Exclusive Interview: “Bad Gods” Author Gaie Sebold
When Gaie Sebold released her fantasy novel Babylon Steel in 2011, she probably wasn’t thinking she was ahead of the curve by making her hero an unapologetic sex worker. But a lot can happen in 11 years. Including interest in a book, which brings me to Bad Gods (paperback, Kindle, audiobook), a retitled, re-covered, but otherwise untouched new version of Steel. In the following email interview, Sebold discusses both the new and original versions of this fantasy tale.
Let’s begin with some background. What was Babylon Steel about, and what kind of world is it set in?
It’s about a woman who used to be a sword for hire, and was once connected to a goddess of love and war, who now runs a brothel in a city which is linked by a series of portals to several different planes. She’s asked to hunt down a missing woman, and encounters a serial killer, while trying to avoid dealing with her own past.
Where did you get the original idea for Babylon Steel?
That’s a tough one. Not only is it more than a decade since the book came out — yikes — but I think, as with most story ideas, there wasn’t a single starting point. I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of portals, and I’ve always enjoyed crime fiction, so the story bubbled up from a combination of those. Also, I was learning longsword at the time so the sword fighting angle fed into it as well.
And is there a reason your main character, Babylon Steel, runs a brothel as opposed to a bar that’s secretly a brothel or a men’s club that’s secretly a brothel or a blacksmith’s shop that’s also secretly a bar out of which she runs a brothel?
Hah! I wanted to write about someone for whom sex was a craft, and a source of pride as well as pleasure, not something to hide away and be ashamed of, and about a culture in which (most) people accepted that point of view. Not to mention that she’s connected to a literal goddess of sex, so the idea of it as something to be hidden away is pretty strange to her.
Babylon Steel is a fantasy tale, though a humorous one. But is it a parody or satire of fantasy stories, or a serious adventure that has humor in it?
The latter, I would say. I love fantasy: fantasy, sci-fi, and horror have been my major reading material pretty much since I learned to read. Oh, and crime. And classic literature. I read a lot, basically. But fantasy is my first love. I see it as just as important, serious, and influential as any other form of literature — and of course, a lot of classic literature is fantasy. It wasn’t that I felt it needed humor, so much as that was just the way the story presented itself.
Who then would you cite as being a big influence on the humor in Babylon Steel?
I adore Terry Pratchett, and I think he was a major influence in showing me that you could examine serious ideas in a humorous way, and of course he did it in a fantasy setting, too. I would never dare actually compare myself to possibly the most loved fantasy author of all time, but he was definitely an influence. Dianne Wynne Jones was another, and the earliest humorous fantasy book I remember reading, The Land Of Green Ginger by Noel Langley. That was the first one I remember combining the fantasy / fairy tale ideas and settings I adored with comedy.
Along with Pratchett, Wynne, and Langley, what other writers do you think had a big influence on Babylon Steel?
Now that’s a really tough question. I’m trying to remember who else I was reading at the time. Which I really can’t. To be fair, though, I think that everything I read probably goes into a sort of pool and then influences, to greater or lesser degree, everything I write. So pulling out a single influence other than those previously mentioned would be pretty much impossible — and those writers also have influenced other books.
How about non-literary influences; do you think Babylon Steel was influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
Buffy The Vampire Slayer is almost certainly in there somewhere. I didn’t play role-playing games at the time, so none of those. I still don’t really play them except for World Of Warcraft, which I only got into in about the last six months! (Am I at the cutting edge of culture or what, eh?) I had started LARPing (a system called Heroes And Heroines), and I think that probably worked its way in. Films…hmm. None that I can think of specifically, but I’m sure there were influences. It all goes in the pool.
What about your paranoid cat? Did you have him at the time you wrote Babylon Steel?
Ah, bless, I did. That was Schrodinger. He’s no longer with us, though he made it to 19, which is not bad. His major influence on the book was sitting on me while I wrote it. And general catness. Things I write tend to have a cat turn up in them here and there.
And then, to flip the questions of influence around, how do you think writing Babylon Steel influenced the books you wrote after it?
Ooh, interesting, I never thought of that. I think it made me realize I could play with ideas that interested me, and maybe other people would find them interesting too, instead of them being just weird stuff only suitable for the inside of my own head. Although no doubt some people will consider them just that, but that’s how it goes.
Now, this interview is going to coincide with the release of Bad Gods, which is a new version of Babylon Steel. What prompted the name change?
My publisher, Solaris, suggested the name change, and we came up with a number of suggestions between us. I think it was the editor, David Moore, who came up with Bad Gods, but it could have been me. (I swear, I have Pandemic Brain. My memory is just…gone.)
Bad Gods also has a new cover. But aside from that, and the name change, did you make any other changes to the book?
No, it’s going out pretty much as it went before. Unless someone’s spotted any typos since then.
Babylon Steel was followed by a sequel called Dangerous Gifts. Is Dangerous Gifts going to be reissued as well?
Whether Dangerous Gifts is reissued will really depend on the reaction to Bad Gods. So at this point, all I can say is, Don’t Know. Sorry.
I’m also curious about this series. Did Babylon Steel and Dangerous Gifts form a duology, were they just the first two books in an ongoing series?
It was always intended to be a series. If there is sufficient interest, I have more stories in that world I want to tell, and I’d like to complete the overall story arc that underlies the main plots of the first two books.
Earlier I asked if Babylon Steel had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. Did anyone ever express any interest in turning Babylon Steel into a movie, show, or game?
Alas, no one (apart from some enthusiastic fans) has suggested turning it into one of these. I like the idea of a series, admittedly. I think those give time to round out the secondary characters and show more detail of the world in a way that’s hard for a single film to do. But if someone wanted to turn it into a film, I’d hardly turn them down.
And if that did happen, who would you want them to cast as Babylon and the other main characters?
Ooh. Fan casting. A lot of the people I would have originally cast (yes, I did probably spend too much time thinking about this when I should have been writing) have possibly aged out of the characters by now. But then again, I think Sophie Okonedo would be an amazing Babylon and she’s in her 50s. I kind of love the idea of Jason Statham as Flower (he’d need cgi’ing to make him bigger than everyone else, mind. I don’t know how he’d feel about green skin and tusks, but he seems like a good sport, so maybe he’d get into it? Laney — maybe Lily Cole. She has that fey face. Bitternut…hmm. Idris Elba. Or possibly Ewan McGregor. Though McGregor would also make a good Darask Fain. The twins are tricky…. Argh…no, I could spend far too long on this.
Finally, if someone enjoys Bad Gods, which of your other novels would you suggest they read next?
Well, if they like steampunk I’d suggest the Gears Of Empire books [Shanghai Sparrow and Sparrow Falling], though they are less lighthearted, on the whole. I think they’d probably enjoy my novella, A Hazardous Engagement. It’s a fantasy heist, which was something I wanted to do for ages. I hope people have as much fun reading it as I did writing it! There’s also a story featuring Babylon Steel in the anthology Wicked Women from Fox Spirit, and a number of other stories in various anthologies, all of which can be found by searching my name on Amazon.