What was your inspiration for Ordinary Monsters?
A phrase that came to me as I was driving my children home from gymnastics one day: "Children with powers in Victorian London." I got home and mentioned it to my wife, also a writer; she looked at me and told me to write it. So I did.
Are Marlowe, Charlie, or any of the other many characters in the novel inspired by or based on specific individuals?
Alice Quicke is based, loosely, on the real-life character of Kate Warne, a female operative for the Pinkerton Detective Agency. Charlie is based a little bit on my son, a little bit on my daughter. Most of the characters emerge on the page as their own selves, strange to me, fully formed, somehow an amalgamation of parts of myself. I know them without knowing them.
How did the novel evolve and change as you wrote and revised it? Are there any characters or scenes that were lost in the process that you wish had made it to the published version?
Ordinary Monsters grew out of itself, and away from my own initial dream of it, almost at once. But stories are like that, they're smarter than their tellers sometimes. They have an idea all their own of what they want to become. Yes, one character, in particular, was lost as I went; his entire storyline had to be cut away. I've kept him for the second novel.
How familiar were you with the late 19th century before writing Ordinary Monsters? Did you have to do a bit of research? How long did it take you to do the necessary research and then write the novel?
I knew the era and the world well, through research from a previous novel. And yet there was still no shortage of new research to be done. I would research in the evenings and write scenes and characters during the day.
What was the most interesting or surprising thing that you learned during your research?
Oh! So many strange details. One that comes to mind is that the very poor in Victorian London could rent out a spot on a "line"—a rope, strung up in a cellar somewhere, which they would lean into and sleep on, rather than on the floor with the rats. Awful, horrifying, and bizarre.
Ordinary Monsters is listed as the first volume of The Talents series or trilogy. And it ends with quite the cliffhanger! Will it be a trilogy or possibly longer? What are your plans for the series?
Yes, it's set to be three novels. But I think of it, really, as a single long story. The beats of the entire trilogy have been there, in my head, since the beginning. Book 2 is nearly finished.
What’s currently on your nightstand?
Can you name your top five favorite or most influential authors?
Ah, probably not. On any given day the names would change. But I can name five off the top of my head who have consistently mattered to me over the years: Czeslaw Milosz, Patrick Lane, Cormac McCarthy, Guy Gavriel Kay, Ursula K Le Guin. Of course, there are many others.
What was your favorite book when you were a child?
The Monster at the End of this Book, a picture book starring Grover from Sesame Street, who breaks the fourth wall to warn children NOT to turn the pages, for goodness' sake, because he's heard there's a monster at the end of the book! You can imagine who that monster turns out to be. I loved that book. Still do.
Was there a book you felt you needed to hide from your parents?
My parents were very supportive and encouraging when it came to books. If I was old enough to read it and interested, they'd not get in the way. It was a rich and happy home for books of all kinds.
Is there a book you've faked reading?
Several! And all of them were assigned in high school English classes, sadly.
Can you name a book you've bought for the cover?
Is there a book that changed your life?
Oh, so many. But especially Ursula K Le Guin's, A Wizard of Earthsea. It was passed along to me by my grade 6 teacher, Mr. Balchin (to whom Ordinary Monsters is dedicated), who saw a lonely boy in need of some kindness. I'd never read anything like it. I read that book and decided that I wanted to write novels, too. Most of the things I decided when I was twelve years old inevitably changed as the years went by, but that one decision never did.
Can you name a book for which you are an evangelist (and you think everyone should read)?
Only one? The Collected Poetry of Czeslaw Milosz. Truly a work of epic scale, poems that chart the passing of time and the emergence of an intellect and a forceful personality—but also it's gradual receding into humility and memory. The grandeur of Milosz's poetry is breathtaking.
Is there a book you would most want to read again for the first time?
What is the last piece of art (music, movies, tv, more traditional art forms) that you've experienced or that has impacted you?
What is your idea of THE perfect day (where you could go anywhere/meet with anyone)?
Wake up late, a long leisurely coffee with a book, then going out to the bookstores with my family to drift among the aisles. Simple pleasures, I guess.
What is the question that you’re always hoping you’ll be asked but never have been? What is your answer?
Wake up late, have a long leisurely coffee with a book, then going out to the bookstores with my family to drift among the aisles. Simple pleasures, I guess.
What are you working on now?
The second novel in the Talents trilogy, set to be published in 2023.