In many noir science fiction stories, the “noir” part is largely limited to how the world is described. But in their noir sci-fi novel Second Chance Angel (hardcover, Kindle, audiobook), co-authors Griffin Barber and Kacey Ezell are instead telling a noir story in a sci-fi world. In the following email interview about, Barber and Ezell discuss what inspired and influenced this dark tale.
To begin, what is Second Chance Angel about?
Ezell: So, Ralston Muck is a down-on-his luck military veteran working as a bouncer in a nightclub. When the club’s star performer goes missing, her personal A.I. runs to Muck for answers, and the two of them, together, begin a quest to find the singer.
That’s the basic plotline, but in the end, the book ended up being about identity, war, and memory, and the things we do to recover from our individual and collective traumas.
And when and where is it set?
Griffin: It’s set a few hundred years from now, and takes place, with side trips elsewhere, on a large, superannuated space station called Last Stop that’s kept operational by an A.I. Humanity has lost its home to an interstellar war, and is struggling to find its way under the Administration. The Administration purports to govern a vast swath of interstellar space and exerts a great deal of clandestine control over the member races. Places like Last Stop exist as an escape valve, a place where criminals, misfits, and revolutionaries can slip by under the radar.
Where did the original idea for Second Chance Angel come from, and how, if at all, did the plot evolve as you wrote it?
Griffin: YouTube video anyone?
Kacey: Yeah, Griff sent me the link to “Seven Nation Army” performed by Haley Reinhart and Scott Bradlee’s Post-Modern Jukebox. It was breathtaking and it conjured the opening scene of the book. Griff and I are both big fans of the noir genre, and so we just kinda went on from there.
So Kacey, do you think Second Chance Angel would’ve been different if Griffin had sent you the link to The White Stripes’ video for “Seven Nation Army“?
Kacey: There might not even be a book if he had done that. I love the song, and have for years, but it was Haley’s performance that really evoked that noir sensibility. Plus, neither Griff nor I was sitting there looking for something to inspire a novel. I don’t even think we’d planned to try writing together. It was just that he found the song, sent it to me, and we agreed that it was the beginning of something — something that we needed to follow, to see where it led.
It sounds like Second Chance Angel is a sci-fi space opera story, but with a bit of a noir feel. Is that how you’d describe it, or are there other genres that either describe it better or are at work in this story as well?
Griffin: We actually put noir first, space opera second, or maybe third. Our ongoing mantra in writing and editing Second Chance Angel was MOAR NOIR!, in reference to our aims and deference to the enormously funny Saturday Night Live skit with Christopher Walken where he constantly wants, “MOAR COWBELL.” We wanted to tell a noir gumshoe detective kind of story, with many of the usual suspects found in those types of tales, but with the distinct sense of wonder that only speculative fiction can produce.
Kacey: Like I said earlier, a lot of the story revolves around war, identity, and memory. Most of the noir fiction (both written and in film) of the 20th Century had a lot of these themes as well — many of them informed by the World Wars. Because of our backgrounds, Griff and I have both lost people we cared about. We’ve both experienced extreme stress related to combat-type situations, whether in a law enforcement or a military context. So it was important to both of us to delve into those messy, sometimes really ugly memories and emotions, and use them to create something raw and beautiful. Noir, as a genre and an aesthetic, is the perfect way to do that. So, yeah. It’s Noir before it’s anything else.
Second Chance Angel is not the first novel either of you have written. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that you each think had a big influence on Second Chance Angel but not on anything else you’ve written?
Griffin: David Drake’s Redliners. The treatment of veterans, the experiences of veterans returning to the civilian world, and the acceptance and understanding (or lack of it) of that civilian world for those returning veterans, remains a huge influence on me. Also, the L.A. Quartet of works by James Ellroy, including L.A. Confidential.
Kacey: Raymond Chandler is my Noir muse. I absolutely devour his prose and aspire to craft words into art the way he does.
How about non-literary influences; was Second Chance Angel influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
Griffin: The aforementioned L.A. Confidential was used to make an excellent film, though it’s more of an amalgam of two books of Ellroy’s. Mullholland Falls is another such influence. I’m a huge role-playing game fan, and much of the world-building I did on Second Chance Angel had its foundation in Marc Miller’s Traveler and even TSR’s Star Frontiers games.
Kacey: My first film noir experience was The Maltese Falcon with Humphrey Bogart. So a lot of the twistiness of our plot emulate that movie’s zeitgeist. Like Griff said, Mullholland Falls was another big one. And Blade Runner, for the integration of sci-fi and noir.
Now, as you said, Second Chance Angel is about a bouncer and a missing singer. In deciding how they would act, did you consult with any real bouncers and singers, or did you base their behavior on fictional depictions?
Griffin: Having bounced a few clubs in my youth, and broken up more than a few club fights as a police officer in later years, I felt confident I knew the bouncer life well enough to portray it in Second Chance Angel. We also did not consult with any lounge singers as the performances themselves were secondary to the effect they had on the singer and listeners.
Also, and of special importance here, the singing is mainly experienced through Muck’s perception, and he’s all about the feelings and memories Siren evokes in his wounded heart with her performances, not the music itself.
Kacey: That being said, I must have watched Haley Reinhart’s YouTube videos a thousand times while figuring out how to write about memory singing. Not just for her amazing voice, but also for her body language during the performance.
