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Frank Cavallo interview
Frank Cavallo's short fiction has appeared in venues such as Another Realm, Ray Gun Revival, Every Day Fiction and Lost Souls. He has authored two novels: The Lucifer Messiah and the newly-released weird western The Hand of Osiris.
His latest Warhammer novella is included in the Gotrek & Felix: Lost Tales" collection and two of his Warhammer short stories from the past year are available as a part of the Best of Hammer and Bolter: Volume 2.
When did you first discover speculative fiction and how did it affect you?
As far back as I can remember I was always a fan of sci-fi and fantasy in other media: film, TV, comics etc. But I think the moment that most impacted me as a writer as well as a fan, was back when I was about 13. I was browsing in my local library in New Jersey Ė probably for some school project Ė and I saw a for sale bin of old paperbacks that they were clearing out. One of them was a beat-up Lancer edition of Robert E. Howardís [Jordan] Hour of the Dragon re-printed as Conan the Conqueror with a fantastic Frank Frazetta painting on the cover. It was marked down to five cents in pencil on the title page. I bought it, read it and re-read and re-read and before I knew it, I was hooked. I remember the preface to the thing put Howard in context with other fantasy writers; it talked about Fletcher Prattís The Well of the Unicorn and Eric R. Eddisonís The Worm Ouroboros as well as Tolkien and a bunch of others. I very quickly realized that I hadnít just bought a book, I had opened a door on a whole world of fantasy literature.
What are your three favorite books and/or authors and why?
Frank Herbertís Dune. Itís always regarded as a towering feat of imagination, and thatís true, but itís really got everything, and it works on multiple levels: action, adventure and great characters in an epic story that also deals with big themes without being preachy.
Iím also a huge fan of Clark Ashton Smith, who rarely gets more than a passing mention among the greats of the pulp era. Poseidonis and Zothique are two delightfully strange, wonderfully written collections. He had a prose style unlike anyone else Iíve ever read, which was somehow just perfect for the sort of stories he wrote Ė chock full of antiquated words and phrases woven into a colorful tapestry that was both beautiful and ghastly, and sometimes both at once.
For non-fiction, no one comes close to the late Christopher Hitchens. I have a whole shelf dedicated to him on my bookcase. Virtually everything he wrote was insightful, acerbic and controversialójust like him.
What is the hardest part of writing speculative fiction? How do you cope with that?
For me I think itís in trying to keep the fantastical grounded without losing the mystery that makes it interesting. What I mean by that is, in order to write fantasy you need to introduce one or more elements that are magical or supernatural, etc. That could easily be a recipe for chaos though, because in theory just being able to say a few magic words can make almost anything possible -- and thatís not actually good for a story. If anything is possible, then nothing is ever really at stake and so thereís no reason to care. You have to try to be rigorous in defining and maintaining some kind of boundaries, some kind of limits on the magical element, but without going too far in the other direction where you ruin all the mystery by narrowing it too much.
What are you working on now?
Iím not particularly superstitious, but every time I answer this question it seems to jinx what Iím doing. So this time Iím staying quiet. Youíll just have to wait and seeÖ
Every speculative fiction writer specializes in something Ė universes, creatures, languages, technology, magic, etc. What are your specialties?
I suppose what Iím most interested in doing, what Iíve mostly done so far at least, is blending genres and putting fantasy themes into unconventional settings. My first novel for example, The Lucifer Messiah, took shape-shifting monsters from ancient myths and plunked them down in a 1940s NYC gangster tale. My second one The Hand of Osiris has deities from the Egyptian underworld re-surfacing in the Old West.
What are some of the values you want your fans to take away from your novels?
I donít necessarily want to impart any values, usually Iím just asking questions. Iíd rather people came away from my books thinking about their own reactions to the issues my characters wrestled with, rather than feeling that I tried to convince them of anything in particular.
What are your professional and/or personal goals for the next decade?
Iím a lawyer in my professional life, and I write part-time. Iím very up front about the fact that Iíd love to be an ex-lawyer someday, and if I could rake in enough money from writing to put my law license on the shelf permanently, Iíd be pretty satisfied with that.
Since Speculative Fiction is often interwoven with spirituality (myths, legends, science, etc), please describe your personal spiritual path and how it is reflected in your writing.
