A Round Table with Max Gladstone, Margaret Dunlap, Mur Lafferty, and Brian Francis Slattery, authors of Bookburners

Serial Box Publishing has released Episode 1 and 2, with other episodes to come. Courtesy of the lovely folks at Serial Box, we’ve got a roundtable interview with Max Gladstone, Margaret Dunlap, Mur Lafferty and Brian Francis Slattery, which are the authors that contribute to Bookburners. Think of it like episodic TV, but with books! Please welcome these authors to the blog!

Did you personally know or know of any of the other writers involved before this project?

Max: Yes! Mur and I met when we were both finalists for the John W Campbell Best New Writer award in 2013. We and the other finalists got tiaras together and hung out in the Bar, that mythical land in which all writers can be found. I didn’t know either Brian or Margaret before our writer’s retreat, though it’s been great getting to know them!

Margaret: I didn’t know any of the other writers before I arrived at our story summit last October. I’d heard of their work and knew them by reputation, but the only person on the team I’d actually met was Julian [Yap, a co-founder of Serial Box Publishing]. When he told me who was going to be writing for Bookburners my first reaction was something like, “Well, no fear of being the smartest person in *that* room.”

Do you have a favorite Bookburners episode or character? If so, why?

Max: I’m partial to Episode 7, in which we learn [SPOILER] about [SPOILER], and then [SPOILER]. The sixth episode is also really great—enormous storm-devouring monsters and back-room church skullduggery!

Mur: I’m fond of them all. But I guess I love Grace for staying strong in the face of a very weird and unfortunate life and I love Asanti for stubbornly maintaining an interest in magic as a force for neither good nor evil. Liam is sexy and broken and Sal is the warrior who forges on ahead, no matter how many wounds, metaphorical or literal, she’s bleeding from. And poor Menchu must wrangle them all and still shield them from the Church.

Margaret: I love all of our leads, but I also really enjoy exploring our more minor players. These are the little guys, usually created to serve a specific story need or add color to the world and then fade back into the background, but sometimes they surprise you and turn into more. You plant them as tiny seeds
in one episode and then watch as they grow into something you never imagined.

Brian: So far my favorite Bookburners episode is one Max wrote that has Grace’s backstory in it. I guess I should just stop there since I don’t want to give anything away. But the bigger truth is that I think every episode Mur, Max, and Margaret have written have a bunch of wonderful moments in them that I would never have thought to write, and the sense that we’ve managed to create something that lets all of us still roam pretty free in our individual episodes is thrilling to me.

Who are some of the influences you’re pulling from in writing Bookburners?

Mur: I’m looking into a bunch of ensemble television shows such as Leverage and Babylon 5 to get a sense of how a team of people works together within a large story arc.

Max: All over the place, and each writer’s bringing a different set. I’m drawing heavily off the X-Files, Charlie Stross’ Laundry books, and, on the lighter side, Another Roadside Attraction and The Middleman.

Brian: Oh, man. That’s a long list. There’s some Fritz Lieber thrown in there for me, and some Michael Moorcock (particularly the Elric books), and there’s Buffy and Repo Man and, for the magic, just the general vibe of Spanish and Latin American cinema, from The Spirit of the Beehive to Pan’s Labyrinth, which I made some fairly explicit nods to early on, though I think we’ve managed to run in our own sort of direction with it by now.

Is it easier or harder to work in a world that is not entirely your own creation, as opposed to working on your own solo project?

Mur: Its both! It’s easier in the way that if you get stuck, then you have a whole bunch of other people who know the story as intimately as you do who are ready to help. It’s harder in the way that we all must agree in the direction a story is going. When there’s a disagreement, we talk it out as a team. You learn what battles are worth fighting and which are ok to let go.

