Please welcome Greg van Eekhout to the blog! I loved his new book, CALIFORNIA BONES, and he kindly answered a few questions about it, and more! Also, courtesy of the lovely folks at Tor, we’ve got a copy of CALIFORNIA BONES to give away to one lucky winner (US only)!
Be sure to visit the California Bones website, where there’s a video of Greg hanging out with John Scalzi at the Le Brea Tar Pits!
I really enjoyed California Bones, and loved the idea of osteomancy (and other such magics)! What inspired you to write the book?
I grew up in LA and going to the La Brea Tar Pits was always a treat. When I started writing fantasy, I knew I’d eventually have to come up with a story that centered on the Tar Pits. At one point, I wrote a short story about a paleontologist who finds a griffin preserved in the Siberian permafrost. The story didn’t work out for a variety of reasons, but a few years later the idea occurred to me to put griffin and dragon and unicorn fossils in the Tar Pits. The magic system – eating bones of magical creatures to get their magical powers – and a world fueled by this magic and the characters who would live in this world–all got put in my short story, “The Osteomancer’s Son.” And I felt there was still plenty of fuel in that particular tank, so developing it more fully into a trilogy of novels just felt like a good move.
The California in California Bones is, and isn’t, the California that we know, and you included some very famous names in the book. What kind of research did you do for the novel, and what was one of the most interesting things you discovered?
I read quite a few books on Los Angeles history, plus articles from various historical societies and newspaper archives. LA is one of those places where the buildings and other physical structures of the past get bulldozed in favor of new things, or they get changed beyond recognition, so a lot of what I did was find cool stuff that’s been gone for decades and pretend it was still there. The Pacific Ocean Park amusement pier burned down in the late sixties, but the ruins survived into the seventies, and I have the vaguest of memories of seeing them when I was a really young kid. It’s almost like I remember ghosts from past LA more than I do past LA. So, that was the kind of thing I wanted to put in the book.
What did you enjoy most about writing Daniel Blackland, and why do you think readers will root for him?
Daniel is a good guy forced to do nasty things because of the circumstances he was born into and the decisions he makes. What I like about Daniel is he lives in a world in which you can’t really trust anyone, but the way he chooses to confront this world is by trusting his friends. For Daniel, friendship is almost a subversive act. Also, he’s got a gift for smartassery and he possesses really cool magic. Smartassery and cool magic is always fun to write.
What supporting character did you enjoy writing the most?
Moth, Daniel’s best friend. He’s eaten a lot of hydra, the creature whose head grows back if you cut it off. So, Moth has powers of healing and regeneration. But more than his abilities, I liked writing his banter with Daniel. Those two were just so much fun for me to write.
The alternate California, or “world”, you created is a very important part of the story. What are a few of your favorite literary “worlds”?
Earthsea. Krypton. Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. That’s my trinity.
What is your writing process like?
I call my process Coffee and Hours. You sit for as many hours as you can stand or for as many as you’ve got available and you drink coffee and type. I used to be a pure panster, but I’m becoming a better outliner with every book. Following a plot or an outline helps me avoid dead ends and saves me from having to chuck out tens of thousands of words.
What, or who, have been some of your biggest influences in your writing?
I have a hard time separating out creative influences from influences specific to writing, and I have a hard time separating out things that have influenced me from just stuff I’ve read. So, the true answer is everything. All of it. The Icelandic sagas, medieval poetry, comic books, cartoons, novels, movies, illustrators, long drives down long highways … All of it.
Have you read any good books recently? Are there any you’re looking forward to in the near future?
Strange Country is the third book in Deborah Coates’ WIDE OPEN trilogy. The main character is Hallie Boyd, a soldier who was revived after being briefly dead. She returns to her hometown in South Dakota with the ability to see ghosts. It’s a story with real scope and big magic, but also a fine literary sensibility that makes great observations about its setting and the people who live there. I guess you’d call it rural fantasy or rural urban fantasy, but really it’s unique and wonderful
As for what I’m looking forward to, I’m reading for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy, so I’m looking forward to bunches of good YA and middle-grade stuff.
What are you currently reading?
Other than the Norton Award stuff, I’m reading Bill Bryson’s NOTES FROM A SMALL ISLAND. Bryson is one of my no-risk writers. I can grab anything of his off a shelf and know I’m going to like it.
You live in San Diego, and your love for the area is evident in the book. If someone were to visit you there for the first time, where would you take them?
I’d take them to the seal colony in La Jolla. It’s a small beach where seals hang out, doing whatever seals do. A lot of locals consider them a nuisance, but, enh, I’d rather watch a bunch of seals than watch a bunch of locals.
What’s next for you?
The second book in the trilogy, PACIFIC FIRE, comes out in January 2015, and the third book should be out in late summer or early fall next year. I’ve just started writing a new novel, but it’s so new and raw that I don’t want to say anything about it, because it’s still pink and raw and gross, like a newly hatched bird. But if it survives to feathers, I won’t stop talking about it.
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About CALIFORNIA BONES:
When Daniel Blackland was six, he ingested his first bone fragment, a bit of kraken spine plucked out of the sand during a visit with his demanding, brilliant, and powerful magician father, Sebastian.
When Daniel was twelve, he watched Sebastian die at the hands of the Hierarch of Southern California, devoured for the heightened magic layered deep within his bones.
Now, years later, Daniel is a petty thief with a forged identity. Hiding amid the crowds in Los Angeles—the capital of the Kingdom of Southern California—Daniel is trying to go straight. But his crime-boss uncle has a heist he wants Daniel to perform: break into the Hierarch’s storehouse of magical artifacts and retrieve Sebastian’s sword, an object of untold power.
For this dangerous mission, Daniel will need a team he can rely on, so he brings in his closest friends from his years in the criminal world. There’s Moth, who can take a bullet and heal in mere minutes. Jo Alverado, illusionist. The multitalented Cassandra, Daniel’s ex. And, new to them all, the enigmatic, knowledgeable Emma, with her British accent and her own grudge against the powers-that-be. The stakes are high, and the stage is set for a showdown that might just break the magic that protects a long-corrupt regime.