Halloween is when the magical world of monsters and creatures seeps into our lives. What better guest to have on this day than a fantasy writer, who makes a living out of inventing and breathing life into such creatures! For writer Anton Strout, that’s particularly true. His Spellmason Chronicles urban fantasy series features gargoyle Stanis, who, after a long sleep, awakens at the spell of his maker.
NG: The Spellmason Chronicles books ALCHEMYSTIC & STONECAST are such perfect Halloween reads! You’ve kept away from the oh-so-familiar urban fantasy fare of vamps, weres, and fairies, and have given us something more gothic-flavored. Can you tell us about how you came up with this world and the concept of spellmasonry, the arcane art of manipulating stonework to one’s will?
AS: Sure. I’ve always been fascinated by creators, people who make things. In LORD OF THE RINGS, I want to know more about the Elves of Eregion under Sauron’s guidance when they make the Rings of Power. I wondered how that would translate in our modern world, in particular, Manhattan. And as a lover of my fair city’s art and architecture, the idea of writing a series about gargoyles and those who created them appealed to me. Plus I like smashing things a lot, and gargoyles are REALLY good at that.
NG: What’s your advice for budding fantasy writers on how to avoid infodumps? Can you talk about your personal strategy in the series?
AS: There are things that you the writer need to know that the audience simply doesn’t. I get it, writer…you came up with this amazing world and want to give it ALL to me, but that’s the kiss of death. Your world is the seasoning to flavor the dish that is your plot and characters. Too much salt kills a stew, too much infodumping ruins a book. I ONLY care about the details of your world insofar as they affect your character in the moment. For example: I don’t need to have the Fodor’s Guide to Your World in the first fifty pages. But the second your character is hungry and doesn’t have the three distaris for a loaf of bread, I know the currency, and the value of something familiar from my world. Over a book you can dole out all the awesome you thought up, but it’s a mistake to show it unless it’s affecting the characters directly in a scene.
NG: STONECAST is your sixth book, so you know all about the challenges of the sequel: the fine balance between ending with a cliffhanger and providing closure. Will you share your personal techniques for sequel writing?
AS: I wish someone offered a master’s class in writing a series, because there’s nothing really to prepare you for it. This being my second series after a four book run on the Simon Canderous books, I prepare myself by planting the seeds of short term and long term goals.
There are things I know will resolve themselves in one book, and I have long term ideas that I know vaguely might play out if given the time to let them grow. I plant a lot of those seeds. Not all of them get to grow, mind you, and die on the vine…but I don’t like painting myself into a writing corner, so I keep focused on the plot of the book I’m in with my mind’s eye always looking out the corner of it towards those end goals of the greater arc of the series.
Hmm.. maybe I should teach a class…
NG: One of the secondary characters’ name in STONECAST is Desmond Locke. Please tell me this is a LOST reference! In general, how has pop/nerd culture influenced your fiction?
AS: I think this is what Desmond Hume from LOST meant by “See you in another life, brother,” don’t you think?
Absolutely it’s a nod to LOST, one of my all-time favorite TV shows. In my first series my hero Simon’s last name is Canderous, a reference to the Mandalorian warrior in the video game Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. There’s a lot of pulp culture Easter eggs spread throughout both series, but I really enjoyed naming this mysterious spiritual leader after that mash up of characters from LOST.
NG: What are the most important writing conventions that define the urban fantasy genre for you?
AS: I’ve been arguing that urban fantasy doesn’t even need a city in iT—as long as it has the feel that most urban fantasy has. I think having a first person noir detective style to the narration is important, but not necessarily mandatory. Hell, I break that rule by having dueling first person narratives in mine: a twentysomething modern day female artist turned only practicing Spellmason, and a centuries old gargoyle that has trouble understanding modern language and idioms.
And the more monsters in the streets of Manhattan, the better… muahahah!
About Anton Strout
Anton Strout is the author of the Simon Canderous and The Spellmason Chronicles urban fantasy series pubbed by Penguin Books. He’s also the author of many short tales published in anthologies by DAW Books. Anton produces The Once & Future Podcast, where he endeavors as Curator of Content to bring authors and readers together through a weekly news show format. To learn more about him and his books, pop over to his website, like him on Facebook, and chat with him about fantasy on Twitter.