Friday, October 12, 2012

Guest Post: Max Gladstone and the Origin of Three Parts Dead

Good morning, all! I'm thrilled to be hosting Max Gladstone on the blog this morning. Max is the author of Three Parts Dead, out now from Tor.

Three Parts Dead is such a unique and fabulous story. I wanted to know more about how this story and this world came to be written. Here's Max's piece on the idea behind Three Parts Dead:

Invisible Worlds
By Max Gladstone

The idea for Three Parts Dead came from the end of the world.  Or, the end of a world.

I was fresh back from two years teaching abroad, caught in what editorial columns were starting to call a 'quarter-life crisis.'  My time in China had left me with a quiver full of stories, two and a half finished novels, and confusion as to what I was supposed to do with the rest of my life.  I knew I didn't want to be an ocean and a continent away from friends and family, but I knew little else.
No worries, though.  I had a degree, I could speak Chinese, my friends were doing well in PhD and professional programs.  The woman who would become my wife was rocking her first year of law school. I didn't have a job, but that wouldn't take long to remedy.  It couldn't.
So I thought, when I moved into a small house in Inman Square in late August 2008.
You know what happens next.  Initial job inquiries seem promising.  Job leads return my calls.  Resumes excite interest.  I pursue the future. 

Until the economy implodes.
At first I don't notice.  The world collapses on the front pages of newspapers, but the damage is invisible.  Leads start to dry up, but leads dry up, and as the man says, the leads aren't weak.  You're weak.  But as September deepens into October, I wander around Cambridge and notice something's changed.  Light assumes a different quality.  A world I can barely sense has frozen.  Men and women more attuned to this invisible world explain causes and consequences to audiences and television cameras, but that world itself remains invisible.  Debts fall due, yes, contracts collapse, uncertainty creeps into markets and values.  No houses have been burned, no factories lie in rubble, but the invisible world has changed, and soon those houses will burn, and those factories stand abandoned.
Once, a Chinese high school student asked me about Taiwan.  She felt, very strongly, that Taiwan was rich, and that China should invade and take Taiwan's money for itself.
I tried to explain to her that the wealth she wanted wasn't in a bank vault somewhere.  Taiwan's money was spread throughout the world, immaterial, and a war would destroy its wealth.  I didn't understand global economics very well myself at the time, so our conversation drew off into confusion as we both tried to describe an invisible world in our second languages.
I remembered that conversation two years later, as the invisible world unraveled.  It felt like a Time War, a secret apocalypse.  And folks unlucky enough to be in my position, looking for work in the chaos, we wandered around trying to make sense of the new world in which we found ourselves.
That was the year of Three Parts Dead: a year of hope and fear, a year of reeling, a year of feeling somehow betrayed.  A year of realizing how much my actions had been driven by a drum beat I'd never been aware of hearing.  A year of wondering what's next.
I wanted to answer that question, or at least explore it, but I didn't know enough.  Nobody did.  So I tried to dream.  I needed a world with an invisible component that a reader could understand intuitively, a world that would resonate on a spiritual level.  Gods seemed a good place to start.  Ragnarok was too huge for the project I had in mind; why not focus on one god, and follow the consequences of His death for His people?  A story about nothing but the god's death and His worshippers' reaction seemed to rob human characters of agency, at a time when the papers regaled us with attempted interventions in the collapse.  So, a class of professionals emerged, related to the gods but not of them—inimical to them in many respects, symbiotic at least if not parasitic.  Problem-solvers rise in response to problems.  Society takes shape.
At which point the characters and their motivations took over.  Symbols grew, cohered, and interacted on their own.  The world twitched, and gave birth to its own problems, its own characters.  Gargoyles entered from stage left.  A goddess grew within the frame of the story.  A police officer with a problem stumbled out of a back-alley bar.  And all of a sudden the ending world in the book no longer felt like an echo of the world I knew.
A world, or something like it, had come to life.
I don't think the cracking of the old system was the key to writing Three Parts Dead; I'd had ideas about money and law and magic before.  But that cracking gave me the energy I needed to write the book.   As I looked for a way to live in the real world, the characters of my book searched for a way to live in theirs.  I've charted a stable course, for the moment; Tara and her companions resolve their immediate challenges as well, but they too must negotiate a transformed world.
The end of the world, you see, is just another day.  It's what we do after that counts.

Big, big thanks to Tor for inviting me to participate in the tour for Three Parts Dead and huge thanks to Max Gladstone for the guest post today. For more on Max and his work, visit his official website here. You can also follow him on Twitter

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