What inspired “Ghostreaper, or, Life After Revenge”? Did the story change much as you developed it?
The character of Elsie Jarrow appears in my Marla Mason urban fantasy series—she’s mentioned several times in various stories and novels as a figure of dread and power, and is the principle antagonist of the sixth book, Grim Tides. I love Elsie’s character and wanted to write about her more, which was tricky, since (uh, spoilers) she is pretty definitively dealt with in Grim Tides, but I thought: this is why we have a multiverse. So the events of “Ghostreaper” take place in some other, parallel universe where Elsie is still wandering around loose to make mischief.
Obviously, I wrote the story so it would stand alone, and you don’t need any prior familiarity with the character to enjoy it, but the connection is maybe an extra treat for devoted readers.
Carson seems pretty okay with revenge, all things considered, and for Elsie it’s just a means to an end. What’s your personal take on revenge?
Revenge is appealing in theory, toxic in practice. I love stories about revenge—from The Crow to Kill Bill to Joe Abercrombie’s Best Served Cold—and tales of escalating responses and counter-responses are great in fiction. Personally, though? I think living well is the best revenge. Let your enemies gnaw their guts in misery while you shine, shine, shine; be content in knowing they think about you often, seething with resentment, letting their minds be poisoned by your presence there, while you scarcely spare them a thought at all, because you have better things to do.
Of course if anyone ever hurts my wife or my kid I will devote myself to their subtle and overt destruction.
A magical artifact like a soul-reaping spear would be right at home in your Marla Mason series. How would she have handled Elsie?
Ghostreaper comes from a Marla Mason story, actually! (I am fond of such little cross-dimensional cameos in my work.) In my story “Ill Met in Ulthar,” Marla Mason enters the dreamscape of a deranged epic fantasy writer, and Ghostreaper is one of the magical weapons she encounters there. In my novel Grim Tides, Elsie goes into that same writer’s dream world and comes back out with an artifact called the HellHorn, used to summon monsters; in the parallel universe of “Ghostreaper,” she apparently brought out the magical spear instead. And used it to amuse herself.
As for how Marla handles Elsie—just check out Grim Tides. Elsie’s my favorite villain in that whole series, and she has a lot of competition.
You’re a prolific author, writing and publishing a fair number of novels and stories each year. Do you work on novels and stories at the same time, or do you alternate? Does one format come more naturally to you?
I tend to think about short stories for a while and then draft them in a single sitting, unless they’re quite long. (Of course, it takes time to get them revised and polished into final shape.) I often write stories as breaks from longer projects—it’s nice to get that sense of accomplishment that comes with finishing something!—or as palate cleansers in between. I am a natural story-writer—really, a natural novelette writer, though I’ve trained myself to do shorter stories too. As for writing novels . . . After writing twenty-five or so, I still feel like I have a lot to learn, but I’m getting the hang of some aspects of it, sometimes.
You recently co-edited with Melissa Marr an original short story anthology called Rags & Bones: New Twists on Timeless Tales, published by Little, Brown. You and your wife, Heather Shaw, also edit Flytrap magazine, which was recently revived after a five-year hiatus, and you’re senior editor at Locus. What’s it like wearing the editor hat versus the writer hat?
I was a lover of stories before I was a writer of stories, and I still love nothing more than reading a story that surprises and delights me. Editing is a chance to look for those kinds of stories, and promote them, and shepherd them into the world—and sometimes even to get paid in the process. What could be better? Rags and Bones is an amazing book, and I’m grateful to Melissa for asking me to co-edit with her. The opportunity to ask people like Holly Black and Neil Gaiman and Gene Wolfe and Kelley Armstrong and Garth Nix to write you original stories? That is a thrill.
Flytrap was always much more about finding weird stories from people you probably haven’t heard of before—though lots of our contributors are quite well known now—and we’ll be bringing that same off-kilter aesthetic to the revival; our first new issue will be out early next year.
Locus is a whole different thing, but it’s been valuable for teaching me to work to deadline, and to do research. Writing the obituaries is the closest thing in my life to a sacred trust.
What are you working on now?
A contemporary fantasy novel called Heirs of Grace that’s going to be published as a five-part serial by 47North. It is funny and magical and romantic and harrowing, and it’s something I’ve been wanting to write for years.
What work do you have out now or forthcoming?
My newest book is the aforementioned Rags and Bones anthology, which I encourage everyone who loves stories to check out. The seventh Marla Mason novel, Bride of Death, should be available both as an eBook and in a print edition (from The Merry Blacksmith Press) by the time this interview appears; it’s got monsters and motorcycles and a mean-spirited talking head in a birdcage. Next summer my contemporary fantasy novella The Deep Woods should be out from the fantastic British press PS Publishing—I think it’s one of the best things I’ve ever written.
Spread the word!