How long have you been writing fiction?
I first sent out a magazine story (to F&SF) in 1985, though I didn’t really get serious until maybe 1990. My first publication was in Asimov’s in 1994.
How has living in the SF Bay Area affected your writing or your writing career?
It let me live with my wife — that was hugely important! I think the cosmopolitan atmosphere’s had an effect on my imagination, but that’s a hard thing to pin down.
When did you first “meet” Gaunt and Bone as characters?
I think it was 1999 or so. I wanted to do a series of loosely-connected stories set in a dreamlike fantasy world reminiscent of Leiber’s Nehwon or Lovecraft’s Dreamlands or Dunsany’s “lands beyond the fields we know.” The first story featured a thief and his lover and the idea of a rakish swashbuckler teaming up with a melancholy poet clicked with me. They quickly took over the show.
Marriage, love, and parenthood are important themes in the book. Why did you choose to have Gaunt and Bone be lovers and not a married couple when the book begins?
The easy answer is that that’s how they are in the preceding short stories. But more to the point, I think they’re that way because initially it’s unclear to them just how important each really is to the other. There was, I think, a long period of thinking it was all a passing thing. And later, as for having a kid while unmarried, well, they’re pretty unconventional people, and very suspicious of traditions and institutions. It may be that the long-term arc of their story is coming to terms with “society,” whatever that means for them.
Flybait was one of my favorite characters. Can you talk a little bit about his role in the novel from the author perspective?
He walked on as a foil to the character of Next-One-a-Boy. Because she was pretty serious, he was more comic. He got more important between drafts. A lot of things about him were unplanned; he’s an impulsive character so the things he did and said were pretty off-the-cuff. I think he’s also one of my favorite character types — the guy who’s in way over his head.
To me the book has two truly meaningful climaxes: a noisy one, the demise of the dragons, and an equally important, but quieter wedding ceremony. Can you talk about how you experienced writing and creating the final chapters of your book?
It was pretty intuitive. I wasn’t sure how things would end. What I wanted was a bittersweet ending in line with wuxia movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and House of Flying Daggers. There had to be tragedy but also understanding. (Although unlike in wuxia movies, I didn’t feel I should kill off my lead characters.) I wasn’t completely sure how to get there, but Bone’s dialogue with the Eastern dragon made the theme crystallize for me. You could call it love in the face of loss, although that sounds cliché when I actually write it down. In the midst of danger some of the characters come to a deep understanding of what matters to them, and in some cases that means marriage.
So much of the action in the book is dependent on location imagery: high walls, deep crevices, and so much of it is fighting. Why did you choose as an author to tell such important stories (birth, coming of age, marriage, finding one’s true life path) with knives, staffs, and martial arts style fighting (or escaping)?
I think the process actually worked the other way around — I was self-consciously writing in sword-and-sorcery mode, which means action and spectacle and lots of it. Plus, I think that’s an interesting point about all the heights and plunges; I think there’s a swashbuckling vibe there too, where defying gravity (and fate, and social convention, and all kinds of other things) is a big deal. So those tropes are my starting point.
But having written about a boyfriend-and-girlfriend pair of adventurers, it was natural to ask just where they were going, in more ways than one. So the themes of marriage and family came naturally out of where Gaunt and Bone were as characters. That probably colored the rest of the story as I came up with the supporting cast. I think that’s one advantage of making up a story as you go — the thematic stuff comes together more organically. (There are advantages to careful outlining too, though; I don’t think one way is superior to the other.)
This interview first appeared in The Drink Tank issue 361,