An Interview with DANIEL POLANSKY

Photograph © Dan Stack

                  TOMORROW, THE KILLING (2012)

On the web:

On Twitter: @danielpolansky

Daniel Polansky’s first novel, The Straight Razor Cure was published in 2011, its mix of fantasy and Chandleresque hardboiled private detective appealing to a broad range of readers. His second novel is published this year by Hodder, and returns us to the world of Low Town and the adventures of Warden.

Thanks for taking the time to speak to us, Daniel.

The most striking thing, for me, was what I called the obliteration of genre lines in my review of The Straight Razor Cure. This is most definitely a fantasy world, but it’s a very standard private eye setup, with a very hardboiled or noir feel to it. It’s probably a "chicken or egg" question, but which came first: did you set out to write a detective novel, fantasy novel, both or neither?

Both, really. I’m a big fan of classic noir, in terms of the style of prose and the traditionally grim world outlook. I thought it would be fun to try and transpose some of that into a fantasy setting, see how they meshed together.

Your main character, Warden, comes with massive back story, of which we glimpse bits and pieces as the story progresses. Tomorrow, The Killing gives us more insight. His past is part of what makes him one of the most engaging characters in modern fantasy. How do you approach writing from his point of view, and how much of the back story do you know?

For whatever reason, I was always very comfortable with Warden’s voice, even when I had just begun working on Straight Razor Cure. At this point it’s really a pretty well worn groove, sometimes I find myself thinking like him without even meaning to. As far as his back story goes, I would say that I’ve got a pretty clear idea of the most critical points, though sometimes he still surprises me in the details.

Likewise Low Town itself. The city is divided neatly into different areas; it’s something of a melting pot for different religions and races. There is a lot of history here. How do you go about creating a city on this scale – did you use a real-world reference, and is it mapped out anywhere other than in your head?

The city is really an amalgam of a lot of different places I’ve been. If you look very closely you can see a few echoes of Baltimore, where I grew up, but its nothing that substantial. The truth is Rigus is kind of whatever I need it to be at any given moment in the story. I sort of deliberately left a lot of it undefined so as to give me more room to maneuver.

It’s great to be back in the city for Tomorrow, The Killing. How far into the future have you projected? Is this a finite arc with a definite endpoint, or a more sprawling collection of vaguely interrelated tales? Are we likely to see the city through the eyes of any other characters, or is the Low Town series really also the Warden series?

To me the Low Town series is intrinsically about the Warden, I’m not really sure how I would write a book in this world without him. I’ve got a pretty clear end in mind for the characters, though you never know—sometimes things develop differently than you originally intend.

What authors or works have influenced you as a writer?

So many, really. I could just fill a page. But as far as Low Town, my main influences were guys like Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett. Classic hard-boiled detective stuff.

And as a follow-on, is there one book (or more than one) that you wish you had written?

That’s a hard question to answer—there are a ton of books that I love, that I think are tremendous and wish I had written in the sense that I wish I had the talent and experience of the person who had written it. But on the other hand, the book you write is obviously about who you are as a person, so in a sense to wish you had written another person’s book is to wish you were that person. And that road leads pretty straight to madness. So I’m going to say no, I think I’ll stand pat, thanks.

What does a typical (writing) day in the life of Daniel Polansky look like?

I spend most of my time traveling, so that ends up really dictating where and how I get to write. I don’t really have a routine per se, I just try and get a thousand words in every day, whether it’s in a cafe or on a train or just waiting around a bus station.

And what advice would you have for people hoping to pursue fiction-writing as a career?

Read. Read a ton, read all the time, read the most difficult and dense things you can make yourself read, even if you plan on writing lighter genre stuff. Don’t get boxed into only consuming the fiction that you find yourself comfortable with, or you’ll never acquire a palette broad enough to do anything of valuable. And obviously, write because you enjoy writing, and not because you hope to have any concrete success in it. The process has to be the most important part, or you’re wasting your time.

What are you reading now, and is it for business or pleasure?

At this exact moment I’m trying to finish Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. At one point I think it was for pleasure, but after 9,000 pages I couldn’t exactly say that I’m loving every moment of it.

Would you like to see the Low Town novels make the jump from page to screen? If so, do you have any dream casts/directors/whatever?

Ooooh—I’ll say David Lynch, just to be provocative. Though on the other hand, his foray into genre stuff (Dune) was pretty terrible. On the other other hand, it was interestingly terrible, so I’ll stick with David Lynch. .

And finally, on a lighter note…

If you could meet any writer (dead or alive) over the beverage of your choice for a chat, who would it be, and what would you talk about (and which beverage might be best suited)?

Jorge Louis Borges, drinking franziskaner hefeweizen, discussing past lives. Probably a red wine would be more appropriate, but seeing as how it’s not going to happen one way or the other, we might as well be drinking my favorite beer.

Thank you once again, Daniel, for taking time out to share your thoughts.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.