David Tallerman is the author of numerous short stories, as well as comic scripts, poems, reviews and articles. David’s work ranges from gruesome horror to comic fantasy, from political science-fiction to tales about mechanically assisted grizzly bears battling Nazi dolphins on the moon. His first novel, Giant Thief, was recently published by Angry Robot.
It’s not always easy to know what genre you want to write in.
Or not for me anyway. I’ll read just about anything, with maybe the exception of Cowboy Romance, and if I like it, it tends to spark ideas, which don’t always arrive in any neat order. I’m more than happy to think of myself as a genre writer. But which genre — and where it ends and all those others begin — are questions to which I’m less and less sure of the answers.
So it went with what would wind up being my debut novel, Giant Thief. I set out with the clear intention of writing Fantasy, but I’d hardly started before another genre started trying to elbow its way in. In fact, there were days when I wasn’t sure if I didn’t have it all backwards. Was it possible I was really writing a Crime novel with Fantasy thrown in and not the other way round?
Fantasy is as close as I have to a writing comfort zone. Crime is somewhere towards the other end of the spectrum, if only because in real life it’s something I’ve done my best to avoid at every turn. Most of my Crime knowledge, then, comes from movies – heck, most of my knowledge full stop comes from movies! – and that seems more and more to bleed into my fiction. To be honest, it’s also shaped my perception of reality a little more than is healthy. And when it came to my thieving protagonist Easie Damasco, it definitely didn’t do his life expectancy any favours…
For example: Thanks to any number of film noir, when my brain hears Crime my first thought is “hero who gets kicked around the room in every second scene.” Obviously, that’s usually the detectives and not the criminals. But since Easie Damasco is nominally the hero of Giant Thief, doesn’t it make sense that he should take beatings on a regular basis, just like Marlowe or Spade? After all, Damasco is their distant kin, a man destined to travel hard roads, to struggle against tough breaks and bad men for what he believes in. The only difference is that the one and only thing Damasco believes in is his own self-interest.
Or maybe that’s unfair. As Giant Thief goes on, Damasco does slip into the role of detective, as he’s forced to figure out the bigger picture he’s found himself trapped in. Only his investigative approach is closer to Marlowe as played by Elliot Gould in The Long Goodbye or (under a pseudonym) by Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski. Sometimes you find the truth by acting as if you’re not looking for it, sometimes its by being in enough of the wrong places at all the wrong times – and, in Damasco’s case anyway, sometimes you find the truth by refusing to ask any of the right questions and generally running as fast as you can to get away from it.
Still, Damasco’s always a criminal at heart – and every fictional criminal deserves a high point to their life of wrongdoing. Usually it’s the exact moment before the sirens start clanging, before the walls close in for the last time. And so once I knew Crime would be a major element, I knew there had to be a heist. Because, assuming you’re coming at it from the criminal end, the heist is the absolute high-water mark of crime. Think I’m wrong? Then name me better Crime movies than Rififi, The Killing, or The Usual Suspects.
Of course, Damasco’s take is a little different. He isn’t ripping off a bank vault or a racetrack; his partner isn’t a master safecracker or some hired gun. No, Damasco’s heist involves the local Prince, his heavily guarded palace and his guests’ expensive belongings, and his partner is a pacifist giant who’s more a liability than a help.
So why take the risk? Whatever Damasco might claim, the truth is he just can’t help himself. In fact, his helplessness in the face of his own criminal instincts is about the first thing we learn about him. As Giant Thief opens, his light fingers have already got him into trouble, and his neck into a hangman’s noose. Only a little later, when he has the opportunity to walk (well, ride on stolen giant) away with his skin intact, Damasco decides instead to rob the invading warlord Moaradrid – and in so doing, sets off a chain of events that will doom him, one way or another.
There’s the physical peril of course, the threat of Moaradrid and his entire army on his tail. Like Peter O’Toole in Rogue Male, it’s not long before Damasco finds himself a hunted man, pitted against an enemy with vast resources and no notion of restraint. But in the long run, the biggest threat to Damasco’s wellbeing turns out to another, less tangible staple of the genre: his nagging conscience. As he’s forced increasingly to witness the consequences of his lifestyle choice and to take responsibility for fates other than his own, so Damasco’s developing sense of right and wrong begins to get the better of his determined selfishness.
And that’s a tough thing to happen when selfishness may be the one thing keeping him alive…