PARKER T. GEISSEL
AUTHOR OF THE FELL HOUND OF ADVERSITY
Author Bio: Parker T. Geissel has been a line cook, labourer, carpenter, cabinetmaker, collections clerk, assistant to the administrative assistant, and he also served a short but celebrated term as president of the office donut club. His nights are spent knocking together a story or two, mining the mire of his wayward past for insight. His literary inclinations are most likely the result of an excess of comic books at a formative age, which naturally lead to an interest in classic literature, pretentious post-modern novels, and eventually settled down into a fine appreciation for a good story in any form.
Welcome to another Always Trust In Books author interview. Today we have Parker T. Geissel who is the author of the incredible The Fell Hound Of Adversity which I have reviewed this year (click here to read the review). I was completely immersed in his work right from the beginning, interesting characters, impressive plot structure and an addictive story that kept me invested until the very last pages. Parker has answered a few questions for me today to share with the people who very kindly read this blog. Parker has shared some insights into his work, life and influences and it was a great Q&A session. I will share the answers below, please enjoy and leave a comment to share what you thought about today's Q&A.
Can you tell me a bit about The Fell Hound Of Adversity?
‘The Fell Hound of Adversity’ started out as simple slice-of-life bit, but soon blew up into an effusive love letter, an enthusiastic celebration of Bogart films and comic books, line cooks and Dostoyevsky fan fiction. The core story was inspired by my younger days working as a line cook, a fine profession that is fertile ground for adventure and suspense, to my mind. It seemed a perfect fit for a classic Noir setup.
As I kept writing, I ended up mixing in bits and pieces from all over the place, reverent references to some of my cherished influences. For instance, the romantic sub-plot is kind of an inside joke for my wife, an exaggerated caricature about how we got together. The vicious tax collectors idea is only slight hyperbole. Taxes have always held a mythical dread for as long as I can remember, and the boring, relentless accountant has been the weapon to bring down some of history’s greatest criminals, so I just took it one more step.
But ultimately, the whole thing was just an effort to write a fantastical, outrageous, entertaining story, something that I’d like to read. It’s a hard thing to find satisfaction in your own work, for it never quite turns out the way you see it in your head, but sometimes it’s close enough.
Was it hard to keep track of all the characters you managed to include in your book?
No question there was difficulty in it, at least in the beginning. But it’s a wonder how the process works as you go through it, building up a whole biography for each character to get a feel for their motivations and personality quirks, so that soon enough it starts writing itself as they become fully realized.
I always enjoyed reading a book that will imply a whole, fully-realized life in just a few lines about even the most minor characters. So I tried for something like that, writing pages of backstory, drafting up the individual plot lines. Then it was just a matter of putting them all in a room together and seeing where it went. Sometimes they’d do their work in service of the plot, and then sometimes their interactions would inspire new twists and turns I hadn’t ever considered.
Where did you come up with the names for the characters in TFHOA?
When it comes to character names, I love the peppy poetic style of the old pulps and comic books, silly, perky names like Doc Savage, Flash Gordon, Clark Kent, Peter Parker. I’m a big fan of that classic literary tradition of opting for whimsical names over something more traditional, Gogol’s Chichikov, Nabakov’s Humbert Humbert, Dickens’s Nicholas Nickelby. This whole story came together as a bit of fun, so mostly the names reflect that.
I have to admit, many of the character names were swiped from other places, so I can only take credit for a few of them. I had a blast with Rudimental Egbert Quince and his brother Lenient. I wanted something a bit silly, but also personable (Rudi and Lenny), with the suggestion of parable. Blazing Buck sounds to me like something a child would come up with, which I thought fit the naïve and petulant nature of the guy. I also wanted them to have a foreign flavor, showing they were all children of immigrants, to give them a place in the cosmopolitan city of Adversity. With the villains I was trying to sound Gilded Age New England, old money, finicky upper-crust: Tinpot, Mayhew and Leland Cue (although Curly Cue was just for a chuckle).
The rest were from other stories mostly, not that it matters for the plot, but just a bit of fun, a way to pay homage to some of the greats. Stavrogin and Verkhovensky are names from a Dostoyevsky novel. The Northmen, Injal Skube and Killer Hrapp, came right out of the medieval Icelandic epic ‘Njal’s Saga’, for some of those names just sounded so great I feel like they needed more exposure. I’ve honestly no idea about their proper pronunciation, but I’m fascinated by the interesting way they mix consonants. Tuco is the poor scallywag played by Eli Wallach in Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western, ‘The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly’.
What attracted you to the genres that your work occupies?
To be honest, I’m not really sure that these genre classifications ever work right. It’s seems like rough work sometimes fitting stories into these broad categories. Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes had elements of mystery, horror, police procedural, and psychological thriller all at once sometimes. Kurt Vonnegut could be a science fiction writer, or a comedian, or maybe social satire, or all of it. I read there was a big fuss made recently about Kazuo Ishiguro’s book ‘The Buried Giant’, because some folk wanted to call it fantasy, and others just wanted to call it literature. I think that every story has a long mixed-up lineage, for most writers are building off of the rich tangled heap of everything that went before. So with that said, I stirred a lot into the pot here. It’s got a hefty helping of Noir mixed with a hint of horror, a good portion of outrageous comic book melodrama, and some romance thrown in for good measure.
