Today’s Fireside Chat is with our friend, Max Gladstone, an extremely talented young novelist whose first book, a fantasy novel called Three Parts Dead, just came out in paperback. Gladstone has received a great deal of critical acclaim for the book, and additionally has recently been nominated for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, the David Gemmell Legend Award, the David Gemmell Morningstar Award, and the Massachusetts Book Award. He just got back from a West Coast tour to promote the book, including San Diego ComicCon.
Your debut novel, Three Parts Dead, recently came out in paperback. Can you tell us a bit about the book?
Sure! Three Parts Dead is the story of Tara, a junior associate at an international necromancy firm, who’s been hired to resurrect a dead god. If she doesn’t succeed, the god’s city will start falling apart—since he powers its steam generators and provides heat to the masses, among other functions. Unfortunately, you can’t just bring back dead things the way they were before. Compromises must be made, which of course sets Tara up against the god’s clergy. Meanwhile, people connected with the case start turning up dead. Add to this some wild gargoyles, a creepy hive-mind police force, a vampire pirate captain, and an abundance of sorcerers with unclear motives, and you have some good clean fun.
Well. Maybe not that clean.
What has it been like, selling your book, following the process through to publication and premiere?
Heady, and it hasn’t lightened up at all since publication. Writing the book was the easy part—to sell it I had to learn an entirely different set of skills, for summarizing and compressing action. The agent search was the hardest part. Once I did that, everything else followed swiftly. I’ve been tremendously lucky to work with such a talented team at Tor Books. They’ve taken care of me, and helped the book succeed.
Do you have any fun stories to share, either from the publication process or from the process of writing the book itself?
The best stories come from the writing process, since (fortunately) publication itself wasn’t fraught with “interesting” (i.e. hair-raising) developments. I was working on the first draft of Three Parts Dead back during the height of the recession, in 2008, and—having just returned from a few years abroad, very bad timing on my part—was dancing between side jobs. I wrote some key sections of the book while I was working as a tour guide for the Swiss Embassy! My job was to hang around this exhibit they ran at Logan Airport and engage people who came by. I did a lot of that, but there were huge down periods. So I set up my word processor at the lectern where they asked me to stand, and whenever there weren’t people around, I’d get to work. I became very good at stopping in mid-sentence, and coming back later.
Moving on to the book itself, where/how did you initially come up with the idea for Three Parts Dead?
In 2008, I came back from China, right as the economy did its nosedive into the meat grinder. My wife had just started law school at the time, so I had access to a lot of information, through her, about what was happening. The crisis was apocalyptic, but it wasn’t physical—that is, you couldn’t point to a physical smoking crater where, say, AIG or Bear Sterns used to be and say, “Ah, yes, Crisis.” It was immaterial: beings built of spirit and dream and confidence (and more than a little hot air and fraud) were dying, and their deaths reverberated through human lives. It felt like we were in the middle of a spiritual war. These firms seemed like pagan gods dying—and all the bankruptcy attorneys and economists running around trying to save them seemed like necromancers. And there I had the seed of a book!
Did you find your wife helpful in writing some of the contract or courtroom scenes in your book?
I asked her a bunch of questions about law, and made a bunch more stuff up. It’s not customary, for example, for litigators to try to kill one another with dark magic in the course of a case. Not that I know of anyway. But, yes, if at any point in Three Parts Dead I sound like I know what I’m talking about, it’s probably because I’m drawing off of my wife’s experience—or that of one of my other lawyer friends and relatives.
How did you come up with the title?
It’s a quote from Bertrand Russell: “To fear love is to fear life, and those who fear life are already three parts dead.”