In his noir urban fantasy novels Dead Things, Broken Souls, and Hungry Ghosts, writer Stephen Blackmoore has presented the ongoing adventures of L.A.-based necromancer Eric Carter. But as he explains in the following email interview about Carter’s latest excursion, Fire Season (paperback, Kindle), this series almost wasn’t about just one magic man.
Photo Credit: © Kari Blackmoore
To start, who is Eric Carter, what is Fire Season about, and how does this new novel connect to the previous ones?
Eric Carter is a modern day necromancer. He sees ghosts, talks to the dead, etc. While trying to find his sister’s killer, he gets enmeshed in the plots of the Aztec death goddess Mictecacihuatl, who’s going by Santa Muerte, and her husband Mictlantecuhtli, king of Mictlan and technically sort of dead.
While he’s dealing with all the death god shenanigans, he ends up really pissing off the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl, when Eric refuses to burn down Mictlan, the Aztec land of the dead with magical fire.
Fire Season continues that storyline.
Los Angeles is burning. During one of the hottest summers the city has ever seen, someone is murdering mages with fires that burn when they shouldn’t, that don’t stop when they should. Necromancer Eric Carter is being framed for the killings and hunted by his own people.
To Carter, everything points to the god Quetzalcoatl coming after him, after he defied the mad wind god in the Aztec land of the dead. But too many things aren’t adding up, and Carter knows there’s more going on. If he doesn’t figure out what it is and put a stop to it fast, Quetzalcoatl won’t just kill him, he’ll burn the whole damn city down with him.
Where did you get the idea for Fire Season, and when in relation to writing the other books did you come up with it?
I live in L.A., and we have a long history of bad brushfires. I knew I wanted to do something involving that while I was writing the second book, but I didn’t think it was ready. I had been laying down too many other threads and wanted to find a good spot to put it in.
I’m sure other people have drawn comparisons between Eric Carter and John Constantine. What makes your guy different?
Well, he doesn’t smoke.
…you’re looking for more than that, aren’t you?
I like reading and writing noir, and I can go on for a long time about the differences between noir and hard-boiled. I wanted to write a noir urban fantasy set in Los Angeles. Something that was less Raymond Chandler and more Reservoir Dogs.
Comparisons to Constantine were going to be inevitable, as also to Sandman Slim, Charlie Huston’s Joe Pitt, and of course Harry Dresden. So instead of looking for superficial things to make different about Eric Carter, I focused on his voice, on what’s important to him, and the world he lives in. Eric’s universe isn’t defined by Heaven and Hell and the fight between angels and demons. Or even between good and evil, or right and wrong. There really aren’t any “good” people in the Eric Carter books, and there aren’t that many bad people, either. They’re just people. Sure, Eric’s a necromancer, but at the core of it, he’s just this guy. He makes bad choices, he does things for selfish reasons. He doesn’t think things through. Even if it’s the right thing to do, unless he’s got a personal stake in it, why bother?
I wanted to make him feel normal. I chose Eric as a name because it was the most blah name I could think of; apologies to all the Erics out there. It could just as easily been Gary, or Fred, or whatever, as long as it felt like a name that anybody could have.
Have people also compared him to Cal McDonald, the main character in Steve Niles’ Criminal Macabre comics?
Not that I’ve heard. I actually hadn’t heard of the series until recently, and I haven’t had an opportunity to read it. I get the feeling they’d see things pretty similarly, though.
Now, the previous Eric Carter novels were noir urban fantasy tales. Is the same true for Fire Season?
It’s certainly urban fantasy, but even more so, like what I’ve tried to do with all the books, it’s noir. Things don’t get better, everything disintegrates, good people die. And all throughout it, Eric’s just trying to keep his shit together.
Eric is no hero. I’m not sure you could even call him an anti-hero. He’s not the tarnished knight of Phillip Marlowe, or Sam Spade. He might share some DNA with them, but if he got hold of a multi-million dollar falcon statue, locked up in a San Francisco apartment, he’d be the only one to walk out of there.
