Monday, January 18, 2010

Interview: Charlie Huston

Charlie Huston is one of those writers that has experienced a meteoric rise in his career. He’s been a published writer for only 6 years, but in that time has published 11 books – 3 in the Hank Thompson trilogy, 5 in the Joe Pitt case books, 3 standalones, and numerous comics along the way. I’ve only had the chance to read Sleepless (US, UK, Canada, Indiebound, my review), Already Dead (US, UK, Canada, Indiebound, my review), and No Dominion (US, UK, Canada, Indiebound, my review), but certainly plan to read more. Charlie now lives in LA with his family and is trying his hands at TV while taking a (short) break from writing books. The TV projects he’s working on are a potential pilot for HBO based on his book The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death (US, UK, Canada, Indiebound) and a cop show that he can’t talk about yet.

This interview stands apart from others I have done – I did this one in person. Charlie’s first stop for his Sleepless tour was at
The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale and I was able to combine this even with a work trip to the Phoenix area. When I first approached Charlie for an interview he suggested that we chat for a bit after the event. At this point the event became both more exciting and somewhat terrifying – I have no problem with a bit of chit-chat with an author (though I’m quite introverted and generally uncomfortable talking with people I don’t know well), but this was different, a formal interview. The Questions Five interview format is well suited to the anonymity of the internet, working best when authors take time to think and get creative with their responses. In person the questions sound corny.

So, I scrambled to change a few of the questions, add a few and try not to sound like a complete idiot for the interview (I estimate that I was only about half successful at this, if that). I’m not an experienced live interviewer, I have no skills at dictation, I’m a terrible note taker, I did not record our conversation, and I can barely read my own chicken scratch. The answers to the questions are therefore my interpretation/memory of Charlie’s responses. Quotes are not exact and if something seems off it’s safe to blame me. Heck, the questions probably aren’t even the exact questions I asked him.

Charlie is one of those authors that doesn’t have a huge public life on the internet (he’s present, but not overtly so), so I had only my own preconceptions of what he may be like. Which were mostly proven wrong rather quickly. He’s tall and thin, casually dressed and has several tattoos climbing his arms. His voice which I expected to be dark and brooding is somewhat higher pitched and laced the child-like enthusiasm. He’s funny, friendly and comes across as an optimist. Having read some of his books, I found much of this a bit surprising. Anyway, I suppose I should get on to the interview. So, thanks again to Charlie for humoring me and enjoy!

While living in New York City you were drawn to noir fiction (some of which involves vampires). After living in L.A. for a while your fiction turns apocalyptic. Can you explain?

Well, the Apocalyptic come from more than just the city, but L.A. is an apocalyptic city. It’s hazardous – earthquakes, fires, etc.

Sleepless has been brewing for a while and you just don’t jump into an apocalyptic book without planning. I did most of the writing during 2008 when it really did seem that an apocalypse was coming – this resulted in significant re-writes to include much of what has actually happened. The calendar has as much do with it as anything.

As the parent of a small child, much of Sleepless reads to me as a collection of all the terrible things that can haunt a parent when the imagine things gone horribly wrong. Is this what you were aiming for? (Note, Charlie is the parent of a 2-year old girl)

Well, the idea of Park being the parent of a small child was conceived well before my daughter was. The pregnancy happed a bit before planned, so we were (happily) surprised when we got the news. The result was that I was learning to be a father at the same time I was writing the book, so it got more relevant.

Sleepless was a hard book to write. I was glum and not very fun to be around for much of the writing.

Sleepless has the heart of a noir-style detective novel such as those that you have become famous for (with or without vampires). But it also could be described in varying degrees as being a thriller, horror, near-future sci-fi, Apocalyptic sci-fi, and even cyberpunk. What is Sleepless to you?

A crime story. It’s really a classic crime story with an uncover cop investigating a conspiracy.

Who is Park – hero? Anti-hero?

Park is a close to a classic hero as I can write. Sure, he’s misguided, but defiantly a hero.

Likewise, is Jasper a villain?

[major spoiler redacted]

Anti-hero. I don’t believe in redemption for the things he’s done.

[earlier at the signing event he did use the word evil to describe Jasper]

Does being sleepless bring out the worst in people? Or….

The worst. [at this point we talked about the sleep lost when you’re a new father and discovering rather bad things about yourself.]

Bonus question for inclusion in The SFF Literary Pub Crawl:

Please recommend a favorite pub or similar establishment – it doesn’t have to be local to you, but that is encouraged and if you can’t limit to just one, recommend more, but try to keep it to 3 or less. And don’t forget to say why it’s so great. [Note: Charlie used to support his writing habit by tending bar in New York City]

I hate pubs – they are places people drink cocktails in stem glasses.

My favorite bar at the moment is the Lost & Found in L.A. It’s in a strip mall with a cleaners and across from a grocery store. It has a pool table and popcorn machine – things I value in a bar.

[Note: right after answering this question, Charlie caught a ride to a nearby dive bar – Tallyho Cocktail Lounge]

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