Oh, I also watched clips of Jessica Rabbit singing in Who Framed Roger Rabbit — another really good noir tale, actually — for the same reason.
Speaking of which, how often have people mentioned that the drawing of Siren on the cover kind of looks like Selena Gomez?
Griffin: First time I’m hearing it, but perfectly happy to have readers sort out their favorite celebrity actor to portray each character in their mind’s eye.
Kacey: Same, but she’s gorgeous, and really talented, so it fits.
As I mentioned, you’ve both written other novels before. But while Second Chance Angel is your first collaboration, it’s not the first time either of you have co-written something. Griffin, your other novel, 1636: Mission To The Mughals, was co-written with Eric Flint, while Kacey, you worked with Mark Wandrey on Weaver, and co-wrote both Assassin and Hunter with Marisa Wolf. What was it about Second Chance Angel that made you each think it should be written with someone else and not on your own?
Griffin: We both came to this together, formed it together, made it happen. All of Second Chance Angel was a natural outgrowth of our discussions and planning. It would not exist without our collaboration. The sum is greater than the parts for this novel.
Kacey: Yeah, for sure. None of these characters would exist without the synergy of Griff and I talking about who we are, what we like, what hurts and inspires us. There is no Muck or Angel without both Griffin and I.
Now, as you both know, some sci-fi novels are stand-alone stories, while others are part of larger sagas. What is Second Chance Angel?
Griffin: First, Second Chance Angel was written as a novel you can read as a stand-alone. To quote Eric Flint, paraphrasing his publisher, Jim Baen, “‘Best way to not have a series is to write a book assuming it’s going to be a series.'” In other words, each novel needs to be a discrete story, with a beginning, middle, and end. Though we sincerely hope the book garners enough of a following to make it a series.
Kacey: Absolutely. This book can stand alone on its own merits, but we would absolutely love to return to Last Stop Station and these characters. I’m excited to see how they develop separately and together, and how the larger post-war galactic environment shifts around and because of them.
Have you starting thinking about where things might go if you get to write a sequel?
Griffin: We are working on the sequel, tentatively titled, The Third Sin, and have just finished plotting it out. We also know where we’re going with the books after that in the series, including a tentative title for the third book and the overarching fate of Angel, Muck, SARA and LEO, and other characters.
Kacey: I’m really excited about The Third Sin. I hope fans love Second Chance Angel enough that we get a chance to share it with all of you. There’s enough story in this universe for several books. I wouldn’t want to try and put a number on it. It’s very open-ended.
Do you know what this series will be called?
Griffin: It is hoped that fans will find their own name for the series, but we are calling it The Last Stop Station Series.
Kacey: Though I kind of like “the Angel-verse” as a nickname.
I think David Boreanaz might have something to say about that, though. Speaking of TV, earlier I asked if Second Chance Angel had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. Has there been any interest in adapting it into its own movie, show, or game?
Griffin: Our excellent literary agent, Justin Bell, of Spectrum Literary Agency, had enough overtures from studios regarding film and / or TV rights that he gave us into the capable hands of agents more specific to those media, Matt Kennedy and Vince Gerardis of Startling / Created By. I would be thrilled if someone wanted to make a game or setting for an existing game using Second Chance Angel source material.
Kacey: Yes, that would be super cool. The thing about noir is that even when it’s literary, it’s a very visual medium, and we tried to really honor that in our descriptive prose. To see that translated into actual visual art would be really amazing, and totally in keeping with the noir aesthetic. Film noir is what most people know best about noir, after all.
So, do you have a preference as to what form an adaptation would take?
Griffin: Studios are doing such amazing things with long form TV series, and with people not traditionally associated with television, like Scorsese. I’ve loved what first SyFy and now Amazon did with The Expanse. There, the authors behind the nom de plume S.A. Corey both retained rights to the show and had previous experience working with Game Of Thrones production.
In specific to our work, the number of non-humanoid and non-corporeal characters in Second Chance Angel makes an animated series seem a natural fit.
Kacey: Since Griff talked about TV shows, I’ll discuss games. I think the Last Stop Station universe would be an amazing setting for a third Person RPG game similar to Mass Effect or Skyrim. Hey, dream big, right? With Earth gone and the galaxy reeling from the recent war, it would be a lot of fun to play a human character searching for their place in the universe, with unlimited choices as to profession (or class, in game-speak), factions to join, quest objectives… The list goes on. And with the way we’ve written the integration between humans and their personal A.I.s, that provides a built-in levelling mechanism for the character that could offer a lot of fun avenues for development. Game studios, are you listening?
They might, I do a lot of game reviews. Anyway, I always like to end my author interviews with recommendations. So, if someone enjoys Second Chance Angel, what sci-fi novel co-written by two or more writers would you each suggest people check out next and why that one?
Griffin: The aforementioned S.A. Corey’s Expanse series is exceptional, and the first one is about as noir as it gets.
Kacey: Honestly, there isn’t a lot of sci-fi noir out there, and still less that’s co-written. So I’d recommend that if fans of Second Chance Angel enjoy the military / veteran aspect of the series, that they might check out the shared-world Four Horseman Universe published by independent publisher Chris Kennedy Publishing. There are over 50 books in the series written by multiple, very talented (if I do say so myself!) authors, and several of them have very noirish themes. Really, that series has something for everyone. I mean, it should. There are over 50 books.