Some writers are loath to admit that their stories are at all similar by someone else’s. But in the following email interview with writer A.C. Haskins about his new noir urban fantasy mystery tale Blood And Whispers (paperback, Kindle), he admits that his debut novel was initially an inadvertent rip-off of a writer he’d never read.
To start, what is Blood And Whispers about, and when and where is it set?
Blood And Whispers is an urban fantasy about a 200+ year old sorcerer with severe PTSD from a lifetime of battling magical threats to humanity. He wants nothing more than to be left alone to live a quiet life, running a small occult supplies shop and drinking away his nightmares, but he’s forced to come out of retirement when someone starts ritually sacrificing sorcerers in his town. It’s primarily set in modern Philadelphia, although he also travels to Brooklyn, Egypt, and the Otherworld.
What inspired this story, and how, if at all, did the original idea change as you wrote it?
I majored in international history in my undergrad, focusing on pre-Christian Ireland, so I studied a lot of Celtic and Norse history and folklore, and knew whenever I got around to writing a book I wanted to incorporate that somehow. I actually originally starting writing the book because I figured a mystery would be fairly simple to write, and I made it an urban fantasy to incorporate those interests. But after writing a few chapters, I was describing it to my best friend and he said, “So, basically you’re re-writing The Dresden Files.” At the time I hadn’t read any of Jim Butcher’s work, so I checked them out and realized I had, in fact, accidentally ripped off Harry Dresden, almost to a T. It was actually pretty funny how closely my opening chapters mirrored the beginning of Storm Front [the first Dresden Files novel].
So I took step back and set to figuring out how to make sure my story wasn’t just a Jim Butcher derivative. Thomas Quinn became a lot older and a lot grumpier (and a lot more alcoholic); his world changed a lot, the way I presented the Fae and other magical creatures had to change, the way magic worked changed, etc. Plus, at the time I was figuring all this out I was serving in Afghanistan, and I started to think, “Well, what if he’s a war veteran with the psychological effects of centuries of battling monsters? How would that affect him?” So Quinn became a war hero who hates that term, who rejects the idea that he’s any kind of hero, that he might even be as monstrous as any of the creatures he’d fought. I’m not particularly scarred by my own experiences, but it was interesting to add that facet to the story and explore it in the book.
The book ended up being quite different from what I originally set out to write, but I think it’s far, far better for those changes.
As you said, Blood And Whispers is an urban fantasy story. But are there other genres at work in this novel as well? Because it sounds like there might be a bit of noir to this story.
Well, it’s obviously a mystery, and I suppose there are some noir elements — a gruff, hard-drinking narrator, a femme fatale, etc. But really I like to think of it mostly as a psychological portrait of a broken man seeking some form of redemption for his many sins. The fantasy, the noir, the mystery, are all really just set dressing to let me as the author explore what it would mean to have done the kinds of things Quinn did for so long, how that would affect his view of the world, etc. Of course, it was still a lot of fun to work out the mechanics of the fantasy elements and how they mesh with the real world.
The title also makes it sound kind of scary. Is there a bit of horror in this tale as well?
I wouldn’t really say “horror,” though there are a couple of pretty graphically described murder scenes, and we definitely see the dark side of the Fae at a couple points. But really more just general suspense than proper horror. The monsters in this particular story are mostly people.
Now, while Blood And Whispers is your first published novel, it’s not the first thing you’ve written. Are there any writers, or stories, that had a big influence on this Blood And Whispers but not on anything else you’ve written?
I’d say the people who had the biggest influence on this story who didn’t also influence my other writing were my best friend, Phil Bolger — whose own urban fantasy novel, The Devil’s Gunman, is worth checking out — and Toni Weisskopf, the chief publisher at Baen, who was kind enough to give me page-by-page feedback on the first draft of my manuscript. Phil really helped me define Quinn as a character and streamline a lot of the story itself; Toni helped me shape the first third or so of the book into something that would really draw the reader in, to get them to care about Quinn as a person and root for him despite his general surliness.
Other than those two specific people, obviously there was a big influence from Celtic mythology, especially Irish stories like the Ulster and Mythological Cycles (the Lebor Gabála Érenn, Cath Maighe Tuireadh, and Aislinge Óenguso all contributed heavily, among others). There’re a few references to the Nibelungenlied, too, along with other assorted myths. And the Faerie Market scene was pretty clearly influenced by the Floating Market in Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere (and a bit by the Troll Market scene in Hellboy II).
