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Interview with Low Town author Daniel Polansky

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Interview with Low Town author Daniel Polansky

Last week I reviewed Low Town, a new fantasy novel by debut author Daniel Polansky.  Doubleday was also kind enough to donate 5 copies of the book for me to give away on the blog (Click Here).  Long story short, Polansky's novel is a ton of fun to read.  Part crime fiction, part second world fantasy, it's a tight narrative told through the mind of a drug addicted former cop trying to get by in a shitty part of town.  It's unapologetically dark and grim, not at all incompatible with the kinds of stories written by genre luminaries like Joe Abercrombie, Richard Morgan, and Brent Weeks.

I was going to publish my review of Alloy of Law today (maybe tomorrow?), but I wanted to get this interview out before everyone disappears for Thanksgiving.  Somehow I don't think a lot of people read blogs while gorging themselves.  So here's the blurb:
In the forgotten back alleys and flophouses that lie in the shadows of Rigus, the finest city of the Thirteen Lands, you will find Low Town. It is an ugly place, and its cham­pion is an ugly man. Disgraced intelligence agent. Forgotten war hero. Independent drug dealer. After a fall from grace five years ago, a man known as the Warden leads a life of crime, addicted to cheap violence and expensive drugs. Every day is a constant hustle to find new customers and protect his turf from low-life competition like Tancred the Harelip and Ling Chi, the enigmatic crime lord of the heathens.

The Warden’s life of drugged iniquity is shaken by his dis­covery of a murdered child down a dead-end street . . . set­ting him on a collision course with the life he left behind. As a former agent with Black House—the secret police—he knows better than anyone that murder in Low Town is an everyday thing, the kind of crime that doesn’t get investi­gated. To protect his home, he will take part in a dangerous game of deception between underworld bosses and the psy­chotic head of Black House, but the truth is far darker than he imagines. In Low Town, no one can be trusted. 

Justin: So, your first novel - congratulations!  Are you officially a professional writer?

Polansky: Thanks! I am a professional writer, though I have a sideline in arms dealing. That's a lie if you are a federal agent, hahaha, aren't I a kidder?  Actually I quit my day job before I became a writer and just started bumming around foreign countries until they throw me out.

Justin: Who do you talk to about celebrity gossip with no co-workers?

Polansky: I talk about celebrity gossip with my old friend, the wind, walking down the boulevard and screaming things about Snookie into his face. He takes it well.

Justin: I know you're traveling in Asia right now. Just a fun trip or are you shopping for an Asian agent (this is not a euphemism for the sex trade)?

Polansky: Just a fun trip. Bumming about, eating things we don't eat in the west. Pig's blood cake. Bird's nest. Human flesh. That last was a joke, hahaha, but maybe not.

Justin: Talk to me a little bit about the two different titles of your book. I love The Straight Razor Cure (UK) after reading the novel - it's perfect. It's a bit esoteric to someone who hasn't read the novel. Low Town is certainly more accessible. Which do you prefer?

Polansky: The Straight Razor Cure is what I had initially, and I suppose it's still closest to my heart. At the end of the day I'd name it Captain Fitzgerald's Cabaret Extravaganza if I thought that would get me a few more sales. It probably wouldn't, though. That's a bad name.

Justin: Somehow I don't think Cabaret Extravaganza captures the right image.  There's a lot Abercrombie's grit in Low Town.  Since you're from Baltimore I have to imagine you've seen The Wire. Does Warden have a little Stringer Bell in him?

Polansky: You know I hadn't made that specific connection, but I'm happy to run with it. They're both ruthless sorts of people, willing to do whatever is required to see to their own ends. I could see Idris Elba for the movie.

Justin: Gritty fantasy has become a pretty significant part of the market. Why do you think these kinds of stories resonate so much with readers?

Polansky: We don't all live in the Shire? I'm not sure. If I was to make a broad generalization, I might say something about the recent economic collapse, and bleak future forecast, and etc, but it's pretty late here in this hostel I'm in in Malaysia, and I don't really think I have the energy. To be honest, I typed most of this answer while I was making eyes at the cutie across the way. Hey cutie, how you doing? She's got a stupid tattoo but what are you going to do, it's a hostel.

Justin: I've made a decision to not sidetrack the interview to discuss your attempts at an amorous rendezvous however tempted I might be.  And I am very tempted.  Was Low Town a first person novel from the get go?

Polansky: It was very much a first person perspective from the opening, though I'm not sure that I'd draw any general conclusions about the state of the industry from that fact.

Justin: Did you feel limited as the story went on not being able to flesh out certain plot elements or world building items because you'd locked yourself into Warden's head?

Polansky: No, not at all. Limiting the perspective in a certain way allows for a tighter story, and makes the reader a little uncomfortable. I think first person stuff works particularly well for fantasy -- it limits the amount of exposition you provide. Exposition is the enemy of decent writing.  Tattoo girl says she was an environmental studies major. That's a huge surprise -- wow. Never saw that coming.

Justin: Urge to sidetrack rising.  Was this a one book deal? If so has the publisher reached out to your agent for subsequent novels?

Polansky: It's different country by country. We're very much hoping to release a few more volumes about the Warden. I think if you, the person reading this interview, really wants to make sure they can get the next book in the series, the best thing to do would be to break into the office of your favorite publisher and just start yelling. That sort of thing generally works out well for everyone.

Ray Rice in your face!
Justin: NFL season is in full swing.  Are you secure in your knowledge that the Ravens have by far the coolest uniforms in all of pro sports?

Polansky: I am an NFL fan, and following the Ravens ups and downs from across the world is always fun/horrible. We do have the best uniforms, that's true. Also we have the best state flag -- it's just way above everyone else's, I dunno why.

Justin: Thanks for taking the time! I've really enjoyed the first book and hope to read more.  Oh, and you will be coming back to the blog to answer a question about tattoo girl.

Polansky: Thanks for the questions! It was a pleasure to be here, digitally speaking.

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At November 22, 2011 at 7:36 AM , Anonymous Stefan said...

Great interview. Low Town/Straight Razor Cure's definitely going on my to-read list, now.

At November 22, 2011 at 11:54 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Loved the interview! Book is great, one of this year's strongest debuts


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