With his new urban fantasy / noir mystery novel Titan Song (hardcover, Kindle), writer Dan Stout is once again putting detectives Carter and Ajax in harm’s way…and just for your amusement. Which is why you should feel obligated to read the following email interview, in which Stout discusses what inspired and influenced this third installment in The Carter Archives series.
The Carter Archives novels are about a pair of homicide detectives in an over-populated city teeming with crime and corruption. The books are noir mysteries set on a secondary fantasy world infused with 1970s technology, magic, and monsters…basically, all the stuff I love.
And then what is Titan Song about, and how does it connect, both narratively and chronologically, to Titanshade and Titan’s Day?
Titan Song picks up about two weeks after the events of Titan’s Day, and presents our detectives with a new mystery to solve, even as they’re dealing with the fallout from the previous books.
When in the process of writing Titanshade and Titan’s Day did you come up with the idea for Titan Song, and how, if at all, did that idea change since then?
The basic concept of the opening — Carter and Ajax being called to investigate a crime on the ice plains — is something that I’ve been kicking around for a while. I started pulling together the threads for that opening during the editing process forTitan’s Day, when I was able to plant some seeds for the next book, weaving them into the fabric of the world along the way.
As for what changed? I’d say the basic concept stayed the same, though I brought the music elements more to the foreground as I worked out the story. For me, the broad concepts are usually set early, though the details of how it all plays out change quite a bit. When I’m accurately capturing the characters, their response to the wider events can surprise me, and throw things for a loop.
Titan Song involves the murder of a musician. In deciding how that musician and their bandmates would behave, did you base them on any real-world rock stars or did you just make it up?
The musician we spend the most time with is a superstar, a singer with an extraordinary voice and the stage presence to match. So I based the visuals and wardrobe on Donna Summer.
But I also wanted to showcase the brains, talent, and determination needed to take someone to that level of success. A big inspiration for the wider character was Homecoming, the documentary about Beyonce’s Coachella performance.
Of course, in a story involving magic, the obvious thing would be for the band to be a metal band. You kind of already answered this, but why did you decide to go with someone more Donna Summer than Slayer?
While Carter would much prefer it to be a metal band, it’s much more entertaining to see how he reacts to going to investigate a crime involving his least favorite thing: a disco superstar, Dinah McIntire.
Titanshade and Titan’s Day were noir urban fantasy stories as well as post-industrial fantasy tales. Is that how you’d describe Titan Song as well?
We’re very much still at that sweet spot of noir mystery and fantasy. One of my very favorite things is hearing from mystery readers who are testing the waters of speculative fiction for the first time, and fall in love with these books. The detective story format gives them a familiar framework, letting them feel grounded even when confronted with wildly fantastical elements like magic and non-human characters.
I think of these novels as examinations of what happens in a traditional Tolkien-esque fantasy world as technology advances. There’s so much to play with, both in the worldbuilding and the character dynamics.
Are there any writers, or specific novels, that were a big influence on Titan Song but not on Titanshade and Titan’s Day?
I don’t know that there are, simply because this is the third book in a series, and the tone of the narrative voice and the nature of the stories I’m telling are coming from the first two books, even as the characters are growing and evolving. I have a wildly different set of influences on other projects, but for The Carter Archives I’m following that trajectory to see where it takes me.
What about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or games? Did any of those have a particularly big influence on Titan Song?
Since we’ve already talked about music, it’s worth mentioning one thing I keep in mind when worldbuilding. There’s a song called “Brimful Of Asha” by Cornershop. It’s part of the…actually, I’m not sure what you call the genre, but I guess it’s retro-nostalgia? Songs like AM Radio, When Smokey Sings, and Sweet Soul Music fall into it as well.
Anyway, “Brimful Of Asha” is about playing 45 records. The song is a list of singers, bands, and record labels that were influential on the band members as they grew up. For me, it perfectly captures that feeling of nostalgia and wonder when you look back on something that was massively influential on you.
But here’s the thing: Cornershop are a British band, and they’re singing about growing up listening to music that’s almost completely unknown to me. Other than Mohammed Rafi, I don’t get any of the references. But still, the song’s nostalgia totally works for me.
I think about that a lot, about how a sense of nostalgia and wonder can come across without giving a full back story of each little detail. Plus, “Brimful Of Asha” is a great song, so I like any excuse to listen to it again.
Now, in the previous interviews we did for Titanshade and Titan’s Day [which you can read by clicking here and here], you said that The Carter Archives is a series of stand-alone but connected novels. But what will readers get out of Titan Song if they read Titanshade and Titan’s Day first?
In series like this, there are really two stories in each book. There’s the continuing through-lines of the characters and the wider narrative, and there’s the specific mystery that they are tackling in this volume. If I do my job right, every reader will enjoy the specific mystery plot line, but returning characters will get to see the seeds of other storylines pay off now, and previous questions being answered.
Of course, Carter and Ajax and their peers are still front and center, so readers still get to see them do their thing.
So, is book #4 is in the works?
Oh, man. I have so many ideas for these characters. I love playing around with different concepts and glimpses of the world and seeing what I can do and how it gives new insight into the main story line. I have a have a big list of ideas and things that would be great to do in book 4, but so far it’s still in that glorious, not-on-paper state, before I have to do the work of transforming it from a concept into a book.
Right now, I’m working on a separate project that feels very different, and it’s a great palate cleanser. Writing a specific world and characters is wonderful, but it can be like using the same muscles for a long period of time — sometimes you have to stop and stretch out in order to come back and be more efficient.
Also, do you have a file on your computer with a ton of Titan-related name? And if so, how far down the list are Titanfall, Clash Of The Titans, and Remember The Titans?
Funny story about that: I originally wrote my novel thinking of the concept of “whale fall,” and how a whale carcass becomes an entire ecosystem, a vibrant source of life out of death. I wondered what that would look like from the point of view of the tiny organisms on the body. So I went through the entire process of creating a novel, editing, revising…putting my blood, sweat, and tears into the project. And then I thought maybe I should do a google check to see if anyone had used the name Titanfall…
Turns out they had.
I spent a lot of time trying to get a new title, both because a title’s a pretty important thing, but also because much of the slightly removed narrative prose is written in iambic meter, and I needed to keep the sound the same to avoid rewriting those sections.
So the short answer is…yeah, I’ve got a really long list of Titan names!
Finally, if someone enjoys Titanshade, Titan’s Day, and Titan Song, what real world, not fantasy, detective novels would you suggest they check out while waiting for, uh, Attack On Titan or whatever it’s going to be called?
I think everyone should check out Andrea Bartz’s The Lost Night. It’s about a woman named Lindsay and her friends in their early twenties whose social life revolves around the particularly charismatic Edie. When Edie is found dead, the group drifts apart, heartbroken. Ten years later, Lindsay finds a video that casts doubt on whether Edie’s death really was a suicide, and raises questions about whether Lindsay herself was involved.