Six Questions with Anton Strout

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I've been attending the GenCon Writer's Symposium, first as an audience participant, and eventually as panelist, for about ten years. That's where I first met Anton. He's one of the old guard. We were both going to the symposium panels, and saw one another here and there, largely at the panels that Kij Johnson was giving. Anton eventually landed his first book deal with Ace/Penguin, and soon thereafter, Dead to Me landed on bookstore shelves. Fast forward to 2011, and Anton has his fourth Simon Canderous book coming out, this one called Dead Waters.

It's been great seeing one of our own make it good, and when the Dead Waters finally arrived, I was excited to sit down with Anton (each of us at our respective computers) to ask him a few questions.

First, let's start off with a bit of a plug. How would you describe Dead Waters to someone who hasn't read a single Simon Canderous novel?

Twenty-something male with touch-based psychic powers combats the forces of darkness in modern day Manhattan for the Department of Extraordinary Affairs, whose coffee mugs read “Fighting evil, Under budget.”  Kind of a Diet Dresden vibe.  God, I miss Buffy.

Ok, now how would you describe Dead Waters to a rabid fan?

Simon Canderous is back, retractable bat in hand, and the red tape is redder and stickier than ever.  We learn more about his mentor Inspectre Quimbley and what it means to get old in the fight against evil.  Also, aqua-zombies!

Simon Canderous has come a long way from his humble beginnings in Dead to Me to this fourth book, Dead Waters. Speaking as the writer who created him but may not have had complete conscious control over what he's become, what has been the most satisfying part of his evolution for you?

He always surprises me.  You think you know a guy, but as he grows, so does his ability to do things that surprise even me.  He really started as a mess of a guy, one who hadn’t been able to hold down a real relationship because his psychometric powers had crippled him from having one.  Some readers have trouble reading the books because he’s in his mid-twenties, but has the relationship skills of a fourteen-year-old sometimes, but I think it fits his character well.  With great power come great, and complicated, issues with the ladies.  He’s moved past some of those problems as the series has grown, and become a bit of a one-woman kind of guy, kind of a rarity for a genre like urban fantasy at times.  It’s like watching your son grow up.  I’m so proud… *fights back tears* They grow up so fast!

I imagine you've come a long way yourself. There must have been a lot of things that challenged you in writing an extended series like this. Can you talk about a few of them?

Well, there’s a lot of planning ahead you have to do in writing shorter books that still all seem to tie to one another in a larger scheme, which is probably a horse of a different color than the way an epic fantasist goes about, but probably not too different… I’m writing a series where I have overarching questions that span all of the books, but I’m also writing shorter, more concise problems within each separate book and solutions that are also quite stand-alone if you read just one of then.  I think it’s a richer experience to, say, start at the first book and see how the characters grow over times.  Plus I have to keep an eye on wayyyy down the road in the books, trying not to hamstring the future developments I’m working towards.  This results in some mini-cliffhangers from book to book, but I think I also leave my readers with enough answers that they walk away satisfied from book to book. At least that’s what I’m told from readers who have joined me for the long haul.

Even before you were a published author, you were in the publishing industry. What sorts of trends have you seen crop up or change since you started working on the Simon Canderous series? Is there something in you that wants to ride those waves or do they make you want to run in the other direction?

God, I’ve seen it all!  Vamp trends, shapeshifters, dragonkin, werewolves, weretigers, selkies… hell, Jim Hines and I even coined the werejaguarpunk movement!  Being a publishing insider, I see a trend being bought about a year and a half before it’s going to trend.  By the time it’s popular, some of the buying of it has waned in popularity, so I’m not one for trying to chase a trend.  I try to write the best books that I can on whatever interests me as a reader at the time.  I tend to pick and chose elements of stuff that I think fits with the story I’m trying to get down, but I’m not seeking out trends on a conscious level.  Now I write pretty trope heavy.  The paranormal detective is nothing new, but when I chose to start writing Simon, I didn’t see anyone writing quite the type of stories I wanted to be reading, so I decided to do my take and have a little fun with it.  I love what I do and I hope others love it too.  That said, sometimes I see trends and think, “Yeah, that’s a sandbox I want to explore…”  I’ve been poking around a bit of steampunk long form, but I get more opportunity to dabble in trends thanks to the short story anthologies I get invited to, so I’ve got some outlet for that.

The natural question now that you've wrapped up your latest book is, what comes next? Will there be more Simon Canderous novels or are you looking to break into something new?

Well, I’d love for their to be more Simon books, I have ideas for it and stories still to be told in the Simonverse, but Ace is asking for something different from me for now, so I’m pitching them my Spellmason Chronicles, which is loosely based on my gargoyle short ‘Stannis’ as seen in DAW’S Spells of the City.  I’m also working on YA steampunkish idea that I’ve been calling A Dickensian Iron Man Voltron kinda thing.  Then there’s always my regular fiction band book I’ve been ignoring for about five years now for the paying gigs… no rest for the wicked!