The Alchemy Dirge surprises you with its wit and well-drawn characters. This entry into SPFBO6 was penned by Ryan Howse. While it is book 2, it does stand alone. I had no problem entering the world…and what a world it was. Aeon exists, a city several hundred years after Ragnorok, in a world that contains alchemy and witches, airships and assassins. Our hero, the impoverished Salai, is an alchemist who must take the addictive ether balm, because of headaches in order to function. The story meanders a bit, but it is a pleasant journey full of whimsy and dark wonder. I highly recommend the book.
Ryan very kindly granted me an interview, you can read it below.
Ryan Howse is the author of The Steel Discord, The Alchemy Dirge, and Red in Tooth and Claw. He lives in Regina, Canada, with his wife, children, and cats. He can be found online at twitter.com/RyanHowse
Welcome to my lair, Ryan.
Thanks for having me!
Tell me about a great book you’ve read recently!
I just finished This is How You Lose The Time War by Max Gladstone and Amal El-Mohtar, and it was fantastic, just top-notch writing, concept, everything.
I’m also currently reading J. Rushing’s Radio which is great. Urban fantasy in Paris in 1928.
What’s your favorite song?
“Ghost Love Score” by Nightwish, hands down, no contest. Epic female-fronted choral metal opera? Aw yeah.
Okay, time to escalate things: you get to travel to any book’s setting and world but you have to choose only one. Where do you go?
Oh, that’s easy. Star Trek, Earth, anywhere in the TNG-DS9-Voyager timeline.
How do you like to work? (In silence, with music? Do you prefer to type or to handwrite? Are you an architect or a gardener? A plotter or a pantser? D’you write in your underwear, or underwater in scuba gear?) Tell me about your writing method!
With kids, it’s mostly late at night these days, when I can scrounge a couple hours.
Ambient noise or music is about what I can handle these days while writing. Sometimes it’s movie or video game scores, sometimes it’s tabletop audio (which is ambient music for RPGs) and sometimes its very low-key electronica like Disparition.
What/Who are your most significant fantasy influences?
I fell hard for the New Weird when that was (briefly) a subgenre. A Concerto For the End of Days wears that the sense of weirdness in its setting pretty openly. And not just weirdness for weirdness’ sake, but a sense that fantasy can be used to tell all sorts of stories, with all sorts of protagonists, in all sorts of settings.
What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
The most useful I heard was “You don’t need to learn how to write a book. You need to learn how to write this book.” The Steel Discord was written with a full outline, even if the outline changed. The Alchemy Dirge refused to be outlined fully, and instead after every act I went and outlined the next act. Red in Tooth and Claw was more premise-based and never got outlined.
The least helpful was ‘write every day’ which I felt I had to follow in my younger days despite working two jobs or 60 hour weeks. “Write every day” is much more feasible with my current job, mind you, but I still think better advice would be “Write when you can. Maintain forward momentum. Don’t procrastinate, but allow yourself some fallow time. Writing’s more than just typing.”
Can you tell me a little something about your current work(s) in progress?
The third of my A Concerto for the End of Days novels is called The Vivus Nocturne. It’s about a small mining town where vivus, an essential ingredient in magic, is mined. Because they’re only there to extract a very specific resource and make some fast money, no one’s interested in improving conditions over the long term.
Of course, worker to management politics will come into play, and of course, you can’t have a magic mine without the miners delving too greedily and too deep.
How do you motivate yourself on days when you don’t want to write?
Honestly, I love to write. The hard thing is finding time for it, or fighting through fatigue.
Who are your favourite characters in literature or pop culture?
From TV: Doc Cochran. Rupert Giles. Kira Nerys. I love Odo so much I have photoshopped wedding pictures where my wife and I look like him.
From books: T’Passe from Matthew Stover’s Acts of Caine. Squirrel Girl. Victor Frankenstein.
And do you have a favourite type of character you enjoy writing?
Ilher from The Alchemy Dirge was so easy to write, because he is essentially a plot factory. He’s a black market arcana merchant, which means he’s endangered by his clientele, or people wanting to know what his clientele want. He’s a social climber, which mixes him and his clientele in with the upper echelons of society, always an interesting combination. He’s a pacifist, which means I need to find clever ways of resolving his conflicts. And he has ideals, even if they happen to be self-serving ones.
Tell me about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
I will bang out the drum for Raymond St. Elmo for the rest of my days. I loved both Letters from a Shipwreck in the Sea of Suns and Moons and The Origin of Birds in the Footprints of Writing a lot—both absolute five-star books.
I’ll just link to my review of The Origin of Birds in the Footprints of Writing:
Finally, would you be so kind as to dazzle me with an elevator pitch?
Hmm. I have three books, but I’ll elevator pitch the newest, Red in Tooth and Claw. (Buy it here.) It’s a Neolithic survival in the wilderness that crosses Stephen King’s Misery with The Revenant:
A brutal wilderness.
Hungry, plague-ridden animals.
A winter so cold it snaps wood.
Chemosh, a scout imprisoned by the enemy, agrees to lead the way through this wilderness for his freedom. But both his knowledge and his resilience are put to the test, not just by the wilderness, but by the chaotic, violent man he guides. A man he must rely on if they are to survive.
Read The Alchemy Dirge here.