Unlike jazz musicians, authors aren’t usually known for their improvisational skills. But writer Dan Stout seems to be pretty good at is, as his new new noir urban fantasy novel Titanshade (hardcover, Kindle) actually started out as an impromptu-written short story. In the following email interview, Stout describes how this tale came to be, how it evolved as he wrote it, and what influenced it.
In a basic sense, what is Titanshade about?
The basic plot follows a homicide detective as he tries to solve a high-profile murder case. The victim was a diplomat who was part of a team negotiating a massive influx of cash into the city of Titanshade, cash that’s badly needed because their economy is tied to oil extraction, and the wells are running dry.
So the feel is very much a police procedural, but the setting is a world completely different from our own, where different species co-exist and magic is a real — if rare — resource to be exploited. All that plus fabulous 1970s fashion and technology!
Where did you get the original idea for Titanshade, and how did the story change as you wrote it?
I was a member of an online writers community called Liberty Hall. Once a week, we ran a flash fiction challenge. You’d receive a prompt and a ninety-minute timer would start counting down. You had that long to write a story to the prompt and post it to the forum. At the end of the weekend, we’d all comment on each other’s stories. The brilliant thing about it was that the stories were anonymous, and the time limit meant that there was no expectation that you’d be producing something polished. It was one of those weekly challenges that gave me most of Titanshade‘s first chapter, along with the skeleton of the plot.
The biggest thing that changed as I wrote was adding additional layers of complexity. I’m a fairly sparse drafter, so there were countless ways I needed to add depth and interconnectedness to the original story.
Titanshade has been called a noir urban fantasy story. Is that how you see it?
I personally think that’s a fair description, though I often hear it described it as “post-industrial fantasy.” There’s a certain expectation that an urban fantasy takes place in a real-world location such as Chicago, New York, or London, and the fantasy elements are often hidden from the wider population.In Titanshade, the story takes place in an entirely different world, and non-humans and magical elements are in full view. In that way, it’s more in line with series such as Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence or Fonda Lee’s Green Bone Saga.
Are there any writers or specific stories that had a big influence on Titanshade but not on anything else you’ve written? And I mean both the noir aspects and the fantasy ones.
Hmm… I could rattle off dozens of inspirations and influences, but I can’t think of any that haven’t also influenced my other stories. So here are two that I think had an outsized impact on Titanshade:
Megan Abbott is an inspiration, especially the way she embraces the noir tone and tropes while still managing to deliver surprises and subvert expectations. Queenpinis a great example of her work, though I’d happily recommend any of her books — she’s a phenomenal writer.
Another influence was a series of books I’ve never actually read. In the ’90s there were a rash of fantasy / mystery mashups, mostly published by TSR. I remember seeing the cover art as a teenager, and being blown away by the possibility of setting a mystery in a fantasy world. I didn’t pick any of them up, but the concept definitely stuck with me. I should see if I can track them down and read them.
What about movies, TV shows, or video games; did any of them have a particularly big impact on Titanshade? Because this kind of reminds me of the movie Alien Nation and the TV show they did of it, as well as that Will Smith thing on Netflix, Bright.
Absolutely. I’m a big believer in the idea that we’re all absorbing everything we see, remixing the elements and finding a spark that takes us in new directions.
Alien Nation is a definite influence, and the speckling along Mollenkampi necks is a nod to the effects design on the Newcomers.
I’d written Titanshade before I heard about Bright, but when I saw the trailer I immediately recognized a kindred creative spark. As a kid I’d read The Lord Of The Rings and wondered what would happen in that world in a few hundred years. Eventually they’d develop technology, have increased urbanization, and need support services like the DMV and the police department. It’s clearly the same train of thought that inspired Bright, and I love seeing other people exploring that concept.
Speaking of which, is there a reason why the Squibs in Titanshade are amphibians as opposed to mammals or insects?
Oh, yeah! There’s really two sets of reasons, one related to worldbuilding, and one driven by narrative clarity.
From a narrative standpoint, it was important that the Squibs seem foreign and mysterious, even in this otherworldly city where the reader is unfamiliar with everything. A way to signal that is to make them amphibians, and draw a distinction between them and humans and Mollenkampi multiple times in the course of the story.
There’s also a worldbuilding reason for it, but I can’t get into that without pulling back the curtain on the broader world where Titanshade resides.
Gotcha. Speaking of which, you’ve already said that Titanshade is part of a series you’re calling The Carter Archives. What can you tell us about this series?
I’m already polishing up the sequel to Titanshade, and I’d love to write more. Part of the trick of the book’s genre blending is that police procedural series are typically stand-alones, while fantasy series normally are much more sequential. My challenge is to write novels that function as stand-alone stories, while still having the forward pull of a fantasy series. It’s difficult, but really satisfying when it comes together.
As you know, some people wait until every book in a series comes out before reading any of them, and some will then binge the entire series. But is there a reason why you think people shouldn’t wait to read Titanshade? Or that they should? And if they should, should they read them all in a row?
Yes, there is a story-based reason people shouldn’t wait to read Titanshade. If I did my job right, by the end of the first book readers’ understanding of this world and how it works will have significantly changed. Waiting until a series is completed makes it much harder to avoid spoilers for this kind of thing, and can diminish their impact.
Earlier I asked if any movies, TV shows, or video games had been an influence on Titanshade. But has there been any interest in adapting your book into a movie, show, or game?
I have not heard of any interest in adapting Titanshade into other media, but I’d certainly be open to it. I love the art and craft involved in transplanting a story from one form into another, and I’m endlessly fascinated by the decisions of what makes the transition and what doesn’t. It’s hard to imagine what it would feel like to see that happen to something I created, but I suspect I would love it even more!
As for what adaptation would work best, a game would be amazing, but a TV show or film would be the most fun because I’m a huge effects nerd, and I’d do my best to finagle my way into the makeup department and get autographs from everyone working there. I’d love to see someone like Jordu Schell [who’s worked on such movies as Hellboy and The Mist] take a crack at some of the creature designs because his stuff is so otherworldly, but a sculpt by Don Lanning [who’s worked on Star Trek Beyond, The Strain, and countless other movies and TV shows] has so much regalness, even when he’s doing really grim designs, that I think he’d come up with a really interesting take.
So who would you like to see them cast as the main characters?
Honestly, I have absolutely no idea. I don’t know what that says about me, that I could talk for half an hour about different sculptors who I’d love to see take on the world of Titanshade, but I can’t even think of a single actor’s name right now.
Finally, if someone enjoys Titanshade, which noir-ish urban fantasy story of someone else’s would you suggest they read next?
I mentioned Max Gladstone and Fonda Lee already, but another amazing author in this space is Lara Elena Donnelly. Her novel Amberlough is an amazing mix of John Le Carre and Cabaret. For something with a more police procedural feel, Marshall Ryan Maresca’s Maradaine Constabulary series is a blend of Law And Order with high fantasy. Part of his multiple braided series set in the city of Maradaine, the latest book, A Parliament Of Bodies, comes out this month, and is well worth checking out.