There’s one rule I always try to adhere to for Eric: Even when he wins, he loses. Pyrrhic victories are his jam.
Are there any any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Fire Season, but not on any of the other Eric Carter novels?
Not on Fire Season in particular. For the series as a whole, I got a lot of inspiration from Kiss Me, Judas, a noir novel by Will Christopher Baer. It’s not nearly as well-known as it should be. I find myself going back to that book, mostly for style. I love the voice, and though I haven’t tried to mimic it, I’ve found it’s a good way to remind me what I like about that kind of voice.
What about non-literary influences; are there any movies, TV shows, or video games that had a big influence on Fire Season?
When I came up with Eric my first inspiration for him was Guy Pearce’s character, Leonard, in the movie Memento. After that I looked at movies like Reservoir Dogs, Killing Zoe, Drive, Angel Heart, Oldboy, a bunch of neo-noir films.
Fire Season is the fourth Eric Carter novel. Fifth if you count City Of The Lost, which is a stand-alone story in the same fictional universe but is not about Eric.
The original idea was to have a series based not on a character, but the world. So the protagonist in City Of The Lost is a resurrected thug named Joe Sunday, while Eric Carter followed in Dead Things. But when I turned in Dead Things, my editor asked if I’d be okay with doing the series based around Eric. She pointed out that Joe Sunday is thrown into this world of magic, so the reader learns things as he does. But Eric Carter was born to it, so he can act as more of a guide to the reader. Eric won out. I think he’s a more interesting character than Sunday.
So then is this an ongoing series or do you have a set number of books in mind?
I’m looking at it as an ongoing series, but my intention is to do story arcs that are about three books long each. Mini trilogies in a way. If the publisher hadn’t wanted anything past Hungry Ghosts, it’s a great wrap up point, a good closer, but not so tightly wrapped up that it can’t go anywhere.
I’m doing the same with the next books. Fire Season not only continues things on from the previous books, but it starts a new story arc that will go through the next two books, Ghost Money, which comes out in January, and Bottle Demon, which I’m working on right now. Fire Season also sets up things that I can explore later if I want to.
I’ve got no plans of stopping until the books jump the shark, people get sick of them, or I get sick of them. Though Eric’s head is a pretty dark place, and I don’t want to stay inside it forever.
Earlier I asked if Fire Season had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or video games. But has there been any interest in adapting Fire Season or any of the Eric Carter books into a movie, show, or game?
Not so far. There had been some interest in City Of The Lost, and it actually got optioned by an indie producer. After a couple of years it was clear they couldn’t get things moving with it and decided not to re-up the option.
After that I had a conversation with a guy over at Fox to turn Dead Things into a television show, and every single idea the guy had was the exact opposite of what I wanted it to be. He wanted to turn it into a Monster Of The Week show. And he had trouble with all the gods and goddesses and the Aztec stuff, so he wanted to turn them all into demons. I almost asked him if maybe we should put in a monkey, too, but I was afraid he was going to say yes.
As I’m sure you’ve already guessed, it didn’t go anywhere.
So how do you think these books should be adapted: as a series of movies, a TV series, some video games…
I think it could work on cable where one season is one book. They’re not huge, but cramming any book into a movie requires a lot of trade-offs just in terms of script length.
And if that happened, who would you like them to cast as Eric Carter and the other major characters?
For Eric, I think Joseph Gordon-Levitt [Looper] would work really well. Not quite sure about the others. Maybe Bryce Dallas Howard [Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom] for Vivian. Forest Whitaker [Black Panther] would make an awesome Darius. A younger Michelle Rodriguez [The Fate Of The Furious] as Gabriella, maybe.
Lastly, if someone enjoys Fire Season, they should obviously read the other Eric Carter novels, if they haven’t already. But if they have, what similar novel of someone else’s would you suggest they check out next and why that?