end, but the first inspiration may have been an author to whom I didn’t allude very much–L. Frank Baum. When he began telling children’s stories, he had the idea of discarding the existing European folktales and building a fantasy that was modern and distinctly American. That’s how we got The Wizard of Oz. I wasn’t going to write a children’s story, but the idea of confining myself to a U.S. mythos for an adult fantasy was very appealing.

In The Left-Hand Way, the allusions branch out internationally to include everywhere the characters visit, but English history and literature gets the most attention.

Q.)   A similar but broader question than #5:  How do you characterize your writing style?  Do you know where the story is going from the outset, or does it develop as you go?  For instance, did you already have the basic plots of The Left-Hand Way and the tentatively titled third installment in development when writing American Craftsmen?

A.) I’m a pantser, but with trajectory–I usually have a good idea of where I want to end up, but I allow for the serendipities of writing to alter that course as I go along.

American Craftsmen was the second of three very different novels that I’d written before my series deal with Tor. Part of my writing discipline was to not do any real work on a sequel until I made a sale, and I had no idea that I’d be able to sell American Craftsmen to a publisher. However, I created a slingshot ending, so that when the publisher expressed interest, I was able to note that I’d left room for a sequel. But then Tor came back and asked for a three-book series. So books 2 and 3 were not plotted even basically at that point. It’s made for a lot of work the past couple of years, but it also means that I have some interesting manuscripts in the trunk once I’m done with book 3.

In the other sense of writing style, I try to keep things straightforward, so that when things get baroque, it’s to make them stand out.

Book Group Questions re: American Craftsmen, Part 3 (SPOILERS)


Q.) Are the Left-Hand Mortons considered permanently in confinement at the conclusion of American Craftsmen?

A.) Permanently and completely? With Madeline now part of the mix? No way. But this is a continuing source of conflict, and I won’t say how it’s resolved.

Q.) Some club members expressed surprise that the Left-Hand Morton spirits took down Madeline and other “baddies,” but spared the Endicotts and other craftsmen at the end of the book’s climactic confrontations.  Can you give any explanation for this?

A.) The heroes themselves were surprised by this, but here’s the explanation. The Left-Hand Morton spirits had three priorities. One was to assimilate other Left-Hand spirits such as Madeline (and they would have gotten Roderick if they could). Another was take revenge on their ancient enemy, Abram Endicott, and assimilate him also if possible. The third was to find a way to incarnate again.

Though released from the House, the Left-Hand spirits still found themselves compelled by the orthodox Mortons (even the dead ones a bit) and they were also threatened by Scherie’s power and compelled by her new Morton status. As for attacking living Endicotts, they might have gotten around to it eventually, but they were fully occupied in general sparring with Pentagon forces and pursuit of their priorities.

Q.) You have been identifying various “magical” disciplines with each new magician character (Puritan, Native American, Persian, etc.).  What made you choose the disciplines you did?  Do you plan to introduce new disciplines in future books?,

A.) Though there are exceptions for reasons of plot, my disciplines for this book were primarily American (whether Native American or European colonialist). I chose to do this as a deliberate constraint (see below where I talk about the influence of L. Frank Baum on this idea of distinctly American fantasy). The conjunction of the historical character of Thomas Morton and classic American literature made me decide to tell this story with a focus on the New England Families, which meant also highlighting the Puritans as the counterpoint to the Mortons.

The constraint of using and creating American magics was difficult, because the European ideas of magic are better known. But it’s also difficult to do anything truly original with the European stories, so I thought the difficulty would be worth the effort.

Book 2, The Left-Hand Way will explode out from this constraint, with the characters starting the story in the craft worlds of London, Tokyo, Istanbul, and Kiev.

Answers to Book Group Questions re: American Craftsmen, Part 2 (SPOILERS!)

Here’s another answer in response to a recent set of book group questions (warning: SPOILERS!):

Q.    Can you explain the curse that Dale suffers under after killing the Persian craftsmen at the beginning of the book?  There was some confusion among our group as to what exactly that curse entailed – apart from causing his fellow soldiers to slaughter innocent townspeople – and how it affected Dale later (I think we began to confuse it with the Morton’s cursed left hand legacy).

A. Yeah, I could have done a better job of distinguishing these two forces working on Dale’s psyche. First point: the craft that the sorcerer used on the soldiers was distinct from the curse–he used their killings to power the more difficult craft that neutralized Dale. The curse (I realized this on later reflection) therefore involved Left-Hand craft–using the life force of others to power a spell–which makes it a bit hypocritical, or at least (in the sorcerer’s view) fighting fire with fire.

The sorcerer’s curse tormented Dale whenever he planned further combat, though it turned out to have a particular focus on protecting the Islamic world, so with the help of the House (and, less consciously, Scherie), Dale was able to get over it enough and in time to kill M before the party.

Perhaps Dale could have better resisted the curse earlier and yet preserved his sanity if he weren’t already subject to a continual temptation to the opposite course of action: the Left-Hand voice deep in his psyche. That presence meant that, if he totally broke through the curse’s restraint on combat, Dale feared he might never stop killing.

So, during the first part of the book, the two contrary impulses grind Dale’s mind between them. His resulting mental situation is a very loose and fantastical analogy to the all-too-real PTSD faced by many veterans (the analogy doesn’t bear up to too exact a comparison). Dale is “spell-shocked.” His freeze-up during his first attempt to go after Sphinx is in part a result of this.

