Hi, All! Welcome Night Shade class of 2012! I’m Nathan Long, and this is where I’m supposed to introduce myself and my new book to the Night Shade audience, and also talk about my favorite novel of the year. Fair enough. Sounds like Marketing 101 to me, so let’s get started…
First, the back flap copy, just to get it out of the way:
Nathan Long is a twenty year veteran of Hollywood, with many produced films and TV shows to his credit, including the cult hit Guyver II – Dark Hero, and the kid’s adventure show Kamen Rider Dragon Knight. In the last six years he has become a novelist as well, writing ten tie-in novels set in the Warhammer universe, and just this year sold his first original novel, Jane Carver of Waar, to Night Shade Books.
Okay, so none of that is an actual lie, but it’s a bit glib and glossy, and makes it seem like I skipped from success to success for twenty years – which of course it’s meant to. I mean, you don’t want the guy who flips to the back of the book to think you’re a loser. But the gloss hides the fact that, for most of that time, writing has been more of an addiction than a profession for me, an expensive habit that I have fed by taking a series of disposable day jobs – taxi driver, messenger, video store clerk – to make ends meet while waiting to hear back from yet another publisher or producer.
I love to write. I have to write. I’ve always done it, and I always will – paid or not. I’ve written screenplays, teleplays, radio plays, novels, short stories, comic books, songs, and dirty limericks. It is the thing I most like to do. It drives me crazy sometimes, when I’m trying to work out the plot, or find the right way to get some idea or emotion across, but the satisfaction when I solve the problem is the second greatest feeling in the world. The first is hearing that I have affected a reader in the way I hoped I would – whether I made them laugh, cry or curse my name. There is no high like it, and I’ll do what I have to to get it, be it showing a story around one friend at a time, or making a sale to an honest-to-god publisher. Thanks, Jeremy and Jason!
Books were my gateway drug to writing, the sweet seductive poison that made me think I could sell a story myself someday. I grew up reading genre fiction of every kind – fantasy, sci-fi, mysteries, historicals, and tales of high adventure. I loved old movies too – hard-boiled noir, swashbucklers, musicals, costume dramas, Hong Kong kung-fu flicks, Japanese samurai films, and old British comedies – and they all got mixed up and fermented and distilled inside of me, and now bleed out into my writing, which I hope will be a new drug, a pulp-fiction high potent enough to hook even the most jaded genre junkie and make him beg for more. Mwu-ha-ha-ha!
Favorite Book of 2011
So what book this year hooked me the hardest? What book gave me withdrawal symptoms once I finished it? Well, there were a few, but I have a confession to make. None of them were written in 2011. I don’t think I read a book this year that was also published this year.
It’s not that I don’t like new fiction, it’s just that I like old fiction more, and it sometimes takes me a few years to get around to the hot new thing because I’ve got a mountain of older books I’m digging through first. For instance, my reading list this year contained Black Bartlemy’s Treasure by Jeffery Farnol (1920), The Honour of Savelli by S. Levett Yeats (1895), and Sinbad the Soldier, by P.C. Wren (1935), among others, which is why I’m only now getting around to The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch (2006), The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie (2007), and The Priviledge of the Sword by Ellen Kushner (2007).
But while I liked all those, particularly Priviledge of the Sword, the genre book I liked best this year was by a guy who got much less press than any of those three, Paul Kearney. Corvus (2010 – so close!), is the sequel Kearney’s The Ten Thousand (2008), and you might call it military fantasy, as it is primarily about soldiers and campaigns in a fantasy mirror of classical Greece.
I thought, when I read The Ten Thousand, which was a bone-crunching retelling of the story of Xenophon and his army of Greek mercenaries fighting their way out of Persia, that there would be no way he’d be able to top it, but with Corvus he has, making a more heartfelt, personal novel out of the story of Rictus, an aging commander, and his last reluctant campaign.
The plots for both books are solid, as Kearney uses campaigns from classical history as the backbones of both, but two things make them exceptional. The first is Kearney’s prose, which is clear and clean, with a tough poetry that fits its gritty subject matter. The second is his characters, particularly in Corvus, where he shows you everyone’s heart, all their weaknesses, sadnesses and strengths, so that even the villains win your understanding, and no death is cheered, no matter how well deserved.
The thing I like most about the books, however, is that they are much more about the men who do the work rather than the men who order it done. I wrote in an essay on my blog once where I said that in my books, the doings of sorcerers and kings may spark the action, but rarely are they the story themselves. Instead, the tales are of hard men and dangerous women whose lives are mauled by the whims of the powerful, and who must therefore draw swords and fight in order to survive.
This is Kearney’s brief as well. Rictus, his hero, is a mercenary, forced into commanding the army of his people’s sworn enemy. He is a working man, and his concerns are a working man’s concerns. How is he going to survive? How is he going to protect and provide for his family? How can he escape the trap fate has set for him and get back to the life he longs for? Dispite an alien race and suits of armor that might be lost artifacts of a space-faring age, Rictus and his men and their struggles felt more real life to me than the heroes and conflicts of the last ten books I’ve read.
Alright, enough other people’s books. Let’s talk about mine!
This year I’ve been welcomed into the Night Shade posse, and I can’t tell you how happy I am to be here. After my six year apprenticeship in the meth-labs of the Black Library, learning how to churn out page-turning, all-action Warhammer crack, I’m ready to unleash the first batch of my own original mixture – the straight, uncut dope, unadulterated by concerns about juvenile eyes, corporate taboos, or sticking to the IP. It’s called Jane Carver of Waar.
Jane is a true synthesis of all my influences, with bits of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Martian high adventure, Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar low adventure, Raphael Sabatini’s swashbuckling romance, George MacDonald Fraser’s raunchy bedroom shenanigans, Warner Brothers’ cartoon slapstick, and P.G. Wodehouse’s slang vs. snob banter, all chopped fine and laid out on the mirror in chapter-length lines.
The story has the same basic outline as A Princess of Mars – earthling travels to a planet with a feudal society, takes a quest to rescue a princess, and falls for one of the locals – but rather than inserting the standard, square-jawed adventure hero, I thought it would be funnier if instead I sent Jane, a leather-hard, tough-talking southern biker chick to the other world, and had her confront its strange and old fashioned ways. What would she think of its chauvinistic society of naked Victorians? What would they think of her? What kind of sparks would fly if I rubbed them vigorously together? Well, I guess you’ll just have to buy the book and find out.
Go ahead, kid. The sample chapter’s free. Just come on back to the corner if you want some more. I’ll hook you up.