I enjoyed Mark Teppo's Lightbreaker (reviewed here) so much I had to interview him, which he thankfully accepted. Heartland the second book in the Codex of Souls series will be released in February 2010 along with many other planned volumes in the series. Teppo also contributed to the World Fantasy Award nominated Paper Cities Urban Fantasy Anthology reviewed here.
MH: Hello Mr. Teppo, welcome to Mad Hatter’s Bookshelf. Thank you for taking time to answer our questions. Firstly, can you tell us a little about yourself?
TEPPO: Well, I’m in an inveterate bibliophile. The rest is more mundane: geek job in the biotech industry, father of two children who are already smarter than me, clumsy in ways of the kitchen and the yard; that sort of thing. As for the bibliophile part, books are a necessary part of my existence. When my wife and I were shopping for our first house, I used to get really bothered by homes that didn’t have any books. The creepiest was the place where the bookcases were hidden in the master bedroom closet.
MH: For those who haven’t read Lightbreaker, what would you say to perspective readers to whet their appetite?
TEPPO: It’s not Urban Fantasy as you know it. Instead of celebrating the magical in fantastic creatures (faerie, vampire, were-, and so on), Lightbreaker takes its cues from the historical record, building a system of magick based on existing systems and philosophical and religious history.
MH: Lightbreaker delves into many different types of magick, but mostly Western Occultism. What is your interest/involvement in the Occult beyond books?
TEPPO: Mitch Horowitz has a book coming out soon called Occult America and he starts off with a reminder that the derivation of the word “occult” is simply “the unknown,” and that it has been some of the more outrageous PR efforts of various entities and individuals who have given the term its nefarious meaning. Erik Davis, in his book for 33 1/3 on Led Zeppelin, likens himself to an “occulture critic,” and I really like that appellation. We are seekers of knowledge, really, and without labeling ourselves as adherents of any one system, we are interested in all of them. Which, I realize, isn’t really an answer. At least not a sensational one, but the truth is rather prosaic: I’ve done enough reading to see the parallels between too many religious systems; it’s hard to pick one as being “better” than another when most of them quickly label unbelievers as lesser people, and that seems counter to the fabulous mystery that is human existence. It’s more curious to me that we can have so many systems—and they all fervently claim superiority—but their differences come down to what you could, loosely, call “regionalisms.” It’s the same sort of statistical anomaly that gave birth to conscious life: that we’d all come up with widely divergent “religious” systems that have so much in common in their underlying framework. That, really, suggests, there is something grander at work, and clinging to any system as being better or more insightful than another seems to be missing the bigger picture.
MH: The idea of souls is central to Lightbreaker. How did you come to create Markham’s Chorus?
TEPPO: I wanted to magic agnostic—as much as I could—in my system and so I wanted Markham to stamp his personality, if you will, on the world vision. The Chorus was a way to refer what was going on in his head in a shorthand way without having to rely on some nomenclature that relied on the audience’s knowledge of a certain system. Or, rather, I didn’t want readers to think, “Oh, he calls it ‘X,’ he must be a ‘Y.’” The “Chorus” came sort of naturally after that. I don’t think there were even that many choices I was considering. It was one of those “and he’s got these souls in his head—call ‘em a . . . ‘Chorus’ . . . yeah, that’s it, the Chorus” moments.
MH: How do your stories take shape? Are you a detailed outliner or more streams of consciousness?
TEPPO: Traditionally, I’m very organic, stream of consciousness, in my method. I will usually build enough of a framework to know what the book is supposed to be about, and then I’ll start. I’ll get about 60% of the way, hit that Dark Night of the Soul moment of despair, and then panic. That used to suck terribly, but I’ve gotten better about that point, and now I look forward to it, because it usually means that my subconscious has finally broken through and said, “No, really, this isn’t going to work; you need to back up a bit.” So, I do. I cut back to about 40% or so, figure out where the story is supposed to go (as it is there, floating in my head by now), and then it’s pretty much a straight path to the end. The couple of times I’ve explained this to people, it seems to terrify them, but I prefer to be actively writing rather than planning. So, this period where I spiral out of control is just me planning without a net, essentially. It helps that I’ve gotten over my dread fear of revising, and typically when I finish a draft, it’s fairly solid. The rest is a matter of knocking off the weird edges and polishing.
MH: I noted a change between when the cover of Lightbreaker was originally announced and the final product. Why the change and are you happy with the final design?
TEPPO: I’m thrilled with the cover. I gave Chris McGrath, the cover artist, a very vague description of Markham (“he’s a guy who likes to blend in with a crowd” was the gist of it, if I remember correctly), and we sent him the chapter where Markham and Katarina finally meet again. From that, he managed to build a cover that, I think, nicely encapsulates the antagonism of their relationship (they aren’t facing the same way), and sets the tone for the series. The folks at Night Shade opted to tighten up the focus of the image and lighten the edges, which I think was a great idea. McGrath tends to put a lot of texturing in his work (which I really dig), which doesn’t always translate well at a distance of more than five feet, and so I think that focusing in the two characters and building the white frame really makes the cover pop out more on the shelf.
I can’t complain. The cover presents the book in a very nice way.
MH: Without giving too much away, what is in store for Markham in Heartland?
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