Baltimore native Daniel Polansky’s debut fantasy novel Low Town is out from Doubleday. It´s epic fantasy with an urban fantasy, noir feel about a former law enforcer turned drug dealer. And this bio is short because he’s in hiding from the real people he modeled his characters after. But you can find out more about Daniel online via Facebook, Twitter as @danielpolansky or at his website: http://danielpolansky.com/us/.
SFFWRTCHT: Let´s start with the basics: Where did your interest in Science Fiction and Fantasy come from?
Daniel Polansky: A misspent youth, put simply. My pops had some Tolkien, and I d20′d from early adolescence to the discovery of alcohol. My discovery of alcohol, obviously, not the human species’s.
SFFWRTCHT: I was just about to ask if you witnessed the invention of dirt, too. Who were some of the authors who most thrilled and inspired you growing up?
DP: Lots of folk. Gene Wolfe, Larry McMurtry, Stephen King, William Goldman. Those were some strong voices for me back in the day. Lately I’ve been thinking about how awesome Michael de Larrabeiti was. He wrote a book called The Borribles, which should be required reading worldwide. It’s unclassifiable, utterly original. Goldman is just so good, it’s unreal.
SFFWRTCHT: When did you start writing and how long until your first sale?
DP: I put my hand seriously to fiction in Fall of 2008. I sold Low Town in May of 2010 I guess? So maybe a year and a half.
DP: I never took a creative writing class. As far as the craft goes, it’s an ongoing struggle to get better at it. First and foremost, I read all the damn time. I read like it’s my job, which it kind of is. You have to immerse yourself to a tremendous degree in a variety of literature to have any chance to create anything decent. Beyond that, I wrote a lot. That’s pretty much it.
SFFWRTCHT: Are you a full time writer or do you have a day job?
DP: I am very lucky in that writing is my full time gig. I started off writing articles and short essays, all non-fiction stuff.
SFFWRTCHT: You certainly wrote an original book. I haven´t read anything like it. It´s an interesting voice and style. Where´d the idea for Low Town come from? Was it a conscious decision to merge genres (fantasy and noir)?
DP: I think I was just mucking around with the idea of transporting a classic noir protagonist into a fantasy world.
SFFWRTCHT: Who were some of your noir author inspirations?
DP: Chandler, Hammett, Jim Thompson. Lots of guys. Also noir film has been a big inspiration. The Third Man, Chinatown, Out of the Past. That kind of thing.
SFFWRTCHT: What are the core elements of good noir? Do you classify Low Town as noir?
DP: Spare prose and a grim view of humanity. I think of Low Town as having a traditional noir narrative. But I am big enough to admit that if one person hits another with a sword, it’s fantasy.
SFFWRTCHT: Yes. But also they tend to have darker heroes, don’t they? The POV character is a street child made good who´s now a drug dealer. But he takes on solving child murders in his slum home. His friends include fellow war veteran-bar owner and wife, two wizards and a street kid he takes under his wing. And the settings are grittier, too, in my experience.
DP: The best noir is about discovering whether the protagonist is a hero.
SFFWRTCHT: Indeed. And often redemption comes through the completion of a mission of some kind in many noir tales. In what way do you draw epic elements into urban fiction?
DP: I suppose I try and frame the fundamental elements of noir in a fantastical way?
SFFWRTCHT: How long did it take you to write this book?
DP: It took me about four months to get a draft—but it was a crappy draft and required lots of revisions. Between the first word I wrote for Low Town and it hitting stands was close to three years.
SFFWRTCHT: How many drafts did you wind up doing?
DP: Sincerely, I couldn’t count. Certainly I went over it more than ten times. I hope you like it! But if you don’t, please lie—I cry easily at criticism. I prefer my criticism to be in a foreign language if at all possible.
SFFWRTCHT: You’re in the wrong business! If I recall reading right, didn’t you have a hard time finding either an agent or publisher home for this?
DP: Getting an agent was a struggle. Getting a publisher, somewhat less so.
SFFWRTCHT: Which city did you model your city after?
DP: No one city directly. Just various slums from different locales I’ve been in.
DP: Oh man, fake slang is rough. I really hustled with that stuff. But if I had to give a simple answer, it would be—hip hop. The Wu-Tang clan taught me everything I know about re-purposing words.
SFFWRTCHT: The Warden, your protagonist, is a tough character. Likable and sympathetic on one hand but easy to hate on the other. A drug dealer as a hero was hard for me.
DP: I’m glad — I wanted the reader to be a little uncomfortable with the Warden.
SFFWRTCHT: You did a great job with the character arc for Adolphus. I didn’t realize how subtly it was happening until he stood at the door of the bar calling Wren his son and ready to fight to protect him. Do you start with characters sketches or outlines or just let it unfold as it comes? Was the Warden the first thing for Low Town?
DP: I had no idea how to write a book when I started with Low Town, so I pretty much just went where the writing took me. Now that I know (a little more) about what I’m doing, I start with a pretty comprehensive outline before doing any writing.
SFFWRTCHT: What’s your writing day look like? Do you have particular hours? Word count goals? Use particular music or software?
DP: It all really depends. If I’m traveling or if I’m stationary, if I’m writing, revising or brainstorming. I do my work in coffeeshops and occasionally trains. The constants are: Coffee, iPod, OpenOffice.
SFFWRTCHT: And Wu-Tang Clan, of course. Do you have plans to do more with Warden and this world?
DP: Working on the sequel to Low Town. No title yet. Titles are hard.
SFFWRTCHT: Speaking of titles, why did the UK version get a different title?
DP: Short answer — Doubleday wasn’t nuts about the original title. The original title was The Straight Razor Cure, now the British title. Actually, the working title (I have never told anyone this) was Kicker of Elves—after a classic Guided by Voices tune.
SFFWRTCHT: Were there going to be elves in it then?
DP: Nah. I hate elves.
SFFWRTCHT: No Keebler for you then.
DP: I don’t want no damn dirty elf hands touching my cookies.
DP: I think a trilogy is a pretty good mark. I think one problem with fantasy series generally are they tend to overstay their welcome.
SFFWRTCHT: Any plans to write in other genres?
DP: I’ve got a lot of ideas floating around in my head, but we’ll have to wait and see what comes out. I probably wouldn’t mind writing something a little closer to straight crime at some point, though.
SFFWRTCHT: What kind of responses have you gotten from readers/reviewers on your work?
DP: Mostly positive ones. I plan on getting ‘Brevity is the soul of wit’ tattooed on my bicep.
SFFWRTCHT: How do you handle negative reviews?
DP: I cry a lot and drink.
Interviewer Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.