Aside from that scene in Hellboy II, was Blood And Whispers influenced by any other movies, TV shows, or games?
I think I first got the idea to write a mystery while watching the show Castle, so there’s that. Otherwise, probably just tone and general tropes from dark urban fantasies like Pan’s Labyrinth (which definitely captures a lot of the feeling I intended for the Otherworld). Quinn’s voice in my head sounds an awful lot like Liam Neeson, if that counts.
It does. Anyway, some urban fantasy stories are stand-alone novels, while others are part of a series. What is Blood And Whispers?
It’s definitely set up to be the first in a series. While it ties up the story and theoretically I could end it there, there are definitely a lot of places to go from here. I think speculative fiction lends itself really well to the series format, because when you’ve put in all that effort to build an interesting world, it’s fun to keep exploring it beyond the bounds of a single novel. I definitely plan on coming back to Quinn and the Arcanum and the Otherworld in future books and stories.
So, will be an ongoing series or a set number of books?
I really haven’t decided, to be honest. I have a sense of where the story goes from here, but whether that plays out across three books or seven or more, we’ll have to find out together. It won’t be truly “ongoing.” I have a definite conclusion to Quinn’s story in mind. But it’ll be an adventure along the way. And, of course, in an open world like this one, there’s always the potential for interesting side-stories and other characters to explore.
Earlier I asked if Blood And Whispers had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But do you think this story would work as a movie, show, or game?
I think it could absolutely be adapted to other media. Personally, I’d prefer it as a show, or maybe a miniseries, to a movie, as I think there’s just too much to pack into a two hour runtime (or less), and there aren’t really any scenes I would want to cut.
It would be a challenging exercise to adapt, however, as so much of the story revolves around what’s happening in Quinn’s head, which is why it’s written in the first-person, so that would be difficult to play out on the screen. But it’s certainly not impossible, and I think it would be fun to watch if it were well-done. As for a game, I think the world would lend itself well to an RPG format.
If someone did want to make a Blood And Whispers show or miniseries based, who do you think they should get to play Quinn and the other main characters?
Gary Oldman [the Harry Potter movies] would be perfect for Quinn. He’s about 20 years older than Quinn’s supposed to look, but I’m okay with that minor adjustment, and I think he could pull off the character’s personality perfectly. I don’t think I’ve ever heard him do an Irish accent, but he can do pretty much everything else, so I imagine he’d manage.
Henri Lajoie in my head looks a lot like Djimon Hounsou [Constantine], but I’m not sure if he could do a convincing American-with-a-slight-Haitian-accent. Maybe Jamie Hector if he were to bulk up a bit; he could definitely get the accent right and his facial scar would line up well with what’s revealed of Henri’s backstory, plus he has the experience playing a quietly competent homicide detective in Bosch.
No idea for Adrienne Connors, Aengus, or any of the other major characters, really.
And if someone wanted to make a game based on it…
Like I said, I think it would work well as an open-sandbox style RPG in which the player gets to explore Quinn’s world as an Arcanum sorcerer or as a Faerie of one variety or another, etc. That could be done well as either a pen-and-paper RPG around a table with a group of friends, or as a single-player RPG video game. It’s a potentially limitless world with tons of options for stories and adventures within it, with a unique interpretation of a variety of mythologies. Running around modern-day Philadelphia (or anywhere else on the planet, really) and the Otherworld, wielding magic, bargaining with the Fae, fighting evil — that sounds like a great concept for a game to me.
Finally, if someone enjoys Blood And Whispers, what urban fantasy novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read next and why that one?
It really depends what they enjoyed about it. If it’s the gunplay, Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter series would be great — Larry’s a master of writing compelling action sequences that mix fantasy and realistic combat. If it’s the setting and general concept, the most obvious comparison is to Jim Butcher’s Dresden Chronicles (professional wizard works with the police to solve an occult-tinged murder, deals with the Fae, etc.). Jim Butcher is a fantastic writer who is deservedly one of the biggest names in the genre. And if it’s a main character who’s done terrible things and sees himself as a monster and is trying to deal with his trauma as best he can in a magical world that refuses just to leave him alone, I’d recommend Phil Bolger’s The Devil’s Gunman, which follows a former hitman who worked for a demon as he tries to make his way in the world after being released from his infernal contract. And yes, as I mentioned, Phil is my best friend, and I am shamelessly plugging his book for the second time in this interview, but it’s a good story, and if you liked Blood And Whispers, you’ll probably like his writing, too.
To read the first chapter of A.C. Haskins’ Blood And Whispers, please click here.