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Lou Anders Editor of Pyr Books

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Alexia and Lord Maccon from Gail Carriger's Soulless

Lord Akeldama from Gail Carriger's Soulless

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The Daylight War by Peter V. Brett

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AUTHOR INTERVIEW | Mark Teppo author of Lightbreaker

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

TEPPO: We opted to add the somewhat lengthy teaser for Heartland to the back of Lightbreaker to make it clear there was more going on than Markham realized. And Heartland is the culmination of that larger scheme. He goes back to Paris to deal with all the history that he left behind there and to confront the Watchers on their home turf. Everything is falling apart in the organization with the death of the Hierarch, all the Watchers are vying for a piece of the what’s left, and Markham is the wild card thrown into the mix. 

MH: So far The Codex of Souls has three books announced, but I read in another interview that you have plans for 10 books. What are you up to? And at what rate do you think they’ll be published? Do you have any plans for any more short stories with the same characters? 

TEPPO: In the short story department, there’s the novella “Wolves, in Darkness” that is posted to the website (Chapter One sample here, and there are links along the bottom to the rest). It takes place prior to Lightbreaker, and introduces some of the back story between Antoine, Markham, and Marielle. You can read it before Lightbreaker without it ruining anything in that book; however, you can also read it before Heartland as the events in that story are referenced quite heavily in Heartland. There’s also the piece “How I Came to Magick,” which I’m still working on finding the right place for, but I’m typically using it at readings as it is a nice introduction to the world. I’ve also been invited to submit a story to an anthology about wizards and I’m toying with something about the kanaimà practices in South America that will be a Markham story. These sorts of things aren’t part of the grand plan, but I’m not averse to them happening. Not all stories are novels, you know? As for the series itself, yes, I’ve plotted it fairly loosely through ten books, and ten is somewhat arbitrary, but I do like the idea of marrying the books to the structure of the Spheres of the Sephiroth, in which case, ten will, at least, be the end of the CODEX. Whether it is the end of Markham’s story, I don’t really know. But between now and, say, 2020, I don’t see any reason not to have a Markham book every year. Publisher and public willing, of course. The CODEX is structured as a rolling dualogy. Book 2 is the sequel to Book 1 and ties up that story line; Book 3 picks up some threads from Book 1 and wraps up in Book 4; Book 5 picks up left over danglers from Book 3, and Book 6. . . well, you get the idea. This also allows easy entry points for new readers, while also giving existing readers a reason to look forward to the next volume. I’m not interested in doing a reset every book. The world is a different place at the end of Lightbreaker, and it is going to continue to change, but at the same time, I don’t want to make it inaccessible to new readers who wander in at the fifth book. Nor do I really want it to be this open-ended thing that never has an end. I think this arc of Markham’s life will be played out by the end of the tenth book; if there is more to tell, then we’ll see what happens. . . 

MH: Who are some under rated authors you think should have a wider readership? 

TEPPO: I think Barth Anderson is fantastic. His The Magician And The Fool was brilliantly subversive and I wish everyone would rush out and read it immediately. Darin Bradley has a book coming out next year that I’m very excited about. The parts of it I’ve seen are the sort of linguistic cleverness that fills me with all sorts of jealousy. I’m glad to see that Chris Roberson and Cherie Priest have books coming out in a steady pace for the next few years as their stuff is always great to read. 

MH: What Urban Fantasy books do you read? 

TEPPO: Now that I’m done with Heartland, I can catch up with Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim and Mike Carey’s Felix Castor books, which I’ve been putting off so as to not be too unduly influenced by. Kat Richardson’s Greywalker series (though I am one or two behind) is on my shelf too. I’ve started Mark Chadbourn’s Age of Misrule books, and I’m both glad and saddened that I hadn’t read them earlier. The writer in me is glad in that they would have totally put me off my game had I read them a few years ago; the reader is sad in that I’m sorry that I hadn’t known about them until Pyr published them over here in the US with sexy John Picacio covers. I’m really having a ball with World’s End, and am looking forward to devouring the other two. I have to admit that I’ve not been kept up with Urban Fantasy over the last few years as I had the impression that most of it was mired in vampire and werewolf mythology, and I have a blind spot to those sorts of creatures—I just don’t find them all that interesting and haven’t really found a way to write about them that doesn’t descend into parody almost immediately. As such, I’ve been out of touch, but I’m trying to get caught up. Some of my fears have been upheld, and in some cases I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden books, for example. I’m glad to see that Dresden has stopped being a pushover. I saw the cover to the new one—Change—the other day, and it appears that Dresden is out of Chicago, and I’m very curious to see just how much change is in store for the character. 