Iím generally agnostic about most issues of spirituality, which is to say that Iím not much of a believer in religion or faith Ė however, I am interested very deeply in how those two things shape our lives. That also means I donít pretend to know the answers to any of the big questions, but for just that reason Iím endlessly fascinated with the uncertainty of it all.
Conventions Ė do you attend?
I have only been to a few. Theyíre really not my cup of tea, I donít dress up and I dislike crowds. I should probably go to them more often, but I just donít enjoy them.
What advice and/or warnings do you have for burgeoning writers?
Advice: read and write. By that I mean, read everything you can and never stop. Next, writers write. Authors may publish books and celebrity authors may get rich but at the core of it, writers write. Itís that simple.
Warnings: you cannot do this because you want to make money or for recognition or for anything like that. You probably wonít make much cash and youíll get just as much negative feedback as positive (probably more negative on balance, actually.) So the only reason to do this is because you canít not do it. Writing is a solitary, lonely and slow process that can be frustrating and difficult and which often brings very little reward. You should only do that if you actually love the process so much that you canít really live without doing it.
You canít tell a book by its cover; however, you must SELL a book by its cover. Tell us about your book covers and how they came about.
I have had zero input into any of my book covers. Iím not sure if this is normal or not, but Iíve had several things published by several different publishers and no one ever consults me on this. Iím not complaining, because I think all of them have been cool. I did some work for Black Libraryís Warhammer universe over the last few years, and those covers were excellent. They have a great art department. I also take every chance to give tons of credit to Erik Wilson who did the cover for my last novel. He got every period detail spot on and really captured the essence of the two main characters in one shot.
Do you follow specific blogs, tweets, or other column-type formats? Which ones and why?
I think Neil Gaiman has one of the best writerís blogs out there, and has for many years now. Iíve been a follower of his since I read Neverwhere back in law school.
How do you feel about movie conversions of books and novelizations of movies?
I have to say I really do love plenty of screen adaptations. Some just stink of course, but part of that is because film and literature are two very different storytelling formats. I get the feeling sometimes that people think a movie is just a live action book. Itís really not. Filmmakers have so many tools at their disposal to evoke a feeling in a viewer: lighting, music, editing, effects, the performance of the actors etc. A book has the words on the page, thatís it. Given those very different formats, there are very different strategies each one uses to present a story. I donít think either one is better than the other, theyíre just different.
If one of your books becomes a movie, who would you want cast into which roles?
I could go crazy with this one, but if I could cast anyoneÖ
For The Hand of Osiris I imagine someone like Mark Strong as Osiris, or possibly Ben Kingsley. Dignified, aloof, sinister and mysterious and so foreign as to be almost alien.
For the gunslinger Sykes Iíd look for a Christian Bale type, someone who can portray a guy just past his prime, whoís gotten fat and slovenly but still carries an echo of his former self, a dashing cavalry officer/Southern gentleman. It helps that he can do accents.
Maybe Matthew McConaughey as the skinny Texas Ranger on his last legs and Wilmer Valderrama as the deceptively dangerous Rafael Vargas. Iíd round it out with Helena Bonham Carter as the immortal beauty Lilith, Brendan Gleeson as the Irish priest Father Malachi and Ray Wise as the ruthless rail baron Staplehurst.
What was the oddest experience youíve had selling your books?
When my first novel came out in 2006 I did a book signing in DC at a big promotional event called Book Expo America. One or two stalls down from my table was Senator Ted Kennedy signing copies of his book. That was weird. He obviously had a much longer line than I did.
Do you belong to a writers group or any other support/hobby group? What, how long and why?
I recently joined SFWA (Science Fiction Writer Association) but I literally still have the welcome letter and handbook on my desk. Iím brand new.
The Lucifer Messiah
Medallion Press 2006
Gotrek and Felix: Lost Tales
Games Workshop/Black Library 2013
The Hand of Osiris
Necro Publications/Weird West Books 2013
Dark Fantasy/Weird Western
The Best of Hammer and Bolter: Volume Two
(contributed two stories in anthology)
Games Workshop/Black Library 2013
Frank Cavalloís website and blog are both found at FrankCavallo.
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