Though diminished, the curse and the Left-Hand voices still remain a problem.

The American Craftsmen series song list: a work in progress.

Recently, a science fiction/fantasy book club asked me to respond to some questions, and I’ll be posting the answers I gave here over the coming days. One question was about the music that I listened to or was inspired by in the writing of the American Craftsmen series. So here’s the list, or rather lists. If some of the connections aren’t obvious, keep in mind that some of the songs may have more of a book 2 connection.

First, songs not in the party mix, but somehow connected to the composition of books one and two, or perhaps just in my imagined soundtrack:

Song of Scheherazade, Renaissance
Scherzo Fantastique, Josef Suk
Hot Freaks, Guided by Voices
Sheet Kickers, Guided by Voices
Let’s Call It Love, Sleater-Kinney
Old Man, Neil Young
Finest Works Song, REM
Shine, Collective Soul
Holly Holy, Neil Diamond
I Miss You, Blink 182
I Am the Walrus, Beatles
Cornflake Girl, Tori Amos
Fly on the Windshield, Genesis
The Man Who Sold the World, as covered by Nirvana.
The Rover, Led Zeppelin (and another Zeppelin tune to be named later)

Also, recently noticed some resonances with my story in the song “Riptide” by Vance Joy (reference to “left-hand man,” etc.)

Party mix: this is an “uncurated” kitchen sink of everything on my computer that I thought would be appropriate to my book launch party–themes from Bond films, songs about war, etc. But some of the songs, particularly those that I allude to in some way (e.g. “Veteran of the Psychic Wars”) were more directly connected with my experience of writing of books one and two or are part of my current mental soundtrack for those books. I’ve noted some of those by indicating the book to which they connect.

1 Fearless, Pink Floyd
2 Zombie, The Cranberries
3 Year Of The Cat, Al Stewart
4 Werewolves of London, Warren Zevon (book 2)
5 Waterloo, Abba
6 War Child, The Cranberries
7 War, Bruce Springsteen &
8 A View To A Kill, Duran Duran
9 US Blues, Grateful Dead (book 1)
10 Tom Sawyer, Rush
11 Sympathy for the Devil, The Rolling Stones
12 Surrender, Cheap Trick
13 Sunday Bloody Sunday, U2
14 Street Fighting Man, The Rolling Stones
15 Starship Trooper, Yes
16 Star Wars, National Philharmonic
17 Spanish Bombs, The Clash
18 Slip Kid, The Who
19 Skyfall (Full Length), Adele
20 Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting, Elton John
21 Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner, Warren Zevon (book 2)
22 Revolution, Beatles
23 Pull out the Pin, Kate Bush
24 Overture, The Who
25 On The Border, Al Stewart
26 Oliver’s Army, Elvis Costello
27 Nobody Does It Better, Carly Simon
28 No Surrender, Bruce Springsteen &
29 No Light, No Light, Florence and the Machine (book 1)
30 You Only Live Twice, Nancy Sinatra
31 The River Kwai March, Malcolm Arnold
32 Live and Let Die, Paul McCartney
33 Life During Wartime, Talking Heads (book 1)
34 Lawyers, Guns And Money, Warren Zevon (book 2)
35 Killer Queen, Queen (book 2)
36 James Bond Theme Movie Soundtrack
37 Heroine, Sinead O’Connor and the Edge (all 3 books)
38 Happiness Is a Warm Gun, The Beatles
39 The Guns of Brixton, The Clash
40 Gun Shy, 10,000 Maniacs
41 Goldfinger, Shirley Bassey
42 The Gentleman Soldier, The Pogues
43 The Fortunes of War, Dropkick Murphys
44 Fernando, ABBA
45 Experiment IV, Kate Bush
46 Drink Before the War, Sinéad O’Connor
47 Diamonds Are Forever, Shirley Bassey
48 Diamonds and Guns, The Transplants
49 Death or Glory, The Clash
50 Burning Bridges, Mike Curb Congregation
51 Colonel Bogey March, Malcolm Arnold
52 Burnin’ for You, Blue Oyster Cult
53 Billy, Don’t Be a Hero, Bo Donaldson & the Heywoods
54 Battlestar Galactica, Stu Phillips
55 The Battle Of New Orleans, Johnny Horton
56 Battle of Evermore, Lovemongers
57 The Battle March Medley, The Pogues
58 The Band Played Waltzing Matilda, The Pogues
59 The Ballad Of The Green Berets, Sgt. Barry Sadler
60 Back in the U.S.S.R., Beatles
61 Baba O’Riley, The Who
62 All Along the Watchtower, Jimi Hendrix
63 The “Fish” Cheer (I Feel Like I’m Going to Die), Country Joe McDonald
64 How Soon is Now, The Smiths (book 1–hate that this was already used for a TV show)
65 E.T.I. (Extra Terrestrial Intelligence), Blue Oyster Cult (book 1)
66 (Don’t Fear) The Reaper Blue Oyster Cult
67 Veteran of the Psychic Wars, Blue Oyster Cult (book 1)
68 Burning Down the House, Talking Heads
69 Season of the Witch, Luna
70 You Make Loving Fun, Fleetwood Mac (book 1–I imagine this as the sort of tune at the wedding reception)
71 Rhiannon Fleetwood Mac
72 West Coast Lana Del Rey (book 1, looking backwards)