I love the classic Noir aesthetic with its histrionic stylised mood of gritty despair. Noir seems like Greek tragedy in the way the heroes are always overwhelmed, their victories mostly symbolic resistance against an intractable malevolent system. It’s easy to see how this concept came out of the depression era, and it’s such an iconic genre that’s been nurtured and tinkered with by folks ever since, like Godard and his gangster films, Akira Kurosawa’s samurai movies, the brutal brooding of Nic Pizzolatto’s books and TV scripts, or the pure distillation that Frank Miller put into his ‘Sin City’ comics. There’s a sense of mythic parable to me, complex morality tales of flawed heroes with no easy answers.
What are your influences when writing?
Everything gets in there, books, movies, television, people I’ve known. There’s a great saying I heard once, something like “writers are simply readers moved to emulation”, which I think describes it perfectly. You experience a great story and it inspires you to try and do the same. Like everyone who’s been young there are some dodgy years in my past that provide a rich cache of story ideas. Might as well get some use from those youthful mistakes and rambunctious emotional catastrophes.
Could you describe a typical writing day?
It can be a struggle, with the day job eating up so much time. But once I settled into a schedule, things moved along. It was usually just a few hours a night, maybe an hour or more before dinner editing and rewriting pages from the day before, then an hour or two after dinner to start on the next pages. I tried to follow Hemingway’s advice, never end the day finished; always leave something to start on the next day.
Which authors did you look up to when starting out as a writer?
There’s so many, it’s hard to pare it down to something manageable. I read a lot of comic books growing up, which everyone knows is the gateway drug into classic literature. It starts out with Alan Moore, Frank Miller and Mike Baron, and then that leads you to Kurt Vonnegut, Ray Bradbury, Asimov, Hemingway and Steinbeck. Before you know it you’re knee deep in the Russians, Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy and Gogol. But you’ve got to take a breather, pace yourself, which means some Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Ed McBain and Mickey Spillane. By this point, you’ve also been taking some detours into the wild stuff, Italo Calvino, Oakley Hall, Warren Ellis.
I’m a super fan of Dostoyevsky novels, so that is likely the biggest influence on my attempts at story structure, what with his large cast of characters and their complex interwoven plot lines, although my efforts are just a pale shadow by comparison. He’s got this genius talent for surprise plot twists, and an uncanny ability to herd his huge cast of characters around like it was nothing. All of a sudden everyone is in the same room and every sub-plot just plays out smooth as butter. And he’s got a great sense of humour, mixed in there somewhere between all the bleak despair. Then there’s the lush style of Italo Calvino, his sentences are so rich with detail and ideas that it’s a hard thing to reach their end, you just want it to last a bit longer.
Is there a particular book you have read this year that you want to share with my readers?
There’s so much great stuff out there, it’s hard to choose. First I have to suggest the forgotten classic Oakley Hall novel, ‘The Coming of the Kid’. I read it long ago, but it deserves some notice, in my view. It’s a wild book, reads like a western, but is also an epic fantasy, and a study of how the American western evolved over time. It’s one of those books where every page is filled with great quotes of rustic gunslinger eloquence.
I finished Ann Leckie’s last book in the Anciliary series, which is just incredible stuff. It’s so amazing how she can convey these utterly obscure and outlandish situations so comfortably. There’s a fair share of action, but also so many calm moments that ease you completely into the world. It just kept the surprises coming.
There is ‘Blindsight’, by Peter Watts, that I just read. It’s high concept science fiction, a hodge-podge of so many brain-squeezing ideas about human consciousness it’s worth it just for that. And it’s got vampires, which seem kind of an arbitrary addition, but he makes it work in a totally new way.
‘Lovecraft Country’ by Matt Ruff is a clever twist on the horror stories of H.P. Lovecraft. It reads pretty fast as well, crisp and clear prose.
A big surprise I ran into was ‘The Builders’ by Daniel Polansky. It’s a thin wisp of a book, a sort of fantasy/western about talking animals, which sounds so silly I couldn’t figure why I even started reading, but the tone of it is spot on: bludgeoning, bare-knuckle prose that is so over-the-top, but also gives you a nudge so that you know you’re in on the joke.
How does it feel to be a published author?
Being published is a fine thing, but not so fine as having just completed the book. The published part brings a lot of chores with it that I’m not much good for. All the promoting and market strategizing shenanigans don’t offer the same sense of accomplishment a fellow gets from a few well written pages, but it’s a learning process.
What is next for you in the world of writing?
I’m working on a more traditional murder mystery set in a small sailing town. In some ways I guess it’s much like this first book, a crooked town full of quirky characters. I’m interested in getting more into the connections between folk and how they play out over time, building into some strange contortions. It’s funny the way memory can work to skew how a man sees things in the present sometimes. I’m also trying to delve more into details of place. In ‘The Fell Hound of Adversity’ I mostly avoided specifics, partly because in general I’m not really interested in reading all those details, and partly to convey a more mythic tone where everything is an archetype. So I want to try my hand at describing a real place properly.
On the back-burner there’s a totally ridiculous rough draft for a Napoleonic Horror story, which delves into some light history of mathematics and the tumultuous aftermath of the Enlightenment in European society. The basic structure plays out like a 19th century buddy cop movie, with monsters. Elevator pitch would be: if Charles Stross and Susanna Clarke wrote a Lethal Weapon prequel.
Thank you to Parker T. Geissel for your time and thank you to the readers for checking out the Q&A. If you want to experience some more of The Fell Hound of Adversity then your in luck! I will be posting an extract of the book later on this week so please check that out too.