SciFiChick.com recently interviewed Anton Strout, author of Dead To Me (2008) and Deader Still, coming February 24th.
Can you tell us a bit about Simon Canderous?
Anton Strout: I could, but then the Department of Extraordinary Affairs might send someone after me. Let’s see.. he’s just this guy with a retractable steel bat who wants to do good. Oh, and when he touches things, he can read the history of them. It’s called psychometry, and in Deader Still, he’s a bit better at it than he had been in the previous book. He was a psychometric hot mess in that one.
Where do you get your ideas for your characters?
AS: I think most are an amalgam of various traits I pick up from everything I read, watch or do. For instance, there are elements of the Simonverse that are very much inspired by Joss Whedon and his characters. I like that level of humor laughing in the face of danger simply because the only other path would lead to madness. Bits of people I know, things that I find fascinating in them, get fed into my characters and their personalities. To be particular, Simon comes from a story within John Irving’s The World According to Garp. It’s about a man who has magic gloves that let him fix the world, but he can’t feel anything. Something about that was so bitter and poetic, I had to explore the idea myself and what came out of that was Simon.
Who would you choose to play your characters in a film version of your novels?
AS: Since I tend to write in a cinematic fashion, I do cast them in my mind’s eye. Although, thanks to the cover of Dead To Me, I can only picture Jerry O’Connell as Simon now, even though it’s not how I imagined him. I picture a younger Harrison Ford as Simon’s mentor, Connor. Jane is totally this model actress friend I have in New York City who no one but me would understand the reference. And I’ve always pictured Inspectre Quimbley looking like the Uncle Teddy character from Arsenic & Old Lace. I’d tell you a few more, but they’d spoil some of the reveals… Oh wait! I know one more. Godfrey Candella, the archivist for the department, is so totally John Hodgeman!
Urban fantasy/paranormal novels are popular and widespread right now. What different about your series that sets it apart from the others?
AS: Well, I’m in the minority these days in that I have a male protagonist. Sure, we’ve got Harry Dresden and a few other male protags out there, but the genre’s overrun with female kick-ass wannabuffybe heroines right now. What I’m trying to do is rip the back of that for a little fun. I think Simon’s a very real guy, in that he’s not so much kick ass, but he’d like to be. He isn’t, he’s you or me trying to get through his odd work day without dying. I think it makes him more interesting than having him be this uber-hero everyman.
How many books do you hope to write for the series?
AS: Well, I’m contracted for four so far, but there’s a lot of stories sitting down in the departmental archives. The Department of Extraordinary Affairs and the Fraternal Order of Goodness have a long and colorful history. For instance, did you know that Ben Frankin was a necromancer? True story! Which can be found in the anthology The Dimension Next Door, by the way…
There is no set number. Books one through three have a lot of interlocking pieces that criss cross through the tales, but they’re independent stories nonetheless. Read as a whole, I think readers will see that connective tissue and get an extra level of enjoyment because of it.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your experience in writing.
AS: I think the real question here is how did I become the sexy, zombie-crushing b*** you see before you. Err, read before you… whatever! I grew up in Western Mass, where I was bound by state law to love Melville and Hawthorne. I dabbled in making fake people do fake things on the page for a long time, then when I got serious, I started up in a workshop run by my good friend Jennifer Belle, author of Going Down and High Maintenance. Jenny doesn’t do genre fiction and kind of gives me a blank stare when I talk about it, but what I got from taking a non-genre workshop was that I paid attention to the things that matter. Interesting characters and good storytelling exist no matter what genre you’re looking at. As long as you learn to write something compelling… I am proud to say that I hold the high accolade in her workshop of writing the least scary horror story ever.
What inspires you?
AS: I find frustration to be terribly inspiring, actually. For instance, I was frustrated that no one was writing the type of books I wanted to read, especially after Buffy went off the air. So I started writing. I want to tell the stories that I most want to read.
Before then, I considered myself a dabbler in writing, but what happened? I got frustrated with how pathetic my output was, so I hunkered down and got to it. The key that many an aspiring writer miss is that they have to actually get words down on the page, which is half the battle. They don’t even have to be particularly good words at first, as long as there is something there to shape and mold moving forward.
Who are some of your favorite authors? What books do you love?
AS: I grew up on Douglas Adams and his Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy series. My style is heavily ripped off from him, except he’s really good at it. I love Christopher Moore, Robert Asprin, Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft (shocking, I know), Warren Ellis, Alan Moore, and I am bound by law to pay homage to Neil Gaiman. I worship at the feet of his sales alone.
Outside the genre stuff, I have a deep love of John Irving, Chuck Palaniuk, Nick Hornby… I’m sure there are a billion more, but that’s who leaps to mind right now anyway…
What do you do when you’re not writing? In your spare time?
AS: I’m an avid gamer. I grew up on D&D as well as old school video games like Impossible Mission, Ghostbusters for the Commodore 64… Intellevision. I’m a huge advocate for games as the new medium for telling stories. My favorite example is The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time for the Nintendo 64. Miyamoto put together a brilliant game that told a story so moving that it was the first game to actually make me cry.
Other than that, I’m a foodie. I love going to restaurants and New York City is the place to be. I just want to curl up in Iron Chef Morimoto’s lap and bask in his foodie goodness.
Thanks for your time! Is there anything else you’d like to add?
AS: I’ll repeat a message that bears repeating right now to your readers. Get out there, buy books, even if they’re not mine. Support authors right now is what’s going to keep the industry going through what are hard times all around. So get buying. But mostly me.