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Interview with Hitchers author Will McIntosh

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Monday, January 23, 2012

Interview with Hitchers author Will McIntosh

Hitchers was my first exposure to Will McIntosh.  And it was very rewarding.  Somehow I missed his debut novel, Soft Apocalypse, last year.  And I'm terrible about keeping up on short fiction, so his 2009 Hugo Award winning short story, Bridesicles, is largely unknown to me.  Turns out it was just recently optioned for a feature film.  He's also signed a book deal with Orbit to write a novel based on it.  In any case, given how much I enjoyed Hitchers, and rumors have McIntosh in possession of a completed baseball themed fantasy manuscript, I felt compelled to chat with him.

I thought it was pretty interesting -- I hope you agree!  Hitchers is available for sale tomorrow in hardcover and in eFormat February 1.


Justin: I haven't read Soft Apocalypse.   I read almost all of Night Shade's 2011 debuts, but missed yours for some reason.  It's why I made such a point of reading Hitchers right away.  They don't seem very much alike.  What led you from dystopia apocalypse to what is really a supernatural horror thriller novel?

McIntosh: And my third novel won’t be much like either of them!  It’s probably not a great strategy for building a career, but these were just the ideas that grabbed me.   I just trying to write the very best novel I can each time I begin one, and if my best idea at the time is a supernatural horror thriller, then, by god that’s what I’m going to write.  That being said, now that I have an agent, I don’t start any new project without getting his opinion first.   I’m guessing if I went to him and said, “Seth, I have this idea for a high fantasy mystery novel!” he’d gently steer me away from that at this point.

Justin: Hitchers seems to be about a few things.  To a lesser degree, cartoons, and what they can do from a cultural perspective.  And then to a larger degree the connections between people and death.   I understand you have a passion for cartooning, are you also into death?

McIntosh: Yes, I’m a big fan of cartooning.  My dad and I collect original comic art together--I’ve got a Bloom County original right here on the wall in front of me.  I've never thought of myself as big fan of death in the same way, but I guess I need to revisit that.  Right now I’m working on my next novel, Bridesicle, and it’s about love, death, and loving the dead. So yes, I guess I am into death.

Justin: Who did the cartoons in the novel? How much input in them did you have?

McIntosh: An artist named Scott Brundage did them – aren’t they terrific? The people at Night Shade commissioned him to draw them. I wrote the dialogue, described the scene, and described what the characters should look like to some extent. I was especially impressed with his ability to depict a robot werewolf doll.

Justin: The "grandpa" figure (Tom Darby) in Hitchers is a real son of a bitch.  I'm not sure I've ever read a character I disliked more -- Sauron... maybe.  Please tell me you didn't source a relative for him.

McIntosh: That’s my late grandfather. Note that I dedicated Hitchers to my grandparents – that’s the reason. Now to be fair, I made Grandpa in the book much worse than my grandfather was in real life, but that’s who he’s based on. Some of the lines (“You’re nothing but a sissy!”), and the joke about the yolk of an egg are vintage lines my family will immediately recognize. My mom gave me her blessing to use him in the role. Grandpa was a tough guy, tough as nails, an Irish immigrant who worked loading trucks for a supermarket, night shift, for forty years.

Justin: Well, don't I feel like a jerk now.  Let's move on.  Anthrax attack is a big plot device in the novel.  At some point you made a choice for it to be domestic terrorists pissed off about their own lives. You could have gone with the fundamental extremists or a host of other directions. Were you consciously avoiding the political tug and pull that would have resulted in that choice?

McIntosh: Yes. I didn’t want this story to be about the attack, it was about thousands of dead souls inhabiting the living. I needed a vehicle to get it started. If terrorists or a foreign government was responsible for killing half a million people, I can’t just drop that thread, so now I have to divert focus from where I want it to be to tie up that loose end.

Justin: Your Hugo winning story, Bridesicles, talks about hitchers. Is it related to the novel in any way? How does that reconcile with the fact you just sold a novelization of the short to Orbit?

McIntosh: It’s an unfortunate coincidence. Hitchers was originally titled Deadland, but the editors at Night Shade thought that sounded too much like a zombie apocalypse novel. They were right, of course. So, we needed a new title, and the one everyone liked best was Hitchers. For the Bridesicle novel, I’ll change the term from “hitchers” to something else to avoid confusion. Hmm, maybe I’ll use some crucial term from my short story, Defenders

Justin: Your new deal with Orbit is for two books, the second being based on story you just mentioned, Defenders. I assume it isn't written yet, but is that going to be more of classic SF book?

McIntosh: Yes, so it will be nothing like Soft Apocalypse, Hitchers, or Bridesicle! It’s based on a short story that came out this year in Lightspeed. The human race creates millions of huge, intelligent super-warriors to defeat alien invaders, but has no idea how to deal with them after the invaders are defeated.

Justin: This is a tricky one, so I apologize.  We're seeing a lot authors starting with a Night Shade, Angry Robot, or Pyr, then moving to the big-six for subsequent novels. How's that process been?  Why the move?

McIntosh: I love the people at Night Shade. They’ve been kind and supportive and enthusiastic, and it was a really, really tough decision. The people at Orbit have been just as awesome. I think I’ll leave it at that.

Justin: Word on the street says you wrote a "baseball fantasy." As a die-hard fan of America's game, I have to know more. Enlighten me! Please!

McIntosh: Yeah, it’s right here on my hard drive!  After writing a baseball fantasy (the title is Wild), I discovered that baseball novels are not exactly in high demand.  I was still seeking an agent when I wrote it, and I think one of the four thousand agents I queried asked to look at a partial.  I ended up contacting Rick xxx, an SF writer who also wrote a couple of baseball novels (his father was a major league ballplayer), and Rick told me it was fine to have baseball in your novel, but don’t write a novel about baseball.  Too late – I should have asked him before writing Wild.  I don’t get it -- there are some very successful baseball fantasy novels out there, like Shoeless Joe, The Natural, Brittle Innings, If I Never Get Back, and The Iowa Baseball Confederacy, and I just love all of them. I don’t know why baseball novels don’t get more love.   For the record, here’s what Wild is about:
Strange things are happening to young pitcher Jason Cutty’s team, and he appears to be responsible. One player cries every time he sets foot on the field. Another can’t reach base no matter how hard he hits the ball. The infield floods on sunny days. What did Cutty do to potentially cause these events? The answer involves the first openly-gay player in major league history, a beanball, the top of the Statue of Liberty (the very top, where the torch is, not the wimpy crown-top where the tourists go), and a long-dead baseball legend.
Justin:  Hell, sign me up!  You listening publishers?  Hey, Night Shade, you want another Will McIntosh title?  Anyway, when can expect your novels from Orbit? Keep in mind we only have 11 months left until the end of the world.

McIntosh: I’m delivering Bridesicle next fall, so hopefully Bridesicle in 2013, Defenders in 2014, but it will depend on Orbit’s schedule.

Justin: Awesome, can't wait.  Thanks for joining me!

McIntosh: Anytime.  Now for god's sake, go read Soft Apocalypse!

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At January 23, 2012 at 11:39 AM , Anonymous Bibliotropic said...

Great interview! I recently read "Hitchers" and loved it, and so it was interesting to see some more of the behind-the-scenes stuff about the novels and the author here.


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