An interview with Alex Marshall

Alex Marshall

Which book do you own that puts a smile on your face and makes you happy just by holding it in your hand? 

Encyclopedia of Legendary Creatures, by Tom McGowen and illustrated by Victor G. Ambrus. It’s a children’s book I spent years tracking down, since I didn’t remember the title, that is essentially a baby’s first bestiary. Beautiful illustrations and sharp descriptions of obscure monsters from around the world— I can’t overstate the effect this book had on me as a child. When I finally tracked it down I only let myself read one entry a night before bed, to prolong the joy of rediscovering it after a quarter century.

Which book or series do you read which makes you feel nostalgic, remembering the period in your life you first read it?

As a child I went through a phase where I couldn’t fall asleep unless I was listening to a book on tape, and the big two I literally wore out from use were The Hobbit and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I can’t even see the covers of those two novels without flashing back to being a kid in a dark room in a dark house on the edge of a dark wood, lying in bed listening to those books.

Which book or series do you read that makes your blood pump and your palms sweaty?

Kentaro Miura’s long-running dark fantasy manga Berserk definitely still gives me that rush.
 
Is there a particular author that leaves you thinking: One day I would like to be able to write just like that?

I used to feel that way about many authors—Angela Carter, Umberto Eco, Jack Vance, etc.—but the older I get and the more my own style develops I find myself looking to broaden my influences versus fetishizing a single author’s voice. Although come to think of it, I would like to be write just like Stephen Graham Jones, in that he is capable of the seemingly impossible feat of writing both incredibly quickly and incredibly well. 

Which book or series do you think you could implant one of your own characters? Would you want them to thrive or want them to burn it all down?

I think Maroto would thrive in Robert E. Howard’s Hyborian Age—I imagine him embarking on an epic bromance with everybody’s favorite barbarian, and teaching him some progressive values in the bargain. They might even kiss!

Following the successful release and review of the A Crown for Cold Silver there were a lot of people and blogs having a guess at for your real identity.  I am sure some of them gave you a chuckle, what were your favourites?  

The bigger names were the most amusing; I saw George R.R. Martin, Stephen King, and even J.K. Rowling tossed out.

Can you tell us the most creative way that someone had tried to find your real identity?

The first reader to actually figure it out did so by picking up on all the heavy metal references in the book, then looking through the websites of Orbit’s authors until she found my old site, where I listed some of the same bands. Then she read my novel The Enterprise of Death to make sure, and seeing the similarities in style dropped me an email to confirm her suspicions.

What finally made you want to reveal yourself? Was it always the plan as part of the release of the A Blade of Black Steel?

The plan was always to reveal it at some point, and we decided to do it before A Blade of Black Steel…in part because readers who I had let in on the secret told me that the pen name was frustrating, as old fans of my work would want to know about a new project.

Was Alex Marshal a separate identity for you, did they have their own back-story? Can you give us the imaged history Alex Marshal? I am hoping for a tale of the fantastic and remarkable, writing under the light of a single candle, locked in a dungeon, as the turbid clouds beat the cold rain against the bars of your prison.

Ha, I actually did entertain the idea of creating a separate identity for Marshall, and even set up a Twitter account under the name…but I got so caught up in the writing of the series that I dropped the ball completely on doing anything with it. To pull something out of thin air, I’d say Marshall is an author of rigorous discipline who never blows deadlines, always outlines in detail, and rarely needs more than one or two drafts of a novel. A complete fantasy, in other words.

Zosia is described as cold and a villain, however, I always saw her more as practical survivor, someone who strived for glory at any cost until the cost was too much. Two books in how would you now describe her best?

I think that’s a sharp observation. I’m not the biggest Whitman fan, but this bit from “Song of Myself” sums her up fairly well:

Do I contradict myself? 
Very well then I contradict myself, 
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Zosia, like all of us, is more than just the person she is at her worst, and as the trilogy progresses readers will discover new facets of her character, sometimes right alongside the woman herself.

New book, hopefully new characters, so will we be going to new lands also? Who are we likely to meet?

We will definitely be going way off the map in this novel! As for who we’ll meet, there are indeed many new characters, some of them among the Star’s most powerful players. We’ll also get inside the heads of a couple of characters we’ve already seen from without, which will give us a very different experience…

Slightly redundant, but stay with me, it leads somewhere.  I won't be the first to ask who was your favorite character from A Crown for Cold Silver. Do they still hold true as your favorite or has another in the latest installment surpassed them?

Ah, that’s a good question! The thing is I tend not to have a single favorite anything, be they characters in my own works or ice cream flavor or what have you, so I can’t really answer it. I will say Maroto remains near and dear to my heart, but writing from the perspective of one of his protégés for Book II proved just as much fun…

A Crown for Cold Silver has been described as having Cold (pun intended) humor, was this something you strived for from the out, will we be seeing more of its like in A Blade for Black Steel?

All of my work has a vein of dark comedy running through it, and that’s not something I could excise even if I wanted to. That’s not to say that I don’t take the work on the whole very seriously, of course, but seeing the gallows humor in the grotesque is how I approach life, and my art wouldn’t be authentic without it.

Interview by Fergus McCartan

Alex Marshall books reviewed