Exclusive Interview: Ash Kickers Author Sean Grigsby


With firefighters battling dragons and a phoenix, you might think Sean Grigsby’s novels Ash Kickers (paperback, Kindle) — the sequel to last year’s Smoke Eaters — is an urban fantasy tale. But in the following email interview, Sean not only explains why he thinks this book belongs in a different section of your local library, but also why it’s not as much like the people fighting dragons movie Reign Of Fire as you might think.

Sean Grigsby Ash Kickers Smoke Eaters

Let’s start with some background. For those who didn’t read Smoke Eaters, what is this series about?

“Firefighters versus dragons in the future” is the tagline I always use. It’s set in the 2120s. Dragons have emerged from beneath the earth after 1500 years of hibernation. America has become a scattering of city states among ashen wasteland, and people born to breathe dragon smoke are the only ones who can fight the dragon menace. With Ash Kickers, there’s now a phoenix to deal with.

And then what is Ash Kickers about, and how does it connect, both narratively and chronologically, to Smoke Eaters?

This time, we’re riding along with Tamerica Williams, who was also in the first book. She’s tired of the new procedure of dealing with dragons. Instead of slaying them, the smoke eaters tranquilize and lock away the dragons while using their blood to cure diseases. But when the phoenix comes, it brings a heap of trouble that will demand a new way of doing things.

When in relation to writing Smoke Eaters did you come up with the idea for Ash Kickers, and how, if at all, did that idea evolve as you wrote these books?

I write every book as if it was going to be a stand-alone, so when Angry Robot was interested in Smoke Eaters, they asked me for ideas for future books. I stayed pretty true to the synopsis, though. I’m a punster, so things happen organically over the course of writing a book. A lot of the plot elements I put in the first book have transformed into different kinds of conflict for the second.

Smoke Eaters and Ash Kickers are urban fantasy stories. But are there any other genres or subgenres or combinations of them at work in these stories as well? Because calling your book Ash Kickers makes me think they might be a bit lighthearted.

Honestly, I never considered these books to be urban fantasy, but a lot of readers jumped on that, and it’s totally cool with me. If it’s urban fantasy, it’s unlike any urban fantasy you might have read before. I always considered this series to be science fiction, or maybe even science fantasy. It’s definitely not hard sci-fi. I’ve always liked the fantastical kind of science fiction. I don’t go into a book looking for reality. Are you kidding? I want cool adventure and lasers! There’s also a lot of horror elements to my writing. Kudos to anyone who can successfully categorize my books.

As far as humor, there’s definitely a good bit of it, but I wouldn’t call these books lighthearted. This is a dark world where people die on the regular. It’s not post-apocalyptic, but it’s damn close. Firefighters are known for their particular brand of humor, and I definitely wanted to show that. It helps to balance the darker parts of the story.

Are there any writers, or maybe specific novels, that were a big influence on Ash Kickers but not on Smoke Eaters?

If there are, it’s purely on a subconscious level. A lot of good books get me thinking about the novel I’m working on, but I never try to copy anyone. I just note what I like about it, what I don’t, and why.

How about non-literary influences, such as movies, TV shows, and video games? Did any of them have a particularly big influence on Ash Kickers, either in what you wrote or how you wrote it?

I don’t care what anyone says, Rampage was one of my favorite movies of 2018, and I played the video game all the time as a kid. For the big finale in Ash Kickers, I wanted that over-the-top, cinematic action where buildings are destroyed as dragons rampage through Parthenon City.

A lot of people point out the comparison to Reign Of Fire. Apart from dragons rising from hibernation, though, they have nothing else in common. Some people have tried to tell me Matthew McConaughey and Christian Bale were firefighters in that movie. No. They weren’t.

I’m influenced by everything, though. Sometimes stories start out as seeds. Others hit you upside the head like a brick.

Sean Grigsby Ash Kickers Smoke Eaters

Now, along with writing, you are also a firefighter. In writing Ash Kickers, were there ever any times when you had to choose between being accurate about fighting fires or telling a good story?

I tried my best to do both. Dragons, and a phoenix for that matter, are great metaphors for fire. I tried to be accurate on the fire science but, when it comes down to it, with all my books, the story rules.

So what do your fellow firefighters think of your books?

From what I hear they love them. One guy, who never reads, finished it in a day. I can’t even read that fast and I’m buried in books. A lot of folks say the camaraderie and humor are dead on.

As we’ve been discussing, Ash Kickers is the sequel to your 2018 novel, Smoke Eaters. What can you tell us about this series in terms of whether it’s an ongoing thing, a series of stand-alone novels, or a set number of books like a trilogy?

The Smoke Eaters series will more than likely be a trilogy, but that’s ultimately up to my publisher. I have an idea for a third book, but I’m not sure about anything past that. I have a lot of ideas in different worlds with different characters that explore other facets of what I find interesting and am passionate about.

That said, if the demand is there, and I have an idea for more books, then hell yeah, I’ll write more. As long as I don’t feel like my other projects are being put on the back burner.

As you know, some people wait until every book in a series is out before reading any of them, and some will then read them back-to-back. But is there any reason why you think people shouldn’t wait for that third book before reading Smoke Eaters and Ash Kickers?

Don’t wait! Ash Kickers ends with a huge bang and spoilers. If you don’t want others to ruin it, I suggest you get in on this party now.

Earlier we talked about the movies that inspired Ash Kickers. But has there been any interest in making a movie out of Smoke Eaters and Ash Kickers?

I have had interest in making Smoke Eaters into a movie. There’s not much I’d want to talk about at the moment, but I’d see it as a summer blockbuster, or maybe a Netflix movie. Hell, the Game Of Thrones dragons might need acting work now that the show is over. (I hope people know I’m kidding.)

Yes, I think we all know those dragons are booked solid through 2023. We all read the trades.

Smoke Eaters would definitely work as a video game, too. You’ve got gnarly monsters, ghosts, robots, and cool weaponry to dispatch them all.

If Smoke Eaters and Ash Kickers were going to be made into a movie, who would you want them to cast in the main roles?

Bruce Willis [Die Hard] or Kurt Russell [Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2] would be perfect for Brannigan. Sam Jackson [Captain Marvel] would be great as either Donahue or Renfro. Tamerica Williams would be a great role for Tessa Thompson [Thor Ragnarok].

And if it was made into a game instead?

If it was made into a video game, I think Rockstar [Grand Theft Auto V] or Bethesda [Fallout 4] would do a great job with it.

Sean Grigsby Ash Kickers Smoke Eaters

Finally, if someone enjoys Smoke Eaters and Ash Kickers, what career-centric urban fantasy novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read next?

I haven’t read much career-centric urban fantasy, but Dale Lucas has a series from Orbit Books called First Watch. It’s from the fantasy cop end of things. Also, Jamie Davis has a series called Extreme Medical Services, about magic paramedics.



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