MH: What was the road to having The Codex of Souls published by Night Shade? 

TEPPO: Long, and it’ll make any fledgling writer out there cringe in terror. Suffice to say that the first draft of Lightbreaker was written in 1995. The only things that remain from that draft is some of the characters, the Chorus, and the big widescreen ending. The rest—and it was a lot of thinly veiled vampires and werewolves and, OMG!, werewolves that were psychic vampires!—was thrown out for the New Millenial Rewrite where the whole Western Esoterica focus was pushed to be the world-view. Two agents, more than a dozen rejections spread out over two cycles of about two to three years each, two complete page one rewrites, and a lot of whisky later, it’s on the shelf. I have, for the record, now written six drafts of Heartland. The one I signed off on a few hours before I started these questions will, hopefully, be the last. It’s not as filled with explode-y! bits as Lightbreaker, but everyone is much, much meaner to each other. I think it’s a fair trade-off. 

MH: Do you have any plans for books outside of The Codex of Souls series? 

TEPPO: Yes, two things are in the brain bin now: the Sprawl books and what’s being referred to as the Devil Sex books. The Sprawl books are built out the world that can be found in “Chance Island” (check here), “Faith, Hidden in the Hands of the Blind”(check here), and the story in Paper Cities, “The One That Got Away.” I think. It keeps, er, sprawling. There’s a 17K novella called “Instrument” that will be the second book, I think. The first one will be about the Luckies, and “Faith...” was a bit of a test run of some of the characters. The working title of the first Devil Sex book is The Devil’s Paperwork, and it’s sort of The Office as if run by the Handmaidens of Satan with bits of the Malleus Maleficarum and Paradise Lost thrown in because, well, the distinction between “porn” and “erotica” is the amount of literary cred you can muster, isn’t it? It was initially meant to be something light-hearted that didn’t require a metric ton of research or that I actually get my Latin chops back up to speed, but it’s started to get away from me. Like these things do. I’m a couple chapters in, and I need to actually pause and write a synopsis so that my agent can go and off and sell this thing because, you know, that’s the way this process is supposed to work. 

MH: If you could be any character from a fantasy book who would it be and why? 

TEPPO: King Mob from Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles, because I’d love to pull back the curtain on the Archons. Or one of the two protagonists from Colin Wilson’s The Philosopher’s Stone. The guys who trepane themselves into a higher state of consciousness. Actually, being a character in a Miyazaki film would be cool. I’d love to be a kid who could stun a frog in mid-leap and leave him hanging in the air. 

MH: What are 2 things about you most people don’t know? Do you have a pet monkey you keep sequestered in the backyard? Do you have a closet clown aversion? 

TEPPO: I hate squash. Utterly hate it. If that TV show Fear Factor was still on, all they would have to do for the food challenge is bring out a plate of baked squash and I’d be done. And I do hear the clowns once in a while. Seriously. Usually when it is dark. They’re out in the back yard, laughing. It’s creepy, and I don’t know what it is that triggers the noise in my head, but that’s what it sounds like. Not a lot of them. Probably only one or two, but that’s all it takes. . . 

MH: I have to ask. Where did you get bunny outfit and how often do you wear it? 

TEPPO: The best man at my wedding took us out bar “hopping” for my bachelor party. And he even said it like that, with big air quotes and everything. The upside is that I got to keep the suit which I thought was decent of him. Now, I drag it out once a year for Easter, and the kids couldn’t care less. Next year, no bunny suit. We’ll see how much fun Easter is then, damnit. 

MH: Is there anything else you’d like to add? 

TEPPO: The usual contact stuff: website, facebook , blog, and twitter. Thanks for the questions. 

MH: Thank you for your time. I look forward to the continuation of Markham’s story in Heartland.

You Might Also Like:
REVIEW | Heartland by Mark Teppo
GUEST POST | Mark Teppo On the Spectacle of Magic
What is the Weirdest Book You've Ever Read?
REVIEW | Lightbreaker by Mark Teppo


Harry Markov said...

A very informative and entertaining interview. Now I want yet another seeries on my shelves, boxes and under the furniture. *sigh*

Oh and the bunny suit is fantastic. The serious look totally killed me, when opposed to the costume. Anyway, good luck with future publications.