July 5 2012

Ian Tregillis Interview

It occurred to me that I haven’t ever done an interview here. So, today I will remedy that by interviewing author Ian Tregillis. This July is a busy month for Ian as he has several books arriving. The Orbit edition of his first novel, Bitter Seeds will be out in the UK/Commonwealth on July 12.

Even more exciting is that The Coldest War, the sequel to Bitter Seeds, is due out in hardcover/eBook form on July 17 in the US from Tor. For various reasons there was a bit of a pause between these volumes, but The Coldest War is well worth the wait. If you haven’t yet read Bitter Seeds, then hurry up and read it as you will want to read The Coldest War as soon as it is out. In fact, if you can’t wait (as I couldn’t), you can already hear it in audiobook form from Audible.com. You can read excerpts from The Coldest War here and here.

And, to make July even more event packed, Ian will be handing in a new novel, Something More Than Night, to his editor at almost the same time. Ian has said that Something More Than Night will be a Chandler inspired murder mystery set in Heaven.

I thought it might be nice for Ian to talk about some of these things and so, without further ado, let us proceed to the interview:

Your next novel “The Coldest War” is due out on July 17. That’s got to be a good feeling. How did you find the process of writing a second volume to compare with the first?

It is a very exciting feeling. Also terrifying. At some point I realized that as long as I have only one book out, all models for my career are unconstrained. An infinite number of models can be fit to that single datapoint, after all. So there are theoretically possible future realities where the trend-lines through that initial datapoint go up and up and up, to fantastic sales and popularity. Once the second novel comes out, though, the models for the future become heavily constrained. And more realistic.

And gloomier…

One benefit of starting a second novel is the comforting knowledge that you’re capable of writing and finishing a novel. I clung to that. I certainly didn’t know with any certainty that I could complete a novel when I set out to tackle Bitter Seeds.

Another thing that made the second novel a little more manageable was the fact that I had a much stronger handle on the characters and the rules of the world when I sat down to write the first page of The Coldest War than I did on page 1 of Bitter Seeds. I deliberately say “manageable” rather than “easy”. I’m not sure writing a novel could ever be *easy*. But it does get a little less intimidating with each completed volume.

Writing the second novel in this trilogy was rewarding, too, because I got to pay off a bunch of stuff that had been set up in the previous book. It was fun to finally get the ball through those goalposts.

From Bitter Seeds, we know that Gretel’s psychic power is to look into the future. What drew you to create Gretel as a character in the world of British Warlocks and other super powered Nazis? Was Gretel the chicken or the egg?

That is a really good question.

Long long ago, when I had the original idea for this series, it was in the form of a short story about a different German agent. There was one scene in the story which took place back at the farm where he and his colleagues were raised. And just for fun I put a crazy psychic woman in the background. At the time, I she was there just for color and a bit of worldbuilding.

But later, when it came time to plot out an entire trilogy, that mad clairvoyant lurking in the background of the story kept derailing everything. Eventually I realized that in order for the series to work, it was best if Gretel’s scheming moved to center stage. That fit with some of my other ruminations coming from another direction, because I’d been sort of noodling about very long-term precognition, but for some reason I hadn’t put the two lines of thought together.

Once I accepted that, Gretel became the egg, because I had to figure out what she was doing, and why. Everything else followed from that.

You have another book that you have just turned in, “Something More Than Night,” would you like to mention a bit about that? Maybe about Raymond Chandler in general?

I’m very excited about “Something More…” but also somewhat nervous about it. It’s such a departure from the Milkweed books that I’m not sure how readers will react to it. Also, it appears I have a tendency to come up with books that are difficult to classify from a marketing standpoint. There are worse problems to have, I suppose, but it does complicate things…

A couple of years ago, I went on an extended vacation right after finishing the Milkweed books. I took a lot of reading material with me. I’d been wanting to dip my toes into noir detective fiction, which I had never read up until then. When I did, I quickly fell in love with Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe books.

So I couldn’t resist setting my next project in a distant corner of that same sandbox. I’m no Chandler — gosh, nobody is — but I tried to sprinkle little call-outs to the Marlowe books throughout “Something More…” The great noir writers of that era weren’t so great on plot, and their characterizations could be pretty thin at times. But they had style aplenty! Many noir novels don’t actually hold together when you dissect the plot, but that’s not the point — the point is the transcendent wordsmithing.

But since my craft isn’t nearly to that level, I tried to make certain the plot makes sense, too!

What is a question you have been dying to answer (about your books) and no one has ever asked you? (and its answer if possible)

Hmm, that’s another good question.

I guess one potentially interesting question (to me, anyway) that nobody has asked yet is this: “Putting Gretel aside for the moment, who is the most powerful member of the Gotterelektrongruppe?”

Gretel sort of has to be excluded from that question, because she’s working on a completely different level than the others. She’d never get embroiled in a fight unless she wanted to! But what about the others — if they all turned on one another, who would be the last person standing?

I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about this a bit. It’s a little like a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors, though (only more pointless). Nevertheless I have my own theory for who would ultimately prove to be the most powerful of the German supers.

But I’m not telling. (Yet…)

Did you go to SF conventions prior to being an author? If so, did you notice a change (or different emphasis) once you became an author?

My first trip to an SF convention was in 2005, just after I came back from the Clarion workshop. Thanks to Walter Jon Williams, I had just joined a local writers’ group, and they introduced me to the great fun that is Bubonicon. So I wasn’t an author when I started going to conventions, but I was a writer, if that distinction makes sense. Walter and the other writers I knew through the group really took me under their wing, so I never had to endure the experience of being all alone at a convention.

Good thing, too. I’m terribly shy in large groups and don’t handle those situations well.

What is it like to hold a wombat?

Wombats are much more dense than I had imagined. I had thought they’d be like a giant stuffed animal, and about as heavy. That’s not the case. At least, that wasn’t the case for the one wombat I’ve held. I was surprised to find they’re pretty solid little things. Absolutely adorable. But they have this hard bony plate near the base of their tail. And as I said, they’re kind of dense. So holding Lily the wombat was quite a lot like holding a furry oak log! But cuter. Much cuter.

In case you were wondering, that is a photo of Ian and Lily the Wombat at the Trowunna Wildlife Park in Tasmania.

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Posted July 5, 2012 by user in category "Interview


  1. By EE Giorgi on

    Great interview, thanks so much Ian and Steve! And good to know about the density of wombats… if I ever encounter one, that is! ๐Ÿ™‚

    I agree about the noir genre being a showcase of awesome wordsmithing. And you’re up there, Ian, yes you are! ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. By Ian on

    Thanks, Elena! You’re far too kind.

    And Steve, I think you just invented a whole new genre: wombat noir.


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