Max: It’s easier in some ways, harder in others. Easily the best part—for me—is getting to pitch an idea to a room full of brilliant people and go “Hey! What do we think about…. THIS?” And then you see, in real time, whose eyes light up and whose go dead! Normally when I’m working on my own that’s at least several hours of grinding through outlines and possible plot developments. The hardest part, but most valuable, has been learning how to outline and story break. I do most of that stuff instinctively, in my head—but since we’re writing episodes in parallel, it really helps to be able to show people in advance what I’m going to do. Some of that’s snuck back into my novel writing, now!

Brian: I’m not sure I think of it as easier or harder. Both are great. I will say that working with other people means there are more surprises, and I like surprises. A lot.

What’s the next new direction you see fiction going in?

Mur: Episodic, shorter works. Work that is 15000 to 30000 words is becoming much hotter lately, and it’s a great length to write within.

Max: The Serial Box direction, of course! Seriously though, fiction—especially genre fiction—is passing through a fascinating phase of growth, development, and transformation. The ebook revolution has made the publication of shorter fiction viable, but readers also love experiences with the breadth and depth larger projects offer; I think Serial Box could be the best of both worlds.

What defines a great story?

Brian: That’s a heck of a question. Maybe the best way to answer it is by telling you how I ultimately pick the fiction submissions I want to publish as a fiction editor for the New Haven Review. There isn’t a specific writing style that gets me, or plot, or characters. The ones I publish are the ones that I wake up the next morning still thinking about, the ones that pop into my head while I’m making coffee; the ones that change me in some subtle way.

Margaret: Man, that’s a big question. I feel like what makes a story great is very much a matter of perspective; a story that’s great to me might not be to someone else, even someone with generally similar tastes. If I had to define one quality of a great story, it would be that it resonates with an audience, whether that’s an audience of one or one-million.

Finally: what are you reading right now?

Mur: I just got done with an Agatha Christie binge, and going to be starting Leviathan Wakes. In audiobook I’m listening to a YA clone book called Dualed.

Max: Hannu Rajaniemi’s Collected Short Fiction. That guy’s a monster. If I hadn’t met him in person, I’d suspect he was actually a genetic algorithm bred over millions of generations to write science fiction. Theoretically, while I have met him, it’s still theoretically possible that he’s a genetic algorithm bred over millions of generations to write science fiction and then implanted in a clone body. It’s good, is what I’m saying.

Brian: Right now I am making my way through a big fun Argentinian novel called Adam Buenosayres, which is wonderfully weird and just getting weirder. Before that I read Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death, which I loved. I also read this excellent nonfiction book by Lee Sandlin called Storm Kings, about tornadoes in the United States, the devastation they’ve wrought, and our growing ability to track them. That was partly because I love Lee Sandlin and partly research for a Bookburners episode, but now I feel like I’ve said too much.

Margaret: Not nearly enough! It’s staffing season in L.A., so I’m reading a lot of the new pilots or catching up with shows already on the air. My “to be read” pile is literally hip deep. I depend on audiobooks in the car to keep me from falling hopelessly behind. Right now, I’m waiting for my library to get the third volume of Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan trilogy in and listening to Ghettoside by Jill Leovy.

About Serial Box:
This September, new publisher Serial Box is bursting onto the scene and bringing everything that’s awesome about TV (easily digestible episodes, team written, new content every week) to what was already cool about books (well-crafted stories, talented authors, enjoyable anywhere).

New episodes will release every Wednesday and can be enjoyed on their own but build over the course of a season to tell a greater story. Episodes will be available in both digital and audio forms via their website, app, and wherever ebooks are sold.

Their first serial is Bookburners, an urban fantasy adventure following a black-ops anti-magic squad backed by the Vatican. Wandering from police procedural to New Weird and dabbling in most genres in between, Bookburners will keep you hungry for more, week after week.

Led by Max Gladstone (Choice of the Deathless and Three Parts Dead) the writing team includes Margaret Dunlap(Eureka), Mur Lafferty (The Shambling Guide to New York City) and Brian Francis Slattery (Lost Everything).

Check out the first episode for free on SerialBox.com!

Bookburners and all future Serial Box serials will be available on the site, in the app, and on iTunes, Amazon, Kobo, Google Play, and B&N.

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