Interview: Greg Van Eekhout Talks About his New Urban Fantasy CALIFORNIA BONES
California native author Greg Van Eekhout is the author of the adult fantasy novel Norse Code and the middle grade science fiction and fantasy novels Kid vs. Squid and Boy at the End of the World. His latest novel, the first in a new urban fantasy series, is California Bones. Greg answered some questions about himself, his dog Dozer, and his new novel.
PW: Tell me about Greg Van Eekhout.
Greg Van Eekhout: Jeez, that dude. I am descended from Dutch colonists and colonized Indonesians, largely consisting of clerks and unassuming bookish folk. California Bones is my fourth novel, following my fantasy debut, Norse Code, and two middle-grade novels, Kid vs. Squid and The Boy at the End of the World. I live in San Diego with my wife and a dog. The dog is named Dozer and I’m more comfortable talking about him than I am about myself.
PW: You’ve dipped your pen into Middle Grade as well as adult novels. What did you learn from writing Boy at the End of the World and Kid versus Squid that you’ve applied going forward for your adult fiction?
GV: Most novels draw on the same basic building materials: Characters changed by the events they experience which take place in worlds of some kind. With each book I write, I’m just trying to get better at executing the fundamentals. I’m always trying to make my characters and worlds more fully realized, and I’m trying to make the words do the work more efficiently and elegantly. But more specifically, going back to Norse Code and through Kid vs. Squid and The Boy at the End of the World, I’m trying to effectively balance humor and darkness. I want the reader to laugh and cringe as close to the same time as I can arrange. Reviewers have described California Bones as everything from breezy and light to intricate and dark. So I’ve either succeeded in my goals or failed miserably. My dog Dozer is a Jack Russell/yorkie mix.
GV: Wizards get their powers from consuming the bones of extinct magical creatures, such as dragons and griffins and basilisks and so forth. The La Brea Tar Pits are a particularly rich source of these bones. Daniel Blackland is a young wizard-thief who takes on the job of breaking into the stronghold of the Southern California kingdom’s ruling wizard to steal a very special magical artifact. Magical hijinks ensue. Dozer is also a thief, primarily of socks.
PW: The world of California Bones is our world, but with magic–but an alternate history. Why do it that way?
GV: I don’t know if I’d call it alternate history, because that’s a distinct subgenre of science fiction. But, yes, the world of California Bones and its history are different than our own. For one thing, Southern and Northern California are two rival kingdoms, both of them broken off from the United States. I had the choice of making the world almost exactly like our own with the exception that magic works, or else changing things in some major ways. I chose to do the latter because it seemed strangely more logical to me, and also it seemed like more fun to me. I walk Dozer on the beach a lot. He likes to eat jelly fish, but I try not to let him.
PW: Magic as the technology in the real world reminds me of books like The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump. What authors and stories inspired you in constructing the world of California Bones?
GV: Everything I’ve read and watched and experienced gets all mashed up into a giant, pulsating ball of gooey influence, so it’s hard to separate out individual books and authors. But someone on the book tour I just finished asked about the influence of Sean Stewart, whose work I love, and I’m sure he’s in there. Definitely Tim Powers, who’s written a lot of great contemporary fantasy stories that take place in LA. Then there’s Ray Bradbury, Rod Sterling, Harlan Ellison, James Elroy, Raymond Chandler … Like I said, a big, gooey ball of influences. Dozer is a poor writer and not a major literary influence on me.
GV: The transportation system in the Southern California kingdom consists of canals and elevated flumeways and boats instead of roads and freeways and cars. The canal system forms a huge, sprawling mandala energized by rushing ocean water that generates its own magical energy, which the kingdom’s chief water mage, an ancient William Mulholland, uses to maintain his own power. I did this to establish a very big and obvious difference between my fictional world and the world as it is. It also complicates the politics and power struggles of the world in ways that I found fun and interesting. Dozer was six months old when we got him from a rescue shelter. He’s about four years old now. He hasn’t changed much, and I find that weird.
PW: With California Bones now out, what’s next for you?
GV: California Bones is the first volume of a trilogy. The second book comes out in January 2015, and the third book comes out in late summer or early fall 2015. I’d love to write more books in the world, but that’ll depend on readers buying these books and wanting more. I’m also still in love with middle-grade books, and I’ve just started a new middle-grade novel that I’m having fun with. Dozer is not a character in any of my books.
PW: Where can readers find out more about you and your work?
GV: I keep links to my work and a basic bio and occasional blog at www.writingandsnacks.com. And I tweet about my work and gardening and general blathery stuff at twitter.com/gregvaneekhout. I tweet about Dozer quite a bit. Dog pics and everything.
PW: Thanks Greg (and Dozer)!
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