Picking Max Gladstone’s Brain
It is with the utmost pleasure that we have one of our favorite people stop by the blog for a chat. Max Gladstone has been a part of Serial Box since its inception and is not only the lead writer of Bookburners, but also a team author on The Witch Who Came In From The Cold (January, 2016). We’re honored by his involvement with our serials and thankful he took a break from his busy writing schedule to answer some of our questions!
Magic is real, and hungry — trapped in ancient texts and artifacts, only a few who discover it survive to fight back. Detective Sal Brooks is a survivor. Freshly awake to just what dangers are lurking, she joins a Vatican-backed black-ops anti-magic squad: Team Three of the Societas Librorum Occultorum. Together they stand between humanity and magical apocalypse. Some call them the Bookburners. They don’t like the label.
Bookburners is a 16-part Serial, presented by Serial Box. From a team of writers headed by Max Gladstone and including Mur Lafferty, Brian Francis Slattery, and Margaret Dunlap, this collaborative effort unfolds an epic urban fantasy narrative across an entire season in weekly installments.
Did you personally know or know of any of the other writers involved before this project?
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!
Who are some of the influences you’re pulling from in writing Bookburners?
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.
Do you have a favorite character or chapter you’d like to talk about briefly?
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!
Is it easier or harder to construct and subsequently work in a world that is not entirely your own creation, as opposed to writing your own solo project? What happens when there’s a disagreement about a character or story arc?
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!
A lot of your work deals with gods and religions — what’s the attraction for you to theologically grounded stories?
Since the dawn of time (echo echo echo) people have used the language of ultimacy to explain their relationships to one another to the broader universe; they told stories and formed communities around and in conversation with those stories, and one another. I think that behavior is fundamental to humanity; we use those same tools every day to build our own lives and communities, regardless of whether we think of ourselves as religious in any traditional sense. Stories about gods and religions are stories about people in conversation with themselves and their history, reforming, destroying, creating, healing and fighting and going mad. They’re fascinating, and terrifying, and vital.
What’s the next new direction you see fiction going in?
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.
Finally: what are you reading right now?
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.
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Max Gladstone has been thrown from a horse in Mongolia, drank almond milk with monks on Wudang Shan, and wrecked a bicycle in Angkor Wat. Max is also the author of the Craft Sequence of books about undead gods and skeletal law wizards — Full Fathom Five, Three Parts Dead, Two Serpents Rise, and Last First Snow. Max fools everyone by actually writing novels in the coffee shops of Davis Square in Somerville, MA. His dreams are much nicer than you’d expect. He’s online at MaxGladstone.com and tweets as@maxgladstone.