Continuing a series of interviews with contributors to my new shared world anthology WALK THE FIRE. today we’re talking with Patrick E. McLean (Walk The Fire: From Fire, Bring Ice).
Patrick, thank you for taking the time to talk about your work and your take on writing with me and the Serving Worlds readers!
Who you are and what you do?
I’m a writer. Once upon a time I was an advertising Creative Director, now I split my time between writing fiction and helping professionals with their writing through executive coaching and small group training.
Who were your earliest influences in speculative fiction, in any genres, as a consumer and as a creator? Which influences have stuck with you.
Heinlein. Howard. Asimov. Tolkien. LeGuin. C.S. Lewis. Lloyd Alexander.
They all stayed with me. No question. There’s bits of all of them I try to emulate or are going to outright steal. The structure of Lloyd Alexander’s Taran Wanderer (The Chronicles of Prydain) is one of the most beautiful, heroic and powerful coming of age stories ever. I kid you not, just telling the beats of that story causes me to tear up.
How long ago did you sold or publish your first story? How long before your second?.
I dunno. 2005ish I guess. It’s kind of an odd question as I have sold what I have written to make a living my whole life. Neil Gaiman mentioned the importance of this in a recent commencement address talking about a journalism job he had. “I was writing on deadline for money.” It really helps you focus.
With the Seanachai and later doing an audiobook version of How to Succeed in Evil, I was writing and publishing stuff as fast as I could manage in 2005.
What role does social media and the online community play in your career, relationships and process?
The support I’ve gotten from perfect strangers and the relationships I’ve made have kept me going. They are invaluable to morale. That said, social media often a pain in the ass distraction. The internet is endless, right? But at times it feels painfully, painfully shallow. I take deep breaths and step away a lot.
Publishing has undergone sea change in the last few years. There are strongly divided groups of professionals and consumers. What’s your philosophy on traditional and independent publishing? Is it either or, or both, and why?
Publishing is enjoying (enduring) what economist Joseph Schumpeter would have called “creative destruction.” It’s kind of like the death of the steam locomotive. People just want story. They don’t particularly care how they get it. And if they can get it faster, for less, that’s better for them.
The difficult part is that there are a lot of bright people (inside and outside the industry) placed in uncomfortable positions by this transition. I think that even though transition is painful, the future is likely bright for everyone.
What was the last/current book, visual and audio entertainment you consumed?
Book: Jugger and The Handle both by Richard Stark. Crime novels. Tremendous books. Parker is an amazing character and Stark/Westlake is a brilliant writer. I’m going to school on him right now.
Visual: Breaking Bad. I wait to watch TV series until they are pretty much done and then I watch them all at once. I’m on episode 4. Vince Gilligan is hands down one of the best writers working in TV. I’ve loved his work ever since his X-files episodes which were always funny and smart and visceral.
Your characters and narratives communicate dry wit and a recognition or reflection of the meaningful small moments most of us ignore in favor of the show-stoppers. Is this a conscious choice, or second-nature?
Hey, thanks for noticing. Yes, it is a conscious choice. I’m not sure you mean by show-stoppers? A building blowing up can be very dull. It happens all the time, all over the world and I don’t care. But if my wife gives me that look. Well, that can be show stopper. Or a day wrecker.
For me, fiction is about what’s going on in character’s head, and more profoundly, soul. Funny as my work may be, that’s the fence I’m swinging for. It’s serious business and it’s very hard, but that’s the thing that fiction can do that no other form of storytelling can do. You can get to live in someone else’s head for a while. It’s very powerful. That’s why I feel not reading (not reading deeply and well) is intellectually crippling. You are denied a powerful psychological insight into the way you and everybody else on the planet works. (But maybe that’s a different soapbox)
You have a higher percentage of antiheroes in your fiction than heroes. Your protagonist in ‘How To Succeed In Evil’ is a consultant to evil geniuses and you have written a number of dead, or dying, or on their way to defeated characters, but they never feel like bad people! What is it that draws you to the antihero – or, is there something about traditional heroes you find unappealing?
It’s kind of coincidence. Unkillable is about a guy who only discovers the worth of life after he loses it. It’s really a very beautiful, positive story — it just starts off very bleak.
How to Succeed in Evil is in some ways about a noble guy becoming a villain. In the broadest strokes, it’s a tragedy.
But beyond that, I’m moving towards more heroic, positive work. A diagnosis of the insanities of the world is great, but you know what is even better, giving people hope. ‘Cause I don’t have any answers, but I think I’ve found a way to craft things that make it a little easier and a little more fun for people to be alive. Maybe this is just my own heroic journey.
You and I collaborated on a story in my ‘Walk The Fire’ anthology. What was the creation of that story – and the shared world process in general- like for you?
Well, John, if you weren’t such a jerk. (Is that even possible, you’re from Canada, home of the nicest people on earth, eh?)
It was hard. When I construct a story, I am picking everything to it all hangs together and belongs there for both story and artistic logic. But with a shared world, who the hell knows what the next guy is going to do. It’s why I’m looking forward to the finished product. It’s also why I cheated with my story. It’s an origin story that’s like facing two mirror on each other. It’s not where “walking” started, but it’s a good beginning for telling a secret history of the world where this power exists.
What’s next from you in the creative arena?
Well, I’m writing for a video game. Wasteland 2. It’s a tremendous project and I’m very lucky to be a part of it. But that’s really a straight gig helping Brian Fargo bring his vision to life.
My next story for me is a retelling of the last 3rd of Beowulf. It’s the part of the epic poem that everyone forgets about. After he kills Grendel and his Mother, Beowulf goes home and becomes King. He lives a long, full time — almost happily ever after. But then along comes a Dragon. And Beowulf has to go fight him. Sure, he’s old, but he’s still a hero and that’s what heroes do.
In this part of the original epic I locate the spark of both The Hobbit and the Dark Knight Returns. The dragon is pissed off because someone steals a cup. Tolkien lifted it straight from this Old English Epic (which was one of is favorites).
And even in the Hobbit, there is this idea that when adventure calls, you have to go. In the very beginning Bilbo tries to weasel out of going on the adventure, Gandalf says something like, “You wished for it when you were younger, now here it is.”
I’m very excited about it.
Thanks for telling us about it, Patrick!
Ladies and gents: Patrick E. McLean!
You can read his story From Fire, Bring Ice, in my shared world anthology Walk the Fire (Kindle), along with eight other stories and authors.